Chapter 1: Homecoming
Rohan’s drenched clothes clung to his body as he focused on the blazing city before him. Spirits and demons were flashing through the air in the distance, appearing as wisps of red and black light. Screams ripped through the night that was otherwise silent.
If he ever got ahold of the spirits of Altemus and Anne, they would pay for this.
He would make sure of that.
Altemus had somehow managed to outwit Rohan and Nora. He activated the tablet with the orb they called The Eye of Gilgamesh, and then, even though Rohan had been certain they’d won, he merged Hell and Earth. On a plane back to the United States Rohan had to use his powers to stop the plane from crashing when the spirits were unleashed.
Now, he wasn’t sure where he was, but he knew they couldn’t have been too far from Washington, D.C. when the plane landed.
He took the lead, Nora directly behind him, then Tess and Beverly. They ran across a warehouse parking lot next to the river the plane had landed in, searching for a way out of this mess.
“Keep up,” he shouted over his shoulder as he ducked behind the warehouse. He ran toward a wire fence, but his legs gave out on him just as he reached it, causing him to slam into the fence, hard. He barely caught himself at the last second, legs wobbling and nerves on edge.
Nora helped him up, her hand lingering on his shoulder.
“You’re the one we should be worried about,” she said.
He forced a smile, trying to appear strong. After what he’d just done, though, she had a good point. It wasn’t every day you pulled on spirits of the dead to lift a sinking airplane out of the water and save a dozen lives.
His sister, Beverly, had been one of those lives. He couldn’t have forgiven himself if he hadn’t saved her.
Beverly was alive, and so was Tess, the woman he’d once been on a date with. Altemus and Anne had possessed both of the women’s bodies, and it was a miracle that they were still alive. Rohan wanted to keep it that way.
“Are you okay?” Nora said, her gentle hand caressing his cheek as her wide, brown eyes stared into his with concern. He was in her arms. He hadn’t even noticed that he’d fallen again. In any other circumstance, he would’ve stayed right there, staring into those beautiful eyes. Maybe taken her in for another kiss—the last had been almost worth dying for—but no, the world was collapsing around them.
His head was spinning and his right eye twitched.
“I’ll be all right,” he said, pulling himself to his feet. He pointed to the other side of the long warehouse. “See that door over there?”
She turned and nodded.
“There has to be a vehicle of some sort.” He snuck forward, peering around the building to make sure everything was fine. “It looks like the chaos is mostly in the city. We grab a car, hope it has keys, and get.”
“Get?” Bev asked as she snuck up to join them. “Is that how you necromancers talk?”
“Shut up, sis,” Rohan said. “We have to get out of here, okay?”
“And where, exactly, are we going?” Beverly asked.
Rohan had no idea. When they’d left Peru, the plan had been to see Beverly and Tess safely home. Now, with spirits everywhere, the plan didn’t seem so safe.
“Tell me why we can’t just hide here?” Tess said. “Like you told the rest of the plane passengers to do. Wait for it to pass over.”
Rohan glanced over at the group of people who’d all agreed to stay back and see if this would blow over. Half of them still thought it was a dream, the rest were certain it was the end of the world and God would be down to rescue them at any moment.
“Something tells me that the only way this is going to ‘pass over’ is if we make it so. Us and any other necro—er, our kind that we can convince to join the fight.”
“We’ll convince them,” Nora said. “But first we have to reach them.”
They sprinted along the warehouse walls, but when they pulled the sliding metal doors aside, Rohan cursed. It was an empty warehouse. Plastic-wrapped pallets were stacked to the ceiling.
“We’ve got to find a vehicle,” Rohan said. He started toward the other side of the warehouse. He guessed there had to be a parking lot over there. “I’m not walking around the globe to figure out how and where we’re going to fight these spirits.”
He reached a metal garage door and unlatched it. After straining to lift it open, Beverly came up beside him and started helping.
They all froze, horrified at the sound.
“The hell was that?” Beverly said, the first to break the silence. “Sounded like a—”
“Gunshot,” Nora finished for her. “Yeah, I know.”
Ahead of them stretched a parking lot. One of the streetlights near the warehouse flickered, revealing a white pickup truck. As they approached, the smell of gunpowder grew strong.
“Oh my God,” Tess held one hand to her chest, the other to her mouth as her breaths came out shorter and shorter.
She was hyperventilating and was likely about to freak out, so Rohan stepped forward to block her view.
Thick, red blood covered the windows, slowly dripping down. Rohan had a hard time looking at the pickup himself, and couldn’t imagine what she was going through.
Rohan opened the door to find a man slumped over the steering wheel, half his face torn open and bloodied from a gunshot wound. His body twitched, and then a rusty pistol clinked across the floor.
“Turn away,” Rohan said, coughing at the smell of blood and gun smoke.
Nora gasped. “What, you don’t think I should see this because I’m a woman?”
“No, because it’s gross,” Rohan said, then reached in for the gun. Who knew when that could come in handy out here. He paused, trying not to retch, and then turned back to reach in again.
Only the visible eye of what appeared to be a corpse was open. He was sure it’d been closed a moment ago, and when he lunged for the gun, it was confirmed.
The man jolted up, slamming Rohan’s arm into the bloodied dash. He held it there with a tight grip so that there was no escape.
“Help!” Rohan managed.
The man was sitting up now, turning to face Rohan, a smile on his ruined face. A red light flickered in his eyes and his skin glowed fluorescent green.
“So we meet again,” the man said, his voice cracking and wheezing. “In your world, this time.”
The voice sounded familiar. But from where? This wasn’t just a regular evil spirit.
At the man’s smile, Rohan’s mind flashed back to the six demons gathered in front of him as he stared into the face of the afterlife. The demon in the center, he remembered now, had red eyes and a deep voice too.
It was him.
“Azrael,” Rohan said, remembering the demon’s voice.
“My armies will soon be here to take care of you,” Azrael said. “I advise you to lie down and die now if you’d prefer to avoid the torturous route.”
Rohan glanced over to the city, and sure enough, an army of spirits was flying right for them, massive, red and black like a tsunami from Hell.
Nora stepped forward and focused her energy on the demon, a burst of it hitting the man and shooting blood across the windshield. But the demon inside the man simply laughed.
“You can’t harm me with such measly powers, girl.”
“Maybe not,” Tess said, stepping forward. “But I can.” She made the sign of a cross at her chest and then closed her eyes and began to speak in Latin.
The demon shrieked, its skin smoldering.
It tried to lash out at her, but she raised her voice and it fell back, twitching as the shrieks continued.
“Now!” Tess said, opening her eyes and turning to Rohan.
It took Rohan a moment to realize what was happening, but then he stepped forward and nodded for Nora to join him. They lifted their hands and focused their spiritual energy. A force pushed back, sharp, like a layer of razors just underneath the skin.
“Stop,” the demon shrieked, and then it leaped for them. But with a final push of their spiritual energy, the demon was kicked out and became a wisp in the air that vanished into the sky as the body fell with a splat at their feet.
“What was that?” Rohan asked Tess. “When were you going to tell us you had that kind of power?”
“I wouldn’t say I have power,” Tess said. “It’s more that my dad was a pastor, and I had a phase where I was obsessing over demon possessions. Watched all the poltergeist and exorcism movies, and asked my dad everything I thought I’d need to know. He thought I was crazy. I rebelled for a little while, digging deeper into the spiritual. Then, it turned out to be all hippy-dippy crap.”
“Until now,” Beverly said, impressed.
“Yeah, uh, until now.” She beamed.
Rohan smiled, then realized Nora was giving him an odd look. Whatever that was about, they didn’t have time to sit around and discuss it.
“Let’s get moving,” he said.
Beverly opened the door to the truck and looked like she was about to vomit.
“Guess the guy saw what was happening and couldn’t take it?” Tess said, also looking a bit green.
“This guy shot himself rather than try to survive?” Rohan asked in disbelief. “Who does that?”
Nora took off her soaked jacket and began to rub the truck clean. “Probably a lot of people when they realize they’re literally living in Hell on earth. Now stop wasting time. See if he has the keys in his pocket.”
Rohan knelt beside the bloody corpse and, with his face scrunched up in disgust, felt past the blood that covered this man’s waist and found the keys in the right hip pocket. A Hawaiian teddy bear keychain hung from it.
“How cute,” Beverly said when she saw him eyeing it. “Can you just get us out of here?”
The truck was still covered in bloody streaks, but the inside of the warehouse had a carwash bay for semi trucks, so they found rags, wet them, and cleaned up what they could. They piled into the car and Rohan turned the heat all the way up because they were still drenched from the watery landing.
“Any thoughts on where we need to go?” Rohan asked, with a glance back at the approaching wave of spirits. “We could go right into the city and fight this… whatever it is.”
“Hell on Earth,” Nora said. “And no, there’s no fighting it—not like that.”
“So we get away from it all,” Tess said. Rohan didn’t fail to see the flash of annoyance from Nora, but Tess kept on going. “If my exorcism of the demon worked back there, we should head to my parents’ house out in West Virginia.”
“Any idea where we are now?” Beverly asked, but everyone shook their heads. “From what I could tell, we weren’t far from D.C.”
“What exactly is at your parent’s house?” Nora asked.
“My dad, the pastor,” Tess said. “He has books on exorcism that could possibly help us.”
“It’s away from that chaos,” Beverly said, staring out through the back window at the scene of fire and turmoil in the city. Red and black wisps flew through the air. “Tess has my vote.”
Rohan glanced over at the front passenger seat where Nora sat, but she seemed to be purposely avoiding eye contact with him.
After a moment’s silence, he said, “Yeah, okay. Makes sense.”
“Anyone have a cellphone that works?” Beverly asked, fishing hers out of her pocket. It was smashed up and drenched. “Commercials said it was waterproof… I guess crash landing and fighting demons wasn’t intended in the warranty.”
None of them had a working phone, so instead of wasting more time, Rohan stepped on the gas and peeled out of there.
They hadn’t gone far at all when Rohan noticed a sign that said, “Quantico Marine Corp Base, Virginia.”
“Well I’ll be damned,” he said.
“Let’s hope not,” Nora said, her eyebrow raised. “At least, wait until after we survive all of this.”
“No, that’s not—come on. We must’ve landed on the Potomac River. If we can get into the base, we might be safe.”
“Good luck with that,” Beverly said, and Rohan turned to see what she was referring to.
As they approached Quantico, the large, sprawling facility lay ahead of them, walled up like a fortress. A mass of spirits had formed over the base and was swirling around like a tornado. Gun shots rang out, followed by an explosion. More spirits were pouring out of the clouds above, focused on the base.
“If we’re trying to avoid them, that might not be the best place for us,” Nora said. “I say we stick to the plan and get to Tess’s parents’ place ASAP.”
“Seconded,” Rohan said, stepping on the gas and changing direction.
They drove on in silence for a bit, and soon Rohan pulled onto a highway. Sirens filled the air, and soon several police cars drove by, heading back toward Quantico. The ensuing silence gave Rohan time to remember that the horrible scent in the truck was from a guy’s innards—even though they’d done their best to clean it up, the crevices in the seats and dashboard still had red stains, and worse. He ended up driving with one hand on the wheel, one up to cover his nose.
In the afterlife it had been simple—find Altemus, stop him, and escape. In Machu Picchu, it had been a matter of keeping the tablet and orb out of Altemus’s hands. Now? All they could do was survive.
Unless Nora’s house provided answers. She had all sorts of books on this stuff. But then again, she lived near D.C., where the activity would be at its highest, he guessed. Whatever it was that Tess did, it sure worked against these spirit-demon-things, so he decided it was best to stick to the plan, for now.
Nora leaned forward and turned on the radio, but could find only static. She fidgeted with it a bit, then finally was able to tune into someone speaking.
“The world has come to an end,” the voice was saying. “Prepare your souls, for when you meet your maker, you—”
She switched it again, and this time found a less frantic woman giving the news. According to her, the whole world was reporting ghosts and demons attacking. Mass religious suicides and sacrifices had already begun, while others were taking to the streets in worship of these beings, only to be carried away or taken over. The woman speculated that they might not be ghosts at all, but an alien invasion.
“I’m down with that explanation,” Nora said with a grunt of annoyance before turning off the radio.
“Maybe those religious nutsos have a point,” Beverly said, leaning forward so that her head appeared between the two seats. “This is the end of days, and the four of us, the four horsemen.”
“Aren’t we Catholic?” Rohan asked her. “Isn’t that like, sacrilege or something?”
She just shrugged. “Eh. You don’t like my theory. Whatever.”
“I’m with Rohan on this,” Tess said, rolling her eyes. “No end of the world. No four horsemen. And no, this is not the time for jokes.”
Beverly leaned back, hands up in capitulation.
“You want good news?” Rohan asked with a hopeful grin, more in an attempt to make the others feel safe than anything else. “We’re not lost, at least. We just have to head northeast. Finding Tess’s parent’s place shouldn’t be too hard, as long she knows how to get there.”
“You get us close to Shenandoah, I’ll get us the rest of the way,” Tess said.
“Sorry to burst this happy bubble,” Beverly said, leaning forward and pointing ahead.
Rohan hadn’t been watching the road, as he kept glancing back at a cloud of spirits that seemed to be following them. When he looked forward, his heart sunk.
There was a traffic jam that seemed to stretch for miles, meaning their way was completely blocked.
FROM JUSTIN >>> Okay, totally unedited, so I apologize. The final will be smoother! But other than that, what did you think? It’s off to a crazy start, and, for those of you who read books 1 and 2, you’ll know they just survived a (SPOILER) demon filled plane crash! So where do you go from there?
Well, we figured we’d take it to an almost apocalyptic place, similar to the Walking Dead on crack. Maybe that’s a good way to sell it? Haha.
Anyway, more to come soon!
AND in the meantime, let me promote a buddy’s work – John L. Monk wrote an amazing book called…
The world has gone to hell and it isn’t coming back.
It happened in a year: starvation, gangs of kids with guns, and every adult in the world dead from the Sickness. Houses are now mausoleums. Civilization lies in the hands of children who’ve never had to feed themselves or survive a winter without gas or electricity. Most will die. Others — a bare few — will tread a different path.
Fourteen-year-old Jack Ferris is a survivor — because his parents raised him that way. Leveraging qualities rare for his age, he must lead his desperate companions to a secret refuge. Too late, he learns that safety is a mirage, and that the high price of hope is paid in blood.
If you’ve already read book 1 and 2, don’t miss out on book 3, available for preorder now!