Alright, logo is very much so still a work in progress, but I found a cool font online and wanted to use it (props to Woodcutter) For those who want to catch up, here’s links to previous chapters:
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1:8 Hound on the Highway
As it turned out, the small library the priest kept behind his desk contained nothing more than lavishly printed bible verses and devout ramblings about faith. “There’s nothing here that’s going to help you,” he had said. “We’re going to need to visit an old friend of mine.” The priest prized the bottle from Chad’s hands sooner than he would have liked and took another mighty gulp.
“That friend wouldn’t happen to be Nick Ventner would it?”
The priest’s face went white as a sheet and he drank again. His eyes were beginning to look watery and far away. “I wouldn’t try to find Nick Ventner even if judgment were standing on the doorstep of my church and demanding his presence.” The priest spat on the floor and quickly made a corrective cross on his chest.
Chad wondered if it was a requirement for all priests to be closet drunks.
“No, we have no business with his kind.” The priest walked over to a coat closet concealed between two bookshelves and put on a long black coat, finding an equally black hat to match.
“Little somber, don’t you think, Father?” Chad stood, preparing to leave, noticing with a pang of sadness that the bottle they had been sharing was being safely concealed inside the desk once more.
“We’re going to speak to a man about the end of times.” The priest stiffened and straightened his coat. “If ever there was a time to wear black, it’s now.” With that, he hastily scribbled a note that said he was going out to visit a local church in need and would likely be back by the end of the day. The priest walked out of the room, pinned the note to a board that hung outside his office and walked away.
Chad had to hurry to catch up, surprised by the priest’s alacrity. He had expected some long-winded speech about how the end times were more of a metaphor than anything else. The fact that the priest was willing to help him was a shock, and unfortunately gave credence to the strange events that had befallen Chad over the past day. “Where exactly are we going?” he called to the priest. His voice echoed uncomfortably in the church halls as if being magnified for all the spirits to hear.
“There’s a church downtown that makes a point of cataloguing everything related to the faith, good or evil. I know a priest there who specializes in the works most churches would rather burn than shelve. He thinks it’s important to examine all sides of the coin.”
They walked out into sunlight which had become blazing. Heat shimmered off the cracked black pavement, and Chad began to sweat immediately. Jesus, what I wouldn’t give for some rain. It didn’t rain in Midway often, but when it did, the storms were sudden and severe. In the distance, he could see the scaffolding of the new high rises downtown. Their adverts had boasted they would be so high, it would feel like touching the sun. Chad had never understood the appeal.
The priest walked up to a battered sedan that looked like it had seen one too many fender benders and tossed Chad the keys. “You’re driving, I need to think.”
“Too drunk more like,” muttered Chad, wishing that he could have been the one sleeping it off in the passenger’s seat.
“What was that?” The priest’s words slurred slightly but conveyed an attempt at divine anger.
“Praise God and all that.” Chad made a mock prayer bow and walked around the front of the car, unlocking the doors as he went. Staring another drunk in the face took the persistence out of his want for drink. Pot maybe, but not a drink.
“That’s more like it.” The priest swung open the passenger door and slumped into the faded cloth seat.
Chad turned the keys in the ignition, listening to the car whine as he did so. It seemed like it wasn’t going to start, but after a few feeble attempts, the engine guttered to life. Chad pulled onto the road and drove toward the city, away from the steadily rising sun. “So where exactly are we going?”
The priest was resting his lined face on the hot glass of the car window and groaning slightly. “Mega Church of the Universe.” He grunted. “Terrible name, but they’ve got pretty much all the donations in the universe, so I suppose it’s appropriate.” He swallowed hard and let out a loud sigh. “Are you sure it was Hell you saw through the horseman’s portal?”
Chad thought back to the previous night trying his best to cut through the haze. It had been a particularly vicious bender. “Unless there’s another land of fire and brimstone lying just a portal away from ours.”
The priest nodded as if considering the possibility. “It’s divine providence that you stumbled into my church.”
“Divine coincidence more like. You just happen to be close to B’s diner.”
“The Lord does not make mistakes.” The priest reached for the glove compartment and pulled out a bottle of aspirin. “That right is only reserved for we mortals.”
Chad scoffed. “So, I suppose you think judgment day is some reckoning we’ve all come to deserve then? You religious types are all the same.”
“And you atheists are all so unique.” He laughed and gazed out the window at gas stations and broken-down buildings of South Midway. “We’re all a bunch of fuck ups kid, doesn’t matter what we believe in, but you’d be a fool to deny what your own eyes have seen.”
Chad pulled up to a stoplight. Waves of heat rose from the pavement, giving the city the appearance that it was already burning. He had to admit, if anywhere was due for judgment, it was probably Midway.
The priest followed Chad’s gaze. “The cities that reach the tallest have the most sin to hide. But, they look pretty while they do it.” He laughed, and slumped back against the window.
“Even if this hasn’t all been some wacky hallucination…” Chad hadn’t ruled the possibility out. Drugs were cheap in Midway, and anything could have been mixed in with the previous evening’s blackout. This was just another strange experience to the pile. “I’m still not sure if I fully believe it.”
As he said it, a red convertible blew through the red light next to him, careening into the intersection just as a semi-truck came barreling through it. The convertible exploded in an incredible fireball, spinning away like a child’s top and tossing the driver headlong into the pole supporting the traffic light. Chad saw a splash of red before he involuntarily closed his eyes. When he opened them, the man was gone, replaced by a red pulp coating the pole and the pavement beyond in two wide streaks. The semi-truck continued to barrel along its path, predestined and unhampered by the accident it had been in.
Chad was about to say something to the priest when a dark black shadow swooped down from the sky. Its form was impossible to make out as it seemed to be nothing more than an absence of light, sucking the image out of the world before them. A clawed hand reached out of the shape, plucking at the ground where a man had once been. A silvery wisp emerged from the concrete, kicking and clawing, trying to hold on. It was halfway to the form of a man, but faded in and out like the creature that held it.
Chad’s jaw dropped open as the shade let out a mighty cry and with a heavy beat of what sounded like leathery wings, it tore into the sky, clutching silvery light in its talons.
The priest shook in the passenger seat, eyes wide, mouth hung open. “I,” the priest started and then stopped. “I take back what I said earlier.”
“It would appear the divine have taken a day off from their work… You need to drive, quickly.”
Chad did not have to be told twice, he floored the car’s failing engine and chugged across the intersection at the highest speed it could muster. Sirens began to sound in the distance, no doubt paramedics coming to deal with the crash site. Chad’s mind was numb, still reeling, unable to comprehend what exactly it was that he had just seen.
The priest, after his momentary paralysis, had become paranoid, looking over the back edge of his seat in quick jagged motions. He continued this for several minutes, and then they were on the highway. “Shit,” he seethed. “I thought I told you to drive fast.
Chad had been practically flooring the car the whole time, but it struggled to climb above sixty. “It’s your car, man.” He stomped on the pedal for good measure, causing the car to give a sickening lurch forward, but eventually return to its original speed.
“Then we’re both dead men.”
Chad stole a glance behind them in the rear-view mirror. A black dot was silhouetted against the sun, and it was steadily growing larger. “Oh, come on. What does it want with us?”
The priest pulled a bible from his breast pocket and began to thumb through it rapidly. “Oh I don’t know,” he slapped the book as if it might give him more answers, “maybe it’s the fact that you’re a herald of the apocalypse and it’s a hell hound.”
“What about fair play and all that?” The priest’s matter-of-fact nature about the life-threatening situation they found themselves in was pissing Chad off. “Shouldn’t that mean immunity or some shit?” He pressed his foot into the floor, willing the gas pedal to go deeper, but it did not. The car continued at its lumbering pace.
An old woman in a mini-van passed them on the left, making obscene hand gestures as she went. Chad thought he saw a hint of malice in her eyes, but it might just have been a remnant of the pants-shitting fear from the hellhound behind him.
The priest pulled out a small Bible from his breast pocket and began to read. “Satan knows how to blockade our coasts with the iron warships of sorrow, but, blessed be God, the port of all prayer is still open.”
“Are you reading the fucking Bible?!”
The black dot grew in size and Chad could almost see its beating wings.
“I am a priest. It’s my job to read from the bible in times like this.” He continued to read.
“Don’t you have holy water or stakes or something?” Chad didn’t know much about the priesthood, but assumed that most clergy were at least semi-capable of disposing of run-of-the-mill demons.
“I am not a monster hunter,” spat the priest, slamming the bible shut. “I don’t consort with their type!”
“Yeah?” said Chad, checking the mirror once more. He could almost make out the form of the creature, but the pure darkness of its figure made it impossible. “Well maybe you should, because it looks like we’ve got a monster, and it’s gaining on us.”
“Just get us to the church, we’ll be safe there.”
“Bet they’ve got some holy water.”
The priest was about to argue with him, but stopped. “Actually, holy water wouldn’t have been a bad idea.”
“Great, a drunk, and unprepared.”
“There’s a saying about pots and kettles,” started the priest, but Chad interrupted him.
“Shut up, Father!” He knew damn well that he was in no place to criticize, but the creature slowly gaining on them changed the situation. “Start thinking of a way to slow it down, because there’s no way we’re getting to downtown before it reaches us.” Midway’s skyscrapers were much closer than they had been, but they were at least fifteen minutes from the center of downtown.
The creature swooped low, digging its claws into the concrete behind them, leaving mighty ruts wherever it touched. Momentarily, bright red eyes glowed out from the black pit of its being, and Chad almost thought he saw one of them wink at him. There was a sound, halfway between a throaty laugh and a growl from behind them.
A station wagon passed Chad on his right. Inside was a family, singing along to the radio together, happy as could be. “Why aren’t they more worried?” he asked.
“Probably because they can’t see it. They haven’t been exposed to Hell.” The priest’s hands shook, and he began thumbing through the bible once more.
“Again, I’m not sure that’s going to help—”
There was an earth-shattering screech like the sound of a thousand souls crying out at once, and the hot stink of brimstone. The back window of the car shattered, and Chad almost saw the face of the creature out of the corner of his eye, but just as quickly as the image formed, it disappeared into darkness. The car filled with hot wind.
The priest jumped, accidentally ripping a page from the bible as he did so. It fluttered aimlessly through the back window and into the shapeless void beyond. There was a quick burst of fire and the creature recoiled with a painful yelp.
Chad looked at the priest knowingly.
“Oh, this is so sacrilegious,” he moaned, and then tore another page from The Bible, chucking it out the back window.
A black tendril lashed out, searing the cloth of the back seats, but the ball of paper burst into flames and the creature recoiled once more.
“It’s working!” shouted Chad.
“But at what cost?” The priest ripped another page out and threw it behind them.
“I’m pretty sure God’s going to let this one slide.”
The creature took off into the sky, flying directly into the sun.
“Praise god, it’s gone.”
“Sure, whatever.” Chad breathed a sigh of relief.
“Still you blaspheme?”
There was no time for them to argue. Ahead, the black creature plummeted to the ground cracking the pavement beneath it. “Uh, father?”
“I see it,” breathed the priest. He began to pray quietly.
“Cut that out and hand me the book.” Chad could not help it, a piece of him was enjoying the chaos.
The priest obliged, handing Chad the book remorsefully. “Better you than me I suppose.”
“Real paragon of good you are.”
The creature waited on the road, clearly expecting them to stop. Chad kept the car floored and dropped the Bible in his lap. With his right hand he gripped the wheel, and with his left, he rolled down the driver side window. Then, like a knight preparing for a joust, he held the bible out in front of him. “Hold on, Father, this is going to be rough.”
“If you wreck this car.”
“Pretty sure the hell hound already did that.” They were only a hundred feet away. The black mass sat on what Chad imagined to be haunches. He couldn’t be sure, but the term seemed to fit in his mind.
One hundred feet, he thought, miscalculating the distance horribly. He cocked his arm back, readying the book.
Fifty feet. They were twenty feet away.
Twenty feet. “The power of Christ compels ye!” he yelled and threw the Bible at the beast with all his might. There was a sickening moment when he thought it was all going to be over. The car was a mere five feet from the black mass before them, but just before they struck it, the creature erupted into a pillar of flame, evaporating into the summer sky.