The Wanderer: Into The Mystic Book 2

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The Wanderer

Into The Mystic Book 2

Traylor Grant

***

Dedicated to:

Jen Reginato. Her editing, wisdom, humor, and encouragement saw me through many blocks of my own doing in completing chapters for this novel. She is truly an awe inspiring artistic person and I am lucky to have her as a friend.

***

The Wanderer

Chapter One

He paused, wiping the sweat from his face. The red bandana was soaking wet, and he wrung it out before slipping it back on. He raised a hand to his eyes and glanced at the beet red

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sun. It was high in the sky and burned mercilessly upon the parched earth. He could see the canyons in the distance cutting through the desert. Red stone rose high above the plain creating a moon-like landscape. Deserted, vacant, and arid, yet full of life. Cacti and tumbleweeds dotted the land as far as the eye could see. Birds of prey circled overhead waiting for the right moment to swoop down and devour the carcass of a coyote, or a jackrabbit whose death would soon provide nourishment to the scavengers. Snakes curled on top of rocks as the heat penetrated their cold bodies.
The desert was splattered with reds, browns, beige, grays, blues, greens, and yellows, purples, whites and black as though God had thrown a paint palette upon the ground. Brilliant hues mingled with pastels to strike an awesome visage; a feast for the eyes. Every time he saw it, his breath was taken away, and he was reminded of the beauty of nature along with its capricious cruelty. Whether it was oceans, mountains, or deserts, nature amazed him and brought a deep calm and pleasure. He always enjoyed his trips; it was the people who brought him trouble.
He glanced back down at the two-lane blacktop road he was traveling. The horizon wavered, and the pavement looked like it had been splashed with water; a mirage. Even the cacti looked wilted. The road sign said Sundown was two miles ahead with a population of five hundred.
With a sigh, he hoisted his pack over his shoulder and kick started the motorcycle. The tires spun dust and pebbles behind him across the heat cracked asphalt. Here he was on the road again in another town, another crisis, another person needing help. He rode with purpose, yet his body spoke of weariness. It was a tiredness borne of too many days and nights on the road, too many towns, and a never ending mission. He felt the exhaustion in every bone in his body, and yet, he plodded onward, one jarring mile after the other determined to reach his goal.

Sundown was a two-bit town with one stop light, and a water tower. On the left of the road were the sheriff’s department, jail, and law office. All three were made from the same sandstone colored materials, not quite adobe, and not quite brick. Large shaded windows adorned each building. On the right side were a mercantile, beauty salon, and a diner. Further down the street was a dilapidated movie theater that somehow managed to stay open. Most of the buildings looked weather beaten as though they had seen better, more prosperous days. At the end of the downtown section was a school, housing all grades from Kindergarten through Junior High. Children in grades nine through twelve were bussed to a nearby town for High School. Several churches dotted the roads and residential section, which ran about four streets on each side of the downtown strip.
The black Harley-Davidson could be heard blocks away as it roared into town. It was a monstrous machine with black trim, gleaming rims, and a low rider seat. The rider was decked out in skin-tight leather pants, black leather vest with matching cotton shirt, and a black belt with a silver buckle. He wore a red bandana and shades to keep the sun from his eyes. His hair streamed behind him blown by the wind. Everything about him oozed danger, sex, and mystery.

As he neared the diner, he could smell the tantalizing aromas of fresh bread and home cooking. He parked the bike and looked through the window. The little diner was packed with only one booth left open. As he pushed the door open, a bell overhead tinkled its silvery voice. Everyone turned to look at him as he entered the diner. He felt strung out from being on the road and the stares he garnered made him want to lash out at them. He could hear them whispering, “Is that a woman, or a man?” He greeted them with a tight smile and steely eyes.
“Seat yourself.” The waitress walked past him with a coffee pot. “I’ll be right with you.”
He set his pack on the seat and made his way to the restroom. As he passed tables he felt the women giving him the once over as their pheromones rose to a sexual peak. Inside the restroom, he peered at his face in the mirror. He needed a shave, but that would have to wait even though the stubble itched. He turned the water on and splashed his face and arms in an attempt to wash away road grime. He lathered his hands with soap and scrubbed his face, neck, arms, and hands and then rinsed the blackened soap down the drain. The paper towels blotted the water. He looked into the mirror again. “That’s much better.”
“Have you been on the road a long time?” The man at the next sink asked.
“Yes, a very long time.” His voice was hoarse from desert sand blowing over the windshield of his cycle. The biker turned to look at the man. He was an older man with a belly hanging over his belt. He wore jeans, a cotton shirt, cowboy hat, and boots; all were well used. “Rancher?”
“Yeah or maybe just playing at it,” the man laughed. He stuck out his hand, “Name’s Jared.”
“I’m pleased to meet you, Jared. I’m Michael.”
“Welcome to Sundown. I should tell you, I’m also the Mayor.” Jared winked at him. “What brings you to Sundown?”
“Thank you, Mayor. Sundown looks like a friendly town, and a nice place to settle down, build a life, and have a family.” Michael shook his hand.
“I like to think so. If you’re planning to build a life here, you’ll be looking for work? We could use a good mechanic.”
“I saw you had a gas station. What happened to the mechanic?”
“He got tired of working in a small town and left. I normally don’t offer jobs to strangers, but if your background checks out, the job is yours. We’re a little desperate. The nearest gas station and garage is over in Onalaska about an hour down the road.”
“I will consider it. Thank you for the offer. Right now, I’m more interested in the delicious aroma of the food.” He smiled and left the restroom.
When he got back to his booth he saw a menu, napkin, flatware, and a glass of ice water had been placed next to a basket of hot rolls and butter.
He casually scanned the menu while biting into the roll. He closed his eyes and smiled. A small groan escaped his lips as he savored the sweetness of the bread. “Delicious,” he moaned.
The girls at the table in front of him sighed and giggled as they ogled the gorgeous, dangerous looking bad boy sitting behind them. They had a perfect view of his sexy smile and large innocent eyes.
“Have you had enough time to look the menu over?” The waitress pulled a pad from her pocket.
“Yes. I’d like some steamed green beans, carrots, and corn with butter, please.” He spoke in a pleasingly baritone voice with a hint of gravel mixed in that added to his appeal.
“You’re a vegetarian, huh?”
“Yes, I am. I don’t eat anything that had a life, for the most part. Products like milk and unfertilized eggs are the exception since those do not involve life. Some things can’t be avoided if you love bread like I do.” He smiled.
The waitress felt her pulse rising when he smiled at her. His sea-green eyes sparkled like gemstones and caused her breath to catch in her throat.
“Got it. I’ll tell the cook to leave off the bacon.” Her voice sounded breathless.
“Thank you.” Michael peered at her. “Are you okay?”
“Yes,” she flushed crimson. “Do you want anything to drink?”
“Just water is fine.” He stared into her hazel eyes. “Are you sure, you’re okay?”
“Um, yes,” She watched as he took a swig of water. A single drop hung from his lip and glistened like a pearl as it slowly trailed over his mouth. He raised his napkin and blotted his lips. The action caused a slight puckering of his lips much like a kiss might. He was so sexy she had to swallow hard to keep from moaning. She casually walked into the kitchen and leaned against the door, “Oh, my God! He is so hot.”

With his hunger and thirst slaked, he checked into the local motel. As motels went this one was a bit on the seedy side having seen better days. The interior was clean, but it was obvious it had not been remodeled in years. A slight musky odor permeated the room.
He dropped his pack on the table beside the window and pulled the drapes. He pulled the cover down on the bed and lay down. He tucked his hands under his head and stared up at the ceiling.
He closed his eyes as thoughts of his last conversation with Elohim drifted back to him.
“Elohim, I am weary,” he sighed and rolled his shoulders, stretching.
“I know, son,” Elohim had responded. “But, I have a most urgent task for you, and then you can rest a bit. There is a girl who is in mortal danger. You must find her and keep her safe. You may have to get close to her.”
“How so?” he had asked.
“By getting emotionally and if necessary, physically involved with her.”
“But our laws forbid it.”
“I am granting you an exception to the law. You must do whatever it takes to keep her safe.”
Michael opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling. The memories of that last conversation washed over him as he pondered the request.
With a great sigh, Michael sat up and wrapped his arms around his knees. “I will do my best. I just wish I knew how. At least I found her first, I think.” he whispered and stretched his muscles. This time he would have to behave differently, and it unnerved him.
He picked his bible up off the nightstand and opened it to Psalm 28:7. “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him; and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiced; and with my song I will praise him.” He closed the book and placed his hand on it. “Yes, I will be strong. I will persevere.”

***

Chapter Two

Morning came early bringing with it a rejuvenating freshness. He sat on his cycle at the edge of the desert and watched as the sun slowly climbed into the sky. The sun splashed all the colors of the rainbow across the scorched land. Fluffy white clouds cast shadows on the canyons and across the earth. Giant cacti lifted their arms to the heavens as though pleading to God for much-needed rain.
He breathed deeply and exhaled. He loved the start of a new day. Reluctantly he put his shades on and rode back toward town. The grumbling in his stomach told him it was time for breakfast.
The diner was packed, and he had to wait for a booth. He could hear the chatter of the customers. Some talked about the price of grain and cattle feed; others fretted over the dress some actress wore on an award show. A teen behind him talked to a friend about how he planned to steal his food. Turning, Michael looked at the teen. “Do you need money to pay for your meal?”
“Huh? What you want?” the teen pulled his baseball cap down over his forehead. He wore baggy jeans that hung below his hips.
“I heard you talking about getting a free meal. If you need money for it, I’d be happy to treat you and your friend.”
“Man, are you crazy? You don’t know me.”
“I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. Matthew Chapter 25, verse 35.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a ragged wallet.
“Stealing is not the answer, my friend. It will only get you into trouble.” He handed the boy a twenty dollar bill. “And pull up your pants.”
“You’re a Jesus freak.” The boy snatched the money and stuffed it into his pocket. He stepped closer and leaned toward Michael, “Thanks.” he whispered.
Michael nodded.
“Sir,” the waitress said without looking at him. “Table five is open.” She pointed to a table on the right toward the middle of the room.
“Thank you.” He smiled at her.
Upon hearing his slightly husky voice she gasped. It was him again. His sea-green eyes sparkled like the fine points of an emerald. Her heart started to pound, and she felt an electric tingle race through her body. The rugged weather worn look only added to his sex appeal.
Dressed in a gray chambray shirt, jeans and boots he was every bit as sexy and dangerous looking as he was when dressed in leather. The shirt sleeves were rolled up to show bulging biceps. The jeans were ragged and fit snugly over his hips. The boots were dusty and faded. He was most certainly eye candy. From the easy way he moved it was apparent he was comfortable in his body and unaware of the devastating appeal he had with women.
She quickly placed a napkin, flatware, and a glass of water in front of him. She handed him a menu. His fingers gently grazed hers as he took the menu from her hand. The light caress sent a shiver down her spine.
“I’ll be back in a minute to take your order.” She rushed into the kitchen.
“So the hunk is back, huh?” Cook chuckled. He expertly flipped burgers on the grill.
“Not funny,” she giggled, her face turning pink. “I can’t stop thinking about him.”
“Everyone can see that,” Cook winked at her and stifled a laugh.
“Cook!” Kristy’s already pink face turned a shade darker.
“Oh well, back to work. Table six order up.”
She picked up the tray and waltzed into the dining area and almost tripped as she passed the handsome stranger.
“Easy,” he reached out and grasped her arm to steady her. “Don’t want you to fall.” His voice lingered as he gazed at her and winked.
She continued to the table with their order and then returned to him. “Are you ready to place your order?” She nervously tucked her hair back into the hairnet.
“Yes, but first, do you see those two kids over there?” he nodded at the teens.
“Yes. They’re always looking for handouts.”
“They’re not bad kids, just hungry. Breakfast is on me. Now, I’d like a glass of orange juice, some biscuits, and grape jam.” He handed the menu back to her and sat back in the booth.
He could almost taste the sweetness of the jam spread thickly over hot biscuits. Sometimes even vegetarians had to cheat a little to savor the flavors of food.
She came back with a glass of orange juice. “You’re new here.”
“I am.” He lifted the glass to his lips and sipped.
The lusciousness of the juice sent ripples throughout him. The tip of his tongue slipped out and touched his lip provocatively.
“Oh, dear, lord.” She stared at the tip of his tongue as it slowly traced his lips. Her heart thundered and she wondered if something had happened to the air conditioning as the diner got warmer.
“Boy, this is good. Fresh squeezed?”
Her eyes remained fixed on his lips. “We do it ourselves every morning,” Her voice came out husky. “Are you planning to stay awhile or just passing through?” She smiled and wiped her hands on her apron and then busied herself rearranging the salt and pepper shakers.
“I hope to stay.” He reached for his napkin and gently brushed his hand against hers. “I’m sorry; I didn’t catch your name. I’m Michael.”
It was the briefest of touches, but it could have been a lifetime from the electricity shooting through her. Oh, yes, she could definitively hold his hand forever.
“Kristy,” her voice came out in a barely audible whisper. “I’m Kristy,” she spoke louder. “Did you know we are having a Frontier Days Carnival this weekend?”
“I saw a flyer in the window.”
“We’re going to have rides, great fair type food, and music and dancing. Funds go toward a town redevelopment.”
“I’ll check it out. Will you be there?”
“I better be; I’m running one of the booths.”
“It’s not the kissing booth, is it?” Mischievously he winked at her and lifted an eyebrow.
“I better go get your order turned in.” She felt her face blush pink.
“Do you know where the Mayor’s office is located?” He continued basking in her beauty.
“It’s the building next to the jail.”

“So, is he the guy you’ve been all in a tizzy about?” Julia asked as she stuffed napkins into holders.
“Hmm . . . ?” Kristy responded absently as she gazed out the window and watched Michael stroll past.
“The guy, is he the one?” Julia poked her, “Kristy, are you in there?” Julia poked her again, “Kristy, Julia calling Kristy.”
“I’m sorry, the one what?”
“Wake up, Kristy. Is the new guy the one you were fawning about?” Julia’s black eyes twinkled in merriment.
“Oh, him, I think he’s a dream.” She let out a loud sigh much to her dismay.
“I guess I better get the shotgun out. You know you always pick the bad ones.”
“I know. I guess I just like the rebel look.”
“He fits the image, that’s for sure, riding into town on the big Harley wearing black leather.”
“You noticed him too!” Kristy laughed, feeling her cheeks turning pink.
“Honey, you can’t help but notice a guy like him. He was dangerous, a rebel, and sexy rolled into one man. Lord has mercy, spells badass if I ever saw one!”
“And he smells so wonderful like a mountain spring with a hint of mint.”
“Hmm, I thought he smelled like cinnamon and vanilla, myself. Great cologne. Bad boy scents.”
“He paid for some kids’ breakfast so he can’t be all bad. I kind of like him.”
“Honey, we all know.”

He leaned against the front of the rusty Chevrolet and stared vacantly at the dirty engine. Although he sighed deeply, he did not stir from his position. What was he thinking when he accepted the mechanics position on Tuesday?
He knew nothing about cars and trucks. Here it was already Friday and the truck was still not fixed. He wondered what kind of magic it would take to get this rust bucket back on the road.
He brushed a stray lock of brown hair from his sea-green eyes before sticking a pencil in his mouth. Thoughtfully he chewed as he studied the uncooperative engine. Smothering another sigh, he rolled up the sleeves of his plaid shirt and then shoved himself away from the hood.
He was well built and tall with large hands strong enough to kill a man if necessary. The well-defined muscles in his arms and legs were forever ready to spring into action if the need arose. The chin was firm, powerful and showed traces of a stubborn streak from the way his jaw was set.
His lips although thin were slightly upturned, and he had a long, slim nose. His gentle sea-green eyes sat perfectly above not quite high cheekbones with small laugh lines extending from their corners. In his expression, there was a shadow of the battles he has fought.
He looked out the garage door and watched the white Mercedes-Benz roll to a stop at the light. The glass was tinted a dark shade, so the driver was hidden. When the light turned green, the car rolled forward and turned into a parking space in front of the diner. Michael turned back to the engine but periodically glanced at the street, keeping an eye on the Mercedes. “Luke,” he muttered.

The driver stepped out and looked around the town. To him, it looked decrepit with shuttered storefronts and other buildings needing a new coat of paint. The town was in dire need of revival.
He smiled; his teeth glistened whitely in the sunlight against his deep tan. Even though he had a joyful smile, it did not reach his beautiful blue eyes. He was by all accounts a handsome man. His blond hair was fashionably trimmed, and he wore a beautifully tailored blue suit with matching tie and white shirt. A gold chain dangled from his pocket.
He stepped into the diner and smiled at the waitress. “Hello,” his voice was low and sensual. “Is it too late to get something to eat?”
“Not at all,” she glanced up and for the second time her heart jumped up several beats.
What was bringing all the gorgeous men into town? “Seat yourself.” She grabbed a menu, napkins, and flatware and with a flourish laid them on the table where he sat. She then brought him a basket of hot rolls and a glass of water.
“Do you need more time?” She pulled her pad out of her pocket.
“No, I’m ready to order.” He flashed another dazzling smile. “I’ll have the ribeye, medium, with a side salad, mashed potatoes, and a slice of apple pie.”
“Would you like anything to drink?”
“A glass of wine would be nice, or a glass of beer.”
“We don’t have wine, but we do have Miller Lite.”
“I’m sure it will be fine. I’m Luke, by the way,” he took her hand and kissed it.
“You are beautiful. Are all the girls in town as pretty as you?” He kept his voice low and sultry, sending caresses with each nuance.
“I’m Kristy.” She blushed scarlet at his remark. She took his order and went into the kitchen. Once again, she found herself leaning against the door.
“What . . . another hunk?” Cook asked with a laugh.
“Yes, another one. What gives? This town has been dead for a long time and now all of a sudden two gorgeous guys arrive within days of each other. And I mean absolutely gorgeous guys.”
Cook peeked through the window, “Hmm . . . I think I like the first one better. I don’t think I trust this one. He seems kind of flashy to me. The other one, however, looks down to earth.”
“Oh Cook, you always have to say something like that.” she laughed.
“I’m just looking out for your interests, sweetie.” Cook walked over to her and draped his arm around her shoulders. “You need protecting.”

Hot and acrid days followed sweltering nights in Sundown. A brief afternoon shower did nothing to cool things down. The rain only served to steam things up with nary a breeze in sight. A withering hundred degrees had been breached by five in the afternoon. It was just such a day when the carnival started.
For days before the carnival, trailers pulled into town carrying assorted rides and vendor booths. Crews worked feverishly to set up everything. The last to be installed was a stage and lighting for the band.
Michael arrived at the carnival dressed in a denim jacket, tight fitting shirt, and jeans, all of which were the color of night.
He ogled the cars on the Ferris wheel. Star pricked with lights; the contraption turned fitfully, dipping people out of the dusk and ladling them high into the air. A loud speaker braying vied with the mechanical clatter of the merry-go-round and the splat of fire crackers. The cars jerked spasmodically, moved, stopped, moved, at times leaving people at the top of the wheel as it disgorged their loads and took on new ones.
As the wheel began its revolutions, he walked away with hands in his pockets. “Try yer luck?” the man at the softball throw called, “A dollar is all it takes to win a prize!”
As he walked along the midway lined with booths he could hear other shouts as each barker tried to get the crowd to spend their money.
“There you are,” Kristy hollered and came toward him. In her hands were two large cups of lemonade.
The air was redolent of buttery popcorn, corn dogs, cotton candy, and assorted fried foods. People lined up at the booths gorging their faces with the forbidden treats.
“Thank you,” he smiled. “This is quite a carnival. Everyone in town must be here.”
“And everyone must try my funnel cake, including you,” she tugged on his shirt sleeve and led him toward her booth.
“Funnel cake? What’s that?” He looked innocently at her.
“For real? You don’t know what a funnel cake is?” She laughed and handed him a plate with the sweet on it. “Enjoy.”
He looked uncertainly at the sugar topped fried treat. “How do you eat it?”
“Tear off a piece with your fingers. Here are some napkins. Funnel cake can be messy.”
“I see,” he looked dubious as he pinched off a piece and placed it in his mouth. His eyes opened wide in wonder and a giant smile spread across his face. “This is wonderful.” He polished off the treat in no time.
“My shift at the booth is over. Do you want to check out the rides?”
“Sure,” he slipped his arm around her waist. “Which one do you want to ride first?”
She leaned into his arm and sighed deeply. She couldn’t help breathing in his wonderful scent. “It’s definitely mountain spring and mint, not cinnamon and vanilla.”
“What?” he laughed as lemonade shot from his nose. “What did you say?”
“Your cologne smells like mountain spring and mint.” Kristy felt her face blush.
“Does it really?” He quirked an eyebrow at her and grinned. “I’m not wearing any cologne.”
“Aftershave, then, whatever it is, it smells heavenly.”
“I see,” he chuckled. “I’m not wearing aftershave either.”
“Your soap then,” she countered.
“My soap is unscented.”
She broke out laughing. “What are you wearing?”
“Clothes,” A sly grin crept across his face. He loved the way her face turned pink from embarrassment.
As they passed booths, a barker hawking stuffed animals, challenged Michael to hit the balloons with a dart.
“Just a minute,” Michael stopped in front of the booth. “I’ll take a dart.”
“Three darts for five dollars.”
“I only need one,” he handed the money to the man.
“Oh . . . we have a marksman here!” The barker laughed and handed him three darts. “Hit three balloons and you can have your pick of prizes. Hit one and you can pick from the lower shelf. Get two and you can claim one in the middle.”
Michael fingered the darts, feeling the shape and texture. With a casual flip of his wrist, he sent all three darts flying into balloons. Each balloon popped loudly when the dart struck them. He turned to face Kristy. “Which one do you want?”
“Wait a minute,” the barker stopped her. “Let’s see if you can do it again.” He hand picked three more darts and gave them to Michael.
“Certainly.” Michael looked at the darts and once again with a snap of his wrist sent all three darts into the balloons, causing a deafening smack and deflation.
“Well, I’ll be,” the barker shoved his cap back on his head. “Pick any three you want.”
“Kristy?” Michael winked at her. “It’s your choice.”
They left the booth with a stuffed panda, tiger, and eagle tucked under their arms.
As they approached the rides, Michael felt someone staring at him and turned around to look. A man wearing a white suit, shirt, and shoes stood in the shadow of a game.
“Luke,” he mumbled.
“What is it?” Kristy asked, turning to look in the same direction.
“It’s nothing. Come on, let’s get some tickets.”
“I want to ride the haunted castle. It’s so creepy!” She hugged Michael and tugged him in the direction of the rides.

The explosion sent a percussive blast through the midway and threw Michael and Kristy across a booth, knocking them to the ground. All around them booths rocked, people stumbled, and screams pervaded the air. The music stopped abruptly and an alarm filled the vacancy. A massive plume of black smoke shot into the sky above the carousel.
A few people pulled out their phones and began taking pictures or videos of the unfolding disaster, while others raced away from the fire. Parents and children screamed out the names of family on the carousel. Michael helped Kristy to her feet and then ran toward the crippled ride, forgetting the stuffed animals they had won. The toys lay on the ground trampled by the crush of carnival goers panicked from the onslaught of the explosion and fires spreading through the tents.
Luke called out, “Someone call the police, get ambulances and fire trucks here.” He remained standing in the shadow of the game booth as people rushed around him. “Hurry up folks, kids are dying here!”
Michael slid to a stop in front of the mangled ride. “We need buckets of water! Hurry!” He drew his arm across his face to weed out the smoke and horrific smells of the fire. The smoke rose like an oily serpent from the bowels of the machinery and drifted into the sky. It smelled like a charnel house with the acrid scents of oil, grease, hot metal, and human flesh mingling into a gruesome, horrid mix. The melting plastic animals smelled like burning tires; the stench made him want to retch.
He leapt onto the ride and grabbed the first child he could reach. “Take her,” he yelled at the person standing in front of the ride with a camera phone aimed at them. “I need some help here!” He pointed at a man, “Put the phone away, and get up here.”
One by one he grabbed children and shoved them into the arms of adults. “Get the kids off this machine,” he growled, “right now.”
He ripped his jacket off, tore it in half, and wrapped one half of the jacket around a burn victim before gently handing the girl to Kristy. “Get this child to a hospital.”
He worked furiously to rescue children and adults alike. The last child had fallen off the plastic horse and was wedged in the mechanical pit between two gears. Michael lay on the floor of the carousel and slipped into the mechanical pit. He grasped the gears and forced them apart. He could see the gears had sliced the boy open in the abdomen. Blood gushed from the injury and the intestines threatened to seep out of the wound. The boy’s lips turned blue.
With great care he lifted the unconscious child out of the pit. Michael wrapped the remainder of his jacket around the injury. He gathered the youngster close to his chest making certain to cradle the injury and hopped down from the carousel. He rushed over to a bench. “Is help coming?”
“They’re coming in from Onalaska. They should be here in about ten minutes.”
“He won’t make it that long.” Michael looked down at the child as he uncovered the injury. A single tear dropped from his eye and landed on the wound as he gently placed his hands in a cross-like formation. A light blue glow emanated between his hands and the child’s torso. The flakes of burned skin sloughed off, the intestines receded inside, and the flesh began to knit closed. The raw areas turned a healthy pink as the bleeding ceased.
“There’s my son!” A woman rushed forward. “What are you doing to him?”
“Momma?” the boy opened his eyes and cried.
“Shh . . . Daniel, Momma’s here.”
“He’ll be fine.” Michael gently patted her back. “Your son is fine. Now I must go help the others.”
“How can I ever thank you?” The mother gathered her son in her arms and rocked back on her heels.
“There’s no need for thanks.”
Stillness engulfed him as the people halted their actions to watch. “The fire just wrapped around the new guy,” someone said.
“Not a burn on him.”
“How did he do it?”
“Is he some kind of healer?”
“He’s a magician. I once saw a magician walk through a wall of fire.”
“Look at Daniel. He’s all healed.”
“Kristy?” Michael called out. “Where are the others?”
“This way.” Kristy stared at him with a new found sense of wonder. Who was this miracle worker?
The doctor arrived as Michael finished bandaging the last person.
“They’re all yours, doc.” He wiped his hands on his pants. He looked a mess. Soot streaked his face, his shirt was covered in blood, and his pants were equally dirty.
Michael stood and followed her toward the other injured people. A second explosion rocked the carnival as they passed the fiery inferno the carousel had become. A thunderous grind and pop could be heard as the metal twisted. Michael glanced up and saw Kristy standing under the collapsing structure. He leaped forward, grabbed her by the waist, and hurled her out of its path.
A silvery shard appeared among the falling debris. The remnant entered his body on the right side, piercing his pectoral muscle. He gasped in shock as a blinding pain seared his flesh. “Irrithiril,” he whispered as he stumbled forward and sank to the ground.
“Michael!” Kristy screamed rushing to him only to be pushed aside by Luke as he knelt next to Michael. He gently peeled the shirt off and looked at the injury. The flesh around the wound had turned a grayish color.
“I’ll get the doctor!” Kristy raced away in desperate search of medical help.
“You’re in a bad way. I have to remove the metal before it kills you.”
“Do it,” Michael groaned, gritting his teeth.
“The doctor will be here when he finishes up with a little girl,” Kristy panted as she ran up to them.
“There’s no need.” Luke pulled off his shirt and tore it into strips. He made a pad and gently placed it on Michael’s chest. Holding him down, he yanked the shard out. Michael’s screams of agony could be heard above the din of the fire.
“Easy now. I’m going to try to remove the poison. I’ll have to suck it out like you would snake venom.”
Luke placed his lips on the wound and sucked. He turned his head to the side and spit the blood out and then repeated it several times until the flesh had returned to a healthy pink.
“Why, are you helping me?” Michael asked, looking into Luke’s blue eyes.
With great effort, Luke gathered Michael into his arms and stood. “Because, despite our differences, you are my brother,” he whispered.

***

Chapter Three

Luke left the Mayor’s office with permits in hand. The Mayor asked a lot of questions. He wanted to know where he was ordained, how long he had been a preacher, and where he had held other revivals. Did any fights break out? The list had gone on and on, but the promise of rejuvenation and money put a stop the interrogation. Money always worked in his favor. He pledged a sizeable donation to the town to help restore the buildings and infrastructure. Now it was time to plan his revival meeting.
Sundown was too small to have a place where he could rent a tent, tables, chairs, and sound system so he would need to look at the next town. He wondered if he could get the churches in town to help with staffing. Perhaps he could even recruit the lovely Kristy to help. Maybe get the diner to provide food and drink.
He walked with a brisk stride from City Hall to the diner. He strolled into the room like royalty entering a palace. Every head in the diner turned to look at him. All conversation came to a stop. “Good morning,” Luke greeted as he walked to the cash register. Leaning over the counter he watched Kristy count out change to a customer.
“May I help you?” she asked, closing the register drawer with a slight push.
“Do you folks cater?” He winked at her.
“Yes, we do. What is the event?”
“It’s a two week tent revival. I need to provide food and drink to about a thousand people each day.”
“That’s a tall order; I better get Cook in here.”
“Before you go, I have a personal question to ask you.” He reached out and grasped her arm. “How would you like to make extra money working at the revival? I assume this Cook person might assign you to it anyway, why not make double by working for him and me?” He lifted her hand to his lips.
“I’ll think about it.” She pulled her hand away and headed toward the kitchen. “I’ll get Cook.”
“Thank you.”

He spent the next several days going between Michael and making arrangements for the revival.
The first thing Michael saw was the lazily spinning blades of the ceiling fan in his room. He lifted his hand and let his fingers trail over the injury on his chest. A soft groan escaped his lips. The searing pain shot through his body like a white hot poker.
“Back in the land of the living, I take it.” Luke set a cup of water on the nightstand next to the bed.
“What are you doing here?” Michael struggled to sit up.
“Here, let me help,” Luke slipped his hands behind him and gently pushed him upright.
“I can manage,” he mumbled. Beads of perspiration trickled down his forehead. It took effort to lift the cup using his left hand and bring it to his lips. He paused, looking down into the cup. “What’s in it?” Suspicion crept into his voice.
Laughing Luke answered, “Water. It’s just plain water.” Luke took the cup and sipped the drink, “See? It’s just water.” He handed the cup back.
The liquid felt cool and refreshing as it trickled down his throat. “Thank you.” He laid back and let his eyes drift closed.
Hours passed as Luke sat patiently watching over his injured brethren. “Oh Michael, what a tangled mess we have.”
“Huh?” With one eye open he peeked at Luke. “Still here I take it.”
“I never left your side. Feel up to a little soup?”
“Why are you being so nice to me?”
“You are my brother, silly.” Luke busied himself in the tiny alcove of a kitchen.
“I could have killed you, you know.”
“I know, but you didn’t. You just kicked me out of the family.” Luke stared into the pot of soup, stirring on occasion. “Cast me aside like a broken toy. Now, who’s broken, eh, Michael?” He poured the steaming liquid into a soup cup, grabbed a spoon, and brought it to Michael’s bedside. “Why didn’t you kill me back then?” He sat in the chair and brought the spoon to his lips, blowing softly to cool the broth before guiding it to his brother’s mouth.
Michael inhaled the warm, salty nourishment. “After all is said and done, you are still my brother.”
“Ah, you grow weak, dear Michael. I could kill you right now.”
“And ruin your new image as a hero preacher? I think not.”
“Time will tell. For now, rest is what you need.” Luke pulled the blanket up and tucked it around him. “I shall return in a few hours.”
“Luke, when it is time, I will kill you,” Michael voice was full of melancholy.
“We’ll see, Michael, we will see.”

After nearly a week, Luke noticed Michael was up and walking around much like his old self. “I see my services are no longer needed here.”
“Thank you Luke.” Michael clapped his hand on his brother’s shoulder. “I am much better.”
Michael was left in a quandary as he watched Luke leave. He never expected his brother to care about him. What should he do now? Could he really kill him if there was any chance of redemption? Where had the Irrithiril come from? Was it embedded in the carousel, or had someone shot it into him?
He had to get out for a bit. Fresh air would clear his mind and give him the guidance he so desperately needed. He flexed his shoulder as he pulled on his shirt. There was still a twinge of discomfort but nothing like the torture he had felt the night of the carousel explosion.

Luke talked to church elders who agreed to mention the revival during worship services as well as provide choirs and an organist. Town shop keepers agreed to donate workers set up booths and sell wares. In exchange for this they would be mentioned during the revival. The shop keepers would also donate a small percentage of their proceeds as goodwill to his ministry. By sundown he had convinced nearly everyone to assist.
All he had left to do was print flyers, run ads in the local papers of each surrounding town, and rent the equipment. He would fax the signed contract for the bands he planned to bring for entertainment and write out a check for a church organist. Tomorrow he would look for rental equipment in the nearby towns. He was exhausted and returned to his hotel room where he flopped down on the chair and promptly went to sleep.

The sunset was spectacular as all the colors of the rainbow appeared to be splattered across the land. “Elohim,” he sighed, squeezing his sea-green eyes shut as though closing out the world. His hand caressed the lumps in his pack and a look of reassurance crossed his face. “Will it ever end?”
“Will what end?” Kristy asked. She had been watching him for several minutes, and he puzzled her. How was it every time she found someone who interested her, he turned out to have a problem?
“Oh, hello Kristy. Is there something I can do for you?” Michael thought she was beautiful with her hair hanging free of the usual hairnets he saw her wearing at the diner. Her soft heart shaped face almost reminded him of pixies with their large eyes and sweet smile.
“I saw you standing there. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop.”
“No problem,” he ran his hand through his hair. Elohim had not warned him of carnal feelings and he felt somewhat at a loss. He bet Luke would not have any such qualms.
“Are you okay? You disappeared with Luke after the carnival and I couldn’t find you. You looked pretty bad but the hospital in Onalaska didn’t have you listed or wouldn’t tell me.”
“I didn’t go to any hospital. Luke took me home.”
“How do you know Luke?”
“It’s complicated,” he shrugged and looked back at the setting sun.
“How complicated can it be? Who is he?”
“He’s my brother and we don’t normally get along.” Michael glanced down at her, his mouth set in a frown. “He hates me and I’m not fond of him either.”
“He asked me to help provide food for a revival meeting. I didn’t know he was a preacher.”
“Don’t do it,” Michael took her hand. “Luke is not a preacher. He’s bad news, only looking out for himself and how to swindle people out of everything.” He set his pack on the ground.
“What is that?” She pointed to his pack. “Do you carry it with you all the time?”
“Usually,” Michael glanced at the ragged backpack. “Stay away from Luke.”
“Jealous?” she asked with a teasing glint in her eyes.
“Just promise me, you will stay away from him.”
The seriousness in his eyes gave her pause before igniting her stubborn streak. “I will not. We’ve only gone on one date and it ended with you disappearing on me.”
“I was injured, Kristy, and even though Luke and I don’t get along, he is my brother. He took care of me. I was in no condition to contact you, otherwise I would have.” Michael ran his hand through his hair in agitation.
“I believe you. I just wish it had been me taking care of you. I was so worried.” She looked again at his pack. “What’s in your pack?”
“This?” A curt laugh burst forth as he pulled two items out of his pack. “This is a piece of crystal. Pretty, isn’t it? And this other item is my crucifix. It’s ancient and worn.”
“The crystal is pretty.” Kristy looked closely at it.
The crystal had a smoky cast with a hint of blue, green and red swirled inside and a smattering of what resembled the sparkle of diamonds. “Where’d you get it?”
“Let’s just say,” he paused, glancing skyward, “It came from out there.”
“A meteor?” she asked, studying him carefully. The sparkle of his sea-green eyes reminded her of sapphires and emeralds. “The cross is kind of ugly, isn’t it?”
He glanced down at the wooden crucifix. His thumb lightly ran over its time and use worn edges. “Yes it is, but this old thing has seen me through many trials and tribulations.”
“There are newer and prettier ones.”
“This one suits me just fine.” Michael smiled and asked, “I’d like another date to make up for the last one. How about having dinner with me tomorrow night?”
“I don’t know. I’d like that, but I’m afraid you’ll disappear on me again. I know you were injured and all. It’s just I tend to pick the wrong kind of guy to go out with.”
“I promise I won’t disappear on you this time.” He pulled her into his embrace and placed a gentle kiss on her forehead. “Don’t be afraid of loving me, Kristy. But, do not expect more than I can give.” He cupped her face in his hand and smiled.
“I see.” She pulled back and stared at the ground, thinking reflectively. What a fool she was to think someone as handsome as he was could ever be attracted to her. “It’s Elohim, isn’t it? I heard you say that name.”
“What?” he laughed. “Oh no, not in that way.”
“Then, who is she?”
“Elohim is my father, not my love interest.”
“What?” she gasped. Why couldn’t she stay away from men with complexes? First there was the masochist Zach, then the sadist Bernard, followed by the bisexual Roman, and now one with a parental obsession. That was just what she needed.

***

Chapter Four

Michael softly sang “Bad Company,” as he unlocked the roll down doors to the garage. Stepping inside, he flipped a switch, “Let there be light.” The over head lighting flickered on.
“What did you do to my truck?” The grizzled voice rang out from behind him.
Michael turned to face the man. The rancher looked like he had seen better days. He was dressed in patched coveralls and had a pipe stuck in his mouth. A gray beard covered his face. “What?”
“I asked you, what did you do to my truck?” Steel gray eyes locked on his face.
“What happened? Did it explode or something?” Michael looked out the garage toward the street. The truck was parked alongside the curb.
“No. I brought in a bucket of rust and it came back to me looking like a new truck. Even runs like a turbo charged one.”
Michael closed his eyes and nodded while thinking ‘Oops might have made a mistake there.’
“I just want to know how you did it.”
“I used a lot of elbow grease and more than a few prayers.” He shrugged and ran his hand through his hair. “Glad you like it.”
“If you can do that with this truck, I’ll bring my entire fleet to you.”
“Oh boy,” the sigh escaped his lips before he could stop it. “Um . . . that’d be nice. Thanks for the business.” He shook his hand and guided the old man toward the door. Michael looked questioningly at the Mayor standing by the door.
“Mayor,” the rancher greeted as he walked away.
“Good day, Mayor,” Michael reached for a grease rag. “You don’t want to bring me the entire town fleet too, do you?”
“No, I was actually coming to talk to you about something entirely different. Can we go into your office?” Jared asked.
“Sure.”
The office was tiny with barely enough room for a desk and two chairs. “Would you like a bottle of water?” Michael reached into the little refrigerator and pulled out two bottles.
“Thank you. It’s a bit stuffy in here,” the mayor tugged on his shirt and tie.
“Sorry.” Michael opened a window. “So, what can I do for you?” He sat back in the chair and propped his feet on the desk.
Julia was walking past the window when she heard their voices and paused to listen.
“I got back your background check,” Jared set the papers down on the desk.
“Is there a problem?” Michael swiveled the chair to look at the mayor.
“You might say so. It seems there is a bit of discrepancy in the records regarding you.”
“Like what?”
“On one hand, there doesn’t seem to be any record of your existence. No social security number, no birth records, marriage records, or school records. Only thing coming up that might be about you is an arrest for kidnapping in Fairmont, Oregon. Big write up about the courthouse catching fire, people dying and you disappearing.” Jared paused and waited for a reaction.
“What makes you think it was me?” Michael sat forward, plopping his feet on the floor.
The mayor pulled out a copy of the report. “This photo taken during the trial looks like you.”
“I don’t know where that came from.” He looked the mayor unflinchingly in the eyes.
“I have to give you some credit; after all, you did save a bunch of children and adults during the carnival disaster.” Feeling a tingle, the mayor shook his head. “I like to think a criminal would not lend himself to any kind of scrutiny if he was hiding from the law.” He felt dazed, almost as though he had been mentally shoved.
“Well, there you have it.” Michael smiled at the mayor. “Don’t worry about the report.”
“Glad to hear it,” the mayor shook himself as though waking from a stupor. “I’m happy we got it all resolved.”
The mayor walked slowly out of the garage.
“Very good,” Luke chuckled, appearing from around the corner and clapping his hands. “You managed that one brilliantly. Did you really kill a bunch of people in Fairmont?”
“Let it alone, Luke,” Michael groused. “Do you need anything, or are you here just to heckle me?”
“My, my, back to your grumpy old self. After everything I did for you,” he laughed, shaking his head.
“Get out of here before I smote you into oblivion.” Michael angrily hissed.

Kristy leaned on the counter and sighed. She just couldn’t figure out Michael. One minute he’s kind and somewhat romantic, the next he’s mysterious and dangerous. He rescues kids from burning rides, disappears without a word, and then acts like it was perfectly natural to do so. What draws her to guys like that?
“Boy trouble?” Julia, her friend and supervisor, asked as she cleaned the ketchup bottles. “That Michael of yours is quite a hero.” She pondered whether or not to tell Kristy what she had heard. What good would come of it, if she told her? On one hand she could be saving Kristy a lot of heartache if what the Mayor said was true. On the other, if the Mayor had wrong information like Michael appeared to indicate, that kind of knowledge might ruin what could be an excellent match.
“Yes, he’s a real hero alright. First he rescues people, and then when he gets hurt he disappears. I didn’t hear a word from him for a week. Then I see him heading out to the park. Do you know what he said, Julia?”
“No, what did he say?”
“He told me to stay away from Preacher Luke and the revival. Then he wants me to go out with him again. And he hates his brother. Oh, by the way, his brother is Luke.” Kristy felt her frustration building again. “And he has a father fixation.”
“Oh, honey, you have got it bad.”
“Me? I’ve got it bad? What about him?”
“Go on and go out with him again.” Julia paused, thinking about the conversation she had overheard. “If this date doesn’t go well, then dump him.”
“Who are you going to dump?” Michael asked as he approached the counter. “I’d like to speak with Kristy, please.” He leaned with his elbows propped against the counter and gave her a lopsided smile.
“Go ahead and talk.”
“Alone, please Kristy.” Michael kept his voice low. What was it about her that sent his heart racing? Just looking at her made him feel like wrapping his arms around her in a cocoon like embrace and holding her forever.
“Okay, follow me.” She led him to a room in the back of the diner. “What do you want?” She asked with her arms folded across her chest.
“Still upset with me, I see.” He looked sad as he reached into his pocket. What was it about her that made him dream, desire and want more than he could ever hope to have with her? What was this yearning he felt deep inside his soul?
“Yes, I am, Michael,” she gulped. The vulnerable look in his eyes softened her anger. She wanted to hold him and kiss his sadness away.
“I have a gift for you. It’s kind of an I’m sorry present. I’m sorry I didn’t let you know where I was and I’m sorry for trying to bully you into not working the revival. Truth be told, I was a little jealous Luke might win you over.” He placed a small wood carved box into her hand. “Go ahead and open it,” Michael smiled awkwardly, looking like a small boy. “I made it for you.”
The box was polished to a high sheen. Inside it was lined with white cotton. Sitting on the cotton bed was a mahogany crucifix and gold chain stippled in silver.
“It’s beautiful.” A huge lump grew in her throat as she looked at the gift. How many hours had it taken him to carve something so intricately lovely?
“Will you accept my apology and go out with me again?” He watched her intently.
Kristy looked at him. The look of hope on his face reminded her of a puppy. He looked so sincere and innocent, she felt her heart melting. “Okay, I forgive you. Will you put this on me?”
“Thanks. I promise I won’t disappear on you again.” He took the crucifix and opened the clasp. He brushed her hair aside, draped the cross lightly around her neck, and fastened it. His lips lightly pressed the side of her neck in a tender kiss.
Kristy turned to look at him. His smile lighted his entire countenance, emphasizing laugh lines she had not noticed before. “Oh, Michael,” she moaned. “I can’t stay mad at you.” She smiled and returned his kiss.

Luke watched the workers erect the tent before turning his attention to the stage. He had put on a clerical collar to better fit the preacher profile he was becoming known for. It felt both constraining and comforting at the same time, almost as though he had come full circle and was home again.
“Put the podium to the left on the stage, please. The choir goes on the right as you are looking at it from the audience.”
“Yes, Preacher Luke,” the worker said.
“Watch where you put the power lines. Don’t want people getting hurt by tripping over them.”
“Where do you want the food tables?” Another worker asked.
“Put them in the back behind the stack of chairs. Set the chairs up in rows with aisles running up to the stage. Then line up the carpet runners down the aisle to the stage.”
He walked around the revival grounds. “Please put three tables in front of the stage and the brass urn in the middle of the center table.” He tugged on the collar. He had not realized they were so hot and scratchy. “Okay guys, I think it’s time for a break. Please help yourselves to food and water.”
He opened the cooler and pulled out a bottle of water. Too bad it wasn’t whiskey or a beer he thought as he swigged down the cold liquid. He walked over to the giant screens. There were five ready to be mounted. This time tomorrow he would be ready for the crowds.
Flyers and handouts had been placed all over the surrounding towns. Local newspapers and shops had been notified. A dozen or so had agreed to set up booths and donate a percentage to the revival. The vendors were starting to arrive. He had arranged for his security detail to patrol the grounds throughout the two week event.

Julia carried a load of plates into the kitchen. “Table six doesn’t like the chicken.”
“Not again!” Cook peered through the window, across the bar stools to the table. “What is it about that group and table six?”
“Don’t know, Sugar. Maybe, they just want their Kristy back,” she shrugged. “Going to fix it up for ’em?”
“Yeah, ought to charge double,” he grumbled. “Shouldn’t have let Kristy be the one to work that Bible Thumpers event. I should’ve sent you. You’d set them fanatics on a spin, that’s for sure.”
“Hey! I’m not that bad! I just like me a little fun now and then, especially if he’s got hot buns.”
“Julia!” Cook choked on a swallow of soda and nearly spit the drink onto the chicken dish he was preparing.
“Say, Cook, what do you think of Kristy’s new male interest?” She pinched his bottom and followed up with a slap.
“You mean interests, don’t you?” Cook jumped and looked at his wife with half a frown.
“You mean she has two? I declare, the child only tole me about one. The badass Harley riding one. Who’s the other?”
“The preacher,” they said in unison.
“You do know the preacher guy is the badass guy’s brother, right?” Julia tucked a loose strand of hair back under the hairnet.
“It figures. I like the badass one, as you call him. The goody boy, I’m not so sure about.” Cook slid the chicken from the grill onto a clean plate and garnished it. “Table six is ready to go again.”

“Luke?” Kristy called, “Where’s the freezers we asked for?”
“Over there by the drinks.” He pointed to the food tent. Picnic tables had been set up around it and serving tables were placed under the tent.
“Thanks.” Turning to her crew, “Guys, let’s start unloading the food. Make sure the meat stays frozen.”
She wiped the sweat from her face. It was hot and humid, almost as though it might rain. She looked up to the sky. Not a cloud in sight. “So much for rain,” she mumbled and began pulling boxes forward from the truck bed.
Michael stood under the shade of the first aid tent and watched as the work went on around him. With the canyons in the background, Luke had picked the perfect spot to hold a revival. There was an indefinable feeling of the spiritual in the desert.
He stuck a blade of grass into his mouth and chewed it thoughtfully. What did he need to do to keep Kristy away from Luke? He closed his eyes as memories of the feel of Kristy’s hand in his came to mind. The way her hair smelled of blackberry shampoo; the warmth of her curves; and the sweetness of his kisses on her brought an unexpected longing and arousal.
He watched as Kristy moved back and forth between the truck and the freezers. He liked the way her hips swayed in a gentle sashay as she worked. He found a simple flip of her hair to be mesmerizing when she paused and looked around.
“Elohim is this lust?” he whispered, “or love? What am I supposed to do, Elohim?” He leaned back against the tent pole and used one leg to prop himself in place while he stood on the other. “These feelings are driving me crazy. What am I supposed to do?”
Michael stepped from the shade, “Kristy?” He called, “Are you ready for our date?”
Kristy looked around before spotting him. Her smile set his heart beating in a rapid tango. “I told you I’d pick you up around six, remember?” He took the box from her arms and carried it to the freezer.
“Oh! I lost track of time! I’m not dressed to go out.” She looked down at her dirty hands and jeans.
“It’s okay. Where I plan to take you, you don’t need to be dressed up.” He lifted her hand to his lips in a brief kiss.
“Give me five minutes to freshen up, okay?” Just looking at him sent a tingle down her spine causing her to blush as riotous thoughts jumbled her mind. She so wanted to get into his pants.
“Okay,” he leaned back against the folding tables, crossing his arms, and smiled.
His languid motion sent ripples down her spine. He looked just like he stepped out of some old movie poster of that 1950’s actor, James Dean, who always played the misunderstood rebel. He was one sexy dude, she thought as she raced to the restroom to clean up.

***

Chapter Five

She climbed onto the cycle, sitting just in front of a large basket. Michael handed her a new looking helmet. “Put this on, please.”
“What about you?” Kristy took the helmet. It was as black as coal and had silver wings etched on both sides. The back had Michael etched in gold lettering.
“I’ll be okay.” He straddled the bike and grabbed the handles. “Hold on.”
She wrapped her arms around his waist as he kick started the motorcycle. She liked the way she had to lean against him. His body was pleasingly warm and sent shivers down her back. Her hands roamed up and down his chest feeling the washboard planes of his abdominal muscles.
A warm tingle caressed him near his belt and he felt the warmth starting to spread outward. “Uh… Kristy?” he rasped, “You might want to move your arms a little higher, please.” He pulled his shades down.
“Oh, okay.” She slid her hands up along his shirt. “Here?”
“Yeah,” he choked. His body felt like it was on fire from the trail her hands left as they traveled up his front.
She laid her head against his back. The smell of leather mixed with mint was heady. She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply.
Michael twisted the handles on the giant machine causing the engine to rev loudly as they spun out onto the road. The white dotted stripes on the road blurred into a single line as he sped away from the revival location and headed toward the canyons.
The wind stung his face and whipped his hair back in gusts hitting Kristy in the face. They rode for ten miles before he abruptly turned off onto a dirt path and headed into the canyons. The road was bumpy and they rocked from side to side to keep from tipping over.
At times, Michael rose off the seat and used his body to slip the bike in another direction. They rounded a hill and the canyons opened out like a baseball glove giving up the ball.
Michael brought the bike to a halt. He pointed at a single tree growing from a rocky outcropping. “That’s where we’re going.”
“It’s beautiful out here. I never realized how pretty the desert could be,” Kristy removed her helmet and shook her hair out.
Michael watched as the sun cast highlights on her auburn hair, making her hazel eyes sparkle with flecks of color. He stepped close, “You are so beautiful.” His voice sounded husky. His fingers gently stroked her chin and tilted her face upward as he moved closer and softly kissed her lips. Stepping back, he reached for the basket, “Ready for a little hike?”
Dazed, she opened her eyes and peered up at him. “Oh, yes.” Her voice sounded breathless even to herself.
He took her hand and began walking toward the tree. The red sands of the desert shifted a little and he grasped her elbow to steady her. He softly sang “I Love You I Do,” by Erika Davies as they walked. His voice added a haunting melancholy to the song about searching for love.
She closed her eyes, allowing him to guide her, as she listened to him sing. “You have a lovely voice.”
“Thank you. I used to sing a bit a long time ago.” A boyish grin swept across his face.
“Love songs?”
“I’d say it was closer to Gospel with some folk and rock.” He glanced down at her, “Does that scare you?”
She shook her head, “Why should it? I like all kinds of music, but I must admit I’m partial to country songs.”
“Let’s see, songs about love, drinking, jail, and Momma, right?” He laughed. “Who’s your favorite?”
“I like Gary Allan. One of his older songs, ‘Smoke Rings in the Dark,’ is my favorite. It sounds so haunting and sad about a love that has died.”
“And the night is like a dagger,” he sang, his voice swelled with sorrow and the pain of a lost love.
“You do know it!”
“Yeah,” he smiled shyly. “One of my favorites is ‘Hold On’ sung by Tom Waits. I find it just a little sad with a longing for love and home. I also like old time gospel songs because they are so uplifting.”
“So, you’re religious like your brother, Luke?”
“You say I’m religious, but I’m nothing like Luke. If anything we are polar opposites.” A frown crept across his face.
“Touchy subject?”
“You might say that. Here we are.” He set the basket down, and opened the lid. He pulled a blanket out and spread it on the ground under the tree. Patting the blanket he beckoned, “Come sit beside me.”
“What smells so good in the basket?” She pulled her knees up and wrapped her arms around them.
“Dinner,” he winked, “I have made a feast for you.”
He reached inside and pulled out two plates, flatware, napkins, and bottles of water. “Baked apples with cinnamon and apple brandy sauce.” He waved the dish under her nose and then set it between them.
“Bannock with honey cooked in a frying pan.” The flat bread was placed next to the apples.
“To complement the apples we have chickpea salad with vinaigrette dressing for the bread, blackberry crumble, and ambrosia, nectar of the gods. And for you, I baked a chicken.”
“Wow! It all smells great.” She sniffed appreciatively. Her stomach grumbled in anticipation of the meal.
“If you don’t mind, I’d like to give thanks for our food.”
“Certainly.”
They bowed their heads. “Almighty God, and merciful father, we come to you this day to give thanks. We thank you for the food upon our humble table in a world where many have none. We thank you for faith when many walk in fear. Oh glorious father, we thank you for friendship and love in a world filled with strife and uncertainty. Bless the Lord of our souls, and everything within us. For all these divine gifts we give thanks. Amen.”
He lifted his head and motioned for her to eat. He pulled spoons out and placed a portion of each container on a plate. “Dig in,” he handed her one.
He stretched his legs out and leaned on his right elbow. “So, Kristy, who are you? Tell me everything. I want to know what you like, don’t like, everything.”
“I don’t know where to begin,” Kristy placed a piece of chicken on the flat bread and ate. “Umm . . . this is delicious.” She sampled the chickpea salad. “Well, I have always lived here. I’ve never been west of Flagstaff, or south of Phoenix. I’ve always lived near the Mogollon Rim.” She licked the blackberry crumble from her lips. “I love the desert and canyons. However, I would love to travel someday.”
“I think you will travel. I like to think your travels might include me.”
“I can see it now, the two of us riding all over the continent on your motorcycle. It’d be fun.”
“I think so,” Michael’s voice softened and filled with longing. “That’d be nice.” He reached over and brushed a stray lock of hair from her face. “What’s your favorite color?”
“Green.”
“Green is the color of nature. It means growth, nature, healing, and safety. I like the colors of nature. There are so many shades of green in plants it’s almost like looking at a kaleidoscope of color.”
They talked for hours. “Now I’ve told you about me, it’s your turn. Who is Michael?”
“I am,” he replied, a wicked grin crept across his face.
“You are?” She laughed. “You are what?”
“I am,” he laughed.
“I am the puff of air, blowing a grain of sand a thousand miles. I am the scent of fresh mowed grass on a hot summer morning. I am the water trickling through the leaves after a rainstorm. I am the flash of lightning followed by a clap of thunder. I am.”
“You are a poet,” she sighed, settling back in the crook of his arm. “The sky is lovely tonight,” Kristy sighed.
“I always think its beautiful when the thunder booms and lightning flashes and there is a sense of electricity running through you.”
Slowly, he slid closer to her until they were sitting side by side with his jacket draped around her shoulders. “And the stars are bright like shining beacons pointing to heaven.”
She rested her head on him. “You talk like you know heaven.”
He twined his fingers in hers and sighed with contentment. “Anyone can know heaven if they truly want to.”
He gently kissed the tip of her ear, sliding lower where he softly nipped the lobe. She arched her neck as he trailed kisses down to her collarbone and back up to her chin, then her lips.
He pulled back slightly. Her eyes were half closed as she licked her lips. He tilted her head up and lowered his lips to hers. She wrapped her arms around him and pulled him closer as she lay back on the blanket.
Michael felt the heat of his arousal spreading from his thighs as he continued to kiss her. A low moan escaped Kristy’s lips as she slid one hand around to his front and fingered the buttons on his shirt. The touch of her fingers on his bare flesh sent ripples of fire throughout his body. Every nerve tingled with desire. His chest muscles flexed and bunched everywhere her fingers alighted.
Kristy’s hands ran over his chest, down his stomach and touched his belt. “Kristy,” his breath came out ragged and hoarse.
She ran her hand over the soft leather before ringing the silver buckle with her finger. She fumbled with the buckle.
“Kristy,” he groaned and slid his hand over hers. Kristy paused, looking at his half closed eyes and slipped her hand lower to his groin.
Michael gasped and shoved her hand aside, sitting up abruptly. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I’m so sorry. I can’t, not on a second date.”
He stood on shaky legs and buttoned his shirt. “It’s not you, Kristy, it’s me.”
He quickly gathered everything and shoved them into the basket. “I think we need to go before I lose control.”
He looked around for his jacket and spied it wrapped around Kristy. He held out his hand and helped her stand.
She walked to the motorcycle, and turned to look at him with a confused expression.
“I’m so sorry,” he whispered.

***

Chapter Six

Kristy had made arrangements to meet Julia at the diner before it opened so she could grab the last of the supplies earmarked for the revival. She did not sleep well the night before. Thoughts of Michael and what almost was kept jumping into her thoughts. Where had she gone wrong? He had seemed so interested in her and then abruptly took her home.
“How’d the date go last night?” Julia handed her a stack of boxes.
“I don’t know,” Kristy mumbled, sorting through the boxes and checking the items off her list. She had dark smudges under her eyes from lack of sleep.
“You don’t know?” Julia placed a hand on her arm. “What happened? Is anything wrong? He didn’t hurt you, did he?” Her black face was creased with worry lines. She felt as though her employees were her children and anyone causing them harm would have to deal with her and Cook. “You want me to stick Cook on him? You know my hubby would beat the tar out of anyone who hurts you.”
“No, it’s not like that.” Kristy shook her head, barely able to keep tears in check.
“So what’s wrong, honey?”
“Yeah, well, everything was going great until the kissing started.” She sighed and shrugged her shoulders. “Then, oh, I don’t know!”
Julia lifted an eyebrow at her friend. “Tell Julia what happened?”
“Wish I knew. One minute we were kissing, the next he was getting to his feet saying we should leave.”
“Did you ask him what was wrong?”
“He said it wasn’t me, it was him.”
“That’s a typical line.” Julia pondered the situation. “I don’t know. He seems very interested in you. Could he be playing you for something?”
“He can’t be bad, Julia. Look how he jumped in and saved all those people at the carnival. He just can’t be a player. It doesn’t fit with what I know about him.” Kristy leaned against the counter and dropped her head into her hands. “What’s wrong with me? Why do I always pick losers?”
“He does look like a badass, sugar,” Julia patted her on the shoulder. “He looks like a wanderer, you know? Those drifter types who either come into town and kills or saves everyone? I take it he didn’t tell you what was wrong?” Her expression changed from puzzled to surprise. “You don’t think he’s a virgin, do you?”
“Oh c’mon, Julia, a guy as hot as him, can’t be a virgin.” Kristy looked at her friend. “Oh my god, I bet that’s it! He’s a virgin! Oh man, that explains everything!” She laughed, “Thanks, Julia! I thought he . . . never mind what I thought. I have to get things going at the revival.”
The crowded diner had become deathly still with silence as everyone turned to look at the women. Cook noticed the lack of sound and peeked out the window to see everyone sitting as though in shock. First one client snickered and then others followed until the entire restaurant was laughing.

Michael stared morosely at the equipment spread around him. He couldn’t help looking over at the diner when Kristy’s truck arrived. What a mess of things he’d made last night. “Elohim, how can you expect me to do those things? I don’t know how to proceed. I bet Luke doesn’t have this problem,” he muttered. He dropped the screw driver into the drawer and slammed it shut. “I’ve always obeyed, done what you wanted me to do. I need you to tell me how to handle this,” he mumbled.
“Hey mister,” the boy called, peeking inside the garage.
“Yes?” Michael recognized him as the teen he had stopped from stealing at the diner. What had the boy heard, he wondered?
“I, uh, I just wanted to say thanks for the other day.”
“You’re welcome.” Michael straightened up and looked at the boy. “How old are you?”
“Sixteen.”
“You want a job at this station? It’s kind of hard to pump gas and fix vehicles at the same time.”
“You mean it?” Excitement grew in his voice. “For money?”
“For money. I’ll pay you a quarter above minimum wage. After a month, if you work out, I’ll raise your rate by a dollar.”
“When do I start?”
“There’s one condition,” Michael pulled some papers from the desk. “First you have to promise me, no more stealing.”
“I promise.”
“Now, fill out these forms. I’m Michael.”
“We have the same name,” the teen grinned. “I’m Miguel.”
“Welcome, Miguel. Can you start tomorrow?” He shoved his shirt sleeve up and held his hand out.
“I can. School is out for summer now so I can work anytime you want me.” A grin flashed across his bronzed face as they shook hands.
“Be here at eight in the morning, then.”
“I can start right now, if you want me to.”
Michael looked at him for several minutes. “Okay, it’s a deal. C’mon, I’ll start showing you the ropes. First, if you ever need me and I’m not around, here is my phone number. Now, you can help yourself to drinks and snacks, but you stay out of my private quarters and the garage. My quarters are mine and well; you could get hurt in the garage if you mess with the equipment.”

Luke glanced around at the revival grounds with satisfaction. He loved it when everything came together quickly and without a hitch. Tonight he expected a small local crowd. With the show he planned to put on the crowd will swell until at least five hundred people came by the end of the week. He would rake in enough money to pay for rejuvenating Sundown like he promised and still have plenty of pocket change afterward.
“Religion is good business.” He tilted his head back and laughed. “Hello, Kristy. Can you come over here a minute? I’d like your opinion on these arrangements.”
“Sure thing, Preacher Luke.” She placed the box she was carrying on a table.
“Let’s dispense with the formalities in private, shall we?”
“Okay, Luke. What do you need?”
“Should I put white lilies beside the pedestal or purple lilacs? Or should I mix the two together?”
“Mix them. They would look lovely the way purple and white intertwine.”
“Can I ask you a personal question?”
“Another one?”
“Well, yes. As you know, I’m kind of new here. Is there anything to do in this godforsaken town?”
“Well, there’s a small library if you like reading, a video store, a bowling alley, and a movie theater. Beyond that you have to go into Onalaska, Holbrook, or Sedona. Personally, Sedona has more to offer.”
“I’ll have to check it out if I get some time. Would you like to join me?”
Kristy looked sharply at him. “You do know I’m dating your brother, right?”
“That’s not what I heard. Rumor has it you broke up after last night.”
“I see,” she crossed her arms. “Who told you that? Just because we went out twice does not mean he and I were a couple.”
“Then you have no objections to going out with me?”
Something told Kristy to tread lightly, “We’ll see. Let’s just get through tonight’s first revival meeting, shall we?” She hurried back to her booth and began preparing the food for the evening. Why was she reluctant to date Luke but had no qualms about trying to jump Michael’s bones? Both men seemed nice, although Michael appeared to be a bit of a rebel, and Luke was his opposite dressing in fancy clothes and driving an expensive car. Still, Luke was a preacher and Michael was a mechanic. What should she do?

***

Chapter Seven

The diner was nearly empty since a lot of people were planning to attend the tent revival just outside of town and would eat at the food booths. Julia wiped the counter with a damp cloth. She polished, and wiped, and polished the wood.
“Julia, babe, is something wrong?” Cook asked as he came out of the kitchen to watch his beloved wife savagely cleaning the counter again and again. “Sweetheart, the counter is clean. You can stop now.” He gently grasped her arm and tugged the cloth from her fingers.
“Huh?” She turned, blinking back tears. She had been troubled ever since overhearing the conversation between Mayor Jared and Michael. What if Michael was really a murderer? She had told Kristy to give him another chance even after she had overheard the conversation with the Mayor. She could have sent Kristy into the arms of a cold-blooded killer. Thankfully she had come back after the date in one piece.
“What’s wrong? Why are there tears?” His robust face looked tenderly at her. She had captured his heart many years ago during the racial battles of the sixties when the Harlem and Los Angeles riots were in the news almost as often as the anti-war protesters. He had never cared one bit about the color of her skin. He saw the beauty of her heart, her face, and knew she was the one for him. He would gladly punch out anyone who caused her distress or harm.
“Oh, hon!” She looked at his age worn face. “You are pretty perceptive for a white dude,” she laid her head against his shoulder. Cook had fought hard to win her heart back when interracial marriages were virtually unheard of. Both parents had objected but his love for her won out. She never regretted her decision to marry him and move to Sundown. Although they were not fortunate enough to have children, everyone who worked in their diner became part of their family.
“Tell Cook what’s eating at you.” He ran his hands up and down her back, working at the stress knots until they loosened.
“It’s Kristy. I feel so bad for her.”
“Why, babe?”
“She always picks the wrong man. I was hoping this Michael guy would finally be the right one for her. But he might not be. The other day I was coming back from running food over to the Johnsons when I passed by the garage. I overheard Mayor Jared talking to Michael about some murders he might have been involved in.”
“What did Michael say?” A frown creased his lined face.
“He didn’t really say much of anything. I think he said he didn’t know where some newspaper picture or report came from. He didn’t deny killing anyone and he didn’t admit it either. Of course, who in their right mind would admit to killing someone? And it seems there’s no kind of records on him anywhere. None. Zilch.”
“No social security number?”
“Nope, none. But then Mayor Jared commented he did save all those people at the carnival fire, so I guess, maybe he’s not bad. At least not all bad. Even after hearing that I still told her to go on a second date with him. I guess no matter how I look at it, I still like Michael more than Luke. Luke, I don’t trust at all. And it seems funny to me with him being a preacher and all.”
“Love, trust your gut. You always had a way of seeing through the bull. So if you still like Michael, then go with it. Give the guy the benefit of doubt. He hasn’t done anything bad here. He saved a bunch of people. And from what I hear, he’s a master mechanic and is doing repairs above and beyond what is called for. He’s doing this and charging a fair and honest price for each job. So, give him a chance until he does something wrong.”
“Okay, but I also get the feeling there is something more to him. Something he hasn’t shared with anyone.”
“You want me to keep an eye on him for Kristy, don’t you?” Cook nodded at her. “Okay, babe, you know I will do anything for you. And if he hurts her, he’ll see the back side of my fists.”
“Thank you, sweetums!” She hugged and kissed her husband. She felt as though a great weight had been lifted from her shoulders. “We’re getting too old for all this drama.”
“Sixty-seven isn’t old, love. We’re just starting down this journey of ours.”
“You always say that,” she laughed and swatted him with the towel.

Kristy looked at the massive tents and smiled. The stage for the after sermon bands were in the center of the midway just in front of the food court. Her area had red and white striped tents. Boards were placed everywhere stating what food and drinks were available. Picnic tables had been arranged strategically so the people eating could also watch the big screens and listen to the sermons.
She had set fans in place to blow the aroma of typical revival, festival, and fair foods such as corn dogs, hamburgers, fries, buttered corn on the cob, deep fried cheese, and sausage on a stick. Sweets included funnel cake, cotton candy, elephant ears, fritters, deep fried peanut butter cups, and Twinkies. Drinks also included fresh squeezed lemonade, assorted sodas, and beer. Anyone on a diet was crazy to attend a revival, fair, festival, or carnival without eating at home first.
“I see you are ready to open,” Luke smiled at her. “Everything smells so decadent, and sinfully delicious.” He ran his tongue along his lips. “I’m going to have to try some myself in a little while.”
Michael strolled through the open gates with a few early attendees. He kept to the shadows so as not be noticed. “This should be interesting,” he smirked as he spotted Luke moving closer to Kristy.
“So, when are the people supposed to arrive?” Kristy asked stepping out from behind the food tables.
“The revival starts at seven, so anytime after six would be good. Don’t worry, they will come. There is the old adage, if you build it, they will come. I think it’s fitting here, don’t you?” He moved closer and slipped his arm through hers. “Care for a tour inside the giant tent?”
“I’d love it.”
Michael scowled as he watched Luke guide Kristy away from the food court into the revival tent. He couldn’t follow behind without being noticed, so he remained where he was and watched. His anger grew as thoughts of Luke trying to win Kristy filled his mind. He was a man on a mission and the mission was to keep Kristy safe from people like Luke.
As he watched, waited and grew more impatient and angry he could feel the temperature falling around him as the sun set. Looking up he was surprised to see dark clouds gathering over the revival area instead of the normal splatters of paint colors in the sky. The clouds matched the bleakness of his mood.

Inside the main revival tent Luke was explaining how everything was connected through an audio video board allowing the sermons to be heard and seen throughout the grounds. “I just love technology, don’t you?” he asked as he slipped his arm around her waist.
“I’m not caught up in technology,” Kristy replied, stepping forward out of his grasp. “I like the element of face to face conversation. I think too much technology dehumanizes us.”
“But without technology we wouldn’t be able to reach masses of people around the world. This revival is being recorded and will be uploaded to the internet for anyone to see.” Luke stepped toward her.
Kristy turned and walked over to the pulpit. “This wood is really nice. Where did you get it?”
“The pulpit is mine. I brought it from my home base. It is hand carved and polished with real wax, not the stuff you find in stores today.” Pride swelled within his chest. He stood beside her. “I buy only the finest for my congregation. They in turn appreciate my efforts and are very generous with funding projects.” He turned and lifted a finger to graze her cheek.
“I heard you are donating a sizeable amount to the town to renovate the downtown section.” Kristy turned away and looked around the room. It looked like a giant church. There was also a large tub on the stage filled with water. She surmised it was a baptismal tub.
“And to help rebuild infrastructure. I find that a worthy cause.”
“What about feeding the hungry? I find that more important.”
“But I am doing so by renovating and rebuilding the town. All this work will be done locally. So, I am putting food on people’s tables by putting them back to work. So, Kristy, have you given any more thought to going with me to Sedona?”
“I’ve been busy.”
“Aren’t you afraid of going out with a hot head who might be a killer?”
“Who are you talking about?” She looked at him.
“It’s probably just another rumor. Seems Michael might have killed some people in another town. Of course, that’s just conjecture seeing as he is here in Sundown. But wouldn’t you be just a little worried about it?”

Michael paced the ground near the tent. What was taking them so long? It was just a tent. It’s not like it was the Taj Mahal or something equally splendid.
A bolt of lightning slammed across the sky followed closely by a peal of thunder. Looking up, the first drops of rain pelted his face. The sky darkened until it was pitch black. Automatic lamps came on and cast eerie pools of light. Electricity shot through the air with each jagged stroke; an unrelenting deluge creating large puddles virtually impassable without getting shoes and pants wet.
The fierceness of the storm matched the blackness of his mood, its’ violence mirrored his thundering heart. The water formed rivulets streaming down the dirt aisles. The air smelled of ozone and burnt battery acid. If he sniffed carefully he could detect a faint scent of sulfur mixed in with the ozone to create a caustic stench.
Michael tilted his head further back and let the water run down his face. He shook his head and rain drops flew from his dripping wet hair. He raised his arms toward the heavens as though conducting a symphony. The calliope of noise from the storm drowned out the revival music pumping through loudspeakers. Rain came down in torrents and soon turned the revival grounds into a massive pit of mud.
Flashes of lightning slammed through the skies, one jagged sword after another, striking anything in its path. Trees were sundered in half; winds whipped anything not tied down across the grounds. A brilliant white bolt hammered a car and set the alarm squealing. A loud crackle and explosion of light hit the main tent and sent it crashing to the ground. People screamed and rushed for cover.
Michael sprinted to the fallen tent and frantically dug through the remains. “Kristy! Luke!” He screamed. He tossed boxes and pieces of tent poles aside. “Kristy! Luke! Where are you?” Michael paused listening for their voices.
“Here!” Kristy’s response sounded muffled.
With renewed vigor, he slashed the material with a pocket knife until he found her. He reached down, lifted her into his arms, and carried her out. “Are you hurt?” He searched her face, her arms, began to lift her shirt to look for injuries.
“No,” she pulled her shirt back down in a daze.
“Where’s Luke?” Michael shoved her pant legs up and examined her legs.
“I don’t know,” she looked around. “He was in there with me.”
“Let’s get you out of here. There’ll be no revival tonight.”

The violent storm had put a damper on attendance at the revival. Reports of tornados and whirling dervishes leaving a swath of destruction came in. When the main tent collapsed they cancelled the rest of the night. Kristy did not see Luke, but one of his assistants told everyone to go home.
“You have to find Luke,” she cried, “he was in the tent with me.”
“Hush,” Michael held her close. “I’ll look for him after I take care of you first.” He kicked aside broken crates and fabric as he shifted her into a more comfortable position.
She closed her eyes reveling in the feel of Michael’s arms around her as he carried her from the debris. Cradled against his chest she felt at once safe and endangered. Who was he? Did he really kill people like Luke implied? Never had she felt such a pull on her heart for one person. His heart thundered and his chest was hot to touch, almost as though the act of carrying her had awakened sexual tension in him.
His sea-green eyes stared into her face with crystal clarity as he wrapped her in his jacket. He placed her in front of him on his cycle and enveloped her with his arms as he held the handles and started the big machine.
They roared off into the wet night. He slowed the cycle when they approached the garage. He parked the cycle inside and helped her off. Before she could stop him, he picked her up and carried her to his room above the garage and placed her on the bed. “You might want to get out of your wet clothes.” He turned his back to give her privacy.
“I’m really okay. You can take me home.”
“I’d feel better if you stayed here tonight. The weather is too rough to venture out in it again. Please, Kristy, trust me. You’re better off here tonight.”
Once she had slipped off the clothes she pulled the covers over her. The last thing she remembered was his gentle caress of her cheek. “Sleep well, mi amour,” he murmured, lightly kissing her forehead. He pulled a chair close to the bed and sat.

***

Chapter Eight

Michael was entering the garage when he heard a noise coming from the small lounge he had next to the work station. The teen was laying on a loveseat. “Miguel?” He shook the teen’s shoulder.
“What?” Miguel sat up rubbing his eyes.
“What are you doing here?”
“Sleeping.”
“What about your parents? Aren’t they worried about you?” Michael looked at the teen thoughtfully.
“They’re dead. I’ve been living from friend to friend all year.”
“I am sorry to hear that,” Michael placed a hand on his shoulder.
“I need someplace to call home, Michael, or the authorities are going to take me and put me in an orphanage. Will you take me in?” he pleaded.
“I would love to but I can’t.” Seeing the teen’s shoulders slump, he continued, “But I know someone who can and would love to have you.”
“You do? Who?” Hope flitted across his face.
“Julia and Cook. I’m going to get some breakfast and then head over to the revival to see how bad things are. I’ll talk with them.”
“Did you find Preacher Luke last night?”
“No, that’s another reason I’m going back to the revival to look for him. When Kristy awakens I want you to put a sign on the door saying closed but the pumps are open. We’ll use the honor system. Folks can slide what they owe into the mail drop. Then I want you to get some breakfast. Hang around here. I’ll call if I need you. Please put this bag and coffee in my room with this note.”
“Okay. Wow, you trust me to go into your room. I hope she’s decent,” Miguel winked.
“Nothing happened,” Michael said quickly.

The sound of the door closing awakened Kristy. The smell of hot coffee and bagels made her sit upright. A tray had been placed on the nightstand. A note on the tray read, “Good morning, sunshine. I trust you slept well. I have business to attend to. Enjoy some breakfast. I will see you later. Michael.”

Luke hobbled around the grounds in a rage. The midway looked as though a flood had rampaged through it. The walkways were covered in mud ankle deep and puddles of water lay scattered in such quantities it was virtually impossible to miss stepping in them.
“Look at what you’ve done! This is going to cost a fortune to fix!” He hollered looking at the destruction caused by the storm. “I’m supposed to do this revival!” Debris was everywhere. Tables lay on their sides, booths had been smashed into bits. Remnants of tents lay scattered throughout the grounds. “You will not get in my way! I hate you and everything you represent,” he cried and grasped his leg. The roar of a motorcycle drew his attention away from the wreckage.
“Michael! You get out of here!” He collapsed to the ground writhing in agony. “I don’t want you here!” Sweat poured down his face and he clutched his leg with both hands to keep muscles from contracting out of control.
Michael rushed to his side. “Luke! What happened to you? I couldn’t find you last night. I thought you had gone off. I didn’t know you were injured.” He looked down at the fallen man. “What happened to your leg?” Luke’s pants were soaked in blood. From the way the stain was growing Michael could tell the leg was still bleeding.
“You did this to me,” he panted, his eyes squeezed shut from the pain.
“I didn’t.” Michael knelt beside him. “Let me see.” He gently pulled Luke’s hands away from his leg.
“It’s Irrithiril.”
“Where is it?”
“I took it out.” Luke looked at his leg. “Did you coat the tent poles with it?”
“Irrithiril? I would never stoop that low.” Michael cut the pant leg away from the injury. He hissed upon seeing the ragged streaks of red and purple. “Looks like it’s my turn now, then we’ll be square.” He lowered his lips to the bleeding wound and sucked, turning his head to spit the poison out.
“Why wouldn’t you? It’s the perfect opportunity to kill me.” He gritted his teeth to keep from screaming.
“Maybe you put the Irrithiril there yourself to make it look like I did it.”
“Only an idiot would subject himself to this kind of pain,” he groaned, turning away. He bit the knuckle of his hand to suppress the shriek threatening to erupt.
“Easy, Luke.” Michael grabbed the leg and held it down. “Hold still. You know I have to get the poison out before it gets worse. Wouldn’t want you to die before it’s time.”
If neither of them had used Irrithiril on the other, there had to be a third party. Michael wondered who wanted both of them dead. Who would profit from their deaths? Could it be another sibling?
Michael worked diligently removing the poison from Luke’s leg. Slowly the purple and red streaks receded leaving only healthy pink. “It’s going to take awhile for the poison to work its way out of your blood. I’ll take you to your trailer.”
“I have to get the revival back on its feet. I promised the Mayor he would get funds for the town.” Luke closed his eyes and pursed his lips.
“Do you really intend to keep those promises, Luke? Or were you just telling him what he wanted to hear?” Michael hefted his brother into his arms and carried him to the only building left untouched, a trailer.
“I promised. I’m not cold hearted, Michael.”
“Then rest easy, my brother. I will have the revival back in business tonight.” The door was partially open; he shouldered his way inside and laid him on the sofa.
He looked in the closet and pulled out a blanket. It was made of soft flannel. He carefully tucked the blanket around Luke, leaving the injured leg exposed. The first aid kit was found in a kitchen cabinet. He rubbed ointment on the bandages and then layered them on the open wound. He wound gauze around the bandages to secure them in place.
“Now, for some sugared tea.” He rummaged through the drawers until he found tea bags and sugar. Using a coffeemaker, he heated water and steeped the bags until the tea was a light greenish-brown. He poured two cups and stirred sugar into each.
“What about my sermon tonight? I have to prepare for it.” Luke struggled to sit up as he accepted the cup of steaming tea.
“Easy, brother. Lay down.” Michael eased Luke into a reclining position. “What’s it about?”
“Taking care of each other.”
Michael paused, looking at his brother for long minutes. Had Luke really changed? Or was this another ploy of his to ingratiate himself to the town? “No worries. I’ll do it.”

Kristy sat on a boulder surrounded by the splendor of the canyons and watched the mist rising from the river as she nibbled on the bagel and sipped coffee from the cup. How had he known she liked her coffee with chocolate creamer and whipped cream?
The river had swelled with the welcome rain but would soon dwindle to a trickle when the hot sun beat upon its surface and evaporated the water. She lifted her face to the warmth of the sun as it peeked over the horizon. She loved dawn. It was a time when all was quiet and just starting to awaken from their long night slumber. Birds tweeted their joyful wakeup songs and crickets chirped. The air felt fresh as though all the stuff from the previous day had been sloughed off. A new day dawned waiting for whatever adventure happened.
With a shake of her head, she looked back at the river. The mist had thickened considerably and rose above the surface in gentle sweeping motions. A figure appeared walking on the water enveloped in the mist. He approached from the other side toward her. She could not see where his feet actually touched the water; rather he seemed to be gliding above it. He wore leather thong sandals. A long white robe swirled around him as he walked over the water. As he came closer she could see long flowing hair and a green headband upon his head to keep the unruly locks in place.
The man reminded her of Michael with his easy gait, height, build, and rough hewn manner. If she squinted she could almost make out his face. It was only when he turned directly toward her that she saw the wings. Gloriously golden brown, four pair unfolded behind him. The wings rose from his shoulders above his head and fanned out on each side. He held a sword in one hand and a crucifix in the other. A blue light encompassed his being.
“Kristy,” he beckoned. “Do not be afraid.” His whispered plea drifted across the distance and echoed down the canyon walls. “Kristy.” He faded from sight leaving her afraid, and yet, somehow feeling secure that everything would be fine in the end.

Julia busied herself restocking napkins. She was exhausted. The storm last night had brought a torrent of people inside and it had taken hours to clean up the muddy mess their feet had made.
Cook smiled as he watched her work. He had picked the perfect woman for him. They made a great couple. He never regretted not having children, but he knew Julia still yearned for a child even though she was past childbearing age.
“Hey hon.” he called, “Guess what I heard this morning?”
“What, sugar?” She turned to polish the mirror behind the counter.
“You know that boy who’s always asking for free food?”
“Yeah.”
“Michael hired him at the garage. Turns out he’s an orphan and has been keeping it a secret from the children’s protective services for a year. His parents died in some kind of accident over in Holbrook. He’s out of money and the government will find out soon and take him away. He needs a family. Michael says he adores us but is afraid to ask us for help. Want to adopt him?”
Shocked Julia turned to face Cook. “Are you serious?”
“Yep. All we got to do is ask him if he’d have us as parents. Then we need to do all the paperwork and pass some kind of background check and such.”
“Michael told you all this?”
“Yes, he did, when he came in for breakfast this morning.”
The door banged open. “Hi, Miss Julia,” Miguel strolled inside. “I need to place an order for lunch to be delivered to the revival.”
“What’ll it be, Miguel?”
“I need a burger with the works, a veggie platter, and a chicken sandwich for me. I also need fries all around, a coke, a pepper, and a tea,” he looked down at the list in his hand, “and three pieces of chocolate cake. Oh, almost forgot, a lunch for Miss Kristy when she arrives.” He handed over the money.
“Coming right up,” Julia smiled as she headed toward the window to give Cook the order.
The door swung open and in walked a stranger. “Good morning. I am Ezra Grigori.” He spoke softly with a slight accent. “May I have a cup of coffee?” He removed his London Fog trench coat and perched upon a stool at the counter.
“A little warm for one of those, isn’t it?” Cook smiled and reached for the coffee pot. “Coffee’s fresh. Julia just made it.”
“Keeps these old bones warm,” Ezra took the cup and stirred in sugar and creamer. “Thank you.”
“You’re new here. Are you in town for the revival?” Julia asked as she set a placemat in front of him with flatware. “Breakfast?”
“A bagel with strawberry preserves, please.” Ezra turned to take in the diner. “Quaint place you have.”
“Thank you. We like it. Cook does all the cooking here,” she blew a kiss at her husband.
“I like it.” Ezra turned back and looked her directly in the eyes.
For a brief moment Julia felt stark fear. The stranger was thin to the point of being gaunt. His fingers were long and bony. She could almost picture him as the angel of death. Except she always pictured death wearing a hooded shroud and skeletal looking. This man had red hair with a smattering of gray throughout.
“Did I say something wrong?” Ezra asked as he sipped his coffee. “I’m sorry; English is not my native language.”
“No . . . no, your English is fine.”
Miguel casually glanced at the thin stranger sitting on the stool. He stepped closer to Julia and glanced nervously at the man.” I don’t trust him,” he nodded at the man. Subconsciously his hand went to the cross he wore under his shirt.

“Neither do I, but the good book says we shouldn’t judge a person by the way they look.”
“Miss Julia, did he ask you?”
“Who, son?”
“Michael. Did he ask you about me?”
“We’d be delighted to have you in our family.” Julia smiled and hugged the teen.
Relief flooded his face. “Thank you! Are you sure? I’m part Mexican and Indian, you know.”
“Why should that matter? Have you looked at me and Cook? He’s a white dude and I’m black. The more the merrier, I say,” she laughed. “We’re going to see a lawyer about the adoption as soon as we can. You don’t have any family?”
“Not here, and I never met the ones still in Mexico.” He reached for the plastic bag and helped put condiments, napkins, and plastic ware inside while they waited for the food.
“I’d be happy if you called me Julia, or Mom or anything else.” She pulled the food from the window and placed them inside the bags. “I hope it goes through soon.”
“Me too. Thanks Mom,” Miguel called as he lifted the bag and left the diner.

***

Chapter Nine

Michael called every person he could think of to work on getting the revival ready to open. They brought others along to help. The place was humming with activity. “Dang! I forgot to get food for the crew.” He turned to Miguel. “Would you mind calling the diner and placing another order? We need to feed fifty people for lunch and dinner.”
“Be happy to, Michael.” Miguel took the food inside the trailer and handed the meals out.
A few minutes later, he came back out with a sandwich in his hand. “I want to thank you.” Miguel handed Michael a bag with his meal inside.
“For what?” Michael asked as he hammered on a bent pole. He stopped and began looking through the bag of food.
“For talking with Julia and Cook about me. They want me as their son!” He beamed with happiness.
“I thought so. Now you can quit worrying.”
“Michael, while I was there I saw a new guy. You wanted me to keep a look out for strangers. I was at the diner when he came in. His name is Ezra Grigori.”
Michael stopped sorting through the food. His heart thundered at hearing the name. “Ezra Grigori? Are you sure?”
“Yep. He spoke with an accent and looked very thin.”
“I see,” Michael shook his head and shoulders as he contemplated this latest bit of news.
“Did I do okay?” Miguel grew apprehensive at Michael’s change in demeanor.
“Yes, yes, you did just fine,” Deep in thought Michael absently picked up his plate. “Don’t mind me, I’m just thinking.”
Michael took his plate and passed it around to the crew. Each person took a slice of the vegetables and handed the plate to the next. By the time the plate came back to Michael, everyone had had a piece to snack on and still the plate had enough left to fill his stomach.
An hour later, Kristy arrived in the catering truck packed with food. “Lunch is here,” she called to the workers and began handing out meals. “Michael, Julia will bring dinner over and I’m going to cook in the food booth. Cook says to donate the food served tonight to the revival so all food and drink served will be free.”
“That’s great!” Michael paused to wipe the sweat from his face. “I’ll take one of those meals in to Luke.”
“You guys sure have been busy. It almost looks like nothing happened here last night.”
“A lot of hard work thanks to those guys,” he nodded to the workers and raised a thumb into the air. “You guys did a great job!” He slapped a few workers on the back and shook hands with others. “I’ll be back to help finish up here after I look in on Preacher Luke.” He climbed the steps into the trailer.

“Hey, bro, how you doing?” Michael squatted beside him and began to unwrap the bandages.
Luke groaned and slapped at his hand. “Don’t, that hurts.”
“I know buddy, I know.” He continued to unwrap the leg. “Got to doctor it up. Hey, I brought you another meal. I brought your favorite . . . steak and potatoes with a slice of apple pie. You got to eat to keep your energy up so you can heal faster. I know you just had a sandwich, so you can eat this a little later.” He worked quickly to clean, disinfect and put fresh bandages on. At least the wound did not look infected.
“Rest easy, bro. I got you covered tonight.” Michael cut the meat into bite size pieces so Luke could eat at his leisure. He placed a fresh glass of iced tea on the stand next to him.
“I’d like some wine,” Luke mumbled.
“Sorry. No can do. I don’t have any wine. Maybe I can get you some tomorrow.”

Michael spent the rest of the afternoon helping the workers finish construction on the sound stage. The sun was beginning to dip low in the sky when the work came to a stop. “Pay day time,” Michael handed out cash to each worker. “Thank you for a wonderful job well done. I hope each of you come back to enjoy the revival and music.”
“We ready to open?” Miguel asked as he watched the gathering crowd outside the gate.
“Let’s turn on the lights and the music,” Michael walked toward the gates. “Hello and welcome!” He called to the gathering mass.
“I think they’re coming to see if it would open after last night,” Kristy said to Miguel.
“Well, guess they got their answer. Michael told me I need to keep an eye on Luke tonight.” He headed back toward the trailer.

Ezra trailed in behind the crowd. He stood a head taller than most men. Dressed in a black trench coat, black hat, black shoes, and gloves he was the epitome of darkness. Only the flaming red of his hair had color, accentuating the paleness of his face. When caught in a certain light, his eyes appeared to glow red like those of wolves or tigers or demons. His aura carried a sense of darkness and his odor smelled faintly of death. He walked directly to the main tent and entered. He removed his hat and listened quietly.
The last to arrive was another stranger. Kushiel wore plain cotton pants and shirt. His face was pocked and hardened. He carried a short arrow in his hand which he flipped over and over as though caressing a beloved weapon. He cocked his head and sniffed the air, seeking particular scents and casting others aside. A grimace crept across his face as he found the ones he wanted. When he smiled his yellow stained teeth appeared like daggers made of bone and left blood dimples on his lips. How convenient they were all in the same place.

“Welcome. We have food and drink provided by the diner, so, please grab some, and then take a seat.” Michael hopped up on stage and stood behind the pulpit. He pulled his bible out from the shelf and thumbed through it until he found the pages he wanted. He nodded to the choir who began singing Amazing Grace as the people filed in with plates in their hands.
“Let us start with the first epistle general of John chapter 3 verse 17, but who so hath this world’s good, and sees his brother has need, and shuts up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwells the love of God in him? I believe this passage speaks of the need to help those who are less fortunate than us.” His voice rang throughout the audience, the pleasant baritone rose and fell in pitch as waves in an ocean might, coming and receding along their sandy path.
“As you turn to your neighbors, should you not ask how they fare? Do they have need of any little thing? Only by doing this do we show that our love of God dwells within us. It is for us to care for each other. The bible teaches us not to love by word, or tongue; but rather show our love through deeds and in truth.”
He paused, looking into the group and seeing a number of heads nodding in agreement. “In Philippians chapter 2 verse 4 we are taught, ‘let each of you look not to your own interests, but also to those of others.’ God is telling us that we should look past our differences and help people in need. Who among us has never needed help?”
Michael stared into the back of the tent. His heart leapt in consternation as he saw a tall man enter. “Ezra,” he muttered.

The music playing on the stage was joyful and people clapped hands, danced or sang along, enjoying the evening after the sermon. “Tomorrow is supposed to be a healing night,” Miguel watched the crowd. “What is that, Kristy?”
“That’s what they call laying on of hands. Some evangelists claim they can heal whatever is wrong with you by laying their hands on your body. Then the people kind of jerk and fall backwards.”
“Do you believe people can be healed like that? Can they be cured of things they were born with like deafness, or not being able to walk?”
“I like to keep an open mind, Miguel. I like to believe that it can happen, but there are a lot of fakes out there. They hire people to pretend to have these problems and then when hands are laid on them they are miraculously cured of their ailments.”
“Is Michael one of them?”
“I don’t think so. I don’t think he does that kind of healing either. I heard him tell Preacher Luke that he had arranged for other church pastors to do a sermon each night. So, I think that holy roller Jeremiah Dryer is going to do tomorrow’s sermon. Truth is I didn’t know Michael was a preacher.”
“Neither did I. But he sure is all about helping people. I know that first hand. He gave me a job, and is helping me get a family. I think he’s wonderful.” Miguel smiled broadly. His joy was infectious.
“Do I detect a bit of hero worship, Miguel?”
“I just believe in him, Kristy. He’s changed my life for good. Where is Michael, anyway? He disappeared right after the sermon.”
“Typical of him. He’s looking in on Preacher Luke. Did you know they are brothers?” Kristy raised a glass of lemonade to her lips.
“No, really? They don’t look like brothers.” Miguel leaned in close to her, “I still don’t much like Preacher Luke. I don’t know why, but he strikes me as smarmy.”
Kristy laughed, “Where did you hear that word? That sounds like something my mother would say.”
“I heard Julia call him that.”

Michael perched on the edge of the couch and watched his brother sleep. ‘Luke, what happened to you to make you turn away from Elohim?’ He thought as he ran a damp cloth over his brother’s face to blot the sweat. “Luke,” he whispered. “Luke, hate to wake you brother, but we have a problem.” He laid out the first aid items and began working on Luke’s leg.
“Huh?” Luke’s eyes fluttered open. The sapphire blue eyes still had red streaks from the poison coursing through his body. “What kind of problem?” He groggily pulled himself upright and scratched his face. He hated the feel of stubble on his chin.
“Easy, there.” Michael pressed Luke back into a reclining position on the couch. “Nothing to do with the revival, but we do have a problem. A big one. Ezra is here.” He applied ointment to the wound being careful not to apply too much pressure.
“Ezra?” Luke winced, “What the hell is he doing here? Jesus, Michael that hurts!”
“Watch your tongue, little brother. As for Ezra, I don’t know. He stood in the back and watched the sermon. Afterward he slipped away before I could get to him.” Michael finished bandaging the injury. “But something tells me I need to find out in a hurry.”
“Don’t trust Ezra, Michael.” Luke frowned. He looked worried.
“I won’t. I’ll have Miguel bring you some food, and a glass of wine.” Michael washed his hands and turned to leave. He needed to make sure Kristy was safe.
“Michael?” Luke called, “We can still work out our problems. Become close like we once were.”
“Not going to happen, Luke,” Michael sighed. “You and I, we are on opposite sides and always will be. Just because things are better for now, doesn’t change the fact that I am going to kill you.” He glanced with sorrow at his brother laying prone on the couch. “I wish it could be different.”
“You won’t change, will you?” Luke sneered, “Always doing father’s bidding, never your own.”
“And you never bow down, even when you are wrong. Pride goes before a fall, Luke. You should know that quite well.” Michael studied his brother and then continued dressing the wounds. “You led quite a family battle back home. Got a third of our relatives to join you, but I won. You best remember that, Luke.”
“Always the obedient one, aren’t you? Don’t you ever get tired of taking orders, Michael? Wouldn’t you just once like to have complete control over your life?”
“I control my life, Luke. I just choose a higher path than you.” Michael gathered the first aid supplies and put them away.
“Oh, that’s right, who was it that killed over a dozen people in Fairmont? You did.” Michael always knew which buttons to push to get him riled.
“Luke,” Michael glowered, “I’m warning you, stop before I kill you right here.”
“Who knows, Michael, I might be the one to finally kill you.”
“Until then, we must keep Ezra away.” Michael yanked open the door and walked briskly away from the trailer. One glance at him and everyone knew he was angry. “Stupid Luke, he’ll never beat or kill me,” he muttered.
Why did his brother always belittle him and make him feel inferior? Why did Elohim favor Luke over him? Did he not do everything asked of him? Was he not always available when Elohim needed him? He may not be as smooth, experienced, smart, or beautiful as Luke, but didn’t he always do the right thing? He shook his head and resolved to try harder to win his father’s affection. He slammed the door to the trailer and stormed down the steps.

“Wow!” Kristy took a step back. “What got you so mad?”
“Nothing. Luke.” He spoke with his jaw clenched. “You ready to go, Kristy?” He yanked on his jacket.
“Go where?” She wondered what had upset him. He seemed mercurial, changing moods within seconds.
“Home. We’re done here tonight.”
“I thought I’d stay and enjoy the festivities awhile,” she protested as Michael grasped her arm and tugged her in the direction of his motorcycle.
“We’re going home, now.” Michael gave her a steely eyed glare as he pulled her toward the parking lot.
“I drove the diner’s truck here.” She yanked her arm from him and rubbed her elbow. “I can get home, myself.” She snapped at him.
“You can come with me willingly or I can carry you. It’s your choice.” He crossed his arms and tapped his foot. “What will it be, Kristy?”
“Neither,” she griped. “I’m not some servant you can order around, Michael. I will take myself home when I am good and ready to go.”
Michael sighed and swept her into his arms. “Carry you it is, then.” He picked her up and slung her over his shoulder. He marched toward the parking lot.
“Put me down, right now!” Kristy screeched at him and pummeled his shoulders.
Michael took a deep, calming breath and set her down, “I’m sorry.” He forced his jaws to unclench. “I would like to spend a little time with you, please.” He waved at the revival tents and people, “Let’s just get away from all this for a little while.” He ran his hands through his hair. “I promise I’ll be nice.”
“That’s better.” She rubbed her arm and then took his hand. “I didn’t know you were a preacher like Luke.”
“I’m not,” he snapped. “I’m nothing like Luke. Just because I did a sermon for him, does not mean I am anything like him.”
“Wow! Touchy, touchy. Sorry, I didn’t mean to make you mad, again.”
“It’s not you, Kristy. It’s this whole thing. I always have to clean up Luke’s mess.” He handed her the helmet and secured a basket on the back.
“Hop on.” He sat straddling the cycle and waited for her to climb behind him. “Hold tight.” He twisted the handle causing the engine to roar. He popped a wheelie as they sped away from the revival and down the road headed away from Sundown.

Two strangers at opposite ends of the revival watched as the pair rode away. One stared down the road long after they had gone from sight. While the other sniffed the air sorting out the scents much like a dog might. Attendees encountering them gave them a wide berth as though fearing contact with either one would somehow condemn them. A few saw a red glow in the taller one’s eyes and shivered when they saw the arrow held by the other. What evil had ridden into Sundown on the tails of a storm to take residence in a religious revival?

***

Chapter Ten

They rode north away from Sundown toward the Painted Desert. He pulled into the entrance and stopped at the gate. Michael looked for a slot in the window of the vestibule. Not finding one, he slipped a twenty dollar bill between the sliding glass windows of the shack.
He gunned the cycle down the road and headed toward the back country. He parked the bike in one of the few parking lots near the hiking trails.
Michael grabbed the basket and took her hand. “Come with me.”
“Where are we going, Michael?” Kristy hung back, reluctant to leave the parking area. “The park is closed. We aren’t supposed to be here.”
“Over there,” he pointed, “to the Devil’s Playground.”
“It’s dark there.”
“We’ll have plenty of moonlight. C’mon, Kristy,” he tugged on her hand. The eroded landscape dipped and rose majestically from the desert floor reaching into the sky. They hiked for fifteen minutes until they could barely see the road.
Somewhere in the distance a coyote howled at the moon followed by a response from a second coyote. Shafts of moonlight danced across the desert creating a hauntingly romantic encounter. Stars twinkled overhead as though playing hide and seek with the moon. Shadows and light cast upon the desert floor lent an aura of otherworldliness.
Michael set the basket down under the umbrella of a rock outcropping. He reached inside and pulled out a blanket. “Please sit.”
Kristy stood first on one foot and then the other as though weighing whether she should bolt or sit. “Michael, won’t they catch us here? I mean, I think they have cameras.”
“It’s okay, Kristy. Nothing will happen to us. Please sit.” He patted the blanket next to him. “Kristy?” He looked up at her. The left corner of his mouth lifted into a lopsided grin. “I promise I won’t bite you,” he playfully growled.
“Yeah, okay,” she perched on a corner of the blanket.
“Are you okay?” He asked, pulling out wrapped sandwiches, napkins, two glasses and a bottle of wine.
“Yes, no.” She bit her fingernail nervously. She looked into the night sky and saw that he was right; the moon cast a brilliant glow upon the eerie landscape. It almost reminded her of the moonscapes she seen broadcast from NASA. She could almost picture a large space station floating between the earth and the moon.
Michael cocked his head and looked at her quizzically. “What is it?” He poured the wine into the glasses and handed her one. He lay back, propped by an elbow, and stretched his legs.
He turned the glass around and around looking at the clarity of the liquid as it whirled and sloshed against the sides. It looked thicker than the wines Luke favored. He tentatively sniffed and then savored the plum cherry flavor. It felt warm and smooth going down his throat. Before he knew it, he had emptied the glass and filled it again. This time he drank the wine slowly allowing the flavor and the alcohol to soothe him.
“Something I heard,” she watched as he sipped his wine before lifting the glass to her lips. He looked so innocent and beguiling. Could he really be unaware of the appeal he had to women?
“About me?” he sipped the wine. He liked the full body taste it had and could see why Luke preferred wine.
“Yes,” she felt her stomach twisting into knots. He made her heart skip beats and body ache for his caress. How could he not know how sexy he was? Even when he was angry he gave off a tense sensual vibration that sent women swooning.
“You can tell me, Kristy. I promise I won’t get mad.” He took another quaff of wine before refilling his glass.
She sucked in a lungful of air and blurted, “Did you kill a dozen people in Fairmont, Oregon?”
“Who told you that?” He asked sharply, sitting upright and wrapped his arms around his legs. “I don’t hurt innocents.”
He bit into his sandwich and chewed thoughtfully. “Kristy, I’m not some cold blooded killer.” He gulped his wine and refilled the glass. “Look at all the people I helped save at the carnival. Would a killer do that?” He looked directly into her eyes. “Kristy, I think you know me better than that.”
She could feel the fear and worry draining from her body as she looked back at him. She couldn’t explain it, but she believed him. He wouldn’t have risked his life to save the people at the carnival, or to save her at the revival, if he was a murderer. “I’m sorry I doubted you.” She sat next to him and laid her head on his shoulder. He smelled so good; his scent lent a provocative aura surrounding them. It was exciting and potent and so intoxicating.
“Thank you, Kristy.” He slipped his arm around her and pulled her closer. “I would never hurt you.” He tilted her face up and lightly kissed her lips. He loved the taste of her as he gently trailed kisses down her face to her neck. Slowly he claimed her lips, savoring their sweetness. “Kristy,” he moaned, nipping her earlobe.
She leaned back with eyes closed and kissed his hand when he cupped her face. His fingers sent electric jolts making her gasp with pleasure.
Elohim, forgive me. He lowered her to the ground and lay beside her, kissing her the entire time. He liked the saltiness of her skin, the fresh blackberry scent of her hair. He buried his face deep and breathed in the smells of shampoo, and soap and skin. He liked the feel of her body against his.
His body felt warm to her touch as she glided her fingers over his shirt and worked the buttons free. She slipped her hand inside and massaged his chest reveling in the feel of fiery skin. He felt deliciously wicked and she loved it.
He drank in the lovely vision of her laying beside him as he reached for her collar and trailed his fingers down to the first button. Slowly he fumbled the buttons loose and slid his hand inside to her bra. He paused at the front closure before working it loose. He was beginning to understand Luke’s stance on dating.
“Michael,” she inhaled sharply as he continued to kiss her.
“Hmm . . .?” A hiccup worked its way out much to his consternation.
“Don’t stop.” All thoughts of killing and murder fled her mind as he continued his leisurely exploration of her breasts.
‘Elohim, help me,’ Michael thought as he lowered his lips to her breast. His teeth grazed the nipple as he ran his tongue over it causing it to swell.
She slid her arms around him and ran her fingers down his back to his belt. She felt along the belt to the front and toyed with the buckle, eliciting a deep groan from him. She unclasped the buckle. Her fingers danced across the zipper lightly stroking and cupping the bulge in his pants.
He moaned and hiccupped again. The stars above seemed to swirl around him and he had trouble keeping his eyes focused on her face. He pushed her hand aside. “I think I’m a little drunk.”
Kristy lay on her back and sighed. “What is it with you? We only get so far and then you stop.”
“I’m sorry. It’s me,” he hiccupped. “I think I’m a little drunk.”
“Have you ever done this before?” She pulled back, studying his face. “Michael, are you a virgin?”
All color drained from his face as did his feelings of inebriation. “What? Am I what?”
“Are you sexually inexperienced?”
He hemmed and hawed before finally blurting, “You might say that.” He felt his face turning a shade of pink. ‘Just what I needed, another road block,’ he thought. “I’ve never been drunk before, either.” He covered his mouth with his hands. What was getting into him?
“I will be gentle. We can take it slow.” She fought hard to keep the giggles at bay.
“Thank you, that would be great,” he sucked in a lungful of air. “Let’s go now.” He stood on shaky legs and fumbled with the basket before abruptly sitting back down. “Hmm . . . I seem to be a bit wobbly. Not used to drinking much wine, either.” He roared with laughter. “You’d think an angel could hold his wine.” His eyes grew round. What did he just say? “Oh what a mess I am!”
“Okay, big boy angel,” she chuckled. “Let me put the stuff in the basket, then I’ll help you to the cycle. I will try to drive us back to town.”
“Oh, I don’t think so,” His voice came out sounding like it was full of gravel. “I don’t think we’re going anywhere tonight.” He curled an arm under his head and turned onto his side.
“Michael?” she reached out and shook him. “Michael? Wake up.”
“Go to sleep, Kristy,” he mumbled.
“Michael?” She leaned over him.
He reached out and pulled her down beside him. “Hush, go to sleep.” Within seconds he was sleeping quietly to the echoes of coyotes singing their midnight songs to the moon.

***

Chapter Eleven

After hours of looking for the key to the motorcycle she turned to examine him. A careful search of his pockets did not find anything, not even a wallet. She tried to turn him over to search his back pockets but his hand snaked out and grabbed her arm. Afraid she had awakened him; she looked down and saw he was still asleep with his hand grasping her arm.
She lay down and eventually sleep overcame her. She slept fitfully that night dreaming of a winged man walking across water. Eventually she gave up and rose to a sitting position. Gently she pried his fingers loose. She hugged her legs and watched him sleep.
The moonlight cast an innocent glow around him. At times she swore she could hear the rustle of feathers, but when she looked she only saw the man. She could not believe her luck. How had she wound up with an inexperienced man? She would never have guessed that of him. Still, it felt endearing to know she might be his first.
The first hint of daylight sent a cascade of soft pastels coloring the desert floor and burst into a golden hue of sunshine.
“Good morning, sleepy head,” she greeted as he rolled over and opened his eyes.
“Oh god,” he groaned, rubbing at his eyes. The glare from the rising sun hurt. His eyes felt scalded. His head pounded and his body felt stiff. “What happened?” His breath tasted nasty.
“Absolutely nothing happened. You got drunk and fell asleep.”
“Jeez . . . I’m so sorry. I’m not much of a wine drinker.”
“That’s obvious. I need to get back to town. I have to get stuff for the revival tonight.”
“Yeah, okay. I need to check on Luke.” He moaned as he stood on shaky legs. “I don’t feel so good.” He leaned forward and rested his hands on his thighs.
“Don’t you dare,” she gasped, grabbing the basket and putting it on the motorcycle. “You better not vomit on me.”
“Huh?” He looked at her with bleary eyes. How did Luke ever manage to drink an entire bottle of wine? He’d only had four or five glasses and the drink had flattened him, but Luke could drink with the best of men. “Yeah, okay. We better get going anyway before the park opens.”
He shuffled over to the cycle and climbed on in front of Kristy. “Hold on tight.”
“You better believe I’m going to,” she mumbled and secured the helmet.
It took him three tries to get the motorcycle started. The front wheel wobbled as he turned them around and headed back down the road. The sway of the cycle only made him feel more nauseous than he already was.

They pulled into Sundown as the sun climbed higher into the sky causing more glare and pain behind his eyes. He wished he’d thought to bring his sun glasses the day before.
The breakfast rush was coming to an end as they entered the diner. Julia looked at the disheveled pair and grinned widely. “You two are a sight. Go freshen up.”
Kristy came out of the restroom first. “Julia, is the stuff ready?”
“So you two got some last night, huh?” Julia winked.
“Got some what?” Kristy paused, “Oh!” She blushed. “No, actually we didn’t.”
“No?” Julia glanced back toward the restrooms with surprise written on her face.
“Nope, not a freaking thing happened. He had too much wine and fell asleep.”
“He fell asleep?” Julia bellowed and then clapped her hands to her mouth in laughter. “Are you serious?”
“Yep, he fell asleep.” Kristy lifted the boxes, grabbed the keys to the diner’s second truck and left.
“Oh, my god, you’ve got to be kidding!” Julia laughed.
“What’s that?” Michael asked as he walked over to the counter. “Can I get a cup of strong coffee, please?” He slid onto a stool and put his head in his hands.
“Sure thing, sugar,” Julia plunked a cup in front of him and poured the hot liquid tar. “Want some cream?” She quirked a lascivious eyebrow at him and grinned slyly.
“No,” he frowned missing her playful dig. “I think I need it plain.” He lifted the cup and blew on the hot beverage.
“Do you have a headache, sugar?” Julia winked at Michael as she reached under the counter and pulled out a tin of aspirin.
“Thanks.” He took two and washed them down with the bitter brew.
“You look like hell,” Julia commented, refilling his cup.
“I feel like hell,” he mumbled. “Thanks for the coffee, Julia.”
“I don’t know exactly what happened between you guys last night,” she winked at him again,” but you might want to soothe her ruffled feathers.”
“She’s mad at me?” Michael frowned, “whatever on earth for?” That was all he needed today to have Kristy mad at him again.
“Could be something you did, or rather, something you didn’t complete, sugar.”
“You’re kidding me, right?” His eyes widened innocently.
“Not me. Not about something like that.” Julia poured him another cup of the strong brew.
“Oh, man! She told you?” He felt what was fast becoming a familiar staple, the heat of embarrassment creeping into his face. He ran his hand over the stubble on his chin.
“Just talk to her, sugar. That is unless you have something to hide.” Julia studied his face trying to decide if he was as naïve as he seemed. Surely the man was aware of the effect he had on people, especially women.
“Where is Kristy anyway?” He looked around the room.
“She left for the revival, sugar.” Julia watched as Michael turned to walk out the door, “And you make sure to bring back both my trucks, you hear?”
He raised a hand in acknowledgment as he stepped outside.

Ezra paced the grounds looking for his nemesis. Where was he hiding? He had a vendetta to even up. How dare he snatch the souls meant for him? He could find no trace of the scoundrel. This was a first for Ezra. He had always been able to find his quarry. Never before did he have this much trouble. He walked briskly through every tent. His trench coat was open and flapped in the wind like obscene black wings on a giant bird of prey. Where are you, you devil? You can’t remain hidden from me forever. I will find you.

The motorcycle roared onto the grounds and skid to a stop in front of the trailer. “Luke!” He called, flinging the door open. The trailer was empty. The first aid kit sat on the kitchen counter. Its contents spilled over the case. Upon closer examination, Michael saw a thin tube he had not seen before. He lifted the tube and peered through the glass at the silver substance inside. “Irrithiril,” he set it back down and ran from the trailer. “Luke! Where are you?”
Luke’s white car was gone. In its place was parked the truck from the diner. ‘Kristy!’ He felt panic rising in his chest. “Kristy! Luke!” The revival appeared devoid of life. Where was everyone? He ran from tent to tent, stopping only when he glimpsed Ezra walking through one. He flattened himself against the tent flaps and stayed hidden in the shadows. Slowly he backed out of the tent and into the parking lot. The other diner truck was missing. He raced to his cycle and climbed on. Gunning the engine he popped a wheelie as he sped away from the revival back toward Sundown.

“Kristy, trust me,” Luke directed her to park the truck in one of the bays of the garage. “Michael’s garage is the safest place for us to be right now.” He grimaced as pain shot down his leg.
“I don’t understand. Why did you panic when you saw that man?” She glanced at his leg. “We need to doctor that again.”
“I didn’t panic. I just felt like he was trouble.” Luke swung the door open, “Let’s get inside, shall we?” He all but shoved her inside and closed the door. “Miguel?” Luke called.
“Si senor, Preacher Luke, you want something?” Miguel appeared in the doorway to the garage.
“Where’s Michael?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t seen him all day. Is something wrong?” Miguel wiped his hands on his jeans. He could tell something was terribly wrong from the way Luke hobbled from window to window to door peeking through each one.
“Did any strangers come here today?” Luke paced the garage. Pain was etched into his face with every step he took.
“Do you mean that odd man with the coat? No, he went into the diner and then left.”
“He didn’t come here?” Luke looked relieved. “Are you sure?”
“No, he didn’t come here. A different man came here, but he said he was a pastor from Onalaska and wanted to ask Michael about the sermon tomorrow.”
Luke sighed with relief. “Miguel, whatever you do, do not let the man with the coat step inside any part of this garage. Do you understand?”
“He is not to come in even to the store part?”
“Not even there. It’s very important. If you see him, you tell me or Michael right away. That man is extremely dangerous to all of us.”
Kristy sat on a chair and look with puzzlement at Luke. “What do you mean he’s dangerous to us? What about Julia and Cook? Is he a danger to them too?”
“No,” Luke shook his head and leaned against the wall. He slowly slid down until he was sitting on the concrete floor. “I don’t think so. Michael and I have had trouble with him in the past. Since you and Miguel are involved with Michael, he’s also a danger to you both.” Luke closed his eyes in pain. “Miguel, you make sure to tell me if you see him.”
“Yes, Preacher Luke. I will. I promise.” Miguel quietly went back into the store and closed the door to the garage.
The next half hour was fraught with tension as they waited to see if the stranger would arrive. The faint roar of a motorcycle drew closer and came to a screeching stop outside the garage. They heard voices coming from the store followed by hurried footsteps. Michael burst through the door into the garage.
“Thank God, you’re safe,” he rushed to Kristy and hugged her. “Luke,” he nodded and looked at the blood stains on his brother’s leg. “Let me take a look at that. Kristy, if you don’t mind, go to the apartment and bring me the first aid kit. It’s in the bathroom.”
“You have one on the wall over there,” she pointed.
“I know, but I need the one from my bathroom, please.” Michael turned back to face Luke.
“Ezra,” Luke whispered. “He came looking for us.”
“I know,” Michael spoke in a low voice. “Thank you for getting Kristy out of there.” Michael carefully cut the pant leg open. “Keep going through pants this way and you’re going to need a new wardrobe, bro. I found the kit in the trailer open. There was a vial of Irrithiril in it.”
“Irrithiril? What was that stuff doing there?” Luke gasped when Michael peeled the bandages off.
“Sorry, bro,” Michael muttered looking at the wound. “No infection. That’s good.”
“Just hurry,” Luke grunted.
“The Irrithiril almost looked like colloidal silver. I think Ezra was in your trailer and left it there hoping one of us would be stupid enough to use it.”
“Will he ever stop?” Luke sighed. “I’m curious. I know why he’s after me, but what in hell did you ever do to make him target you?”
“I have no idea,” Michael paused. “Wait a minute . . . Fairmont.”
“What about Fairmont?” Kristy asked as she entered the garage with the kit. She handed it to Michael.
Michael took a tube from it. “This is going to burn, Luke, but it should speed healing up a bit.” He deftly spread ointment on Luke’s leg, gently rubbing until the stuff blended into the skin.
“Nothing, Kristy. We were just talking about those people dying there.” Luke ground his teeth. “And speculating on whether or not our nasty visitor had anything to do with it.” He squeezed his eyes shut, “Damn, Michael that stuff burns.”
“Do you think he killed those people?” Her eyes opened wide. “Why would he come here?”
“I held a gospel concert in Fairmont right about the time all those people died,” Michael mentioned softly as he wrapped gauze around the wound.
“You were there!” Kristy cried in shock. “But you said . . .”
“I never said I killed them, Kristy.” He looked up from securing the gauze wrap and met her gaze, holding it for a second before looking back down and continuing to bandage Luke’s leg. “I don’t harm innocents,” he muttered to himself.
“What did you say?” Kristy asked, looking over Michael’s shoulder.
“I said, it was only a concert,” Michael spoke louder and stepped back, almost bumping into her. He grasped her arm to keep her from falling. He stared into her face. They felt the heat rising between them. Kristy leaned in and parted her lips, her eyes half closed in anticipation.
Luke ducked his head into his arms to keep from smirking. “Oh, brother, you guys are something,” he laughed. “Are you lovers, yet?”
“You stay out of it,” they said in unison.
Miguel poked his head in, “Senor, Preacher Luke. You wanted me to tell you if that man came back to town. I just saw him go into the diner. Then another man who is also a stranger went in behind him. The other man scares me more than the coat man.”
“Thank you Miguel,” Luke said.
Michael paced back and forth. “Miguel, leave the pumps on but close the store. Put the sign up about being closed for the revival. Then come in here.”
“Yes, Michael.”
“Kristy, when Miguel comes back, I want you both to go into my apartment and stay there. Do not open the door unless it is me or Luke.” Michael reached into his pocket. “Each of you keep one of these medallions of Saint Michael with you at all times. Wear it.”
“Why?”
“Saint Michael is the protector who is supposed to keep you safe from harm.” Luke chimed in with a chuckle. “Jeez, that’s superstition.”
“Every little bit helps,” Michael glared at Luke.
“We’ll wear them.” Kristy took the medallions and placed one around her neck.
“All done, Michael,” Miguel came back in.
Michael picked up the phone and began dialing.
“Who are you calling?”
“Julia and Cook, someone needs to warn them not to talk to those two.”
“Tsk, tsk, tsk, such drama, Michael.” Luke grinned and spread his arms wide. “Why not invite them to join us in your cozy abode?”
“Luke, stop it. I’m warning you.”
“Warning me of what? What will you do to me?”
“Guys, stop!” Kristy barked. “Knock it off, right now! I’m tired of your bickering. Both of you grow up!” She grabbed Miguel’s hand and pulled him toward the stairs.
When they were out of ear shot, Michael turned to Luke. “What are we going to do about this situation?”
“I suggest we call a truce between us for now and stick together otherwise either one or both of us might not survive this.”
“Agreed, but only temporarily,” Michael nodded reluctantly.

“Okay, we will. Bye now, sugar.” Julia hung up the phone. She looked at the man wearing a trench coat and suppressed a shiver as she counted out his change. The one behind him made her scared although she couldn’t figure out why. She watched in silence until both had left and then went into the kitchen.
“I just had the weirdest conversation with Michael.”
“How so, honey?” Cook chopped potatoes into tiny pieces for the stew he was making. His robust face was red from the heat and sweat poured down his neck which he wiped with a cloth. “We’re going to need more of your famous chocolate cake. Michael seems to inhale them.”
“I’ll bake some later. Anyway, he told me to make sure we do not tell those two strangers anything about ourselves, Miguel, Luke, Kristy or himself. He said they were dangerous and to keep a close eye out for them.”
“That does sound odd.” He added celery, spices, and carrots to the mix.
“He said he would send some medallions over in a bit. He said they were Saint Michael’s medallions of protection.”
“And what are they supposed to protect us from, two strangers?” He pulled out a package of beef and began cutting it into cubes.
“I guess. It can’t hurt, sugar. My momma believed in Saint Michael and used to wear a medallion all the time. She never took it off.”
“Okay. I’ll do it for you, not for any idea of it keeping me safe.” He put a dash of salt and pepper into the pot. “Here, taste this.” He lifted the spoon to her lips.
“That is good, my sweet. It needs a little hot spice.”
“You and your hot spice,” he laughed.

“Kushiel,” Ezra growled as he saw the ugly little man. “Why are you here? You are not needed.” He jabbed a boney finger at him. “You keep following me around. Everywhere I turn you are there. Why? You even approach me here on the revival grounds.”
“I am here on my own business, Ezra.” His voice sounded like he had sandpaper for vocal cords. He lifted his nose and sniffed the air. “Irrithiril is here.”
“Of course it is. Someone has painted the poles and coated some of the machines in it. Is it your doing?” Ezra swung his arms wide and gestured toward the tents and the booths lining the midway.
“I don’t need Irrithiril to accomplish my ends.” He sneered at Ezra. His beady eyes scouted the area reminiscent of a rodent. “May perhaps you were the one to put the Irrithiril there.”
“Like you, I do not need to use Irrithiril either.” Ezra turned away, dismissing the short, twisted man. “I have other things more useful.”
“Whom do you seek, Ezra? Do you want Michael or Luke? Either can defeat you easily.” Kushiel called out. “Or mayhap you are seeking Miguel or Kristy? They are more to your liking. They are weak, innocent, and unable to defend themselves.”
Ezra paused, turned, and glided to Kushiel. He grabbed him by his neck and slammed him against the body of a truck. “Be careful, what you say, little man,” he sneered. “I can crush your wind pipe with one hand.” Abruptly he let go and twirled away. The flaps of his trench coat swirled around him like a cape.
Kushiel raised a hand to his throat and massaged it gently as he watched Ezra stride away. “You are a fool, Ezra. A fool that nonetheless bears watching.”

“Julia,” Michael greeted as he entered the diner. “Could you package some food for me? I need four meals.” He glanced at the paper in his hand.
“Of course, sugar. What’ll it be?” She peered closely at him. He looked haggard, almost worse than he had in the morning. “Are you okay, Michael? Still hung over?”
“No. I just have a lot going on right now.” Michael seemed lost in thought. “Too much going on if truth be told.”
“Your food order, Michael?”
“Oh. I need a roast beef sandwich with mashed potatoes and gravy, one stew, one hamburger and fries, and a veggie platter. Add three sodas and a bottle of beer.”
“Cook, take out order.” She placed the slip on the window sill. “I’ll throw in some chocolate pie and cake,” she winked at Michael. “I don’t have any chocolate cake, but I think you’ll like my cinnamon swirl.”
“Thanks.” Michael reached into his pocket. “Here are the medallions.”
Julia took them and placed one around her neck. She looked at the remaining one. It was a simple shield made of wood and embellished with streaks of gold and silver. The wood was polished to a high sheen. The back held an inscription in Latin. “Saint Michael, defend and protect us against the wickedness and snares that surround us. Amen.” She looked up at him. “These are beautiful. We will keep them on at all times. Thank you.”
Michael nodded. He sat on the stool at the counter and drank the coffee Julia placed before him.
“Jeremiah Dryer came looking for you.”
“I’ll catch up with him in an hour. He just wants to know the expected crowd for tonight.”
“What happened to Preacher Luke?”
“It’s still his revival. He hurt his leg during the storm, but he’ll be back in operation soon.”
“Cook and I talked with the lawyer about Miguel.”
“And, what’d he say?” Michael perked up.
“It looks like we might be able to adopt him. He has no family here. The lawyer is contacting his family back in Mexico but it looks like they have no interest in him. The only problem he could see is our age. We’re old enough to be his grandparents.”
“You’ll get past that. You and Cook will make fine parents for Miguel. He’s a good son.” Michael grinned. “Julia, can you run the food court at the revival? I know this is short notice, but Kristy can’t make it tonight.”
“Yeah, Cook and I thought we’d close the diner tonight. He wants to witness a healing. So, I’ll run the food court. Is Kristy okay?”
“Yes, she’s fine. I just need her to look after Luke and keep him off his leg.”
“Michael,” Julia spoke quietly. “I have something that’s been on my mind for quite some time now.”
“Yes?” He lifted an eyebrow at her.
“What is it between you and Kristy? I can’t help but wonder. She’s been hurt enough by guys who come into her life.”
Michael looked at her for several long moments before glancing down at his hands. “I am not like most guys, Julia. I care deeply for her and do not want to see her hurt by anything I do. But I can’t promise her anything, either. I think; I hope she understands that.” Sadness welled up in him and spread across his face and into his eyes.
“Please don’t hurt her,” Julia stared him in the eyes. A fierce protectiveness crept over her. “If you do, I will personally hunt you down.”
“My intentions toward Kristy are pure, Julia. I don’t want to see her hurt either.” His shoulders slumped and he rubbed the corner of his left eye as though wiping away moisture. “But I can’t make promises I might not be able to keep. Please don’t try to force me.” He drummed his fingers on the counter. “I have obligations to keep.”
“You’re not married, are you?” She busied herself packing the food into bags and stuffing plastic ware inside.
“No. I’ve never had the luxury.” He took the bags and quickly left the diner feeling as though he had somehow let Julia, and in turn Kristy, down. “I walk a different path,” he whispered. “I promised to keep her safe.” His comments fell on deaf ears.

Miguel threw open the door. “Food’s here!” he cried, grabbing the bags from Michael and hoisted them onto the coffee table. “Let’s eat.” He passed out the meals.
“First we must say grace,” Michael admonished. “Let us bow our heads.” He looked at the group. Only Luke, defiant as always, remained staring upright. “Our father, we come to you today to give thanks for the bounty we are about to receive. We thank you for this food when many are hungry and fearful, and we give thanks for our safe haven. We ask that you bless those who prepare our meals, and the friendship we enjoy. We ask that you keep us and those close to us safe from harm. In the name of our Lord, we pray. Amen.”
“Can we dig in, now?” Miguel asked, wiggling like a puppy.
“Julia’s going to have her hands full keeping you fed,” Kristy laughed and dipped into the stew.
Luke popped open the top of the beer and took a long swallow. “Good stuff. Not as good as wine, but it’ll do.”
Michael winced at the mention of wine and slurped his soda. “I don’t see how you like that nasty, vile stuff.” He plucked a celery stalk and dipped it into the sauce. “I like this. Oh, good, she packed some of those black beans too.”
“I love hamburgers and fries,” Miguel chewed with his eyes closed as though the simple sandwich was the most delectable morsel he had ever tasted.
“The pot roast isn’t bad, either.” Luke grinned. “I am getting very fond of Cook’s cooking. Might have to hire him,” he winked at Michael who nearly choked on his bite of beans.
“I don’t think Julia will let you.” He picked up his Styrofoam plate. “I better go see what Jeremiah Dryer wants. Keep them safe, Luke. Save me some cake. Julia said it was cinnamon swirl. I’d better have a piece waiting for me when I get back.”
“No worries, brother. No worries.”

***

Chapter Twelve

The sound system blared hymns from all periods of time. Michael nodded to the workers as they went about getting ready for the night’s event. He looked in the tents and saw everything in place.
Michael found Jeremiah Dryer sitting on a bench outside the main tent. “There you are.” He sat next to him. “I heard you were looking for me earlier. I went by your church but you weren’t there.”
Jeremiah Dryer was a slim man in his early fifties with a goatee and graying hair. He nervously tugged on his clerical collar and fingered his cross. “I came by to talk with you about tonight.”
“What about tonight?”
“I,” he inhaled a deep breath. “I can’t do the healing.” His words came out in a rush. “There, I said it. I can’t do it.” He wrung his hands.
“Why?” Michael reached out and laid a hand on his shoulder.
“I’m a fake. That’s why. I faked all the healings. I’m a fraud and I don’t deserve to wear this collar or this cross.”
“You are having a crisis of faith, my friend. You are not a fake.” Michael patted him on the back. “Do you think for one minute God would allow you to continue lying to the masses?”
“We have free will.”
“Yes, you have free will, but that doesn’t include fraud or the commission of fraud. I think you would have been caught a long time ago and instead of being here confessing your fears to me you would have been in prison.”
“I am afraid.”
“Trust the Lord, our God, with all your heart. Do not lean on your own understanding. Fear the Lord, and turn from evil and you will be healed of your doubt, brother Jeremiah. I will be here with you tonight and I will guide you through the healing of the masses. Come now, we must prepare.” Michael stood and held out his hand. “Take my hand and let me help you.”
Together they entered the main tent and approached the pulpit. “Do you have a sermon prepared?”
Jeremiah reached into his pocket and pulled out several pages. “It’s not finished.”
“Would you like me to give the sermon and assist you in the healing portion?”
“Yes, please.” He felt as though a great weight had disappeared from his shoulders. “You wouldn’t do the ceremony, would you?”
“No, brother Jeremiah I will not. That is for you to do. I will help.” Michael clapped him on his shoulder. “Don’t worry. You’ll do just fine. Just close your eyes and pretend you are still faking the healing.”

“I’m bored,” Kristy paced the apartment. “There’s only so much sitting a person can do. No books and no music. The stuff on television is boring. What does he do here?”
“Sit down,” Luke closed his eyes. “Take a nap.”
“You can always read this book.” Miguel held up the bible. He thought the ancient tome was beautiful. He especially liked the hand lettered leaflets on thin paper that had a gridiron imprint. It felt ancient and as sacred as the words written inside. The print was very different from the ones he had seen in new bibles.
Kristy wrinkled her nose. “No thanks. I’d rather be bored.” She snapped her fingers. “I know! Let’s go to the revival. I’m supposed to be working there anyway.”
“No, Kristy,” Miguel pleaded, “Michael said to stay here. We should do as he said.”
“Luke?” Kristy implored.
“What he said,” Luke responded without opening his eyes. “Sit down.”
“No. I’m going.” She walked to the door.
“Kristy, please!” Miguel begged.
“Are you guys coming or not?”
“Not,” Luke spat.
“Suit yourself.” She went out the door with Miguel on her heels.
“We promised to stay put, Kristy.”
Luke sighed and heaved himself to his feet. He limped after them.

Julia hugged Cook as they walked onto the revival grounds. She had pestered him for years to attend one and today he finally gave in. The grounds almost looked like a festival with the brightly colored streamers and lanterns lighting the way to the main tent.
“Here’s the food court. Let’s see what we can whip up.” Cook walked into the booth and began looking through the inventory. “A lot of fast food stuff,” he mumbled.
“Honey, fairs, revivals, circuses, and carnivals are all about fast, high calorie foods and snacks.”
Soon the aroma of fried food drifted across the midway. Corndogs dripped with grease were deep fried along side French cut fries and funnel cake. Hamburgers were flipped on a portable grill. Buns were toasted and condiments lined the booth. Her stomach rumbled reminding her she had forgotten to eat dinner.
“Sweetie, give me one of them corndogs splattered in mustard.”
“One corndog coming right up, my love. Cooked to perfection in enough grease to clog a thousand arteries and give you a heart attack.”
“Honey, we all gotta go sometime. Just let me go with a smile and some of your down home good cooking,” she stood on her toes and planted a kiss on his lips.
“Hey, guys,” Kristy sauntered over to them. “I’ll take it from here.”
Luke hobbled along behind her trailed by Miguel. “Kristy, you get back over here and take me back to town. I promised Michael.”
“Kristy,” Miguel joined them. “We promised Michael we would stay put. This isn’t staying put and he’s not going to be happy.”
“He’ll just have to deal with it. I agreed to run the food court.”
“You made that agreement with me,” Luke protested, “And I am releasing you from that agreement. You need to get back to the garage.”
“No.” Kristy looked back at her two companions. “I’m going to stay here and watch the show tonight. Cook, Julia, you with me?”
“Hell, yeah,” Cook pumped his fist into the air.
“Cook,” Julia warned. “He must have had a good reason for wanting them to stay there.”
“Well, too bad. They’re here now.”
“And I want to talk to Michael,” Kristy joined the crowd entering the main tent.
“Kristy,” Miguel whined as he followed her into the tent. “Please, we must go back. Michael is going to be mad.”
“He doesn’t own us, Miguel. Let him get mad.” Kristy walked inside.

“Good evening and welcome,” Michael greeted the crowd. “I’m pleased to see so many people here tonight. Please get some refreshments and seat yourselves.” He scanned the crowd looking for Ezra. Not finding him, he relaxed a little.
“Who among us can truthfully answer they have not been sick at one time or another in our lives? In Exodus chapter 23 verse 25 are we not told to ‘worship the lord your God and his blessing will be upon you. I will take away sickness among you?’ and in Psalm chapter 30, verse 2, Lord, my God, I called upon you and you healed me?” Michael asked. “The bible shows us many instances of healing by faith. Pastor Jeremiah Dryer of the Faith Redeemers Church is here to perform healing services for those of us in need. Let us give him a huge welcome.” Michael clapped his hands. He nodded to the pastor and took a step back.
“We are told that sickness is because of sin,” Jeremiah said. “I am here to tell you it is a naturally occurring condition and one that can be healed. If you would like a healing touch, please stand.”
Michael stood behind the pastor and watched as Jeremiah nervously called forth a man. “Not him,” he motioned to the pastor. “Call the girl forward.”
“I’m sorry, Samuel, I have been asked to call Naomi up here.”
A thin, pale girl laboriously climbed the steps to the stage. She took a deep breath and held out her hands to the pastor. Jeremiah looked startled as a blue arc of light tingled in his hands and transferred into hers. He looked over at Michael and could see a faint blue outline around him. “Heal,” he commanded, “illness be gone from this teen. Make her whole!” He shouted as the light flashed and encompassed her entire being.
Michael stepped forward and guided her to a chair. “Sit, and rest,” he handed her a glass of water. “How do you feel?”
“My fever is gone. I feel well.” The confusion on her face gave way to joy. “I’m healed!” She cried and hugged him.
Michael tenderly patted her back and placed a kiss on the top of her head. “Yes, my child, you are,” he murmured. “You are whole. Now, go and spread the word.” He stepped back and smiled. It felt good to see the joy around him.
One after another people rose. Some were selected and others were not. After the healing ceremony, Jeremiah turned to Michael. “None of my marks were selected by you. How did you know who they were?”
“I have my ways. Do not doubt, Pastor Jeremiah.” He jumped off the stage and made his way to the door. He halted and turned to look into the far left corner of the tent. “Kristy,” he muttered and strode over to the five of them.
“I thought I made myself clear, Kristy. You were to remain at the garage.” Michael spoke tersely. “It’s safe at the garage. You need to do as I say, Kristy.”
“I got bored,” Kristy hitched her shoulders and stuck out her chin. “I didn’t know you did faith healing.”
“Did you see me heal anyone?” He grumbled and nodded back at the pulpit. “I only helped, Pastor Jeremiah.”
He turned to face his brother. “Luke, you were supposed to make sure she didn’t leave.” A vein in Michael’s forehead stood prominently as he struggled to keep control of his anger.
“What’s the big deal, Michael?” Kristy protested. “It’s not like we broke any laws. You asked us to stay there and I didn’t want to.”
“It wasn’t a request, Kristy.” His voice dropped low and menacingly. “You will do as I say.”
“It’s not like I’m your wife or anything,” she pouted. Who was Michael to order her around?
“I tried to stop them both, Senor Michael,” Miguel spoke hurriedly as though afraid of bringing down Michael’s wrath.
“I know, Miguel.” He reached out and grabbed Luke and Kristy by their respective elbows. “C’mon,” he tugged them forward. “Let’s go.”
Miguel hung back as though uncertain of what he should do. He’d never seen this side of Michael.
“Miguel!” Michael snapped. “C’mon, let’s go. Now!”
“Take it easy there, bro.” Luke complained, “My leg isn’t a hundred percent yet.”
“Let go of me!” Kristy fussed as she tried to yank her arm free. “You unhand me right this minute!” She flailed at him with her free arm.
“No.” He dodged her fists with ease, “You’re going back with me right now, and you are going to stay put.” He all but dragged them from the tent.
“Julia!” He hollered as he stomped toward the car. “You tell me if these three come back here tonight. Okay?”
Julia’s black eyes were huge saucers as she watched him manhandle the trio into the car. “Yes sir, Michael.”
Cook watched the four of them depart the grounds. “Whoa, boy! I sure wouldn’t want to make Michael mad.” He came up behind Julia and wrapped his arms around her ample body. “You don’t think he’d hurt them, do you?” He hugged her tightly.
“I don’t know. I sure never figured him for a temper.” Julia looked surprised, “Oh my, is Kristy in for it.”
“Kristy? I think Michael’s in for a shock. I wonder if we can get front row seats for the fight of the century.”

Ezra, having finally shaken free of Kushiel, arrived in time to see the car pull away from the revival. He watched as the car fishtailed out of the parking lot and headed down the road.
“Curse you, Kushiel, for making me lose them again.” He shook his fist angrily. “I will kill you Kushiel for this!”
He struck a match and lighted the end of a cigarette, inhaling deeply. He stood watching the car until the headlights disappeared from sight before turning to look at the revival. His eyes cast a reddish glow as he scanned the grounds.
Michael had taken Kristy, Luke and Miguel with him and left Julia and Cook behind. Were they not as important to his plans? Ezra looked over at the food court and smiled. Julia was busy eating a corndog while Cook deep fried donuts for waiting customers. People seemed to be having a grand time eating, dancing, and singing to gospel and soft rock music. It was time for another excursion into fear and terror.

***

Chapter Thirteen

Kristy stomped into the apartment above the garage and slammed the door in Michael’s face. She glared at everyone in the room. Luke perched gingerly on the edge of the couch with Miguel at his side. Both wore woebegone looks on their faces.
Michael poked the door open, “I said I was sorry for manhandling you.” He peeked inside and ducked as a candle flew past his head. “C’mon, Kris,” he pleaded.
“My name is Kristy, not Kris, you moron!” She picked up the bible and flung it in his direction. “You have no right to order me around! You are not my boss!” She threw a mug at him.
“You are not my husband!” She picked up the telephone and chucked it at his head. “And right now, you are not even my boyfriend!” She hurled a coffee pot.
“You don’t even know how to properly date a woman! The first date you up and disappear on me after the carnival accident. The second date you up and take me home when things get too personal. Then you apologize. The third date you get drunk and fall asleep on me!” She bombarded him with a barrage of pens and pencils.
Michael ducked each time and held out his hands to try to stop the onslaught. Luke leaned close to Miguel, “He is in trouble big time.”
Miguel nodded; his eyes grew round with fear. He gulped and whispered, “I don’t want her mad at me.”
“Luke, you stay out of it!” Kristy yelled.
“Yes’m,” he responded meekly.
Michael slipped into the room holding his arms above his face. “I’m sorry, Kristy. I really am. I was just worried about you. I just wanted to make sure you guys are safe.” He looked chagrined and sad. “I didn’t mean to make you mad.”
“Just go away, Michael. You made your point. We won’t leave here until you decide we can. We’ll be your unwilling prisoners. Just go. I can’t stand the sight of you right now.” Kristy flopped down on the bed and covered her face with her hands.
“Kristy,” Michael started toward her but stopped when she put a hand out waving him away.
“Go away, Michael. Just leave me alone.”
With a heavy sigh, he turned to Luke and Miguel. “Keep her safe.” He left the apartment and the garage.
Miguel moved to sit beside Kristy. He patted her back and spoke softly. “Please don’t cry, Kristy. Michael didn’t mean anything.” He gently rubbed the knots in her shoulder. “He is afraid for you. He worries something bad will happen.”
“Like what?” she sobbed.
“Like those two new men in town. He says they are bad men. He only wants to keep you safe until he can solve the problem of the two bad men. He loves you, Kristy.” Miguel ducked his head to look into her eyes. “Please don’t be mad at him. He is hurting too.”
“He what?” she sniffled. “What did you say?”
“Ahem . . . I believe he said Michael loves you,” Luke drawled in his best imitation of a southern accent. “As Julia might say, he’s in love with you, sugar.”

Kushiel sat on the bench in front of the diner and watched the garage. It was the only place in town where he could not sense any life. No indication of any presences and no scents emanated from the store or the garage. Nor he could pick up any traces in the apartment above. The only indication the garage was not abandoned was the gleaming black motorcycle parked under the overhang. Either no one was there or Michael had shielded them from detection.
As he examined the surrounding area he noticed people tended to give him a wide berth. He knew he was not handsome. He was downright ugly by most standards. Sometimes he wondered if he put out a nasty body scent. Sniffing himself did not indicate such, but then again you can’t always tell when you are so close to the source.
He would just have to sit on the bench and watch the garage until he knew for certain it was empty. It was as simple as that, and it was not like he had anything better to do other than kill Ezra. Moments later he saw Michael come around the side and over to the where the motorcycle was parked.
“Ah ha, the place was protected,” he mumbled.

Ezra grinned as he surveyed the empty revival grounds. How many people would come tomorrow night? How many will remain alive and who would die? Will Julia and Cook join the dead, or will they escape to live another day? He rubbed his hands in gleeful anticipation of the night to come. Will Michael win, or will he be overcome? Will Luke survive or perish? And would the little rat-man Kushiel be sent packing as the events unfold around him more powerful than he could handle?
This revival will be one to remember, to tuck away and savor during a dry spell. So many memories were being made in the little forgotten town of Sundown. Who had caused the explosion at the carnival? How much damage had the freak storm at the revival caused? And now, with everyone on edge, what would the night bring? Would the people experience joy and camaraderie or fear and terror? He would be there to witness it all. He would watch and savor every moment, each emotion cast out, and he would remember it all.

Michael mounted the cycle and with a vicious kick it roared down the road leaving the town and the revival as they became pinpricks in his rearview mirror. He rode aimlessly for hours letting the wind stream through his hair, feeling the biting sting of the breeze as he put the cycle into high gear. He spun off the main road onto a dirt path. Dust kicked high into the air behind him.
He jumped from the cycle, leaving it spinning on its side and threw his arms into the air. “Elohim!” He bellowed at the sky. “What do you want from me? Have I not done everything you asked? Have I not always obeyed you? Am I not loyal?” He railed at the sky.
“You tell me to keep her safe and to get close to her. By our laws, I can’t even have her like other men! Still, you take from me what I do have of her!”
His fury was matched only by the gathering storm clouds overhead. Peals of lightning danced across the night sky like fireworks on the fourth of July. Thunder clashed like the cymbals on a drum. “I have given you everything! What more do you want? Answer me!” he demanded.
The night sky turned pitch black as the moon dipped out of sight. All sound ceased, lightning disappeared, and the air became utterly still. Michael looked at the stagnation around him. Everything hushed as though waiting for some monstrous revelation or action.
Bleakness seeped into his body. He sat down on a rock and drew his legs under him. How had he gotten himself into this situation? How can he extract himself and get back to his mission? Having witnessed his temper, would Kristy ever trust him again?
He had not acted in a violent fit, but rather out of fear for her life. Would she have come with him if he had explained about Ezra and Kushiel? Or would she have written him off as one for the loony bin? What should he do now? How can he regain her trust?
He ducked his head as though in defeat. His shoulders drooped as weariness overtook him. He found it hard to keep his eyes open. “Elohim, I am sorry,” he whispered. “I am so tired, so very weary. Will it stop? Will it ever end for me?”

***

Chapter Fourteen

Julia finished cleaning up the booth. She kept a wary eye on the man they called Ezra. Why was he hanging around after the revival had ended for the night? He gave her the creeps. She wished Cook would hurry back from emptying the trash barrels.
Every hair on her arms stood upright when the man turned his gaze on her. She could almost feel his eyes raking her body and finding her inadequate.
“Good evening,” Ezra tipped his hat in her direction. “That was a fine revival meeting tonight.”
“Sir,” she responded. “We are closed. You might want to head on before security makes their way here.” Where was Cook? What was keeping him so long?
“I will. Goodnight dear lady.” He strolled casually toward a black vehicle.
For a brief second Julia thought she saw him enter a hearse. She shook her head and took a second look. It was only a black station wagon.
“Are you all done?” Cook asked. “They need to call for trash collection. Those dumpsters stink something fierce.”
Julia shrieked and jumped. “My God, Cook! You scared the Jesus out of me!” She hugged him tightly.
“Is something wrong?” Concern crossed his weathered face. He wrapped his arms around her. He could feel her tremble. “What is it, hon? Tell Cook what’s bothering you.”
“It’s just that trench coat guy. He was hanging around and I had to tell him he needed to leave.”
“Does security know?”
“I buzzed them but they haven’t responded.”
“That doesn’t sound good.” Cook scratched his beard. “Maybe I should go look for them.”
“I’m scared, Cook.” Julia faced him and buried her face in his shoulder. “Don’t leave me here.”
Cook stroked her back with concern. Julia was never afraid. For something to frighten her this much, it had to be bad. “I wouldn’t dream of leaving you alone, love.”
“I want to go home and check on Michael and Kristy. I want to make sure they are safe. Miguel too. He may be a teen, but he’s still young.”
“What about Preacher Luke?”
“He can take care of himself,” she frowned. “I don’t like him. He leaves a bad feeling in my bones. Can we just go home?”
“Okay,” Cook nodded and pulled the truck keys from his pocket, “then that’s what we’ll do. Let’s go now.”
“Thank you, Cook. Thank you.”
“I’d do anything for you, my love.” He led her toward the truck.

Morning came slowly to find Kristy, Luke, and Miguel sprawled out on the meager furniture in the apartment. Kristy sat up rubbing her eyes and stretched. “Michael?” she called, fully expecting to see him standing in the kitchen getting ready to prepare breakfast.
What she found was an empty room. No pans with eggs cracked in them waiting to be cooked. No bread in the toaster. No juice on the counter nor was there a coffee pot. With a shake of her head, she remembered throwing the pot at Michael and how it had made a resounding thud as it bounced off his shoulder. And no evidence Michael had even come back during the night.
“Luke,” she nudged him.
“What?” he asked, keeping his eyes closed.
“He didn’t come back last night.”
“Who?”
“Michael. He’s not here.”
“Would you be after having a candle, the bible, a mug, a telephone, a coffee pot, and a bunch of pens and pencils thrown at you?” Luke stretched and yawned. “I sure wouldn’t come back, if I was him.”
“You don’t think he left us, do you?”
“I do.” He swung his legs over the edge of the couch and sat up. “And it serves you right. Remind me never to make you angry.”
“But it was just a fight! I was mad at him!”
“I know. You took your anger out on him by physically attacking him. And you hurt his feelings. Michael would never have intentionally hurt you; don’t you know that about him by now?”
“Michael’s not back?” Miguel asked as he entered the apartment carrying a bag of food from the diner. “I was hungry so I got us some stuff.” He placed the food on the table. “He isn’t back yet?”
“No,” Kristy sniffled as tears welled up in her eyes.
“Don’t cry, Kristy. You want me to go look for him?” Miguel stuffed a powdered donut into his mouth and licked his fingers.
“You will do no such thing,” Luke sat and leaned forward, reaching for the sweet pastry on his plate. “I don’t need Michael getting mad at me too.”

Michael had sat on the rock in the same position all night. In silence he watched as the stars and moon drifted across the sky giving way to the rising sun. Darkness receded and light splashed its brilliant light upon the ground. He was oblivious to the glory of sunrise. Long after the sun had broken free of night, he finally unfurled his limbs and walked back to his motorcycle.
He righted the machine and looked it over for damage he might have caused the night before. It was a bit scratched and had a few dents but otherwise seemed to be in working order. He swung one long leg over and sat on the seat.
He continued to look straight ahead as though lost in his thoughts and despair as he started the huge bike. With a push, he drove onto the road. At first he was headed north away from Sundown. He wanted to leave the town far behind. He wanted to put the pain and grief behind him, never to return to this cursed town that knew no end to the darkness of the heart; the soul. After a couple of miles, his guilt at abandoning his quest overtook him and he turned around to head back.
Upon arriving at the garage, he parked under the overhang and sat staring at the rundown building. He had called this place home these past few weeks. The concrete had once been painted white. The freshness of the paint had long since disappeared leaving black streaks running down the sides, and cracks in the facade showed the original gray of the concrete.
Once it had been a place of hope and dreams for some long gone mechanic. People had come and gone, stopping to gas up, get snacks, have a flat tire repaired, or use the restroom. Like most businesses and towns dotting the original Route 66 they had fallen by the side as progress passed them by. The garage had stubbornly refused to fade into the land of forgotten places. It clung to the ideals of home and family in a past reminiscent of the fifties.
It was home no more. Now, it was just a building; a place where he worked, ate, and slept. It was nothing more, nothing less. The garage reeked of the bleakness in his heart. He felt abandoned.

He entered the apartment, ignoring the people inside, and walked over to the night stand where he retrieved his crucifix and crystal.
“Michael?” Kristy called.
He straightened and remained standing with his back to her. “What, Kristy?” His voice sounded cool, almost cold.
“I . . . I think I over reacted. I’m sorry.”
“No apology needed.” He shoved the items into his pocket. “You need to go work the revival.”
“Michael, are you okay?” Miguel asked.
“I’m fine, Miguel. Please go open the shop for business.” He kept his voice quiet.
“Are you sure? Last night you said . . .”
“Forget what I said last night. Today is another day.” He pursed his lips into a thin line.
Luke stretched his legs and yawned. “My leg is much better now.”
“Good. Now you can handle things at your revival.” His sea-green eyes looked gray with indifference.
“What is wrong with you?” Kristy asked, putting her hand on his shoulder.
He glared at her hand and removed it. “Please do not touch me. I am fine. I have my priorities to take care of and so do each of you.” He looked around the apartment before turning to leave.
“What was that about?” Kristy asked after Michael had left.
“Oh dear girl, you have the wrath of Michael upon you now.” Luke shook his head and headed toward the door. “Are you coming?”
“What does that mean?” She hurried after him.
“I think you might have lost him, little girl.” His voice drifted up to her from the garage.

Michael looked across the street at Kushiel sitting on the bench. Kushiel gave him a slight nod and lift of his shoulders. Michael stalked across the road and grabbed Kushiel’s arm. “What do you know?”
“Ezra is here to kill.”
“I know that.” Michael shook the hair out of his eyes. “What do you know?”
“Julia and Cook will make fine parents.”
“I know that, too, Kushiel,” Michael’s voice dipped menacingly. “What do you know?”
“Ezra is after Julia and Cook.”
“Why?” He tightened his grip on Kushiel’s arm.
“Ouch!” He wiggled. “It is because of Miguel.”
“Why is Miguel important to him? What do you know?”
“Miguel is like you.”
“Miguel is nothing like me. Kushiel, do not play games with me. What do you know?” The expression on Michael’s face hardened as he pursed his lips and narrowed his eyes, watching Kushiel much like a Hawk might contemplate a mouse running from it’s shadow.
“Luke is here to claim Miguel and Kristy.” Kushiel felt his throat tighten.
“Who had Irrithiril?”
“I do not know.” Kushiel shook his head and lowered his gaze.
“Kushiel, what do you know?” Michael squeezed Kushiel’s arm again eliciting a wince from the dark little man.
“Jeremiah Dryer is not a pastor,” he squirmed under Michael’s intense gaze.
“Not important. What do you know?”
“I can not tell what I do not know, yet,” he whimpered.
“Thank you. Do not try to leave town, Kushiel. If you do, I will find you and you will not like what I do to you.” Michael let go of his arm.
Kushiel stood and scurried away like a rat. Michael watched him waddle out of sight. “Thank you, Elohim for answering me.”

***

Chapter Fifteen

Luke looked around him at the revival tents. Everything appeared to be in order and yet he felt as though Ezra had been there. For some reason he no longer felt a desire to continue with the program. What had changed? He used to enjoy swindling money from unsuspecting fools.
He entered the trailer and paced the floor. He found himself worrying about Michael’s disposition. But why? It was unlike him to care about his brother, or anyone other than himself. What was happening to him? Why was he so interested in his brother and no longer interested in making money?
‘Irrithiril’, he thought, ‘if it doesn’t kill you, it changes you.’ Could his delay in treating his leg have caused the Irrithiril to create these changes within him? He searched the room for the first aid kit and found it on the counter. Didn’t Michael say there was a vial of Irrithiril in there? He opened the kit and saw the vial.
It was pure, undiluted Irrithiril. Could exposure to it really change the core of a person’s identity? How could he counteract its effect?
He had to find Michael and tell him they might have been affected by Irrithiril poisoning.

Kristy paced the food court. Her mind was not on preparing the food for the revival that night. She kept thinking about Miguel’s comment. Could Michael really be in love with her? Luke also seemed to think so. Had she been hasty in her temperamental outburst over his protectiveness? Did she really lose him? She had to know. She had to find him.
“Luke!” She hollered, “I’ll be back in a few hours.” She grabbed the keys to the truck. She hoped she hadn’t lost him. Michael was the first boyfriend who seemed to honestly care about her. She recalled how he had leaped forward and pushed her out of the way during the carnival accident. He had taken the brunt of the falling debris. At the revival he had pulled her from the collapsed tent and carried her to his apartment to care for her. She closed her eyes, remembering his gentle kisses. She had to find him. She had to make amends.
Luke came out of the trailer with his jacket slung over his shoulder. “I need you to watch this place.” He looked down at a vial in his hand.
“Sorry, I can’t. I have to do something first,” she called over her shoulder.

Kushiel lingered in the shadows, watching the drama unfolding. He grinned and danced a little jig as the two rushed toward their respective vehicles. Who will find Michael first, Luke or Kristy? Would Michael even talk to either of them? When he saw Michael earlier, he seemed to have reverted to the warrior. Michael had been fierce and uncompromising. Could either Luke or Kristy change him back into a gentler, more caring personage? Kushiel wasn’t certain. If he had to make a bet, it would be a toss of the coin as to which side would win . . . the warrior or the saint.
He clapped his hands in glee. This was going to be fun. The only thing left was Ezra. He frowned. Ezra. He hated the man. He needed to find what Ezra’s weakness was so he can eliminate him. To do that, he needed Michael. To get Michael’s help he would have to provide more information. To provide more information he had to spy on everyone. What a tangled mess he had on his hands.

Ezra sat in a booth at the back of the diner. He sipped his coffee and winced. ‘Who made this sludge?’ he though as he threw in a pinch of salt to lessen its bitterness and stirred in additional sugar.
“Are you ready to order?” Julia asked, keeping a step back from the table. “Our special this morning is steak and eggs.”
“That sounds good, Julia. May I call you, Julia?”
“I prefer misses Broussard.” She wrote in her note pad. “Would you like hash browns, grits, or cream of wheat?”
“Hash browns with a side of corn beef hash and toast.” He pondered her ebony skin and smooth complexion. “Have you seen Michael this morning?”
“No.” She glanced at the round school house clock hanging over the counter. “Will that be all?”
“I think that will do quite nicely. Thank you.”
Julia turned and walked to the kitchen window. “Order up, Cook.” She grabbed the coffee pot and poured the contents into the kitchen sink. She pulled the used grounds out of the coffee maker and proceeded to make a fresh brew. Soon the diner was filled with the enticing aroma of food and beverage.
Ezra looked down in surprise when his stomach grumbled loudly. That was new. He was famished after all. Another new experience, since he rarely felt the pangs of hunger.

Michael sat astride his motorcycle and looked across the desert. He saw only barrenness where once he had seen beauty and splashes of color. He pulled the crystal from his pocket and kneaded it gently. As his fingers grew warm the crystal began to change in shape until it formed a large thin ring of translucent glass. He peered closely at the band and slid it onto his right forearm until it rested midway between his wrist and elbow.
He felt the protector in him giving way to the warrior. Still the bone deep weariness lingered. He would do his duty and then leave this cursed place. No joy awaited him here in Sundown. Here there was only pain, sorrow, and loneliness.
The choking rumble of a truck engine drew his attention and he watched as the vehicle came to a stop ten feet from where he sat.
“Michael?” Kristy hopped out and stood beside the vehicle. “Can we talk?” She took a tentative step in his direction.
“Go away, Kristy,” he turned back to the desert. “I have nothing to say to you.”
Kristy stood contemplating him, uncertain what to do next. She only knew she had to make things right between them. “Michael?” Her voice was soft, a mere breath blown to him on the wind.
“Please, leave me alone.” He continued to adjust the band on his arm.
“Michael, please,” she pleaded. “I’m sorry.”
“For what, Kristy, enlighten me, please?” He pulled the headband back into place and slipped on his sunglasses. “Sorry for throwing stuff at me?”
“I don’t want to lose you,” she faltered, “I’ve never met anyone so kind and gentle who loved me.”
“What do you want, Kristy?” He quickly stepped beside her, his arm wrapped around her in a rough hug and he pulled her against his chest. “You want this?” He lowered his lips to hers and possessed them with a gnawing hunger that was both frightening and exhilarating. His free hand roamed her body in a harsh caress. With a ragged breath, he unleashed her and stepped back. “Or, do you want something else?” His voice was cold, devoid of emotion.
“What has happened to you?” Kristy lifted her hand to her kiss bruised lips.
“You happened to me, Kristy. I never did anything to hurt you. I did everything in my power to keep you safe, to make you feel secure, to be gentle with you, to show you pure love. How did you treat me?”
“I didn’t,” she halted as tears welled up in her eyes and her breath caught in her throat.
“You told people I was inexperienced. You threw a bible at me. You hit me with a coffee pot. You not only embarrassed me, but you also hurt me. No more, Kristy! No more will I be disrespected!” His eyes flashed with anger. “I am Michael,” he growled.
The engine roared to life and Michael rode away leaving Kristy staring after his receding figure. The sky darkened overhead. Flashes of lightning set the horizon on fire. Thunder rumbled. A jagged bolt streaked downward hitting a boulder causing an ear splitting explosion as the rock burst into shards.

Miguel burst into the diner waving a letter in front of him. “Mom, Dad!” he hollered. “It came! The letter from the lawyer came! It was in the mailbox at the garage! I bet you got one too!”
Julia rushed around the counter and took the letter from him. Cook hurried from the kitchen.
“So soon?” He flipped through the mail next to the counter and yanked out the envelope from an attorney.
“Yes!” Julia cried, clutching the letter to her. “We go before the judge in the morning. The lawyer says this is unusually fast, but all the paperwork came back in order and congratulations on our adoption!”
“I told you Michael could fix it so everything would work out” Miguel grinned. “I am so happy!”
“We need to move you into our home. We have a room for you and you can decorate it.”
Cook grabbed Julia and swung her around. He held out his arm and pulled Miguel into the embrace.
People stood and clapped at the happy news. “To celebrate,” Cook choked back tears, “Your meal is on us, so eat up!”
Ezra rose from the table and made his way to the counter. He pulled out his wallet and placed a twenty next to the register. “In honor of your adoption,” he rasped.
Julia shivered as she watched him leave. “I hope he moves on soon.”
“Mom!” Miguel quickly put the money into the register. “That’s not very nice.” He stared out the window. Ezra glanced inside and tipped his hat. Miguel shivered, “but I know what you mean.”

Michael heard Kristy scream over the roar of his cycle. She shrieked in stark terror as the thunder crashed and a bolt of lightning hit the boulder cracking it into chunks. Quickly he wheeled his cycle around. He raced back and found her cowering beside the truck as bits and pieces of the boulder plummeted around her. Thick droplets of rain crashed from the sky pelting him with stinging blasts of water.
He dismounted and raced to her side. He lifted her and held her near to his chest as he ran for the lowest point in the ground. He lay her down and stretched his body over hers. “Shh . . . it’ll be okay,” he tucked her as close as possible. He shifted position and snaked an arm skyward to point his finger into the air. A streak of blue shot upward into the clouds. Within seconds the fury of the storm abated and the torrential rain slowed to a trickle before stopping. Sunlight peeked from behind the thunderheads.
He cradled her tear streaked muddy face with his hand. “It’s okay now,” he comforted as he felt her trembling under his body. “It’s over.” He rolled away from her and peeled off his jacket, wrapping it around her shoulders. “It’s okay.” He tilted her head and looked searchingly into her eyes to see terror reflected back at him.
Looking into his sea-green orbs she felt a calmness descend upon her and the terror drained away leaving only a faint memory.
“It was just a thunderstorm,” he looked over to where the shattered remains of the boulder perched. “Lightning hit the rock and cracked it.” He sat up and pulled her onto his lap, nestling her into his arms. “What happened to you, Kristy, to make you so afraid of thunder and lightning?”
“I saw,” she hiccupped, “my father die when lightning struck him. I was seven.”
“How horrible it must have been to see him die.” He kissed the top of her head.
“Michael,” she sobbed. “I am so sorry for hurting you.”
“Hush,” His eyes softened and his voice caressed her with tenderness. “I know.”
It didn’t take long for the sun to dry the wet ground. “You have dirt streaked across your face,” he lifted a finger and gently wiped at the smudges. “We both must look filthy.” A soft smile crept across his rugged face. He untied his neckerchief and used it to clean her face. “I will never leave you, Kristy. I promise.” He closed his eyes and whispered, “Elohim, please do not make me lose her. Please let me keep my promise.”
“What?” Kristy asked as she felt a soft breeze brush against her cheek.
“Nothing, love. Let’s get my bike into the truck bed and head back, shall we?” He stood and held out his hand to help her up. Hand in hand they walked back to the vehicles.

Luke stepped out of his car and glanced around. Everything seemed to be in order. He glanced skyward when he saw the lightning streaking across the sky followed by the clap of thunder. It was in the distance. He wondered if the revival would get rained out again.
As he looked out over the grounds, he saw Ezra sneaking around the food court. Quietly he closed the car door and crept to the nearest tent. His fingers subconsciously sought out the medallion Michael had given him. He felt reassured as he stroked the jewelry but couldn’t explain why. It was almost as though he was invincible.
Ezra reminded Luke of the blackbird of death. He wondered how best to handle the situation. Ezra needed to go before anymore disaster could strike. How is Ezra tracking him? Everywhere he goes the monster finds him.
He watched as Ezra sidled around the counter at the revival food court. Ezra’s rat-like eyes glanced left and right before he lifted container lids and peered inside. He flitted around the food court, looking here and there, digging his hands into shelves, moving items out of boxes, and replacing them. Ezra then approached the freezers and removed chicken, ground beef, and sausage. He seemed to be toying with the meat before he put them back.
“Ezra,” Luke rushed forward and grabbed the man. “What are you doing to the food?” He slammed Ezra against the freezer.
“I was just looking.” Ezra tried to shrug out of Luke’s grasp. “Really, Luke, you are beginning to sound an awful lot like Michael.”
“I am not like Michael. Not even close.” Luke abruptly dropped him and yanked open the freezer. “You had better not have done anything to the food here. You better not be harming innocent people or I will come after you myself. Do I make myself clear?” His voice came out in a snarl, mean and vicious like a rabid dog. His face contorted into an ugly mask of disgust. “I will not tolerate interference in achieving my goals.” Luke slammed his fist onto the counter. “Do not make me come after you.”
“Rather, you should fear me coming for you, Luke,” Ezra straightened the collar of his coat and dusted himself off.
“Do not flatter yourself, Ezra,” Luke spit. “You are nothing more than a rat in the grander scheme of things. I am not afraid of you.” He walked a few feet and turned to look back at Ezra. His grip tightened around the medallion. “I catch you messing around here again and you’ll know who the master is.” Luke stalked over to his car and leaned against it watching until Ezra had left the grounds. He stared after Ezra until he could no longer see his swarthy figure walking down the road. “That’s right, little man, keep on going. You are not welcome here.” Luke continued stroking the medallion under his shirt.

Kushiel sat in the shadow of the bandstand and watched the entire exchange. “Interesting,” he muttered. “Having a change of heart, Luke? May hap there is hope for you yet? And in hope, perhaps there is redemption?” He stroked his goatee. He cocked his head at the sound of hounds baying in the distance. “No forgiveness for you.” A sly grin spread across his dark, warty face. His washed out eyes glowed faintly with a yellow hue.
He sauntered over to the food court and sniffed the air. The reek of Irrithiril covered everything. Oh Ezra, what are you doing, hmm? Making a plague of your own? Or are you trying to sicken Michael and Luke? It didn’t make any difference. Ezra, you foolish, foolish ghoul, did not you think Luke will warn Michael?
The air smelled redolent of ozone as lightning cracked across the sky. He tipped his head back to listen to the distant sound of thunder. The storm was miles away and presented no danger to him. The breeze had gained momentum and sent the flaps of the tents waving back and forth. It felt sultry against his face and brought a wealth of scents, including one that reeked of decay.
He followed the odor around the tent grounds in back. The dumpsters were located in the rear. The smell came from near the trash containers. From the pungent stench it was obvious the decaying substance had been there overnight. He stood on toes and shoved the lid upward. The smell was overpowering. He dragged a block to the container and climbed up. Inside were three bodies. “Well, that explains where the security guards went,” he mumbled and began humming a death song, Kingdom Come.

***

Chapter Sixteen

Michael stopped the truck. He hopped out, lowered the ramp, and jumped into the truck bed. He carefully guided the motorcycle to the pavement. He peeked around the vehicle and issued a long, low, and sexy whistle as Kristy alighted from the vehicle.
“Michael!” Kristy shrieked and turned a brilliant shade of red.
“Yes?” His voice came out deep and slow with just a hint of passion as his gaze raked her from head to toe. “Come here,” he purred.
“Why?” Her breath caught in her throat as she moved closer.
He gathered her into his arms and gently kissed her delectable lips. With a deep sigh, he stepped back, holding her hands and placed the truck keys in her palm. “Here,” he winked. Then rubbing the handlebars on the cycle, he walked the motorcycle to the garage. As he walked, his hips swayed in an exaggerated sashay.
She looked down at the keys in her hand. “What are these for?” she stammered, her heart pounding loudly in her chest.
“They are the keys to the truck. You need to take supplies from the diner to the revival. Tonight is band night.” He leaned against the garage wall with one leg bent at the knee and propped against the concrete. His hands were hooked around the buckle of his belt. A wicked grin spread across his face.
She closed her eyes. “Oh, my God!” she laughed, “I feel so stupid.”
“Why?” Michael asked his eyes wide with innocence. “Did you forget? I will see you there, right?” he chuckled as he ran his fingers through his brown hair.
She found herself tracing each movement of his fingers as they twined through his luscious hair. She could almost feel the silky threads winding around her own fingers. “Oh, yes,” she stuttered and fled across the street into the diner; his laughter followed her the entire way.
“God help me!” Kristy closed the door and leaned against it and shut her eyes. It took her several minutes to realize the diner was silent. She peeked one eye open and promptly shut it again when she saw everyone looking at her.
“Is somethin’ wrong, sugar?” Julia looked up from pouring iced tea. “Are you having more Michael trouble? I could see you turning bright red even from way over here. What happened? More nothing?”
“Stop it, Julia,” Kristy could not help giggling.
“Oh, look, here he comes,” one of the patrons said.
“Hello Julia. Kristy,” Michael nodded and sat on the stool at the counter. “Could I get a cup of coffee, please and a sweet treat?”
“Well, it kind of depends on what kind of sweet treat you want,” Julia winked.
“I think a donut would do just fine,” His gaze lingered on Kristy. “Yes, a donut will do me.” He turned as someone snickered.
“Should I stick a fork in her, sugar? See if she’s done?” Julia teased.
“Huh?” Michael spun back to look at Julia with a puzzled expression.
Kristy took the distraction to grab a box of supplies and slip out the door. “I’m going to the revival now.” Kristy’s ears burned with embarrassment as the diner crowd roared in laughter.
“What’s so funny?” Michael asked.
“It’s nothing, sugar. We were just having some fun with Kristy.” Julia placed two chocolate covered pastries on a plate.
“Thank you.” He took a bite of the pastry as he looked around the diner. Every client was busy shoveling food into their mouths or taking huge gulps of their drink. “Did something happen?”
“No, no,” she reassured him. “Don’t go worrying your sexy self about anything like this.” She winked at him and poured a second cup of coffee.
Michael choked, “My what?” He sputtered as bits of the donut flew out of his mouth.
“Now, don’t tell me a hunk like you don’t know he’s sexy? Umm . . . hmm.” She clucked at him and playfully swatted him with a rag.
Michael felt an unfamiliar heat rising along his neck into his face. He tugged on his ears. They felt like they were on fire. “Um . . . thanks, I guess?” He scooped the rest of his donut into the palm of his hand and slinked out of the diner after paying his bill.

Kushiel pounded on the trailer door. He shifted from foot to foot in his nervousness.
“Come in!” Luke called.
“Luke,” his voice came out like the sibilant vocals of a snake. “You might want to come with me.”
“Why?” Luke poured brandy into a snifter and swirled the amber liquid.
“I have something to show you. The police will need to be involved.”
“I’ll call my security to handle it.”
“You have not any security,” he hissed in his heavy accent and odd phrasing. “Dead, they are.”
Luke sprang to his feet. At the mention of death, he forgot all about his drink. “Show me.”
“You may hap want to bring a face cover. The smell is,” he paused searching for the correct words, “not delectable.” He hopped down the steps and headed across the revival grounds.
As they came around the last of the trailers and tents Luke could smell rot beneath the underlying scent of trash decay. The putrid aroma reminded him of a charnel house. Death lingered in the air. He shoved his hand into a pocket. “Better call the police.” His other hand held a kerchief over his nose.

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Michael slowed his hog to a crawl as he spied the flashing lights of police and emergency medical services vehicles at the entrance. A yellow crime scene tape was stretched across the drive. As he approached, a police officer motioned him to pull off to the shoulder of the road.
“What’s going on, Officer?” Michael asked.
“State your business.” The officer pulled out a notepad.
“I’m here to see my brother, Luke. This is his revival program.” Michael looked past the officer and watched as a gurney was loaded into the waiting ambulance. Even from this distance he could see it contained a body bag. “Is someone dead?”
“Wait just a minute while I verify your access. What’s your name, please?”
“Michael.”
The cop turned away from him and spoke into a radio. “Okay, I’ll let him through.” He looked back at Michael and waved him in the direction of the trailer. “Your brother is over there.”
“Thank you, Officer.” Michael steered his Harley toward the food court. He shut off the engine and jumped from the bike. “Luke, what happened?”
Luke paced in front of the ambulance talking with an officer and medical personnel. He glanced up and gave Michael a strained grimace. “Michael!” He reached for the medallion he wore under his shirt. “I’m glad to see you.”
“What happened, Luke? Where’s Kristy?”
“She’s not here. I sent her back to town. What a mess. Three of my security detail was found butchered and left to rot in the dumpsters.”
“Who found them?”
“Kushiel did but the scoundrel disappeared as soon as the cops showed up.”
“I see,” Michael peered toward the dumpsters. “Mind if I look around?”
“Be my guest, although, I don’t think the cops will let you back there.” Luke tilted his head as he caught the faint strains of hounds yowling in the distance. “You hear that?”
“Hear what, the hounds? Not a good omen, bro. Not good at all.” Michael pulled his headband down, covering his nose and mouth and hooked it around his ears to keep it in place. He picked up a stick and began to poke amidst the debris in the dumpster.
“Stop!” A cop rushed over. “That’s evidence.”
“I’m sorry, officer.” He dropped the stick and backed away.
“Will I be able to open the revival tonight?” Luke asked.
“Only if you can move everything to the open space over there,” the police officer pointed to a grassy field.
Michael pulled out his phone and began dialing. “I think we can do that. Just need to move the stage and food court. I’ll call in a crew.”

It took non-stop effort from the crews to get everything moved and electricity established to the machines. Michael was glad it was a music night with no sermons scheduled. Moving the main tent in time for the event was compromised by the police questioning the staff as they worked. The entrance was moved off the main road and people had stood in line for over an hour. Michael walked the lines handing out bottles of cold water. An hour later than originally planned the revival was ready to open.
Julia and Cook had worked hard to prepare the food. “Julia, does this smell off to you?” He handed her a package of ground beef.
She smelled it, frowned, and sniffed again. “I don’t know. Don’t take any chances. Throw it out. What about the rest of the meat?”
“They smelled fine to me,” Cook shrugged and peered closely at another package. “It looks fine too.”
“So, maybe we got a bad package. Toss it, sugar.”
“Consider it done, love.”
Luke bounded up the steps onto the stage. “Welcome to music night. Sorry for the delay. As some of you may have heard, there was a bit of unpleasant business discovered. Rest assured, the police have everything well in hand, and we should have a fantastic night of song and dance. First up tonight is Saint Peter’s Mad Mud Puppies.” He clapped his hands as the stage filled with multi-colored smoke.
A rope descended from the grid and the singer slid down. The guitarist drifted wraith like into view and the drummer pounded out a rhythmic beat. The air was electrified by the energy of the music. “Water rippling across the sand, monsoon nights to withstand,” the singer crooned. He did not look like the typical gospel singer with his striped pants and tie-dyed tee-shirt.
Michael sat astride his motorcycle and watched the gyrations on stage. People held candles and lighters aloft as they swayed and sang to the songs. His arms were crossed against his chest. Where was Kristy? He kept a watchful eye on the entrance. Soon he spotted the rustic diner truck pulling in. Kristy alighted from the vehicle and made her way to the food court. She left a package with Julia, and then headed to where Michael sat waiting.
“I was beginning to wonder if you stood me up,” he smiled and kissed her. “I have a place for us over there,” he pointed. He dismounted and wrapped an arm around her waist; turning to kiss the top of her head.
“I’m sorry, I’m late. Julia asked me to bring some fresh packages of ground beef. She said they had a bad batch.”
Michael led her to the blanket he had spread under a tree. They had a perfect view of the stage. He opened the basket and began removing food and drinks.
“Hi,” Miguel approached them. “Can I join you?” He looked from Michael to Kristy. “Or would I be interrupting something?”
“No, no, have a seat,” Michael patted the blanket. “Plenty for all of us.” He handed Miguel a wrapped sandwich.
“Did you make this?” Miguel inhaled the aroma of cucumbers, and salad dressing mixed with horseradish and bean sprouts. “Smells good.”
“I did.” Michael grinned and bit into his own meal.
Kristy smiled. She couldn’t remember ever feeling this happy. “You are a good cook.”
“What cooking? It’s all raw. I did make the horseradish sauce. I hope it isn’t too spicy.”
“I love hot stuff,” Miguel spoke through a mouthful of food.
“I like it,” Kristy nodded in agreement. “Sure beats fast food.”
“Hey! I like hamburgers,” Miguel protested and took a swig of soda.
Michael leaned back against the tree with one knee propped up. He lazily swirled his soda bottle while gazing at Kristy as she munched on her apple. She looked absolutely delicious and he would kiss her if Miguel wasn’t present.
Miguel glanced at them and then looked toward the parking lot. He waved at some friends. “My friends are here. I’m going to go sit with them, okay?”
“Let your new Mom know where you are,” Michael plucked an apple from the basket. The sweet juice dribbled and he licked his lips in a way Kristy found sexy.
“I will. Thanks for the food, Michael,” Miguel waved as he hurried to join his buddies.
“Come, sit beside me, Kristy.” Michael patted the ground.
Kristy scooted over and he draped his arm around her shoulder. With a slight shift, he repositioned her so she leaned back against him. “Much better,” he sighed.
Kristy nestled into his arms feeling the warmth of his body surrounding hers. She inhaled his heady aroma and sighed with contentment. This was very nice. “Mountain spring and mint,” she closed her eyes and smiled, his scent made her feel almost intoxicated.
“Hmm?” He nuzzled her neck. “Did you say something?” His voice came out raw and throaty.
The band played a soft medley that lent a romantic atmosphere to their interlude. The acoustic guitar was sweet with a hint of melancholy eliciting a feeling of desire and loneliness.
“You always smell of mountain spring and mint, two of my favorite scents.” She tipped her head back and gazed into his beautiful sea-green eyes.
“Glad you like the way I smell,” he chuckled and lowered his head to taste her lips. “Apple. Yummy,” he whispered. “You are so beautiful, so very beautiful.” He nipped her lightly, eliciting a gasp. His fingers tangled in her hair as he gently lay her back on the ground and covered her body with his.
She moaned at the delicious sensation of heat emanating from his masculine body covering her possessively. He felt so good. She eagerly kissed his mouth, his chin, and each eyelid. She clutched him closer, wrapping her arms around his back.
For a second it was as though they had been transported into a private galaxy. The music surrounded them with a soft acoustical guitar playing songs of nature. Kristy felt peaceful and enclosed in pure love. She felt the tension leaving her body, as he stroked by the ministrations of gentle kisses and his hands lightly hugging her.

The loud piercing of an ambulance abruptly jerked them back to their surroundings. Michael looked up and saw people dropping to the ground as they vomited. Above the din he could hear the baying of hounds drawing near.
“Luke!” He jumped up and raced over to his brother who was kneeling beside a young girl. “What’s wrong?”
“Irrithiril. It was in the food,” Luke scooped the child into his arms and ran for the medic tent. “I didn’t know Irrithiril could make people sick. I thought it had to enter the bloodstream.”
Michael grabbed Luke and spun him around. “Let me have her. Go find who did this.”
Luke nodded and handed over the girl. Michael knelt down, tore off his jacket, and wrapped it around her.
“What’s wrong?” Kristy asked, kneeling beside him.
“Please go get Julia and Cook. Tell them not to sell anymore food or drink. It’s contaminated.” Michael stayed focused on the youngster. He gently opened the top of her shirt and placed his fingers along her collarbone. Within seconds a slight blue arc raced from his thumb and danced over her skin. He felt a slight tingle of electric current running from him into the girl.

From the corner of her eye she saw the blue light arcing from his finger as she pivoted toward the food court. What was he doing? She raced to Julia, “Julia!”
“Kristy! What’s happening? Why are so many people getting sick suddenly?” Julia wrung her hands.
“Michael says it’s the food. It’s contaminated!”
“Dear God no!” Julia turned to Cook. “We should have tossed everything out.” Worry crossed her face turning her mouth downward in a frown. “Oh, Cook! People are getting sick because of what we fed them!” She burst into tears.
“But only the one package looked bad. Nothing else looked tampered with,” he protested. He turned off the grill and began piling the cooked food into boxes. “We’re going to have to save this stuff for testing.”
He looked around at the people on the ground. He felt lost. He had always found joy in cooking and feeding people. And now, his food had led to sickness. How had this happened? He was always careful to make sure the ingredients were fresh. How had he fed the masses with contaminated food? He hugged Julia, “I don’t know what to say or what to do.”

Michael worked furiously on the girl. He tilted her head back, pinched her nose shut, and parted her lips with a finger. He checked to make sure her airway was not blocked. He pulled his neckerchief loose and draped it over her jaws and then lowered his lips to cover her mouth. He gently pushed air into her lungs and used his hand to start compressions on her chest. Tiny sparks of blue provided a steady stream into her skin. He kept the rhythm steady, while he massaged her chest. Her tiny body jerked, she gasped and started crying. He lifted her up and handed her to a waiting medic.
He stood and stretched before racing to the next person. He noticed the music had stopped. A quick glance at the stage told him the band was also sick. So many people were getting sick.
“Over here!” A woman frantically beckoned him.
“I’m coming!” He ran to her. When he saw the man on the ground he wanted to vomit. The man’s face had turned dark purple. Blood tinged vomit bubbled from his mouth. A quick look at his iris told Michael everything he needed to know.
“I’m sorry. There’s nothing I can do for him.” Michael could feel the warrior side of him lingering in his reactions. He felt a coldness taking over steeling himself against the onslaught of agony and death. He patted the woman on the shoulder before walking to an ambulance.
“We need more ambulances here.” Michael told the emergency services attendant.
“We’ve called in everyone within five towns. They’re on their way.”
Nodding, “That’s good. The lady over there?” he pointed to the woman he had just left. “Her husband is dead.”
“Got it,” the medic pulled a body bag out, “we need more bags,” he said and headed toward the couple.
Michael cocked his head and listened. The braying hounds sounded closer still. ‘This is not good,’ he thought as he headed back into the crowd.
Miguel ran over to Michael. “Do you need help?” He knelt down. “I took first aid and got certified.”
Michael looked at Miguel. “Just don’t touch their mouth or come into contact with their body fluids. Something has poisoned them and I don’t want you to get sick. Why not help your Mom and Dad?”
“They sent me to help you.” Miguel placed his hand on Michael’s arm. “I saw you breathe into her mouth. If you can do it, why can’t I?”
“I used a barrier. Now, please, go do as I say. Or, you can go help the crews load the sick into the ambulances.”

Luke raced around the revival looking for Ezra and not finding him. He ignored pleas for help and continued to search.
“Preacher Luke, please help my wife,” a man latched onto his sleeve.
“Someone is coming, sir,” Luke plucked the man’s hand off and continued past him.”
Ezra!” He bellowed, “Show yourself, now!” This disaster could cost a fortune in lost revenue and damage all the goodwill he had built up in town. Still, people were getting sick. He should help them. He whirled back around and went to the man. “Let me see what I can do. I’ll be right back.”
Luke left the man sitting beside his fallen wife and headed toward the nearest emergency medical service technician. “Excuse me,” he tapped the worker on her shoulder. “There’s a sick pregnant lady I need you to help.”
“Right away, Preacher Luke,” the woman rose and went with him.
Luke stopped and spun around. What was that sound? “Ezra?” he whispered. A raspy almost imperceptible, evil laugh floated around his head.
His heart thumped in sudden fear and loathing. He spun around to see if others had heard the laugh. All around him emergency people were rushing to the sickened attendees. The screams of the sick, those looking for help, combined with the sirens, and shouted medical orders created a calliope of noise. No one could have heard the laughter in the dissonance surrounding him.

***

Chapter Seventeen

“It was poison?” Jared shouted into the phone as he paced his office.
“Yes it is a poison of some kind,” the man on the phone said.
“What kind of poison are we dealing with Doctor Melaka?”
“We don’t know yet. I’ve sent samples to the Centers for Disease Control and some additional labs.”
“What do you mean unknown?” He scratched his head in confusion. “How many are sick?” Jared felt the bile bubbling up from his stomach into his esophagus.
“We had close to one hundred in the surrounding hospitals.” Melaka spoke with a heavy Middle Eastern accent.
“How many have died?” Jared opened the bottle of antacids and popped a few into his mouth and began chewing.
“About half died within five hours. We have a fifty percent mortality ratio and I think it may go even higher.” Melaka sounded tired and perplexed. “I’d like access to the investigational records, if possible.”
“I’ll have the Sheriff contact you. Please, keep me posted. News media are already amassing here like flies.”
“We’ll schedule a press conference for later today or tomorrow.” The doctor said and disconnected from the call.
“Fifty percent fatality,” Jared mumbled. “That’s almost worse than the Ebola outbreak in Africa.” He sank into his chair and covered his face with his hands.

Michael stood in the hospital hall and looked through the isolation ward window. He stuck his right hand into his pocket and pushed the door open. The nurse looked at him as he walked over to the sink and pulled on a pair of gloves and a mask. “I was called in to consult.”
He stepped to the bed and looked down at the patient. “Have there been any changes?”
“No, doctor,” the nurse shook her head. “If you need me, I’ll be in the next room.”
Michael nodded absently as he looked at the computer chart and then at the machines hooked to the patient. “Irrithiril,” he muttered. “The blood has to be cleansed to remove the poison.” He removed his glove, pulled the sheet down, and placed his hand along the collar. He bowed his head, “This woman is covered by your hand. If it is your will, restore and heal this woman. She needs your touch, your healing. In this I pray, Amen.” He felt the warmth of his hand pouring into her body. Soon a blue glow emanated around her. “Sleep for a little longer and wake feeling whole.” He tossed the mask and gloves into the biohazard container before leaving the room.
Michael spent the next four hours going from room to room. In some he recited the same prayer. In others, he simply gave comfort to waiting family.
As the remaining living patients began to awaken, still others slipped away never to emerge from their comatose states. The hospital staff was thrown into more chaos as they rushed to the rooms.
Michael quickly headed toward the elevator as an elderly woman called after him. “Pastor, thank you even though my daughter passed on.” She hugged him as tears streamed down her cheeks. He embraced her and spoke comforting words softly into her ear before pressing onward.
“Doctor?” someone else grabbed his hand as he rounded a corner. “I heard you were the last one to see my father before he woke up. It’s a miracle.”
“That it is,” Michael nodded. “Why not give thanks for the good fortune bestowed upon you. Do not thank me, thank the Lord.” He shook the man’s hand and continued down the hall.
He pushed open the glass doors and stepped outside. A smile played across his lips. He lifted his face to the sun. The brightness and heat felt good after the cold of the sick and dying.
Michael walked across the grounds to the parking lot and mounted his Harley. Soon he was headed to another hospital where he repeated the process. He continued doing so until he had visited every patient in each of the five medical facilities where they had been taken. By the time he returned to Sundown he was exhausted.
He walked into a virtually empty diner. “Julia, Cook are you guys okay?” He called out.
Julia came out of the kitchen pushing a mop and bucket. “We’re fine. We’re just cleaning up. We tossed out all the food in the freezers and fridge. Cook and I don’t want to take any chances the stuff here is contaminated. We have new stuff scheduled to arrive tomorrow.” She looked up and paused. She squinted at Michael and set the mop aside. “Are you okay?” She went over to him and touched his forehead. “You’re burning up! Cook, bring some towels and ice!”
Michael tried to wave her aside. “I’ll be fine.” He stumbled against a table and collapsed onto the floor.
“Cook!” Julia screamed, “I think Michael’s sick!”
Cook rushed from the kitchen carrying towels and a tray of ice. He popped the ice into the towel and knelt beside Michael’s prone figure. He placed the homemade cold pack on his forehead. “Julia, call Preacher Luke.”
“I’m already working on it.” She held the phone in her hands.
Kristy entered the diner. Seeing Michael stretched out on the floor, she dropped the bag of groceries and ran to him. “What’s wrong with him?” She sat next to him and took his hands.
Michael’s eyes fluttered open. “I need some juice,” he whispered as he struggled to sit up.
“Lay down,” Kristy’s voice filled with concern.
“Julia’s going to call for an ambulance.” Cook handed Michael a glass of orange juice.
Michael waved his hand and shook his head. “No need for an ambulance. I’m just a bit tired. I’ll be okay.”
“I think you should go to the hospital and get checked out,” Kristy added as she took the glass from his hands and lifted it to his lips.
“Seriously, I’m okay.” Michael drank deeply and sighed. “That tastes so good.”
“The emergency management services said it would take about an hour to get here,” Julia soaked another towel in ice water and draped it around Michael’s shoulders.
“See there? Let’s not waste their time, shall we? Just give me a minute or two and I will be good to go.”
“Where is he?” Luke burst into the diner. “There you are! What happened?” He dropped to his knees beside Michael. He lifted each of Michael’s eye lids and peered into his irises. Then he began a thorough examination of his face, neck, and arms.
“I’m okay, Luke.” Michael pushed Luke’s hands away. “I’ll tell you later. Please help me up.”
“Michael!” Miguel rushed into the diner. “Are you okay?”
“What’d you do, Julia, tell the whole town?” He grimaced and gingerly stood on shaky legs while gripping Luke’s arm.
“News travels fast, sugar,” Julia shrugged.
“Miguel, help me get Michael home, okay?” Luke asked as he slid his arm around Michael’s waist.
“Of course, Preacher Luke,” Miguel slipped under Michael’s arm. “I’m ready. Man, Michael, you weigh more than you look.” He huffed as the trio stumbled toward the door.
Kristy pushed the door open and held it for them. “Julia, could you package some clear soup with no meat or poultry and bring it over?”
“Vegetables only,” Julia turned to Cook. “Let’s get busy making some soup.”
“You want it with a touch of hot sauce, right?” Cook smiled at his wife. He felt relieved Michael was up and walking and no longer lying on the floor of his diner.

Kushiel walked the entire town trying to sniff out Irrithiril or Ezra and finding neither. As he walked, he listened for the hounds. Hearing their howling, he gauged their distance to the town. They were drawing nearer. From the direction of the howling they seemed to be focused on the revival grounds.
“Ezra,” he muttered, “you are hiding, but Michael will find you. Now coward, who is?” His voice sounded guttural and cracked. He glanced at his fingers. The nails were black with dirt. How did they get so filthy, he didn’t understand? “Ezra, you might be after Luke but you will not get him as long as he is under Michael’s protection.” Kushiel narrowed his eyes, pulled out a pocket knife, and used the tip of the blade to dig out the dirt.
He pushed open the door to the diner. “Open, are you?”
“I’m sorry,” Julia placed the containers of soup into a bag. “We’re closed until further notice.”
“I’m sorry,” he licked his lips at the wonderful scent of vegetable soup and hot bread. “Are there other places to eat?”
“There’s a burger joint a few blocks down the road.”
“Thank you,” he looked around the diner and sniffed. “I am sure your food is better. Going I will be now.” He paused at the door, turned around and walked back into the room. He squatted on the floor and sniffed. “Michael, is okay, yes?” He ran his finger along the tile.
“Yes he is. He is resting at home.” Cook entered from the kitchen with a towel in his hands. “Why?”
“It is good he is not injured or sick.” Kushiel rose and left the diner.
“That is one very odd dude,” Cook shook his head.
“I think he’s creepy,” Julia shivered and wrapped her arms around herself.
“I wonder when and if we’ll get the all clear to open back up.” Cook hugged his wife. “The diner is kind of lonely with no one but us here.”
“I keep wondering if we should have made the soup and bread for Michael. What if there is still contamination here? Cook, we could poison him.”
“For some reason I think the food was tampered with at the revival food court not here.” Cook reached for the telephone. “I do think we should call and find out what he wants us to do. Send it over or throw it out.”

Kristy folded down the blanket and plumped the pillows. She stepped aside as Luke and Miguel carried Michael in and helped him into bed.
“I’m fine,” Michael protested. “I’m just tired.”
“Okay Michael. We’ll decide whether or not you are okay. Until then, you rest.” Luke yanked the blanket up and tucked it around his brother.
The telephone rang and Miguel went to answer it. He poked his head back in, “It’s Cook. He wants to know if they should bring the soup over or throw it out. He’s afraid it might be contaminated.”
Luke looked thoughtfully at his brother and then back to Miguel. “I think the contamination occurred at the revival. I’m pretty sure the food at the diner is safe. Tell him to bring it over.”
“Cook says to tell you that funny little man was looking for you.”
“Me?” Luke stared at him in consternation. “What about me?”
“I don’t know. He also said the funny man asked if Michael was okay.”
“Kushiel,” Michael spoke up.
Everyone in the room turned to stare at him. “The funny man is Kushiel,” Michael said, watching Luke carefully.
“Kushiel? What does he want with either of us?” Luke frowned and perched on the edge of the bed.
“Are you guys in trouble?” Kristy asked as she chewed on a finger nail.
“No,” Michael frowned and pulled Kristy’s finger from her mouth. “Don’t do that.”
“Yes,” Luke replied.
“May be,” Michael amended his answer. “It all depends on what Kushiel is looking for.”
“Who is this Kushiel?” Kristy asked.
“Our cousin,” they said in unison.
“And who is this Ezra person I heard you mention?” Kristy brought Michael a glass of water.
“He’s our brother.”
“How many brothers do you have?” Miguel asked.
“There are seven of us, Gabe, Anael, Ezra, Ori, Raph, Luke, and me,” Michael laid his head back on the pillows.
“Wow, that’s a lot of brothers!” Miguel sat on the chair by the bed.
“What can I say?” Michael shrugged. “We have a large family.”
“Your family has some unusual names.” Kristy laughed.
“Some are Hebrew,” Luke explained.
“And you’re a Christian preacher?”
“I always was the black sheep in the family,” he gazed thoughtfully at Kristy.
“She’s not for you, Luke,” Michael growled.
They all jumped when lightning flashed followed by the booming of thunder crashing outside. It sounded like the cracking of a whip.
“Not another storm,” Miguel whined.
“Knock, knock, can we come in?” Julia asked. She opened the door just as rain began falling.
Miguel jumped up and held the door open for her. She came in with her arms laden with bags followed by Cook. “Food! Yummy, yummy food for my tummy!” Miguel danced around as he unpacked the bags.
“Dang, that rain is cold!” Cook exclaimed as he placed his bags on the counter. “How’s our fainter?”
Michael glowered at him. “I’m fine.”
“He’s grumpy,” Luke chimed in.
Julia opened cupboards and took out bowls and spoons. “Michael gets to eat first.”
Michael motioned for Luke to come closer. Luke leaned in and listened intently as Michael whispered, “I collapsed because I spent the day healing the people affected by the Irrithiril. Did you find Ezra?”
“No, bro,” Luke shook his head, “I didn’t find even a tiny trace of him.”
“Crap,” Michael pursed his lips. “Where could that weasel be hiding? He’s got to be the one behind the poisoned food.”
“What about Kushiel?” Luke whispered, glancing across the apartment and watching what the others were doing.
“As far as I can tell, Kushiel is just a watcher. He doesn’t seem to be actively engaged in the events that have occurred.”
“So that leads us back to Ezra.”
“Or there could be something worse than Ezra.” Michael looked intently at his brother.
“What could be worse than Ezra?”
“You’ve heard the hounds, right?”
Luke winced, “Yeah the hounds. Portents to something truly evil coming down the pike and we’d better be prepared.”
“What are you two girls gossiping about?” Kristy asked as she brought a tray over to Michael. On the platter was a large serving of soup and a generous portion of warm bread. “Dig in Michael, or should I feed you?”
Michael bowed his head and offered a quick prayer for the food and their safety. “I can feed myself. I’m not an invalid who has to be spoon fed,” he grinned wickedly at her. “Or, did you have something a bit saucier in mind, Kristy?”
She felt the heat immediately engulf her body. “No, I just . . .”
“Hmm . . . having a few dirty thoughts, are you?” He winked.
“Such bedroom talk for my innocent ears!” Luke quickly rose and went into the kitchen.
“Innocent my ass,” Michael called out and laughed at Kristy’s quickly stifled laugh.
“You go ahead and laugh, my dear Kristy. Just wait until Michael sinks his claws and fangs into you.” Luke drawled as he plucked at a piece of bread and leaned against the counter.
Miguel looked on in confusion. “Preacher Luke, why would Michael bite Kristy? Is he a vampire?”
Luke roared in laughter. “It’s just a phrase, Miguel. I think you might be a little young for that kind of talk.”
Miguel continued eating and looking from one person to the next in confusion. “I am sixteen but English is not my first language and it confuses me sometimes.”
“It’s okay, son,” Cook patted Miguel on the shoulder. “Luke didn’t mean to insult you.”
“Of course, I didn’t. I’m sorry if I insulted you, Miguel.” Luke smiled.
“Thank you, Preacher Luke. I wasn’t insulted. I was confused, but not anymore.”
Michael pinched off a bite of bread and placed it in his mouth. He closed his eyes savoring the texture and taste. “Delicious.” He chewed slowly as he thought about Luke’s comments and the hounds. He dipped his spoon into the soup and blew softly to cool it before inhaling the fragrant liquid. “I love Cook’s meals.” He sighed in bliss.
Luke leaned against the counter deep in thought. What was Ezra up to? Who was behind the hounds? Why was Kushiel watching everyone? Why was Kristy so important? How did Miguel, Julia, and Cook fit into the big picture?
He knew why Ezra was after him, but what did Michael do to make the fiend come after him? Could it really be the deaths in Fairmont? Most importantly, what was happening to him? Why was he caring so much about what happened to all these people? It was so unlike him. Did the Irrithiril change him that much? How can he reverse these changes?
Kristy couldn’t take her eyes off Michael. It was so unlike her to fall for a man so quickly. He hadn’t even been in town for two weeks and already she felt herself falling deeply in love. It was a tumultuous relationship. Their dating record was nothing to write home about.
How could a man as hot as Michael be a virgin? He seemed to want her as much as she wanted him but he always pulled away. Why? Was he really inexperienced, or a gentleman? Could there be an ulterior motive she didn’t know about? Surely no man could be as gentlemanly, caring, and selfless as he appeared to be. She reached out and brushed a stray lock of hair from his eyes.
Michael looked up at her and smiled. He looked at her and thought how glad he was to have her in his life no matter how long or short the time would be. He worried how he could keep Kristy safe along with all the others. He spooned more soup into his mouth as he examined each person. How did each one play out in the long scheme of things? What are their roles and how important is each individual, or was it the collective whole that becomes important? How do they fit in with his quest to keep Kristy safe?
Julia finished dishing out the soup and sat at the table with her own bowl. She caught herself wondering how she came to trust Michael so implicitly. He was a complete stranger just a little over a week ago and yet she trusted him from the beginning. She even disregarded the comments she had over heard between him and Jared about murders in another town.
What was so special about him? That he was sexy? That Kristy seemed to fall hard for him immediately? That he appears to care about Kristy? That he’s always there when someone needs help? He certainly knew she and Cook wanted a family and Miguel needed one.
There were so many questions and so few answers. Where did he and his brother Luke come from? Was he really related to the creepy trench coat man? Ezra spoke with a heavy accent that neither Luke nor Michael had. Along the same thoughts how were they cousins to the scary man Kushiel? Kushiel spoke even worse English than Ezra did and had a much heavier accent.
If all four were related, why did Michael and Luke speak English clearly and with an American accent? Could they have moved to this country before their relatives, or was there more to this story, a darker side? Julia popped a piece of bread into her mouth as she thought.
Miguel sat munching on his bread and looking around the silent room. Why was everyone so tense? He was glad Michael was okay. He didn’t understand the significance of Kushiel. He had overheard Luke and Michael whispering about the swarthy man.
Cook stared intently at each person in the apartment. They looked like survivors from a war zone. Michael was obviously exhausted. Luke looked uncharacteristically worried. Kristy was in love and pensive about Michael’s condition. Julia was mothering everyone while trying to hold back tears. Miguel seemed puzzled.
He felt as though he was waiting for something to rise up and strike them down. He could envision them sitting in a ramshackle shack hiding from a monster in some blood and guts horror movie. They were definitely waiting for a massive battle of some sort. The question was what are they fighting, or whom are they battling, each other or something else?

***

Chapter Eighteen

Ezra stood still with his head tilted to the right. A breeze sprang up and blew the flaps of his trench coat open. It was not the warm sultry wind of a hot summer day; rather it blasted around him sending freezing eddies dancing across his skin. It was an ill wind that circled Sundown. People had remained off the streets as though sensing a pervading sickness was enrooted like a black plague. The only sounds he could hear were the incessant chirping of locusts and the braying of hounds. These noises sent a shiver of fear into his heart. He hoped they were not for him.
The setting sun disappeared from the sky obscured by millions of wings taking the light away and leaving only darkness the color of midnight. It was not a natural sunset. Ezra looked up and frowned. The plague of night was upon them. He needed to find shelter before the creatures arrived. Not a lamp shone in Sundown. Only the apartment above the garage showed any illumination. “Michael,” he hissed and pointed his boney finger at the building.
He looked like a giant raven with his trench coat flapping behind him as he scurried across the street to the garage. He reached out and grasped the door knob. A white hot blinding pain seared through his hand and up his arm. He screamed in agony and jerked back from the door.
“Protected,” he mumbled holding his injured hand against his chest. He glanced skyward at the sound of blackbird wings beating the air slow and rhythmic. All he could see was a cloud of writhing darkness. The hounds bellowed in the distance drawing nearer. No longer were they confined to the revival grounds.
“Michael, you can not keep everyone safe forever. Apollyon will see to that. It will show you sorrow and pain where death and danger is everywhere and hope is gone.” Ezra muttered to himself as he raced down the alley searching for a safe haven.

Kushiel hunkered down behind a dumpster and beside concrete steps. He watched Ezra’s panicked flight down the alley. It was amusing to see Ezra scared. He sniffed the air and found it reeked of ozone and something undeniably rotten. His nose told him danger was coming but he did not feel afraid.
The plague of darkness was descending on them. There was no comfort to be found anywhere in Sundown this night except at Michael’s apartment. Kushiel looked up at the window. The light cast a warm, soothing glow and wished he could gain admittance. No one should be on the street for nothing good could come on a night such as this one. If he could make it back to the revival grounds he might find harbor in Luke’s trailer.
Kushiel sighed. That was the direction the hounds were coming from. It would be a huge gamble whether or not he could escape their detection. The birds were flying overhead and the locusts were not far behind. He rose and peeked around the corner of the alley.
Swiftly he hobbled down the street, keeping to the sides of the buildings and trying to make himself as undetectable as possible. He looked behind him hearing the clip clop of phantom horse shoes on asphalt. He paused and listened intently to the hoof beats. It sounded like there were four sets. Four sets for four horses. He clamped his hands over his ears attempting to shut out the neighing of the horses, the howling hounds, the chirping of insects and the soft rustle of death feathers.

Inside the apartment Michael paced. He walked to the window and looked out. He did not like the stillness of the town. There was an absence of people noise. He watched as Ezra tried to enter the garage and then left. He viewed Kushiel’s rapid departure amidst the encroaching sounds of hoof beats, flapping of wings and insects. “Luke, would you come over here please?”
“What is it?” Luke stepped behind him and placed his hand on Michael’s shoulder.
“What do you hear?” Michael whispered.
“Horses,” Luke paused, “wings, and locusts.” His voice dropped even lower, “The hounds are closer. It’s coming, isn’t it?” His grip tightened on Michael’s shoulder.
“Yes, I would say so. Why here, Luke? What did you call up?”
“Me?” Luke choked, “Nothing and no one dear brother. I can be blamed for many things, but not this. Let’s close the blinds.” He quickly lowered the shades at each window.
Michael reached over and turned the lamps down low. “Everyone, let’s gather close.”
“Are we going to tell stories?” Miguel asked as he sat on the floor and crossed his legs at the knees.
“Is something wrong?” Julia asked.
“I hope not,” Luke answered.
“Cook, Kristy, please join us. Cook, you and Julia can sit on the couch. Luke will sit facing the window. Kristy, sit next to Miguel and I’ll sit next to you facing the door.”
“You sound like you’re positioning us to keep guard,” Cook observed.
“I am,” Michael said simply.
“What are we guarding against?” Kristy asked.
“We don’t know,” Luke replied. “But something doesn’t look right out there,” he nodded toward the window.
Michael pulled out his crucifix, “Defend us in battle. Protect us against the wicked. Help us stand against the deceits of evil. With this cross scatter the hostiles. Amen.” He looked up and saw them looking at him. “A little prayer never hurt.” He put the cross back into his pocket. He wrapped his arm around Kristy and pulled her close. “It’s been a long day. Luke and I will keep watch. You all should try to sleep.”

The morning did not bring any sunlight. Darkness prevailed across the town. Michael opened the blinds and stared out the window at the bleakness. “Julia, Cook, can I have the keys to the diner? I’ll slip over there and bring back some food and drinks.” He fingered two chains he held in his hands.
“We can do it, Michael,” Cook stretched his arms and legs.
“I’d rather you guys stay here.” Michael replied as he continued to work on the chains. “Luke, will you come with me down to the garage?”
“Sure, bro, I need to walk the kinks out of my legs anyway.” He stood and followed Michael out of the apartment. When they were out of ear shot he asked, “What’s going on? Who did you make the medallions for?”
“Luke, I think Apollyon is headed for us. I was thinking about Ezra and Kushiel. Maybe they are willing to call a temporary truce and join us to defeat Apollyon and his legion.”
Luke frowned, “Dance with the devil, you mean.”
“You should know, brother.” Michael looked down at the new medallions in his hands. “I’m not really sure it would be a good idea either.”
“Maybe Kushiel could be invited to join us, but not in the garage or apartment. Most certainly not Ezra, he can’t be trusted at all.” Luke shivered.
“Kushiel, it is then,” Michael placed the medallions back into his pocket. “I’ll be back with the food. Make sure the place is locked up tight. Wait here for me.”
“Yes, General,” Luke smirked.

Michael slipped across the street and entered the diner. He grabbed bags and stuffed them with bread, rolls, meats, cheese, vegetables, and condiments. Anything edible without preparation went into the bags. He piled bottles of soda and water into other bags. He hefted the bags onto his shoulders and returned to the garage convenience store.
“It’s me,” he called out.
Luke cracked the door to the convenience store open and grabbed the bags. Michael went over to the refrigerated cases and studied their contents. He pulled out sandwiches, packaged cheese, deli meats, and milk. “Have everyone eat these first. Put the stuff from the diner into the refrigerators for later.” He walked over to the snack counter and gathered bags of chips, cookies, candies, pretzels and shoved them into another bag. “Take these up too.”
“Anything else you want done?”
“Lock up after me. I’m going to look for Kushiel.” Michael stroked the band on his forearm. It elongated to form a gauntlet glove of crystal. “Do not let anyone try to come after me.” He told Luke, “If I am not back by sundown you will know that I failed. It will be up to you to keep everyone safe. I am counting on you, Luke. Do not skip out like a coward. Do not fail me.”
“Really, Michael, do you think I would miss this battle?” Luke said sardonically as he perched on a stool.
“You know your history, Luke. Do not fail me.” Michael growled as he exited the store.
“Be careful, bro. They need you here more than they need me.” Luke closed the door and locked it.

***

Chapter Nineteen

Michael walked down the center of the street, almost as though he dared the shadows to come for him. All around him the darkness parted as he marched down the road. The gauntlet on his forearm cast a faint blue glow. The knife he clutched gleamed with shining silver and sent sparks dropping to the ground.
He left Sundown and walked in the direction of the revival grounds. Unseen beating wings flew through the sky. Hoof beats drummed along a hidden path, and hounds brayed at his approach. He felt as though he was entering a den of antiquity; a cavern of sin older than civilization.
He paused and searched the entrance to the revival. It was pitch black just beyond the gates except for a single light. Luke’s trailer emanated a weak illumination poking a hole in the veil. Was Kushiel or Ezra inside?
He tightened his belt and squared his shoulders as he strode through the gloom. Ghostly shapes appeared insubstantial and illusory as they drifted in and out of vision. A tent here, a lamp pole there, all marked what had once been a place of religion and community. Now they were vacant, empty shells of what once might have been but was no more. Danger lurked in their obscure entryways.
He paused on the steps of the trailer with his hand raised as though to knock on the door. The door swung open, unbidden. “Michael?” Kushiel faltered. Fear tinged his voice.
Michael pushed his way past him and entered the trailer. “Kushiel, what have you seen?”
“I saw the darkness.”
“We all saw the darkness. Kushiel, what have you seen?” Michael leaned forward, his hand stroking the blade of his knife.
“I saw the blackbirds of death flying in the night sky.”
“Kushiel, what have you seen?” Michael pressed the tip of the knife against his palm and watched Kushiel squirm.
“I saw the locusts coming in a great swarm.” Kushiel swallowed hard, his eyes rested upon the knife in Michael’s hand.
“This is not new to me.” Michael pressed the tip of the knife against Kushiel’s throat. “Kushiel, what have you seen?”
His throat dried in fear as he answered, “I saw the horsemen heralding Apollyon, along with the hounds.”
“Kushiel, where do you stand?” Michael asked.
“I stand with you, great warrior.” Kushiel lowered his gaze and bowed.
Michael put the knife away and reached into his pocket. “This is for you to wear. You may not enter my place of business or residence, but this medallion will help keep you safe. You must promise to obey and assist only me, Kushiel. If I learn you are helping Ezra or Apollyon this medallion will be of no use to you and I will personally hunt you down and kill your worthless soul.”

Luke sat on the floor with his back against the couch. He sat with his arms draped over his knees and his head bent. How did he ever wind up in such a predicament? He never intended to end up in a battle with Ezra or Apollyon. He only wanted to claim Kristy for himself and get rid of Michael. Instead he found himself on Michael’s team and charged with keeping this motley crew safe. “Elohim,” he muttered. “If this is another punishment of yours, it is wasted on me. I think,” he groaned. “What a mess.”
“Did you say something, Preacher Luke?” Miguel asked as he spread peanut butter on a slice of bread.
“No. You better go easy on the eating. We don’t know how long we’re going to be stuck here and we don’t want to run out of food.”
“We won’t run out of food, Preacher Luke. Michael will feed us. I saw him feed an entire crew of fifty with one plate of vegetables.” Miguel smiled.
Kristy, Julia, and Cook all turned to stare at Miguel. “He did what?” Kristy asked.
“He fed a whole crew with just one plate of vegetables,” Miguel answered holding Michael’s bible in his hands. “I’d call that a miracle.” His smile spread across his face. “In a parable five thousand people were fed with seven loaves of bread and seven fishes. Michael fed fifty people with one plate of vegetables,” he explained as he leafed through the worn and battered book. “I think Michael is a follower.”
Luke stifled a laugh. “That’s Michael alright, but not completely.”
“What are you talking about? You make him sound like something out of the New Testament,” Cook crossed his arms.
“Michael is a fighter, or haven’t you figured that out yet?” Luke asked.
“I don’t like where this is headed,” Julia gathered their lunch trash. “He’s been gone several hours. I hope he’s okay.”
“Me too, especially in this weirdness,” Kristy looked out the window.
Miguel turned on the television, “Hey! They’re talking about us.”
Everyone gathered around the set and watched as a newscaster reported on the strange weather surrounding the town.
“He better get out of there,” Luke mumbled, “or he’s going to be toast in a few minutes.”
They watched intently as the wind on the television showed trees bending nearly double. “The wind has really picked up here,” the reporter shouted as he leaned forward into the wind. “The sky is completely black over the town. We can’t even get a picture past the Welcome sign.” The camera panned over to the sign and showed a dark wall behind it.
“When did they arrive?” Julia asked. “I don’t remember hearing anything on the news last night.”
“I understand no one has been able to contact anyone inside the town. Governor Adams is flying in to assess the situation. The Arizona National Guard is being mobilized. The Hopi called this the three days of darkness. According to their prophecies this heralds the end of one era and the beginning of another.” The reporter looked up as a huge black mass flew overhead and swooped down.
Great monstrous talons covered the camera lens, as the reporter’s shrieks of pain obliterated all sound. The camera tumbled to the ground. A pair of legs staggered into sight. Seconds later only the stumps from the knees down remained in view, the rest was gone. Red fluid splashed onto the lens as the last image they saw were a pair of blood soaked leather sandals and a few feathers trailing to the ground.
Cook reached over and turned the set off. Everyone looked at each other in stunned silence. “What was that?” Cook asked, his voice sounded shaky.
“Michael!” Kristy gasped. “He’s out there in that! We have to find him!” She jumped up and rushed toward the door.
“Not going to happen, sweetheart.” Luke yanked her away from the door. “He made me promise to keep everyone here.”
“Let. Me. Go.” She flailed her arms and kicked her feet.
“No! Now stop that!” Luke wrestled her to the couch and pinned her down with his body. “You are going nowhere! Do you understand? You want Michael worrying about you when he comes back and finds you gone?”
“Let me up,” she screamed as tears poured down her cheeks. “I have to find him!”
“Kristy,” Miguel grabbed her hand. “Michael would not want you to risk your life out looking for him. Honor his wishes by staying here. He loves you Kristy.” Miguel pleaded.
“He’s right, sugar,” Julia chimed in. “Michael loves you and it would hurt him something terrible if you was to get killed out there.”
“He does? How do you know he loves me?” she cried.
“Anyone seeing how he looks at you knows he does, hon,” Cook pressed a cup of hot tea into her hands. “It’s Chamomile.”
“Preacher Luke, will you pray for Michael’s safe return?” Kristy asked.
Luke tugged uncomfortably on his shirt collar. “I don’t think that’s necessary.”
“Please?”
He stared at her for several minutes, sighed, and held out his hand. “Miguel, please give me the book.” He flipped through the book and bowed his head. “Let us hold hands.” He took Miguel’s hand on his left and Kristy’s on his right. Kristy held Cook’s. Cook grasped Julia’s hand and she in turn held onto Miguel. “Father, we thank you for our blessings. In this, our time of great need, we ask you to provide a hedge of protection around Michael that he return to us safely and unharmed from the evil that surrounds us. We ask that thy will be done for thine is the power and glory forever. Amen.” He felt a distinct tingle going through his body that made him extremely uncomfortable. He wondered how much longer he could pull off this charade of being a preacher.
“Thank you, Preacher Luke,” Kristy said simply, her voice subdued.

Michael heard the scream coming from the edge of the revival grounds. He raced toward the shrieks heedless of the rampaging monstrosities that followed him. Someone was in trouble and needed his help. He pulled his knife from his pocket and felt the power ramping up. The blade unfolded neatly until it reached the length of a sword.
He leapt over the camera lying in the road and drove the blade deep into the body of the giant blackbird of death. The creature reared up and swung one talon leg in his direction, catching him in the calf. “Elohim!” he bellowed as he slashed and slew his way through the hideous creatures. The coarse growls of the hounds grew deafeningly loud in his ears.
He finally reached the source of the screams and found two shredded corpses. “NO!” He screamed and launched into the fight with renewed vigor.
Hour after hour he fought, decapitating birds, swatting at the horde of locusts, slamming his sword into body after body. The road ran red with blood that flowed toward the river behind the revival. The drumming of hoof beats joined the cacophony battering him from all sides. His clothes dripped from entrails, clots, blood, and gore.

As the hours passed, Luke found himself more and more agitated. The weather grew ever more erratic with dust devils, heavy rains, followed by extreme hail, lightning strikes, tornadoes, and hurricane force winds. The sky remained black with not even a glimpse of the sun, or moon, or stars.
The banging on the door downstairs startled everyone. “Stay here,” Luke commanded grabbing a knife as he raced out of the apartment and down the stairs.
“Who’s there?” He stood to the side of the door, his hand on the hilt of a knife.
“Open up, it’s me.”
Luke swung the door open, keeping his knife ready. He looked up and down, “You look a mess.”
Michael walked inside. “Get me some clothes and wash cloths. I’m going to clean up down here,” he removed his sandals and carried them to the utility sink.
Luke stared at the shoes, “We saw those on the television. You didn’t kill those reporters, did you?”
“What do you think?” Michael snarled as he yanked off his shirt. “Get me some clean clothes, Luke.” He soaped his hands and scrubbed the sandals until they were clean.
Kristy, hearing Michael’s voice came barreling down the stairs and nearly knocked Luke over. “Michael!” She slid to a stop and gawked at the filth drenching him. “You’re covered in blood!” she gasped. “What happened?” Her gaze traveled down his body and rested on the sandals he still held in his hand. Her fingers flew to her mouth. “We saw those on television.”
“So Luke told me,” Michael looked as tired as he sounded. “Please don’t look at me like this, all covered in gore. It’s not what you might think.” He turned his back and stepped to the sink. He splashed water on his face, arms, and chest.
Kristy saw ugly welts running down his back, “What did that to you?”
“Something you don’t want to know about,” Luke said reentering the room. He set the towels on the sink counter and placed the clothes on a chair.
“Thanks,” Michael reached for a towel and soaked it. He carefully wiped his face and arms, working his way down his chest. “Kristy, would you please turn away from me?” He rinsed the towel, wringing the water from it.
“Why?” She watched him with concern.
“I’m going to remove my pants and I’m not wearing any underwear,” he stated. He unhooked his belt and pulled it from his wrangler’s.
“You’re what?” she sputtered.
“I believe he said he wasn’t wearing any underwear,” Luke said sardonically, thoroughly enjoying the discomfort between them.
“Luke, take Kristy back upstairs, will you?” Michael asked as he unzipped his jeans.
“And ruin my fun? I like seeing you two get embarrassed.”
“Luke,” Michael snarled, “Do as I requested.” He turned so his back faced them as he slowly wriggled denim down over his hips.
“Sir, yes sir, General, sir, will take care of it right now. Don’t get your panties all in a wad. Oh, wait, I forgot, you aren’t wearing any,” he snickered. “Come along Kristy. Let’s be a good little boy and girl.”
“You go on Luke. I’m going to stay down here and doctor his back.” Kristy moved to the first aid kit on the wall.
“I just bet you are, darling,” Luke drawled as he headed up the stairs.
Kristy ignored Luke and grabbed a towel. She put soap on the cloth and gently rubbed the grime from his back before dabbing disinfectant on it.
She couldn’t help but peek at his physique. From his innocent sea-green eyes to his toes he spelled one sexy man. Every inch of his sun bronzed body was hard planed from his chiseled face to his abdomen and buttocks, even the thighs and calves of his legs were muscular.
His nakedness accentuated his power and appeal. He moved with a gracefulness that told her he was completely comfortable in his body and his apparent obliviousness to the affect he had on her added to his appeal.
“You don’t need to do that,” Michael whispered as he pulled on clean jeans.
“I don’t want you to get an infection.” She continued her ministrations. The feel of his skin sent delicious shivers down her body. He was so ruggedly handsome.
“I won’t, Kristy.” He turned and standing to her side took her hands in his. He looked deep into her eyes. “I’m fine.”
The velvety softness of his voice only served to increase her desire for him. “But, you’re injured,” she protested as tears welled in her eyes. She looked miserable.
Michael watched the tremble of her lips and felt his breath hitch. “No, I’m not, amore mio, my love.” He kissed first one palm and then the other. “I’m really not hurt.” He smiled and caressed her cheek with a long slender finger.
“But, what made those marks?” Kristy turned to face his back again and reached out tracing the lacerations with her finger tips.
He paused, shrugged, and then sighed. With eyes closed he explained, “They are part of me.”
“Are they scars?” Kristy leaned forward and softly kissed each welt.
“No, but you can call them that if you wish.” He stepped forward and shrugged into a fresh shirt.
“Michael did . . . ?”
“Did I kill those guys on the news?
She nodded, biting her lip nervously.
“No, my love, I did not. They were already dead when I got to them.” Michael tugged her over to the couch. “Will you sit with me for awhile? I need so much the calm tenderness you bring me. Will you trust me?”
“I trust you,” she murmured and cuddled next to him.
Michael pulled her against him and nuzzled her ear, slowly moving down and claiming her lips with his. He trailed kisses down her neck to her collar bone and back up.
“Michael.” She wrapped her arms around him and laid her head against his chest. A light moan escaped her and she sighed. It felt so delicious to be held by him. His gentle kisses sent her into an intoxicating spin of sensual pleasure.
“Hmm . . . ?” He slowly undid the top button of her shirt. “Did you say something?” His voice was a throaty rasp as his tongue traced her lips and sucked tenderly until they parted.
“I want you,” she gasped. “Make love to me.”
Michael paused and scrutinized her face lovingly. “If you share my bed, Kristy, you must also take my name and be mine forever.”
Kristy opened her eyes in wonder, “Is that a proposal?”
“I love you. Do you love me, Kristy?” He asked continuing to look into her eyes. The love he felt was new to him. He had never experienced such strong feelings of tenderness as he had for Kristy. She had burned a fire deep inside his heart. His love knew no bounds. He would go beyond the ends of earth and sacrifice himself to keep her safe from harm.

Ezra stood outside the garage. Never had he wanted to be part of Michael’s team than he did at that moment. Shadowy monsters had chased him all night even though he belonged to the night himself. He didn’t understand why they were after him. He wanted Michael dead as much as Apollyon did.
He shivered as a cold wind blew past him ruffling the flaps of his trench coat. No one deserved to be on the streets tonight. He raised his hand as though to knock on the door and stopped, remembering the agony he had felt the night before when he touched the knob. Curse Michael for protecting the facility.
He tipped his head back, sucking in a deep breath he hollered, “Michael!”
Inside, Michael lifted his head away from Kristy and looked at the door. “No!” His voice was loud and commanding. “Go away, Ezra!”
“Michael!” Ezra screamed again. He could feel the blackbirds approaching, hear the hounds gathering close by and the distant drumming of hoof beats only added to his terror.
“Who is that?” Kristy asked as Michael untangled himself from her.
“Ezra,” he went to the door and opened it a slit, “What do you want?”
“Let me in.”
“No. Be gone, Ezra. You made your choice eons ago.” Michael closed the door and renewed the protection surrounding it. He returned to the couch and slid his arm around Kristy.
“Isn’t he your brother? Aren’t you going to help him?” Kristy asked as she started to stand.
“No, Kristy. I will not lift a hand to help him.” He pulled her back down, “And neither will you.”
“But, Michael, he’s your brother,” she protested and tried to rise only to be tugged back down onto the couch.
“He’s my brother only because we share the same father. Even though I raised him, he is no brother of mine. We parted ways a very long time ago. He would kill me if he could and I would kill him given the chance.”
Kristy stared in silence at Michael. How could he be so gentle and loving toward her and yet so cold to his own brother? Maybe she needed to rethink her relationship with him. She frowned, could she be adding another to her long list of losers? Would this one turn out to be a cold blooded murderer, after all?
“Kristy?” Michael reached for her. “Is something wrong?”
“I don’t know. I’m confused. You say you aren’t a killer and yet you’ve threatened to kill Ezra.”
“I never said I haven’t slain anyone. I said I was not a cold blooded killer and I never slaughtered innocents. When you are in a battle, you have to massacre the enemy, Kristy.”
“What battle are you in, Michael?” Fear crept into her voice. Could he be as crazy as he sounded right now?
“Look around you, Kristy. What do you think is happening here? See the darkness, remember the reporters? We are in an epic battle, Kristy.” Michael explained earnestly. “This nightfall is preternatural. The Hopi call it the three days of darkness as we prepare to leave the fourth age of man and enter into the next. I know you do not understand, but remember when I asked if you trusted me?”
She nodded slowly.
“I’m asking that you trust me just a little longer. If at the end of three days you still feel that I am a murderer, I will leave and never bother you again. Just give me this chance to keep you safe.”
Michael’s eyes clouded with emotional pain. “Please, Kristy, I want so much to hear you love me, to know someone really cares about me.” A tear slid down his cheek. “Trust me, I would never harm you. I need your love to see me through this nightmare.”
Michael looked at her and pleaded, “I am honorable, Kristy. I can not tell you everything without sounding crazier than I already do. I can promise you that some day you will know everything about me.”
“Are you one of those conspiracy nuts?”
They both jumped at the sound of hands clapping. Luke emerged from the stairwell. “Good show, you two,” he laughed. “Have you told her about threatening to kill me, bro? No? How about wanting Kushiel dead? Boy just goes to show a lovely lady that she can never be too sure what lies in the heart of a stranger.” Luke leaned against the wall. “I came down to see what was keeping you guys so long. Now I know you were talking about murder.”
“Go away Luke,” Michael grumbled.
“I think not, bro. This is immensely more entertaining than the news.”
“Luke, take Kristy upstairs and leave me alone.” He was despondent and desperate to find a way back into Kristy’s heart. He didn’t need heartbreak on top of this Armageddon style war. He was a warrior who had seen too much conflict. His spirit was weary. He longed for a peaceful end but knew it was not to be had.
Luke studied Michael with concern. His brother looked beaten and the war was just starting. Had he picked the wrong side this time? Would this end in Apollyon’s defeat or theirs? “Come along, Kristy. Michael needs rest.” He reached for her hand.
Kristy shoved her hands into her pockets. “Okay,” she was subdued. The entire situation baffled her. She followed Luke, turning once to look back at Michael. He remained sitting on the couch with a forlorn expression, shoulders slumped, and his head held down. He did not look so dangerous in that moment.

Michael remained motionless long after Luke and Kristy had returned to the apartment. “Elohim, are you even listening to me?” he muttered. “I have walked this world over, traveled many miles, and visited many places all to do your bidding. I have given you everything I have. I need just a little hope, a little love to carry me through this mission. Why have you abandoned me?” He ran his fingers through his hair. “I am so tired, so very weary,” he sighed. “You promise me rest after each mission and yet I am always sent back out. You gave me Kristy and now she is lost to me. I need more than I can give right now, Elohim. Please, hear my pleas. What am I supposed to do here? How and why am I to keep her safe?”
He sat in silence, every nerve in his body tense as though listening for a signal. “Why have you forsaken me? Have I not been loyal? Have I not fought bravely? How much more can one take of this torture? How much more do you expect of me?”

***

Chapter Twenty

Cook chopped vegetables for soup. Julia sliced wedges of cheese. Miguel read the Bible. Luke took Kristy over to the bed and sat her down.
“Are you okay?” Luke placed his finger under her chin and made her look at him.
“I thought he was asking me to marry him before he started talking crazy.” She blinked back tears.
“Never happen, love. Michael can’t marry.”
“Why can’t he? Is he married?”
“No. Michael has a different path to walk. He is not like us.”
“What path are you talking about Preacher Luke?” Miguel closed the book and came over to sit beside Kristy.
“Michael chose celibacy.”
“Do you mean he’s a priest?” Miguel asked.
Kristy looked confused. “He told me he isn’t a preacher.”
Cook looked at Julia and whispered, “Do you know what they’re talking about?”
“No,” she shook her head, “I’m assuming something happened between Michael and Kristy.”
“Ok, even though he might not be a priest or a preacher, Michael is a good person,” Miguel said. “He sure helped me when I needed someone.”
“You weren’t there when he was talking crazy, Miguel. He talked about slaying and massacres, the Hopi days of darkness, and war. What war are we in here in Sundown?”
“Remember that reporter talked about the Hopi days of darkness too. Give him the benefit of doubt, Kristy.” Miguel looked down at the medallion he wore. “I believe in him. He saved a lot of people after the carnival accident. He visited people at the hospital after the food poisoning.”
“The question, Kristy, do you believe he is a killer?” Julia asked from the kitchen.
“He said he’s slain before, Julia. I take slain to mean killed.”
Everyone turned to look when the apartment door opened. Michael strode in wearing his sandals and gauntlet. He tucked a knife into his belt. “Kristy, may I speak with you, please?” His voice was soft.
“Whatever you need to say to me, you can say in front of my friends, Michael.” The frosty tone in her voice surprised her.
“No, I can’t, Kristy.” Michael cocked his head as though listening to unheard voices.
A loud crash outside followed the wail of police sirens. Michael looked up at the roof and then crossed the room to the window. He peered through the blinds. “It’s still out there.”
They heard a raucous cawing over the din of the sirens. “What is that?” Julia asked, hugging Cook.
“The blackbirds,” Luke whispered. “Who have they claimed tonight?”
Michael spun around and faced Julia, “You can hear them?”
She nodded fearfully. “Yes.”
“Can anyone else hear them other than Luke, Julia, and me?”
“Me,” Miguel answered. “I heard them last night.”
Michael tilted his head again and listened intently. He could hear the voices of antiquity murmuring obscenely. Below their noise, he heard Kushiel’s prayer for protection.
“Kushiel,” he spoke in a hushed tone. “Luke, stay here. Keep everyone safe,” he glanced at Kristy with longing and sadness. “I have to help him. Lock the doors downstairs after I leave.” He ran out the door and down the stairs followed by Luke.
“Michael, stop!” Luke yelled. “You can’t fight them alone. I’ll come with you.”
“No. You must stay here and keep them safe in case I don’t come back.”
“What about Ezra, Michael? What if Ezra caused these bird noises we are hearing? What if he’s drawing you out here so he can come for the rest of us? Ezra is stronger than I am,” Luke admitted.
“Keep them safe, Luke. I will deal with Ezra if he only pretended to need help earlier. I will kill him if he is the cause.”
Michael stopped and turned to face Luke, “Ezra was here?”
“He came to the door, but I did not invite him in, so the barriers remain intact.”

Kushiel crouched inside the trailer and trembled in fear. He could hear the blackbirds dive bombing the roof trying to get to him. He clutched the medallion and recited, “Michael, patron saint of protection I humbly ask your assistance in this my greatest time of need.” The medallion heated the palm of his hand with a blue glow.
How had he wound up in such a situation? He came to Sundown in order to keep tabs on Ezra and now he was on Michael’s team to eradicate Ezra and Apollyon. He was a watcher, not a soldier. “Michael, please help me,” he sighed and clutched the medallion tighter.
He flinched when he heard the resounding thump of talon feet landing on the trailer roof. Their hard scrabbling made him think the roof would soon be asunder. He crawled under a table and drew his knees to his chest. He wished he was strong and fearless like Michael.
He could hear the locusts munching on the withered plant life. They were very close to the revival grounds now. How far behind the insects were the horses and the hounds?

Michael flattened himself against the garage wall. Down the street, he could see faint police lights spinning around. He could see the darkness creeping over the lights dimming them. Even the siren seemed muted. It was almost as though the preternatural night had swallowed the color and sounds of things. Nothing good could come of a night like this.
He heard the beating of giant wings moving slowly overhead. They seemed headed in the direction of the lights. He hurried toward them hoping to outrun the blackbirds. As he drew nearer, he saw the cop car lying on its side, tires spinning uselessly. The windshield was punched out. He peered into the side window and saw two officers inside. They stared sightlessly, a scream of horror frozen on their faces. They had died horribly. He climbed onto the front hood and pushed in the remaining glass. Michael reached into his pocket and fished out four silver coins. He placed a coin on each eye and said a brief prayer. He sighed knowing their deaths would probably be attributed to him once all this was over. He hoped at least their souls were safe.
Onward he marched into the gloom of the endless night; a broken warrior. A scabbard appeared at his side and he unsheathed a mighty sword. It radiated quick silver light in the dankness of the foreboding nightfall. Evil loomed down the street, in each alley, and around every corner. It blanketed the town from the skies, and slithered up from ground to encircle, and entrap unsuspecting victims. Death birds screeched their melancholy songs of defilement as the clicking of locusts grew increasingly louder in the stillness. Nothing moved except a lone man who had carried too many burdens and traveled innumerable miles for an eternity.
He did not notice the town folk peeking at him from behind curtained windows as he passed their homes. His sole focus was on reaching the revival grounds from where the evil emanated and to answer Kushiel’s cries for help. He didn’t understand why Kushiel was in trouble. Was he not wearing the medallion? Resolutely, Michael continued walking out of town.
As he trudged down the lonely road his thoughts returned to Kristy. He had scared her away. She now thought of him as a murderer instead of someone she could trust and feel safe in his arms. How could he ever win her back? How can he keep her safe through this nightmare if she doesn’t trust him? There was no one to blame but himself.

Ezra perched in the doorway of a closed shop and watched Michael striding away from town. He balled his fists in futile anger. Who was Michael to turn him away from safety? He was Ezra of Elohim, Azriel, Azral, Azarel, and Salathiel lineage. His nobility was as valid as Michael’s.
He had come to Sundown looking to settle a score with Michael and had found Miguel with him. Miguel was now tied to Julia and Cook. If he could eliminate them, Miguel might be vulnerable enough to give him an opening to kill Michael. But first he had to survive the blackbirds, the locusts, the horses, and the hounds. It would truly be a miracle if anyone survived this onslaught. How had everything gotten so out of control?
He pursued Michael as best he could; ducking into doors, alleys, and hiding behind dumpsters and cars when the birds flew overhead. His trench coat flapped in the wind like the wings of the blackbirds following him. Ezra whirled around with hands held in front of him, fingers bent like claws. What was that? The incessant clicking seemed to grow louder until he could hear nothing but them. He quickened his pace. Apollyon was coming and he feared its wrath, he did not want to be present when it finally came together.
Why, oh why did he call upon Apollyon for assistance? Now he had to play with the very essence of evil and a dance with the devil was not something he desired for Apollyon was worse than Satan could ever hope to be.

Michael paused, listening. He sensed Ezra behind him but did not turn to confront him. He cocked his head and pursed his lips. The noises had changed. The cawing of the blackbirds had lessened, the locusts had ceased chirping, and the hounds had grown silent. The whispers had taken over, attempting to cloud his mind with loathsome thoughts of savagery. The visual imagery of debased red streaked bodies rained down with sickening enlightenment. Town people were being slaughtered. Innocents were dying.
He could almost feel slimy pus tangling in his hair and slapping against his face. The breeze became dust devils dancing along the ground, kicking up dirt that mixed with the blood. Tendrils of red mist coated him staining his tunic a thousand shades of sanguine fluid, thick and ropy in texture. The awful burnt odor of copper floated in the air heavy with a metallic taste.
The entrance to the revival, or the den of antiquity as he had come to call it, was cloaked in desolation so opaque it looked like a solid wall. Beyond the gates were Luke’s trailer and Kushiel. “I am coming, Kushiel. Hold on just a little bit longer,” Michael wrapped his belt around his waist and attached his weapons in preparation for entering the cesspit.
As he approached the gates the winds picked up in intensity until it ululated like a banshee. He peered through the gloaming, straining to see the mobile sanctuary where he knew Kushiel was hiding. Michael paused as the quiescence of the night birds descended upon him. When had they stopped their cackling clamor he wondered as he looked around at the vacant grounds? The invisible coils of preternatural obscurity crept forward, opening into vast rifts of cold. Pale lamplight cast a feeble glow as though the very effort to cut through the dark sapped the electrical energy from the poles.
The illusory shadow shape of the trailer rose into view. At first glance it appeared as though everything was intact. Upon closer review, Michael could see the door hung part way open and the interior was blanketed in the deadly chill. “Kushiel?” he called, bounding up the steps to the threshold.
In the back of the trailer Michael saw a faint light. He rushed down the hall, his footfalls echoing sharply on the tile flooring. He found the ugly little man cowering inside the closet behind boxes of bibles, crosses and other revival trinkets. “Come,” Michael beckoned, “Hurry, it’s almost here.”
“I saw him, Michael, I saw it.” Kushiel’s entire body trembled with fear. He was shaking so hard Michael thought he might faint.
“Kushiel, where is the medallion I gave you?” Michael gentled his voice trying to instill a measure of calm in the little guy.
“In my pocket is it,” he responded, checking his trousers.
“If you had worn it, you would have been safe. It would not have been able to spot you. Please put it on.” Michael tapped his fingers on his arm impatiently. “We need to leave.”
Kushiel slipped the amulet around his neck, “Ready am I.” He swallowed a lump of fear and looked at the door.
“Good. Now, you must do exactly as I say with no hesitation. Not following my directions will get us killed. Do you understand?” Michael asked kindly. “Your allegiance belongs to me now.” He patted the twisted, bent little man and smiled.
“Yes, my lord, understand do I.”
“Okay, now take hold of my belt and do not let go.” Michael held his sword ready. “Combat,” he shouted.
Lightning ripped through the black skies and thunder crashed around them. A fierce wind sent trash cans tumbling across the grounds and bent trees nearly double. “Now!” Michael yelled and ran into the maelstrom, dragging Kushiel behind him.
Michael swerved and jabbed his sword into a solid mass of dark flesh. The only distinguishing feature of the monster was the red eyes that bore hellish light into the quick silver as it screeched in agony. Black globules of oily liquid sprayed them as they rushed past. Michael dragged them onward, swinging and slashing his way through the morass surrounding them. Hour upon hour he fought and still they came.

Kristy curled up on the bed in Michael’s apartment. She had sat quietly listening to everyone talk about the surreal circumstances they found themselves in. Eventually her thoughts turned inward as she wondered about Michael.
He had told her that he had killed and yet he asked for her love. Her heart beat rapidly every time she thought about him and her head ached in confusion. Was he a murderer, a saint, or just a man caught in an unenviable situation?
“Kristy,” Michael called to her from the door. Rapidly he crossed the room. He moved gracefully as though floating instead of walking from the door to the bed.
“Kristy,” Michael’s voice called to her softly filled with such gentle longing as to sound inconsolable. “Help me find the right path to a place of love and hope.” He leaned over her and brushed the hair from her eyes.
She looked upon his kind countenance and saw a radiant glow emanating from his clear sea-green eyes. A soft light cast amber warmth around him creating a halo effect. “Michael,” she sighed.
“Trust me, beloved,” he murmured as he gently stroked the side of her face with his finger.
“Love me.” He lowered his face to hers and tenderly kissed her. “I will keep you safe from harm. Trust in me, Kristy.”
“Michael, you killed people,” she tried to rise from the bed but could not move. She watched as he settled himself on the bed beside her.
“I am an honest man, Kristy. I will not lead you astray.” His smile was boyishly crooked as he tilted his head and gazed deep into her eyes.
He lazily traced circles around her cheek and kissed her forehead, then her eyes, the tip of her nose, and back to her lips. His kisses were warm and sweet and so delicious they sent electrical shocks riveting down her body.
“Michael,” she moaned closing her eyes as though waiting for him to lavish her with rose petals and gentle caresses.
“If you trust, and love me I will take you to my home where you will live in peace and happiness, Kristy. I am not a cold blooded murderer.” He nibbled her ear lobe and inhaled the scent of her hair. “Believe me, I am not a monster.” His hands caressed her shoulders easing the knots of tension as he continued planting kisses on her lips. “I promise I will be back for you. Do not fear, Kristy.”
“Michael,” she whispered. She opened her eyes and saw he had left the room. She felt bereft and abandoned. Intense emptiness replaced the warmth where he had lain beside her. “Michael, where did you go?” She stifled the tears threatening to spill from her eyes.

Julia looked at Cook, “Who is Kristy talking to?” She dried her hands on a towel and looked toward the bedroom.
“I don’t know,” Cook looked up from teaching Miguel how to play chess. He was surprised to find the chess set in the apartment. Michael did not strike him as a chess player.
“Should I go check on her?” Julia asked. She untied her apron and folded it neatly.
Cook made his move and then looked at Julia, “I think she’s probably just going over everything that has happened between her and Michael. Their romance did move a bit fast, you know.” He reached for her and gave her a hug.
Luke stretched his legs on the couch. “Leave her alone. She’s just crying over Michael.” He laced his fingers behind his head and yawned.
“For a preacher, you don’t seem all that interested in the well being of people,” Julia frowned at him. “What kind of preacher are you? What denomination do you belong to?”
Cook looked up with a puzzled expression. “Is something wrong, hon?”
“No,” she snapped. She missed her home. Too many people in one tiny apartment made things difficult to deal with. She craved quiet time with her husband.
“You wound me in my heart,” Luke drawled and clutched at his heart. “I’m hurt you could think I am so callous.” Luke stood and stretched. “I’m a nondenominational member of the clergy. I belong to no church, if you must know.”
“If you truly cared about your brother, you’d be out there looking for him.” She folded her arms across her chest and glared at him.
“Oh no, my dear, he made it perfectly clear I was to stay here and look after all of you.” Luke returned her glare, “But if you want, I shall be more than happy to go look for my dear brother.” He started for the door.
“No, Preacher Luke,” Miguel jumped up and grabbed his arm. “You are right; Michael wants us all to stay here. If you go and he comes back then he would just have to go out there again to look for you.”

Michael strode into battle swinging his great sword into the meaty blackness that blocked their path. “Kushiel, keep up,” he hissed and dodged the inky tendril that smacked at him.
“Try, I am,” Kushiel huffed and wheezed. “Fast you move for my short legs.” Kushiel held onto the belt tenaciously. “May be you make Kushiel taller? No, not your power, it is,” Kushiel panted. “Harder try, Kushiel. Make feet run times three.”
Michael looked over his shoulder and sighed. He lifted the little man and hefted him over his shoulder. He held him secure with his left arm and wielded his sword with his right hand. “You need to lose a few pounds, little man,” he growled as he fought with the shadows, gaining ground ever so imperceptibly.
“Yes, my lord, weight I will lose,” Kushiel panted and ducked when the head of a giant snake was sliced off by Michael’s sword and nearly hit him in the face. “Gore, I do not like.”
“Get used to it. You’ll be covered in it before this fight is over.” Michael grunted. “Fight!” He hollered and lunged at the blackbird monster in front of him.
Great talons struck him, ripping his jeans, and drawing blood. Red eyes stared at him as though calculating the best way to pluck out his eyes. He lifted his sword and with a great swing cleaved the head off the beast. Its beak clicked open and closed as it spun through the air spewing its fluids everywhere. “Charge!” Michael yelled and leapt forward cutting down death birds right and left, leaving a trail of guts and gore.
“Look out!” Kushiel screamed as a blackbird descended upon them from the side. He twisted until he hung from Michael’s back.
“Do not let go, little man,” Michael growled.
“No worries. Let go you not.” Kushiel squeezed his legs around Michael’s torso and wrapped his arms around his head. His hands covered Michael’s eyes.
“I can’t see!” Michael barked. “Move your hands!”
“Oops, so sorry I am.” He moved his hands down until they encircled Michael’s neck.
“I. Can’t. Breathe.” Michael rasped.
“Again me sorry, my lord,” Kushiel slid his hands down until they grasped Michael’s shoulders. “Kushiel not try to kill you. Kushiel scared.”
“Much better.” Michael twirled his sword overhead and let it sail through air thick with blackness into the breast of the giant bird. The silver from the sword pierced the heart of the beast and cast it into flames. Another struck his arms and tore his flesh and a third latched onto his legs stripping the skin away. He screamed in pain as his life liquid spurted from the tear. He quickly placed his sword hand on the injured arm. A bluish light emanated from his fingers and went deep into his flesh, stopping the bleeding. There was no time to fix his legs.
“Vengeance is mine!” He cried as he crashed into the blackbird and decapitated it. The pain radiating from his legs was excruciating. He squatted and worked on the injuries to his skin and muscle before rising and heading back into battle. The resulting carnage covered him and Kushiel from head to foot in reddish, brown, and black splatters.
The locusts descended in a swarm resembling a tornado. They were called long locusts and were one of the few varieties that consume meat. They ate everything in sight; trees, shrubs, plants, crops, until nothing was left. The maelstrom was vicious and the insects battered Michael and Kushiel.
“Away, Go!” Kushiel screamed batting at the horde as they landed on his face, his neck, and anywhere not covered.
Michael snatched a handful and stuffed them into his mouth. He chewed rapidly and swallowed. While not the best meal, they did taste a bit like toasted sunflower seeds and packed a protein punch.
He continued snagging bites of the delicacy while he swatted them to the ground and stomped. He tore a piece of his tunic off and set fire to it. He used the fabric as a sling to combat the destructive insects.
He cocked his head and listened. The whispering voices had changed. He could now clearly make out their words, “you shall grope in the noonday as a blind man gropes in darkness and no one shall save you. The fire will devour, the sword will cut, and they will eat you up like locusts.”
Kushiel reached with one hand and plucked the locusts from the air. He snaked his arm around in front of Michael and shoved the morsels into Michael’s mouth, sometimes missing and squishing them against his nose. “Help you I do. You must eat, keep strong.”
“I. Don’t. Need. That. Kind. Of. Help.” Michael gritted his teeth and continued battling the demon horde with his makeshift torch.
Michael pulled his crucifix from his pocket and held it high above his head. “I rebuke thee and devour your likeness. Be gone unholy, unclean phantoms, you are cast out.” The crucifix issued a blinding white light that shone down upon the locusts and burst them into flame.
Michael glanced over his shoulder at Kushiel who was staring at the spectacle with his mouth hanging open. “Hang on tight, Kushiel, little man. We must get back to the garage and prepare for the next wave.”
“Yes my lord, as you wish.” He snagged his legs around Michael’s waist and clutched him around the torso. “Happy is Kushiel, Michael saved him from the dark ones.”
“You’re welcome, watcher.” Michael hoisted him a little higher and set off toward town. “Remember your promise, you belong to me.”
“I am yours, my lord.” Kushiel looked down at Michael’s legs. “You are not healed, my lord. Blood runs still.”
“I know.”
“And your arms are still missing parts.” Kushiel studied Michael’s injuries with concern.
“I know.” Michael swayed as they proceeded through the gloom. He dragged his sword and at times used it like a crutch or a cane as he limped down the road. He dared not take time to further tend his injuries. He had to get back to the garage. “I defeated them too easily, Kushiel.”
“Not too easily, my lord. You drip the life blood. Your body is stripped and scratched.”
“I know.” Michael sighed, looking down at his legs. He could see the muscles, tendons, and ligaments where blackbird talons had ripped into him. His arms were a bloody mess of missing flesh. And a talon still protruded from his side. Luke would have to remove it for him.

Kristy left the bedroom in a daze. Her heart hammered in her chest and she felt breathless from Michael’s kisses. He had left her wanting more. “I do love you.” Joy filled her as she entered the living room.
She found herself standing in an empty apartment; everyone was gone as though they had never been there. The door to the stairs creaked open. “Michael?” she called as she looked around. Where is everyone? “Miguel? Luke? Julia? Cook?” she cried. No one answered.
She turned back to face the door. Michael leaned against the door frame. The white tunic he wore was shredded and streaked in red blood and black excrement.
His arms were missing huge chunks of flesh. The sword in his hand dragged on the ground. His legs were sundered and held together by bits and pieces of muscle and tendon and ligaments. “Death lurks everywhere. There is no hope,” he whispered and lurched forward.
His feet were sheaved in leather sandals. The bones of his ankles and toes were plainly visible. An impossibly large talon protruded from his side. His beautiful eyes were clouded with pain. He fell heavily against the kitchen counter and slumped to the floor.
“NO!” Kristy screamed and fell to the floor. She gathered him in her arms and cradled his beaten body.
“Death is here. No hope awaits,” he whispered.

***

Chapter Twenty One

Michael approached the garage warily. Something was not right. The place felt wrong. He set Kushiel down and pushed open the door to the convenience store. No one was there. The refrigerator light was on showing the empty shelves. The place had been cleaned out.
“My lord,” Kushiel entered, “where have they gone?”
“I don’t know.” He staggered up the stairs. “Luke? Julia? Cook? Miguel?” he called. He pushed open the door and leaned against the frame, “Kristy,” he whispered, “where are you?” he hung his head and sighed. “I have failed.”
He dropped to his knees. His sword was held in front of him with the tip pointed into the floor. The quick silver cast a white glow. “Death lurks everywhere. There is no hope.” He staggered to the kitchen counter and slumped to the floor. He sat with his arms resting on his knees.
Kushiel sat beside him with a first aid kit. “This kit, not much help, I am afraid. Kushiel will do best he can.” He pulled out antibiotic cream, rubbing alcohol, and bandages. “Sew up muscles, nothing here to do with.”
Michael rested his head against the counter wall. “Where are they, Kushiel? I told them to stay here.”
“May hap, they are not gone, my lord,” Kushiel muttered, using his teeth to tear off a strip of gauze. He looked at Michael’s arms and legs. “Arms be easier to doctor. Legs, I know not how to fix.” His gravelly voice sounded worried.
“I’m okay, Kushiel,” Michael said tiredly. “I am fine.”
“My lord, Kushiel begs to disagree, fine you are not.”
“I will be okay, friend,” his voice was soft as he spoke looking at the ugly little man. His gaze softened. Kushiel was genuinely concerned about him.
“May hap, garage you should check.”
“The garage,” Michael exclaimed and smacked his forehead with his palm, “of course! Maybe they went down into the basement from the garage.” He struggled to his feet, leaning heavily on his sword. “Let’s go look, shall we?”
Kushiel quickly put the items back into the kit and stepped next to him, sliding under Michael’s arm. “Lean on me. Strong, I am.” He slipped his arm around Michael’s waist.
Together they made their way down the stairs to the convenience store. Michael paused and rested against the sales counter. “Kushiel, please open the door to into the garage.”
They stepped inside the darkened facility. Michael flipped the switch on and bathed the place in soft light. Across the garage bays the door to the basement a cabinet had been shoved aside to reveal an open door.
Michael limped to the stairs, “Kristy!” he hollered, “Luke?” Carefully he climbed down to the room below. “Kushiel?”
“Yes, my lord?”
“Will you sniff them out, please?” Michael ran a hand through his hair and winced at the pain radiating from his shoulder to his elbow. Only the gauntlet was untouched.
“With pleasure,” Kushiel stepped in front of him and lifted his nose into the air. With eyes closed, he inhaled deeply.
“I see you brought the varmint with you,” Luke drawled.
Michael whirled to find his brother standing behind him.
“Tsk, tsk, Michael, you are losing your touch. You need to be aware of everything around you.” Luke continued speaking in a deep southern accent. “My, my, are you a mess. It was a tough battle, eh?”
“Where are they, Luke?” Michael’s hand went to his sword.
“Safe, Michael. They are safe like you asked me to keep them.” Luke folded his arms across his chest and smiled like the Cheshire cat. “Why do you always go into battle, Michael? There are so many other pleasurable pursuits than fighting.”
“It’s the only life I’ve ever known, Luke. I am the warrior, you know that,” Michael winced and reached for his side.
“Let me remove the talon,” Luke walked to him and ripped the side of Michael’s tunic. He studied the claw. “This is going to hurt like Hades.”
“Just do it,” Michael gritted his teeth and closed his eyes. He sat on a chair and leaned forward with his hands on his knees.
Luke prodded the object, grasped it, and yanked it out. “Kushiel, give me some ointment and gauze, please.”
“Just bandage my legs.” Michael grunted.
Kushiel knelt beside Luke, “Let me.” Kushiel frowned at Luke. “Gentler you must be. He is our defender.”
“Oh, please!” Luke rolled his eyes. “You have a groupie, dear Michael.”
“Leave him alone, Luke,” Michael said softly. “He’s been through enough.”
“Oh, my, do I detect compassion for the little monster?” Luke sneered.
“Ignore him, my lord.” Kushiel implored as he wrapped Michael’s legs, “He is worth not.” He stood back and examined his handy work. “Medic, Kushiel never make.”
“That’s okay, Kushiel,” Michael moaned in pain. “There’s no need to defend me or you from Luke.” He looked at the wraps around his legs. Blood was already seeping through but at least his muscles, ligaments, and tendons were secured. He grabbed the work counter and hauled himself to his feet.
“Luke, whose side are you on? Apollyon or mine? You must choose. I will not tolerate a traitor.” Michael hissed. “You are my brother. I have raised you, nursed you when you were hurt, fed you when you were hungry, gave you shelter from the evil, and gave you protection. By all that is within me, I have helped you when I should have let you die. Do not betray me, Luke.” His brow furrowed as his anger rose.
“Take it easy, bro,” Luke grinned. “Have I not treated your injuries and followed your directions? I have kept my promise. The people you care about are safe.” Turning to Kushiel, Luke winked, “I love to pull his chains. It is so much fun.”
“Where are they?” Michael demanded.
“They are in the machine room behind this wall,” Luke rapped on the wall and a hidden door slid open. “See how thoughtful the previous owner was? It’s a nice place to stash his illegal goods where the police would never find it.”
Miguel leaped out the door to Michael and skidded to a stop, looking at him, “What happened to you?”
“A giant blackbird tried to snack on him,” Luke laughed, “and didn’t like the way his flesh tasted and spit him back out.”
“Very funny, Luke,” Michael sneered.
Julia and Cook stepped out next with their arms wrapped around each other. Kristy came last. Her face was streaked with tears and her hair was a tangled mess.
“Michael!” Kristy screamed and rushed to his side. “You’re hurt!”
“I will be okay,” he hooked an arm around her and drew her close. He breathed her scent deeply and sighed. “My battle is not finished, Kristy. I need so badly to know if I have your heart. You are my reason for being here.”
“You have my heart, Michael. I don’t understand what is happening here. I’ve seen so many things that don’t make sense. I don’t know how you can be a murderer and still save people.”
“I am not a murderer. Please believe me when I tell you that I do not enjoy killing.”
“Oh, that’s right,” Luke quipped, “you’re a warrior.”
Kristy turned to Luke, “For a preacher of God’s word, you sure have a mean streak, Luke. Your constant battering of Michael is not very God-like of you.”
“I should hope not, my dear.”
“Has anyone seen Ezra?” Michael asked.
“As a matter of fact, yes, we have.” Luke answered.
“Michael, Ezra came back here and tried to get us to open the door and let him in,” Miguel shuffled from one foot to the other. “That’s why Preacher Luke took us into the basement. He said we had to hide until you got back.”
“Thank you, Luke for keeping them safe.” Michael closed his eyes and lowered his head. “Kristy, is there any juice or fruit?”
“I’ll get it,” Julia tugged on Cook’s arm, “C’mon help me find it, Cook.”
“Michael,” Kristy kissed his cheek, “you can’t fight your war all alone. You have to let us help. You look so tired.”
“I am, Kristy. You don’t know how weary I am.”
Hearing the sound of defeat in Michael’s voice, Kushiel kneeled at his side, “Give up, and do not, my lord.” He stroked Michael’s arm, “You must fight and win. If you lose, dead we all are.”
“Don’t worry, little man. I will never give up.” Michael sighed. “Where is your arrow, Kushiel?”
Kushiel patted his pockets and frowned, “Lost it I have,” he frowned. “Michael, what am I to do?”
“What role does your arrow have in all this?” Luke asked.
“Everything,” Michael answered. “The arrow gives us an opening in the darkness.” He struggled to his feet, “I must find it.”
“I’ll look in the apartment,” Miguel volunteered.
“Kushiel look in the store and garage. Kristy look here.”
“And what does the master want me to do?” Luke said sardonically.
“Keep them safe. I’m going to retrace our steps.”
“Wait, my lord,” Kushiel pleaded, “regain strength first. Drink juice and eat Cook’s food.”
“Listen to Kushiel,” Kristy begged. “He’s right. You need to get some rest and nourishment in you first.” She turned to Luke. “Take him upstairs to the apartment. His bandages are soaked. Kushiel, please find something to rewrap his legs and bring them to me.”
Luke frowned and checked his clothing, “Guess I’m going to need a new wardrobe after all.” He reached for Michael.
“I can go upstairs on my own, Luke. Just stay here and keep an eye on the place, please?” Michael limped up the stairs into the garage and then up another set of stairs to the apartment. “Wouldn’t want to ruin your precious clothing,” he muttered.
Kristy kept close to Michael and Kushiel trailed behind her. “I have brought the stuff requested.” He placed them on the bed and pulled a chair beside it. “You want I should stay and help?”
“No, Kushiel. That will be all. Thank you.”
“Very good, mistress.” He bowed and left the room.
“What a funny little man,” she mumbled as she sorted through the items.
“He has been loyal lately,” Michael watched the door close behind Kushiel. He scooted onto the bed and began to remove the bandages. “This might look worse than it is,” he warned. He winced as the wraps came off.
“Not as bad as I thought,” he mumbled, looking at the mess that his legs had become. It appeared as though the tendons and ligaments were mending. His arms had already fleshed out where the muscle was missing. A few more hours and he would be whole again.
“Oh, Michael!” Kristy gasped. “What did this to you?”
“Giant blackbirds and a huge snake,” he said simply, cherishing the concern in her face and voice. “You should see them,” he laughed. “Burned to a crisp.”
Kristy blanched at the thought of hordes attacking him. “Thank God, you lived through it!” She put ointment onto a damp cloth and gingerly applied it to his injuries.
“Yes, thank God,” he whispered, biting his lip to suppress a cry of pain.
“The bleeding looks like its stopping.” She pulled out strips of fabric and twined them around his legs. “That should do it.”
Michael patted the bed, “Sit beside me for awhile.”
She perched on the edge and gazed into his eyes. “Michael, I . . .”
“Shh . . .” he pressed a finger to his mouth. “No need for that. Please come a little closer.”
She pushed herself further onto the bed and sat next to him. Her head rested on his shoulder. “You are fighting a real battle, aren’t you? I mean, earlier I thought it was something you imagined.”
“I know, and yes, it is a very real battle, Kristy.” He tipped her head up and lightly pressed kisses on her lips.
“Knock, knock, May we come in?” Julia called.
“Come in, Julia,” Michael sighed and released Kristy.
Julia and Cook bustled in carrying a tray of soup, juice, grapes, and bread. “I brought you some food. Kristy, you make sure he eats everything.”
“I will,” she replied and picked up the bowl.
“We’ll leave you alone now.”

Cook paused and glanced over his shoulder, “Michael, don’t do anything I wouldn’t do,” he winked.
Michael and Kristy both blushed pink. Kristy almost dropped the soup bowl she was holding. “Cook!” They exclaimed together.
To their chagrin, Cook roared with laughter as he closed the door behind him. They could hear him chortling all the way down the stairs.
“You better eat this or Julia will have your hide.” She spooned the liquid and blew softly on it.
Michael was mesmerized by the gentle pucker of her mouth as she sent a breath of air over the hot soup. He could almost taste the saltiness of the meal and feel the gentle caress of her breath cooling the fluid. Like a baby bird he opened his mouth and accepted the morsel with delight. “Tastes good,” he sighed.
Kristy broke off a piece of bread and dipped it into the bowl before feeding it to him. “Open wide,” she smiled.
“Mmm . . . so good,” he moaned, chewing on the crusty food.
“Michael, what kind of . . . ?”
“No, let’s not talk about battles. Let’s just enjoy this night and our time together.” He leaned back on the mattress and propped himself up with his elbows.
Kristy plucked a grape and held it out to him. He took it and sucked on the fruit, rolling it with his tongue in a way that sent shivers of pleasure tingling down her body. Laying there he looked so innocent and unaware of the sexual vibrations affecting her by merely being near him. She quickly opened the juice box and stuck a straw in it. She held it out to him.
Michael took the box; his fingers lightly grazed hers, and slipped the straw into his mouth. He watched her with big innocent eyes.
She sighed, even the act of sipping juice spelled sensuous tension. How did he manage to turn a girl on just by looking at her?
He crooked a finger at her and beckoned her to come nearer. “Come, lay beside me,” he whispered throatily. He turned onto his side, still propped up by an elbow.
Michael reached out and stroked her hair. His hand drifted down and cupped her cheek. He leaned forward and lightly kissed her. “It’s my turn now.” He nuzzled her hair and inhaled. “You smell heavenly. I could stay like this forever.” He gazed at her; a smile tweaked his lips upward making him look like a child.
“Could you really, Michael?” She asked. “Could you really stay here with me?”
“If permitted,” he nodded slowly, “yes I could. I love you.”

Ezra hovered in the darkened doorway of the diner and kept surveillance on the front of the garage. “Where did they go in there?” he muttered. The blackbirds and locusts were gone. Had Michael defeated them, or had Apollyon called them back? All he heard now were the horses and the hounds.
The bleakness still prevailed over Sundown. He had glimpsed more reporters lining up on the sunny side well away from the darkness. How little they knew. The eternal night could reach out and sweep them into its grasp. Then where would they be with their unquenchable thirst for horror? Just wait until he showed them blood on the sacrificial revival grounds. Death will come to all who venture into his domain.
He watched as a light came on in the garage. They were still there and Michael must have returned to them. How did he miss that? Ezra glanced down at his hand. It still showed red burn marks from when he touched the door knob. Michael will pay for setting wards around the building. A light appeared upstairs. Had they all gone back up to the apartment, or was there someone still in the garage? A light flickered on the ground floor. Someone was still down there. He settled down for a long night of watching.

Morning came bringing with it complete stillness. Not a bird, mouse, or cat stirred. Jared looked out his window at the gloom and wondered if anyone outside Sundown was trying to help them.
He picked up the telephone receiver for the tenth time and heard only the hissing and indistinct sound of voices. They sounded oily and sent a pit of fear into his stomach. What was happening to his town?
He felt a pressing need to reach his office. Maybe the emergency dedicated line would be able to penetrate the morass that hung over them.
Jared picked up a flashlight and a hammer. He felt safer having the hammer in his hand. He opened his door and stood in the entry listening and looking for signs of life.
The very air hung still and heavy as though pregnant with an unknown evil. The gloom had reached ground level and it was impossible to see without the aid of a light. Even so, he could only make out a few inches in front of him.
Squaring his shoulders he took a step forward. What was that? He stared ahead. He heard the drumming of hoof beats. Out of the darkness appeared a horse. It was a white stallion and a white cloaked rider. Slung across the back of the rider was a crossbow.
A second beast followed the first one. It was a red Roan and a red hooded traveler sat astride the powerful animal. He held a silver and gold Katana at his side. Next there came a black Arabian horse and a black masked wayfarer who pointed a skeleton hand at him.
The last and final creature was a pale Palomino whose voyager wore a light beige cape. He carried a skull and cross bones. All four had eyes that burned red in their sockets.
Their visage was terrible to behold with holes where noses should have been, blackened and missing teeth, grime covered their faces, and their bodies smelled of death and decay.
The white rider un-slung his cross bow and before Jared could get back inside his home shot him in the knee sending him sprawling on the ground. The traveler unsheathed his Katana and with a mighty swing sliced through Jared’s arms. Jared screamed in agony.
The wayfarer pointed his hand at the injured man, “I bring you pestilence and plague,” he growled. Jared’s body wept with sores and pus. Black splotches appeared on him.
The final voyager tossed the skull at him. “I bring death.” Jared fainted as the four horses and their riders disappeared down the street.

Michael heard the screams and sat up in bed. “I must go!”
“What is it, Michael?” Kristy rubbed her eyes. “What’s wrong?” She gasped when she heard the screams from outside. “What is going on out there? Horses, hounds and screams, who are they attacking?” She scrambled off the bed and hurried to the window.
“Don’t open the blinds, Kristy.” Michael reached down and ripped off the bandages. His injuries had healed. “Luke!” he yelled dashing down the stairs followed by a bewildered Kristy.
“Luke, come with me! Miguel, lock and bar the door. Open it for no one but me.”
They dashed into the street. “Where are we going, bro?” Luke asked as they ran down an alley.

Ezra watched from his perch in the hidden doorway as Luke and Michael dashed out of the garage. Finally, they had left the others unattended. Now all he needed was to find a way to get them to open the door and invite him inside.
It was time for a change in appearance. He removed his trench coat and folded it neatly. He pulled out a comb and began styling his hair. As he redirected his hair it turned blond to match the shade of Luke’s coloring. His fingers, arms, and legs shortened until he was the same height as Luke, a nice six feet tall. He picked up the folded garment and carried it across the street to the garage.
“Miguel,” he called using Luke’s voice. The inflection seemed wrong and he tried again. “Miguel? It’s Luke, open up.” Ezra frowned at hearing the voice, the southern drawl wasn’t right.
“You don’t sound like Luke,” he replied.
“I’m injured and Michael is dying. He sent me back here to get you to help us.”
“I don’t believe you,” Miguel said.
“Go away!” Cook joined Miguel at the door. “You aren’t Luke. Leave now before Michael comes back.”
“Michael can’t hurt me,” Ezra snarled. “Let me in.”
“No!”

Michael reached the fallen man first. He grabbed the severed arms and placed them next to the shoulders. “Hold him down, Luke!”
Luke knelt down and put his palm on the man’s chest. He nodded at Michael, “Ready.”
“On three,” Michael began counting. “One, two, three,” Michael clutched the left arm and shoulder. He felt the heat leave his body and watched as the limb reattached to the torso; he repeated the action for the other arm.
“Help me pick him up. Let’s get him into the garage. Grab his legs, be careful of the knees.”
“He’s not a light weight, that’s for sure,” Luke grunted as he heaved upward, holding the legs in his arms.
Together they carried Jared back to the garage. “Miguel, it’s Michael, open up.” Michael panted. “Hurry up, please. This guy is heavy.”
“How do I know it’s you?” Miguel asked through the door.
“Miguel,” Michael’s voice carried a hint of threat. “Open this door, please.”
“Prove you are who you say you are,” Miguel stubbornly insisted. “Ezra already tried to get in by pretending to be Luke and saying you were dying.”
“Miguel,” Luke drawled, “C’mon man, it’s cold and misty out here.”
The door opened a crack. “It is you.” Relief flooded Miguel’s voice. “What happened to the Mayor?”
“He got trampled by some wild horses,” Luke drawled as they carried the man inside and placed him on the couch. “Get Kushiel and have him bring the kit.”
Michael was busily tearing the Mayor’s pants to reveal his knees. Both had gaping holes through the sides. He examined the wounds and then lifted the Mayor’s shirt. His skin was a mottled blue and black with lumps that oozed blood. “Plague,” Michael muttered.
“Kushiel’s coming,” Miguel returned and stepped toward them.
“Stop, Miguel, don’t come any closer. Go back upstairs and stay there.”
“What’s he got?”
“He has Plague,” Luke whispered, “the Black Death. Go on now; we don’t need you catching it.” Luke lifted his eyes to Michael.
“Can you fix him?” Miguel asked.
“Not without Raphael,” Michael sighed. “Please go back upstairs, Miguel.”
“And he’s not talking to any of us.” Luke looked worried.
“That belongs to you. Never should have tricked him, Luke.”
Kushiel entered the garage and shrieked. “He’s got Plague! Bleach must get.” He hurried into the bathroom and came out with a spray bottle.
“Don’t spray yet, Kushiel. Wait until he has passed on.”
“We’re going to have to burn the body, Michael,” Luke pursed his lips and squinted at Michael. “How are we going to explain that?”
“He died and had to be disposed of for sanitary reasons.” Michael stared down at the man. Great sorrow filled his heart. “Jared was a good man and shouldn’t die in this manner.”
“I know, Michael, I know. He was incorruptible,” Luke said compassion showing in his voice.
Michael contemplated Luke’s words. “Is that a confession, Luke?” Michael grinned. “There might be hope for you yet.” Michael glanced down at Jared. “I’m going to hold his hands so he won’t be alone when his time comes.” Michael stroked Jared’s forehead. “I will lay your soul to rest. I will sing a song of joy for you, dear friend. You will not be forgotten.”
They sat keeping vigil over Jared until he stopped breathing. Kushiel brought a sheet into the room and they solemnly rolled Jared into it. Michael tied the ends like a roll of carpet.
With Luke’s assistance Jared was carried into the alley. Kushiel lighted a match while Michael dowsed the body with gasoline. The body went up in flames with a giant swoosh.
“Lord, we ask that you carry our friend Jared into heaven that he might dwell in your home forever. Amen,” Michael sang Amazing Grace. They stood silently watching the flames until the last note was sung.
Michael, Kushiel, and Luke remained for hours with their heads bowed until the last ember had died and the body had turned to ashes.
Quietly they returned to the garage. Kushiel went upstairs and retrieved clean clothes while Luke disrobed first and shivered when Kushiel sprayed him with bleach before he stepped into the mechanics shower. After getting dressed he went upstairs to the apartment to inform the others of Jared’s death.
Michael disrobed and bundled both their clothing into a ball. He carried it outside and Kushiel set fire to them. Michael was then sprayed down with bleach. “Please spray the couch too, Kushiel.”
Michael was drying himself off after showering when Kristy came running down the stairs. “Luke told us what happened!” She skidded to a stop upon seeing Michael standing naked rubbing a towel over his body.
“Kristy, stop! Don’t come any nearer,” Michael turned and faced her as he continued to wipe his body dry. “I don’t want to take any chances of you getting infected. Please go back upstairs. I’ll be there shortly.”

***

Chapter Twenty Two

Michael climbed the stairs; each step felt like a thousand years of war. “So, we lost a good man,” he said as he entered the apartment. “The task now is to win and not lose anyone else. The first order of business is finding Kushiel’s arrow.”
“It was at the revival I did lose it, I think,” Kushiel furrowed his brow, deep in concentration. “Have it I did at the trailer.”
“You had it at Luke’s trailer?” Michael asked patiently and looked down at his hands.
“Yes, my lord,” he nodded eagerly, “at the trailer.”
“Kushiel,” Cook spoke, “why is your arrow so important?”
“It is how you say it, killer of devils?” Kushiel pursed his lips. “I kill Ezra, devil is gone.”
“But, Ezra isn’t dead,” Luke mocked Kushiel’s tone of voice.
Kushiel hung his head, “Shamed is I. Elohim sent me to kill Ezra, help Michael. I have failed.”
“Elohim did what?” Michael’s head snapped up.
“Sent Kushiel to help you,” Luke laughed. “We’re all screwed now.”
“I’m confused,” Julia looked around the room. “Sugar, please explain to this old broad what are you yammering on about.”
“Elohim is Michael and Luke’s father,” Kristy responded. “Ezra is their brother. They have four other brothers. Michael and Luke are Kushiel’s cousins.”
“Who is Raphael?” Miguel asked.
“Our brother,” Michael and Luke said in unison.
“Kushiel wants to kill Ezra,” Kushiel explained, “Ezra wants Luke dead and now Michael too. Luke wants Michael dead, and Michael wants to kill Luke.”
“And what does Raphael want?” Kristy asked, frowning in confusion.
“He wants nothing to do with us.” Luke said developing even more affectation of his southern accent.
“Hon,” Julia turned to Cook, “I think I have a headache.”
“Sweetums, I don’t think I want to be in that family. They sound like the Mafia.” Cook looked at Kristy who remained silent with her mouth partly open.
“What a tangled mess,” Kristy muttered. “A family that kills each other dies together. God, Michael!”
“Please don’t say that, Kristy.” Michael snapped. “It’s not quite like that.” He opened a juice box and sipped. “Right now, we must find the arrow. And I think we should all stay together from now on. Yesterday, I felt like something was trying to keep us separated. We need each other to fight off the horses and hounds.”
“What are you?” Kristy asked.
“I am Michael,” he responded with a smile.
“And I am Luke,” Luke joined in and laughed.
Kushiel looked from one to the other, “Kushiel, I am.”
“I am Miguel, I like hamburgers.”
Cook roared with laughter, his belly shook hard. “I am Cook, and this is my wife, Julia,” he hugged her. “We like to eat.” He gathered an assortment of food and put it into bags.
“I know who you all are,” Kristy quipped and stifled a laugh. “Thanks a lot Michael for setting them off on this weird tangent.”
Michael’s eyes widened innocently, “all I did was say who I am.” He spread his hands in appeasement. “Now that we all know who we are, shall we go look for the arrow?”
“Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to search we go,” Luke sang and clapped his hands.
“Stay close at all times. Kristy, Julia, Cook you must follow Kushiel, Luke and my directions implicitly. Failure to do so could result in yours or someone else’s death. Do you understand?”
They nodded.
“Kristy, stay behind me. Miguel, guard Kristy. Kushiel, you are behind Miguel. Julia and Cook follow Kushiel. Luke, you bring up the rear.” Michael handed knives to Kristy, Julia, and Cook. “You might have to fight.”
“What about Luke and Kushiel?” Kristy asked, her voice sounded small and frightened.
“They have their own weapons.” Michael sheaved his sword and secured it across his back. “Let’s go.”
As they left the apartment Miguel grabbed the bible and tucked it into his shirt. He felt better having the book with him.

They walked single file down the stairs and out of the garage. Michael turned and raised his hands to the garage. A single flash of blue arced from his fingers into the facility. Darkness descended and the building faded out of sight. He looked over his shoulder and counted the people behind him. There were six. Six lives he was now responsible for.
As they walked, his thoughts returned to Kushiel’s revelation. Elohim had sent the tiny guy to help him. Did this mean Elohim was losing faith in his prince or did he send Kushiel as a talisman? The misshapen diminutive man had been on his side all along. And he thought the guy was dangerous to his group, instead he had been sent to help keep them safe. No wonder the watcher had been prowling around town. Michael felt guilty for threatening the little fellow a few days ago.
“Why is it so quiet?” Julia whispered.
“Because everyone else in this town is already dead or dying,” Michael replied as he looked around. It was hard to see any movement in the dark.
If anything it was blacker than the day before. The preternatural night sent eerie chills down his spine. A gray mist swirled around their legs as though seeking to entangle and trap them in its icy tendrils like the tentacles of an octopus. Not even the glow from lamp lights could be seen until they were upon them. Michael found himself constantly checking behind him to make sure he could still count the indistinct bobbing shapes of the people with him.
No one uttered a sound. Even their footfalls seemed muted as everyone tried to keep hidden from what awaited them in the darkness; in the gloom; in the night. Onward they walked into the waiting maw of some unknown, unseen danger. They were armed with Michael’s sword, Luke’s lance, some knives, and Kushiel’s arrow, if they find it. What a motley crew they made.
Michael steered them into the middle of the street. Better they walk through the gloaming with nary a building from which hidden dangers could ensnare them. Death had claimed Sundown. Not a person in the town stirred. It was devoid of life except for the seven of them. Deep sorrow brushed against his heart as he mourned the losses.
Every fiber of his being tingled with dread, at the thought of apparitions lingering in the shadows, unseen, unheard, and deadly. He wondered what made him want to run from this accursed place. Why did he feel the danger was far away and yet directly in front of him?
The hike to the revival grounds was interminably long. How many miles was the place from the center of town? He had never thought to calculate the distance he’d been walking these past few days. Prior to the unending night he had always ridden his cycle and the miles just drifted away by the breeze upon his skin and the sun in his face. Now, however, it was different. Now, it felt like oily bugs creeping across his body leaving behind putrid excretions from hell. His feet apperceived the quagmire of muck they traveled.
“Preacher Luke,” Julia began.
“Oh, please, let’s dispense with the formality, shall we? Call me Luke.” He squinted and looked behind him with steely blue eyes.
“Luke?”
“Hmm . . . ?” He continued his vigil.
“Who is Michael?” Julia whispered, “I mean I saw the blue light come from his fingers back at the garage.”
“A better question, dear Julia, would be what Michael is?” Luke shrugged his shoulders to release the tension building in his muscles.
“What is he?”
“Your savior,” Luke said quietly. “Michael is our warrior.”
“I don’t understand,” Julia frowned; her black eyes glittered with unanswered questions.
“He is Elohim’s warrior.”
“I thought Elohim was your father.”
“He is. It’s complicated,” Luke paused and twirled around. He gripped his lance tightly. “Quiet now. Something is following us.”
Luke dropped back a few feet, keeping his back to the group, searching for a sound, a movement, some indication where the creature kept hidden. He raised his arm and jabbed quickly. The tip of his lance disappeared into the solid blackness.
A hair rising wail shattered the obscurity surrounding them, allowing a brief glimpse of a monstrous form. It had a serpentine head perched on a long scaly neck. Great scales covered a leathery body. Blood dripped from where Luke’s lance had pierced its hide. The wyvern had been mortally injured.
“Wyvern!” Luke, hissed, “Just what I need following me. Dragon can not be far behind.”
Kushiel pulled two silver coins from his pocket and hurriedly passed it to Luke. “The eyes, coins put there. Keep Wyvern back from coming.”
Luke quickly stepped forward and plunged a coin into each eye. “That should do it. I hope you have a boatload of those in your pocket, my friend.” All traces of a southern drawl had disappeared from his voice. His words came out in a hard rasp as though they scratched his throat.
“Onward, Luke, hurry we must.” Kushiel cried, his short legs pumping twice as fast to keep up.
Michael stopped and held up his hand. He planted his feet slightly apart and clutched his sword high overhead. No sign of his previous wounds was apparent. His muscles bunched and relaxed with each revolution as he twirled the weapon. A bead of sweat dripped down the side of his cheek.
In that moment Kristy thought he looked beautiful, dangerous and sexy all rolled into one person. His hair blew in the wind behind his face, only held in place by a gold bandana. He wore a white tunic with a bronze burnished belt laced with silver and leather thongs. He looked like a Roman gladiator minus the shield and helmet. She wondered when he had changed his clothes and how had his injuries healed so quickly.
“Michael, what’s wrong?” Kristy called out to him.
Miguel stepped beside her and slipped his arm through hers. His dark brown eyes fixed on Michael as he watched every movement. “We must keep still and quiet,” he whispered.
“Why?” she whispered back.
“Can you not feel it? Evil surrounds us. Hush, now Kristy,” Miguel placed a finger against his lips.
Cook gripped Julia around the waist and pulled her against him. His arm snaked through her apron ties as though to anchor her to him.
Kushiel crouched and melded additional coins. “Pey is approaching.”
“Who is Pey?” Cook asked his tone hushed.
“Not who, but what is Pey?” Kushiel replied, “Bloodsuckers of men.”
“Dang, messy creatures,” Luke groaned.
Michael leaped into the air brandishing his sword. His swings resembled an athletic version of ballet with leaps, twirls, pirouettes, and slashes. Each swipe of the sword brought ear piercing screams of agony followed by explosions of dust and fire.
“Run!” he screamed, grabbing Kristy’s hand and pulling her along.
Cook swooped down and hoisted Kushiel onto his shoulders as he ran along side Julia and Miguel. Luke ran backwards keeping his eyes trained on their rear, stabbing bloodthirsty creatures with his lance.
Michael dashed through the revival gates and raced to the trailer, wielding his sword all the while, slicing, and dicing the hellion creatures, clearing a path as he went. He scrambled up the steps and yanked open the door.
“Inside,” he ushered them tersely. After Luke passed him, he joined them in the trailer and slammed the door shut.
“What were those things?” Kristy asked and watched her hand tremble as she brushed a lock of hair from her eyes.
“Vampires,” Michael fixed his eyes on Luke. “They seemed to keep a fair distance from you, Luke. Care to explain why?”
“I stabbed some,” he protested, spreading his hands wide.
Michael went into the kitchen and removed a bag he had stuffed there after the main tent collapsed. Inside the bag contained various first aid items and a black velvet drawstring sack. He pulled the strings open and drew out some sage and lighted it.
Michael walked the entire length of the trailer smudging it with the smoke from the sage. “Elohim, hallowed be thy name, grant us the protection we seek from the demonic forces against us.”
He returned to the pouch and took out a vial of water. Once again, Michael walked the trailer, this time, sprinkling droplets of water. “Your kingdom has come, your will is done.” He returned to the sack a third time and removed a box of pure sea salt.
As he paced the rooms, he sprinkled salt across all windows and doors,” keep us from temptation and deliver us from evil.” He paused and looked around at everyone, “I use my hand for the good, and the power of my wrath is against the forsaken. Our foes are many and rise they have. There is no salvation except through my shield of glory and my sword. Is everyone with me? Julia, are you with me?” he asked.
“Yes, I am,” she replied and bowed her head.
“Cook, will you fight with me?” Michael asked.
“That I will with honor,” Cook replied.
“Kushiel, will you watch our backs?”
“My lord, it is my pleasure,” Kushiel paused in his search for his arrow.
“Miguel, will you guard Kristy?” Michael asked.
“Yes, Michael.”
“Kristy, will you maintain faith in me?”
“Yes,” she nodded.
“Luke?” Michael narrowed his eyes, “Will you keep your promise to me?”
Luke paused and picked at an imaginary stain on his shirt, “well, bro has it come to this that you must ask?”
“Yes, it has.”
“I see,” Luke said with no trace of a southern accent. “Then I guess I have no choice but to join forces with you.”
Kushiel scampered around the trailer, pulling up cushions and looking under chairs. “Arrow, you are where?” he muttered.
Michael leaned against the counter separating the living room from the kitchen and crossed his arms over his chest. His gaze focused inward as he listened to the whispers inside his head. Nasty and vile the voices taunted him. “Never,” he kept his voice low. He squinted at Luke.
Luke examined his fingernails, pulled a file out, and buffed the rough edges. “Listening to someone, Michael? Or is it something? Is it something shadowy and vulgar?”
Michael launched himself upright. “Everyone look for the arrow. I’ll search the grounds.” He banged the door on his way outside.
They were back in the cesspit of antiquity. He caressed his wooden crucifix, “you’ve seen me through some rough times. I pray you are enough to see me through this one, old friend.”
The gloom was changing. It felt more alive than earlier, almost as though it were a living, breathing creature. A spawn of Hades had them in its grip.

***

Chapter Twenty Three

“Luke, c’mon and give us a hand,” Cook said as he tipped the couch on end. Kushiel crawled under it and ran his hands over the carpet.
“Here, it is not.” Kushiel sat up and frowned.
“Kushiel?” Cook groaned.
“Yes, Cook?”
“Could you get out from under the couch?” He flushed, “It’s not light.” Beads of sweat poured down Cooks round face.
“Luke, please help us find the arrow,” Kristy asked. She peeked behind a bookcase. “Luke, are you going to assist us?”
“Looks like you have plenty of help,” Luke said sardonically as he continued to buff his fingernails. “You don’t need me.”
“Luke, you lazy ass swine,” Julia cursed, “you get your sorry butt over here and give us a hand, right now!” She jammed her finger in his face and shook it.
Miguel busied himself opening the cabinets. “Not in here. Kushiel, does your arrow look like an arrow?”
“It is how you say it, petite.”
“You mean small?” Miguel paused and frowned. “How small is it?”
Kushiel pinched his fingers together, “about three inches long.”
“And it looks like an arrow?” Cook asked.
“Yes,” Kushiel nodded eagerly. “Small arrow, my palm fit.”
“Where did you last see it?” Miguel asked, as he looked behind the microwave oven.
“Here at the trailer.” Kushiel crawled over to the television stand and squeezed behind it. “Oof, Kushiel weight needs to lose like Michael said.”
Miguel knelt down and looked around the cabinet at Kushiel. “I think you are stuck. Give me your hand.” Miguel reached out, stretching as far as he could and grasped Kushiel’s hand. “Are you ready?”
Kushiel nodded. Miguel sucked in a deep breath and yanked with all his might. Kushiel came loose with a loud pop and the two of them tumbled backward.
“Thank you for a most dignified not exit,” Kushiel mumbled as he rubbed his bottom.
“Undignified is better than stuck,” Miguel poked his tongue at the little man.
Julia burst into giggles, “Sorry,” she laughed. “You two are something else!”
“What else are we?” Kushiel asked, rubbing his elbow. “Now my arm is sore and is my bottom.”
His comments elicited another round of laughs from Julia. Tears streamed down her cheeks.
“You hurt?” Kushiel peered into her eyes like a toddler.
“No, I’m fine. You guys are just funny,” she laughed.
Luke rolled his eyes at the group and continued buffing his nails to a high shine. He put the utensil away and stretched.
His hand automatically went to the medallion under his shirt. He stroked it thoughtfully. “I wonder why we have to wear these things instead of carrying them in our pocket.”
“Michael said it works by wearing it,” Miguel spoke quietly as he reached for his own medallion.
“But why does he think it will work? What makes one way better than another?” Luke pondered the question. “May be the similarity is like the difference between a Wyvern and a Dragon.”
“How is that? What’s a Wyvern?” Miguel asked with a puzzled expression on his face. “I don’t understand. I thought a Dragon was a fantasy creature.”
“A Dragon is a creature from Hades it is much stronger and bigger than a Wyvern.”
“And you slew a Wyvern?” Julia gasped, “I’d hate to see a Dragon, then.”
“I’m afraid you probably will, dear Julia. Where there are Wyverns a Dragon will follow. Help us all if we get hit by a Dragon. I’m not sure these medallions will protect us from those beasts.”
“So they aren’t good like the fantasy novels show us with people riding them and training them?” Miguel looked shocked.
“I’m afraid they’re nothing as tame as shown in a fantasy novel.” Luke pursed his lips.
“We are in big trouble, my friends.” Luke shook his head. “After the next two nights anything you see in a fantasy novel or movie will look like a dalliance in a field of lilies. What we are about to fight, and perchance to die for is far worse than you can ever hope to imagine.”
“But Michael said the medallions will keep us safe.” Miguel protested as he rubbed his pendant, feeling the glow of warmth from it in the palm of his hand.
“What does Michael know?” Luke’s laugh came out in a sharp bark. “He will fight anything, but can he protect everyone?”
“But, Michael said . . .” Miguel whispered as he stroked the medallion.
“Michael promise he will keep,” Kushiel glared at Luke. “He not like you,” he jabbed his finger into Luke’s chest. “You liar, cheat, and thief are and Michael is honor, protector and devoted.”
“Hey, I never said he wasn’t, little man!” Luke held up his hands in mock surrender. “I’m getting a bit tired of having everyone sticking their fingers in my face or chest. You wound me with your mean words.” He clutched his chest and closed his eyes. “I am disgraced.”
“Disgraced, you are by Michael,” Kushiel said heatedly. “You are a lazy man, Luke. You are lazy, lazy, lazy, liar, cheat, thief, and mean!”
“Ouch! Somebody put a piece of tape over his mouth, please?” Luke pleaded to the amusement of the others.

Ezra followed Michael’s little band from the town to the trailer. He watched as they went inside and as Michael came back out. Michael, the all powerful warrior, prince of Elohim, he was such a fool, a stupid, stupid, fool! Michael, ever loyal and obedient was not even Elohim’s favorite. That particular honor belonged to Luke, whom Michael had kicked out of the family. Luke had never forgiven Michael for that. It will be interesting to see how that situation resolves.
Kushiel, the little fiend, how did he weasel his way into Michael’s protective circle? That just wouldn’t do, Ezra grimaced. “I am going to enjoy killing you Kushiel, you traitor.”
Ezra wrapped his trench coat around his boney body and paced with quick bird-like steps. He resembled a deformed crane as he walked back and forth in the shadow of the tents while dividing his attention between the trailer and Michael.
So far Luke and Michael had survived Irrithiril, but would they live if he could manage to inject it directly into their veins? Would they writhe in pain before expiring or would they burst into a glorious ball of flame? He hoped it would be a combination of the two. All he had to do was get close enough to plunge the poison into them.
Ezra raised the flaps of his trench coat over his head and used it as a cloak, making him all but invisible as he glided over to the trailer. First he had to get them out in the open. How could he get Luke to come out of the trailer? Luke was not likely to risk his life unless there was no other choice. It might be easier to get Kushiel to come outside.
The last time he had been to the trailer it had not been protected, so Ezra felt confident in reaching for the door. As his hand neared the metal a bluish-green light emanated from the frame and snaked its way outward. The tendril of light reared up like a snake. Ezra swore he could hear a hissing noise coming from it. He paused and studied the entity. “Damn, Michael!” he cursed, pulling his hand back. The place was protected after all.
Ezra circled the trailer looking for a weakness in the armor. “Kushiel,” he called. “I have your arrow.”
Kushiel whipped his head up and sniffed. “Ezra,” he growled.
“What?” Luke stiffened from his relaxed pose. “Where is he, Kushiel?”
“Outside,” Kushiel tugged on his goatee. He stepped toward the door.
“No, Kushiel!” Kristy cried.
“Kushiel,” Ezra purred, as he jerked a vial out of his pocket and dipped the tip of his fingernail into it. “I have your arrow. Come and get it.”
Kushiel yanked the door open, “Go I must, get arrow.”
“NO!” Kristy screamed and lunged for him.
Kushiel leaped from the door onto Ezra and pounded him. “Give me my arrow!”
Ezra wrestled with the watcher. “You are stronger than you look,” he grunted. He snaked his hand inside Kushiel’s shirt and grabbed the medallion.
Kushiel’s arms and hands were everywhere like an octopus, clutching and grabbing. “Give it to me!” He slammed his fist down on Ezra’s head like a hammer.
Cook and Julia raced out of the trailer and joined the melee. Kristy jumped up and was swept off her feet by Luke, “No you don’t. Michael would kill me and I’m not ready to die yet!” He howled when her foot connected with his shin. Miguel grabbed both and strained to get them back inside.

Michael walked the grounds searching for the arrow while keeping his ears open for any unusual noise. “Elohim, is Kristy my love to keep? After all is said and done, will she be mine? Or will you require me to keep the Word and follow all the rules again, if I survive, and if I win?”
Michael kept his head lowered, his eyes scouring the ground for the arrow. “I want her love. I need her love. I am confused, Elohim. I have never felt this way before. I need your guidance. I am ever loyal to you, Elohim. I will abide by your decision, I just need to know.” Michael paused, listening, hoping to hear some kind of answer.
Lightning flashed a brilliant white across the black sky exploding lamp bulbs and sending the pungent scent of ozone wafting around him. Another flash of lightning sent green and blue streaks heavenward. The sparkles of colors rained down around him with pops and sizzles where they touched ground. He raised his hands into the air in supplication. “Your will is mine!”

A blond technician hoisted the camera to his shoulder. “Are you ready, Jonathan?”
“Just a second,” came the reply as the reporter straightened his tie. “Ready.”
The camera man pointed at him, and “you’re on.”
“Good evening Flagstaff. This is Jonathan Howard coming to you from the gates to the religious revival in Sundown.”
He tugged on his tie and loosened it. “It is hot, smelly, and black out here. Some people have started calling this place the cesspool of darkness. It most certainly is dark. I can barely make out the gates only two feet away. Even with our bright lights this place is filled with caliginosity.”
The camera panned the surrounding environment and clearly showed the edge where light ended and darkness began. “We are standing under a lamp and can barely see the light. From what I understand this is the exact same location where the remains of our missing reporters were found earlier.”
A loud thump shook the ground and an unearthly screech rendered the two men immobile. “What was that?” Jonathan looked in the direction where the sound came.
He caught a glimpse of a vague shape lifting upward. It left a shadowy blackness darker than the surrounding environment. His mouth dropped open as he saw two giant red orbs coming straight for him.
“Run!” The camera man screamed.
The pictures captured by the stark lights and camera were crazy. Darkness as deep as pitch flashed with red globules and shreds of white cloth. Screams pierced the night. A foot dipped into view and disappeared only to be replaced by a leg that ended in a bloody stump at the knee.

Michael hearing the shrieks raced toward the gates. He raised his sword over head. He leaped in front of the spinning camera and slashed at the creature from beneath it. Flecks of blood landed on the lens and dripped down. Splotches of yellow flesh flew through the air.
His white tunic was drenched in entrails. An eye hit him in the chest and slid down his front as he battled the creature. “Tarragon be gone!” He bellowed as he swung the blade. “Combat!” he slashed, “Attack!” He hammered the beast. “Fight!”
The creature let out a mighty roar and fell to the ground. Michael raced over to the reporter who sat with his back to the news van. He was covered in a grisly blood soaked shirt. Drops dribbled down his face. “And the rivers shall run red with blood.” Michael mumbled and knelt beside the man, “Can you hear me?” He ripped a piece of his tunic and used it to wipe some of the gore away.
He tipped the reporters head and saw the jagged line running under his jaw. Michael bowed his head for a second. He reached into his pocket and pulled out two silver coins. He placed one coin over each eye to keep the evil from taking the man’s soul to purgatory. “I’m sorry.” He made the sign of the cross and rose.
Michael saw the camera still transmitting. There was nothing left of the camera man. He leaned over and stared into the lens, “Please don’t send any more people here until this is over.” He flipped the machine around and turned it off.

Michael paused and heard Kristy screaming. “We have to help Kushiel!” He wiped his forehead with the back of his hand and ran back toward the trailer.
Michael clutched his sword in both hands as he rounded the front of the trailer and skidded to a stop. He shook his head in amazement at the scene that greeted him.
Kushiel had his legs wrapped around Ezra’s head and was pounding on him with his fists. “My medallion and my arrow, give back to me, you ugly, stinky fiend!”
Cook was swinging a pole at Ezra’s legs making him dance a disjointed jig. Julia was hitting Ezra in the stomach with anything she could pick up and throw, making him bend nearly double. Kushiel held on even harder to keep from sliding off.
“Looks like you don’t need my help, after all,” Michael said drolly as he leaned against the trailer. He held his sword with the tip pointed at the ground.
Ezra spun around and threw an object at Cook, hitting him in the arm.
“Stick him gut in with sword, Michael!” Kushiel shrieked.
“You want me to stick him in the gut?” Michael leaned forward, pulling his blade with him.
Luke drew open the shades and peeked out. The lamp next to the trailer cast a dim glow around the people outside. “Oh, my,” he grinned, “That’s quite a show out there.”
“What’s going on?” Miguel and Kristy hurried to look out the window.
“Cook, quit swinging at him! I can’t get a good shot at him if he’s dancing a jig!” Julia hollered as she chunked a rock at Ezra’s stomach.
“A jig, what jig? I thought he was doing a line dance,” Cook hollered back and swung again.
Ezra yowled as Kushiel dug his heels into his face. Michael lifted the sword and cleaved Ezra’s head in half, narrowly missing Kushiel’s legs. He then swung side ways and cut through the torso. Streams of blood gushed from the neck and the body. Kushiel jumped free and was caught by Cook as the remains of Ezra fell to the ground.
Cook set him down and looked at his arm. He looked at Julia and frowned. “Something’s wrong, sweetums,” he groaned and fell to his knees.
Julia rushed to his side, “Cook, what’s wrong?” she cried as she plucked at the object sticking from his arm but failed to remove it.
Michael leaned over them and gasped, “Irrithiril dart.”
“Do something,” Julia cried. “Help him.” She clung to Cook, covering his body with hers as though trying to protect him.
“Move over Julia. Let me get to him.” Michael gently grasped her shoulders.
“No! You help him, please!” she pleaded hugging Cook even closer.
“Julia, you have to move aside,” Michael tried to pull her away.
She slapped at him, “No. Help him.” Tears gushed from her eyes.
“If you won’t let me near him, you must pull the dart out, Julia.” Michael knelt beside her and gently pulled on her arm.
“Let me go!” she cried, stroking Cook’s face with her hand. She wrenched her arm out of his grasp.
Cook writhed in agony, his eyes rolled back in his head.
“You help him, Michael!” She pounded him in the chest. “Help him!”
“Just grab her and haul her away,” Luke smirked.
Michael glowered at him and returned his attention to Julia and Cook, “That’s not how I work, Luke.”
“Then you’re going to let him die.” Luke sneered.
“Julia! You have to move aside so I can get to him. I can’t help him if you’re in the way.” Michael spoke calmly.
“I can’t, he’s all I got.”
“Then you must remove the dart,” Michael talked sedately trying to soothe Julia. “I can’t help him otherwise.”
“You helped all those others, why won’t you help Cook?” she screamed at him.
“I’m trying to, Julia.”
Cook’s tongue protruded from his mouth. It was swollen to twice its normal size and turned purple. His chest heaved as he fought for breath.
“I can’t reach him with you in the way. You have to pull it out. Now, Julia!” Michael commanded.
Julia squeezed Cook. Her tears bathed his face as she yanked the dart out and threw it at Michael.
Michael jumped, barely missing being struck. He hurried back and knelt beside them. He placed his hands on Cook. A white light pulsed from his hands into Cooks body. Cook became still and his muscles went limp. “Go with God, my friend.” Michael pulled out two silver coins and placed them over the eyes.
“NO!” Julia shrieked, hammering on Michael. “You let him die! You bastard!”
Michael sighed, rose, and walked into the trailer. He stood in the doorway with his shoulders slumped in grief.
Kristy screamed in horror at the deaths. Luke grabbed her, pulling her away from the window and cradled her against his chest. “Shh . . . babe, it’ll be okay.”

***

Chapter Twenty Four

Michael looked out the door. “Kushiel, please bring Julia inside.”
“Very well, my lord,” Kushiel nodded and hurried to Julia’s side.
“Not without Cook,” she sobbed. “I can’t leave him out here.”
Michael stomped back down the steps. His muscles bulged as he lifted Cook into his arms. He carried the body inside and went to the back of the trailer. He placed Cook on the bed and covered him with a sheet.
Julia trailed along behind and glared balefully at him as he turned to leave the room. “I’m so sorry for your loss, Julia,” Michael spoke solemnly as he reached to brush his hand against her face.
She turned away from him. “Get away from me, you monster.” Julia sat on the bed and smoothed the sheet around Cook. “What will I do without you, my love?”
Michael watched her for several minutes before going back to the living room. All eyes turned silently toward him.
Kristy swiped at the tears coming down her cheeks and clutched Luke tighter.
Miguel sat in a corner looking forlorn. He had just gained Cook as a father and now faced another loss.
Kushiel sat on the carpet and wrung his hands. “That dart,” he said to Michael without looking up, “was my arrow. I know not how Ezra got it.”
“You have it now?”
“Pick up with cloth. Soiled with Irrithiril, know not how to clean it.”
“Just don’t touch the stuff.” Michael sat on the floor and draped his arms over his knees.
“So Michael, feeling glorious yet, or do you even care?” Luke sneered.
“Don’t start with me, Luke.”
“Or, you’ll do what? Kill me? Make it five deaths on your hands or is there more? Let’s count them, shall we? First there was that one reporter and his camera man, then there’s the cops, and now Cook. Or is it, eight? Did you kill my three security guards too? Oh, make that nine, can’t forget the good mayor, can we?” Luke spoke derisively.
“They all died because of my failure.” Michael glowered at his hands.
“You’re not perfect, Michael. You’re only human,” Kristy watched him carefully. She had never felt so much fear as she did at that moment.
“No, I’m not, Kristy. Not even close,” he spoke with a menacing undercurrent in his tone. “I’m not only human. I’m a warrior, a cold and vicious murderer. I kill my enemies without pity or regret. You’d best take your heart back and save it for someone worthy of your love.”
The torture in his voice is palpable. “I never meant to hurt you, or Julia, or Miguel. I didn’t mean to hurt any of you.”
“My lord,” Kushiel began and stopped.
“I am not your lord, Kushiel.”
“But, you are, my lord, Michael. You are a prince, a warrior prince.” Kushiel tugged on Michael’s sleeve. “Your people need you battle this fight you must.”
Michael cocked his head and looked at the ugly urchin. “Why?”
“Give up not, must fight, and must win. Kristy soul at stake and you must save her.”
“What do you know, Kushiel? What did Elohim tell you that he did not mention to me?” His eyes narrowed as he regarded Kushiel.
“You must save Kristy.” Kushiel spoke slowly doing his best to make his words come out correctly. “You will die without Kristy. Elohim can not afford your death.”
Luke clapped his hands and hooted. “What a nice soap opera you spin, Kushiel. Michael will die without Kristy. She has to live to save him, therefore he must save her so she doesn’t die, and he will live. Bravo, what romance novel did you get that from?” he chuckled.
Michael pushed Kristy aside and slammed into Luke shoving him against the wall. He held a knife to Luke’s throat. “You leave Kushiel alone,” he growled, “or so help me, Luke, you will be the next to die,” he threatened.
He pressed the tip of the blade against Luke’s skin cutting a thin trail and watched as the blood oozed. “Leave him alone!” Michael warned his eyes burned in anger.
A vein in his forehead throbbed prominently, and his face flushed dark. “Do not cross me.” His voice thundered.
Kushiel clapped his hands to his face. “Once again you champion me, my lord.” With a flourish, he bowed low. “My prince, you are.”
“No need for idolatry, stand up straight, my friend.” Michael looked kindly at the imp.
Michael stretched and squared his shoulders. “We must prepare. We have a long night ahead of us. The horses are being herded and they herald the Wyverns, Dragons, and other beasts of this soulless night.”
“I don’t want to,” Kristy whispered. “I don’t want to fight.” She snuggled back under Luke’s arms and wrapped them around her.
Miguel looked at her. His brown eyes were as large as saucers. “Me too, I am scared.”
“And Julia can’t be expected to, not when she just lost Cook.” Kristy remained cocooned in Luke’s arms.
“I can’t, won’t make any of you join this fight. Luke, you have to keep these four safe.” Michael glared at him.
“What?” Luke looked innocently at him. “Did I steal your girl?”
“Luke,” Michael warned.
“I fight with you,” Kushiel balled his hands into fists.
“Its okay, Kushiel, Luke is just trying to make me angry.”
“I fight with you out there too,” he pointed to the door.
“First we need to purify your arrow, Kushiel.” Michael reached into his pocket and pulled out a silver chain. “I need a ceramic bowl.” He used his knife to scrape a little of the silver from the chain.
Kushiel hurried into the kitchen and brought back a plain white bowl. “Will this do?”
“It’ll be fine, thank you.” Michael scooped the slivers into the bowl. “Kushiel, please drop your arrow into the bowl without touching the tip.”
“Yes, my lord.” Kushiel carefully held the wrapped arrow over the bowl and let it drop inside.
“Put the cloth in.”
Kushiel nodded and did as he was told.
Michael placed his hands over the items, covering the top of the bowl completely. Minutes passed before tendrils of smoke appeared between his fingers. He lifted his hands and watched as the melted silver formed a ring around the diminutive arrow.
The arrow burned black, then changed to red as it heated up, and finally white as the process completed. Michael hesitated and then reached into the bowl and plucked the arrow out.
He held it in his hand and poked the tip with his finger. When nothing happened, he sighed and handed the object to Kushiel. “It’s clean. Please do not lose it again. We will need it.”
“Understand, I,” Kushiel bowed his head. “Keep it safe.”
“You mentioned horses, hounds, blackbirds, Wyverns, Dragons. We’ve seen the blackbirds, locusts, vampires, or Pey as you called them, and the Wyverns.” Miguel asked. “Just what can we expect?”
“Demons, goblins, gargoyles, asterians, Cerberus, Geryon and more,” Luke answered as he snuggled Kristy closer to his body.
Michael remained stoically quiet as he stayed vigilant, listening intently to not just the conversation in the room, but for sounds of approaching doom. He heard Julia’s sobs and wished he could give her solace in her time of loss.
The hoof beats remained constant as did the howling of the hounds. The whispers grew in volume so he knew some creatures were climbing out of the pit nearby.
Miguel turned on the television set. The headline read “Deaths in Sundown continues.” A video of the attack was looped as the anchors speculated on the deaths of their colleagues and about the man in the camera frame.
Michael’s voice rang out tortured and raw, “Please don’t send any more people here until this is over.”
“I don’t know about you, Anne,” the male anchor spoke smoothly, “but that guy looks like someone out of a Ten Commandments movie set.”
“The police will want to talk with him, Richard.” She shuffled some papers and looked at the camera. “If anyone in our viewing audience recognizes the man in the video, please call us at . . .”
Michael reached over and turned the set off. “I don’t need that garbage right now.” He ran a hand through his hair.
Miguel looked at him. “You do kind of look like someone out of the Ten Commandments. The tunic, the belt, the sandals, the headband, and that thing on your arm make you look like a movie character.”
“That thing on my arm is a gauntlet.” Michael said wearily. He went into the kitchen. “We need to eat to keep our strength up for the coming battle.”
He piled plates high with an assortment of food and brought it back into the living room. “Eat.” He plucked a piece of bread and chewed it thoughtfully.
“How can you eat with all that gore on you?” Kristy spat. “It’s disgusting.”
“I’m a warrior,” he shrugged and continued to chew. He felt human compassion sliding away as the warrior in him emerged full strength. “Food means energy to fight.”
Kristy frowned and stared at him, loathing crossed her face. “Yuck, that’s nasty. I don’t care for what you did.”
Michael appraised her freely and shrugged again. “I am a warrior, get used to it.” He picked a slice of cheese and put it into his mouth.
“How can you live like that?” Hate filled her voice. “What kind of monster are you?”
“Monster,” he laughed, “you call me a monster.” His laugh held no merriment; it sounded cold. “You want to know what I am.”
“I do.”
“I am everything you fear. I am the shadow in the alley. I am the protector of people. I am the killer of demons, and hounds, wyverns, dragons, and creatures you only see in fantasy and horror stories. I am the warrior and my word is law.”
He tossed a couple of grapes into his mouth. “Before this night is over you will see what I am. You will see the horror, the abomination that is me.”
Kushiel looked at Michael and hesitated as he reached for a banana. “You are hero warrior.”
“You will fear, hate, and curse me. But, I will save you.” Michael brushed his hands on his tunic. “I must go now.”
He rose, walked into the kitchen, and dipped a cloth into the bowl of silver. Carrying the cloth, he walked out of the room to the back. He stood in the doorway watching Julia. She wept inconsolably; her tears broke what remained of his heart. He knelt beside her.
“Here, wipe Cook’s injury and wipe your hands and everywhere that came in contact with his injury.” Michael handed her the cloth. “It’s soaked in fire treated silver and keeps you from getting sick.”
“I’d rather die with him.” She crumpled the fabric into a ball.
Michael stood silently watching her cry. “Julia, do you want me to bring Cook back?”
“Ca . . . can you do that?” she peered at him through blurry eyes.
“I can try.” He scrutinized her. “But he will not be Cook, not entirely.”
“What do you mean?” Hiccups broke her words apart.
“To bring him back because it was not his time, I must instill part of me in him. He will be changed a bit.”
“You can do this?” she looked at him with wonder and doubt.
“Yes, sometimes,” he nodded. “In Cook’s case I will have to sacrifice myself to do it. If I succeed, Cook will live and I will take his place in death.” Michael stared at her, his gaze softened. “It is a worthwhile trade, I believe. The life of a good man for the life of a warrior murderer is a good exchange,” he whispered.
“But he will be different?”
“Yes, part of me will live in him so that he can be alive. He will have part of my soul, my memories, and my feelings. He will be part warrior, Julia. Do you want that?” Michael clasped her hands and gazed steadily into her eyes.
“If you die, who will protect them?” she nodded toward the door.
“I suppose Cook will. Don’t worry about them. They are not the concern right this minute, you are. You need to be strong for Miguel. Miguel has lost so much; he can’t lose his Mom again. He needs you, Julia. He needs his Mom.”
“If Cook is part warrior, then he could die again.”
“That is a possibility,” he nodded. Even warriors die, someday.” Michael patted her back. “I never wanted Cook to die. I could have saved him but I didn’t. I didn’t want to harm you by forcing you to move. I am so sorry.”
Julia sat quietly for several minutes. “I don’t think Cook would like that. I think he would want me to find some way to go on.”
“Yes.”
“Thank you, Michael. My answer is no, do not bring Cook back.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure,” she sighed. “Thank you for asking. You are not a monster.”
Michael stood and looked down at her, “Yes, I am.” He left the room and rejoined the others.

***

Chapter Twenty Five

“I need to make a safer place for everyone.” Michael exited the trailer without another word.
Miguel quietly went to the window and looked out. He watched Michael stand on the steps. He looked back at Kristy, “I’m going to check on my Mom.” He headed down the hall.
Michael stood outside the trailer and tipped his head back. He let out a loud bellow of rage and pain. “Apollyon, I am coming for you!”
He cast his hands into the air. Blue and white sparks flew from his fingers, cutting through the ebonized night leaving the surrounding area a fraction brighter.
He removed his knife from his pocket and stroked it, watching as it elongated into a sword. “Old friend, you have done me well.” He stroked the blade, “ready for more action?” He secured the scabbard along his waist and walked toward the main tent.
“And behold, he saw a pale horse. Upon the horse sat Conquest.” Michael swung around at the sound of hooves drumming on the hard packed ground. “And the beast shall ascend upon us from the bottomless pit.”
“They are near,” Kushiel rushed to Michael’s side. He held his arrow in his fist ready to throw. “You are warrior now. Will you turn back and compassion gets again?”
“I don’t know. Sometimes I think it is better not to care. You don’t get hurt and you don’t hurt anyone that way.”
“Harsh way, it is.” Kushiel nodded solemnly. “Better to make friends, love, and be loved.”
“You talk as though you want that.”
“I do, Michael, my lord, I do. Even an imp like me would like that,” he replied forlornly.
“You are valued, my friend.” Michael squeezed his shoulder and patted his back. “More than you know. I first thought you were sent by Apollyon. I know now Elohim sent you. You are to look after me.”
“Yes, Kushiel after Michael look.” He beamed eagerly like a puppy.
“Thank you, my friend. Together, we will overcome this bit of nastiness. By my sword I will avenge those who have perished here.”
“By my arrow send them we will back to the cesspit whence they came,” Kushiel crowed with pride. He stuck his chest out at Michael’s words of kindness. “My honor it is to serve at your side, my lord, Michael.”
“Let’s go kick some butt shall we?”
“Get Luke’s butt first!” Kushiel danced a jig.
“No, no!” Michael burst out laughing. “Luke is with us for now. We’ll kick Apollyon’s beasts first. And save Luke for last. First, we have to find a safer place to keep the others.”
“The outhouses,” Kushiel chirped, “stinky place . . . no wait, demons love stink. Sorry.” He looked crest fallen at Michael.
Michael laughed, “That’s okay. I don’t think our buddies in the trailer would like sitting in an outhouse.”
“Why must move?”
“I’m concerned the trailer is weak.”
“Make strong wards. Put inside and out.”
Michael tapped his finger on his nose as he pondered the suggestion. “It might just work. First we need to gather some Salvia dorrii.”
“What is Salvia door . . . dor?”
“What is Salvia dorrii? It is desert sage, better known as purple sage. We also need Basil. I think there’s some in the kitchen.”
“What else?”
“Frankincense.”
“Frankincense, I have.” Kushiel patted his pockets and pulled out a plastic baggie.
“Okay, now we need dragon’s blood. I think we have plenty of that all over me, don’t you?”
Kushiel leaned forward and sniffed. “You have nasty odor of it.”
“Okay, sorry I stink. We need cinnamon. That’s also in the kitchen. Hmm . . . smudge sticks. I have herbs so we can make some. Do you have any black Onyx?” Michael asked.
“I do! My crystals Elohim give me. Do we need it all?”
“No, just a piece will do. An equal number of black and white candles are the last items on the list. I know the main tent has white candles, but where do we get black candles?”
Kushiel’s eyes lit up with fervor, “I know black candles are where. They are in Luke’s room at the trailer.” Kushiel ran to the trailer.
“Please bring the salt, too.” Michael rushed to the main tent and collected the white candles. He placed them around the mobile home.
When Kushiel returned with the rest of the items, Michael instructed him to put the black candles between the white ones, keeping the lines as straight as possible. Michael followed Kushiel and poured a circle of salt around the building. They spent the next hour preparing the Frankincense, basil, cinnamon, and purple sage for use.
Michael fashioned smudging sticks from the herbs he had. He chipped off a few pieces of black Onyx. When everything was ready he invoked a protection ward. He climbed onto the roof and made sure it was also covered by the spell.
They went inside and repeated the process. Michael added pieces of a medallion and created his own protection spell which he joined with the other inside the trailer.
“Now, you should be safe as long as you do not leave this trailer.”
“Hocus Pocus,” Luke scoffed.
“Don’t start with me,” Michael threatened. “Kushiel, come with me. We have many beasts to slay before this day is over.”
“With honor, Kushiel fight by your side.” He pulled his arrow out and flipped it in his hand. “Arrow and I are ready.”

Together they headed back out into the night, a mighty warrior, and his sidekick imp. Michael stopped and whirled around searching for the phantom sound he kept hearing. “Kushiel, what do you smell?”
Kushiel lifted his nose high and inhaled deeply. “Sulfur, my Lord.”
“Is there anything under the sulfur?”
“I smell the excrement of,” he shook his head and closed his eyes. He took another deep breath, “gargoyles!” His hands flew to his lips. His eyes widened in fear.
“I thought so. There are at least three tracking us right now.” Michael drew his sword. “Keep your back to me at all times. We must protect each other.”
“I try will. You are bigger much than me.”
“You want me to put you into a sling behind me?”
“No, no, stay back to you wills me.”
They took their defensive positions and moved slowly through the murky gloom of the never-ending darkness. Never had Michael wished for the rosiness of a late afternoon as he did now.
They felt before they saw the leathery wings overhead. The massive downward swish blew dust into the air and sent tumbleweeds rolling pell-mell in front of them. Claws barely missed them raking the air above.
Their voices rang out in a grating disharmonic song. The ground shook as the first gargoyle thumped to the ground. It had an eagle’s head with a red beak and baleful yellow eyes.
The second gargoyle landed behind them. It had a lion’s head and oyster shell colored scales. The third one landed between them and the trailer. It had three serpentine heads with fangs.
“So that’s how you want to play it. Eh?” Michael crouched low to the ground like a wrestler.
He held his sword loosely in one hand, the other hand held a knife with a six inch blade. “Come and get me, big boy,” he beckoned. “Come to poppa.” He circled around the gargoyle, feinting to his left and then to his right.
The first beast slashed out with talons and beak. Michael swung the sword, connecting with a wing. “War!” he screamed. He flipped the knife into an eye socket and severed the eye.
The beast rolled on the ground. Michael danced around the beast’s body and pulled his knife out of the socket. He jabbed the throat with his sword, the blood gushed out and covered him in the carnage.
Kushiel punched his arrow into the creature’s leg, eliciting a howl of pain. He plucked his arrow out and plunged it into the gargoyle’s wing tip. “Die, monster, die!” he screeched. Sweat poured down his brow as he hopped and struck over and over.
The second gargoyle lunged forward at Kushiel. Michael jumped between them. He threw his head back and bellowed, “Attack!” Sparks flew from his fingers, arcing high and dropping back to strike the beast in the head.
“Kushiel, put the coins in the eyes,” he hollered as he spun around to the first gargoyle vanquishing his sword.
The silver gleamed in the darkness casting an unearthly glow as the blade flew through the air and cleaved the monster’s head from its neck. Blood spurted everywhere.
“Another one over here,” Michael called, leaving the twitching body to face the third gargoyle.
The last gargoyle had remained stationary, only its serpentine heads twisted, and turned, and dipped as it tracked their movements. Its mouth unhinged and a giant row of fangs shot forward, “Combat!” Michael threw his knife and dismembered one of the heads.
Kushiel finished with the coins and raced to join Michael in battle. Together, they attacked the beast, hacking, and plunging, and swinging until the remaining two heads were severed and the gargoyle lay dead. Kushiel busied himself with the placement of coins.
Michael wiped his blade clean of gore. His head snapped up at the neighing of a horse. “And the rider of the pale horse is Conquest,” he mumbled. “The white horse is here, Kushiel.”
“What do we do?”
“Pull your medallion out of your shirt and use your cross and arrow.”
“I don’t have a cross,” Kushiel frowned.
Michael quickly pulled his crucifix out and shaved two thin strips. He fashioned them into a cross and sliced a piece of his tunic to bind the pieces together.
“Here, take this. Keep it in your hand. When you throw your arrow, hold the cross up and say, ‘Evil be gone. You have no power here. I cast you back from whence you came.’ Remember those words, Kushiel. Say them exactly as I said them.” Michael kissed the cross and placed it in Kushiel’s hand.
“I will try,” Kushiel responded as he chanted the phrases to himself.
“You must do it.” Michael crouched once again taking a wrestler’s stance. He circled the horse and rider, keeping a wary eye on them as they turned with him. The rider reached over his shoulder and pulled out the crossbow. “Hit him now, Kushiel!”
Kushiel obediently raised his cross and chanted, “Evil be gone. You have no power here. I cast you back from whence you came.” As he hollered, he threw his arrow into the rider’s chest.
The white horse reared on its hind legs. Its eyes glowed red and rolled upward as it pawed the air. Michael leaped into the air and kick boxed the rider sending it flying off the horse.
“Kill the horse, Kushiel! I’ll get the rider!” He pounced onto the rider.
The being shook him off with a mighty heave. Michael tenaciously fought on using his sword as a club. He stabbed the creature with his knife. The white rider clawed at him as they rolled on the ground.
A black boot hit Michael in the stomach and followed up with a heel to the groin. Michael muffled his scream as best he could. He swung the sword with his left hand while keeping his private area covered with his right. The sword came down unerringly and sliced the rider in half. The body crumpled to the ground and exploded in a hail of dust and ashes.
Kushiel energetically stabbed the horse in the neck, the stomach, the hind quarters, the eyes, and finally the heart before the creature tumbled to the ground. He scrambled away just in time to keep from being crushed by the beast. Victoriously, he placed two coins in the eyes.
“Michael, coins you need?” he rubbed the sweat from his face with the back of his hand.
“No, he blew away in the dust.” Michael’s voice came out two octaves higher than normal and he walked doubled over. “Help me to the trailer. We have a little time before the next onslaught.”
Kushiel hurried to his side and guided him up the steps and inside.

Michael staggered into the room and collapsed. He curled his body into a fetal position.
“Ice, he needs,” Kushiel announced, “for his sex parts. Hurry must before gets here another. Please Kristy, help Michael needs.”
“Why should I care?” she asked and hid her face in Luke’s arms.
“Kristy, you be cold to man who risked much for you. You no get ice, I do it then.” Kushiel ran into the kitchen and pulled out two ice trays.
He dumped the ice into a kitchen towel and folded it over. “Learn coldness from Luke, Kristy. Luke gets you killed. Michael more lives saved then took. Michael saved Kushiel even. You me saw and thought ugly bad man. Michael thought me bad too but his mind changed. He forgives Kushiel for badness past. You forgive Michael, he time still has.”
Kushiel knelt beside Michael and whispered in his ear. Michael uncurled and took the towel wrapped ice. He held it to his groin and groaned. “I never knew it could hurt so badly there,” he rasped. “I never got hit there before.”
“Looks like there are a lot of things you never experienced before,” Kristy said staring at him.
“Amongst them, love,” he whispered.

***

Chapter Twenty Six

“I’m sorry I came here,” Michael rose shakily. “I wish I could just leave, but I can’t.” He hobbled to the door.
“Kushiel, it is time for the next round. I do not want to further endanger you. You may stay here with them. I give you free will.”
“No my lord, Kushiel with you stays and fights.” He clutched his arrow. “I be honored to by your side fight and die.”
Kushiel looked at Michael with dismay. Michael looked the very essence of defeat. He stood bent over with one hand covering his groin, his other hand on his sword. His shoulders were slumped and the light in his eyes was gone, replaced by a hard green coldness.
“Get out Michael,” Kristy hissed as she struggled to hold back tears. “Just leave.”
“Kristy, stop!” Kushiel cried. “No more hurt Michael. You want him dead?”
Miguel came back into the room. “Mom is finally sleeping.” He looked at the silent group. “What’d I miss? Everyone looks terrible.”
Kushiel opened the door and watched as Michael left the trailer. “Miguel, you help Michael?”
“I need to take care of Mom,” he hesitated glancing from person to person.
Luke sat with his arm draped around Kristy. A look of triumph was on his face as he kissed her cheek. Kristy stared at the door.
“And who care of take Michael? Me, Kushiel care for Michael. You all are shameful.”
“Kushiel?” Michael called, “what do you smell?”
“Coming, my prince,” Kushiel scampered out the door. He sniffed the air and wrinkled his nose. “Horseman I smell.”
“It’s time for battle,” Michael said softly. He dropped the towel, stood straight, “I loved you Kristy.” He walked gingerly down the steps.

The red roan stood under a lamp and pawed the ground with nostrils flared. A rider wearing a red hood sat astride the beast. A gold and silver katana hung by its side. The weak lamplight shed a ghostly white face.
Michael focused all his attention on the creature. “I bring my sword against you with vengeance. War!”
Michael jumped from the step and flew onto the back of the creature. He wrapped his legs around the rider and plunged his knife deep into its back. “Vengeance is mine!” He shouted as he jerked the knife out and sunk it into its side.
Kushiel rushed to the horse and stuck it with his arrow. He skipped around sticking and yanking. A rivulet of blood streamed from the horse. Kushiel continued stabbing the horse, making it bleed from every orifice. It rose on its hind legs and pawed at the imp. The lips drew back to reveal pointy yellow teeth as it nipped and snapped at its attacker.
The temperature surrounding them rose. A fiery streak shot from the rider like a bullwhip. “Exterminate!”
The gauntlet on Michael’s arm quickly changed into a shield. He wielded the shield in front of himself. The flames bounced off the armor and flew back toward the rider. Sparks whizzed past the fiend and landed on the tent, catching it on fire.
Blue flares dashed from Michael’s fingers into the tent, extinguishing the fire rapidly. For every stream of fire sent by the rider there was an equal ribbon of blue from Michael resulting in a bizarre dance of red and blue lights.
The red rider howled in frustration and swung his katana with reckless abandon. For every swing, Michael countered with one of his own.
“Obliterate!” Blade to blade they battled. The clang of metal could be heard echoing down the alleys of tents and across the grounds as they fought on.
The horse screeched as it toppled onto its side. Kushiel echoed its scream as he slammed his arrow into the beast’s neck and opened an artery. Steaming blood flowed like a river. Quickly he poked coins into the eyes.
Michael flung his knife into the rider’s face. He followed up with a mighty thrust of the sword into the fiend’s belly. The dead creature exploded into ashes. He yanked his knife and sword free and wiped the blood from the blades across his tunic and leggings.
He stood looking at the ground, his chest heaved from the exertion. Sweat poured down his face and body and dripped onto the ground. He shook his head. “Come. We need to replenish our energy.”

He stalked back to the trailer and held the door open, waiting patiently for Kushiel to catch up. Inside, he noticed Julia was sitting on the couch with Miguel by her side. Kristy still sat ensconced in Luke’s arms. “Two horses down,” he said tersely.
“Must eat.” His gaze traveled from Kristy back to Julia. “Julia, will you prepare food, if you are up to it?”
She rose silently and entered the kitchen, “Gladly, Michael.” She pulled items from the refrigerator. “Miguel, can you help me?”
“Yes, Mom.”
Michael remained stationary. He glowered at Kristy and Luke. His sea-green eyes almost looked gray with bleakness. “I am weary.” He abruptly sat on the floor with his back to the wall.
Kushiel plopped down beside him. “I am weary too,” he mimicked. He lifted his arm to his nose and sniffed. “Stink, I am. Need bath.”
“If it will make you feel better go, and have a bath. There is a little time.” Michael rested his head against the wall.
Every bone in his body suffered from the battles but his heart hurt the worst. Every time he saw Kristy with Luke’s arms around her, his heart constricted painfully. He resolved to shove his feelings deep inside and never let them out again. A warrior had no need of emotion. A warrior only needed strength, valor, and courage.
Miguel brought two plates to them. Kushiel’s plate was piled with cold cuts and bread while Michael’s had fruit, cheese and bread. A bottle of water was handed to both of them.
“Thank you,” Michael mumbled and dug in, forsaking a prayer of thanksgiving. Where he used to savor his food, he now ate for energy to carry on with his mission.
“Michael,” Kristy began.
“I don’t want to hear it,” he cut her off.
“But, I . . .” Kristy removed Luke’s arm and scooted forward.
“Talk to Luke, not me,” he snapped. “I have more important things to think about than your accusations and hate.” His voice was frosty. “I have to protect and save you. I will, but there will be nothing more than that, Kristy. Nothing. I am through.”
“Michael, I just . . .” She crawled across the floor and sat next to him.
“Enough, Kristy, I don’t want to talk to you.” He closed his eyes in weariness. “I am tired.”
“Me too,” Kushiel piped in chewing his slices of meat.
“But Michael,” Kristy protested.
“What do you want?” He hissed, “You want this?” He grabbed a fistful of hair and yanked her across his chest.
His mouth savagely possessed hers, his teeth bit into her lips. Abruptly he let go and shoved her from him. “You brought this upon yourself. Now, shut up and leave me alone. I have nothing left to give.” He glared at her.

Luke had remained silent through the exchange. A bemused smile quirked his lips as he watched the interplay of words. “Boy, Michael, you sure know how to treat a lady.”
“She’s no lady,” Michael spat. “And you Luke are only alive through my good grace. Watch your back because I am coming for you when you least expect it.”
“Like you can kill me,” he laughed.
“I can and I will.” The bleakness in his eyes was soul rendering.
“Then why didn’t you kill me when you cast me out?” Luke smirked. Glee danced in his blue eyes.
“I chose not to.” Michael glared balefully at him.
Everyone except Michael jumped when thunder clapped overhead. The sound was excruciatingly loud and rattled the tables and chairs. The ground felt like it was heaving upward as from an earthquake. Kristy screamed in terror.
The lights in the trailer flickered and went out. Michael scrambled to his feet. A ball of green light appeared in the palm of his hands. He used the glow to locate a candle and started a flame. He then got a candle for each person. The rumbling suddenly ceased and the air was pungent with the arid scent of scorched earth.
Rain came down in torrents. They looked up at the ceiling as drops pounded the trailer sounding like rapid gun fire. Michael glanced down at his hands and saw his fists clenched. They pulsed with a red glow. He felt his anger and despair guiding the storm and abruptly unfurled his fingers to dissipate the negative energy.
“Sit tight. The next round has started.” Michael stated. He sliced a leather strip off his belt and wrapped the end around one of his remaining crystals to create a whip.
“So soon?” Kushiel whined. “Me tired.”
“I know Kushiel, that’s why I am going to leave you here to watch over the others.”
He studied each person, sizing them up. Miguel was inexperienced, and Julia was grieving. However, she might want to seek revenge and would fight hard. Luke could not be trusted.
“I go alone this time.”
“Michael, no!” Julia cried. “You are not going to fight those monsters alone. I will join you.”
“I can’t ask you to do that, Julia,” Michael examined his knife before securing it with his belt.
“You aren’t asking, me. I’m telling you,” she crossed her arms.
“I can’t let you, Julia. You have Miguel to look after.” He rubbed his gauntlet. It writhed and lengthened until a shield took shape.
Kristy, Julia, and Miguel gaped at the equipment. “How did you do that?” Miguel squeaked.
“Magic,” Luke snorted. “Didn’t he tell you? He’s preternatural?” Luke waved his hands. “Smoke and mirrors, hocus pocus and all that magic junk.”
All eyes swung in Luke’s direction. Michael kept a close eye on Luke’s reaction. Luke shrugged, “What? Never heard of magic?” Luke smirked and stretched.
He dropped his arms back around Kristy and pulled her closer into his embrace. He looked at Michael and nuzzled Kristy’s neck. He planted kisses along her jaw and pulled back in surprise when she pushed him away.
“Well, I guess he’ll have quite a story to tell if he survives.” Luke arched an eyebrow at Michael. “You really should have told them about yourself, bro.”
“Shut up, Luke.” Michael lifted his sword and ran his thumb over the serrated edge. It was still sharp. He slipped the sword behind his back and under his strap. He fiddled with his belt, tightening it around his waist. “You don’t know a thing.”
“My, my, I think you are beginning to like those words.” Luke smiled and winked at him.
Michael rolled his eyes and headed for the door. “You better hope I survive or you’ll be stuck here with Apollyon on your back.”

***

Chapter Twenty Seven

Michael stood on the steps alone with his thoughts, anger, and hurt. Elohim thought by having him entangled with Kristy that he would be more compassionate and less warrior. Instead, his experience had the opposite effect.
He no longer cared what became of the people. His only goal was to complete the mission. His warrior-self had come back more pronounced than ever before, and his heart was rapidly hardening against emotion.
Michael hopped from the steps to the ground and strode purposefully into the midway. He withdrew his sword with one hand and raised it high overhead. “With this sword I command thee appear onto me!” Michael roared. He hurled the sword into the ground before him. “I challenge thee to death!”
The hammering of hooves rang throughout the grounds. A giant black horse with a masked rider appeared. Beside it came a pale horse with a skeletal rider. The horses snorted and reared while the riders leaned forward peering at the lone man standing in front of them.
“Who dares to challenge us?” Black skeleton queried.
“It is I, Michael, of God, of Elohim!” His voice rang out loudly and echoed throughout the grounds.

Julia and Miguel peeked through the windows and watched the exchange. “What did he say?” Julia asked.
“He says he’s Michael of God.” Miguel answered in shock. He pulled the Bible out of his shirt and quickly thumbed through it. “May God protect us,” he whispered.
“Protect us from what?” Kristy moved to stand beside them and look out the window. “What are those?” she gasped.
“They are the remaining two horsemen of the apocalypse.” Miguel continued to skim through the Bible.
“Plague and Death,” Julia frowned. “Can this really be happening?”
“Hogwash, you guys are so gullible. I tell you its all smoke and mirrors.” Luke shook his head and lightly ran his hand over his chest as he felt the medallion.
“Do something, Luke.” Kristy’s lip trembled. “You’re his brother. You should be out there helping him.”
“Do I detect another change of heart, Kristy? I’m wounded that you should cast me aside so easily.”
“I was never yours to begin with.”
“Do you really think Michael will take you back after all you’ve said and done? He’d cast you aside like me.”
Kushiel rushed up to Luke and pushed his face into him. “You leave Michael alone or Kushiel put in you arrow with Irrithiril.” His dark face turned dark red. “Be nice you devil.”
Kristy grabbed Kushiel before he could kick Luke and hauled him back to the window. “It’ll be okay, Kushiel. Luke is probably right. Michael will never want me back.”
Julia wrapped her arms around Kristy. “Honey, don’t be like that. You can’t say that for certain. That boy is crazy in love with you. Love doesn’t go away that fast, not if it is true.”
“I hope you’re right, Julia.”

Michael felt a thrumming deep inside his core. His strength was gathering rapidly. He could sense the blue and green energies surging within him as he prepared for battle. “You want them; you must go through me first!” Sparks of red power created a wave of fury and sent it swelling within him.
“Challenge!” His voice rocked the ground and sent debris flying from their precarious perches.
Asterians plodded slowly down the midway and joined with the horses. They resembled great pack beasts with dinosaur heads and scales. These beasts were followed Geryon a giant with three faces, six hands, six feet, and wings. Joining them were numerous demons and goblins.
“Amassing your army, are you? They are no match for me!” Michael flicked his knife at a demon. Upon impact the hideous creature burst into flame. He launched himself into a whirl of hands, feet, knife, whip, and sword. Demons and goblins exploded right and left until only the horses, the riders, the Asterians and Geryon were left. “Engage!”
The grounds were soaked in blood, entrails, bone, and dust. Michael ran full tilt and leaped onto the back of an Asterian. He jammed his knife through the eye into the brain and twisted the blade upward and pierced the brain. The beast shuddered and toppled to the ground. The other Asterian lumbered toward him and raised its foot. Before the massive limb could crush him, he jumped and grabbed the arm of a lamp pole and swung over the creature.
“Strike!”
He pulled his sword free as he flew through the air and sent the edge slicing through the head of the black horse. The rider jumped and flung Irrithiril tipped spikes at Michael. Michael blocked the blow with his shield sending gold flares into the sky. He plunged his knife into the rider’s chest repeatedly until the creature erupted in a shower of sand. Before he could turn the remaining horse clipped his shoulder with its hooves sending him careening into the trailer.

The resounding crash reverberated throughout the building. Julia gasped, “He needs help! Luke, you have to help him! Kristy, stay here.”
Luke stared up at her. “No I don’t. He made this battle, let him finish it.”
“You are a piece of work, you slime.” She shoved the door open.
Kushiel launched himself at Julia, tackling her behind the knees but not bringing her down. He wrapped his arms and legs around her like an octopus. “Here you must stay!”
She dragged him outside with her. “Let go of me, Kushiel!” She bent down and yanked his arms free. “I must help Michael.”
Julia grabbed a broken pole and gripped it with both hands. She swung it at the remaining Asterian and connected with its neck. The great beast squealed and lowered its horns. It charged her, but its slowness made it easy for her to sidestep it and smack its side.
Michael scrambled to his feet and swung his claymore at the skeletal rider, lopping off its legs and sending his blade into the side of the horse. The sword sank to the hilt before he jerked it out. Yelling like a madman he severed the horse’s head and followed through with a mighty swing at the rider. Both died instantly in a cloud of sand. Michael held his sword down, breathing heavily; he gingerly felt his side where he hit the trailer.
Kushiel darted forward and slammed his arrow into the Geryon’s leg. Snakes whipped around the beast’s head, striking and withdrawing as Kushiel repeatedly stung it with his arrow. During one of his blows he struck a main artery and blood came gushing out, drenching him in the viscous fluid. Minutes later the fiend lay dying on the ground.
Kushiel slapped two coins on its eyes as it heaved one last gigantic breath. It was only then that he noticed blood continued to pour down his body. He frantically searched for the injury. Blood seeped through his shirt. He ripped his shirt off and stared in horror at the white light shining through. “Michael!” he cried and sank to his knees.
Michael ran to his side and gathered him in his arms. Seeing the white light, he clutched Kushiel closer and howled. It was like a knife had pierced his heart the pain was so terrible. “Elohim!” he bellowed, “Kushiel is now my son!”
He let his tears flow freely. “Take him home and let him know peace!” He looked down at the ugly little imp. “Kushiel, you are now my son. Elohim will take you into the sky and there you will dwell.” Michael gently placed his lips on Kushiel’s forehead. “You will hurt no more.” He kissed the pain away.
“Honor me; you call me your son. Your son, honor you.” Kushiel’s voice grew weak and soon he stopped breathing. His arrow dropped from his hand into Michael’s.
The white light continued to spread through his body until it encompassed him completely. The radiant glow dimmed and Michael was left empty handed. Michael tipped his head back and roared his sorrow at the bleakness covering them.
Julia placed her hand on his shoulder. “Come inside, Michael. You have won this battle.”
“But at what cost, Julia? So many dead, an entire town, Jared, Cook, and now Kushiel are all gone.”
“It’s over, come inside.”
“I will lift my voice in song to Kushiel and Cook.” Michael raised his arms to form a cross and sang, “Heaven’s Now My Home.” He sang with a haunting lilt that brought sorrow into the open.
“That was beautiful. Thank you,” Julia wiped her tears from her eyes. “Come now, it’s over. This nastiness is over.”
“It isn’t over yet. The sky is still black. More killing will happen before this day is done.” He followed her into the trailer.
Kristy rushed to his side but he pushed her away. “Leave me alone. Have some decency. I just lost Kushiel.”
“But, wasn’t he evil at one time?”
“He was never truly evil. He changed his ways. I accepted him and now he’s gone.”
“Michael, you need a bath.” Kristy wrinkled her nose.
“Is that all you care about, how clean I am? I just fought several battles, Kristy. I am going to be dirty, covered in gore and blood.”
“I did all that to keep you safe! I no longer know why that was so important. I just blindly followed directions and look where it got me? Bloodied, the death of people on my hands, and my heart ripped out. I am so stupid.” Michael shoved past her and entered the kitchen. He yanked the refrigerator door open and took out a bottle of water.
“Michael, I am so sorry for how I acted.” She felt her heart drop as feelings of loss set in.
Michael drained the bottle in seconds and got out another. “All I ever did was care about you, love you, Kristy. And for what, to have my heart thrown at me as you cuddled with Luke? Someday you will learn love is more than a physical union between two people. You need to learn what love is, Kristy. You need to grow up and quit being so centered on yourself. Only then will you find happiness.”
“Michael, I do know what love is. I care about you. I love you.”
“Do you really, Kristy?” He stared hard at her. The sorrow and tangible hurt enveloped him like a cloak. “If you did, you would not have gone into Luke’s arms.”
She hung her head, “I don’t know why I did that. You were so angry and violent out there, it scared me.”
“Why did it scare you, Kristy? Have I ever hit you? Did I ever cut you with my knife or ram my sword through you? No, I did not. I never even raised my hand to you. The closest I came was with one kiss in anger and hurt.” Michael’s voice dropped low.
“I would never harm you. I would have given you the world. I would have died for you; I might still.” Michael reached out a finger and traced her face, cupping her hand.
“You might be my death.” Michael looked for long minutes into her eyes. “And as for Luke, he’s always alluding to what I am. Perchance you should ask what he is.”
No one spoke a word, not a noise could be heard in the trailer except for the howling of the hounds outside.
“And as for me, I got the reporters killed, I got those two cops killed, Jared is dead because of me.” Michael continued, talking softly.
“Sundown is dead because of me. Cook and Kushiel died because of me. All this happened because I didn’t succeed in killing Apollyon back in Fairmont.”
Michael paced the floor, “Hell, I don’t even know if Apollyon can be killed. Luke says I’m preternatural. If I am, so is he.” He paused and took another swig of water.
“And every one of you has seen the things that went on here. How can you explain the Wyvern, the dragons, the blackbirds, locusts, the horses, and their riders, the Asterians, and Geryon? You’ve seen me change; you saw my balls of light. So, yeah, I have magic and I’m a monster.”
He ran his hand over the stubble on his face, leaving a bloody trail through the whiskers. “And we aren’t done yet. The hounds are still out there and so is Apollyon.”
Michael turned and scowled at Julia. “Julia, I told everyone to stay inside and you disobeyed me. Do that again and I can’t guarantee I can keep you safe. You must think of Miguel.”
“I’m sorry. I just felt someone should take up for you.” She looked chagrined. Tears welled up in her eyes. “After I called you names you still offered to bring Cook back. I don’t know what you are, but I do know this, you are not the monster you think you are.”
“Bravo, Julia, such a nice turn around.” Luke clapped his hands. “Forgive me, Michael, I was wrong. You offered to let Cook live. Hurray.”
“You forget one thing, Luke.” Michael snarled and raised his finger. “You wear my medallion. You are mine and I can take it from you at will. Where would that leave you, huh? Without protection from Apollyon who wants you dead for some reason? I would be careful of angering me any further, bro.”
Luke felt the medallion rising off his chest and clutched it. He pressed his hand down and held the medallion against his body. “You wouldn’t dare. We have a truce, you and I.”
Michael squinted at him and crooked his finger in a come here motion. Abruptly the medallion disappeared from Luke’s grasp and appeared in Michael’s hand.
“Want it back, Luke?” Michael’s face broke into a wicked grin as he dangled the medallion in front of him. “Just say the words, and you can have it back for now.”
“Michael, we have a truce.” Luke reached for the medallion only to have Michael whisk it away.
“What’s the word, Luke?”
“I will do your bidding for now.” Luke muttered.
“Very good, you had better keep your promise.” Michael tossed him the medallion.
Miguel watched the exchange and for a second he thought he saw movement under Michael’s shirt. He shook his head and stared hard. It had to be his imagination. The shirt looked perfectly flat now. He clutched the bible to his chest and said a silent prayer to Saint Michael.
Michael cocked his head, listening. He turned and looked at Miguel. “Eventually it will, Miguel. It will all come to pass.”
Miguel dipped his head in acknowledgment and returned to reading the Bible. His fingers traced the gold and silver lettering. He gazed at the pale blue leaflets adorning each page. He found the book to be a treasure.
“That is my book, my word. Keep it safe, Miguel.” Michael squatted next to him. “See, my name is in the binding.” His finger traced the gold lettering. “That is Hebrew for Michael. Keep my book safe for me, okay?”
“I will keep it safe.” Miguel grinned. “I have never held such a beautiful book.”
“Apollyon and his hounds are coming. My wards are not enough to keep this trailer safe.” Michael looked worriedly at each person, “But it’s all we have. I need you to stay vigilant and silent. I will leave a trail of my blood for Apollyon to follow. I will lead him away from you. Stay put, do not leave, or make a sound. Your lives depend on that.”

***

Chapter Twenty Eight

Michael opened the door and pulled his knife out. He felt every fiber of his being tensing with the surge of adrenaline coursing through his veins. It was time to put an end to this eon’s long battle between Elohim and Apollyon.
He needed to draw Apollyon to him. Blood lust would do the trick. Apollyon would not be able to resist his blood, the blood of Elohim. He cut a slit down the length of his arm from elbow to wrist. He held his arm out to his side and dribbled blood onto the doorway, down the steps and out into the midway. He could feel his life essence waning as the blood splattered to the ground.
When he reached the open area, he ripped what remained of his tunic and used the cloth to lightly bind the wound so he would not bleed to death. He would not stop the bleeding this time; rather he would let it continue oozing to bring forth the hounds and Apollyon. He slowly swung his whip around his back, across his sides and to his front. The blood of Elohim would draw Apollyon to him. He set a steady beat of flogging, drawing welts that beaded and dripped.
He stood with his head tilted down and shoulders sagged. His arm ached where it bled. His body hurt from the numerous battles of the past few days. His heart was heavy from lost love. With death looming he will fight until the bitter end. Unlike his crusades of the past, hope was a distant vision and he did not know if any would survive.
The weariness dragged at his soul, sapping his energy. A faint golden luminescence surrounded him. It was the only light visible. He lifted his head and arms in supplication. “Thy will be done!” His voice rang out sending echoes down the empty midway and behind the remnants of tents, rides, and stage.

Inside the trailer Julia lifted the blinds. “I can’t stand it. I have to see what is going on.” She peered through the window and saw the halo of light around Michael.
“What do you see, Julia?” Kristy asked and leaned forward to look over Julia’s shoulder.
Kristy’s eyes widened as she gazed upon Michael standing shirtless in the golden glow. Michael slowly swung his whip across his stomach and back leaving red welts that bubbled with blood. “Oh my!” she moaned. Aside from the welts he had numerous scars running across his abdomen. How had she missed those? Why was he flagellating himself?
Why did she seesaw with him between love, hate, anger, and joy? Her previous lovers had always been bad choices. She had hated what they did to her, and yet, here she was doing those very same things to Michael. What had he ever done to her? He kissed her, caressed her, held her, and treated her with respect. She had seen his anger and knew he had a temper, but he had never harmed her. She choked back the tears that threatened to spill. Had she lost her chance at love?

Michael turned and looked back at the trailer. He lifted a finger to his lips to remind them of the need for silence. The ground rattled as something huge approached. The ghostly wail of braying hounds increased in intensity until their haunting cries obliterated all sound.
Michael felt the hairs on his neck stand on end as the discordance swirled around him in a maelstrom of depravity. He shuddered at the feel of filthy ghost fingers playing across his body, poking and prodding him seeking hidden weaknesses. The dirt shook and rolled under his feet as it swelled and ebbed along with the noise.
He flexed his shoulders to loosen the knotted muscles. The stretching caused his muscles to ripple down his back and across his washboard stomach. Where a normal man needed two hands to lift the claymore Michael held it loosely in his right hand, and the whip in his left. He flung his arms wide.
His voice rang out. “Apollyon of Sheol of Belial of Abaddon, I command thee appear unto me!” He looked like a savage warrior. “You want my blood, you hunger for my flesh. Come and get me!”
Four truck sized beasts of hound lineage thundered down the midway. Their jaws snapped as they snarled and howled biting at anything in their path. Their paws were the size of bowling balls and ended with six inch claws as thick as a small geode. Their fangs stuck out from great slobbering lips. Steam shot from their nostrils and their eyes burned red. They were the color of ebony. Their breath stunk of excrement, rotten flesh, and sewer gas.
A massive creature stood behind the hounds. It was at least fifteen feet tall and towered over Michael making him appear insignificant as an ant. In its hand it held a trident made from the bones of the damned. Haunting wails of torture could be heard emanating from the obsidian colored staff.
A black mist seeped from the trident withering everything it touched. Multiple horns sprouted from the creature’s huge head. Its maw was a jumble of fangs and rows of incisors with no lips. It had no nose and only holes where eye sockets should have been. Where eyes would have been present there were two red orbs of fire.
“Mikhail,” it hissed, a black tongue licked over the teeth, slime dripped. The silkiness of its voice sent shivers of dread throughout Michael.
Michael stepped back and craned his head to study his options. How many times had he fought this shadow being? He knew how Daibhidh must have felt when he battled Gath. If Daibhidh could do it with a single weapon, then Michael could defeat Apollyon with his claymore, whip, and knife. “Scrimmage!” His voice rang out loud and clear as a silver bell.

“Dear God, he needs help!” Julia pressed her hands to her mouth as she stared in horror out the window. “Miguel, Kristy, help me find something we can use as weapons.” She rushed into the kitchen and began going through the drawers. She placed a cleaver on the table.
“I have six silver coins,” Miguel handed them over. “May be they can be used in some way.”
Kristy tossed in a pair of scissors and a couple of skewers. “What are we going to do with these?” She looked doubtfully at the collection.
“Luke, aren’t you going to help us?” Miguel asked.
“He said to stay put. Far be it for me to disobey him.” Luke began buffing his fingernails again.
Kristy marched over to him and grabbed him by the shirt. “You really are lazy and good for nothing. How did you ever become a preacher, Luke?”
“You call me preacher, I never did.” Luke smirked.
“Get off it, Luke. You came into town and threw a religious revival complete with sermons and healing. What do you expect people to think you are?” Julia snapped.
“Actually, Michael did the sermons, not me.” He lightly blew on his nails and looked at them with admiration.
“Luke, Michael could use your help. You are his brother.” Miguel pleaded. “You must help him. He took care of you when you were injured.”
“As did I when he was sick.” Luke steeled his blue eyes at Miguel. “And I would be careful whose side you pick, lest you find Apollyon breathing down your neck.”
“You should talk. Did I not hear Apollyon was looking for you?” Kristy asked as she continued gathering items to be used as weapons.
“Michael gave you the protection of his medallion.” Miguel frowned. He never trusted Luke and now he knew why. The man was not just lazy, but selfish too.
“And he threatened to take it away.” Luke arched his back and stretched. “Michael is a jealous being. Be careful of what you step on around him.”
“But, he gave the medallion back to you.” Kristy chimed in. “I don’t know why I ever thought you were better than Michael. He’s better than you by a long shot. He’s honorable, courageous, and cares about people.”
Luke laughed curtly, “Little girl, you really know nothing about Michael. If you did, you’d run for your life. He will murder anyone Elohim tells him to kill. And he’d do it with no regrets, no second guessing, and no questions.”
“That’s enough of this nonsense. C’mon, Kristy, Miguel, let’s go help Michael.” Julia gathered up the items and distributed them.
“I grow tired of your chatter anyway,” Luke yawned.
Miguel scooped up a box of salt he saw on the table. “Might come in handy,” he shrugged.
Kristy opened the door and peered out, “It is dark out there.”
They carefully walked down the steps and headed toward the midway where Michael battled the creature.

Michael hefted the claymore with both hands and swung it at the ankle of the giant hellion. “Charge!”
Where the blade hit flashes of red light flared. A huge fist dropped from the sky, narrowly missing him as he lunged to the side and stabbed the hand with his knife, again drawing a red flare from the creature.
A knife sailed past him into the leg of the beast. He glanced over his shoulder and saw them. “Get out of here!” He bellowed.
In answer, Julia threw another knife in the direction of the creature but nicked Michael instead. “JULIA! Get back inside!”
A hound bounded forward with jowls chomping and hurling steaming spittle. It scampered directly for the trio. Miguel held up his crucifix and threw salt in its face. It skidded sideways yowling in pain. The salt touched its hide sending tendrils of smoke into the air. It exploded in a shower of grisly body parts, blood, and organs. The acidic smell of sulfur permeated everything.
The war went on for hours as Michael struck and parried and lunged again. The warrior twisted around and cracked his whip at a hound. He whirled and faced Apollyon and using the whip sent it sailing around the ankles, its impact sounding like a series of explosions.
The creature howled and bent over. It bobbed its head using the horns to gouge and tear at Michael. Knocked to the ground, Michael used his legs and hips to flip backward and regain his feet. He came up swinging both the claymore and the whip. He bared his teeth and let forth a deep throated growl as he lunged into the air to strike. “Attack!”
He twisted in midair, using Apollyon as a wall; he kicked off and lashed at the nearest hound with his legs. The hound went flying end over head. Miguel rushed forward and stabbed silver coins into its eyes. The explosion was deafening. Miguel danced back to Julia like a boxer would return to his corner of the ring.
Kristy raced forward and plunged the scissors into the toe of Apollyon. “Die! Die! Die!” she screeched and ducked as its fist pounded down at her. Her breath came hard and fast. Her heart hammered in her chest as adrenaline surged in a fight or flee panic.
“KRISTY!” Michael screamed, “Get back inside, now!” He snapped his whip at the hell hound as it lurched toward him. Its jaws closed around his wrist.
Michael slammed it with his shield. He grunted as he ripped his arm from the beast and flipped over it to land on its back. He held on with one arm as it bucked and pawed the air. He hugged the neck tightly and brought his whip around to form a noose. He twisted it in a strangle hold choking off the airways. He yanked hard until he heard the bones snap.
He slapped two silver coins into the eyes. The ashes flew around him as he crashed to the ground landing on his feet. He looked wildly around him to see where the trio and the enemies were positioned. He chopped, and hacked, and slashed alternating between the hound and Apollyon.
Julia rushed forward and swung the cleaver at a hound, connecting with its haunches. The hound squealed and lashed out at her with its claws. It caught her in the side and raked her open from side to front. Blood gushed like a river from the wound. Julia clasped her hands to her stomach as the contents poured out of the gaping hole.
Miguel screamed and rushed to her side. “Mom, no!” he wailed pulling her close. “Mom, don’t leave me!” he cried as he frantically pushed her intestines back through the gaping hole. “Mom!” he sobbed hard and gasped for breath. “Mom, I love you! Please don’t leave me!” he cried.
Kristy ran low and scooped up the cleaver. Holding it with both hands she struck the beast in the head. “Coins, Miguel, I need the coins!” She yelled as she continued chopping at the hellion.
Miguel fished the coins from his pocket and threw them at Kristy. He held Julia in his arms and rocked back and forth. He washed her face with his tears and gently closed her eyes, placing a silver coin on each eyelid.
Kristy picked up the coins and shoved them into the eye sockets of the hound. She coughed as the ashes flew into the air and clogged her nose. No one saw Luke slip from the trailer and walk away.

Michael, deep in battle with the remaining hound and Apollyon was distracted by their screams. He wrenched his gaze toward them as the hound latched onto his leg flipping him onto his back, pinning him with its claws. He howled in agony and kicked at it with his good leg. Apollyon roared and beat its chest. His ebony skin rippled as snakes bore out of him and slithered toward Michael.
“Get out of here!” Michael shrieked, “Get back in the trailer!”
Still on his back, he pulled the claymore up and gripped it in both hands. He swung it in a wide arc and sliced through several snake heads. Sweat poured down his body and mingled with his blood. He flung the knife into the eye of the hound clinging to his leg. The ashes of skin and bone blinded him.
Apollyon swooped down and gouged a horn through his chest sending fire through his body. He threw Kushiel’s arrow into Apollyon’s neck. Michael wailed and with one last effort plunged his sword into Apollyon. The creature reared back. Leathery black wings sprouted from its shoulders making it even more hideous as it soared into the night sky and disappeared.
The sky lightened as Michael rolled over and using the last of his strength reached out toward the survivors. Miguel cradled Julia in his arms as Kristy bent over them. “Kristy,” he whispered unheard.
His skin blackened and crusted as the fire raged through him. He no longer felt the agony of burning. His thoughts focused on how he had failed. He felt his life draining away as he watched them grieve over their lost friend. His body was now covered in the crust of burnt skin, only his eyes were untouched. It was only fitting that he passed unnoticed, unloved, and alone.

***

Chapter Twenty Nine

The sky turned a rosy pink as the sun climbed high shedding light for the first time in three days. Miguel remained on the ground clutching Julia and weeping.
Kristy hovered over him. She was exhausted and it took her awhile to realize the night had gone and there was a profound silence surrounding them. Not a bird, mouse, or an insect stirred. Not even a breeze whistling around the trailer created noise. There was nothing; a total absence of sound.
It gave her a surrealistic feeling of being an actress in some horror movie waiting for the monster to pounce and the hero was nowhere to be found. ‘Michael! Where was Michael?’ She wondered and looked up.
She saw the carnage left behind from the battle. Fire had ravaged the tents leaving only flaps of fabric dangling from poles. Scorched tumble weeds drifted lazily past. Lumps of steaming flesh, strings of entrails, organs, and limbs were strewn everywhere.
Blood soaked the ground. Pieces of bone, gristle, and horns littered the red puddles. The air was pungent from the smell of copper and ozone. Smoking ebony mounds dotted the landscape. A blackened figure lay in the midway. It looked like a mess of tar had been dropped carelessly onto the dirt. A limb poked through the mass and twitched.
Fear leaped into her heart. What monstrous being remained behind? Could it rise up and attack them anew? She scoured the ground for a weapon, picking up piece of wood with a pointed end. She hoped it could serve as a stake if needed.
‘Where was Michael when they needed him?’ She wondered as she walked over to examine the remains. Did he chase after Luke? Did he pull another disappearing act like he did when he was injured?
The charcoal thing lying at her feet was man sized. She bent forward holding the stake directly over the figure and examined it. The limb was ensconced in a crystal gauntlet. A huge sword lay by its side. To the side of the chest was a burnt crucifix. Dull green eyes stared heavenward.
“Michael!” she gasped. “Michael!” the screams wrenched from her. “Oh, God, no, please not Michael! Michael!” she cried, dropping to her knees.
How could he be dead? Why didn’t they notice he was in trouble? Her world was crumbling around her. When he was alive there had always been hope things would work out between them. But now, he was gone and she never had the chance to make things right with him. Even though the last thing she had said was she loved him, she never got to prove she meant it. And now it was too late. Her poor brutalized, loving, kind, beautiful Michael lay dead at her feet.
“I’m so sorry for all the hurt I caused you,” she wept. “I was so stupid, so very stupid.” She closed her eyes and felt the tears seeping from under her lids. “You were the only one that loved me, truly loved me. And I threw you aside. I didn’t trust you. Please, please, oh please, let me have one more chance. Don’t leave me, Michael.”
A single tear dropped into his chest cavity where his still heart lay. As the drop seeped into his body the cavity closed and a faint red pulse appeared.
Kristy reached over and pushed the crucifix over the heart. She placed her hand gently on his charred hand and sat watching over his body. Tears continued streaming down her face, dripping onto his bare chest.
A few minutes later the red pulse appeared again. It looked stronger. She leaned forward and whispered, “I love you. I will never doubt you again.” Another tear dropped onto his crucifix and dripped down over his heart. Despair filled her soul in a never ending ache such as she had never known could exist.
The pulse quickened. She felt a shifting in his limbs and looked down at his arms. The burned crust was sloughing off. The skin underneath appeared healthy. She looked back at his chest and saw the pulsing light had turned green.
“Michael?” she whispered. She remembered reading once that the color green meant fertility, growth, and life. She watched in awe as she detected a slight rise and fall of his chest.
His legs jiggled. She glanced at them. The torn leather holding his sandals on knitted together seamlessly. The blackened skin slowly turned bronze with a faint pink coloring from where new blood flowed.
She clasped his hand and bowed her head, “Oh please, dear Lord, God, Elohim, it’s Kristy here. I’m not much for praying, but I’m begging you to return Michael to us. Please, give this wonderful man a new life. I humbly pray, Amen.”
The green light palpitated and strengthened into a slow steady beat. With each thump more crust fell away and healthy skin appeared. Eventually the green glow turned blue and the throbbing of his heart became steady. If green meant life and growth, then blue must mean peace and healing. Michael used a blue light to heal the child at the carnival. She wondered if this blue pulsation of his heart meant he was healing and not really gone.
“Michael?” she called to him as she studied his face. Funny how she had never noticed he was older than her. His face was lined with crags that gave him a rough hewn look and yet there was an unrefined beauty that bled through worn creases. The dull sheen in his eyes gave way to the clear sea-green color she had grown to love.
“Michael?” she whispered.
“Hi, love,” his voice came out in a croak. “You can’t get rid of me that easily.” He groaned and tried to sit up.
Her heart leaped with joy! He was alive! Kristy put a hand to his chest. “Stay still. You are weak and hurt. Let me take care of you, my love.” She gently pressed him back to the ground. “Lay down.” She scrambled to her feet.
“You need nourishment. I’ll be right back.” She hurried to the trailer and came back in minutes with an assortment of fruit. She sat beside him and helped him to sit up. She tenderly kissed his cheek. “I thought you were dead.”
“I was. You brought me back,” his voice was filled with wonder.
She placed a strawberry against his lips. “Eat.”
Michael took a bite and closed his eyes as he savored the sweetness of the berry. “Delicious.” He took another bite. “What happened?”
“Julia died, you died, and Luke disappeared.”
He nodded thoughtfully. “What of Apollyon?”
“He flew away. He has wings.”
“So, he got away, did he?”
Kristy nodded.
“Then I still need to get you and Miguel to safety.” He struggled to his feet and hobbled over to Miguel.
“Miguel, I am so sorry for your loss.” He knelt down and gathered the teen into his arms.
Miguel sniffled and buried himself in Michael’s chest. Michael held him for a long time. He stroked his back. “My son,” he murmured. “I need to take you and Kristy home.”
“I can’t leave my Mom.”
“I’ll bring her with us. I promise,” he said solemnly.
“Really, truly, you will?”
“I promise. I will bring your Mom home with us.” Michael continued stroking and comforting the teen. “Kristy, please come over here.” Michael watched appreciatively as she sauntered over to him.
He picked up Julia’s body. “Miguel, son, please hold my belt on the left side. Kristy, you hold on the right side. Do not let go. Just give me a minute to prepare.”
He leaned forward, clutching Julia’s body. The welts on his back swelled and ballooned upward. Four gloriously golden brown wings protruded and fanned out over his shoulders and sides.
Kristy gasped. They were the wings the man had worn in her dream.
Huge, gorgeous feathers fluttered in the breeze as he gathered her and Miguel under their span. With swift downward strokes Michael lifted them up into the air where they ascended higher and higher on their way to his home, Paradise.

***

Chapter Twenty Nine

The sky turned a rosy pink as the sun climbed high shedding light for the first time in three days. Miguel remained on the ground clutching Julia and weeping.
Kristy hovered over him. She was exhausted and it took her awhile to realize the night had gone and there was a profound silence surrounding them. Not a bird, mouse, or an insect stirred. Not even a breeze whistling around the trailer created noise. There was nothing; a total absence of sound.
It gave her a surrealistic feeling of being an actress in some horror movie waiting for the monster to pounce and the hero was nowhere to be found. ‘Michael! Where was Michael?’ She wondered and looked up.
She saw the carnage left behind from the battle. Fire had ravaged the tents leaving only flaps of fabric dangling from poles. Scorched tumble weeds drifted lazily past. Lumps of steaming flesh, strings of entrails, organs, and limbs were strewn everywhere.
Blood soaked the ground. Pieces of bone, gristle, and horns littered the red puddles. The air was pungent from the smell of copper and ozone. Smoking ebony mounds dotted the landscape. A blackened figure lay in the midway. It looked like a mess of tar had been dropped carelessly onto the dirt. A limb poked through the mass and twitched.
Fear leaped into her heart. What monstrous being remained behind? Could it rise up and attack them anew? She scoured the ground for a weapon, picking up piece of wood with a pointed end. She hoped it could serve as a stake if needed.
‘Where was Michael when they needed him?’ She wondered as she walked over to examine the remains. Did he chase after Luke? Did he pull another disappearing act like he did when he was injured?
The charcoal thing lying at her feet was man sized. She bent forward holding the stake directly over the figure and examined it. The limb was ensconced in a crystal gauntlet. A huge sword lay by its side. To the side of the chest was a burnt crucifix. Dull green eyes stared heavenward.
“Michael!” she gasped. “Michael!” the screams wrenched from her. “Oh, God, no, please not Michael! Michael!” she cried, dropping to her knees.
How could he be dead? Why didn’t they notice he was in trouble? Her world was crumbling around her. When he was alive there had always been hope things would work out between them. But now, he was gone and she never had the chance to make things right with him. Even though the last thing she had said was she loved him, she never got to prove she meant it. And now it was too late. Her poor brutalized, loving, kind, beautiful Michael lay dead at her feet.
“I’m so sorry for all the hurt I caused you,” she wept. “I was so stupid, so very stupid.” She closed her eyes and felt the tears seeping from under her lids. “You were the only one that loved me, truly loved me. And I threw you aside. I didn’t trust you. Please, please, oh please, let me have one more chance. Don’t leave me, Michael.”
A single tear dropped into his chest cavity where his still heart lay. As the drop seeped into his body the cavity closed and a faint red pulse appeared.
Kristy reached over and pushed the crucifix over the heart. She placed her hand gently on his charred hand and sat watching over his body. Tears continued streaming down her face, dripping onto his bare chest.
A few minutes later the red pulse appeared again. It looked stronger. She leaned forward and whispered, “I love you. I will never doubt you again.” Another tear dropped onto his crucifix and dripped down over his heart. Despair filled her soul in a never ending ache such as she had never known could exist.
The pulse quickened. She felt a shifting in his limbs and looked down at his arms. The burned crust was sloughing off. The skin underneath appeared healthy. She looked back at his chest and saw the pulsing light had turned green.
“Michael?” she whispered. She remembered reading once that the color green meant fertility, growth, and life. She watched in awe as she detected a slight rise and fall of his chest.
His legs jiggled. She glanced at them. The torn leather holding his sandals on knitted together seamlessly. The blackened skin slowly turned bronze with a faint pink coloring from where new blood flowed.
She clasped his hand and bowed her head, “Oh please, dear Lord, God, Elohim, it’s Kristy here. I’m not much for praying, but I’m begging you to return Michael to us. Please, give this wonderful man a new life. I humbly pray, Amen.”
The green light palpitated and strengthened into a slow steady beat. With each thump more crust fell away and healthy skin appeared. Eventually the green glow turned blue and the throbbing of his heart became steady. If green meant life and growth, then blue must mean peace and healing. Michael used a blue light to heal the child at the carnival. She wondered if this blue pulsation of his heart meant he was healing and not really gone.
“Michael?” she called to him as she studied his face. Funny how she had never noticed he was older than her. His face was lined with crags that gave him a rough hewn look and yet there was an unrefined beauty that bled through worn creases. The dull sheen in his eyes gave way to the clear sea-green color she had grown to love.
“Michael?” she whispered.
“Hi, love,” his voice came out in a croak. “You can’t get rid of me that easily.” He groaned and tried to sit up.
Her heart leaped with joy! He was alive! Kristy put a hand to his chest. “Stay still. You are weak and hurt. Let me take care of you, my love.” She gently pressed him back to the ground. “Lay down.” She scrambled to her feet.
“You need nourishment. I’ll be right back.” She hurried to the trailer and came back in minutes with an assortment of fruit. She sat beside him and helped him to sit up. She tenderly kissed his cheek. “I thought you were dead.”
“I was. You brought me back,” his voice was filled with wonder.
She placed a strawberry against his lips. “Eat.”
Michael took a bite and closed his eyes as he savored the sweetness of the berry. “Delicious.” He took another bite. “What happened?”
“Julia died, you died, and Luke disappeared.”
He nodded thoughtfully. “What of Apollyon?”
“He flew away. He has wings.”
“So, he got away, did he?”
Kristy nodded.
“Then I still need to get you and Miguel to safety.” He struggled to his feet and hobbled over to Miguel.
“Miguel, I am so sorry for your loss.” He knelt down and gathered the teen into his arms.
Miguel sniffled and buried himself in Michael’s chest. Michael held him for a long time. He stroked his back. “My son,” he murmured. “I need to take you and Kristy home.”
“I can’t leave my Mom.”
“I’ll bring her with us. I promise,” he said solemnly.
“Really, truly, you will?”
“I promise. I will bring your Mom home with us.” Michael continued stroking and comforting the teen. “Kristy, please come over here.” Michael watched appreciatively as she sauntered over to him.
He picked up Julia’s body. “Miguel, son, please hold my belt on the left side. Kristy, you hold on the right side. Do not let go. Just give me a minute to prepare.”
He leaned forward, clutching Julia’s body. The welts on his back swelled and ballooned upward. Four gloriously golden brown wings protruded and fanned out over his shoulders and sides.
Kristy gasped. They were the wings the man had worn in her dream.
Huge, gorgeous feathers fluttered in the breeze as he gathered her and Miguel under their span. With swift downward strokes Michael lifted them up into the air where they ascended higher and higher on their way to his home, Paradise.

***

Epilogue

Michael held a resurrection ceremony and using his powers brought Julia back into her body. She lay in a white room on a white bed and looked around her. She did not know this room but it was lovely.
Beautiful sea shells and stones adorned the shelving. Pictures of her and Cook hung on the walls. They were her favorite photos of all the places they had visited before settling in Sundown and opening the diner. There was one of them on his motorcycle at the Grand Canyon. Another picture showed them sitting on a bench in a park surrounded by flowers. A third photo was of their wedding. Cook looked so handsome.
She wiped a tear from her face. He had been the love of her life. Who would ever have thought a white dude could still the anger she had in her heart about racism? That he could make her love people from all nationalities. Cook had taught her how to be blind to the color of a person’s skin, to look instead for the color of their heart.
“Hi Mom, welcome back,” Miguel beamed with joy. “Michael healed you. It was touch and go but he brought you back.”
“Where are we?” she asked. The room was decorated in white with yellow accents just like the room she had always dreamed of having.
“We’re in Michael’s home. He calls it Paradise.” Kristy answered.
“Mom, Michael said to give this to you.” Miguel held out a wrapped box.
“What is it?” Julia took the box and opened it. Inside was an elaborately carved frame holding a picture of Cook, Miguel, and her in front of the diner. “When did he take this picture?” She clutched it to her bosom.
“He said he made it for you, for us.” Miguel perched on the bed and smiled. “I love you. I have the best Mom in the world.”
“Of course you do. Do you think Michael would let just anyone raise you?” Kristy asked as she brought a mug of soup over to the bed. “Julia, you need to eat this. Michael promises when he gets back he will explain everything.”
“Where is Paradise?” Julia sipped the soup. The hot liquid felt soothing to her parched throat.
“It’s the name Michael gave his home. He says from here we have the entire world at our feet.” Miguel leaned over and hugged her.
Kristy opened the drapes. “You can see outside from your bed. It is really beautiful here, Julia. And Michael says it is our home too.”

Michael stood in front of Elohim. “I failed, father. I did not get Luke or Apollyon.” He hung his head in shame.
Elohim gazed at his son for a long time. “You did not fail, my son. You were sent to save Kristy. Kristy is meant for you. She holds your heart. She gives you a reason to continue. She is to be your wife in all ways.”
“But our laws,” Michael began. He looked into his father’s gray eyes. He saw a kind King, and he was shocked at how old his father looked. Gone was the gray hair, replaced by silvery white strands. His face was etched with wrinkles.
“They are not meant for you to live by, they are for you to enforce. Your laws are meant to guide our people in life. You were the one that created our laws; you can decide which ones to abide by. You are my heir, Michael. As you take my place, Miguel will take your place. I am also tired and quite old.” Elohim smiled.
“But what about Luke and Apollyon, am I supposed to just let them go?”
“No. You will deal with them as you promised me, when the time is right. Now it is time for you to rest and enjoy your new family as I promised you. How is Candy adjusting to her new brother?”
“She’s crazy about him, but Miguel doesn’t know yet.”
“I think you’d better go tell them about you, don’t you think?”
“Yes father.” He bowed, “I am ever loyal and obedient to you.”
“I know you are, son.”
“May I ask you a question?” Michael shifted nervously from one foot to the other.
“Of course,” Elohim wrinkled his brow. He dreaded the question to come.
“Why is Luke your favorite?” Michael looked at the floor and held his breath. This was a question he’d wanted to ask for years.
“Is that what you think, my son?” Elohim frowned.
“Yes, father. Everyone tells me that is so. You have never refuted it.”
“Luke is not my heir, Michael. You are. Luke is beautiful, but his beauty is only on the surface. Beneath his skin he is lazy, a liar, a cheat, a murderer, and selfish. He cares nothing for those he was charged with helping.”
Elohim smiled at Michael. “You, on the other hand, wear your beauty inside. You are loyal, obedient, caring, generous, loving, and have a bit of a temper. You are a fierce warrior who will give everything for his people. Those qualities make a great King. You are my child and I am proud of you.” Elohim reached forward and clasped Michael by the shoulders. “I am proud to call you my son.”
Michael felt choked with emotion. “I thank you, father. I will do my best by you.”
“I know you will. Now go home.” He released his grip and watched as Michael walked from the room. His son was truly beautiful. He wasn’t surprised that women found Michael attractive. He had made the right choice when he picked Michael to be his heir.

Five year old Candy sat beside Miguel and held his hand. “Michael saved me in Fairmont. Some bad men killed me and he healed me. Now you are here and will be my brother just like Liza and Tom are my aunt and uncle. Edna and Gerald are our grandparents along with Elohim who is our great grandfather.”
“You talk too much for a little girl,” Miguel complained. He tenderly ran his fingers over the gold and silver lettering of the book on his lap.
“What’s that?” Candy reached for the book and pouted when Miguel gently pushed her hand away.
“This is Michael’s bible. He gave it to me to keep safe.”
Julia and Kristy sat in armchairs near the great fireplace. The room was huge and built from stone and crystal. It reflected a peaceful environment.
Michael entered the room. He lifted Candy up and kissed her. He set her back down. “Run along, Candy. Grandma wants you to help her make dessert.” He straightened and looked at the three newest members of his family.
Kristy thought he looked resplendent with his golden brown wings fanned out behind him. He was a fine, sexy, dangerous looking man or angel or whatever he was. It didn’t matter what he was. He set her heart to beating rapidly.
She loved him with all her heart. She now knew what it was like to be cherished, for Michael certainly cherished her. He made her heart sing. Just a smile, a look, or a kiss was enough to make her happy.
“I have some explaining to do.” He tugged at the collar of his shirt. “First, I guess you are wondering about these,” he waggled his wings. “On earth I am what you would call an Archangel. In reality, I am a Centurion from a much older race. The people could only accept us as gods and angels and demons. Centurions protect people.”
“So, you are not an angel?” Julia asked.
“Not in the strictest sense, but for all purposes I am an Archangel. I am Michael the archangel. I am the warrior who answers prayers for help. I have missions to complete. My current missions are to defeat Apollyon and kill Luke. From time to time I will have to leave here to complete a mission. I will always return.”
“Are you eternal?” Miguel asked.
“No, I am not. I can be killed.”
“What is Apollyon?” Kristy asked, shivering at her remembrance of the being.
“He is Elohim’s brother. He is the destroyer. He is shadow and all the nightmares hiding in the darkness. Everything in his path is demolished and consumed. He is pure evil.”
Michael looked at each person as he explained. “Luke led a rebellion against Elohim. I was supposed to kill him but didn’t because I felt responsible for him and how he turned out. I helped raise him. So, instead of killing him I cast him out of the family. He found his way to earth and later joined forces with Apollyon. Somewhere along the way he betrayed Apollyon and is now being hunted by him.”
“What about us?” Julia asked.
“Miguel is my son by fate. He will eventually take my place. He is your son to love, raise and train.”
“And me?” Kristy asked.
“You will be my wife, if you will have me.” Michael kneeled down on one knee. He pulled out an ancient carved box. Inside the box was an intricately carved silver ring. “Will you have me as your husband, Kristy? I am innocent in the ways of love so you will have to teach me.”
“Yes, I will have you Michael.” She smiled happily as he slipped the ring onto her finger.

###

Copyright © Traylor Grant 2015 All rights reserved.

The right of Traylor Grant to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 First published as an e-book 06-23-2015

Grant, Traylor (2015-06-22). The Wanderer: The Dream Weaver Into the Mystic Series Book 2. Traylor Grant. US

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This book contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author / publisher.

The Wanderer: The Dream Weaver Into the Mystic Series Book 2 is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. It is a fantasy story involving the Archangel Michael. Although there are various religious aspects to the novel, it is in no way intended to replace, supplement, or otherwise affect religions, religious beliefs, teachings, or practices. Nor, it is intended to offend any religion.

All rights reserved.

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Views: 29

Too lengthy

William Dawson

Saturday 10th of October 2020 03:38:10 PM

The story was very long but quite interesting. Plot was very nice.

Excellent

Shrabani Mukherjee

Tuesday 6th of October 2020 09:55:49 AM

The story was too long, but I enjoyed reading it. It better to publish stories in parts.

lovely

Jinang Dangkat

Monday 5th of October 2020 08:33:57 AM

A wonderful story. I really enjoyed reading it.

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Traylor Grant

Writer and Reader user