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SHIFT by D Doyle Reynolds (aka Giskard)
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  1. SHIFT by D Doyle Reynolds (aka Giskard)

    Introduction

    SHIFT was originally posted in an earlier, unrevised form at Frugals some time ago (pre-Fiction Nuke). Some folks had expressed interest in seeing the final version, but some of them "disappeared." Now I know why. Since this book now exists as an eBook in a variety of formats commercially, and also in print from places like Amazon and Smashwords.com, I have decided it would be the better part of valor to share this with my friends here in the Private forum.

    It's like a restaurant. My friends I let into the back kitchen, but the rest of the patrons gotta pay! Gotta feed the kids, doncha know.

    So here we go, laying down a couple chapters at a time so as not to choke the server. I really don't care if you post comments here in the post. That's fine. Especially if they are nice ones!

    Oh! So what is SHIFT? Not your conventional survival story, I'm afraid. Very much a mixed genre. Some call it Speculative Fiction. Others Paranormal Suspense. A couple think it's like a science fiction, but not. I'll let you decide. It's open for debate.

    Enjoy!

    -Dave
    "And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand." -Dan 12:10



  2. CHAPTER ONE

    Castillo walked around the vast lab table and carefully examined every wire, each connection, all the coolant tubing and optical fibers. He was thrilled to have rounded out the work of all the researchers who had gone before and failed. His notes had confirmed and reconfirmed all the computer’s algorithms. No matter how he crunched the numbers, the simulations told him he had it right.

    Though the project was the financed property of Pravus, this remained, and always would remain, his baby. The big projects, like the one up in Alaska, utilized massive arrays to tweak weather patterns. Castillo’s twist focused electromagnetism in a new way to accomplish the same thing with surgical precision.

    Only here. Only at the secretive facilities hidden in the hills outside Camarillo could this even be possible, as far as he knew anyway. He could well remember the first time he was flown in. The facility was so choked with trees that, from his perch in the corporate helicopter, he had no idea how far-reaching were the grounds. From above he could see the occasional rooftop and connecting sidewalks. This could be your run-of-the-mill business park. However, as the helo descended, Castillo could see the workmanship of the buildings, that the architectural design was anything but your prefab business park construction.

    Money. Funny that such a word was the first to pop into his mind as the skids of the helo touched the pad. But that is what he saw everywhere he looked. This was not leased property. This was private and very well funded. Castillo had come up on meager University funding. This... for a scientist, this was like winning the lottery.

    The vast grounds had excited him as much as the expansiveness of the buildings. A young lady, what was her name again? Terry? No, Kerry! That was it! Kerry met him at the pad and escorted him to the Admin Building. Building One. There he'd been fingerprinted, photographed, tagged and released once again into Kerry care. She escorted Castillo to a golf cart to the edge of the grounds, toward the east end of the campus. There she stopped at a modest, single story building that looked more carpenter shop than anything.

    He had been, frankly, disappointed. Maybe even a little depressed. Castillo chuckled to himself at the memory. As Kerry escorted him inside, he had no idea at the time that he was about to set his eyes upon one of the most secure private facilities on the entire planet, so far as he knew. An armed guard was inside at an unassuming desk, suitable for a school teacher. On his desk, a notebook computer and little else he could recall. Behind the guard a single door with a simple keypad.

    When he offered Kerry a questioning look, she answered in a matter-of-fact fashion, “We were already bio-scanned as soon as we pulled up. Had we not passed muster, Jim there would not be seated quite so casually behind his desk.”

    Castillo was dubious, but followed Kerry to the door where she entered her code and opened the door for him. “This is as far as I go. I'm not cleared for the rest.”

    She gave him a sly grin and said, “Follow the yellow brick road.”

    When she closed the door behind him, Castillo found himself alone with three bare walls, plus the one behind with the door. Then, movement. Why an elevator should be so large...he assumed to move large equipment. Only the door was by no means large enough. Later he learned the door and its wall had been added after completed construction. Down, down the room took him. Castillo was certain he stood in the slowest elevator in existence. No, idiot. He corrected himself. Not slow. Far!

    Castillo felt the familiar sensation of increased weight. He'd arrived. Or slowed. Then the back wall, all of it, swung open like some massive vault door. Amazing! He stepped through and could only shake his head at the door's incredible mass. Two feet thick? At least. Maybe a little more. Men and women milled to and fro, taking little notice of him. As if such an entrance were commonplace. The enormous room was warehouse large with several doors on each wall. It looked to him like a warehouse for a space shuttle. Before he moved on, he just had to watch while the massive door clunked shut. He could not fathom what such a thing must weigh. To keep people out, or keep something in!?

    When he shook the question out of his head, he turned to see several squares of the floor before him were lighted in an offset pattern; left, diagonal right, diagonal left... and lit from beneath, yellow. The floor was one of those gridded, raised ones that likely had all kinds of wiring and cable dropped beneath. He took a step and the pattern adjusted before him several steps. Castillo recalled having laughed out loud. Someone must have been inspired by that old Michael Jackson video. He remembered thinking, So this is what happens when you give a bunch of nerds unlimited funding.

    And now, so much later, to realize the dream... To have the funds to dabble and create something so significant-so important. Something this huge will change the world. Castillo just hoped his baby would never become militarized. There had already been one Department of Energy clown nosing around. That’s what happens when you file the wrong papers at the wrong time. Those government types were like military recruiters. They could make a tour in Afghanistan sound like a vacation in Maui.

    He had spent hours arguing with the board of directors about the error of looking for supplemental funding from military sources. Those guys had a one track mind. One agenda.

    Enough with the negative thinking. Castillo wanted to feed the world. Change the deserts into farmlands. He wanted to bask in the moment. Yes, his baby was all spread out on the table now, but the components would button up just fine in a smaller container.

    Time to throw the switch.

    Castillo was no fool. No-sir-ee. This initial test had a load disconnect that would fry in a nano-second. Just long enough to get the reading he wanted for his final report. Jonas had proposed using a scalar energy source at one time, but Castillo strongly cautioned about the dangers. Scalar tended to be nearly one-hundred percent self-perpetuating and could be disastrous without proper safeguards.
    This one test would be powered by a simple marine battery sufficient to garner a pulse reading. Lots of data would flow from that.

    Castillo walked to the battery and connected the posts. The switch was around the table, to the right. He compelled his feet to move. His knees felt weak. He actually might have a chance at the Nobel. Carla would be able to have her dream home. Daniella can get her braces.

    Now, standing before the switch, his hand trembled. He could hear the rhythmic thud of his heart. Wouldn’t that be ironic; to die of a heart attack at the pinnacle of his life’s work? Castillo smiled, and threw the switch.

    *

    Within an area of about a football field, those within this Pravus building felt, rather than heard, a whump! Scientists, executives, janitors and Administrative Assistants paused in their tracks to flex their jaws and pop their ears. Some shared confused stares and Mailroom Supervisor Helen Cooper asked if someone had slammed a door.

    About two hours later, a lab tech would punch the keypad outside Castillo’s lab and open the door to a chaotic mix of papers, blood and debris pulled to a point four feet in front of Castillo’s experiment. More accurately, the debris merged on the floor before the machine’s focal point.

    Strange enough, though everything had been tugged with extreme force to that center, any object within about a five-foot circumference was sliced cleanly away. The sudden voidance resulted in a violent influx of anything not bolted down, including most of Castillo. Most.

    The tech, distracted by the debris and gore, never noticed the visitor in the room – the one in the corner, in the shadows. The man himself was but a shadow, an apparition, a phantom in the day - his subtle motion akin to a tree’s shadow. The tech surveyed the walls and saw only the shadow, not a curious specter pulled through a minuscule keyhole punched through a door to another place.

    *

    Cassie Johnson was on the monkey bars when a policeman and police lady met the Principal on the sidewalk. They talked for a while and the Principal looked very upset and pointed at the kids in the big playground. Cassie couldn’t tell which kid they were looking at. Probably just another big kid that stole something or ate some drugs.

    Cassie was surprised when a few minutes later the police were walking back to their car with her neighbor from across the street, Daniella Castillo. She looked worried too and the police lady just seemed like she was sad and not mad. Daniella was cool and never got in trouble before. Cassie would find out after school. Right after her mom picked her up from Miss Sandy’s.

    *

    Weeks later, Sandy Carpenter sat reading in her rocker next to little Cassie when a sweet fragrance in the air tickled at her nose. She put down the book with a frown. With the windows closed, she knew the scent couldn’t be the flowers outside.

    She looked around for the source when she turned to Cassie, with the notion she might confirm her senses, but her question died in her throat. Cassie stared, transfixed on the space before her. Sandy looked but could see nothing out of the ordinary. She watched Cassie for a few seconds to see if perhaps Cassie was lost in a contemplative moment over her latest novel.

    Sandy didn’t yet cultivate concern. Cassie and strangeness ran together much as tea and sugar. Sandy had never observed inappropriate behavior in all the months she sat five-year-old Cassie for the Johnsons. To the contrary, Cassie was very polite and well behaved. She did detect a reserved and guarded demeanor, as if Cassie harbored a terrible secret.

    However, beyond a touch of the precocious expected with any exceptional child, little Cassie remained a model citizen. Sandy associated Cassie's eccentricities as part and parcel of the exceptionally bright.

    She sat forward, watching Cassie breathe in rapid shallow breaths. Cassie’s current book of choice, Great Expectations by Dickens, summoned forth no frightening memories for Sandy that should agitate Cassie into some “state.” Although, Sandy had to admit to herself the number of years since she read the classic in her High School’s Great Books class. She did recall the escaped convicts and the old lady in the fire. Maybe that was it.

    She couldn’t believe this little prodigy could wade through the sometime tedious and archaic language, let alone enjoy the classic. Sandy could clearly see that something beyond her own awareness held Cassie transfixed, not frightened.
    “CJ?” Sandy probed. When Cassie didn’t respond, she grew alarmed. She called out again but Cassie didn’t seem to hear. The displaced smells persisted and now Sandy noticed a faint breeze in the room reminiscent of a warm, late morning in the tropics. She held her hand up to feel the breeze but could discern no specific source. No windows were open this cool October afternoon and no fireplace with open flue graced Sandy’s home.

    Cassie's odd non-response, the scents and the breeze from nowhere made Sandy's heart race, although little Cassie appeared serene. Sandy didn’t want to over-react, but she was on the edge of panic.

    She determined that the source of the breeze was from the general direction where Cassie fixed her gaze. Where she stared was nothing extraordinary that Sandy could see. Light entered from the picture window and from the window on the front door. There was a large mirror over a modest console table on the wall. To either side of the mirror were two Impressionist pieces by a local artist, framed and matted at Aaron Brothers. A small fern flourished on the table. Aside from this, nothing else was in the room that Sandy could detect but fragrant, warm air, stirred from a place beyond her ken.

    She inhaled the scents and could smell the distinct aromas of baked cookies, something floral, a fresh desert breeze, pine trees, smoky incense, and her dad’s favorite cologne. Then she readjusted her perception when she realized she not so much detected a mix of those scents, but rather they arrived within her olfactory system in separate and distinct streams of delight. It was as if they each entered her home via their own private doorway or window.

    Her memory ran through a variety of diagnoses from insanity to phantom odors brought on by brain tumor. If not for little Cassie’s odd behavior, Sandy might conclude her sensory overload was strictly psychological.

    Now panicked, Sandy jumped to her feet to with the intention of doing whatever came to mind first to snap Cassie out of wherever she had gone.
    “CJ... Cassie!” she shouted.

    Sandy stood and she noticed the space before Cassie shimmered. The effect was oh so subtle, as if an oval of cellophane stretched before Cassie. Sandy walked to the shimmer, saw that the shape seemed to adjust itself depending upon her position, and appeared to reach back into the wall.

    She noticed Cassie’s faint smile and subtle nod. Cassie gripped Great Expectations close to her chest. Sandy pulled Cassie out of her chair and hurried with her to the far wall, as far from the anomaly as she could manage before she set her down. She knelt before Cassie, took her shoulders in her hands to make eye contact, but Cassie stared right through her. The gentle breeze whispered at Sandy's neck and tickled the small hairs at the nape. Spooked, she spun on her knees yet still saw nothing. No hand reached through the ripple. No dragons or shadows passed through.

    She hurried to the window and tipped her head as far as the glass would allow, but all was as should be. She didn’t know what she might see. She expected nothing, but expected to see something that would explain the odd shimmer that so riveted Cassie in state.

    She looked beyond her immediate surroundings and out across the street but saw no ogling neighbors pointing at her house with their mouths agape. She saw no dragon breathing a hot flame against her wall to create a heat distortion in the air in front of Cassie. Nor did she see a witch doctor or a leprechaun doing a jig.
    In the maybe two seconds Sandy took to make this determination, the one thing to catch her eye was the odd displacement of shadow in the tree line across the street and up. Two shadows more distinct than the rest, shaped like men.

    She didn’t give this too much deliberation as shadows can play tricks on the eye, in particular where odd shaped trees and shrubs come into play. Sandy considered the alignment of the sun that should have obliterated shadows where she saw them. Next, I’ll be seeing faerie shapes in the clouds.

    However, this would not explain the delicate ripple in the air before Cassie. Something inconsistent in makeup of the shadows made her heart skip a beat. The vital, yet inexplicable, suggestion of Cassie in danger gripped Sandy.

    When she turned again to look at Cassie, her little CJ grinned back at her. Sandy hurried to her with arms outstretched.

    “CJ, what…?”

    Cassie threw her arms around Sandy’s neck. “Wow! He’s handsome. I think you should marry him!”

    Sandy pulled her away and looked at her.

    “CJ, what are you talking about? What just happened?”

    Cassie gave her a puzzled look.

    “That man! Didn’t you see? He said he came to tell me something important I’m supposed to do.”

    Sandy tried to wrap her mind around Cassie’s pronouncement when Cassie added, “Something really huge is happening.”
    Last edited by Giskard; 07-20-2011 at 12:27 AM.
    "And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand." -Dan 12:10

  3. CHAPTER TWO

    Sandy’s hand shook a little when she pulled the carafe from the coffee maker. Cassie sat at the small dining table in the kitchen. “Maybe you shouldn’t drink any more. Maybe you had enough,” she suggested.

    “I haven’t had even one sip yet. What’s a five-year-old know about coffee anyway?” Sandy reached for the sugar then thought better of it. Cassie’s advice was sound enough, but Sandy wasn’t about to go for a more calming adult beverage while babysitting. Coffee would have to suffice as a comfort drink.

    The sort of banter Sandy and Cassie engaged in frequently was grounding. The playful dialog provided an anchoring retreat. Humor was their common refuge in time of trouble. From the time they first met, Sandy and Cassie sensed the troubledness in one another, if there is such a word. Sandy didn’t know whether Cassie heard talk of the loss of Danny. She probably had. Sandy could tell a secret hid behind those wise eyes and she was concerned of the implications of Cassie's guardedness. So to lighten the mood, the two would parry with humor as their weapon of choice, not so much against each other, as together, against the ever-present oppressive enemy. They never named their common enemy. To name the enemy was to conjure it. To conjure it would be to face fears they were reluctant to battle.

    So the girls, vastly different in age, dodged their fears with the weapon of wit.

    “Mom says coffee makes her nervous as a little Chihuahua. Daddy says if you drink too much coffee it’ll turn your knees black.”

    Sandy turned her legs out from under the table and tugged her skirt just above her knees. “Look at my knees. Do they look black to you?”

    “He also says coffee will stunt your growth.”

    “That’s smoking.”

    Cassie crossed her small arms and squinted at Sandy with suspicion. “Are you sure?”

    “Positive,” affirmed Sandy.

    “Good thing my Grandpa smokes then because he’s six-foot-four.”

    “You are absolutely right. He would’ve been huge.”

    “Titanic! Like, he would have to have a special door just to get in the house.”

    “Or even a special house.”

    “Yeah, and his bed would be hu-normous!”

    “Is there such a word?”

    “Why not? Maybe there should be.”

    Sandy smiled, “Why not.”

    Sandy always wanted a little girl of her own. Now, with Danny gone, she at the far end of her twenties, her optimism that a child was in her future waned. True, women in their thirties bore children on a regular basis these days, though such births fell under the classification of High Risk. First, Sandy would have to meet the right man. She refused to consider a clinical solution. This idea struck her as too impersonal. Sandy joked to her sister she considered the idea vile. Her sister didn’t get the joke.

    Sandy wasn’t optimistic she would ever again meet the right man. She already met Mr. Right, dated him and married him. Then Sandy's bright future went from sunshine and roses to black hell with Danny's premature death.

    Sandy lived in a free-fall of denial as a widow of less than two years. She would not permit herself to consider considering anything else. The pain and anger flowed without restraint in her veins approximating a sensation of barbed wire and ground glass.

    Well-meaning friends often challenged Sandy. How long would she give herself over to grief? What amount of time should pass before it was time to “move on.” This much insufferable phrase she hated beyond any other sentiment. ‘Don't you think it is time to move on, Sandy?’ ‘Sandy, I think it's time you move on.’

    The phrase reminded Sandy of all those schlock-y television dramas where there is a tragic accident and the cop urges the crowd to move along. There's nothing to see. ‘Just move on.’

    Sandy couldn’t. This remained forever her tragedy. Danny’s memory is her love, her lover, her reason for life as certain as if his death occurred mere days ago. The very idea of moving on away from Danny's memory never failed to raise a lump in her throat. The barbs and glass in her veins threatened to clog her heart.

    Sandy knew men in her circle of acquaintances gravitated toward her. Her perspective of herself as a Plain Jane made her question their reasons. She saw herself as the girl next door, minus a couple points. Others insisted she was pretty, but lately, when she looked in the mirror, a specter stared back.

    Then Sandy's sister introduced her to the Johnson family and the balm that was Cassie began to work her magic. Cassie – The magic for the tragic. The radiant force for Sandy was a combination of Cassie’s smiles, insights and humor. Cassie Johnson gradually began to fill a need for love in Sandy that otherwise could not be easily satisfied. Adults around Sandy tiptoed. Her grief was eggshells to the grown-ups in her life. Little CJ, on the other hand, steamrolled right over Sandy’s grief and pressed joy from every moment they were together.

    Sandy knew she was messed up, perchance even a wimp. Of a certainty, she was a coward. Either way, naïve and innocent little Cassie lodged in. She was in and working her magic and Sandy would stop at nothing to guard this love and protect this peculiar little girl.

    After another big gulp of coffee, Sandy put the cup aside and clasped her hands before her on the table. “CJ, let’s go back to the beginning. What exactly did you see? Tell me everything and don’t leave out one little detail.”

    Cassie looked down at the table, uneasy. Sandy reached over, raised her chin, and looked her in the eyes. She saw the haunted eyes of someone very much older than age five, or even ten. The dark circles under her eyes suggested to Sandy that sleep was ephemeral and reserved for someone less aware.

    Again, Sandy found herself wondering about home. What was the true story? Did they ridicule her? Tease her? Was Cassie being abused? No way. Ridiculous. Not the Johnsons--any one of them. Then Sandy wondered how often kids were abused right under the noses of those closest to the family.

    She had to protect this little girl. Sandy’s imperative was to get at what could so trouble one as sweet as this. She had to know what happened in her living room a few minutes ago. She was already beginning to second-guess her own experience.

    “The cat’s out of the bag. You know I love you no matter what. No matter how different from other kids you are, no matter what may have happened to you, no matter what you may be going through, no matter even if someone might be hurting you, I will always love you, Cassie Johnson. Understand?”

    Cassie nodded and made her silly, adorable grin. Sandy absolutely loved the way one side of her face scrunched a little more than the other did when she smiled. One eye would close just a little more than the other.

    “So ‘fess-up,” Sandy prompted.

    Cassie scratched her chin so very adult-like. “Well… first I was reading. Then I smelled something really good like roses and cooking and camping.”

    “Camping?”

    “Yeah. You know. Happy smells – like fires and food and trees and stuff.”

    Sandy mulled over their similar olfactory experience. There the similarities end. Sandy wanted to know what Cassie saw that she didn’t. “Okay, go on.”

    “I could feel a little bit of warm wind with the nice smells. Then this guy comes in.”

    “Okay, now, here is where you lose me. How did he come in? Did he walk in the front door? Through the wall…?”

    “I was looking at my book, reading. He just sort of was standing there all of a sudden like. Not through the door or all glittery like Star Trek. I think he was an angel because he had these big wings.” Cassie looked off and considered. “Or maybe he was a big fairy!”

    “CJ, focus. What did you really see? Tell me the truth, now.”

    Her eyes opened wide. “Miss Sandy, I promise! He was a big guy, lots of muscles ‘cause he had no sleeves on his shirt-robe thingy. And his wings were huge and he had a nice tan. Oh, and a sword.”

    “A sword?” Sandy exclaimed. “Okay, I think we can rule fairies out.”

    “Yeah, what was I thinking? Fairies don’t have tans,” she deadpanned.

    “Right. So what happened next?”

    Cassie leaned forward and spoke in earnest, reverent tones. “He got on one knee right in front of me with a nice smile. He told me, ‘Do not be afraid. Our Lord has chosen you and given you a gift for His purpose. Now is the time of your own great expectation.’ That was pretty much it.”

    “That’s it?” Great. Poor little CJ is having a meltdown and delusions. Sandy went through her mental Rolodex and tried to recall any mental health professionals she knew.

    “Well, he showed me scary pictures in my head and said something like, ‘Our Lord will reveal who to gather. He will show you the way you should go.’”

    Sandy sat back, speechless. She shook her head in confusion. This couldn’t be real. Yet what were the options? An elaborate hoax? A deception of some kind? Who would do that how and why?

    People don’t simply imagine things outside their world of experience or ability to know. A five-year-old won’t hallucinate with vocabulary beyond her years, even if she does know how to read and comprehend the words. A child may say, ‘God said for me to tell you to fix me a banana split.’ Or maybe, ‘God said you must buy me a new bike and tickets to the Wiggles On Ice show.’

    Instead, what Cassie told Sandy was what an adult say -- maybe something a self-absorbed or nut case adult might say, but an adult nut. Then it occurred to Sandy that this is precisely why God would pick a child. For who would believe such imaginings could come from a child.

    Therefore, what she spoke was as truthful as any recitation given a child by an adult, like teaching them to recite their address and phone number.

    However, this whole notion that God stepped in and sent an angelic messenger, Sandy found surreal. Her husband attended church and she went with him a few times, but it was more of a tradition for her. Going to church was like apple pie, the Pledge of Allegiance and Thanksgiving turkey.

    Religion is a cornerstone the Pilgrims brought over at our nation's founding. Once upon a time, folks took matters of faith much more seriously than most today. Bible stories weren’t something Sandy considered possible, but more as morality plays. Most people believe in God in some form, same as Sandy, but she knew one couldn’t distill a real God into a book.

    Perhaps this particular book was more of a witness testimonial. No court document could reveal, to any considerable degree, a person’s life. Cassie's experience made Sandy rethink all aspects of the great morality tale, the exact nature to be determined.

    She asked Cassie, “What do you see that others can’t and what sort of scary pictures did he show you?”

    Cassie said, “They weren’t pictures like from his wallet. I don’t think he even had a place to keep a wallet. It was more like movies in my head. Sometimes I see things kind of like that, but then they really happen later. Sometimes I see stuff when I’m dreaming.”

    “Visions?” She asks.

    “Umm… ”

    “Never mind. What movies did he show you, then?”

    Again, Cassie rubbed her chin. “It was like a couple of movies in fast forward together. There was a gray jet, some people’s faces I’m talking to, and dark rain clouds. Lots of those, all thunder-y and lightening-y. And…” Cassie’s face clouded over. She grew pale and she swallowed hard as she stared down at the table.

    Sandy reached over and raised her tender porcelain chin. “It is going to be okay, sweetie. You can tell me. It’s over now and I’m right here.”

    “I saw monsters. It’s like I knew they used to be like the angel, but now they aren’t.”

    “What do you mean? Do you think angels are going to turn into monsters? Even if they did, what could you or I do about that?”

    Cassie looked away in reflection. “I don’t think so. It’s as if they were all the same once, long before we were born, but some were bad. So they don’t get to be angels anymore.”

    Sandy swallowed hard. She was familiar with this story but doubted Cassie read the tale. Given the nature of many a modern television cartoon, she may have picked something up there. Again, Sandy dragged her feet and struggled with another good versus evil morality tale. Because lumps go down better with something hot, she took a big gulp of coffee and set the cup back down. “What are they now, CJ? What in God’s name could an angel show a little girl?”

    Cassie grew very concerned for Sandy and put a small hand on hers. “You are right, Miss Sandy. It is going to be okay. The angel said you are going to be there to help me through the whole thing.”
    "And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand." -Dan 12:10

  4. #4
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    Wow! Very different and very, very good!
    Visit my Etsy shop at www.etsy.com/shop/TheCrochetFarm

    If we aren't showing love, His love, then what are we doing calling ourselves Christians?

    Psalm 73: 25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
    26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart
    and my portion forever.

  5. Thank you! Finishing coffee, then I'll get more up.
    "And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand." -Dan 12:10

  6. CHAPTER THREE

    Essex fidgeted and paced near a tree off the beaten path of the well-used park in Washington D.C. He smoked like a train and glanced around for anyone who might be watching him. Three-fourths of this town was hiding something, so he looking suspicious didn’t concern him.

    Essex was more concerned with someone he knew to be always watching. He was certain someone followed him earlier. He sincerely hoped he lost the persistent jerk and that he wouldn’t turn up again. Who was that guy anyway? The tail could have been any one of the three-letter organizations, not the least of which, the M – O – B.

    This cloak-and-dagger garbage was getting to him. Here it was dinnertime, it was getting chilly and he had to wait for old Statham so he could play patty cake with him in the back of his limo. What’s wrong with using one of those disposable cell phones? They are good enough for the freaking terrorists. For the umpteenth time, Essex checked the time.

    Essex had a vigorous dating life and he couldn’t wait for the big payoff at the end of this particular stage of Dark Cloud. The Bahamas beckoned to him. The fun and frolic of the islands is a favorite retreat of the power-elite and he counted himself among their number.

    Soon, a limo cruised on by. Essex watched. Is it stopping? Too many limos in this town. Then another followed not far behind the first. This one pulled alongside the curb. One last look around and Essex hurried to the limo. The driver opened the door for him. He flicked the cigarette to the curb, ground the butt under foot and climbed in.

    D.C. well recognized Old “Iron Hair” Statham, thus the need for discretion. His hair was a thick, rich silver and gray with every rigid hair starched in place. The puzzle for Essex remained the same for many. All Washington knew him as lobbyist William J. Statham, but a careful background check will reveal nothing under that identity prior to 1982 when the lobbyist first appeared on the D.C. scene. He was an enigma. No one who might benefit complained, and none would fuss who feared reprisal.

    Elsewhere, Statham had different names, but everywhere, he was the man behind men (and some women) but rare indeed survived the photo of him, let alone video footage. Those who tried, found their careers with the various publishing houses altered dramatically or eliminated altogether. He didn’t drive, so no database contained a Driver License photo.

    Photographers and reporters who sought to connect dots found themselves on the “paranoid freak has-been” list. He shopped and banked without his direct involvement, though his image, of a certainty, existed deep within the security databases of some of Washington’s most closely guarded hallways.

    Firmly settled into the back limo seat across from Statham, Essex wasn’t surprised to once again find the thin, balding man with wire-rimmed glasses who remained ever silent, vigil and nameless. He never spoke. Essex wouldn’t have been surprised to learn Statham had removed his tongue so he could not. He could’ve been an accountant. He waved a device in Essex’s direction and watched the readings within a briefcase. Obviously, he was looking for listening devices, bugs, what have you. The driver got back into the limo and pulled away from the curb.
    “Someone followed me, but I lost him.”

    With a nod from his silent aid as he stowed the device, Statham said, “That’s good. So tell me how it went.”

    “Pretty much just as we thought it would. The tests are moving forward later next week. Thursday, I am told. We should have lots of excellent raw data for our models.”

    Statham grinned and nodded as Essex spoke. Statham shifted his shoulders and settled back in his seat as he looked out the window, “Look at them all. Like so many cattle, consuming resources, living off the dole…”

    “Maybe not for too much longer,” Essex offered. “Beautiful thing is Global Warming gets the blame. Oh, excuse me. It's Climate Change now, right? I find it ironic that the very government stirring everything up will actually be the cause and probably will never even realize it.” Essex shook his head in wonder. “But reduce the world's population to just five hundred million! Do you really think we can pull that off?”

    *

    Statham looked across the limo’s expanse at Essex while he rambled. He was still trying to impress Statham, when all he wanted was for Essex to shut up and play his part without question or opinion.

    Who does this putz think he is? Statham wondered, Whatever he thinks, he has no idea what he’s dealing with. All he is interested in is the almighty dollar. Soon the dollar won’t be worth squat. Not with worldwide chaos. There will necessarily be a global reorganization. The paradigm shift will junk the world’s current monetary system in favor of a new system. China? The Euro?

    What the hey. Shedding a little light for this functionary might keep him motivated. He thinks he’s inside.

    “Oh, maybe not with this one plan alone. You are only working one front. There are many ways to reduce the populace. Wars are an obvious and very old front that has been effective for millennia. Then there are drugs, of course. Ah, but you have to love and admire the age of technology. Genetics is yielding some excellent results as well – particularly in virology.”

    “And politics. Tracking people and controlling ownership of guns is tricky here in the states.”

    “That wall will crumble, thanks to the war on terror. Mark my words,” Statham said, again watching people out his window as they drove by them. “Even the street bums have cells these days. Pick someone and you can track ‘em. Sometimes with their cells off you can track them. The rest they will agree to, happily.”

    Essex tilted his head from side to side doubtfully.

    “You ever hear the story about how they catch wild pigs?”

    Essex looked back and made a face. Statham was running out of patience with this unimaginative string bean of a man but decided the imparting of wisdom might prove beneficial, for all the good this knowledge would do him. Statham smiled at the private joke that he might be casting pearls before swine.

    “Story goes – you can throw corn out in the woods and the pigs will come around to eat at it. After a short time, they learn this is the place to come for freebies. Next thing you know their friends are coming around too. Once they are accustomed to it, you throw up the side to a fence and let them get used to that. Then you put up another, then another, until finally you put up an open gate. Now all the piggies have grown acclimated to living off the trough, fences and all. One day they come in for the freebies and find the gate closed behind them. They can run around and around in circles all they want, but it’s too late. The gate is closed.”

    Statham pointed out the window, “The little piggies out there have gotten used to feeding off the public trough even with all the walls. Private industry is unwittingly helping us, like with the cell phones and PDA’s. National Health Cards, then later, chips, are a great idea 'for the children.' Gun control is for their safety, they will see. It’s already in place in Europe, Australia, Canada… They will register them and allow national I.D.’s ‘for the children’ as well as vaccines, and look up one day too late to see the fence.”

    Essex rubbed his palms on his knees. “Well that’s fine by me, because the sooner the better. I don’t want to sound impatient or appear too greedy, but there is something to be said for lifestyle.”

    Statham grinned at the tall man, but for reasons Essex might not suspect. He’s so predictable.

    Statham added, “You don’t have to worry. It is a world’s wealth in which we shall partake. We are an age-old order and we are ready to step in to fill the vacuum left by the world’s failed governments. You will be a part of that new order, rest assured.” As a boot licker, he thought privately.

    “Yeah, but it sure will suck to be in that underclass, but someone’s got to make our shoes, right?” Essex chuckled.

    Statham reached across and patted Essex on the knee. “You are so right.”
    "And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand." -Dan 12:10

  7. CHAPTER FOUR

    When Cassie’s mother, Giselle, came for her, Sandy choked with apprehension as Cassie walked out the door. What else could she do? Tomorrow was a weekday, so to ask that Cassie spend the night was ill-timed. Sandy and Cassie had agreed between themselves to keep the angelic visit a secret. Until events made the revelation advisable, prudence demanded silence.

    Besides, Sandy was unsure how this vision or delusion or whatever would hit the Johnsons. She didn’t know whether they would ridicule her or have her institutionalized, or, that she wouldn’t see her again. The Johnsons might think Sandy was a bad influence. ‘Mommy, there was a half-naked man with big wings at Miss Sandy's!’ Tough though this would be to explain, the deception nevertheless struck Sandy with a wave of guilt.

    However, it wasn’t the deception or discovery of a distressing revelation of an otherworldly visit at the sitter’s house that had Sandy so spooked. The discussion of the immanent arrival of monsters and demons gave her the chills. Sandy smelled those smells and felt that warm breeze in her enclosed living room just as Cassie had. If the events were real, what the heck did this experience mean? This surely was symbolic of something less dire. The message could be allegorical. There weren’t really such things as monsters. Not really. Were there?

    Ah, and what of the mysterious gray jet? Solid gray with no trimming or logo, she said? Was she supposed to believe monsters were going to fly into the Santa Barbara Airport in a big gray jet? Ridiculous! So where was the connection? What was the underlying meaning behind the imagery? What was the connection with the big thunderstorm? She would have to remember to ask Cassie if they themselves were on the jet, or something she was seeing from a ground-to-air perspective. She knew she was grasping at straws-some interpretation that could mean little Cassie was still sane. She seemed sane. Like I would know what insane was like.

    No matter how many ways she tried to get her mind around the puzzle pieces, she could not grasp their meaning. Angels in a big gray jet fall to the earth in an electrical storm and terrorize Ventura and little CJ is going to save them and I am her sidekick? Craziness.
    "And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand." -Dan 12:10

  8. CHAPTER FIVE

    “Mommy, where do angels come from?” Cassie asked Giselle while she tucked her in.

    “Well, if you are very good you earn your wings and when you die you get to go to Heaven and be an angel,” said Giselle. “Now be a good girl and get some sleep.” She kissed Cassie on the head and turned out the light but left the door slightly ajar.

    Cassie frowned as she considered her mom’s answer. People become angels but some become bad and are kicked out and become monsters? Just as certain as she was that she saw the angel in Sandy’s living room, Cassie knew her mother was mistaken.

    This could even be one of Mom and Dad’s white lies. Like the time she caught her Dad sneaking fifty cents under her pillow and taking away the tooth meant for the Tooth Fairy. Or the time Santa came to her house but she could clearly see the beard was a fake and her Dad’s brown hair was poking out from under the hat.

    Once again, Cassie found this often to be the case with her parents. Much as she loved Mom and Dad, they could be clueless. She made up her mind to pick Sandy’s brain over the matter first chance she got.

    Tomorrow is Library Day. Although the school library wasn’t as impressive as the one on Main Street, and definitely not as impressive as the one in Oxnard, the school library may still have a book or two about angels. She folded her hands across her tummy and closed her eyes with a small noise of satisfaction at having made a good decision. And if I see that angel again I’ll have a couple of good questions for him too.


    Wind swirled and kicked up leaves, carelessly discarded grocery bags and old soda cups from the nearby shopping center. Most of the debris gathered into one corner of the yard. The brewing storm had a sinister quality to that snapped angry, quick thrusts of lightning. In a thirty-year old Craftsman home in Ventura, five-year-old Cassie Johnson stood on her tiptoes looking out the back door window at her favorite doll, alone in the back yard.

    Unlike the plastic baby dolls that populated the shelves of today’s super stores, this one was cloth and wore a homemade dress her friend and sitter labored over for hours. Cassie named her Emma. The storm was sure to destroy her Emma doll. Even now, the wind tugged at her doll and threatened to tear her away to places unknown, chewed in the giant maw of a tornado. Spit to the ground in a thousand tiny pieces.

    Cassie knew this was a dream. At least, she thought she was dreaming. When this happened before, it had been a very, very bad dream. She looked up at the inverted mountain of blackness that flickered with angry fire in the sky. Her mousy brown hair fell away from her face and her large, hazel eyes opened wide at the horrendous cloud pattern.

    She opened the door a crack and smelled the wetness and ozone. Do people smell things in their dreams, or do they just dream they can smell? Static caused the outermost strands of her hair to rise. Her Emma doll was out there. She had to get her and protect her, no matter what. This was her baby. Cassie thought that maybe she could change the dream this time. This time, she would be faster. She must, because the last time she had this dream, when she woke up, she found she had made something scary happen. Maybe if she could dream it with a happy ending, it would be different this time when she woke up.

    She opened the door wider and perched her foot firmly against the threshold, put her head down and ran. The wind whipped leaves around and against her. Cassie reached Emma, snatched her up and held her with triumphant love against her chest. The wind stopped with such suddenness that Cassie gasped. She looked up and could swear she saw a pulsing face swelling toward her in the weighty clouds. Now that was different from her other dreams.

    Something out there was out to get her. Maybe a tornado wanted to pull her up instead, then chew her up and spit her out in a thousand pieces. She shrieked and ran toward the promise of sanctuary that lay beyond the doorway.

    A sudden gust of wind blew shut the door before she could get there in time. Great gouts of water poured onto her from above. Her hand slid at the polished knob and skidded over the wet brass. She found the door was now locked. Cassie whirled and looked up just as lightning speared toward her small heart.

    Cassie sat up in the quiet darkness, panting and wet with sweat, her doll, Emma, tight in her small arms. A thin, vertical line of light and a faint scent of shoe leather told her she was somehow in her mom and dad’s walk-in closet. The last time, she woke up under their bed with no memory of having crawled under there.

    The dreams left Cassie with a strong sense of foreboding. Goose bumps covered her skin with the realization that, although she had fallen asleep in her own bed, she had this time awakened in the closet where her father kept his gun.

    She gently turned the knob and eased the door open. She tested the knob on the outside of the closet and confirmed the door indeed remained locked. The knob wouldn’t have turned without the key.

    The last time she had the scary dream – she figured maybe she had sleepwalked to Mom and Dad’s room and crawled under their bed. This time Cassie, in her frightened dream-state, moved by means unknown into the locked shelter of her parent’s closet. She was both thrilled and terrified.
    "And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand." -Dan 12:10

  9. CHAPTER SIX

    At the outskirts of her memory, Sandy recalled from ages ago Sunday School, angels falling from Heaven. Some rebelled against God so he kicked them out and they became demons. Sandy recalled there was something about a war in Heaven.

    An urgent and immediate compulsion to know gripped Sandy. She knew she must confirm what she learned back then and prove Cassie sane, or… Her mind would not rest until she resolved that one piece of the puzzle at least. The alternative wasn’t something she wished to speculate.

    She ransacked her house for a bible. She knew one was around somewhere. Danny used to read it regularly.

    Niggling at the back of her mind, Sandy knew what compelled her was more than merely affirmation of Cassie’s vision. The seed of another natural progression of thought sprang to life. If Cassie had a visitation with an angel, then where do angels live? Where there is a Heaven and there is a God, Danny must be there too, and if there is a God in Heaven then Sandy finally had hope.

    She stood in the middle of the living room thinking – looking around. Adrenalin charged her sinews with frantic energy, but muddled her thoughts. She went to search her bedroom because Danny liked to read in bed. The thing was, If Danny is in Heaven then I will see him again someday. That idea, a thin thread of hope, increased into a lifeline. That is if I get to go to Heaven. That thought brought Sandy up short, and she tried to recall having done anything evil enough to keep her out of Heaven. Surely not.

    Aha! Danny’s bible lay hidden under a pile of magazines in the nightstand. Once she was hefting the cumbersome volume, she didn’t know where to look. She thumbed several pages but found the exercise useless. She didn’t know where to find information about angels and demons. Sandy dropped the bible on the bed in frustration.
    "And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand." -Dan 12:10

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN

    Twenty minutes south of Ventura, down the coast at an Electronic Warfare laboratory at the Naval Air Weapons Center, Jon Talos arrived early to oversee his team of highly specialized men and women through the final stages of an F-18 refit of a fuel tank.

    The outward shell was a slightly modified 480-Gallon Centerline Fuel Tank altered to add only an additional 330 gallons of fuel to a specialized F-18 Super Hornet. The remaining portion of the tank’s interior would house a special Navy project unlike anything of previous design.

    Jon Talos was the civilian Project Manager overseeing the retrofit. He was on the project long before the program became a military one. Pravus Engineering, the company employing Jon Talos, was in business to make money. As goes the saying, money makes the world go ‘round. Their immediate problem had been under-capitalization. Jon was the one who recommended Pravus seek DOE funding, particularly as the Defense Industry would stand to benefit militarily.

    With grant monies secured and initial testing a proven success, true to form, the Department of Defense, through the Department of Energy, began to keep frequent contact with the principals in this project unimaginatively code-named “Dark Cloud.” Also true to form, the US Navy suggested that it would be more cost effective to utilize their ready laboratory resources than to build from nothing. Lawyers on both sides generated reams of new paperwork and Pravus became a government contractor developing this specific new instrument for the government.

    This contrivance provided a ready excuse for direct Defense involvement. Particularly as the Navy had already developed a method of delivery for a specialized radar system of like proportions – the modified center fuel tank in question.

    This type of tank originally underwent modifications to house Infrared Search and Track systems, but the space designed to house such a system was a perfect fit to house the new device engineered to emit a special type of electromagnetic pulse that would manage local weather patterns. Though weather manipulation was, by now, old technology, Dark Cloud had punch and they could focus the device finer and for fewer tax dollars than anything before, particularly for its size. Even more important was that Dark Cloud wouldn’t depend upon a power grid.

    Dark Cloud could cure trouble spots anywhere in the world with scalpel-like precision if need be. That is what the controlled, leaked propaganda will say at least. In reality, the intent wasn’t merely to control weather patterns by altering existing conditions. Much as the cloud-seeding days of yore, this device would make weather through the utilization of electromagnetism. Drought conditions in Oklahoma? No problem. Need to water farmland in Africa or India? Can do!

    The contractor Jon worked for would profit indeed. As for the military; need a powerful electrical storm over a troop surge in the Sahara? Aye aye!

    With the Dark Cloud device so housed and attached to the underbelly of a number of aircraft, from the outside, no one will ever be able to ascertain which, if any, aircraft are carrying this device. Anyone who knew what to look for strapped to the belly of the F-18 would assume they were seeing the former radar design, rather than the latter weather modification device. Most, however, would assume they were seeing an extra fuel tank.

    The other suggested modification Pravus asked Jon to supervise was a retrofit to the mounts. The plans called for mounts that could be blown so that the device could be dumped for safety reasons and unforeseeable circumstances, much as an ejection seat. Still another added feature Pravus asked Jon to oversee was a feature that would allow an RF signal to blow those caps via, say, cellular phone. This was a highly secretive addition requested by his employer without his team’s knowledge. Jon ensured added secrecy by having the RF mounts manufactured by a third party, off-site.

    From all appearances, the F-18 would look and act much as any other flying overhead on maneuvers. Jon figured his employer wished to hedge their bets in the event of a real emergency, not relying entirely on the plodding decision-making process of an unwieldy government. If something exceptionally nasty happened, Pravus could dump the device themselves.

    Therefore, the Navy would know they have in their arsenal a weapon of mass destruction that can singly wipe out an enemy fleet (need a hurricane? Yeehaw!) and they will be correct. The politicians will be able to tell their constituents they have beat a sword into a plow shear, can now feed the hungry around the world, and not be lying… entirely.

    The conspiracy theorists will have something to blame for every flooded river, washed-out levy, tsunami and untold disaster in the world, not excluding global warming, the coming ice age and alien attacks. The funny thing about conspiracy theories is the thin vein of truth one can readily mine. Jon shook his head as he thought about all the conspiracy theories he had been hearing of late about weather tampering and such.


    However, beyond the fodder for kooks, politicos and front porch speculation there is a much more troubling purpose. Jon mulled that purpose as the team argued over safe mounting points for Dark Cloud within the tank’s housing.

    Through the ages there have been, and likely will always be, a small knot of elitists comprised of the very most powerful. Usually these are they with the very greatest wealth, but not always.

    There are always those who attempt to control the world’s wealth or at the very least to manipulate the world’s finances in their favor. Jon never much bought in to conspiracy theories, but he did wonder at some of the things he had been asked to do.
    "And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand." -Dan 12:10

  11. CHAPTER EIGHT

    To Giselle, Cassie Johnson was a pill. That is how both parents, Bob and Giselle Johnson, described their daughter. Though just shy of six years old, Cassie typically woke up by six a.m. and ran through hearth and home, barely stopping long enough to eat, often up until ten at night, sometimes later.

    With two other children, both boys, to attend to, Cassie’s poor mother Giselle was twenty-eight but feeling as if she was going on forty-eight.

    Cassie’s father, Bob, was rarely home. Not that he had physically abandoned his family. He was around when not at work. While at work, Bob labored on a factory production line as many hours as he could, dropped in at the house long enough for a quick bite and shower before dissolving into the recliner so the TV could lull him to sleep. Cassie enjoyed the rare occasion of chitchat with her dad. Most of the time, when he had time and energy to spare, he enjoyed riding dirt bikes with Eddie and Mark. Cassie was no tomboy, and thus wasn’t interested in bouncing up and down on a dirty bike in the dusty hills.

    On this particular morning, Cassie balanced atop a step stool and fried French toast for her two brothers while Mom and Dad readied themselves for work. Her brothers zoomed in to the kitchen, older brother Eddie chasing younger brother Mark and hitting him in the back.

    On his second swing around the table, Eddie noticed the light, fluffy manna from Heaven Cassie was preparing and slid to a stop at the counter beside the stove where the golden sheaves awaited consumption.

    “Alright!” Eddie was at a tall, gangly stage, all knees and elbows. What added to his angular appearance was that his short blond hair spiked upward and his head was square-ish. He ignored the stack of paper plates and reached for the dinner plates in the upper cupboard.

    Cassie stopped him in mid reach with, “Don’t even think about it.”

    “What?”

    “Are you going to do the dishes?”

    “Whatever,” he replied, but he reached for the stack of paper plates nonetheless.

    “I want some.” Mark bounced on his feet. Mark was a direct contrast to Eddie with wavy brown hair, freckles and a round head.

    Such was a typical weekday morning in the Johnson household. Mom and Dad dodged through the fray, peripherally aware of the children. Bob’s hand was on the back door that leads from the kitchen into the garage when Giselle said, “Don’t forget the conference at four with Cassie’s teacher.”

    Giselle was a thin wisp of a woman, which added to a look of perpetual exhaustion and she hated that. Bob appeared as mundane as his over-used name, was average height, sandy brown hair and brown eyes. He fit the police description of enough men to wrap around the world, shoulder to shoulder, at least two times.

    Bob turned and rolled his eyes, “Another conference? I can’t keep taking off from work like this.” Then to Cassie, “What did you do now?”

    Cassie turned from the stove. “Nothing.”

    “Something about her keeping up with the class,” said Giselle, “or back with the class or whatever, with her assignments.”

    “We never had this kind of trouble with Eddie or Mark. Is this a chick thing?”

    “Well, I don’t remember ever causing this much trouble myself.”

    “Hello,” Cassie raised a hand. “Right here.” Although Cassie loved both her dear parents, living with them required great tolerance, Giselle knew. It was all she could do merely to keep up with her little girl.

    By age four, much of what Cassie witnessed in her parents seemed to baffle her. The result being that little Cassie on occasion would reward them with the look normally reserved within the limits of adolescent society. It was that look that seemed to say, “Seriously, my parents aren’t from Earth” while, in reality, the adolescent is the alien intruder. In fairness, adolescents become passive surveyors of the world through the disfigured lens of hormones.


    In Cassie's case, Giselle knew the look was justified for she was far too young for her viewpoint to be hormone influenced. Now at nearly six, Cassie appeared less baffled than resigned. The poor dear.

    Often Cassie would observe her parent’s routines as bumbling and ill conceived.

    For one thing, Cassie had an uncanny instinct wherein she could anticipate nuances of the future yet she was too young to realize that others did not. Lately, Cassie was beginning to suspect this fact.

    Giselle wondered at Cassie's instinct. Cassie didn’t see clear paths similar to the lighted path down a darkened movie theater. Her ability to see forthcoming events was more akin the vague shapes and faint glows on the seated moviegoers. You could tell the familiar once you got there. Sure enough, there is your family in that row right there. Those shapes belong together–those vague outlines in the dark.

    Of course, sometimes you are wrong.
    "And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand." -Dan 12:10

  12. CHAPTER NINE

    Cassie could scarcely endure sitting still in class. Library time wouldn’t be until 9:50 this morning and the time now edged toward 9:30. Twenty minutes can be an eternity for a first-grader.

    By the time 9:50 arrived Cassie could no more tell you what Ms. Monroe had been teaching than she could tell you pi to seventeen places. Cassie was the first girl to line up at the door, second only behind Bobby Spicer and that was only because he shoved. Yet that was okay. Ms. Monroe made him go to the back of the line.

    The kids walked, per Ms. Monroe’s instructions, single-file to the library. Worse, Ms. Monroe seemed to be walking purposefully like an old woman, so slow she was. Cassie, for just a brief moment, considered breaking loose from the pack and running headlong in to the library. Surely doing so wouldn’t be as bad as running to the swings or hitting someone. Most she would miss was one recess. However, Cassie wasn’t prepared to jeopardize her opportunity. With her luck, she might find herself sitting in the corner while all the other kids got to enjoy their dumb picture books.

    Once inside the library, Cassie hurried to Mrs. Gorshen short of a dead run. “Angel books. Do you have any Angel books?”

    Mrs. Gorshen raised her brow to Cassie. “Well! From Dickens to angelology now.”

    Mrs. Gorshen was a sweet, benevolent, large woman. People frequently speculated concerning Mister Gorshen for Missus Gorshen stood six feet and seven inches. Weighing in at some three hundred-eighty pounds, she would intimidate most steroid-induced linebackers. Many a time exercising nothing more than rising to her full height brought the most raucous library mute in stunned silence.

    Mrs. Gorshen placed two meaty hands on her desk and rose to her full height in what felt to Cassie to take at least half her library time. She knew, of course, that this was an illusion induced by her anxiety to discover something useful about her angel, but the knowing did not make her less anxious.

    For the first time in her short little life, Cassie understood what literature implied when they referred to someone lumbering when they walked, for Mrs. Gorshen lumbered. It was how Cassie imagined following Treebeard in The Lord of the Rings would be. Mrs. Gorshen’s great giant tree trunk legs hauled her across the room.

    Cassie giggled when she further appreciated that there is a Pippin in The Lord of the Rings and a Pip in Great Expectations. Mrs. Gorshen turned her great head down to her, “What are you giggling at, Miss Cass?”

    “Nothing. I’m just excited I guess.” This was a harmless lie. Cassie didn’t think she could easily explain her Pip-Pippin connection without explaining her chain of thinking and chance hurting Mrs. Gorshen’s feelings. Cassie liked the big woman a lot, for she was very sweet, and she shared her adoration of books, and Cassie would be mortified to say anything to break her great big giant heart.

    Mrs. Gorshen took her to a section with a couple of angel books, pulled one out, and handed the volume to Cassie. “This one is over two hundred pages about angels. If you decide not to check the book out, just leave it on the table, Miss Cass.”

    Cassie looked a mile up and offered a genuine smile, “Thank you, Mrs. Gorshen.”

    “Any time, Sweetpea” and with that, she lumbered back to her desk. Much as Cassie loved to watch Mrs. Gorshen lumber, she had been waiting to look at angel books all night and all morning. She tore her eyes away with the greatest effort to peruse the book.

    This book suggested by Mrs. Treebeard (she giggled again) is lame. In the book were many children’s drawings of angels. None of them looked at all like her angel. She set the volume aside for another book. This book is no use. All the angels are girl angels, every last stinking one!

    Cassie flipped through the four books in the library about angels. One of the books was about angel children, crystals, and the coming new age, the jacket promised. None of these seemed like her experience. She squared the books up with care on the table and crossed her arms at them. “Garbage.”

    She looked around the library and considered options. There’s that stinky Bobby Spicer reading his Elmo book by the ‘cyclopedias. Hey! She hurried over, removed the very first volume from its home on the shelf, and noticed a film of dust on the top edge. Wickedly, she grinned and blew the dust in Bobby’s direction.

    “Stop it, crud face!” he grumbled and moved to another table. Cassie was tempted to feel bad, but not all that bad.

    A – n – g and there it is. There were a couple of pictures. One representation was of the lady angel variety, but one was in the air with a sword. He was a muscular man angel like Cassie’s and he was fighting a devilish creature. The encyclopedia recounted that this was an angel named Michael, that he was an archangel (whatever that meant) and referred to the monster devil as a demon.

    The Bible names just two archangels, Gabriel and Michael. They are God’s most powerful warriors. Wow! Cassie found another picture of a cherub as described in the bible, but the depiction was neither cute nor pudgy. He was nothing like the adorable winged babies on Valentine cards. The one called Lucifer, now Satan, Oh, he’s the devil, was once a cherub.

    Then there was a painting of an angel called a seraph. He was somewhat like Cassie’s angel, but not entirely. There are cherubs and seraphs and some simply called angels, which she learned just meant messengers.

    In addition, they gave an awesome quote from a book in the bible called Joshua, chapter 5. That will be easy to remember because I have a cousin named Josh and I am five. I hope I don’t forget where to look when I turn six.
    "And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand." -Dan 12:10

  13. CHAPTER TEN

    Jon, for the umpteenth time consulted his watch as his team tightened the last screw on the tank. He had been thinking of cruising out to the Beach Canteen for a burger, but when he called his boss to announce the happy conclusion of this phase, the boss suggested Jon treat himself to a celebratory lunch. There are a couple of perks to being a Project Manager, he had told Jon, and a well-deserved protracted lunch occasionally is one of them. Therefore, Jon decided to drive off the base to Camarillo for lunch at one of the suggested better establishments.

    Jon finished his daily paperwork, walked out of the Electronics Warfare lab, got into his car and drove through the front gate exit. He turned right on the frontage road and then turned left on Las Posas Road toward Camarillo. Again, he thought about conspiracies and that movie with Mel Gibson. The most paranoid conspiracy theorist will insist everything is all true, real and dire. The extreme kook fringe will hide in a cabin and send mail bombs or crack one day and shoot every man, woman and child foolish enough to dine at a fast food restaurant or go to school. For them, it is us, or them, and destruction is inevitable.


    Less on the fringe are those who may be paranoid but are otherwise harmless. They will stockpile everything from weapons to food because they see spies on every corner and are fearful of the GPS in their car, in their phone and maybe their underwear. To them, destruction is probable.

    Then there are the very sane and prepared realists who have learned either from first hand or history that for every beautiful rose on God’s green earth there are those who believe the rose is the Great Satan and must be destroyed at all costs. Jon tended to count himself among this number.

    People like Jon sensibly prepare for the likelihood that someone somewhere is going to crack, and whoever they may be, we ought to guard against them. Many like Jon are sober former military and those who share their outlook that, while there is good in the world, it only takes a small dose of evil to destroy it all. This is inevitable, but not at their home on their watch.

    There are also those who are eternal optimists but like to hedge their bets and keep a little ammo about and a gun or two. From the past, we have learned, governments and religions often turn on their own, so one never knows. Our nation’s forefathers were comprised of those who experienced this and were of the former two schools of thought. Jon kept thinking he ought to buy a gun one of these days. It just never came to mind when he was out and about shopping. Besides, the requisite waiting period is such a pain and he was more about immediate gratification. Waiting isn’t fun.

    Jon’s mind went to the potential public fallout and those at the extreme way opposite end of the rainbow-enchanted spectrum who want to believe that if we all just hold hands, light a candle and sing Cumbaya, everything will be okay. Just walk up to that terrorist brother and hug him. All any terrorist truly needs is a good hug. Let them know we aren’t a threat and that we will be here to feed and educate their children and they will let us live in peace. Yea and amen. There are no conspiracies at all; only misunderstandings.

    Jon reached the Pleasant Valley intersection and waited for a red light. His thoughts rambled. Conspiracies are a funny thing though because although one may take part in one, even a very powerful one – this does not guarantee a successful conspiracy. A conspiracy in and of itself won’t garner success. For one thing, a key component of conspiracy is secrecy and rare is the man or woman who can keep a secret.

    The light turned green and Jon was lost in thought of ways a conspiracy might guard its secrets, when a large gondola truck collided into his car with force enough to tear it well nigh in two.
    "And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand." -Dan 12:10

  14. CHAPTER ELEVEN

    Bob and Giselle found Cassie at a round table in the school library as they had instructed her. She was reading Great Expectations. The novel was an import to the school, however, from the public library, as the elementary school library didn’t carry Dickens. Although, there was a thirty-two page illustrated version of A Christmas Carol in the school library.

    So engrossed was Cassie in the adventure that she didn’t notice her parents until their shadows fell upon her. Bob loved this picture of his little girl – enthralled with a book, often curled up in a cozy chair. Maybe this will distract her from wanting to date boys. Bob held out his hand to her and she looked up to her parents and smiled as she dropped her bookmark in its place, grabbed her backpack and took her dad’s hand.

    When the Johnsons entered the classroom, Ms. Monroe sat absurdly in one of the small chairs. Although she wore pants, she had her knees demurely together with her hands upon them. Her knees would’ve been near her chin had her legs not been tilted precariously askew to one side. She looked ridiculous and Bob smiled, feeling the advantage over her. He wondered to himself whether there was a special course required for elementary school teachers like Small Seat-sitting 101. He seemed to recall that his male sixth Grade teacher also had been an adept.

    Cassie’s teacher indicated to them the three small chairs opposite her. Bob and Giselle looked at each other dubiously and walked to the chairs. Giselle sat sidesaddle while Bob rubbed his chin and pondered the problem.

    “They are quite sturdy, Mister Johnson.”

    “A weld will break.”

    Cassie covered her mouth and giggled. Bob opted for the manly straddle with the back faced forward. Giselle giggled openly now. “You look like that Laugh In guy riding the tiny tricycle until it falls over.”

    Bob, knees at near shoulder height, frowned. The confidence of his earlier advantage withered.

    “You know…” Giselle felt compelled to explain while Ms. Monroe pursed lips. “That old show from the seventies… or maybe it was the sixties… It plays on that cable channel sometimes… ”

    “I’m afraid I don’t watch much TV.”

    “Anyway,” said Bob. “Why are we here?”

    Ms. Monroe leaned forward to speak, but she appeared to struggle for the right way to frame her words. “Cassie is a lovely child.”

    “Thanks!” belted Cassie.

    “But… Children should be permitted to be children and not forced to grow up too soon. Wouldn’t you agree?”

    Again, the Johnsons shared a puzzled look. Ms. Monroe continued, “It is about Cassie’s choice in reading material.”

    Giselle noted the book in Cassie’s lap. “Dickens isn’t allowed?” asked Giselle.

    “It’s not that simple. I’m just concerned that Cassie is not enjoying a normal, healthy childhood. There is a natural, normal pace and we encourage all our students to maintain a normal, natural pace.”

    Bob said, “Are you saying Cassie’s not normal?” He felt his ears heating up.

    “Yes. I mean no, Cassie is normal” emphasis on the word ‘normal’ but Bob could tell a big ‘but’ coming, and he was right. “But, her behavior is not normal for her class. We are concerned this may be a cry for attention.”

    “Wow. Sensitive class,” Giselle deadpanned.

    “Cassie gets plenty of attention,” objected Bob. Giselle put a hand on his arm.

    “I am sure she does, but in the classroom she is crying out, it seems. What else can it mean when she insists on Dickens while the other kids are reading Dr. Seuss?”

    “Heck. I don’t know,” said Bob with sarcasm. “Maybe that she likes classic literature more than picture books?”

    “Seuss is cool,” interjected Cassie.

    “It makes the other children feel inferior–unaccomplished. That could impede the development of the rest of the children.”

    Once Ms. Monroe posed her argument to Cassie’s parents, they turned to each other with mouths agape. Giselle asked, “So this conference then is really about the other children?”

    Cassie unflinchingly asked, “Ms. Monroe, is it okay for me to skip my math too?” Now both parents and Ms. Monroe cast puzzled looks in Cassie’s direction. “I’m just asking, because if you want me to blend in with the rest of the kids I’m going to have to really cut back.”

    Her parents burst forth with delighted laughter. Ms. Monroe did not. The upshot was that common sense triumphed and Cassie’s Dickens choice became tolerated.


    At the top of the hour, Bob pressed buttons on his car radio. On every station was news of the horrible accident at the intersection of Las Posas and Pleasant Valley. The truck had been northbound on Pleasant Valley Road. Unable to stop in time, the truck avoided slamming into the vehicles headed the same way that were stopped at Las Posas Road, by running along the shoulder.

    Unfortunately, the truck solidly smashed into the side of Jon’s car at a rate of speed in excess of fifty miles per hour providing him little chance of survival. That the truck hit Jon’s car with such violence that it ripped nearly completely asunder confirmed his misfortune.

    The driver of the truck was beside himself and confessed to police that he was an illegal alien from Columbia with a false I.D. His employer claimed he had only worked for them for a couple of months under a different, legal name and Social Security number. The talking heads decided that likely the driver would be deported and never see one day of prison.
    "And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand." -Dan 12:10

  15. CHAPTER TWELVE

    The abruptness of the collision never imprinted on Jon’s memory. During his final fading moments, he thought he was still driving, but the road was long and wide, stretched out before him. The features to the right and to the left had become unfocused. Jon pressed forward along the road without end. He yawned. He grew sleepy and worked to shake it off.

    Jon reflected on how that, in ages past, there had been many conspiracies. Most have been grand in scheme but ultimate failures. Most conspiracies were steered by egomaniacs that conspired in competing conspiracies. A tragic consequence of most such conspiracies was a body count. Successful or not, the more grand the conspiracy, the higher the body count, and at the heart of Dark Cloud was a recrudescing conspiracy evidencing itself in this world, but with origins ironically now within Jon’s reach. He could sense it on an intuitive level. He considered the possibility of a web of shadow conspiracies that served to obscure a true and larger one.

    Jon had analyzed conspiracies so much, he could write a book. In fact, he thought, maybe some day he will. At length, the long wide road led Jon from this life into the next.
    "And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand." -Dan 12:10

  16. CHAPTER THIRTEEN

    Rain fell in a steadfast drizzle at the Mini-Mart where Essex pulled close to the outside pay phone mounted to a pole outside the Virginia store. He left the car running with the lights on the phone. Plainly angry at having to get out into the rain, he slammed shut the door and stomped up to the phone, thoughtless of the depth of the puddles that invaded his shoes.

    Essex consulted a number on his PDA, pumped coins into the slot in the phone and punched the numbers. He huffed great billows of fog and shifted from foot to foot. At last, there came an answer on the other end.

    “Why are you texting me? Are you crazy? Is someone dying? Is the world ending…?” He gritted his teeth as he listened. Then his tension somewhat eased. “You’re sure? Because you had better have made absolutely sure before contacting me. And, your PDA had better be encrypted.”

    Essex hanged the phone back and looked up and down the busy avenue as he considered his next move, uncaring that the increased rain was soaking his suit. He turned back to the phone, retrieved the phone book lashed to the post, and turned to the yellow pages. He flipped a few pages back and forth and then found what he was looking for.


    Essex pulled into the parking lot and found a spot as close to the Blues Mongrel as he could. The sign outside was of the faux neon variety comprised of fiber optics and was in the shape of a shaggy blue dog with a saxophone in its mouth. A sign in the window made the boast that the place was the hottest jazz and Internet café in town.

    He turned the car off this time and retrieved his notebook computer from the back seat. Once he powered the notebook up and slapped the wireless USB device in, Essex commenced to hacking into the network. This is often a simple task, as one doesn’t have to hack directly into the network server itself. Rather, all one need do is find someone within whose notebook computer isn’t adequately firewalled and enter the network free of charge and trace-free.

    And there we are. Connection established, Essex fired off an encrypted message that alerted specific parties that the test for Dark Cloud moved up by an order of several ours. It would seem the Navy wished to drill its member’s preparedness and drill them during the wee, wee hours on maneuvers over San Nicolas Island.

    San Nicolas Island is owned and operated by the US Navy and is considered one of the Channel Islands, albeit a more distant one. The island is roughly sixty-five nautical miles from Point Mugu. However, the main reason in this case for this particular drill had more to do with not interrupting the sleep of Ventura County residents than the island’s ideal specifications for the maneuvers in question.

    The neighboring Port Hueneme and Oxnard residents would nevertheless lodge their complaints with the base over the ungodly hour the jets awakened them when taking off the runway, as though military preparedness means merely possessing the weapons without the benefit of practice…as if the base hadn’t been in place long before the residents decided to move in.

    Essex prepared to make the call, that would send the jet, that would press the button, that would trigger the reaction, that would change the world that God built.
    "And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand." -Dan 12:10

  17. CHAPTER FOURTEEN

    Sandy hadn’t slept much the previous night and it showed. She rested her head on her upraised arm at the table and nibbled at a piece of toast. She was so tired when she awoke that she had shrugged into an old sweatshirt, tugged on some jeans near the bed and passed the brush through her hair enough to detangle the snares without so much as a look at a mirror.

    She had spent much of the night flipping pages in Danny’s bible to find some kind of clue that would tell her whether Cassie was a few breadcrumbs shy of a full loaf or whether all those old Sunday School stories were true. What she found frustrating was the realization that logic didn’t necessarily follow that, just because part was true, the whole was true. Her father used to say that even a broken clock was right twice a day.

    Sandy had spent the night arguing with God about it, thumbed the topics she found in the back and desperately hoped and prayed it was true so she could see Danny again. She had become heartened when she found the passage in the bible about Lucifer and the war in heaven she had remembered from her youth. As far as she knew, little CJ wasn’t familiar with the story, yet Cassie had at least partly confirmed her sanity, if not her normalcy, when she relayed her vision of the battle given her by the visiting angel. Just like the bible story.

    But of course, this couldn't be true. Could it? If God was real she certainly didn't want to offend him, her, it? How much stuff about God that she was raised with was mere assumption? She knew and respected what Danny thought, only she was not sure she was ready to merely adopt someone else's belief system. Lazy and reluctant about the subject for so many years, Sandy now faced the reality that she would have to come to some conclusions of her own before she could arrive at a satisfactory answer to this mystery.

    Well after ten in the morning, Sandy had barely progressed on anything passable as a breakfast. Sandy had formed a plan for her day to start with a quick visit to a Christian bookstore down by the movie theater. She had strolled past the storefront a few times, hitting the shops while waiting for the movies to start, but she never ventured in. Whenever she considered it, she always felt in some way exposed, was how she thought of being there. The mere thought had made her feel as though she was a guilty interloper - a trespasser into a realm where her very presence screamed, ‘Hey look at me! A stranger! Pretender! Intruder!’

    Sandy didn’t know why she always compared events to movies (okay, she knew - it was because she spent too much of her life sitting watching them) but a visual from Invasion of the Body Snatchers came to mind with pod people pointing at her and shrieking.

    Not that anyone she could recall had ever given her reason to feel that way. Heck, it was probably her conscience. She used to attend church every so often with Danny, but they certainly didn’t go every Sunday. Somehow not going more often made had made her feel guilty, kind of like driving past grandma’s house time after time without ever stopping in for a visit.

    Sandy dabbed margarine away from her mouth with a napkin and she considered her circle of acquaintances. She had long since moved beyond family and friends in her contemplation of those known to her who might have real knowledge of things heavenly and angelic. Most of those whom she considered she quickly discounted as someone she could prod for knowledge without raising all kinds of uncomfortable questions. She did not relish the grilling she would get for asking such questions. No doubt they would conclude she is suicidal.

    Approaching Danny’s folks was out of the question, for the moment. To open that door after so much time had passed would be both painful and awkward. This would mean running the gauntlet of questions, emotions, hand-holding and renewal before she could approach the topic in any natural way. Sandy knew she owed them a visit, or they her, but that would have to wait for a better time.

    She had to get her answers today. A stranger or mere acquaintance would freely dispense knowledge without closely scrutinizing her mental or emotional health, especially if she framed her questions in an objective and curious manner.

    Sandy sighed, dropped her napkin on her plate and rose from the table. So this was where faith would have to play a role. She would have to ask the experts, take notes and verify against Danny’s bible. All the historic faiths that had angels that fit what Cassie saw thus far had their roots in the bible, though many diverged from there.

    She set her plate in the sink and hurried into her bedroom to look in the mirror. She made a face at the sweatshirt, pulled it off and tossed the unflattering garment to the bed. In her dresser, she found her favorite rust-colored sweater and pulled it on. She fluffed and combed her fingers through her hair in disgust. In the end, she opted for tying her hair back.

    She could have saved a little time by hopping on the 101 Freeway but since she wasn’t in the fast-paced mood, she decided to take surface streets all the way. If she wasn't thinking, her car might just take her to Bed Bath and Beyond, her home away from home. Didn't matter which one. Sandy could lose herself for hours in that place. As it was, her home was a veritable advertisement for their wares. She knew for a fact she had one of those 20% Off coupons in her glove box right now. It may be expired, but she knew they would take it.

    She could not afford the distraction just now. Besides, she had a lot to think through and did not trust herself to catch the exit she needed and thus find herself in Thousand Oaks before she realized her destination lay somewhere in her rear-view mirror. Today is going to be not so much a Bed Bath outing as a Beyond outing. More Beyond than she'd ever ventured before.

    She pulled into the parking lot of the small shopping complex and parked around the corner. She turned the key and sat in her car for at least two full minutes before getting out. There it was-the bookstore. When she did get out of the car, the bracing cool air invigorated her and helped to toughen her resolve.

    Sandy didn’t hesitate again until she got inside. There were maybe five people in the store, between customers and employees, and not one pointed and shrieked. She had just passed the Body Snatcher test. Only two people she saw took note of her entry – one was a store clerk, or maybe Manager for all she knew, and the other was an elderly woman near the door, looking at the bookmark rack, smiling at her.

    Sandy attempted a smile in return and made a beeline for the store employee. “Hi. Can you point me in the direction of books about angels?”

    The employee was a mid-twenties man, maybe six feet with brown hair. He looked too bulky to Sandy to be working a bookstore. She judged he should be playing football. His nametag said his name was Mike. “Hmm, angels… you mean like reference material or more like a bible study?”

    Okay, so she wasn’t expecting to have to know which she needed or that there was a difference. “Whichever one is going to give me the best information about the real thing and not so much about the popular art types,” she replied.

    “Ah. You mean the popular art New Age chick angels.”

    “Yeah. Not unless ‘chick’ angels are in the bible.”

    “Not so sure ‘bout that. All the ones that are named have guy names anyway. I would recommend a good Bible Dictionary.” Then Mike snapped his fingers, “Oh! We also have this really cool book that came in called Real Angels Unawares. I thumbed through it and it seemed pretty cool.”

    “Angels unawares ― what are those?”

    “Oh you know. In the New Testament there’s that verse that says something about be careful how you treat strangers because you might be entertaining an angel without knowing it ― kind of like a test from God.”

    “Oh, yeah,” as if she had simply forgotten. As if someone could ever forget something like that once learned. She made a mental note to look that verse up. “And this book has stories like that?”

    “Yeah! Of course, I don’t know if they’re all true. Some people have active imaginations or just make stuff up to impress people, but some of them are bound to be true if the bible says it happens. Right?”

    “Makes sense to me.”

    “Like this pastor friend I knew ― he was on his way to evening church. He was supposed to preach that night but his car had a flat and, well, pastors don’t all make a lot of money, so he didn’t have a spare. He figured that if he hurried, he could just make it on foot. He would only miss all the singing at the beginning.

    “So he was hustling down this street at a good clip, bible in hand, wearing a tie and all. He sees this scruffy looking guy is walking toward him from the other direction looking all, you know…“

    “Scruffy,” Sandy finished for him.

    “Yeah. Like maybe he’s homeless or an addict or something. So he stops my friend when he sees his bible, says something like, ‘Oh I see you have a bible. Can you tell me about Jesus?’ And my friend is in a hurry so he says like, ‘Gee pal, I’m really in a hurry’ grabs a gospel tract out of his pocket and scribbles his number on it and hands it to him. ‘Read this, my number is on the back.’

    “So check it out. My friend takes maybe two steps before his priorities snap into place in his head, like ‘’what am I thinking!?’ But when he turns around the dude is like a block and a half away, and it looks like he’s about a foot off the ground!”

    “Creepy,” was all Sandy could manage to say. After what she witnessed with Cassie, all her doubts were beginning to wane. “So I guess that means he failed the test, huh?”

    Mike shrugged his shoulders, “Hard to say. He thinks so, but like I told him, he maybe reacted a little slow, but he only took a second to figure out the right thing to do. God knows if that scruffy guy wasn’t an angel, heck, my buddy would’ve literally been able to turn and put a hand on his shoulder.”

    Sandy decided she needed this book. “Show me. Oh, and a good Bible Dictionary too, if you have one that’s illustrated.”
    "And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand." -Dan 12:10

  18. CHAPTER FIFTEEN

    Once the final bell rang, Cassie could scarcely restrain her feet from sprinting. She hadn’t seen Miss Sandy since the day before yesterday because of that dumb old conference. She popped up from her chair like a little whack-a-mole and almost took her desk mate out with her chair in her haste to swing it up on the desk. That was the only reason she was able to get out the classroom door before stinky Bobby Spicer. She even had her purple backpack ready beside her desk.

    Each Friday all the students were required to place their chairs upon their desks so the janitors could sweep and mop the floors over the weekend. Bobby had bolted for the door, along with a couple other kids, when Ms. Monroe, without even looking up, called, “Chairs up before you go!”


    Bobby had to skid to a stop and go back to put his chair up or else Cassie wouldn’t have made it out of class first. With her first step out the door, she ran down the hall. She hoped she wouldn’t get in trouble from Mr. Espinosa for not walking when he shouted, “No running!” Cassie cleared the gate in the fence and didn’t stop running till she reached Miss Sandy’s front walk. She thought her lungs would explode.


    Sandy was watching for Cassie and flung the door open before she reached the yard. “Hey!” Sandy welcomed her with a hug. “Did you run all the way?”

    “Yeah,” Cassie huffed. “Ran all the way,” she gasped, “from school.”

    Sandy led her in and to the sofa where Cassie flopped her book-laden backpack. “I’ll get you some iced tea. Meanwhile,” Sandy shouted from the kitchen as she prepared the tea. “Guess where I went today.”

    “The library?” Cassie ventured.

    “Close. I got some stuff from the Christian book store.”

    “Cool. Hope you had better luck than me.”

    Sandy came back from the kitchen and handed her the glass of tea. “What? Didn’t find anything useful at school?”

    “I mean nothing! A little something out of the ‘cyclopedia though. Cool drawings. How about you?”

    Sandy walked over to a stack of books on the decorative table against the wall, then plopped the half dozen books on the sofa between herself and Cassie. The afternoon sun was aglow in an orange-y lamp light. It seemed to Sandy as if, in an autumn spirit, the sun decided to produce light to imitate the fall leaves. Sandy had watered while waiting for the school to release its charges into the neighborhood and now the angle of the sun’s rays refracted through droplets upon the leaves outside Sandy’s window and shimmered upon the ceiling inside, lending a magical quality to the moment.

    Sandy and Cassie looked at one another in quiet understanding of this extraordinary occasion. Decisions would be made, judgments would be rendered, lifelong aspirations, however short the life, would diverge.

    “You first,” they both said at once.

    “You should go first since it was your ― whatever ― vision. I couldn’t even be considered a witness except for what I saw and heard at this end of the conversation.”

    Cassie slid her encyclopedia out of her pack and toward Sandy. Sandy saw the little torn piece of paper sticking out between the pages - her makeshift bookmark.

    Sandy’s eyes fell upon a painting of Joshua, according to the caption, with his sandals off, bowing down before a glowing man with a sword in his hand. The artist’s rendering indicated glowing wings of faint fire rather than bird-like wings.

    The caption bore a scripture reference underneath from the fifth chapter of Joshua, verses thirteen and fourteen. ‘Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?“ “Neither,“ he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.“’

    “Is this what you saw, CJ?”

    “Well ― kind of. It’s really close. What did you find?”

    Sandy found it difficult to tear her eyes from the painting, but did so. With a deep cleansing breath, she retraced her day, in brief, for Cassie and described for her what she learned at the bookstore. Beginning with the Bible Dictionary, Cassie looked at the photos of drawings, paintings and sculptures under the heading of Angels.

    “Ugh. This one is scary.” Cassie was looking at a drawing of an angel with four faces all around the head. One, a man’s, the others were those of an eagle, a bull and a lion.

    “Yeah, I don’t know what to make of that one myself. It’s clear though that God made lots of different kinds of angels – different kinds for different purposes.”

    “Yeah. Kind of like animals and people. I bet it would be really hard to sneak up on an angel with faces all around his head.”

    Sandy had to grin. “I imagine if angels live in another dimension, then to us, they would look pretty different.”

    “Huh?”

    “Think of a line as one dimension, a piece of paper is two dimensions, and we live in the third dimension because we…um…stand up.”

    “Oh. Like a pop up book!”

    “Okay. Or like a ball. Scientists say there are probably lots more dimensions, like where angels and who knows what live.”

    When Cassie just stared back, Sandy added, “If I tried to give a ball to a little flat girl who lived on the flat land of a piece of paper with no up or down, what would a ball look like? I’m sorry. I know this is a bit much for a little girl.”

    “It’s okay. I saw a thing on Nova. The guy says our stuff there would look flatter than a pancake. So God showing us something with more dimensions than our three would look really messed up.”

    Sandy sat back surprised. Cassie giggled back at her.

    “Mom and Dad say I have a good memory.”

    “Yeah, but do you understand it?”

    “I’m not too sure. Do you?”

    “Wise guy.”

    Sandy watched Cassie as she thumbed the pages of each of the books and stopped to look at each picture.

    “So what do you think?” prompted Sandy.

    Cassie tilted her head at Sandy. “Reading party!” Sandy couldn’t help but smile while she hopped up off the couch and grabbed the phone.

    “What,” Cassie inquired. Sandy only winked back.

    “Hi, Mrs. J, it’s Sandy… Oh, she’s fine, she’s right here… ” She looked at Cassie with a curious smile of puzzlement, “Really! Well in fact, that’s why I was calling you! I’m just bumping around the house tonight, thinking of getting a little reading in, maybe watching a movie and was wondering if it’d be alright for Cass to hang out.”

    She offered Cassie an Okay gesture as she nodded, “Yeah that is funny… Oh, absolutely. Especially if the boys are camping out in a friend’s back yard anyway, you and Mr. J deserve a night out alone… Great! We’ll talk then. Bye.”

    “Wow, funny how things work out, sometimes” offered Cassie.

    “Yeah. What a coincidence,” agreed Sandy.

    Cassie and Sandy spent the rest of the afternoon thumbing through books. Not all the information was satisfactory in the least. At times the information was contradictory, and at best, incomplete. Sandy knew there would be no actual photos of angels posing for the camera but she had hoped for more eyewitness accounts. Well, she had those, but the ones that seemed to her the most credible, described more the man-imitation variety or angels unaware.

    They took turns reading account upon account to each other. A favorite was the one with the guy in the boat after the Hurricane Katrina disaster that seemed to be everywhere pulling people out of the water and giving the survivors blankets and water. He seemed to be impossibly everywhere at once. Either these were septuplets or an angel getting around extremely fast. Then too, it could’ve been several angels that took on the same appearance.

    Similar stories exist from around the globe at various times. Sometimes there would be corroborating police sketches, and sometimes those descriptions were provided by people many miles apart with claims of being aided at too near the same time to be the same man, if he was a man.

    Cassie had a question about a bible passage that said the devil himself would sometimes appear as an angel of light. “I think that serves as a warning against the devil’s tricks,” offered Sandy. “He would wish to cause harm where God’s angels do good. Don’t you think?”

    “Yeah, but if he tricks then that means he does things or says things to trick people who don’t know any better. So how do you know?” asked Cassie.

    Sandy stared at her long and hard. The answer eluded her so she opted for distraction instead. “How about dinner?” Then got up and went into the kitchen. Cassie slid off the couch and followed.

    Dinner was quickly prepared tacos. Tacos were simplest for Sandy. She always had tortillas handy. Vegetables, spices, and meat were always whatever leftovers in the refrigerator she grew tired of.

    Cassie was enjoying Miss Sandy’s tacos. “Mmm. Yummy.”

    “Good, huh?”

    “The best. Lots better than my mom’s.”

    Sandy grunted inquisitively around a mouthful.

    Cassie explained, “She buys those boxed already cooked thingies. When you bite them they explode into, like, a million pieces and your taco ends up everywhere. Most the time I have to finish with a fork.” Sandy was nodding appreciatively as she took another bite. Cassie said, “And the shells taste like deep-fried cardboard with lots of salt.”

    “Oh. I understand. Do Randy and Mark like them?”

    Cassie considered. “Eddie will eat anything, so yeah. Mark is picky and will eat it only with lots of cheese on it. I think my dad just pretends to like them.”

    “How do you know that?”

    “Well because he only eats like two or three but fills up on lots of refried beans. When we go out to eat he’ll eat twice as many tacos.”

    “Ah.”

    “Do you think angels and demons eat tacos?”

    “Uh…”

    “I bet if demons eat them they don’t like any spices because they’re prob’ly tired of hot.”

    The rest of their meal conversation centered on speculation as to the meaning behind the angel’s message. They speculated on whether the angel was actually Cassie’s guardian angel or whether he was a special messenger on a mission.

    Cassie wondered about the vision and whether this was a good angel, or a bad one trying to trick her. Then she quickly discarded the latter notion. She reasoned the angel only told her stuff about herself she already suspected. She recounted how he had said something of great import was about to happen and that she was to play a role. At least, that is the sum total of what she reasoned by the time Sandy had distilled the given information down.

    “I have to admit that I’m way out of her depth here. I mean, I have no reason to argue with you over the matter, as incredible as this all is. I feel kind of like, I don’t know…as if I was tied on my back to a surfboard in the water by the pier. I’m along for a dangerous ride and there’s nothing I can do. But rest assured, little miss. Whatever happens, I won’t let anything bad happen to you.”

    She smiled for little CJ and managed to muster a smile of courage she did not truly feel. Sandy was terrified of the potential truth that something momentous was about to take place… something earth shattering.
    "And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand." -Dan 12:10

  19. CHAPTER SIXTEEN

    At just after nine o’clock, Sandy and Cassie both tired of talking angels and visions and future prophecies. Not that either one of them, they agreed, could ever, in truth, grow tired of the subject, but they had become so mind-numbed they decided they needed a change of pace.

    “Monopoly!” Cassie yelled.

    Sandy winced, “Oh, no, you always beat me at Monopoly. Isn’t there something else you’d rather play?”

    “I always beat you at everything.”

    “You do not. Let’s play dominoes.”

    Cassie did not dignify Sandy’s preference with any other answer than to wrinkle her nose as though she had just tasted a deep fried salty cardboard taco shell.

    Sandy sighed, “Okay. Monopoly.”

    Monopoly continued on the living room floor till well after midnight when Cassie finally placed hotels on Boardwalk. She already had Park Place, the Railroads and all the green properties, so Sandy ceded.

    “You can’t just quit! That’s wimpy!” declared Cassie.

    “I have three hundred and two dollars and I’m coming up on Park Place and Boardwalk. Honestly, can you think of a turn, even just one turn, when I didn’t land on the green squares?”

    She waited.

    “Okay, you’re right. I win!” She got up, did a little dance around the room, stopped in front of Sandy, and shook her tail in her face. Sandy smacked her backside and chased Cassie into the guest bedroom.

    On the bed in the guest room, Cassie found a gift-wrapped package. She stopped dead in her tracks at the sight. She turned to Sandy with excitement, “Is it mine?”
    “Well, it’s not mine!”

    Cassie carefully pulled the ribbon around the corners and off the package while Sandy theatrically rolled her eyes and shook her head. Next, Cassie tugged at the tape so as not to tear the gift-wrap.

    “You’re killing me here, CJ!”

    “It’s pretty and I might want to keep it.” When she got the wrapping free enough to see the colorful cover of a Children’s Bible, she flung the paper to the floor without another thought. “Oh, it’s pretty!”

    Sandy joined Cassie on the bed and pointed. “See those ribbons? I marked as many pages I could find that had angel pictures on them.” Cassie thumbed to them with wonder and joy in her eyes.

    “Okay, now, it’s late. You can…” Before she could finish, Cassie leaped forward and flung her arms fiercely around Sandy’s neck. When Sandy returned the embrace, she couldn’t keep tears from welling in her eyes. It had seemed that, for so long after losing Danny, no one could possibly ever again own so much of her heart. She was surprised to find that, not only did Danny still own those places, but also that Cassie had been performing a massive construction project and now resided in and expanded her heart near to bursting.

    Sandy began sitting Cassie and her brothers from the time Cassie began school. Cassie’s parents, Bob and Giselle Johnson, both worked to take care of the kids and of the mortgage. A few months and one raise later for Bob, provided options for him and Giselle to care for the kids.

    When brothers Eddie and Mark opted to hang with their friends while under the care of the YMCA after school, Cassie chose to remain with her friend and sitter Miss Sandy rather than kids her own age at ‘The Y’.

    Over that time, Sandy comforted Cassie when she came to Sandy’s home from school upset when the class hamster died. Sandy was present for the announcement of Cassie’s first crush. Sandy was there for most of the scrapes and bruises and celebrations since preschool.

    At age twenty, Sandy married Danny, her high school sweetheart. One afternoon a particularly nasty storm trapped Sandy at school and so she decided to wait it out in the gymnasium. There was a basketball match, or game or tournament–whatever they called it. She did not care which and still was not sure. On that winter day, the Cougars were playing the Falcons and Danny caught her eye from the bench, which was easy to do since the weather kept most of the bleachers empty.

    In the last quarter of the game, the coach decided that the team was loosing badly enough that he might as well let some of the bench play. Daniel was a fierce tiger, dashing around the exhausted Falcons and scoring basket after basket, ultimately seeing the Cougars to victory. All dozen or so people in the bleachers were on their feet at the buzzer, Sandy among them.

    After Danny had showered and changed, he found Sandy outside under the eaves of the gymnasium entry still waiting for the rain to let up. That is when he offered her a ride home in his beat up old Ford Falcon. When they were both in the car she said, “A Falcon?”

    “Ironic, isn’t it?” he smiled.

    Within two years, they were married. He had joined the Navy and became a pilot. He was concerned he wasn’t staying in good shape. He hated the gym. Sandy saved her money from her job at a stationary store and, that Christmas, presented to Danny the very best treadmill money could buy. Much to his delight, his parents and his sister were all guests from Illinois for Christmas, making this an extra special occasion.

    With the smell of turkey in the oven, pumpkin pie on the stove and the music of Christmas on the radio, Daniel decided to regale the family with a demonstration. Still in his new flannel pajamas, he mounted the new treadmill. He ran precisely seventeen steps before falling dead, the tread delivering his lifeless body to the floor.

    At first, everyone thought it was another one of his sick pranks. Instead, they learned he had a lifelong congenital heart condition that had gone undetected through four years of high school sports checkups and a rigorous Naval Academy medical exam. Danny’s number had come up.

    Between the Navy and a thoughtful life insurance plan, Sandy would never have to work again if she so chose. The loss of Daniel was far greater than Sandy could bear. She had even considered suicide. How could she possibly go on with her life? Most days it was all she could do to get out of bed. Neither well-intentioned friends nor loving family could reach far enough down that well of sorrows.

    Then, one year later on Christmas Eve morning, she got out of bed, showered, found a local super store open, braved the crowds, managed to find a pathetically small, frozen turkey – small enough to thaw in a microwave. On the shelves, she found a dented can of pumpkin pie mix and a broken crust she was certain she could mend. She easily found a can of whipped “dairy product” and a box of stuffing mix.

    She waited in line for what seemed an eternity, except when compared with a year without her soul mate. She got the groceries home and managed to make herself a fine, if a bit ragged, Christmas dinner. She found a couple of radio stations playing Christmas music and favored the one playing the old standards. She didn’t have a tree but she found her old pine-scented candle and lit it for a bit of ambiance.

    With her first bite of turkey, she wept great sobbing tears. She cried as she covered the rest of the dinner and put it into the refrigerator. She cried as she stood in the hot shower. She cried as she dropped into their bed and lay upon his pillow. She cried and cried until there was nothing left to cry or because she first fell asleep. She could not recall which.

    Sandy suspected she might have cried bitter tears in her sleep because she had made a decision to live and that seemed somehow criminal. No, not simply criminal.
    Sacrilegious.

    That was the only word for it. Sandy was able to make up her mind to do so only because she was oh so very certain Danny would’ve wanted her to. For Sandy, living now meant reaching out to those in need.

    In her efforts, she often worked with a local social services agency where she met Giselle Johnson’s sister, Marianne. Marianne begged Sandy to consider helping with Giselle’s kids occasionally. They had been struggling mightily to make ends meet. Once Sandy met the kids, she and Cassie bonded immediately.

    Then once the Johnsons cleared their financial hump and could afford regular daycare for the kids, Cassie insisted on continuing with Miss Sandy, much to Sandy’s delight.

    Sandy looked forward to her time with Cassie and the Johnson’s certainly were not inclined to object. This was bound to save them a considerable sum in childcare. Besides, the Johnsons had a special place in their hearts for Sandy as well.

    Because Sandy didn’t need the money and because she had taken the job to help out, she had refused all offers of payment. While Bob and Giselle vowed to settle-up once they got on their feet financially, they didn’t want to take advantage of Sandy’s kind spirit when they decided to put the kids in regular after school care.

    Cassie was persuasive in the extreme. She had to, had to continue with Sandy except on those occasions when Sandy may have an unavoidable commitment. Sandy agreed to a token amount for her troubles now that the Johnson’s were financially flush. Every month the Johnsons paid Sandy for watching Cassie and every month Sandy went straight to the bank and deposited every cent into an account bearing Cassie’s name. Until Cassie, Sandy didn’t think anyone could possibly come anywhere close to be in possession of so much of her heart.


    With some reluctance, she released her grip on Cassie and pulled her away. When she had, she found Cassie too had tears of joy. Sandy kissed her on the forehead. “As I was saying, it’s late so don’t stay awake all night reading. Read a bit and get some sleep and you can read more tomorrow. Okay?”

    “Okay. Thank you, Miss Sandy.”

    Sandy helped her under the covers, turned on the small lamp by the bed and turned out the room light. They said their ‘good-nights’ and read in their separate rooms until they could no longer keep their eyes open.

    Then they slept. Moreover, they dreamed. Sandy dreamed of Danny sitting on a cloud with ridiculous wings playing his electric guitar while Cassie’s angel played a harp. Even in her dream she could tell it was silly, but she loved it.

    Cassie’s dreams weren’t so funny. Cassie was seeing very bad things, and her angel - her guardian angel - was nowhere in sight.
    "And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand." -Dan 12:10

  20. CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

    Navy pilot Brandon “Oz” Osborne flew his F-18 Hornet with that damnable Dark Cloud junk bolted to his underbelly and he did not care one bit for it. He had been through several touch-and-goes and all systems were indicating it was holding as expected. He was plenty ticked that a phone call rolled him out of bed at 2:30 a.m., and when he arrived on the line to find that tank strapped to his bird he was, at first, confused.

    Oz noted none of the other aircraft wore an extra tank so he wondered where he was going that his buddies were not. The C.O. handed him the large manila envelope with the papers inside that told him what was up and to keep his mouth shut. Some kind of test equipment they were calling Dark Cloud. The envelope contained full instructions as to his mission and the special wireless remote he would find in the cabin and which buttons he was to press and when.

    The mission really was a no-brainer, however, as a sub-routine had already been pre-programmed. All he was to do was to see that it did what it was supposed to do and if it didn’t, he was to push the button that would manually engage the subroutine. No biggie at all. Heck, why not fly the darn thing up on a drone? he wondered.

    Sure enough, when Oz climbed into his bird, there was the oversize remote, duct taped to his console, no less. Nice. Gotta love the Navy.

    Two hours into his mission this thing had been performing as promised, as far as Oz could tell, in the midst of some of the crummiest weather he had encountered in months. Darnedest thing was that, prior to take-off – the tower offered no prediction of inclement weather.

    Ah, man! he realized. Dark Cloud! Now I get it! It occurred to Oz he might jump on the radio to ask the tower an innocent question.

    “Plead Alpha this is Cloud One. How’s the weather out your way? Over.”

    “Cloud One stow the chit-chat and proceed on your mission. Out.”

    What the blue blazes!? That was the Commanding Officer! Oz began to realize the level of his mission and the degree of secrecy. He and his best buddy “Deal” Robinson (“Deal” because he was an avid poker player) had a signal they would use when they wanted a private chat. The signal would tell the other to meet on a pre-determined frequency. Not only was such activity highly discouraged, in a situation such as this, you could end up in Leavenworth Prison.

    It took only a second for Oz to drop the signal and he hoped Deal was paying attention. “Aye aye, Cap’n.” He responded to the Commanding Officer. Consequently, the C.O.’s response was both colorful and instructive. Oz was certain for a tail chewing just as soon as his wheels stopped rolling.

    When he arrived at his pre-determined radio frequency, he was not disappointed to hear Deal singing the chorus of Spooky. When he stopped, Oz said, “Getting in touch with your Motown roots tonight Deal?”

    “Motown! Man, that was Classics IV and there ain’t a brother among ‘em. You should stick to Country.”

    “My bad.”

    “So what’s that garbage you’re hauling around out there?”

    “Actually, that’s why I called you. What’s your twenty.”

    “About now I’m roughly ten miles north of Anacapa. You?”

    “I’m about twenty-five nautical miles north west of ol’ Saint Nic. Tell me – what’s the weather like where you are?”

    “ It’s dark, that’s how the weather is. What’s up, Oz?”

    “Okay, this thing I’m carrying ― ever hear of Dark Cloud?”

    “Who hasn’t? Why? Is that what’s strapped to your butt? What is it?”

    “I’ll give you a hint. It’s raining like crazy where I’m at and no matter where I go it seems to be following me. I am having one heckuva time fighting the stick, my friend.”

    Deal was quiet a moment. Oz was beginning to think he lost his signal in the storm when Deal spoke up. “You be careful with that thing, bro. I mean, I’m no genius but it seems to me that something that can do that… you’re Wile E. Coyote with a rocket strapped to your backside. No little bottle rocket has that kind of power. So when you touch down, take ’r nice and slow, my man.”

    “Roger that. Out.”

    Great.

    At approximately 0500, Cloud One received orders to return to Mugu along a coastal route coming from the north. The storm was still with him but had diminished considerably. It seemed to Oz that the DoD didn’t intend to wake the town folk with gale force winds. Just a little cloud burst and maybe a light show.

    Oz was on approach when a steady beeping alerted him that something out of the ordinary was happening. Before he could radio in, there was a series of small explosions and his heart went into his throat.

    Oz looked at all his instruments, confused. He had mistaken the controlled charges for his ejection seat going off. If it wasn’t his seat, then what was it?
    “Cloud One, Plead Alpha. What just happened? Report,” his radio squawked.

    “Uh, unknown. A series of pops. Scared the daylights out of me because it sounded like controlled charges like my ejection seat. That’s all I know, sir.”
    “Roger. Proceed on course to base, Cloud One. Out.”


    Oz would soon find out that, back at the Base, his Commanding Officer had begun to scramble no fewer than four choppers and two fire trucks. In addition, several unmarked vehicles were beating for the nearest gate. One frantic phone call woke the Commander of the local Air National Guard.

    Using computer models, a Petty Officer confirmed for the Commander that Dark Cloud, housed in its fuel tank disguise, was on a trajectory that would take it straight into the coastal community of Ventura. Personnel in the control tower crossed fingers that the chute deployed correctly.

    Oz, on the other hand, noticed that all the LED lights on the handy dandy remote control for Dark Cloud had gone, like its name, dark.
    "And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand." -Dan 12:10

  21. #21
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    Excellent story! You're really bringing Cassie and Sandy to life. Looks like this is going to be a humdinger of a story!
    Visit my Etsy shop at www.etsy.com/shop/TheCrochetFarm

    If we aren't showing love, His love, then what are we doing calling ourselves Christians?

    Psalm 73: 25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
    26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart
    and my portion forever.

  22. CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

    Thunder! The first thing Sandy noticed when she awoke was she could see nothing. The complete and utter darkness disoriented her. She reached her hand out and couldn’t see it at all. Then she turned toward her nightstand and fumbled for her clock. She found that it was dead. The power was out. She could hear a storm outside and could but assume the lightening had knocked the power out.

    Then she saw the first flash of lightening that confirmed her suspicion. The immediate report of thunder alerted her that they were smack dab in the middle of the storm. What had awakened her definitely was not a distant thunder. She was surprised the jarring boom hadn’t sent Cassie crashing into her arms, riding the shock wave.

    Sandy reached inside her drawer and found her small LED book light. Thank God it runs on batteries. She clicked the light on and maneuvered it so that it shone around the room. Only when she panned the room did she find little Cassie curled up in a blanket on the floor next to her bed. Held tightly in her little arms was her new Children’s Bible. Jesus on the cover held a little lamb.

    Evidently, Cassie had been awakened by the storm long before Sandy had. The proximity to Sandy must’ve been comfort enough for her, despite the hard floor.

    Sandy carefully stepped over Cassie, so as not to wake her. She carried the book light with her into the bathroom before looking for the real flashlight. Frankly, she badly needed to pee. The opaque bathroom window had an eerie quality, as though a prankster painted it black from the outside. She was used to the streetlights shining on it.

    The complete blackness creeped her out and she felt as though she were being watched, which didn’t make sense with the type of glass in her bathroom window. She could not shake this impression.

    An insistent tapping at the window about sent her off the porcelain. The regularity made her think of a tapping fingernail on glass. She wanted to scream but all she could manage was a strangled whistle from her throat. She didn’t want to see, and yet she couldn’t, dare not, take her eyes from the window.

    Then the tapping stopped.

    Another flash of lightening revealed the shadows of a tree. Though no tree was close to this window, Sandy reasoned that the wind must’ve taken down a branch. It must’ve lodged against the house. Surely, this was the source of the tapping before the wind blew it further or it settled away from the glass.

    Another shadow passed at the next flash and, this time, she did jump up. Just trash in the wind. Maybe a grocery bag out there blowing around is all, she told herself.

    Sandy convinced herself that the power outage was playing with her imagination. She went to the sink to wash her hands but the water quickly slowed to a trickle, which she thought odd. Lightening doesn’t usually take the water out. Now what could cause that?

    Sandy maneuvered for the junk drawer in the kitchen where she kept a full size flashlight. Within, she found Danny’s large Maglite. No way are the batteries still going to be working after this much time. When she pressed the button, the flashlight came to life.

    She panned the light around the kitchen to test its strength. When she raked its beam across the window, she just about jumped out of her skin. She could have sworn she had seen a face. When she regained her composure, stepped back and shone the light back at the window. No face. Again her imagination was feeding off fright adrenalin. She hadn’t realized she was holding her breath until she explosively exhaled and she took a couple of cleansing breaths.

    She left the kitchen and, for peace of mind, checked the back door in the kitchen that led to the garage. Then she went back through the kitchen on into the living room, still with the odd, peculiar feeling that she was being watched. Not just watched. Hated. Menace. Though she might easily dismiss this experience as a case of nerves, in her gut she sensed malevolence. It knotted the pit of her stomach like a sickness. It felt to Sandy as if she were shrouded in filth.

    She wanted to turn her light toward the front window, but frozen in fear of what she might see. If something grotesque lurked there, she might like to know, but she did not wish to see. Sandy feared that to catch the eye of an unknown monstrosity would be to invite it in, exposed and revealed.

    There are no monsters. No such thing, she knew, but unexplained terror prevented her from disproving her unfounded fears through the simple action of flexing her flashlight toward what was certainly an empty windowpane. Therefore, she did the next reasonable thing.

    She continued backward into the hall to check on little Cassie. She was still asleep, however unsound. Her delicate little brow appeared troubled, but Sandy chalked it up to the result of thunder.

    Sandy turned her back on Cassie in the bedroom and took two steps into the hallway before she decided to turn off the flashlight to see if her eyes would adjust to the dark. It felt as though she stood in the same place for several minutes. In truth, it had probably only been half a minute before she realized the hallway wasn’t likely to ever yield any light for her to adjust to. There were no windows there.

    Feeling her way along the wall, Sandy tiptoed into the living room, and stared into the general direction of where the front window ought to be. That was when the lightening flashed with a great burst of thunder. Sandy yelped at the face revealed in the picture window. She whipped the flashlight up toward the window.

    Low in the picture window, with small eyes glowing back at her on its furry face, was a fuzzy little dog. It had to be standing on its hind legs. When someone put a hand on her back, every joint in Sandy’s body became unhinged. She screamed and spun the light around on Cassie, also screaming in sympathetic horror.

    They both collapsed against their respective walls for support, gasping for breath until their racing hearts slowed to something more akin to a skydiver’s whose chute had failed. “Don’t ever sneak up on me like that again,” Sandy panted.

    “I wasn’t sneaking. I just couldn’t see where I was going till you turned your light on. Then you screamed. Where’s all the lights?”

    “It’s a storm. I think the lightning hit a transformer or something. More likely some idiot driving too fast hit a power pole.”

    When she trained the light back on the window, the wet little dog was still there. It occasionally glanced toward the street looking worried. “Look how cute! Aw, he’s getting all wet,” Cassie said, and then ran toward the door. Sandy’s heart went into her throat. The memory of the malignant hate she sensed earlier rose unreasonably, yet undeniably.

    “CJ, no!” The urgency in her voice froze Cassie with her hand on the knob. She was looking back at Sandy, startled with fear. Sandy swallowed hard. She didn’t know why she reacted that way. She could not find logic for her fear. It had no name or face. There was only that unfaltering feeling.

    That briefest glimpse in the kitchen window could have been her own image reflected by the flashlight, until she moved the light. The dark had never before bothered her in this way.
    “Sorry. Didn’t mean to frighten you.” This is ridiculous. I have to conquer this, she thought. “Let me.” Sandy walked to the door by Cassie.

    Standing there with Cassie, her hand on the door, didn’t embolden Sandy any further. She cautiously moved a trembling hand to the door lock and turned the lock. She looked down at Cassie who watched her without blinking.

    Cassie put her hand on Sandy’s. “Spooky tonight, huh?”

    Sandy’s mouth became a grim line as she struggled to conquer her fears. “Maybe… I mean probably we’re just still scared from back there.” They both started when a persistent, timid scratching hit the door. They both laughed, nervously.

    Sandy swallowed audibly and carefully pulled the curtain back from the door window at one edge. The little dog was standing, facing the street with hackles raised. “Well if that little dog is out there then no monsters are out there. Right?”

    She opened the door quick and the little dog needed no coaxing to enter the warm shelter of Sandy’s home. Sandy wasted no time in getting the door closed once again and locking it. This time she latched the dead bolt.

    Again, Cassie yelped and made Sandy jump.

    “CJ!”

    “Sorry! He jumped on me and he’s all wet.” With the flashlight on the little fella (for he was a fella) both the girls petted him while he wagged his tail at them in gratitude.

    “Awww. He’s so cute! Look at that fuzzy little face.”

    “Can we keep him?”

    “We?”

    “Yeah, you know. Here. He has no collar. See?”

    The dog looked back at Sandy as though conspiring with Cassie, which was, of course, impossible.

    “For now, anyway. I’m sure he belongs to someone. He probably ran out of someone’s back yard to get out of the rain.” The fuzzy little dog hugged her leg. Well, not really. He sort of leaned in and wrapped his neck to her leg, probably just to get warm. Sandy was not inclined to ascribe human emotions to animals. “Let me get a towel. Be right back.”

    Sandy walked away with the flashlight and the little dog whimpered slightly and shuddered against Cassie. “Shhh. It’s okay. She’ll be right back.” True to Cassie’s word, Sandy returned, towel in hand.

    He turned, twisted, and rolled into the towel, chuffing and sneezing and wagging his tail. Then he sat with a proud, happy grin. “We should name him,” said Cassie. She and Sandy sat and watched him sitting with his tongue hanging out of his mouth, grinning.

    “I’m sure he already has a name.”

    “But we don’t know it.”

    “Because he’s not ours.”

    “Okay, not yet, but we have to call him something.”

    The dog’s little head moved back and forth, as they bantered.

    Cassie bounced on her folded legs, “Let’s call him Pip! You know, like in Great Expectations!”

    The little dog jumped and let out a small bark and licked Cassie’s face, making her giggle. Sandy sighed. She was getting used to this sort of defeat. Parents have known such defeat since parenthood began. “Okay, Pip he is,” she sighed.

    Pip’s ears went up as he turned to the living room window at the hostile eyes peering in -- glowing as though lit from within.
    "And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand." -Dan 12:10

  23. CHAPTER NINETEEN

    Terrance Gerard and Philip Richelieu had been on point in Grant Park as ordered. They were to sit in their dark sedan and watch the horizon for what their client only described as “a drop” by aircraft. They were spotters. Their secretive client did not instruct them to pick it up, call anyone right away, or any of the things normally associated with a package drop.

    Terry and Phil were given a disposable cell phone with GPS and told to walk to the package, power up the phone, set it down, watch it until some people in pale blue slickers show up to haul it off, then walk away. That’s it. No calling, no texting, no photos - nothing.

    Then they were to report back as soon as possible to their office and let the secretary (shared by all the other businesses in the complex) know when they would be returning. Upon their return, they would be contacted, by a method not yet described, and they would at that time report what they saw in every detail. This was to be an oral report with nothing whatever in writing or recorded by any other means.

    Terry and Phil minor private investigators from Phoenix who spent most of their days and nights staking out cheating husbands and wives for close to nothing. When they could, they would try to get a lead on some wanted drug dealer or other and collect them, at some risk, for the reward. Phil usually did the legwork while Terry would collar the individual. Terry was a big guy and had a rugged law enforcement background. Phil would provide backup with a handgun and zip ties.

    Neither Terry nor Phil had immediate family. Either because of their job or their job was because they had no families. Either way worked out fine. Terry couldn’t keep away from gambling and Phil couldn’t keep away from drinking.

    At the moment, neither of them were doing either of those things. They were too busy tramping around in the weeds and mud in the ravine by the park where they both thought they saw the “package” come down. The winds were flinging debris in their eyes and the rains had them both soaked just as thoroughly as if they had just walked up out of the sea.

    “This is such bull!” Phil had to yell so Terry could hear him over the storm’s considerable winds. “I can’t see a freaking thing! These flashlights are useless in this soup!” He waited for Terry to get closer. Terry, though stronger by far than Phil, was having a tough time keeping up. Terry was a smoker and now he was regretting it.

    “Shut up and just keep going! The sooner we get this done the sooner we collect the rest of our pay and we can do whatever we want!” They had been paid thus far the generous some of ten thousand dollars each for their trouble with the promise of the ungodly sum of six hundred thousand dollars for the both of them on successful completion of the job.

    “Hey, Terry, why the phone, do you think?”

    “What?” Terry heard Phil fine, but he could not figure why it mattered. Phil got closer to Terry and yelled louder.

    “Why the phone? I mean, they went through all this trouble… why isn’t there a GPS on the package?”

    Terry was irritated. He was tired, wanted a smoke, wanted a hot shower and his idiot of a partner was in the mood to speculate. “Who cares? Maybe the package doesn’t belong to our client. That ever occur to you? Maybe if there is GPS on the package it’s encrypted so our client can’t access that information.”

    At the blank look on Phil’s face Terry turned, shaking his head, and continued his way up the ravine. Phil added, “Yeah, you know that does make a kind of sense. I’m fairly certain that jet was military.” Then as an after thought Phil stopped suddenly and grabbed Terry’s arm. “Terry, wait! The Military! They’re going to be crawling all over this hill!”

    Terry merely looked at Phil as if to say, ‘duh!’ but instead said, “Well we’d better hurry then, hadn’t we, if we want to collect another half-mil plus! Because I’m thinking we hide the GPS phone we’ve got so the military doesn’t see it. Maybe hide it under a rock. Then tuck ourselves neatly out of the way.”

    “What do we do if we run into them?”

    “Depends on how many there are. They won’t have guns for a recovery mission and we do.”

    “Are you serious?” They trudged on. “But they are soldiers, Ter! We can’t take on soldiers.”

    Terry turned to Phil looking very serious. “We were told to take care of anyone we see messing with the package, no questions asked. All we gotta do is point. We don’t hafta shoot.”

    “We could get killed!”

    “We could get rich! Mark it with the GPS and watch it for them a spell till someone shows up. That’s all they asked for.”

    “But the GPS…I’m not a criminal.”

    “Look, if it has military GPS there’s nothing we can do. Pray that it doesn’t. I’m thinking it doesn’t because our client wouldn’t be sending us out on a wild goose chase if there were. If it doesn’t have GPS we may be the only ones who know where to find it and that’s why they had us watching. That’s why they want us to tag the spot with the phone! If you think about it, if they’ve got that kind of money they likely have enough money to hire a hacker to get the GPS data off the satellite… if there was a GPS device, military or not. Okay?”

    Phil nodded and once again they continued walking, both of them panning their surroundings with their lights. They didn’t have far to go when the spotted the large metal fuel tank partially wedged into the hill.

    “Man alive,” muttered Terry. “It’s bigger than I thought. See what that is? That chute didn’t deploy. We’re just here in case the test failed, and it did.” Then he shrugged, resigned.

    They looked at each other with some relief in their eyes and hurried to the object. Truth was Terry had no real idea why they were there. He didn’t care. He only wanted to collect some easy cash. He figured the thing probably did have GPS installed. It would be lame not to.

    Probably what the government dropped to leave for a spell so they could run some tests, with all confidence no one saw under cover of darkness and rain, their client intended for some good old-fashioned theft. Simple as that. He probably should’ve left Phil at home because he tended to worry like an old woman. But truth was, Phil was the closest thing to a friend Terry had.

    They stopped just short of the fuel tank and frowned at the low thrumming sound it was making. “You hear that? Normal fuel tanks don’t make any sound.”

    Phil answered, “Hear it. I can feel it. In my chest, throbbing up from the ground… What the heck is this stinking thing? Sure hope it isn’t armed.”

    “Man, I don’t like this. What if something inside broke loose on impact. Be my luck this thing is getting ready to blow.”

    Phil swept the collecting water off his face, reached into his coat and pulled out a long metal box. “Let’s do this and get it over with.” He opened one end and Terry held the flashlight for him. Phil dumped the contents into his hand and another box covered entirely in copper mesh slid forth with two leads coming off, connecting into the larger box. Something heavier, about the weight of several batteries, was up inside the larger box. He had no way of knowing what was up in there.

    Phil looked at Terry grim faced, “They said to just yank the wires out. Said it’s some kind of Fair Day Cage, or something. Whatever that means,” Phil shrugged.

    Terry glanced around. “Don’t look like a fair day to me. Hope to heck it’s not a bomb. Or a remote for that thing that is a bomb.” Phil yanked the leads loose.

    They looked at each other a beat and Terry shrugged, “Nope. Not a bomb. Just a regular cell phone.”

    Phil flipped open the phone and powered it up. From another pocket he withdrew a zip-lock sandwich baggie with a few peanuts left inside. He dumped the contents into his hand and popped them into his mouth. Phil grinned at Terry and pointed to his head, clearly pleased with himself. He sealed the phone in the baggie and sat it mostly under the fuel tank. Then he found a melon-size rock and parked it over the phone. “What now?”

    Terry looked at his watch and yelled back over the increasing winds, “Let’s give it a two or three hours!” When puzzlement coursed Terry’s face as he looked from his watch to the sky, Phil followed his lead and did the same. Phil’s digital watch had quit working. He shook it and looked at it again.

    “Man! Stinking rain got in my watch!

    “Seven twenty,” Terry informed him.

    “I know this storm is bad but shouldn’t we be able to see at least a little sunlight?” Phil pondered.

    Terry looked around at their surroundings. “I don’t know. What I do know is I would rather be in Cleveland than standing around here in this storm for another two hours.” With that, he walked back down the ravine.

    “Hey, where you going!?”

    “Relax, Phil! I got to take a leak. That okay with you?”

    “Yeah just hurry back. This place gives me the willies.”

    Terry gave him a dismissive wave and headed down a bit further. Great. Now I think I’m coming down with flu. I feel miserable. Then, a shadow in the wind went by him. What the…? Terry flashed his light around. Must’ve been some tumbleweed blowing around. He stepped downhill a bit to do his business. While he was in ‘mid-stream’ as it were, Terry heard footsteps, lots of them, and grunting. There goes the neighborhood, he thought to himself. My luck the stinking military made it here after all because I sure don’t see light blue.

    What Terry heard next about made him crawl out of his skin. The most ungodly growl he could imagine came from up the ravine. Actually, the sound was beyond his imagining, shrill and very un-animal like - followed Phil’s shrieks of terror, followed by bellows of pain. Jeez, he screams like a girl! Something has him and he’s screaming like a girl!

    Terry zipped up and reached into his holster for his gun. When he looked up the ravine at his ol’ partner Phil, some fifty feet away, Phil’s flashlight was waving around and things up his neck of the woods were all chaos. What Terry saw made his legs feel like rubber. He slid to his knees in disbelieving horror. Something was literally ripping Phil limb from limb. God, the blood! How can there be so much blood in the rain? Oh, man, he’s still alive.

    Strange the thoughts that run through your mind at a time like this. First comes the registration of horror. Or the reality of horrors, Terry giggled to himself nervously. Man, I’m losing it. Can’t lose it now. “Sorry, pal. Gotta run!”

    Then as Phil’s screams weakened, Terry’s fear galvanized him to action. Terry ran reckless and headlong down the ravine. He didn’t want to give himself away. He hit the button on his own flashlight only periodically, flashing it straight ahead as he went. “Too late for Phil anyway. Not the military, that’s for sure,” he half giggled, half cried to himself.

    His strides were so long and his steps so high that Terry managed to fall only once, and at that, he was able to turn his tumble into a roll and get right back to his feet. He scarcely slowed down from the fall. Gonna feel that later, he giggled maniacally. He ran, and he ran, and he ran, with only the memory of what he has seen to propel him, and of what surely would happen to him if he stopped, to drive him forward. Terry sobbed uncontrollably now. Run don’t think. Run don’t think…Poor Phil!
    "And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand." -Dan 12:10

  24. #24
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    good story, a real page turner! kinda reminds me of a cross between "this present darkness" and "watchers" with a bit of the book of Enoch mixed in. feel free to post chapters more often if you like.
    The only rights we have are the ones we're willing to fight for.

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  25. Thank you! Yeah, I'll get more posted here real quick. Been one heeellacious week at work. And tomorrow after work, I rush home for a radio interview about my book. Yup. One of those weeks...
    "And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand." -Dan 12:10

  26. CHAPTER TWENTY

    Commander Hutchins was no more than ten minutes from the base when all hell broke loose. His phone chirped in a way that told him a secure call was inbound. He hit the speakerphone button. “Hutchins.”

    “Sir, Torres here.” Torres would be shotgun in a helo en route to where they lost contact with Dark Cloud. “We got troubles, sir.”

    “Tell me about it. Anything from Dark Cloud where you sit?” Dark Cloud was indeed capable of transmitting its GPS as all its circuitry was shielded and isolated from the EMs it used for its intended purpose. Pravus Engineering had succeeded in developing a means of focusing the electromagnetism straight forward in a way that shielded both the workings of the device itself and protected the pilot and aircraft that would bear the special cargo. All the internal circuitry was hardened against electromagnetism.

    “Negative, sir.”

    “It must’ve been damaged on impact. Call me the moment you have visual on the site, Lieutenant.”

    “Uh, about that, sir, that’s why the call. We are over the site and there is nothing there… that is, the site’s not here.”

    “You’re not making any sense, Torres. Dark Cloud’s gone?”

    “Sir, the entire site is gone! I’d guess a radius of better than a mile, sir. Well over a mile.”

    Hutchins was beginning to feel like he was sliding into an episode of The X-Files. He didn’t know precisely how much time had elapsed from the time Torres said what he said to the time he finally looked over at his driver whose expression probably mirrored his own. He had to hear it again though to believe his ears.

    “You want to say that again, Torres?”

    “I know, sir. It sounds crazy as all get out, but you heard me right, sir. It looks like someone used a giant ice cream scooper and removed a colossal chunk of ground, nice and smooth-like. Most of it is now filled in with Pacific Ocean.”
    "And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand." -Dan 12:10

  27. CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

    At the precise moment Dark Cloud plummeted into the earth, several things happened near simultaneously. A mystery woman standing on the Ventura Pier noted the chute’s failure and retrieved her cell from her purse, prepared to press the second number programmed to autodial on the phone.

    There followed a flash and a subtle jolt that could not be associated with the distant thunderstorm, for the light of this peculiar flash was of a distinct quality. The burst imprinted a greenish haze in her vision. This effect lasted for maybe a half second and left her feeling nauseous and disoriented for a full minute.

    Valerie did not immediately associate this effect with the impact. The light hadn’t burst from that direction. She could distinguish no particular direction at all, in fact. Rather, the flash seemed omnipresent, coming from all directions at once. She likened the flash to the effect to being in a room where a camera’s flash goes off. Unless you are looking at the source all you see is a quick and broad brightening of the room. When the flash diminished, Valerie found the power had gone out and immersed her in oppressive darkness.

    Great. Nothing good can come of this. Valerie was a romantic at heart who loved cozy mysteries. She knew that, somehow, this incident was to be the capstone of her short-lived cloak-and-dagger career. She was sure of this because, though a romantic, she was also a pessimist.

    The romance was over and she had not even the opportunity to use a dagger. The cloak, however, was necessary, not as a disguise, but because she would encounter foul weather, according to her employer, despite reports to the contrary.

    Since Jon Talos died in that awful car accident, her responsibilities at Pravus had increased, it felt to her, like ten-fold. As Assistant Project Manager, she filled the comfortable role of store-minder when Jon was out of the office. In addition, she was bookkeeper, secretary and occasionally as webmaster. Hers was a necessary role, as the government contract required someone on site bearing the moniker, “Assistant Project Manager.”

    The freak accident that took Jon’s life was so recent that Pravus had not yet name his replacement. She expressed to Pravus her reluctance to continue in his role, but that she would be delighted to continue in her current and relatively stress-free position.

    Valerie landed her job in answer to an advertisement in Point Mugu’s newspaper, The Missile. Pravus had been dragging their figurative feet in hiring for the position, but the government representative demanded full compliance to the terms of the contract. Valerie suspected his real reason was so he could check this off his list to demonstrate he was doing more than sitting outside his building and smoking at the picnic table.

    At the time, Valerie’s service in the Navy was winding down and she needed a civilian job. She interviewed with Jon, not really expecting to get the job, but it turned out her tenure on the base, knowledge of the base and friendliness with most of the base’s personnel with whom she worked faithfully all these years, was a huge bonus. For any government contract to operate smoothly, it helps to have friendly relations grease the path. Valerie, though, preferred not to think of herself as grease.

    Valerie’s phone rang several hours earlier, whereupon she was “invited” to take care of this most important business in the interest of national security. Some big muckity-muck from the home office was originally supposed to see to this task, but he planned to arrive later. Then, someone made the decision to move this test trial up to coincide with these exercises.

    Pravus swore Valerie to absolute confidentiality, reminded her of all consequences, and put her on this simple task of watching for the first F-18 she could see. She was to press the Send button on the special cell phone she would be given. As this was to occur in the dark hours of morning, night vision goggles assured her ability to see the jet. The goggles were something she never had occasion to wear in all her years in the Navy.

    She was to observe the drop of Dark Cloud as a test of the device’s ability to handle a drop, and the Navy’s ability to retrieve in a pre-determined time. Should Dark Cloud fail to release or the chute to open, or should anything else problematic occur, she was to press the second number on autodial immediately and follow any instructions provided.

    When she hesitated for the briefest of moments, they offered her a five hundred dollar bonus. Thus Valerie, woman of mystery, was born. Yep, she decided, I could get used to this cloak-and-dagger stuff. Although, note to self, in the future, refuse any job that involves wearing night vision goggles in an electrical storm. The occasional flash grew more frequent and intense, threatening to give her a fierce headache.

    The first button set for autodial in this particular cell phone was a number that would send a signal to Dark Cloud “telling” it to drop and release from its harness. This, she noted with satisfaction, worked without a hitch. She grinned to herself at the unintended pun. Her grin faded and her brow wrinkled as the seconds dissolved optimism, with pounding finality, when Dark Cloud hammered into the ground.

    She had pulled her goggles on top of her head to get a normal visual but didn’t see any fire glowing where it went down. Pravus designed a chute that was large enough to slow a decent, but not large enough for a leisurely glide. The Dark Cloud device itself had been designed to withstand a significant impact, but not an impact on the accelerated scale that Valerie observed.

    She surmised, but for the darkness, she should see a cloud of dust rising from the crash site. She pulled down the goggles to see what she could, but saw nothing unusual. Then an unusual pulse left her cursing in the dark. She had reacted to the bright flash by squeezing her eyes shut and flipping the goggles up.

    Valerie hated the dark. Sliding the goggles back down had at least offered her the illusion of daylight, even if otherworldly. Looking around at her surroundings provided comfort she would not normally have had during the power outage.

    Val was comforted that, ramping storm notwithstanding, everything else seemed normal, albeit night-vision green. The ocean’s waves sloshed in and out, rather than washing in as usual. She thought this effect looked weird, but then she never paid close attention to the ocean’s waves during a storm. She was simply unaccustomed to the different weather pattern behavior.

    Prepared to make her second call, she flipped open the phone and very nearly blinded herself, again. She cursed and jerked her night vision goggles off her face and pressed at her eyes until she recovered. “There must be an art to wearing these stupid things.” She was irritated at herself for forgetting the goggles were on.

    She opened the phone once more, read the menu within the soft, cozy glow of the phone’s screen and selected the second autodial number.

    Valerie, woman of mystery, heard only a faint hiss. She looked at the cell’s screen and saw no bars whatsoever. The words on the screen were turning to gibberish, so she smacked the phone with her free hand. This, of course, fixed nothing. While slamming things may have made things work for Fonzie, in real life it only serves either to bruise the body part hurled at said solid object or to break the solid object, frequently, beyond repair.

    Short of giving her vent for her frustrations, the action did nothing to force the cell phone’s operation. Valerie, woman of mystery she may aspire to, was no cryptologist. She was not fluent in gibberish in the least, so she flipped it shut and tossed it with gusto into her purse.

    Sans the goggles, here and there Valerie could see a car’s headlights and lights from a couple of other unidentifiable sources, but all else was utter darkness, beyond an occasional lightning flash. “Well, that explains that one weird flash, different from the rest. The storm took the power out.” She spun on her heal and did a quick full turn she did not find illuminating. She snorted at the second unintended pun of the day. Ralph Malph would be proud.

    Now why did that goofy red-head from Happy Days come to mind? Probably because she just thought of The Fonz when she hit her cell. Too much nighttime cable TV. Gazing up toward the stars, she found none were visible. Stinking clouds anyway… Valerie saw the flashes of lightning and heard the thunder, so where was the rain?

    She barely completed the thought when it began to rain. Then it poured.

    Valerie squealed and quickly applied the night vision goggles to her face as she hurried toward the other end of the pier. She would certainly be soaked by the time she reached her car. She just wanted to get there before another lightening flash blinded her again. Valerie had to get all the way toward the steps, off the side, cross the lot…yeah, she was doomed. Now why hadn’t she brought her umbrella as recommended?

    She was startled to a stop when a scraggly bum rolled out from under a bench on the pier and, lacking night vision goggles, yelled, “Who’s there?” Oh yeah. Bad Valerie. ‘Bum’ is not Politically Correct, she reminded herself. Valerie enjoyed a sense of power at being able to see, yet remain unseen. This must be what it’s like to be invisible, she guessed.

    Valerie ran and noted the eerie quality to the sound of her shoes on the wood. She couldn’t quite pinpoint what was wrong. The quality just seemed not to sound right. Not quite hollow, but like she was running inside in a gymnasium but not really with an echo. Probably because of the storm clouds right over my head.

    She held the rail and hurried down the steps toward the parking lot, all the while dredging her memory for the nearest establishment with a pay phone. When she reached the bottom of the steps, she saw it. Not a pay phone, but something considerably vaguer and much more terrifying caught her eye.

    Valerie skidded to a stop, simply to watch and to try to acquire her sense of perspective… a sense of rationale. Precisely because recognition eluded her, she paused to reckon the entity out… to unscrew the inscrutable.

    It was the greatest of fortunes for Valerie that what she saw was hundreds of yards away. The goggles tended to give everything a flat quality, so she noted the surroundings to gauge distance and perspective. Dominant in her mind was, This is wrong, wrong, wrong. This is just so wrong… Oh, God! What is that? She turned a wheel on her goggles that zoomed the visage in closer.

    She judged the thing to be maybe twenty feet tall. It appeared to go from walking to slumping as it moved, then to rolling and back upright again. Her mind tried to make sense and catalog the beast. Grizzly Bear? Nope. Gorilla? No way. What the heck… dinosaur? It was as if her mind was flipping through photos in her memory to make a match. No way would she be able to convey this to a sketch artist. No officer, it was a little more misshapen, oily and lumpy and God only, literally, knew what else.

    It glanced in her direction and its eyes glowed in her goggles. Her heart turned to ice. Now she wished she were invisible. She considered whether it could be an illusion. Maybe someone in costume and the nature of the goggles made the early Halloween-er seem to be so large, or so far.

    Its tongue, she guessed it was, ran down its mouth. The mouth ran from north to south of the beast’s face… from top to bottom, brow to chin. The mouth divided the two halves of its face. So much for a guy in a grotesque costume. She dialed the zoom still closer. The creature’s flesh looked burnt, fused and melted. Open pustules oozed.

    Valerie could feel her gorge rise and she swallowed it back, horrified that the mere act of gagging would be movement enough to become a ‘come hither’ signal for this impossible nightmare. Oh. It sees me.

    She peed.

    She couldn’t help it. The response was as though some primal instinct told her this was the thing to do. As if she were a small dog born down upon and cornered by a great she-bear. She had never lost control of her bladder in her entire post-infantile life. She had heard of such a thing, of course. Her mother came back from a Waylon Jennings concert years before with the story of several women who lost bladder control out of excitement of seeing Ol’ Waylon.

    The abomination opened its gash of a mouth and bellowed like something from an HP Lovecraft story. Definitely no Ol’ Waylon, its voice permeated with anger and pain, Ol’ Wailin’ slumped slightly in her direction as if preparing to pounce.

    Fight or flight? No contest. She broke into a run. Don’t look. Don’t look. Oh God oh God oh God! There it was – her lovely, old 1969 Volvo. Never in her entire life had the old heap looked so beautiful, so inviting, so spectacular and yet so vulnerable.

    She tried not to think of the loathsome beast that rumbled toward her – to think of anything but that, lest she freeze in place or faint dead away. Eye on the prize – eye on the car.

    1969! The year of her car, the year of her birth, her favorite number. The year of Woodstock, the year of the moonwalk (the real one, not the dance move) and Nixon became President. She chances and glances and… bad idea! Here comes Ol’ Wailin’!

    Bearing down on Valerie, the thing shifted and loped straight at her. The one good thing... it seemed not in a great hurry. Is that good or bad? Is that uncaring or confidence?

    Valerie had paid her dues during the service. She had seen things in foreign countries that would, and did, make the stoutest of soldiers recoil in horror. She had seen children badly burnt and maimed by mad dictators, scarred to horrors by suicide bombers. She had seen infants boiled by rival tribes in North Africa, but she had never before wet herself. This bothered her.

    The distinction was, this aberration clearly was no innocent. Not unless it is merely a misunderstood, overgrown and deformed pussycat. Either way, Valerie is still the mouse. This beast recipe was an unthinkable amalgam of all the prime ingredients for terror. It was imbued with enough of the stuff to inspire nightmares and writers of horror for decades. This ghastly monstrosity was vile hatred and fear thrust into grizzled flesh.

    Valerie jiggled the key into the lock. When did I take my keys out of my purse? She opened the door of her beautiful and solid, please God, Volvo. She reminded herself to keep her mind off the beast so she could think clearly, or die. 1969. The Jets and the Mets. Oliver! Mrs. Robinson! The Godfather.

    She turned the key in the ignition and the car came to life. She pulled off the night vision goggles, turned on the car’s lights, and backed away from the curb in a great arc that revealed the hideousness of the freak as it rolled–oozed toward her, now in full, high definition color. So fast! Please, God, if there is a God! She slammed the car in Drive and gunned it.

    It’s not a fast car. She also learned the beast could reach a full gallop. She took advantage of the crooked exit from the lot and doubled back onto Harbor Boulevard toward Ventura Avenue. Ol’ Wailin’ had to skid and backtrack.

    Too late for him, she gained speed and did not look back. Ol’ Wailin’ reared up into the black sky and, true to his name and wailed like a hound from Hell.
    "And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand." -Dan 12:10

  28. #28
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    i take it valerie is INSIDE the part that was scooped out? this should be interesting to find out where that chunk of ground has gone.

    keep 'em coming, this is getting good!
    The only rights we have are the ones we're willing to fight for.

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  29. CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

    While Valerie was discovering a whole new world in terror, the rest of this strange new neighborhood was discovering that horror is not merely something one rents for a couple bucks at the local video store. Horror is not reserved solely for the big screen or novels. Sometimes, one need not seek out terror at all, for it may save you the trouble and come to you with impunity.

    For those commuting in the initial moments of Dark Cloud’s extreme electromagnetic amplification, there were consequences. Almost every vehicle on the road today contains computer chips. The pulse generated by Dark Cloud fried every one. This prevented a number of unfortunate accidents for those unaware that their world had just shrunk to a mere few thousand meters across. As it turned out, it was a small miracle that only three cars were at the boundaries when the new borders were established and the curtain came down.

    Thirty-three year old Alejandro Villas was northbound on the 101 Freeway on his way to Goleta for work. He hadn’t yet made it out of town and only the first fifteen inches of his car cleared the new limit line into old Ventura. Alejandro and the remaining majority of his car compressed, quite suddenly, at sixty-eight miles per hour on the inside of bubble. Speed kills.

    Nineteen-year-old Jenna Peterson was likewise northbound on the 101 Freeway when most of her dad’s sedan, a full seven feet of it, cleared the new border on the inside, prior to snipping off the rear wheels and trunk. The car Jenna drove was a front wheel drive, so she dragged the remains of her dad’s sedan several yards in an impressive shower of sparks, before the EM’s took their toll on the embedded ROM chip and shut the engine down.

    Kathy Nance was driving to the sitter’s at a leisurely pace on Poli Avenue with her two young children, Kyle and Chelsea, in the back seat. Unfortunately, only the front half of Kathy herself cleared the terminus – including her legs, leaving the children without a significant portion of their mom. Kyle and Chelsea were wearing seat restraints, so the jarring stop from a mere thirty miles per hour did not harm the children.

    Kathy remained partially embedded in the new invisible wall for the duration. Since all power and light ceased instantly, the children were mercifully spared the full trauma of the grisly sight.

    For folks like Valerie who either preferred or, due to financial plight, found themselves driving older vehicles, the pulse from Dark Cloud did not shut them down. This resulted in a single collision when Fred Buck’s vintage ’55 Ford slammed into the back of attorney Alfie Samuelson’s Mercedes. The resulting collision gave Alfie severe whiplash and Fred trauma to his chest, because the old truck only had a lap belt.

    Rather than celebrate his survival and thank God above that matters had not turned out worse, Fred permitted the pumping adrenaline to feed his rage. Fred dragged Alfie from his car and proceeded to kick the attorney repeatedly within the lights of his pickup truck until it became clear the attorney was unlikely ever again to litigate. This coincided with three of Ventura’s new visitors arriving on the scene and mingling Fred’s blood quite thoroughly into Alfie’s.

    On the other hand, unlike the fortunate drivers of autos with ROM chips, it is ironic that fully fifteen people died in the comfort of their beds when the EM curtain came down where they slept. Some were sawn asunder, while some sank oddly into their bedding and became one with the structure in a confused gore of atomized melee. Another seven died in fires started when natural gas lines vented their contents to one variety of spark or another, including at least one cigarette, demonstrating once again, that smoking can kill you.

    Lightning caused by the storms generated by Dark Cloud sparked some of the fires, it is certain. However, there was no fire inspector available to verify precisely which fires were or were not caused by lightening.

    In parts of the new neighborhood, water flowed freely, as did sewage, contributing to an already unhealthful environment. Where the rains in the unnatural terrarium collected with the water and sewage and ran into storm drains and down gutters, it collected against the EM barrier and it ran down toward whatever beach and ocean came with them to their new universe.

    Darkness fell when the power was cut. Generators cut in at two small markets, a medical center and the two Ventura Police Department annex buildings that would now have new duties for which they were unprepared. Moreover, much of the new citizenry were not among the law-abiding.
    "And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand." -Dan 12:10

  30. CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

    Commander Hutchins saw chaos long before he arrived on the scene. Knowing what they knew with the advantage of the ‘Eye in the Sky’ they avoided the 101 Freeway mess and zigzagged through surface streets. The helicopter pilot informed them that the lanes on the freeway were quickly piling up at the new dead ends and nothing was moving. Nothing could move.

    There were no routes through the west end of town to get to places north, like Santa Barbara. Indeed, there was not much remaining of a west end to speak of. A serious chunk of the Ojai Freeway was also gone, so commuters were stuck up that way as well.

    Hutchins thought quickly and, with a couple of phone calls, arranged for the area to be declared a disaster of the Federal kind. FEMA was called to respond, as were various branches of the military. This permitted Hutchins to facilitate the grounding of all aircraft, preventing the news copters from visually documenting the site’s perfect geometry from above.

    The FAA then rerouted Commercial aircraft around a sufficient distance for the same reasons. Local commercial flights were diverted to either Burbank, LAX or Santa Barbara. Plants that acted skittish and glanced around nervously explaining to various media types that they did not wish to be identified carefully leaked the news. They weren’t supposed to say anything, but “it looks as though a sinkhole has taken out a major section of freeway and town and flushed it right out into the Pacific Ocean,” so the plant would whisper.

    The information was strategically set in such a way so that egotistical reporters so armed could challenge officials on camera. The officials would act sufficiently dodgy enough to be convincing when they replied that none of these reports have been confirmed – they have no comment at this time. Until they have more information, it may have simply been a mudslide caused by the early morning storm.

    Most officials have learned if they are too quick to leak a story, the press is at least smart enough to figure out that too much information too soon is likely a lie. Information is best incrementally leaked and seeded with just enough of the truth to muddy the waters. Then their official story is “discovered” via planted nuggets of truth that are laid out like so many breadcrumbs to lead witless reporters along the merry path.

    A subordinate from within the US Geological Survey leaked that they had quietly been watching this site for some time. He further embellished by saying that the Pacific Ocean has been leaching under the continental shelf and undermining the Ventura coastline, endangering this city.

    Aha! The press declared with exaggerated indignation. So it wasn’t a simple mudslide after all, but was in fact the world’s largest sinkhole - and the government knew about it all along!

    Hutchins admired the skillful manipulation. The press discovered and declared exactly what the government desired. The truth was much worse, meaning trials, prison and lost pensions, not to mention lawsuits in the hundreds of millions for the guilty parties.

    As it was, people would be suing one branch of the government or the other. This would be no big deal to the various branches of government. It would be The People’s own tax dollars paying the judgments. It would mean a shift in wealth that would not directly affect the officials of government, nor Pravus.

    This type of scenario had been considered in general terms long ago and required no great consultation or round table discussions to plot out. The canned excuse and did not needlessly distract Commander Hutchins while he rolled into the “South Camp” located at the San Buenaventura State Beach Park. The “West Camp” was located at what remained of the fairgrounds and a third “North Camp” was located in the field at Ventura Community College off the 33 Freeway leading into Ojai. All three camps controlled major egress through The Zone, as the military now referred to it.

    Commander Hutchins approached the helicopter pilot, Captain Torres. “Show me.” Across the screen of the notebook computer Torres presented to Commander Hutchins the footage shot by one of the helicopters deployed from Mugu. It was exactly as had been described. So nearly perfect in its roundness and concavity was the hole that one could believe the ground had been scooped. Much of the new coastline was now cliff-side beach property.

    The camera zoomed in on key details like the perfectly severed 101 Freeway, sewer lines, water lines, conduit for electrical, cable and telephone. The camera also zoomed in on the tumbled front end of a car, though only the splattering of blood and gore was visible down in the shadows of the car. It had tumbled backward and one could easily see the scar where the car had slid down the curve of the basin and come to a halt in the mound of dirt and debris it had pushed into the water.

    The camera circled that a moment before moving on to show the structures lining the basin that were neatly sliced away. It didn’t matter whether the structures were wood, concrete or metal. All were sliced very precisely without a frayed edge.

    Hutchins was shaking his head. Where the camera zoomed in on offices, one could see desks leaning where they had become severed. A whiteboard was still hanging on a wall terminating at the opening. Soldiers, probably the National Guard, were ushering civilians away from the edges of their homes. A woman was holding her robe closed while standing in her bathroom and looking out at the new Ventura Bay. The edge of her bathtub was clearly in view. Hutchins muttered, “It’s all so surreal.”

    “Yeah. Surreal Estate.”

    At a look from his Commander, Torres shrugged and said, “Sorry, sir. Someone had to say it.”

    “Torres what I need right now is intel. I need to know if this thing is stable. Is there any radiation? Gas? Precisely where did this originate? And by that I mean did Dark Cloud do this and where did it come down? Is it still there in the center of the hole?

    “Who knows about this? What aircraft and satellites were overhead when this happened? What are the local and Federal agencies doing right this minute? How broad is this thing? How many civilians are missing? What is the status of the surrounding infrastructure? Do we have a geologist on site who can tell us if more ground is in danger of sliding off? Who is handling the press?”

    All this was presented rapid-fire while Torres quickly scribbled notes, nodded and tried to keep pace. “In short, Captain, I want full details in my hands by the time the President calls, let alone arrives. I get caught without answers I will be chewing on your hilarious butt, so get me those answers pronto, Torres.”

    “Pronto. Aye, sir.” Torres saluted and hustled away barking orders into his radio.

    “And Torres!” Torres skidded to a stop and turned to Commander Hutchins.

    “Those details I asked for are classified Most Secret until you hear otherwise from me.” Torres gave him a somber nod.
    "And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand." -Dan 12:10

  31. CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR part 1

    Pip, ears back flat against his fuzzy head, hackles up and eyes dilated, watched the picture window in the living room of Sandy’s home while emitting a low, nearly inaudible growl. The timber was astonishingly deep and ferocious for such a small animal.

    Cassie looked down at Pip then up to the window. Either the little dog was sharing her disdain for the dark, or it was not her imagination at all. Something bad was out there. Sandy knew now about Cassie’s vivid dreams of earlier nights–the storm–the face in the clouds.

    “What is it?” Sandy asked. She was concerned that Cassie might be having another vision, except this time perhaps of something much more diabolical. She wasn’t certain she was really hearing Pip growl at first, but looking at the little animal’s body language removed all doubt. Like Cassie, she followed the dog’s gaze to the window.

    Beyond the glass of the window was a curtain of water. The downpour was so great that she could not distinguish the usual pitter-patter of rain. Rather than raindrops, the water poured from the sky. Watching the waterfall beyond the window, one could easily imagine a giant standing over the house emptying a large bucket of water. Even if someone were insane enough to be out in this weather, it would be hard to believe someone could see through the dense veil of water.

    “Can we close the curtains?” pleaded Cassie timidly. Sandy found she was relieved and comforted to comply. Sandy was spared from admitting she too had the creeps. She hopped up off the floor and pulled the string that slid the drapes across the window. The room was no longer exposed to the outside.

    “Let’s find some candles,” Sandy suggested. Cassie stuck to her as she went into the kitchen and rummaged through drawers for tapers. She found a small, partially used box of birthday candles but not the bigger candles she knew she had somewhere. Then it occurred to her that they were probably in her box of Christmas decorations she kept in the floor of the closet in the guest room.
    Most holiday decorations she kept in the garage, but the more fragile, sentimental ones were inside along with the candles she did not wish to melt in the hot garage. They stepped across the room, careful to avoid Cassie’s books and shoes, and opened the closet. The box was there as Sandy remembered. She picked it up and carried it to the unmade bed Cassie abandoned during the night.

    Sandy handed the light to Cassie and opened the box. She removed the top layer of wadded wrapping paper and removed two large candles. The wicks were burned but the wax was barely melted. Sandy stared at them and froze in the wave of memories washing over her. The two candles, one red the other white, represented harmony in her marriage to Danny. The white was her favorite, vanilla, and the red was cinnamon, Danny’s favorite. The two lit together produced a mix that would forever remind her of Christmas with Danny.

    Cassie pulled Sandy back to the present when she said, “Oh, how pretty!” She’d found the old hand-painted nativity she and Danny had purchased on their first year up in Solvang during Winterfest. It evoked yet another pang of memory Sandy bit down on in regret, and yet savored at the same time. Why not?

    She gathered everything up into the box and picked it up. “Lead the way.” Little Cassie skipped innocently down the hall and back to the living room where Pip stood vigil at the front door. He turned his head, lolled his tongue out and gave his tail a quick enough wag to let them know he sure was glad they were back, but then he turned back to the door anxious to resume his vigil.

    Sandy set the box on the floor next to the coffee table and pulled the two candles back out. She took the flashlight from Cassie. Sandy assured her with “Be right back” before she hurried into the kitchen.

    Sandy returned with two saucers she placed under the candles and a long fireplace lighter. She lit the candles and placed them at both extremes of the table. “I don’t smell anything,” commented Cassie.

    “Well, give it a minute. Right now it’s just the wicks burning.” Sandy pulled wads of paper out of the box along with the nativity manger. She removed the wrapping from the first one and found a camel. Cassie clapped her hands with excitement and reached for one to unwrap. It was a man on his knees.

    When Cassie gave Miss Sandy a curious look, Sandy explained, “That would be Joseph.” They kept going till all the wrappings were forced to reveal their contents… another camel, a lamb, a donkey, the three wise men, Mary and baby Jesus.

    While the two sat admiring the display, the aroma of the candles finally reached Cassie. “Mmm. That smells good!” Sandy explained the story behind the two candles and the reasoning behind both scents. Cassie looked away while she processed Sandy’s tradition. “Miss Sandy do you think some day I could add my own candle?”

    Cassie’s question had taken Sandy aback a little but, again, had long since gotten past being too surprised at the turn of conversation with children, particularly this one. “And what scent would your candle be?”

    Cassie thought about that a bit before answering, “Hm, well, I dunno… My most favorite of all smells would probably be chocolate because, well come on… we’re talking chocolate. But I don’t know if that would go with vanilla and cinnamon even though it’s all stuff you eat.”

    “Well, it doesn’t have to be just stuff you eat. Every relationship is about bringing into the mix the best possible ingredients for that relationship to make it work. If everyone only insisted on their own personal favorite and not what would work in the mix, then the recipe can’t work can it?”

    “You mean like if Mark wanted to bring in his favorite, licorice?”

    “Vanilla, cinnamon and licorice?” They both wrinkled their noses.

    “I know. See?” Then Cassie thought some more and exclaimed, “A Christmas tree!”

    “It’s still a little too early for the Christmas tree guys.” Every year, tree vendors come to town and set up shop on vacant lots they rent to sell their wares. They adorn their lots with lights and other lavish décor to attract buyers before the trees become too dry and begin to drop their needles.

    “No, I mean the smell. Isn’t that a smell?”

    Sandy smiled, “Cinnamon, vanilla and Christmas tree. Now that’s what I’m talking about. So long as it’s not that nasty pine cleaner smell.”

    “Course not! Won’t do unless it smells like the real thing.”

    Sandy drifted away to that dark place in her memory - the abyss of despair from whence she climbed that Christmas anniversary. Her eyes began to tear up and she was peripherally aware that Cassie was watching her. She quickly wiped her eyes. She recalled when she braved the trip into the open and purchased Christmas fixings at the supercenter. She didn’t have a Christmas tree so she had lit a scented candle. How odd it should come full circle now, once again, with Cassie.

    “You okay, Miss Sandy? Cause you were looking really sad.”

    Sandy inhaled and smiled. “Yeah. I was falling into another of my Danny moments. I’m sorry. I do that sometimes. Now what was that scent you said you wanted? Christmas tree?”

    “Yeah!”

    “In that case, wait here.” Sandy got up and once again rummaged through the kitchen cabinets. She lit the candle and returned to present it to Cassie. Her eyes grew wide with wonder and exhilaration from within that realm reserved exclusive to children. Sandy placed it with the other candles. “This will be your own candle and we’ll take them all out every Christmas.” Cassie closed her eyes and deeply inhaled.

    “I smell it! Too cool!” Then as Pip's stomach growled, “Can we have something cinnamon and vanilla now?”

    Sandy ran through a mental list of the contents of her small pantry closet and her refrigerator. “I think I might have some of those pop-open cinnamon rolls. But there’s a problem,” she says while looking at her watch.

    “What?”

    “My stove is the kind with the electric thingy that sparks the gas. With the power off it won’t light.”

    “Don’t you have a lighter or matches or something?”

    “No. I tried that once. It’s a safety device to keep you from accidentally gassing yourself if the power goes out. Evidently the Underwriters Laboratory thinks it is more favorable to starve to death.”

    “Huh?”

    “Never mind.” Sandy walked to the window and peeked outside. “This is really strange. I don’t care how bad a storm is – unless a tornado is coming we should see at least a little sunlight somewhere.”

    Cassie was horrified. “Tornado?” She and Sandy had watched a Weather Channel special once about tornadoes and saw the devastation left in the wake of such a storm. Nothing can stand in the way of a tornado. Houses blow away, horses, cows and kids blow away, cars and even tractors blow away…

    “Don’t worry about it. It’s pretty darn gusty out there, but not nearly windy enough for a tornado. Besides, the terrain here is all wrong for a real tornado. I’m just saying it’s unnaturally dark outside. I was thinking we could drive to IHOP or something for pancakes. I’m getting hungry too.”

    “Pancakes! Or I could get cinnamon toast.”

    “Let’s go then. I’m tired of being in the house. We'll go by your house and check on your mom and dad. They're probably worried about you.”

    Cassie looked over at Pip who refused to quit his vigil by the front door. “What about Pip? Can he come? He doesn’t know this house enough to stay by himself. And besides, it’s not hot in the car. You know. If we leave him in there during IHOP.”

    Sandy didn’t exactly relish the idea of a damp dog in her car but Cassie was right. Besides, she sure didn’t want to chance a mess on the floor. She recalled her youth when her mother’s dog, Daisy, became peevish each time she was left alone. She would always make her displeasure known and, as punishment, she would destroy something. If she was in the house it might be something of value, like shoes, or prized like her favorite slippers.

    One time Daisy ate virtually the entire TV remote because Sandy’s father scolder her. She pooped bits of remote for the next two days. Thereafter, she had to go outside when everyone left the house. Therefore, Daisy dug up her mother’s prized roses and left them on the back porch.

    “Okay, here’s what we’ll do. I’ve got an old beach towel Pip can sit on and he can go, but he has to do his business first or he stays in the garage. Deal?”

    “Deal.”

    Sandy went to the front coat closet and got her own jacket, plus a spare of Cassie’s that never went home. Likewise she had jackets for Eddie and Mark but they were over so rarely that Sandy suspected they might no longer fit. Mark could slip into Eddie’s if that was the case, but she would have to remember to check Eddie’s for fit next time he came over.

    Cassie disappeared into the guest room with a candle and then returned fully dressed. She sat on the living room floor to put her shoes on.

    “Ah, you took your sweats off?” Sandy was dismayed. “I can’t very well be the only one in my sweats. Now I have to get dressed.” Cassie giggled at her.

    When they were both fully dressed, Sandy grabbed her backpack en lieu of her purse, dumped the contents of her purse into the pack, picked up her keys and flipped on the flashlight. “Blow the candles out and get Pip. Let’s take him out front and see if he needs to pee.”

    Cassie picked Pip up, blew each candle out and walked to the front door. Sandy threw the bolt open and was about to open the door when Pip’s ears went up in alarm. Sandy had her hand on the door and was about to turn the lock on the knob when Pip barked frantically, freezing Sandy and startling Cassie.

    “I think he’s still freaked.”

    “Yeah,” said Cassie. “Me too.” Then she suggested, “You know, he was outside all that time, and scared. You don’t think he already peed?”

    Sandy thought about it, still shaken. She threw the bolt back in place and stepped away from the door. Pip was so relieved he whimpered and licked Cassie’s face and snuggled her neck.
    Cassie followed Sandy, towel in hand, to the garage door adjoining the kitchen. Sandy opened the door to the garage and Cassie wondered aloud, “How do we open the garage with the power out?”

    “Piece of cake. Let’s get you and Pip in the car, then I pull that little rope with the handle on it. See it?”

    “Uh huh.”

    “Well, that unlocks the door from the garage door opener, and then I just raise the door the old fashioned way.”

    “Oh. Okay.”

    Cassie climbed into the legally required car seat, fully approved and mandated by the State of California, and buckled herself in. Sandy went around to the other side and spread the towel over the seat next to Cassie. “Now, I don’t know how Pip will do riding in the car. You probably will have to throw an arm around him and pet him to keep him there. The last thing I need is to have a frightened dog run under my feet around the pedals while I’m trying to drive.” Cassie nodded her understanding.

    Although Pip didn’t protest, the little fellow was shaking a little. Thinking he was cold, Cassie threw the corner of her jacket over him. Sandy closed the door. When she reached up and pulled the garage door release, Pip raised his head to the door, once again alarmed. Sandy tapped on the side window and gestured Cassie to keep the flashlight up, then went to the garage door, grabbed the handle and planted both feet firmly and prepared to lift the door on its rollers.

    Pip leaped forward from the back seat to the front and barked in frenzied little yelps. Cassie’s breathing quickened. She felt a strong sense she couldn’t put words to at the tender age of five-almost-six, even for one who liked Dickens and got straight A’s in school all the time. Later she would find the word “foreboding” to be a very appropriate description for an anxiety that was coupled with a great sense of menace.

    Cassie fumbled with the seat belt and launched herself forward to press the car’s horn. The child’s inner restraint to avoid actions that could mean big trouble was far outweighed by her strong sense of urgency. The horn scared the living daylights out of Sandy that made her spin and flatten against the garage door. Cassie reached up and flipped on the dome light inside the car and shook her head “no” and mouthed the word, she hoped, in time. Sandy looked angry at first, until she looked at Cassie.


    First, Sandy was inclined to be irritated at Cassie by what she at first perceived to be a thoughtless prank. The horn scared the life out of Sandy, considering the tenor of their day thus far. This unthinking reaction lasted about as long as it took her to turn and see Pip soundlessly yelping and Cassie’s imploring face while she shook her head.

    SLAM! Went the garage door with enough force to launch Sandy forward to the car. She spun around and saw the dented door. What the heck? Punk kids out in this mess? “Get away from my house! You’re going to pay for that door you just dented!”

    SLAM! SLAM! Cassie emerged from the car and Sandy turned to her. An indefinable shuffle-smacking-slithering-growl from outside made Sandy jump back next to Cassie. She heard it over the splatter of rain. The chitinous sound against the door made her think of roaches. Really big roaches. “I don’t think those are pranksters,” Sandy said to Cassie.

    Cassie could only shake her head and swallow. Pip had himself flattened out on the floorboard of the car. Sandy patted her thigh to him, but he would not come out. A rattling at the garage door caught Cassie’s full attention. The door had a handle on the inside, but for security reasons, there was no handle on the outside.

    Cassie froze in horror. She opened her mouth to scream but nothing would come out but a slight gasp. Sandy looked and saw someone or something working its fingers under the door as though preparing to lift it. Something was going to come in and Cassie could not move.


    Above the thrum of the hammering rain, Sandy could hear the insistent hammer of her heart. She ran full tilt to the car, hopped up and re-engaged the locking mechanism to the door opener.

    This did not deter whoever was out there from trying to wrench open the door. But then again he/it probably didn’t know it was locked. For good measure, Sandy got behind the wheel. She had an idea.

    She turned the key and, although some lights came on, nothing happened. She slid the shift lever down, then back into park, and made sure she had her foot on the brake, but still nothing happened. The garage door was now beginning to shriek under the strain. Sandy slipped the car out of Park, stuck her foot out to the garage and pushed the car until it rolled and lodged, firm against the door. Then she got out of the car.

    When Cassie ran to the kitchen door and opened it, Pip rocketed from the car, hit the garage floor once and bounced straight into the house. Sandy gave the car door a shove with her foot before joining them, then wondered why. Wouldn’t want to make it easy for the giant cockroach to go through the glove compartment.

    Safe inside the house, Sandy locked the knob and threw the deadbolt. She looked toward the window, grabbed the flashlight from Cassie and doused the light. She felt her way along the kitchen counter and choked back gut-wrenching fear as she approached the window, fearful that at any moment, those monstrous hands would crash through and drag her through the glass teeth. She got to the blinds and closed them.

    This done, she turned the flashlight back on and pointed it down to the floor. She ushered Cassie back to the living room. Cassie ran to the big stuffed chair and Pip joined her. Sandy re-lit the candles and stood in the center of the room.

    Standing in the middle of the living room, Sandy turned and surveyed the hallway, the door and the windows. She had never before in her life felt so completely exposed and vulnerable. She could be standing in all her glory on a pool table in the center of the raunchiest biker bar and still never, ever feel this exposed.

    She knew she had to plan. The first thing she had to decide was what was happening. Know thine enemy. Until she understood the nature of the assault, she would not know whether she should fight or fly. This had to have something to do with the news the angel brought to Cassie, obviously. For Sandy, that was kind of like Penelope tied to the railroad tracks, feeling the vibrations, seeing the smoke and then hearing the whistle. Knowing the train is bearing down on you is one thing – knowing what to do about it is another.

    “We’re not safe here,” Sandy decided. “Whatever slammed the garage door has little regard for property and sounded very angry.”

    “Where do we go? Do you have a basement?”

    Sandy sighed, “No.” She turned to the front of the house and considered their options. “Why isn’t he, or it, breaking in? I mean, the window is just glass.”

    “Miss Sandy,” said Cassie, “I’m scared.” As if in response, Pip gave Cassie’s cheek a quick lick before laying his head against her chest.

    Sandy knelt before her. “CJ, whatever is going on is supposed to happen for some reason. The angel told you things that make it sound as though you will be around to play an important part, right?”

    Although Cassie nodded in the affirmative, her eyes were round with terror.

    “In fact, maybe that is exactly why we are safe right now. Maybe your angel friend is outside right now keeping us safe.”

    She blinked once. “Really?”

    Don’t lie to kids. “Well, maybe. I don’t really know and I’m a little scared too. Not to mention concerned for my house.” She forced a smile.

    They both jumped at the sound of a tick, tick, tick at the front door. Despite her trembling legs, Sandy compelled herself to move forward, one weak step at a time. She let her eyes follow the sound until they came to rest on the door knob. She watched it vibrate in time with the persistent tick, tick, tick. She reached a hand out ever so slow, uncertain what to do.

    If she could just mute that sound, make it stop long enough to think! Just as her hand was within centimeters, the knob clattered with violence. The entire door rattled in its frame as she backed away. Sandy hurried to Cassie, ready to gather her up and run. Pip stood rigid on all fours next to Cassie. Just when she got all the way to Cassie, the fierce rattling halted so suddenly that when she turned, Sandy knew the intruder had entered. Instead, the door remained intact. A clap of thunder jolted her back a half step. The door remained in its rightful place.

    “He’s just messing with us,” she realized.

    “Maybe we should call the police,” Cassie suggested.

    Sandy considered. She knew it could not be so simple. Something extraordinary was happening outside in the storm. She now reasoned that what was happening had to be connected to the darkness. She decided a 911 call might work, but then, with this storm, the authorities were likely to have their hands full. Whatever reason she gave them, she had to tell them something sane, like maybe it was someone attempting a home invasion. Maybe her story would not be the whole truth, but it would be the truth.

    “Well, it couldn’t hurt to try. Maybe whoever is out there will be scared off by the lights and sirens.”

    She had left the phone on the television and it was still where she remembered. She picked it up and there was no dial tone. Oh, yeah. “Cordless phones don’t work when the power is out.”

    “The one in my room, the guest room, is the old kind.”

    “That’s right. Be right back.”

    Sandy hurried in, picked up the phone and could only hear a faint hiss. It seemed to have a strange swirling susurration quality to it. Listening closely, she could swear someone was on the other end, like when you go to call someone and pick up the phone and it turns out you picked it up just before it rang, only to find the person you were about to call already on the line. That was it. This sounded like an open line.

    “Hello?” She ventured. Breathing! She would swear to it!

    The chilling hiss whispered, sssssssaaandyyyyy. She slammed the phone down in its cradle. She held the flashlight there a full minute waiting for it to ring, come alive, do something - but it did nothing. It did not ring. It did not leap at her, catch fire or turn to ice.

    When she went back into the living room Cassie asked, “Are they coming?” Sandy blinked hard, at first thinking Cassie meant, they as in the monsters on the phone. Then she realized Cassie meant, are the police coming.

    “Oh. No,” distractedly, “phone doesn’t work.” Sandy had dropped her purse on the floor next to the kitchen door. Now she picked it back up and dug for her cell before remembering she had dumped it into her pack. She muttered to herself, irritated a bunch of static had her so rattled.
    "And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand." -Dan 12:10

  32. CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR part 2

    She found her pack and dug for her cell. She flipped it open and was bathed with the faint hue of the phone’s screen. She pressed 9-1-1 and listened to the cell. Dead silence. She looked at the phone and saw no bars. The screen looked messed up to her.

    It reminded her of the time she once dropped a cell in the bathtub. She had been foolish to have it sitting on the edge, but she was expecting a call. The cell was in vibrate mode at the time and she had fumbled it right into the water. The display shorted and displayed similar scrambled characters.

    Now, two cell phones later, she flipped it back shut and tossed it back in her pack.

    “The power has taken the cell towers out, so there’s no cell service either.” She paced and ran her fingers through her hair while she tried to think clearly.

    Danny was a former soldier. What would he do? He would’ve been a man of action. Bereft of adequate protection from the enemy he sure wouldn’t wait around for them to kick the door in. Especially unarmed. He would try to improve his odds. How?

    Sandy decided this line of thought was useless to her. She couldn’t decide what a soldier would do because she wasn’t a soldier. She couldn’t do that any more than she could solve the problem of Field Theory by saying, Let’s see now, how would Einstein solve it?

    “We have to leave,” Cassie broke in on her thoughts.

    “What?”

    “We’re supposed to leave.”

    “What do you mean?” she said looking about, “Who told you? Is he here?”

    “No. I just know. It came to me.”

    Sandy had her doubts. She was not sure any longer that she saw or heard anything herself on the day of the angelic visit. She replayed the events with a critical mind’s eye. With all the reading this little girl does to feed that fertile imagination, couldn’t Cassie have just made it up as a bid for attention? Maybe she had merely been parroting something she had read in some book or other. But then, I did smell something too. I felt the strange summer breeze that bore the wonderful smells. So why would I not see the angel too?

    Sandy was having a crisis of a faith she had never professed. Okay, but what about the announcement of something big and terrible soon to happen, and then this strange storm, this darkness, this… this predator? Isn’t this proof enough?

    Galvanized into action, Sandy again took up the flashlight and headed for the garage. “Miss Sandy?”

    “CJ, wait right here with Pip. I’ll be right back. I have some old stuff of Danny’s out in the garage – some survival-type stuff he put in a big metal drum. We’re going to get to the bottom of this. We’re going to make it through this.” Pip at least looked encouraged, for he seemed to grin in response.

    When Sandy returned, she had two day packs, commonly referred to as backpacks, in her hands. Real backpacks hold fifty to seventy pounds or so worth of gear and are affixed to a light metal alloy frame. The things kids carry their books to school in are actually daypacks used for short trips and hikes.

    The fashion of wearing daypacks to school began in the early seventies by members of Ernie Bell’s Wilderness Club at John Glenn High School in southern California, a school named after the famous former astronaut. Sandy remembered Danny telling her about that.

    It didn’t take long for Wilderness Club members to figure out that carrying their books to school in their day packs sure beat tucking books under their arms. Thus was born a trend that moved quickly across a nation and across a world.

    Thanks to Ernie Bell, an industry was born that made the variety and affordability of these packs beneficial for many, not the least of which were those designed for survival usage. Danny had evidently purchased two such packs, one for himself and one for Sandy, and prepared them for an emergency and housed them in a 55 gallon drum in the corner of the garage.

    Sandy sat the packs down close to the candle light and Cassie joined her on the floor. “What are these?”

    “Danny called them ‘Bug-Out Bags.’ He was in the Navy. He also used to be a scout as a boy.”

    “Be prepared,” she quoted.

    Sandy looked at Cassie, surprised, “That’s right,” she smiled.

    “I learned that from Eddie. He wants to be a Boy Scout but Daddy says he doesn’t have time right now.”

    Sandy further explored the contents of each bag. She handed hers to Cassie. “He put about three days worth of stuff in these. We can combine some of this stuff and put some of this in your small pack you use for school. We’ll have to get some of your socks and things from the spare room. My poncho should fit you, though it’s going to be a little big, but we’ll be a pair because I’ll be wearing Danny’s.”

    “And it’s a little big on you too.”

    “Right. We have flashlights, walkie talkies, a wind up radio…” she paused to wind it up and turn it on. Only hissing could be heard. She slowly tuned the dial hoping to hear something. She was frowning as she tuned through the AM and FM bands and got only static.

    “Is it broke?”

    “I don’t know. It should be getting something, even in this weather.” She tuned through the weather band and got nothing but white noise. “Maybe it sat in the garage too long or something. Usually we can get stuff from L.A. on this easy."

    Cassie and Pip sat patiently as Sandy tried the SW for shortwave band. There was the brief cough of a woman’s voice and she quickly tuned it back a little.

    ‘…the area until it is secure. If you have an older model vehicle that is still operational, do not attempt to leave town as all roads are closed off. It is imperative that you drive immediately to the local Police Department on California Street. Residents of the Avenue area are encouraged to proceed to the Olive Street branch office on 110 N. Olive Street. Both locations have generators. We have cots, food and medical supplies. Beacon lights will be visible on approach.

    ‘Under no circumstance should drivers pick up hitchhikers or strangers. Please bring food, water, blankets or any emergency supplies for survivors of the storm. We repeat... we are in a state of emergency due to the storm. Local authorities are responding to emergencies and are advising extreme caution as looting has been reported in the area. Again, proceed to the Police Department on California Street with caution. Bring supplies and be on alert for looters. Keep your car doors locked at all times. Police advise caution until the area is secure…’

    Sandy turned the radio off as it became apparent the announcement was beginning to repeat. “Well, that’s something. What’s that all about?”

    She and Cassie continued to explore their packs. Cassie was fiddling with a long tube that came out of the bag. Sandy explained, “That goes to a water container. I can show you how to use it once you put it on. Let’s see if we can fit that into your pack.” Cassie pulled a huge knife out of Sandy’s pack. “And I’ll take that,” said Sandy, carefully placing the sheathed knife into the pack she was building for herself.

    Cassie dug some more and found some cord, matches and wipes. Sandy found Danny’s pop tarts and smiled. “Danny, I love you.” She also found some nutritional bars.

    Cassie got excited when she found chocolate bars and Sandy, knowing it was her bag, became teary-eyed. Danny, knowing how much she loved chocolate, must have put the candy in there for her without telling her, probably to take the edge off whatever emergency he anticipated might happen. God, I sure miss him.

    In a side pocket, Sandy felt something hard and heavy and immediately recalled what it was. This was Danny’s pistol. She pulled it from its hiding place and removed it from its swaddling.

    “Wow. Is that a real gun?”

    “Yeah. Danny’s Sig Saur nine millimeter. Not legal, I’m afraid.”

    Cassie was excited, “Reeaally? You mean like an outlaw gun?”

    “Danny had this idea that guns should be just as available to law-abiding citizens as they are to bad guys. He didn’t think it was any of the government’s business whether he had any or not, unless the government turned against its citizens in which case he said he would make it their business to find out the hard way.”

    “What’s that mean?”

    “Old story. Founding Fathers kind of stuff, U.S. Constitution, blah, blah. I’ll tell you about it some time.”

    “Cool! I love history.”

    Sandy wrinkled her nose, “You would.”

    “You know how to use it?”

    “Course,” Sandy boasted. “Danny insisted.”

    “We gonna take it?” Cassie asked all wide-eyed.

    “Naw. I’d rather not.”

    Cassie gave Sandy a sidewise grin and said all singsong, “I think we should taaake iiiit.”

    Sandy replied in kind, “But I don’t thiiiink soooo.”

    “But Danny would waaannt youuuu tooooo.”

    That gave Sandy pause. The little scoundrel was right. “Well, there is a box of ammo in here someplace. Ah. Here it is.”

    “You going to put those bullets in there?”

    “Funny thing about a gun. It serves little purpose unless it’s loaded. But it stays with me. And paws off for you no matter what. Scout’s honor?”

    Cassie sat up all somber as did Pip. She gave Sandy the Scout salute, “Scout’s honor, Miss Sandy.” Pip yelped in agreement.

    Sandy removed a couple of Danny’s items that would never do for her and put her own into Cassie’s bag. She removed the poncho and closed the pack tight. “Go get your extra socks and things and get them into your pack. It’s time to go to that Police Station.”

    Cassie grabbed the flashlight and ran off to get her things. Pip went to supervise. Sandy hefted the bags for weight. She silently prayed that she remembered all the survival stuff Danny had taught her.

    Sandy had taken a wilderness class herself when she got out of high school and went to college for a year. That was when she was trying to “find herself” and took the class because she didn’t really have a major. She was, to be quite frank, tired of the rigors of education and mistakenly thought the college wilderness class would be a relaxing little hiking class–a diversion and a change of pace. Relaxing. Sure.

    A former Navy man himself, high school teacher Ernie Bell had pushed hard with the school district to gain permission to start his Wilderness class for his students. Eventually, he succeeded, and thus was born the Wilderness Club tradition that swept the nation, primarily at the college level.

    Wilderness Club students would learn basic survival skills, from what is safe to eat in the woods, to how to purchase and care for the right boots. They learned to read a compass and topographical map and the benefits of goose down. They learned the value of training for a ten day backpack trip by wearing daypacks full of books and running around in the hills of Griffith Park to get in shape.

    Similarly, Sandy recalled that many a football player learned the hard way that weight training would get you nothing but a nice view of the girls as they passed you by on the mountain trail. The memory raised a smile for her.

    Cassie returned and they got her things together and Sandy helped her get her pack on. “The toilet won’t flush,” Cassie announced matter-of-fact.

    “What?”

    “I had to pee and, well, the toilet kind of flushed, but no new water comes down.”

    “Water doesn’t shut off in a rain storm and toilets don’t quit working when the power is out.”

    Cassie shrugged. Sandy went to the kitchen sink and Cassie followed. When she turned on the tap there was but a trickle. Sandy shut it back off and put her fist on her hip in thought. “What’s going on?”

    “We’re supposed to find out and fix it.”

    “I don’t know anything about plumbing and don’t intend to try.”

    Cassie offered a dramatic sigh, “I’m not talking about the pipes, silly. I mean, the whole thing,” she gestured generally with her other hand.

    Sandy looked at the girl, mouth agape. “Is there anything else you want to tell me?”

    Again, Cassie shrugged. “For some reason this stuff just comes to me in a thought-voice that isn’t my voice.”

    “God’s?”

    Cassie thought about that. She seemed to be replaying the voice in her head. “I don’t think so. Maybe from God, but maybe the angel’s voice, now that I think about it.”

    Sandy sighed and blew out a breath. I sure hope she’s right and hasn’t snapped a twig. “Okay. Time to hike. We’ll go to that police station. Where's the poncho?”

    “It's too big.”

    “Stay here.” She disappeared into the kitchen and returned unfolding a large trash bag.

    “Are you going to smother me?”

    “Nonsense. I'm only throwing you away.” Sandy found the center of the bag's bottom and pulled a hole open, slightly off-center. “Don't worry though. I'll leave you some breathe holes. The trash can might get a little stinky though.” She slipped the bag over Cassie's head with the hole around her face. She slit the sides up a bit so Cassie could still move her arms. A little judiciously applied duct tape around the neck and shoulder area and she was good to go.

    “Hey! Cool!”

    “That's beyond cool. Maybe even groovy. Let's go.” Her hand on the knob of the front door, Sandy decided it was time for some last minute instructions.

    “Honey, I don’t know what might be out there. We’ll probably have to run and I don’t know if we can outrun whoever it is. Is there any chance we’ll be getting some help?”

    Cassie looked away, listening, it seemed. Then she shrugged. “I just know we’re supposed to go. There’s something we’re supposed to do so we have to be safe. Somehow.”

    Sandy looked down and Pip was sitting, chest out brave, next to Cassie. Reciting, Cassie said, “’Take nothing on its looks – take everything on evidence. There's no better rule.’ Dickens said that. It looks scary out there but evidence is God has a plan for us.”

    Sandy said, “What if God’s plan for us is to die?”

    “Well then it would have come in to get us but God didn’t let it.”

    Sandy nodded, hopefully. “So now I'm supposed to learn to be a woman of faith. Nice. Let’s go.” She opened the door to a storm of darkness and menace, but not without first taking a quick peek.
    "And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand." -Dan 12:10

  33. #33
    Join Date
    Jan 2003
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    excellent, keep 'em coming.

    glad sandy has a gun, i just wish it was more than a puny 9mm.
    The only rights we have are the ones we're willing to fight for.

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  34. Christian, I'm thinking a shotgun would be nice. Too bad her hubby died so suddenly and unexpectedly. Just goes to show, never too soon to get your preps in order. You never know what can happen or when, and, you never know but that your preps might be for someone you love and not for yourself. Maybe leave written instructions with your preps as well? Even as I wrote it, it got me thinking along those lines.
    "And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand." -Dan 12:10

  35. #35
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    yep, i've already gone down that road. as much as she's not really interested, my wife has her own firearms (M1 Carbine and .357 mag) and goes shooting regularly. she also knows how to cast bullets and reload everything in the house. she's much more interested in the food storage, gardening, BOBs and such. we make a pretty good team actually.

    as for sandy, i'd be happier if she favored a 1911.
    The only rights we have are the ones we're willing to fight for.

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  36. Sounds like a match made in Heaven, uniquely formulated for hell on earth.

    You never know what may happen with Sandy, et al, in future adventures. This is her first outing so she's just getting her feet wet. This entire novel takes place in just a day or so. It's kind of like writing "24" for the paranormal...only with Jack...and the terrorists aren't from around here...and so...okay, not really like "24"
    "And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand." -Dan 12:10

  37. #37
    Join Date
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    lol...so hurry up and post the rest so i can see what you're talking about.
    The only rights we have are the ones we're willing to fight for.

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  38. CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

    The house grew cold. Although Sandy’s home was heated by gas, like the stove, the heater was equipped with an electric igniter. The design was to prevent the house from expending too much gas to keep the pilot lights lit. As well, this was a wonderful safety feature in the design so that occupants need not fear dying in their sleep from gas fumes. Of course, freezing in your sleep during a power outage is another problem altogether.

    Living in a south-facing coastal community, one rarely has the chance to experience the bitter cold of the northeast. Sandy instantly gained an appreciation for the insulation of her home just as soon as she and Cassie stepped outside. She shoved Cassie back into the house and slammed the door.

    “Wow,” said Cassie, “that was really cold!”

    “Yeah, some storm, huh? Must be coming from the North.” Sandy lifted the make-shift poncho and helped Cassie out of her pack. “Layers,” suggested Sandy. “Put more stuff on underneath. Take the flashlight with you and get another pair of pants on too. I don’t care if it has to be your pajamas. In fact, they’re flannel, so go put those on under your pants. Quickly.”

    Cassie wandered off to the spare room to get her pajamas with Pip right behind. Sandy found herself immersed in near total darkness. The only light that reached her was a faint glow from Cassie’s flashlight. She shrugged out of her pack, opened it, and found the crank LED lantern. She gave it a few cranks and was comforted to find it worked well enough to cut through the oppressive blanket of darkness around her.

    Sandy made her way to her room and found her old thermal underwear from her hiking days. She took her outer clothes off and put them on over her bra and panties before adding another shirt, then a sweatshirt. She found another thin pair of socks and put them on. Her shoes wouldn’t go on over two pair of socks but she knew she had an old pair of hiking boots in the closet that would work better in the rain anyway.

    Although the boots were heavy and not designed for outrunning attackers, let alone slobbering, clawing, growling beastly demons, she assured herself that the Sig Saur would discourage any potential human attackers. Sandy knew she was not about to move so fast as to leave Cassie behind anyway. She hoped and said a quick prayer that she wasn’t making a foolish move. She could live with putting herself in danger. She was loath to expose Cassie needlessly to the evils of the world.

    She could live with taking a last stand with the Sig Saur against who knows what. However, it seemed to her that the lesser of evils would be to take her chances with a run for the local Police Department a few blocks away. Hunkering down at home seemed to her to be an option now off the table, since someone was obviously very aware she and Cassie were in the house. He/she/it was taking great pleasure in tormenting them.

    There was nothing to prevent an intruder from crashing right in. Then they would have to run anyway, but with someone or something immediately on their heels. With the sort of strength exhibited on the garage door, Sandy did not care for their odds. Cassie must live, even if Sandy had to throw herself at whoever it was to slow them down. Maybe then she would have a chance, but she would rather they both made it out alive.

    She and Danny had talked about having kids many times. They disagreed as to the number of children that comprised a well-rounded family. She wanted to surround herself with four kids, boy-girl-boy-girl. Danny’s fear was that he wouldn’t have the patience for the chaos that would ensue as a consequence of having so many children running around.

    They'd fought about it once. Sandy had been stubborn in her resolve and now felt guilty for being so childish. Danny’s considerations now seemed more practical than her reasons. Having come from a large family, Danny only wanted enough kids he could handle and devote his time to. He was one in a herd and had always felt cheated out of quality time with his own father.

    With Danny gone, Sandy no longer even had the desire to think about another man. Who could replace Danny? She had only just recently become used to the idea of going on with life without him, let alone getting on with seeking out someone else. She found the very prospect abhorrent. It would feel like cheating.

    Ultimately, Sandy resigned herself to becoming an old spinster with no kids. Maybe she should start collecting cats because she will never ever have kids. Then there’s Cassie. Even though little Cassie was not her own, she had adopted her in her heart as though she were her very own daughter. It seemed as if, in many ways, Cassie had reciprocated. At the very least, they shared a big-sister-little-sister relationship.

    Her responsibility, the seriousness of her charge with Cassie’s well-being was intense to a degree Sandy never thought possible. She knew she would give her own life for this little girl. Her love for Cassie was on a scale that she failed to fathom in full.

    Why? Was it that Cassie was a surrogate for her loss of Danny? She had rejected that notion because the nature of that love was so different.

    This is how Sandy concluded that she had adopted Cassie into her heart as her own daughter, for this was surely, what being a mother must be like. It was all the mother she would ever be, or need to be. She would guard that with every fiber of her being. The notion of having to take Cassie out into this unknown danger was repugnant to her.

    Some how and for some reason, beyond Sandy’s ability to comprehend, Cassie was chosen to solve a very adult and monstrous problem. How and for what purpose, she found bewildering. How could someone so innocent, so smart, so peculiar and wonderful become the most suitable agent to cure any ill outside Sandy’s loneliness?

    Sandy had to fight the urge to over-ride Cassie’s insistence that they leave. After all, she was the adult. She was the one with the knowledge and experience to see this through, if anyone was. Yet, it was Cassie who received the special knowledge. Cassie had the inside track. Somehow, she had an “in” with God. Maybe God knew Cassie’s childlike faith would not fall under doubt. With age often comes a cynicism that creates often lethal hesitation. That is why the military preferred younger, more pliable, mold-able minds.

    Cassie broke in on her reverie, looking all chubby and adorable in her layers of clothing, “I’m ready when you are,” she announced with all the seriousness of a Master Sergeant to the magnitude that Sandy half expected a salute.

    Sandy helped her get the trash bag poncho back over her head. Poised to begin their journey, Sandy cracked the door and peeked outside. Pip’s little nose was all the way out, sniffing and wiggling. He sniffed for a while and wedged his little body in the crack until he was all the way out. Then he demonstrated that he had indeed been potty trained.

    “I guess that means it is safe,” Sandy observed. They went outdoors and it was sprinkling large, icy drops. They pulled on the hoods of their ponchos. At least the downpour had slowed for the moment. “How can it be so stinking cold and not be ice?”

    “It must be almost ice,” said Cassie. “Is there such a thing as wet ice?”

    “Sure. It’s called cold water, silly.”

    They were walking down the street now both looking around this way and that, Cassie holding Sandy’s hand. Cassie held the lantern in her other hand. Pip was in the lead as though he knew where they were headed.

    “But if it’s warm enough to be water it’s not cold enough to be ice.”

    “True enough, but then this rain must be right on the edge of whatever that temperature is.” Sandy cranked her LED flashlight some more. Now and again, she would turn and check behind them to make certain nothing was sneaking up on them. She didn’t think her flashlight would be bright enough to suit her in the murk, even if it were a halogen lamp.

    “Thirty-two degrees.”

    “Hm? Oh.”

    “So maybe the rain is thirty-three degrees.”

    “It feels more like thirty-two and a half degrees.”

    Cassie looked up at her. “That’s silly.”

    “You’re silly.”

    “Do you think everybody is at the Police Station? Are Mom and Dad there with Eddie and Mark?”

    Sandy stopped and squatted down beside her. “Honey, I honestly don’t know what we will find. Let’s just pray they’re okay and get ourselves there as quickly as possible.”

    Cassie looked worried. “But what if whatever came to your house is after them now?”

    Sandy chided herself on her fumbling buffoonery in dealing with Cassie’s fears. Another good reason I shouldn’t have kids. Maybe she would be better at this if she had started from scratch… infancy to toddler to five-almost-six.

    “You know what? I tend to think that if God has a mission for you then He is going to want you to be clear-headed and not have to worry about your family. So that means He probably already has them safe somewhere. Don’t you think?”

    That seemed to resonate with Cassie. She grinned and threw her arms around Sandy’s neck before they continued walking. Dear God, please don’t make a liar out of me. God help us and protect us all.

    They had turned a corner and made their way a half a block but stopped just short of bumping in to Pip. The little dog had stopped and was now facing the right and growling. They held their lights up and saw a man standing on the sidewalk watching them. Sandy ventured, “Hello. Are you okay?”

    He didn’t answer but merely stared at them. What Cassie, on the other hand saw, was a mask of evil sneering at them. It was as if a face were on top of the man’s face, another face was superimposed, like from a movie projector. “He has something evil with him.”

    “I think maybe he’s just lost. Confused. We should see if he wants to join us on the way to the Police. We could use another strong pair of hands.”

    “No. He’s got a monster in him.”

    Sandy jerked her head in Cassie’s direction and looked at her big frightened eyes before looking back at the man. “You mean he’s like, possessed or something?”
    “Yeah. I can see it.”

    Although the man grinned to them, Cassie could see the beast within looking around superimposed over his face. She shone her light around. More people gathered around in the rain and neither of them saw where they came from. Pip whimpered down by their feet. They seemed weighed down while at the same time, ready to pounce.

    “This isn’t good.” Sandy hurried her ahead in the street but more people moved off the walkway and into the street before them.

    “We better go another way,” Sandy decided. The rain turned to sleet and fell harder. The promise of lightning excited the air around them with the smell of ozone. Cassie looked up but, though they are well into mid-morning, the sun refused to shine for them. She did not give voice to her fears, but she was afraid it must be the end of the world and evil reigned.
    "And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand." -Dan 12:10

  39. CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

    Terry had decided to follow the light. Not the same light that Phil had been forced to follow because there was no turning back for Phil. Terry was quite certain that there would be precious little body to which Phil’s spirit could return, even if it wanted to. Terry, however, had options. His spirit remained steadfastly tethered to his body and it was his earnest hope that it continue thus for many years.

    The particular light Terry followed was odd, in that it speared up into the night sky and terminated into the hungry black clouds. A lone search light. A beacon of hope. Clouds so black that the light utterly failed to set them aglow. Odd too was that no city lights glowed on any horizon.

    After slipping from each successive place of hiding, Terry would quickly flash his light around to confirm the absence of leering predators waiting to surprise him and gnaw at his face. He would then shine his light on the road or walk in the direction of the light. The reflective glow helped him pick out the way around any obstructions. Once he burned an image onto his retinas, he would douse the light and move from memory in that direction until his estimated location came into doubt. Then he would pause and repeat the process.

    He fed terror’s energy into his legs, propelling him ever forward. Caution argued that he should hole-up more frequently and heed footsteps, or panting or grunting or whatever those things did. The sheer unknowable nature of his pursuers convinced him that he ought to attain sanctuary quickly as possible. For all he knew, pausing might grant these predators the opportunity to sniff him out. Wise is the fox that outruns the hounds. His investigator’s instinct informed him this was not your conventional power outage.

    Terry, in due course, reached the Sheriff’s California Street office close enough to see at least four shotgun-armed men standing guard around the perimeter of the well-lit entrance. A small knot of people had approached and the officers were evidently letting them inside after some brief questioning.

    A woman in the group pulled a child’s wagon he assumed held their belongings. What did they know that led them to believe this would be an extended stay? Ventura was too hilly and close to the coast for flooding. Was the town under siege? Terry also wondered what, if anything, this might have to do with his assignment.

    Terry eased within twenty feet of the door. One of the men questioned the couple with the wagon, when someone shadowy grabbed the deputy farthest from him on the other side of the door. There was a struggle between the deputy and a shadow but it was difficult to follow. What! Under attack by Ninjas? The shadow slammed the deputy against the wall until his shotgun clattered to the ground. The other deputies were barking orders all at once. The woman was screaming while her husband hurried her toward the door. Ultimately, he had to drag her because the assault was just too close to the door for comfort.

    Two of the deputies had their shotguns trained on the attack as their fellow officer ramped up his screams of pain. The deputy closest to Terry urged him toward the door. He quickly decided that standing with armed men was the better preference to that of playing the poorly armed lone wolf.

    The shadow threw his victim to the ground with force enough to silence his screams and to crack the concrete. Astonishing. That’s no Ninja. One of those things must have followed me down. The following thunder of shotgun blasts from the remaining deputies concussed through Terry’s body. The shadowman neither ran nor screamed. He either vanished or stayed. Terry could not tell. If he remained and bled under the hail of shot then his blood was shadows too, for Terry could distinguish nothing.

    He and the deputies pressed through the door and someone slammed it behind them with force enough to rattle windows. Inside, the faces staring back were cast of the same mold. Each bore shocked, hollow eyes, jaws slack and waxy faces glazed in the sweat of fear. Terry wondered whether his own face a reflection of theirs.
    "And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand." -Dan 12:10

  40. CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

    Torres again piloted the helicopter above the newly formed Ventura Bay with Commander Hutchins riding shotgun. They were en route to the West Camp at the fairgrounds for a briefing with a Presidential Adviser, a FEMA representative, a functionary from the US Geological Survey and advisers from every branch of the military and probably various secret service operatives interested in the operation.

    What became abundantly clear to Commander Hutchins, as he read over the list of names, was that few in actual leadership wanted to show up personally and risk getting his or her hands dirty until they knew how toxic the repercussions were likely to be. He’d seen it before. If later, there proved to be an opportunity to swoop in and play super hero, then no man’s army would be able to keep them away.

    The other side of the same coin was that these advisers would be looking for a scapegoat should things get further out of control. Ah well. So long as they don’t touch my pension.

    When the helo touched down in the vast Fairgrounds lot, a Jeep whisked Hutchins toward a pair of trailers. He wondered if they had always been there, or if they were been moved in for this occasion.

    Once inside, he found his was the lone empty seat and a number of men and women were standing along the walls. Some faces were familiar to him while others were not so much. The strange part for Hutchins was the strong military presence, not the least of which was Rear Admiral Steppe. Steppe gave him a subtle nod and indicated he should take his seat.

    There must have been a protocol discussion prior to his arrival where they determined that the President’s advisor, Danella Jackson, would take the floor first. That this decision was a strictly political power play was obvious silliness to Hutchins. She could not possibly know a thing about what was happening. Or could she?

    “Thank you all for responding so quickly on this momentous occasion. The President wishes to express his heartfelt gratitude to the men and women represented here for their rescue and recovery efforts and offers his assurances that any and all resources are at your disposal without reservation toward that end. While he would like to have come here personally, other matters require his attention at present. As soon as it is expedient to do so, he will visit the site to assess the situation personally.

    “Now, as we are given to understand, directly coincidental with this tragedy and possibly linked to the event, is an operation conducted under the guidance of Rear Admiral Steppe. If you would, Admiral, please tell us what you can about these events.”

    Hutchins was happy he didn’t have the floor this time. For one thing, he had not yet been briefed on who does or ought to know what. Need To Know under Most Secret conditions still holds, even if one is addressing the President. After all, what the President doesn’t know is less likely to cause trouble for him. Besides, a President is only four to eight years maximum. A Secret is for as long as is practical.

    However, if the Admiral has decided that now is the expedient time to kick that door open for him...

    “I will dispense with the preliminaries. By now, you should have read the brief, revealing the time and event, the various agencies involved and the measures the agencies, particularly FEMA and local authorities, are taking to secure the safety of the local population. Additionally, the FAA has released grounded flights and redirected air traffic a safe distance from the zone.”

    The local Sheriff, Tom Weldon, popped his hand up but didn’t wait for recognition before asking, “Safe from what? We all know darn well this is no ordinary sinkhole, so why not, with all due respect, spare us the bull and tell us what really happened, Admiral.”

    All heads then pivoted back to the Admiral. “From this point on what we are about to discuss is classified Most Secret. We have secured your signatures acknowledging that fact. The Department of Energy has been researching methods to economically and locally focus controlled weather patterns within a very narrow corridor. The research dubbed Dark Cloud matured to the stage of full-blown test operation under strict pre-set parameters during the early hours over the Channel Islands.

    “By every indication, the tests were successful. Upon completion of the mission, the aircraft carrying the device was en route to base when, for cause yet to be determined, the device released from the craft and came down at a latitude of 34? 17’ 21.70” N by a longitude of 119? 17’ 19.82” W, which is…”

    The Sheriff interjected, “That’s just north-east a bit of Grant Memorial Park. That would be about dead center of this so-called sinkhole.”

    “Correct. We then detected a very brief, localized EM pulse with a signature uncharacteristic of the Dark Cloud device. At least uncharacteristic of anything recorded in lab prelims.”

    “Would the impact have caused that?” Ms. Jackson asked.

    “The engineers tell me ‘no.’ They tell me there would have to have been a secondary component activated by the impact. And before you ask, there was no secondary component in the design drawings made available to the Navy that could cause any of what we see here today.”

    “Who would have access to install such a device and for what purpose?” That was Ms. Jackson again.

    “That, we are still investigating. You all should know that the Project Manager for Dark Cloud was killed in a car accident on his way to Camarillo…”

    The Sheriff jumped in, “Ah, man! That was him? Pleasant Valley Road? Small car meets big rig?”

    “That’s the one. The driver of the truck that killed him was using a stolen identity and has since been deported. I understand CIA has a field agent trying to find him as we speak, but we expect this driver will never be found. His former employer is undergoing questioning as well.”

    The Admiral cleared his throat before going on. “Now, what concerns us is the potential relationship of this event to Dark Cloud’s power source.”

    “Admiral, please don’t tell us that thing was nuclear powered,” prompted FEMA.

    “No, no. Nothing as simple as that, I’m afraid. If it was powered by nuclear then we might have one hellacious, dirty mess, but nothing like what we see here. The power source for Dark Cloud is scalar in nature. It was economical both in scale and in cost to power and mechanize the component utilizing the same source.”

    There were many confused looks exchanged. Neither the military nor the engineering attendees appeared confused.

    “It’s technical, and we must agree that we aren’t here for a lesson in physics. Suffice to say we are concerned that, in a sense, the space and matter that once occupied the affected area may still be there, but has shifted trans-dimensionally. Call it hyperspace, if you will. Further, the nature of scalar energy gives concern that, should the energy within the device increase…”

    “Oh dear my Lord,” exclaimed Physicist Roger Nadir in fractured English. He looked like he was about to faint. Hutchins flipped to his file. When he came to the states to attend college, his name was Raja. Invariably, people thought he was saying “Roger,” so the moniker stuck.

    “What is it?” asked Ms. Jackson.

    Nadir said, “It is a problem alluded to by Nicola Tesla. Once the power is up and running, it can continue to draw power naturally and build up. In this case, if it does, the area might expand.”

    “You mean this isn’t over yet? But, now wait. There is nothing there. How can it expand?”

    “Oh, it is there, just not here,” explained Nadir. “We get energy readings that we must learn more about. There is too, too much we do not know. For instance, if the area does expand, does it simply incorporate more area, now that it is already here? Or will the edge of the field chew and chew like Shiva as when she first powered up?”

    “Oh no,” breathed Jackson.

    “How far can it go?” asked Sheriff Weldon.

    Looks are exchanged around the table.

    “Dadnabit, I need to know! FEMA is going to have to evacuate a broader area and now!”

    “You don’t seem to understand, Mister Sheriff Sir,” stressed Nadir. “All the way.”

    “You mean we have to evacuate the entire city?”

    “I apologize for the not so clear English. All the way, meaning, the entire planet. There can be no evacuation.”

    “Let me see if I understand you correctly,” began Danella Jackson. “You and your team are proposing, one, that Dark Cloud was designed to work under the auspices of peace by affecting climate change locally but presumably it also has weapons capability.” The Admiral offered a non-committal shrug at the last as she continued.

    “Two, that a person or persons unknown arranged access to a scalar energenics weapon and was able to install a component of unknown origin and design, let alone purpose. And that, three, these persons ― possibly from an enemy or terrorist state ― were able to release this device on a populated U.S. city and trigger an event of unquantifiable consequences.

    “Four, that one potential result is that United States citizens may not simply have been evaporated, but that they may be locked into some other universe or hyperspace or whatever, with God only knows what happening to them, assuming they are still alive.

    “Five, we might all soon be joining them, or become vaporized, if it expands? Is that about it Admiral? Just whose brilliant idea was Dark Cloud anyway?”

    “Ms. Jackson you have aptly summed up the situation, in layman’s terms anyway, quite succinctly. There are further consequences you may have missed that we will address. That is with respect to the former.

    Jackson rolled her eyes and added sarcastically, “Oh, so it gets better!”

    Admiral Steppe ignored this and continued, “As with the latter, Dark Cloud was the brilliant brainchild idea of a Mr. William J. Statham – a longtime friend and associate of the President of the United States.”

    Danella Jackson sat back as if slapped. “Holy cow!” Then she added self-consciously, “Beg pardon.”
    "And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand." -Dan 12:10

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