A story from the best-selling Godless Saint series!
Caden Lyndsey was a Man of God. He battled demons, saw visions of the future, and called down fire from Heaven.
He lost his faith, but not his power.
Now, his visions show him an ancient, malevolent spirit, a being of fire and fury, about to be released from its magic prison. But a demon in the body of a cheerleader is determined to beat Caden to the creature and bend it to her own dark purposes.
This novella from the best-selling Godless Saint series is available now on kindle.
Read the first chapter now!
I hate bars.
But apparently it's some kind of a "warning sign" when you drink alone, and after the day I'd had, remaining sober wasn't exactly on my to-do list. Besides, it was one in the morning, I was stuck in a town with more cattle than people, and all the liquor stores had closed. The motel I was staying in didn't even have a mini-bar, so I was forced to venture out among the great unwashed masses.
Unwashed, in this case, was literal--the bar's floor was covered in sawdust and peanut shells, country music crackled through jukebox speakers, and a dozen people were moving through the steps of a line dance. Or a square dance. Or some other geometry dance. I neither knew nor cared.
Regardless, the scent of sweat, cow dung, and beer created a uniquely piquant odor that threatened to send my gastrointestinal tract into revolt. I was more interested in keeping my sanity than my dinner, though, and that meant I needed some ninety-proof brain eraser. I edged through the crowd, trying not to bump into anyone and trying even harder not to make eye contact, and sat down at the bar.
I would have preferred a booth in the back corner--easier to keep an eye on the entrances, and harder for someone to sneak up on me--but the place was packed and the bar stool was the only seat available. Whatever. At least it would be easier to obtain alcohol.
The girl tending bar was cute, in a good old country girl way. She wore a plaid shirt, tied to show her navel, denim short shorts, and cowboy boots. Her straw-colored hair was pulled into a simple tail, her eyes were sparkling blue, and her smile was bright enough to read by.
Jesus, it was annoying.
I know that's not fair. She was probably a perfectly lovely girl, just trying to earn some tips. But I was grumpy, goddamn it, and I wasn't in the mood for cheerful. I was in the mood for sullen inebriation and silent isolation.
"What'll it be, Sugar?" the blonde bartender asked, slapping a napkin down in front of me and grabbing a bowl of peanuts from beneath the counter.
"Jack. No ice. Double."
"Comin' right up," she said, the smile never leaving her face.
She poured my drink generously, which instantly doubled the tip I was going to leave her, and set it in front of me. I shot it back and set the glass on the bar, a bit harder than I had intended.
"Another?" she asked. I shook my head. "You let me know if you need anything, Honey," she said, then slid down the bar to attend to a gray-haired old man in coveralls and muddy boots. She asked him what he wanted, he made a rude comment about her breasts, and she giggled like it wasn't the millionth time an unattractive, drunk asshole had hit on her that night.
I need to start stocking up on alcohol before I do battle with the forces of darkness. I can handle harpies. I can deal with demons. But for the love of god, sometimes I just need to be alone. Being out in public makes me wonder why exactly I fight so hard to keep people alive.
I sighed and pushed the glass toward the far side, waiting for the bartender to make her way back over.
Someone else beat her to me. The guys to my left and my right cleared out, and two new men took their place, standing rather than sitting. I glanced at each of them without turning my head, briefly closed my eyes, and sighed.
The bartender materialized in front of them. "What can I getcha?"
"We're good for now, sweetheart," the man on my right said. His voice was deep and gravelly. His knuckles, I noted, were scarred.
"Y'all let me know if I can do ya for anything," she said, and scampered off to more profitable patrons.
"Buy you a round?" I asked.
The guy on my left laughed. "That's mighty nice of ya," he said, "since we ain't gonna be able to afford to buy ourselves anything for quite a while." He was wearing a John Deer hat, and his t-shirt was more yellow than white.
"Lot a good men worked at that lumber yard," Knuckles said. "Lot a families depended on that place."
"Lot a good men ain't know how they're gonna pay the mortgage next month," John Deer added. "Ain't know how they're gonna feed their families."
"Christmas," Knuckles rumbled, "ain't gonna be too fuckin' merry around here."
Again, I sighed. They were right. The lumber yard was probably one of the biggest employers in town, until I showed up. Now it was a pile of smoldering ash. The owner, some generic corporation based out of Seattle, would cash in on the insurance, but that wouldn't do a damn thing for the men and women who worked there.
But I hadn't been given a choice. It's not like I wandered into town with arson in my heart and mayhem on my mind. Six men had died at that lumberyard in the past week. Not due to accidents. Not from lax safety standards. Not because listening to this goddamn country music was enough to make any sane man jump into a log planer.
Six men had died because an environmental activist summoned a Ngen-mawida, a Mapuchen spirit of the forest. She had intended to use the spirit to destroy the logging machines that were, in her words, "raping Mother Earth like some drunk Frat boy with a pocket full of roofies." Instead, the spirit had gotten free and gone after what it saw as the true threat: not the machines, but the men who ran them.
I managed to destroy the Ngen-mawida, but not before three more men died. The battle had burned the lumber yard to the ground. I found it annoyingly ironic that the environmentalist had gotten what she wanted, after all. That's how it often was with the old deities. They'd give you what you asked for ... in the most terrible way possible.
Careful what you wish.
Of course, I couldn't explain all of that to John Deer and Knuckles. They were good, God-fearin' men, and it didn't look like they were in for any of that devil heathen tree gnome shit. And from the smell of them, they'd ingested enough liquid courage to make rational discussion a pointless endeavor.
"I'm sorry," I said.
"Tough shit," John Deer replied.
"You wanna go outside?" Knuckles asked. "Or you wanna take your beatin' right here?"
In the movies, everything would have gone silent then. Conversation would have stopped, the dancers would have fallen still, and the jukebox, for some mystical reason, would have skipped a track. But this was the real world, and it was so loud in the bar that even the guy three seats down didn't hear what Knuckles said.
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I don't want trouble."
"Like I said," John Deer drawled, "tough shit."
I didn't want to fight these guys. Even if they were drunk assholes, they weren't my enemies. They were just lashing out at a perceived threat. A stranger who wanders into town and starts destroying livelihoods was pretty high up on the list of things that could make a man go a little crazy. Of course, the scars on Knuckle's hands indicated he might have found a different outlet for his anger, if I hadn't been polite enough to show up.
I'm a pretty big guy. More than six feet tall, and carrying a little bit of muscle. I've been in more fights than I can count, and I've learned how to handle myself, if push comes to shove. And push, in my experience, pretty much always comes to shove. But I've also learned that standing toe-to-toe with a guy intent on doing you harm is a great way to get your jaw broken.
"Last chance," I said as I pulled the Aether into myself. "Walk away. Or let me buy you a drink. I don't care, one way or the other."
John Deer laughed. "Listen to this guy. Fuckin' pussy."
I shook my head. "Fine. Have it your way." I put my hands on the bar to push myself up off the stool.
Knuckles grabbed a beer bottle and broke it over my head.
That brought everything to a screeching halt. Everybody put their drinks down and stared at us. The line dancers stopped two-stepping. The jukebox kept playing, but we don't live in a perfect world.
"Goddammit Austin!" the bartender screamed. "I told you you can't be doing this shit in here!"
"Shut up, Shana," Knuckles growled. John Deer giggled.
I shook the glass out of my hair. I smelled like beer now, which was great. Hopefully a State Trooper would pull me over on the way back to the motel. That'd be about par for the course.
My hair relatively clear of debris, I turned around, slowly, to face my attackers.
That gave them pause. Breaking a bottle over someone's head is a pretty big deal. It isn't like in the movies. The glasses are strong enough that you have to get a really good windup, have to really mean it, have to really want to hurt the guy you're swinging at. Knuckles knew that his shot should have put me down ... and he was really concerned about the fact that it hadn't.
"I'm in a generous mood," I said, my voice low and cold, "so I'm going to give you one more opportunity to leave."
John Deer and Knuckles traded a glance, thought about it for a second, decided that my durability must have been a fluke, and attacked. John Deer went for an off-balance tackle, while Knuckles followed in the tradition of drunken brawlers everywhere and threw a haymaker.
Like I said, I know how to handle myself in a fight. I've picked up a little boxing over the years, and some muai thai. I even know a little jui juitsu. But I wasn't going to use any of those skills here. When it's time for a brawl, I know something much more effective.
Time seemed to crawl as the two men came barreling at me. This isn't a mystical phenomena, it's just a survival instinct. The trick is, time doesn't actually slow down, and you have to force yourself to move with force and furor. I shifted my focus from the ward I had raised around myself, which had protected me from the beer bottle, and to my hands. With a gesture, I sent the Aether rushing away from me, an unseen telekinetic force that grabbed John Deer and Knuckles and threw them across the bar. John Deer crashed into the line dancers, and five of them toppled like bowling pins. Knuckles landed on a table, spilling drinks but otherwise causing no damage.
They weren't hurt, but they were scared. They both scrambled to their feet, eyes wild, and hunted through the crowd, trying to spot their partner. This wasn't going according to plan, and they needed the assurance of numbers.
"What in the hell?" the bartender asked. "How did you do that?"
"Magic," I said without looking at her.
"Guy's a fuckin' wrestler or somethin'," John Deer said.
Knuckles spat on the floor, walked to the pool table without taking his eyes off me, and grabbed a stick. "Yeah, I reckon he is." He snapped the stick over his knee and tossed half of it to his partner. "Let's see how good you wrestle with one ah these up your ass."
They came toward me again. The bartender pleaded with them to stop. Her voice had taken on an unpleasant, high pitch. She was afraid, and it was obvious. She'd seen these guys hurt people before, and didn't want to see it again. Everyone at the bar backed away from us. They'd seen these guys work, too, and didn't want to get caught in the mix.
I reached for the Aether, pulled it in, and sent it racing out. The force scattered every bottle and glass on the bar, and overturned all of the stools. I targeted about half of the overhead lamps, blowing them out in a shower of sparks and leaving the bar in near-darkness. And finally, I shorted out the god damned jukebox and its stupid fucking music.
John Deer and Knuckles stopped dead and looked at each other again, both waiting for the other to make the first move. I waved my hands, summoning the Aether, and ripped the sticks out of their grasps. I turned my hands over, raised them toward the sky, and knocked their legs out from under them.
Everyone in the bar stared at me, mouths hanging open.
I took out my wallet and emptied it on the bar. "Sorry for the damage," I said, and walked out into the night.
It was cool, and a bit damp. I zipped up my jacket and headed toward my Jeep, which was sporting a brand new grill and windshield. My lifestyle is hell on my vehicles. I was climbing into the driver's seat when the bar's door flew open. Knuckles came running out, clutching a shotgun that he must have stolen from behind the counter.
"You son of a bitch!" he screamed, leveling the gun at me.
I pointed my hand at him, flicked one finger to send the shotgun spinning off into the night, and flicked another one to through the door. The door opened out, but he hit with enough force to shatter it.
"I hate bars," I grumbled. The Jeep's engine growled to life, and I pulled out of the parking lot.
I didn't go back to the motel. I had all of my stuff in the Jeep anyway, and I was pretty sure that the police would be showing up at my room before too long. I figured it would take the bar patrons about half an hour to convince themselves that what they had seen was a combination of alcohol, poor viewpoints, bad lighting, and group hallucinations. After that, they would call the local authorities to report a weird out-of-towner that had put the hurt on two of their own.
I wanted to put at least a hundred miles between me and the town before I stopped, so I got on the highway and, on a whim, headed east. I felt the vision coming over me about thirty minutes later, and I pulled off to the side of the road, lest I crash and burn.
Pressure began to build up between my eyes. I pinched the bridge of my nose, trying to relieve it, but to no avail. I wasn't experiencing physical pressure, but psychic. The gesture was more out of habit than anything.
The world began to swim in front of me. I closed my eyes and surrendered myself to the vision.
The temple reached toward the heavens, a towering edifice gleaming white in the harsh noon sun. A marvel of engineering and dedication, the building had served as the focal point for an entire community of believers. This was a place of learning, of purification, of communion.
But it was a place of secrets as well, a place of legends and shadows. Once, this was the home of a wicked spirit, a being of fire and malice, of power and spite. The creature had walked the streets surrounding the temple as a terrible giant, inspiring fear and awe in all who beheld him.
But the will of man is greater than the power of demons, and the terrible beast was beaten back, conquered, and contained. The demon was sealed beneath the temple, confined for time and eternity. The city's name was changed to reflect the battle that had been waged and won here: Deoband, the bound god.
The years stretched into centuries, and the terror inspired by the monster became the folklore of today. Memory of the creature faded, reduced to idle stories and harmless tales. And in his prison, the demon waited.
Darkness. Impenetrable, oppressive, tangible darkness. No light had shown here in a hundred years. No noise had been heard. The temple became a tomb, containing nothing but the dead.
But the demon was patient.
He waited, helpless but not hopeless, because the demon knew the heart of man was wicked, that his desires were strong, and that his spirit could be tempted. One day, inevitably, inexorably, the legends would draw a man to the demon, and he would be free once more.
The sound of steel on stone echoed through the demon's prison. Soil turned. Rocks fell. The wall cracked, and for the first time in a century, light fell upon the room.
The demon rejoiced.
Men came, men of science, men of learning. Men impressed with their own cleverness and creativity, men too proud to believe the superstitions of old. They took the demon from his tomb and carried him across deserts and seas, to a new world, a world teeming with debauch desires. A world ripe for the harvest.
A creature came for the demon, a lesser creature, a weak and foolish creature, but a creature that shared the demon's appetite for carnage. This creature would free the demon, once and for all. With a single wish, this creature would spell the doom of the meek and mewling creatures crawling across the face of the earth.
The demon rose up, a being of fire and malice, of power and spite. He walked the earth as a terrible giant, inspiring fear and awe in all who saw him.
The rage of centuries burned in the demon's heart, and the flames of his wrath rushed forth, consuming all before him.
"Really?" I muttered to myself. "A fucking genie?"
My head throbbed, so I grabbed a bottle of aspirin out of the glove compartment and swallowed three pills. The visions are a lot like dreams; weird, symbolic, and sometimes difficult to interpret. And like dreams, I knew certain facts without having been told them directly. The Jinni, I knew, was somehow tied to a man named Aarif Achari, a curator or research fellow at the Burke Museum in Seattle, Washington. He wasn't responsible for freeing the Jinni; rather, his motives for bringing the exhibit--and the Jinni's lamp--to America were purely academic. That meant someone else was using the Jinni, possibly someone who didn't understand its power.
According to my GPS, Seattle was only a few hours away. I searched for a hotel near the museum, found one that had a decent Yelp rating, and plugged in its address. I put the Jeep in gear and started to pull back onto the road.
Red and blue lights lit up behind me. I sighed, took the Jeep back out of gear, and put my hands on the steering wheel.
The cop, a black woman around thirty years old, appeared in my window a few minutes later, shining a flashlight in my eyes. She kept one hand near her gun. Fantastic. She shone the light around the Jeep, giving the interior a quick once-over, then tapped on the window.
I rolled it down. "Evening, ma'am."
"Evening, sir," she answered.
"Everything all right?"
"That's why I stopped, sir. Wanted to make sure you weren't stranded."
"Ah, yeah, no." I held up my cell phone. "Got a call, pulled over to answer it."
"Very responsible of you, sir," the officer said.
I shrugged. "I do what I can."
"All right then," she said, flicking off her light. "You have a good--" She stopped, and sniffed the air. "You smell like beer, sir. Have you been drinking?"
Oh, for fuck's sake.
This novella from the best-selling Godless Saint series is available now on kindle.