Ghosting

What follows is Part 1 of what I imagine as a 3 part story. The main character is Detective Dick, named after Dick Fausel, who so far is the highest donor for Whiteout’s GoFundMe campaign. So, big thanks to Dick for his support, and enjoy Part 1 of Ghosting.

Also, thanks to KC Fonts, which is where I found the font used for the title above.

Ghosting

I got to do this job for twenty years before they started introducing ghosts. They were nothing more than civilians with high scores on empathy exams. Most of them couldn’t have passed the basic police screening, but the program was funded by donors with deep pockets, so it continued. Some people thought we were training telepaths; crock of shit if you ask me. There’s nothing telepathic about the way a ghost works, just some strong technology prying on innate emotional capabilities. If you took a neural cord and plugged yourself into the deceased, you might feel something too…

The First Ghost

The first recorded instance of successful ‘ghosting’ was two years after the program’s inception, and believe me, it was far from their first try. Somewhere in the capitol, there’s a long list in a locked cabinet of where the bodies are hidden. You don’t start a revolutionary program without losing a few candidates. At least, that’s what our superiors would say each time they carried out a sheet-covered figure on a stretcher.

That first night, several of the departments best detectives were called to a suspected homicide location, woman dead in her apartment, multiple stab wounds. Any real detective could have told you to suspect the husband, but top brass wanted to make sure their money was being well spent. In truth, it was a layup, so they brought in a ghost.

He was a thin, waif of a kid, looked like he hadn’t slept in weeks. I figured him for a techno-baby, someone who stayed indoors all day and didn’t mind much that the tall buildings blotted out the sun. The silver eye tattooed on his forehead also fit the profile. The center glinted with a small metallic piece, reminiscent of the RAM district.

The press would have gathered around to see it if they’d been let in, and trust me, they tried. Luckily, the captain at the time was a man who respected privacy, and press were pushed away with what some later called undue force.

The waif looked at the murder scene like it was nothing. In hindsight, he had probably trained on much worse. He unshouldered a bag and pulled out a neural cord. On the outside it looks simple, like an extension cord with a raised circle on either end about the size of a silver dollar. It was originally invented as a therapeutic device for re-living traumatic memories, but that didn’t last long. When the government got wind, they contracted the creator, and six months later we had the ghost program.

The waif laid a small sheet on the ground next to the dead woman and with gentle, but deliberate movements, the waif placed one end of the neural cord on her forehead. He thumbed a button on the side, there was an audible click, followed by a sick puncturing noise, like a watermelon being broken. That’s a sound I’ll never forget. I averted my eyes briefly, and saw a photograph of the woman, her husband, and her father propped up on a dresser. I remember thinking: If he fucks this up, there’s going to be more than a few lawsuits from her family.

If the waif was bothered by it, he didn’t show any sign. He held the other end of the neural cord and aligned it carefully with the tattoo on his forehead. When he was satisfied, he pressed the button and once more there was the same click, but no sound of puncturing. His body slackened almost immediately, a and he collapsed on the floor. Silence swept over the room in a wave.

A smart-dressed man, whom I later discovered to be the ghost program’s sponsor, pulled out a pocket watch and began timing. I swear, the ticking of that clock was the loudest thing in the room. The room held a collective breath, wondering if our paperwork at the morgue was about to double. The waif’s eyes twitched back and forth, but his body remained still. I felt a strange pity for him, wondering what pain he would be forced to endure to solve an already open-and-shut case. But, as always, management had their reasons.

Fifteen minutes passed. The sponsor was walking over to check the waif’s pulse when he jolted awake, tearing the cord from his forehead. The woman’s corpse gave a final jolt as if it had been hit with strong electricity. The waif lay on the floor for a minute, unable to speak, covered in sweat. At first, all he could do was gasp. I later learned the experience is similar to being brought back by a defibrillator. Then, he managed one word: “Him”.

The waif pointed to the picture on the woman’s dresser. It was of her, the husband, and an older gentleman.

“See, I told you it was the husband,” cracked one of the other detectives. “We just desecrated a corpse for nothing.” Most of the police force didn’t believe in the program, much less respect it.

I felt much of the same, that was, until the waif shook his head. He stood, uneasily, but gaining stability, and walked over to the shelf. He looked at the picture and pointed to the older man. “Not the husband. The father.”

We were set on patrol and an APB was put out with a description of both the father and the husband, just in case. The husband quickly called in. He’d been working late in a secured facility, no cell phone service. In other words, he was clear.

I think to some extent we all knew the waif was right. Sure enough, later that night we picked up the father in an opium den, blubbering in a corner and trying to numb the pain. He confessed as soon as he saw the blue uniform walking through the door. That was that. We brought him in, he signed a confession, and corporate had their first success story for a highly experimental program. Before long, ghosting was just a part of the way we did things.

I stuck to the old ways, finding the procedure to be unkind to the deceased, despite its results. It was all just too invasive, and I didn’t believe the talk of minimal side effects. I had sworn never to try it, and the police chief let me stay on because I was still damned good at assisting those who would. Several times the department had me tested for empathy, and invariably they’d bring me in, begging me to join, offering raises, promotions, you name it. Each time, I told them no. I was unwavering in my commitment until a snowy day in November, when everything changed.

Chadpocalypse 1:10

The next chapter of Chadpocalypse is here! One key change for those of you who have been reading. Changed the name of the church to Church of the Second Book from Church of the Alternative Teachings of God, because one sounds way better. I may change this again, but for now, enjoy!

Part 1-2Part 3Part 4, Part 5Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9

Remember, if you like what you read, share, like, and check out my GoFundMe Page!The

1:10 Church of the Second Book

What immediately struck Chad about the church was not its dim quality, dark corners, or strange stalagmitic ceiling, but the relaxed nature of its clergy. Their robes were black and looked ripe for human sacrifice to be sure, but most were smiling and strolling through the shelves as if it were typical. The alcove containing the elevators hid them slightly from view, giving Chad a chance to take it all in, or attempt to. A group of people walked by, some of their faces concealed, others hoods thrown back, casually discussing the meaning of eternal damnation.

Chad stared, stunned that such a place even existed.

Joe on the other hand, wore an expression of fear. “Stick close. This place is more dangerous than it seems.”

Chad took another look around the room. A thick brown chest propped against a book shelf shook violently as if something inside wanted out. “Seems pretty dangerous.”

“Exactly.”

“More dangerous than being attacked by a hell hound on the freeway?”

“Let’s see if we live through it and then I’ll tell you.” Steeling himself, Joe stepped away from the alcove containing the elevators and into the church proper. In his somber attire, Joe blended well, and actually looked at home.

Chad followed him into the church and immediately felt out of place in his street clothes. The fact that they were still unwashed after a night of heavy drinking did nothing to help the situation. In between a set of tall shelves to their right, a group of monks chattered excitedly. From the center of their group, a pillar of flame erupted, briefly taking the form of a skeleton. It clawed its way toward the ceiling, but disappeared in a puff of smoke just before it reached it.

Involuntarily, Chad moved closer to Joe.

Ahead, a massive stone archway was cut out of the darkness, revealing a long room lit with red candles. Rows of pews lined it leading up to a black wood altar. On the wall behind it, several mean-looking swords hung in the shape of the five-pointed star.

“Don’t tell me we’re going in there?”

“What if I told you it’s just for show,” said Joe.

“Is it?”

Joe’s muscles tensed. “No, it isn’t.”

They were about to cross the threshold when a voice called out from behind them. “Hello Joe.”

Joe moaned. “Carla,” he said, speaking as he turned to face the voice.

Chad also turned and found himself face-to-face with a beautiful woman, practically a shining beacon in her dark robes. Chad was struck with a sudden urge to say something both clever and complimentary, but instead managed a half-gag, half-belch. Trying his best to cover up the blunder, he opted instead for a smile.

The woman looked at him as if he were pond scum and his heart might as well have exploded. Dreams shattered, he tried to look up at her, but felt the pang as if he had lost the love of his life over the course of a few seconds. Has to be a curse, he thought. No one can be that beautiful.

“You alright, Chad?” asked Joe. To the outside observer, it might have appeared that Chad were having a short series of seizures, intermixed with miniature psychotic breaks. His mouth hung slack and more involuntary noises came from his throat as if he were choking.

With a disappointed sigh, the woman pulled a veil in front of her face. “Does this help?”

Chad felt as though a spell had been lifted. He could look and speak once more. “Is there some kind of curse upon you?”

“No, you’re just male, and an idiot at that. I’d kick you in the balls to right your mind, but it seems inappropriate given that we’ve just met.” She looked him up and down with dissatisfied appraisal. “However, slobber over me again,” she made a swift kicking motion, “I’ll treat you with the same respect.”

Chad gulped and nodded silently.

Satisfied, the woman turned her attention to Joe. “So, Joe. How have things been?”

“Fine, thank—”

“Never mind, I don’t care. What’s it been, five years since you had me excommunicated?” She arched an eyebrow. “That means you’ve either decided to leave the faith for something more interesting, or you’re in trouble.” She looked him up and down, calculating. “It’s the latter isn’t it.”

Joe shifted uncomfortably. “Indeed, it is.”

“So, it was you who ran afoul of that hell hound on the freeway. I would never have guessed. Maybe you are into something more interesting after all.”

“Yes!” blurted Chad. That’s it, she’s a telepath, how else would she know?

She observed Chad’s expression with a mirthless humor. “No, I’m not a telepath.”

Then how would you know what I’m thinking?! Chad tried to conjure images of a much more muscular version of himself, in hopes of showing inner confidence.

“We do get the news here,” she continued, ignoring Chad’s silence. From an inside pocket in her dark robes, she pulled out a cell phone and showed Joe a headline.

Chad crowded in to look. The headline read: Sudden Fault Line Opens up on Midway Freeway. It went on to say that the sudden fault had created a shockwave that nearly killed the as of yet unidentified passengers of an aging Buick.

“Hey, that’s us!” exclaimed Chad. He had never been on the news before. The thought that it was for an accident was disappointing, but he had made it nonetheless.

Joe made a non-committal huff. “How’d you know it was a hell hound?”

“There have been some uncommon vibrations recently. I had a few guesses, but hell hound seemed most likely.” There was a loud bang from somewhere deeper in the church. Both Chad and Joe jumped, but Carla didn’t flinch. “So, what have you gotten yourself mixed into that’s got a hell hound after you?” Her tone was one of mild curiosity.

“It’s not what I’ve gotten myself mixed up in; it’s him.” Joe jabbed a finger at Chad. “He’s been selected for the purposes of ‘fair play’ such as it were.”

A look of recognition flickered in the woman’s eyes and she began to circle Chad like prey. “So this is the fabled herald of our doom?” She snorted, unimpressed. “Smells like a dumpster fire.”

“Hey,” put in Chad.

“Sorry honey, it’s true. You’re a sad sack. It’s probably why they chose you.” She stopped so that they were eye-to-eye. “Which horseman was it?”

“It’s unclear,” began Joe, but the woman put up a hand to silence him.

“Chad, is it?”

“Y-yes.” Chad felt a mixture of anger, fear, and hunger welling within him. Despite the spirits that had occupied it, he still felt like a return trip to B’s diner.

“What did the horseman look like, Chad?” She spoke to him as one would speak to an unstable witness, or a child.

“Like some bro in a polo tee with an attitude problem.”

“Condescending?”

“A bit.”

“Strike that, who wouldn’t be.”

“Asshole,” muttered Chad.

The woman made a gesture to remove the veil from her face and Chad silenced. “Anything else?”

“He opened a portal to Hell and shoved my head through it. That’s about it.”

“Sounds like a pestilence to me. What do you think Joe?”

“My thoughts exactly.”

“Hold on,” said Chad, growing tired of feeling like the idiot in the conversation. “Isn’t pestilence supposed to bring disease?”

“It does read,” said Carla with mock excitement. “Yes, he does, but the definition of disease changes. Really, Pestilence is here to cause discomfort whether it’s physical or mental.”

“Ah.” Chad thought back to the horseman shoving his head through the Hell portal. “Yeah, that seems to fit.”

“Splendid, well now that Chad is back on board, it seems like we’ve got our work cut out for us.”

“You’re going to help us?” The fact that anyone was going to willingly involve themselves with the business of Hell came as a bit of a shock.

“Wouldn’t be much of a church if we didn’t. You still drink, Joe?

“Apocalypse only a year away? You bet I do.”

Chadpocalypse 1:9

Here it is, the next chapter of Chadpocalypse. Moving along with this story, and just finished the outline for Whiteout’s sequel, Downpour. Might share a few chapters as I go through the rewrite in the coming months! For those who aren’t caught up on Chadpocalypse, links to previous chapters are below.

Part 1-2Part 3Part 4, Part 5Part 6, Part 7, Part 8

Remember, if you like what you read, share, like, and check out my GoFundMe Page!

1:9 Mega Church of the Universe

To say the building they pulled up in front of was an eyesore, would be to make an understatement of biblical proportions. While most of Midway had moved forward into the modern age, with tall buildings made of steel and glass, the Mega Church was the living, breathing embodiment of a 1980s telethon. The massive structure was constructed almost entirely of marble and adorned with various interpretations of cartoonish religious iconography. Its most prominent feature was a large cross that hung just above its entrance and rose high enough in the sky to inspire the neighboring CEOs in their penthouses to faith.

By the time Chad pulled into the thirty-minute parking spot, the car was well on its last legs. It appeared that the hellhound had done far more than just shatter the back window. Chad had not stopped to find out exactly what it was, but the sound of metal on concrete as they had been driving told him it wasn’t good.

“I thought I told you not to wreck this car.” It was the first time the priest had spoken since the attack.

“Ask God for a new one.” Chad stepped out of the car, feeling the need to run rising within him once more. The shaded downtown streets were noticeably cooler than the suburbs. The tall buildings blocked out the sun at its peak, leaving the streets to be dim and humid. Chad felt changed from the experience of witnessing Hell on earth, not devout mind you, but changed. It was as if he were seeing the world through a realistic lens for the first time in his life.

People passed looking oddly at the car and its passengers. Chad tried to give them a ‘shit happens’ smile, but it was half-hearted at best. His current predicament had gone so far beyond ‘shit happens’. Chad was preoccupied, scanning the skies for signs of more demons and trying not to descend into an all-out panic. Every passing glance made him nervous, and the feeling only intensified as the black-clad priest in the wide-brimmed hat stumbled out of the car, looking like something out of the Exorcist. His palms were still shaking as he struggled to walk steadily from a mixture of fear and drink.

“These people are going to tell me to take you to a shelter.”

“Shut up,” snapped the priest. His breath wafted into the hot summer air, fermented, and putrid.

“Jesus, take a mint or we’ll get directed to an AA meeting.”

The priest ignored him and steadied himself on the edge of his car, examining the damage. From the front of the vehicle, things didn’t look so bad. Chad decided to start moving before the priest was able to walk around the back.

Next to the parking spot was a small meter shaped like an old-fashioned donation tin. It read: Parking here is free, but the lord could always use a helping hand. Not wanting to anger the gods any more than he clearly already had, Chad dropped a few coins into the tin. The metallic bottom slid away, and the coins clanked down a long tube. A small drawing of a saint on thin paper popped out of a slot with: ‘Praise be to parking!’ Emblazoned in bold letters.

Chad had never donated to a church, and instantly felt like he had somehow been duped into it. A long flight of steps led up from street level and under the massive cross. Beneath it was an overhang lit by recessed lights, and beyond that, a set of stained glass doors. Stuck in the middle of the stairs was a tall gold statue of the church’s founder with a dedication plaque beneath it.

Chad didn’t recognize the man, but then again, he didn’t pay attention to much about downtown Midway unless it was a happy hour special. He walked up to the sign and read it.

Welcome to the Mega Church of the Universe, a building of faith and prayer for everyone. Spiritual enlightenment is just a few flights of stairs away, and if that’s too much, there’s an elevator at the 5th street entrance. Praise be, and welcome. There was an engraved signature below the message, a fine cursive reading: Chris Schaefer, Grand Priest.

“Seems pretty blasphemous.” Chad looked the gold statue up and down. “Isn’t there something about false idols in the bible?”

“Yes, there is,” admitted the priest. “But the laypeople don’t care much so long as there’s a quick and simple way to ease their spiritual guilt.”

Chad nodded. “So, there’s a lot of priests in there right?”

The priest looked confused. “It is a church, so yes.”

“It’s going to be a little confusing calling you Father all the time.” Drawing the attention of more priests than they intended felt like a consequence Chad wanted to avoid. “You have a name you go by that’s any less biblical?”

The priest sighed, as if sharing his name with Chad was something he would have rather avoided. “Call me Joe,” he said at last.

“Joe?”

“Yes, just Joe, now stop with the questions. We need to get off the streets. We should be safe in there, blasphemous as it is.”

Chad thought he saw a smile briefly cross Joe’s lips, but in the same instant, it was gone. “Well, if enlightenment is just up these stairs, then maybe this whole hell on earth thing won’t be as hard as we thought.”

“We should be so lucky.” The priest straightened his hat and walked up the steps.

Chad followed him, and while hating the building’s aesthetic, felt none of the usual reservations about entering a church. To some extent, it didn’t feel like a church at all, and more of just a walking advertisement for faith. That at least he could understand the motivations behind. It was the blind devotion that made him uncomfortable.

When they stepped into the building, chills prickled across Chad’s skin, not from holy power, but from an incredibly strong air conditioning system that likely cost a fortune. Midway in the summer was pretty close to Hell as far as heat went, and most buildings couldn’t afford to fight it. The entryway to the Mega Church was practically an icebox. Adding to the opulence, white marble spread out floor to ceiling before Chad. Long lines of black stone were inlayed in the surface forming intricate patterns. Several television screens hung from a vaulted ceiling, detailing various services that were being held throughout the building. They ranged in price from a cheap $10 sermon, all the way to a $10,000 workshop on obtaining the divine peace of mind, taught by a foreign mystic.

“This is where we’re going to find someone who studies the dark arts?”

“There’s more to it than the glitz and the glamour you see here.” Joe turned to lead Chad up a flight of stairs, but they were accosted by a welcoming man in brightly colored robes and a pointed had. He looked like a technicolor pope, and in his right hand, he held a balanced tray dotted with little white pills.

“Welcome, welcome, welcome,” said the buoyant priest. His voice rose and fell like it were a passenger on an uncommonly rough, but pleasant sea. Chad thought he looked fresh from a hippie commune, and had no place in the priesthood.

“Not interested,” muttered Joe, waving a hand at the man.

The buoyant priest recoiled slightly, smelling Joe’s breath, and taking offense at his dismissal. “Welcome to the Mega Church of the Universe,” said the priest, hopefully, as if starting again might change the outcome.

“Sorry, we’re here for the Alternative Teachings of God,” said Joe.

The man in the multi-colored robes looked disappointed. “Ah yes, the Alternative Teachings. They’re a good group…” He didn’t sound entirely convinced of it. “But they can be a bit of a downer.” He trailed off, and then remembered the tray in his hand. “Can I interest you in some mescaline?” His eyes brightened as if he had completely forgotten about the tray’s contents until that very moment.

“I’m sorry?” stumbled Chad, suddenly alert. “Aren’t you supposed to be a priest?” Ordinarily he was not in the position of turning down drugs, but there was something about taking them from a priest that just felt wrong.

“You try being one without it.” The priest grabbed one of the little pills delicately between thumb and forefinger, and popped it into his mouth. He gave Chad a knowing wink and proffered the tray to him. “Come on, they won’t bite.”

Chad looked to Joe who was already beginning to shake his head in disapproval.

Joe shrugged. “Not my church, not my rules.”

“It would be rude not to,” Chad said.

“But I’d advise against it, given your current predicament.”

Chad could not think of a better time to have his mind erased by powerful drugs. Their predicament continued to move from bad to worse, and a drug trip would at least stall it. Chad grabbed a pill from the tray and was about to swallow it when he thought better of it. “We’ll make this one for the road.” He smiled at the priest and pocketed the pill.

“Maybe you can bring it to one of our services later.” The priest grinned. “The high priest will bring out the best trip you’ve ever had.” The technicolor priest turned to Joe and offered him the plate. “And how about you?” It was a feeble attempt, as he already knew the answer.

“No, thank you. I’ll stick to prayer and penitence, thanks.”

“You Catholics and your penitence.” The priest shrugged and walked away. As he did so, Chad thought he heard him mutter ‘square’, but couldn’t be entirely sure.

“I would suggest throwing that pill away,” said Joe.

“A wise man never turns down free drugs.”

“A wise man doesn’t bake his brain with chemicals when he’s being pursued by the minions of Hell…”

Chad shrugged. “Seems like as good a time as any.”

The priest looked at Chad as if considering admonishment, but then slackened. “Let’s go find the Alternative Teachings Church. If I remember correctly, they’re on the top floor.” Joe looked around the lobby, spied a sign pointing to an elevator bank and walked over to it.

Chad followed. The elevator bank was made up of a series of gold doors recessed into the marble walls. Above each door was a small, clocklike mechanism showing which floor the elevator was currently on. While Chad thought they were on the first floor, the mechanism clearly showed ten levels below them, as well as an extra thirty above them. “Just how big is this place?”

“Forty stories in total, each hosting its own form of religious expression. It’d be a paragon of tolerance if it wasn’t so focused on making a buck.” Joe pressed the elevator call button and a calming voice said, “While you wait for your carriage, consider making a donation in the box below.” On cue, a donation tin like the one that had been on the parking meter popped out from the wall. “Remember the generosity of god and take it into yourself.”

“Is everything an upsell?” asked Chad, feeling idiotic for putting coins into the machine earlier.

“Like I said, anything to ease the guilt of the masses.”

The donation tin remained extended even as the elevator door began to open. Chad walked into the carriage, trying to ignore it, but feeling its silent judgment.

Joe followed him in, and the doors slid shut behind him.

“Hi there,” beamed an annoyingly pious voice. “Where does your spiritual journey take you today?”

“The Alternative Teachings of God.”

“Super choice!” said the voice. “Going up!”

“Good lord, that’s annoying,” said Chad, feeling the return of his lost headache.

“The lord has nothing to do with it.” Joe straightened his overcoat nervously.

“How well do you know this friend?”

“It’s been a few years…” The priest inhaled deeply. “We haven’t talked much recently.” He said it quickly, as if it held no meaning.

Chad grew suspicious. Joe, like most priests was very clearly hiding something. “Old boyfriend?” he tried. He didn’t think it was true, but if it was, he was going to look like a genius.

Joe stared at Chad in annoyance. “Have you forgotten that I’m a priest?”

“Oh, don’t tell me you’re against homosexuality. So cliché.”

“And you’re the spitting image of tolerance. Priests can’t have relationships you nitwit. Regardless of gender.”

The elevator continued its languid pace upward.

“Alright,” said Chad, a little ashamed. “What is it then?”

The priest took another long breath. “They’ve been a little upset with me ever since…” Joe wrung his hands together.

“Oh, just spit it out.”

“Alright, fine. I excommunicated them for studying the dark arts.”

Chad’s mouth twisted into a sarcastic smile. “Great, he’s definitely going to help us then.”

“It’s certainly a gamble,” admitted Joe. “But let’s hope she will.”

As he said it, the elevator doors sprung open, revealing a massive arcane library, black shelves, and black-clad men and women moving between them. Skulls adorned the walls and torches burned in braziers at odd intervals, bathing the room in alternating firelight and pitch darkness.

“Well, this is welcoming.” Chad felt a sense of unease growing, and was thankful he hadn’t taken the pill. “But, seems like the right place to learn about the apocalypse…”

Chadpocalypse 1:8

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:

Part 1-2Part 3Part 4, Part 5Part 6, Part 7

Remember, if you like what you read, share, like, and check out my GoFundMe Page!

chadpocalypse

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.”

“About what?”

“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.

NanoWriMo – Day 29

Alright, here it is, the epilogue. With this chapter Maelstrom comes to a close. Thanks to everyone who has been reading this month, can’t wait to get back to my other projects!

If you can, please donate to my campaign for the first book in the Nick Ventner series which is due out early next year. Can’t wait to share it with you all!!

GofundMe.com/WhiteoutNovel

–Ashton

Just a reminder, this is unedited, a rough draft, is the product of too much caffeine and CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR WHITEOUT AND DOWNPOUR. You have been warned!

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