Strange Invaders – Winner of the Facebook Writers Assembled 2018 Spring Story Contest

WA Spring

Dave stuck his head behind the curtain and grinned at his partner.

The kid was looking pretty green, and clearly regretting his short trip down the alleyway responding to a stranger’s hoarse call for help.

“You doin’ okay, Morales?”

Eli looked up from contemplating the bandage on his forearm. “Great,” he said drily. “’Cuz being a chew toy for crazy bums is totally why we do this.”

“Thin blue line,” Dave chuckled, sitting on the hard plastic chair by the wall. “They almost done with you, or what?”

Eli shook his head. “Jesus, I hope so. Nurse Johnson has already put more holes in me than our friendly neighborhood nutjob.”

“Yeah, but she’s damn cute.”

“Alright, there, Officer Johnson … You know it’s a stereotype for cops to marry nurses, right?”

Dave gave a real laugh. He always felt like he was under Anna’s feet when he had to bring someone in here, but tonight would also serve as a rough introduction to their latest foster child. God knew she’d adopt Eli, regardless of what the usual house procedure was for a new partner anyway. He was just too much of a puppy not to make it into the normal dinner rotation on a faster route than her usual.

They were both still chuckling a little when a nice-looking nurse’s assistant bustled in and collected some items off the roll table next to Eli. He chatted with them for a few minutes. Then he stood next to the injured cop looking at the tablet he’d brought in with him and asked Eli to confirm the date of his last tetanus shot. Eli did and the young man said sympathetically that someone would be right back. Eli’s eyes followed him until he disappeared back out into the chaos.

Dave laughed quietly, “You know it’s a stereotype for cops to flirt with nurses?”

Eli grinned. “Learning from the best, Old Man.” Then he frowned. “Might be nice to get something outta tonight other than a scar.”

More ribbing before he got into a sour mood seemed in order. “I’m sure you will. Your rowdy indigent probably had rabies.”

Instead of finding it funny, Eli’s head sunk against the stiff pillow. “Jesus. Probably.”

“I’m kidding. Probably high on bath salts. That’s not contagious. You just gotta be born stupid.”

This time Eli snickered, as he peered around a gap in the curtain. “I just want to get home and sleep tonight off. It’s noisy as hell in here.”

He rubbed his forehead absently and squinted.

“You hit your head when you went down?”

“I don’t think so; probably just a stress headache. Because my partner’s a dick and keeps saying shit like rabies.”

“Sorry, man. I’ll shut up,” Dave laughed and got up. “Gimme a minute, I’ll see if I can get them movin’ on discharging you.” He was going to see if he could speed things up. Being married to the charge nurse was supposed to be worth something. Eli was right, it was noisy.

Dave stepped out into the hallway of the Emergency Department and it was chaos; shouting, fighting, things flying through the air. He started to radio for assistance, but heard a crash from the cubicle behind him. He turned to check on his partner, but the eyes staring up at him belonged to the same hunger that had gotten him bitten.

Eli was lost to the invasion’s first wave.

~ End ~

Something’s Gotta Give (A Demonic Short Story) Available Now!

Copy of Something's Gotta Give Cover

 

$0.99 on Kindle or for Free on Kindle Unlimited.

An assignment in Hollywood? That sounds like Paradise …

Ronoven should have known better.
In Hell, nothing was ever as easy as it sounded.

Take a trip above, they said. Use your human name. Go around as Ben again if you want.

Collect a movie star’s soul.

It’ll be easy, they said.

And he bought it.
Hook. Line. And sinker.

Then he met her. An innocent; caught up in her own pain, in the whirlwind fame of Hollywood’s heyday.

He couldn’t save her life, but if he was willing to play the odds, he might just be able to save her soul.

Ben had always been a gambling man.

Something’s Gotta Give – Available now.

http://mybook.to/somethingsgottagive

Detour

Another fun little writing prompt that got thrown out there in a group I’m part of and unsurprisingly I immediately thought of our own Ben Brody. – ~ J

A character of your choice walks in a city familiar to them. It is the dead of night. They witness a brutal mugging, featuring a nasty beating of the young couple they robbed. Your character manages to chase the criminal down into an alleyway. There are no witnesses and whatever tools your character uses for battle they have with them. How do they deal with the actions of the criminal? Play out the scene as you know they would.

alley-architecture-buildings-246316

Ben’s heart slowed back down to normal as his preternaturally strong eyes took in the criminal huddled against the dumpster in the almost perfect darkness of the alleyway.
“Son of a bitch,” he grumbled more to himself than the sweaty, pale, maybe-teenager shaking and clutching the rather ostentatious purse he’d gotten off the woman up the street.

“This was a bad idea, kid,” he said sounding weary.

At first the kid said nothing, just panted and tried to straighten, but he caught his breath a little with the movement. Apparently one or both of the victims had gotten their licks in, Ben thought.

Finally the kid bit out, “Only kind I seem to have …” he trailed off for a minute. Then he lifted his head to meet Ben’s eyes when he heard him crunch over some broken glass stepping forward. “This belongs to a friend of mine though.”

“Looked like it belonged to the lady you wrestled it away from, buddy.”

Ben took another step.

“Technically I guess,” the boy, who Ben was now sure couldn’t have been more than fifteen said with a bitter laugh. “It’s my friend’s sister and her dirtbag boyfriend. He did some things … Bad things … And Steph had to leave home.”

There was pain in that voice, in that story.

“Did the sister know?” Ben asked, trying to get the lay of the land.

The boy shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. She knows he’s a piece of shit, but he has money, so she stays with him, let’s Steph’s parents think the worst. And we … she’s gotta eat, man.”

“Sister’s on the way the the hospital,” Ben said, his voice was a little stern but mostly just informative, wondering what the kid would do with the information.

“I’m sorry, alright. But only so sorry if you know what I mean. I can’t give this back. You saw what I did to them. I got no problem doing the same to you.”

Ben let the kid see his smirk. “I’m more than you bargained for, trust me. You can’t just go around hurting people for revenge, or worse for money. Nothing good will come of it. I know what I’m talking about.”

Another defeated shrug preceded the kid pulling the bag closer to himself. “I didn’t mean to have to hurt anyone, just get Steph some of her parents’ money for food.”

Ben noticed the boy’s ragged breathing then, but just said, “Doesn’t matter what you meant, kid. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”

He gave a short bitter laugh.

He let his amber eyes glow just a little, just enough to let the kid see he knew from whereof he spoke.

The boy jumped back in fear and gasped, toppling over as he bumped into the dumpster.
The kid immediately started struggling to his feet, but stumbled. Ben’s first impulse was to take the bag back since the kid was in no shape to fight, regardless of his story, and just call that good enough.

Then he saw the way the kid was clutching his side, saw blood trickle between his fingers.

“Hey,” he said, stepping forward. “What the hell happened to you?”

“He cut me, the bastard cut me before I could even ask for money. That’s how the fight started. I wasn’t gonna just steal it.”

“He had a knife?” Ben asked, feeling a tingle of real anger.

“He always has a knife. That’s how he hurt Steph.”

Ben pulled back on his power, allowing himself to look entirely human again. “C’mon, kid. Lemme help you. You need a hospital.”

“The cops …”

“Didn’t ID you. Let’s get your friend that money and get you patched up.”

Ben slipped an arm under the boy’s shoulders.

“You were chasing me. Why are you helping me … whatever you are … and ..?”

“Just call me Ben. What I am is a demon, and why I’m helping is because I know what it’s like to be driven down the wrong road, kid.”

~ End ~

More about Ben Brody can be found here.

Nightmare

Another writing challenge prompt inspired me. This one happens in the universe of Always Darkest, sometime in the late spring.

Think of a word (any word you want) and search it on google images. Write something inspired by the 7th image. The word I chose was ‘nightmare’. This was the seventh image.

nightmare

He woke in the total dark of his bedroom and puffed out a sigh. He was probably up for the day now, if how heavily his heart was hammering away was any indication. The last wisps of the half-remembered nightmare still vying for his attention kept him from realizing how cold it was for a moment or two. Then, as he came more fully awake he shivered.

His blankets were probably all on the floor again. Thrashing himself into a state of no blankets had become all too common in the last few months. This had been one hell of a bad dream, too. At least the little flashes still dancing behind his closed eyes told him it must have been. He’d have to find his blankets and knew once he turned on the light, sleep was all over. He sighed again.

He rolled onto his back, pried his eyes open, and froze in instant horror.

His room was pitch black, not even the sparest light from the nightlight Chris always left on in the bathroom was cutting the velvety blackness around him. It was, however, being pierced by two laser points of reddish yellow light. They were unmistakably (to someone who had spent two thousand years in Hell anyway) the glowing eyes of an Ahemait.

The Ahemait were like the hunting dogs of Hell, seeking out and devouring those with hearts deemed unworthy. Ben was never sure who got to make that particular call, but to him it always seemed the Ahemait went after souls who were just trying to be decent in spite of being condemned to Hell. He’d worried they’d send one after him at some point for a while now.

He’d told himself a hundred times that the fear was ridiculous, that as far as Hell knew he was still their loyal soldier, sworn to execute his assigned duties to grow Hell’s numbers, and more recently to chase down the subject of the prophecy. But … But, but, but … He knew Bhaal suspected him. And it wasn’t below the god to go behind Lucifer’s back to rid himself of an annoyance.

He had a split second where he was glad that tonight was not one of the nights Mal had decided to stay. At least she was safe, in her bed, miles away.

When his eyes locked with the creature’s, it started to glow faintly. That’s when he could see it’s teeth for the first time. His hammering heart seemed to seize in his chest and he couldn’t catch his breath. He wondered if the dagger sitting on his nightstand would have any effect on this beast, wondered if it was possible to fight his way out. But at that moment he didn’t really believe he could move.

The beast took a lumbering step closer to the foot of his bed and blistering hot saliva dripped onto Ben’s exposed foot. The sizzle and immediate stinging pain was enough to break his paralysis and he reached out blindly in the dark, his hand closing over the cold handle almost instantly.

Unfortunately, even his demonically enhanced reflexes were tempered by his human form and the beast was on him before he could turn the knife toward it. He realized as its teeth tore into his flesh that it wasn’t here to extinguish him. It would keep him alive in the agony of being consumed for as long as it entertained it. After a while his own screams faded into the pain and even sound was just part of the tapestry of agony that could go on forever.

Ben bolted upright in bed, gasping. He realized he was in the larger bed they’d been sharing at Mal’s house. Then the rest of the evening came back to him and drove back the dream a little, let him start to catch his breath. Mal shifted next to him.

“Hey, are you okay?”

She was wide awake. He swallowed, feeling badly. She was already used to his nightmares disrupting her sleep and they hadn’t even been sharing a bed for all that long. “Mmmhmm,” he said, not trusting his voice to convince her it was true.

She sat up and turned on her light. “Nice try.”

He managed a slightly sheepish grin. “Okay … How about, I will be in a minute?”

She moved closer to him and put and arm around him, resting her head on his shoulder. “Mostly honest, I guess. I like Honest Ben.” She paused for a second. “What was this one about?”

He shivered. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

She nodded. “Okay. Do you want to go downstairs, and I’ll start the coffee, or do you want to try to go back to sleep?”

Ben glanced across the room at his phone on the charging station on Mal’s dresser. It was only about 3 a.m. “We can go back to sleep.” he said. “I’m fine,” he added sounding less certain than he would have liked.

She pulled away a little so she could look at his face and gave him a small smile.

“I doubt it,” she said. Then she echoed his words back to him. “But you will be in a minute.”

She got up and got the extra quilt off the chest at the foot of her bed and spread it over Ben, then climbed back in and waited until he lay back down, finally smiling a little as he looked up at her. She snuggled as close as it was physically possible to be and wrapped an arm around him, resting her head against the shoulder of the arm he slid underneath her.

“You don’t have to leave the light on.”

“I know … But sometimes it’s better when I do.”

He kissed the top of her head.

She knew.

She always knew when to leave the light on. He said so and she squeezed him tight. He was never going to have to deal with the dark alone again. Not if she had anything to say about it. She was going to say so, but she realized from the softening of his breath that he had already started to doze off.

“I love you,” she whispered.

She didn’t see it, because her face was pressed against his chest, but even in his sleep, even after the terror of that dream, those words made him smile.

~ End ~

 

For more of Mal and Ben, click here.

Search and Rescue

Author’s note: Prompt in a writing challenge I’m doing – “Imagine that you are unable to leave the room that you’re in for the next 7 days. Chronicle each of the seven days using only 50 words each.”

That sounded boring, so I went fictional. ~ J

abandoned-abandoned-building-architecture-930436

Day One

Don’t know what happened. Maybe an earthquake or a bomb. I remember a loud noise and then jolting, slipping. If anyone else is still alive here I can’t hear them. It was late; people were starting to head home so maybe they all made it. My head hurts and I…

Day Two

This is the second day since whatever happened. I think. I might have passed out when I tried to write things down last time, pretty sure. I remembered people screaming at first. I found the vending machine. The glass was broken. The water fountain is only dripping. I’m so thirsty.

Day Three

Remembered the LED on keychain. Found water cooler. Not full, but better than drips. Head still hurts. Found baby wipes in Marci’s desk. Happy to wipe off blood. Remembered the daycare is down a floor. Sick. Can’t get into bathroom. Emptied a file cabinet for… Think maybe I hear scratching.

Day Four

There’re digging sounds over my head. Building must have collapsed. That was the slipping I felt. At least someone’s trying to find me. I’m so glad I found water. There’s not a lot of real food in the machine, but it’ll probably keep me alive. I hear the scratching again.

Day Five

The digging sounds are closer. If I hold my breath I can almost hear rescue workers shouting to each other between my heartbeats. The water is getting low, so I’m glad they’re getting closer … Something happened. I think it’s the same day. Part of this room collapsed. Vending machine was there.

Day Six

I still have water. Put trashcan under water fountain to collect drips. Working so far. I’ll be okay if I run out of the other. So hungry. They sound closer. I hope. Help coming soon. LED looks dimmer. Don’t want to waste it looking for food unless I get desperate.

Day Seven

Digging has stopped. LED died last night. Found something squishy in a desk. I ate it anyway. Didn’t throw up. Water cooler empty, but trashcan full. Scratching sounds started again. Louder. If I listen I can hear the others.

They’re looking for me.

But I don’t think they are alive.

Dear Diary

I’m participating in a writing challenge this month. The first prompt is, “Put your music player on shuffle. Write 250 words inspired by the first and last lines of the very next song that plays. (Bonus points if you share a link to the song)”.

Below is the result.

The song is Social Distorion, Angels Wings

~ J

check-class-desk-7103

From the journal of Ben Brody …

I never really stopped to give a damn what happened to me, beyond survival.

That’s a Hell of a way to live, right?

Even survival wasn’t always a priority. Some things cut so deep, you don’t care if you come out the other side, I guess. Then, even surviving just became about getting one over on the other guy, outlasting the bullshit, to prove I could.

I mean, I helped people along the way, sure. I’d like to pretend it was altruistic, too, but if I’m honest, it made some meaning out of my pain. And it passed the time. I get bored. You can get bored with suffering, too. Even agony becomes something you don’t feel after a while.

I’ve fought pretty hard to stay on this side of oblivion. I never knew why, never thought there was a much of a reason for the fight, other than its own sake. I think that’s how I knew I’d fallen in love with her. I suddenly knew what the point was, knew I’d stayed in the game for a reason.

Mal is a good reason for a lot of things.

There are days I still feel hopeless. Those days usually come after nights of dreaming what Hell’s got in store for me if they ever catch up to us. She never says much about it, but I know she knows about the dreams. She thinks there’s a way out, totally out.

And when she holds me, I have to believe it.

Read more about Ben’s journey in Always Darkest, Book I of The Arbitratus Trilogy

 

On the twelfth day of Fic-mas, shades of present, future, past, try without success to make an impression that will last …

Boiled in His Own Pudding

The persistent drizzle made the trip back across the lawn about as pleasant as their visit inside had been. Even the spectacular tree and light display that graced the grounds of the edifice could not make the view appear cheery to the three figures plodding toward the sidewalk.

They should have opened a portal closer. All any of them wanted was to get home.

“Can you believe this guy?”

“It’s not like it’s the first time we’ve had an unsuccessful visit to this place, Present,” the young boy with close-cropped hair, dressed like he was auditioning for Newsies, grumbled. “Remember Nixon?”

“Ah, he wasn’t all that bad,” came the muffled response from under a sodden black hood. “His prospects weren’t nearly as depressing.”

The affable, brightly dressed man who’d first spoken sighed in such a defeated way, it made his companions both look at him with concern. “He can’t even see the truth of this moment. How could he possibly learn from the past, or consider the consequences of days yet to come? We should have tried harder.”

“Ah, Present, don’t let it get you down! How are the rest of us supposed to keep the spirit if you get all depressed?” the boy asked with some urgency. “Yettocome, help me out here!”

The hooded figure spoke again, trying to brighten his perpetually dark voice a bit to cheer his companions. “You did a fine job. Both of you. And I gave it all I’ve got. Sometimes you just have to see a brick wall for what it is, and stop running your head into it. You know?”

Present glanced at his companions. They’d only made it a short way from the imposing structure, sloshing as they were over the muddy ground. “Maybe we should go back in there. Give it one more try. All together.”

“Full frontal assault?” the boy asked eagerly.

“Shock and awe?” the specter of hopeless futures suggested, and they could hear his grin.

“Yeah, yeah, let’s do it!” the spirit of the joy of Christmas, of living in the moment, said, managing some of his usual enthusiasm.

The three figures turned, and marched with determination back inside, their invisible presence sending a thrill through the minds of the Secret Service agents they passed along the way.

Read the rest in The Twelve Days of Fic-mas – Holiday Tales With a Twist Vol. I

White house xmas

*****

On the tenth day of Fic-mas, someone tries to make a deal, and accidentally his intentions are revealed …

Let’s Make a Deal

The well-worn path through the thick forest was dappled with the fading light of the weakening late autumn sun. The sounds of birds chirruping and flitting from tree to tree filled the air. A bubbling brook burbled away quite loudly in the near distance.

Lucifer sighed. Why any self-respecting “god” would make a home of such a rustic, uncivilized place was beyond his ken. Someone might think the smell of pine needles and decaying leaves was sweet perfume, but it made him wrinkle his nose.

He supposed there might be some charm to those smells on their own, if not for the underlying stink of mold and various sorts of decomposition. As he strode down the path, so packed down that his boots sounded like they were walking on stone, he began to notice the distinct aroma of dirt in the air, and just the barest hint of smoke.

He must be close. Yes … He could just make out the sounds of a fight coming from over the next ridge. He was just cresting the hill when the unmistakable crash and grunt of someone or something being throw heavily to the ground reached his ears.

“Who’s next?” boomed a great deep voice. “Come along! You can’t all be tired yet!”

Mumbled protests and pained groans rumbled through a crowd like distant thunder as Lucifer entered the clearing. “I would offer my services, Majesty, if you so desire,” Lucifer called out, a playful note in his voice and a sparkle in his striking eyes.

The gargantuan creature, who appeared as though he were hewn from solid oak turned and sized up the volunteer. When he took in who it was, he sneered. “I’m in no mood for your games, Morning Star. Leave this place at once. We’ve been clear that you are not welcome here. You never have been. And now you reek of your exile. The stench of Sulphur has no place on the wind of the Great Wood.”

He punctuated his pronouncement by spitting at Lucifer’s feet.

“Come now, Majesty. Is that any way to treat an angel in your midst? Especially one who comes bearing gifts?”

“I want no part of your gifts, or of angering your Father by trafficking with you. Now, off with you! If I’ve worn out my followers, there is nothing further to do here. And it is nearly my time. I must be ready.”

Lucifer waved a dismissive hand. “Very well then. If you’re really not interested …” He paused, allowing everyone present to hear the offer, as yet unspoken, start to evaporate. “I suppose the Holly King will be the one to benefit.”

A derisive snort practically echoed around the clearing.

“Go on with you! But I expect you’ll get about as warm a reception from him.”

A soft subdued laughter rippled through the other beings still dusting themselves off and licking their wounds around them.

Lucifer nodded, as though considering the words. “Perhaps you are right … But then, who knows? He’s ambitious … And the chance to rule the full year may be to his liking.”

Lucifer turned to go.

“You play a dangerous game, Angel. But you have captured my attention.”

“What unfortunate timing for you. I’ve been insulted and disregarded.” Lucifer drew himself up to his full height and squared his shoulders with a haughty tilt of his chin. “Good day.”

He turned as if to leave, more to hide his smile than anything else, as the subservient trees moved to block his path. Schooling his features, he gave an exaggerated sigh and turned back to face the Oak King.

“Very well,” he said, an air of longsuffering settling over his manner. “If you insist.”

“I believe that I do,” the Oak King said with dark menace. “What is it you were so eager to propose that you would now offer my enemy?”

Lucifer held out open hands, as if to say the Oak King was his preference for the offer anyway. “I wish to offer you my assistance in your upcoming battle for supremacy in the wheel of the year.”

The Oak King harrumphed impressively. “I need no help from any angel, man, or god. This time I will be supreme.”

“Really?” Lucifer asked with heavy skepticism.

“Yes, really.” The Oak King’s strange eyes narrowed. “I am ready this year. My reign will be unbroken.”

“Come now, Majesty,” Lucifer cajoled. “You cannot really believe that. It is the same every year. Each Winter Solstice is the same tired story; the Holly King will beat you and send you off to tend your wounds … Which you will do, biding your time until the dawn of summer, when you will return the favor.”

“What are you saying?”

“I am saying, Majesty, that this has been the same since time began. This has been your lot … Ebb and flow, dark and light, Yule and Litha, splitting the year and the power. This year will be no different …”

“Unless?”

“Unless you have help. My help.”

The Oak King seemed to consider the angel for a moment. Then he gave a short nod. “What are your terms?”

Lucifer blinked. This was going better than he hoped.

“Simple quid pro quo.”

Read the rest in The Twelve Days of Fic-mas – Holiday Tales With a Twist Vol. I

Oak and Holly Kings

*****

 

 

 

On the eighth day of Fic-mas, an angel makes his case, disappointment sets up an eternal chase …

ScalesThe Letter of the Law

Lucifer’s patience drained away more rapidly as the hour drew nearer. Everyone he had gathered together could sense his building tension, and the danger that came with it. When his fingers started to drum impatiently on the armrest of his throne, even those in his inner circle who usually kept close, edged casually away, hoping to put some distance between themselves and his inevitable wrath, without drawing the Archangel’s notice.

The rich sounds of the choir he had assembled to mimic his true home echoed throughout the gleaming hall. But underneath those soothing layers of sound, stood an unmistakable silence of some sort. Everyone could hear it, after a fashion, but not one would have dared draw attention to it.

Hell’s most powerful Fallen, dressed in their finest, milled about, growing more and more uncomfortable as their host’s mood darkened. But, like any self-respecting underbeings with some sense of self-preservation, they all plastered on the appropriate expressions, mimed the appropriate behavior, and did their best to show the public face their Master expected.

“Well, I do appreciate a good show as much as the next multi-dimensional being, Old Son.”

Lucifer jumped at the voice on his elbow, turning to face the guest of honor with a subdued fire already in his deep shining eyes.

“But if it’s meant to influence me, you must know by now that it’s a wasted effort.”

The fire became somewhat less subdued. “You’re late, Asher, and rude. Why not use the door like decent beings?” Lucifer asked with a feigned smile, wishing he’d left off assembling his coterie since he was now overly conscious of his audience and the almost bored expression on the Keeper’s face.

“Doors,” Asher scoffed. “I’ve little use for doors, and even less use for your judgement on whether or not a being is decent.” He paused and gave Lucifer a look that made the Arch shift slightly in his seat. “And while we’re on the subject of things I have no use for, we might come around to how I feel about being summoned.”

“Your presence is required …”

“Required?” his voice rose. “I am here as a courtesy. Do not forget that. You hold no dominion over me or my work, in this realm or any other.” Asher’s voice was commanding. And loud. Almost stern.

True silence rippled through the assembled Host. Even the choir wavered.

Lucifer stood. “Everyone out,” he ordered, his voice ringing with his authority in this place. Though his voice was level, pleasant even, white hot rage burned in his eyes. He was at his most dangerous when his superiority was challenged, and the Keeper was a being for whom it wasn’t even a question.

The Fallen knew which side their bread was buttered on. And they also knew the sort of expression that usually saw heads rolling. Literally. An almost panicked air settled over them as they practically fought for the exit. The doormen nearly closed the doors on the slowest in their own hurry to not be the mortal beings left in the room when Lucifer was done speaking with Asher.

Lucifer resumed his seat, taking a moment to arrange himself comfortably on his throne. With a measured breath and a supreme effort to smooth the anger from his features, he began, “Lord Asher, I do thank you for coming. I appreciate your willingness to hear my claim. As a courtesy.”

He paused, expecting some sort of response, but Asher just looked at him. Lucifer was put in the mind of the way an owl might look at an interesting bug it spies crawling up a tree trunk on Earth. He breathed deeply again and went on.

“I have a grievance, and ask for your judgement as the Keeper of the Scales and Arbiter of Treaties between the realms.”

Read the rest in The Twelve Days of Fic-mas – Holiday Tales With a Twist Vol. I

*****

On the sixth day of Fic-mas, we meet a man alone, traveling to fight the darkness far from home …

That the Lord May Love Thee

No one seemed particularly inclined to worry about the conditions out here. He hadn’t seen a single plow or salt truck on his long drive back. Maybe they were over budget, he thought. The snow had fallen all afternoon in that soft gently lulling way that could make you forget the hazards of commuting in an area prone to inclement weather. Until a dog ran out in front of you and you tapped your breaks anyway.

The fishtailing of the old sedan made the driver realize that he was, perhaps, still a little too focused on how he had spent his day rather than attending to the basic tasks of survival. Speaking of survival, he was really pretty hungry. And damned if he couldn’t use a drink.

Caleb eased into a semi-snow free space close to his motel room door. At least it looked like someone did snow removal for the fleabag he was staying in. So, he could probably get out in the morning.

He glanced at the interview notes on the passenger seat. Reviewing and writing up the report promised to take up most of his evening. His first solo mission had him excited enough that he didn’t even mind that it was Christmas Eve, or that what he was being asked to do was pretty low stakes. It was almost make-work in the grand scheme of the things the Order typically concerned themselves with, but it was his.

He knew that everyone assigned to the Direct Action Corps of the Templars started out like this. It was a proving ground, he supposed. But given the level of training Knights like him received, before they were even allowed to take the Holy Orders of the Warrior Priest, it was a relatively safe one. Investigate suspicious activity. Observe and report. It was, for all intents and purposes, a low-level demon stakeout.

Caleb, at twenty-two, was the youngest ever to take the Oath, and was known to be bright, inventive, and ambitious. He had a tendency to throw himself completely into the task at hand, frequently disregarding his own best interests. Father-Captain Michaels had gone out of his way to remind him that, in the heat of battle that was a good thing, but going about your day to day living, or even completing a less obviously dangerous assignment, it was a tendency he might want to work on curtailing a bit.

He was reminded of that light bit of lecturing as he set down his notes on the small cluttered desk in his room. His stomach grumbled obstinately, drawing attention to the fact that he’d been so passionately pursuing his mission, he hadn’t eaten since … lunch yesterday, was it? Damn.

Caleb reasoned that his formal reports could wait for a bit while he went and grabbed a bite. Loren Michaels, the de facto father figure to most of the young men and women in his unit, had been very clear. He had said in so many words, “Yes, I want you to accomplish your basic assignment, but I also want you to remember that disregarding your own safety can make a poor soldier of you. You have to be not just alive, but alert, and in good health, to keep up the work of the Order.”

Caleb organized his notes, then grabbed a shower. He felt like maybe he was done leaving the room for the night and just slipped into his bathrobe. He hunted around for the take-out menus he’d picked up over the course of the week, but found none. Housekeeping must have been a little too thorough. He supposed he’d have to go out. He changed back into his work clothes, since he hadn’t even emptied the pockets yet, and prepared to find some place that was open this evening.

Fishing his phone out of his pocket, he dialed, and tucked it between his ear and his shoulder, so he could speak while he locked up his room. Caleb was never late with his check-in.

As he headed back out into the increasingly bitter cold, he fished for his car keys. “Good evening,” he said with polite formality. “This is Caleb. Five-two-seven.”

“Five-two-seven, acknowledged. Hold please.”

Caleb fumbled around for the key to the sedan.

“Five-two-seven, this is Control. Status report.”

“Interviews completed at fifteen hundred hours. All the effected cattle had their left eyes, tongues, and hearts removed with surgical precision. The night following the organ harvest incident, the ranchers all reported strange lights, specifically like lighting in a clear sky.”

“Preliminary findings, Five-two-seven?”

“Preliminaries confirm demon activity. Probable summoning gate activation. Full report with recommendations will be submitted in the a.m. Oh-six-hundred at the latest.”

“Take your time, Five-two-seven,” Control’s Operator of the Watch said, her voice lightly amused. The young ones were always so gung-ho. “No one will be here to read mission reports tomorrow. It’s Christmas Day.”

“Oh, yes, I suppose it is,” he agreed distractedly, trying to remember what places he’d seen on his way back that might offer a meal this late on a holiday.

“However, I can tell you that based on your preliminary report, Control will record the confirmation and mobilize a ground team to sanitize the area.”

Not bad. Not bad at all, first time out. A mobilization based on his intel. That might grease the wheels for something more engaging in his near future. His broad grin was in his voice when he replied, “Very good, Control. Have a good night.”

“You, too, Five-two-seven. And Merry Christmas to you.”

“Merry Christmas.”

He slipped his phone back into his pocket with a satisfied nod to himself. With a ground team activated, his work here was done. He’d still file his report tomorrow and brief the team, but he could count on orders to move to another town coming down the pike in the next forty-eight hours. And, he was hopeful, it would be something more interesting.

“Shit,” Caleb grumbled as his cold hands let his keys drop into a pile of snow. For the first time since closing the door of his motel room, he really took in the state of the parking lot.

It was snowing again, and getting pretty serious about it. He’d been in his room less than an hour and better than an inch had already collected. It was the icy mealy sort of precipitation that made driving particularly treacherous.

He stooped and fished his keys out of the snow, grumbling to himself. His best friend in the Order, and bunkmate from their training days, was looking at a series of animal mutilations, too. In Hawaii.

Caleb sighed. Of course he’d scored the assignment in the northern sector of God’s Half-Acre. He detested the cold. But he supposed the point of early assignments being a bit of a slog was to help a Knight develop some grit.

As he stood, he nearly slipped and went over backwards in the icy parking lot. Well, that made the decision of where to go for dinner and easy one. The seedy looking bar across the street served food. It was bound to be mostly fried crap, but he could tell from the lights and sounds traveling across the deserted road that it was open for business.

As depressing as he expected spending Christmas Eve in a dive bar in the middle of nowhere to be, it felt like a better, smarter option than driving the twenty miles to the closest Denny’s, which was about the only other place his brain had been able to come up with as an option.

The appearance of the bar lent itself to one of those colorful honkytonk stomping ground-worthy names like The Bull Run (a place he’d actually been to in western Texas not two weeks before, and there’d been actual sawdust on the floor and a mechanical bull off to one side).

All that advertised any identity for this establishment was a flickering neon sign that said simply ‘Bar’ and cast a sickly red light over the snow. Under it, a pink sign rhythmically blinked ‘Eats’.

Caleb shrugged. “Simple. Tells the story,” he whispered to himself as he headed up the slippery walkway and pulled open the grimy door.

The place was surprisingly full, considering the weather and the lack of cars in the poorly maintained parking lot. No one paid him any mind as the door banged closed behind him. The only one who seemed to notice him at all was the no-necked chuck of muscle standing by the door.

Must be the bouncer, Caleb thought. The guy looked more than up to the task of tossing out a drunk, or, you know, fifty. Caleb looked back impassively as the guy eyed him up and down. After a few seconds, the big dude tipped his chin in the direction of the woman standing behind the bar.

He looked around for a moment. The other guests filled the noisy establishment in the booths that lined the walls or by monopolizing the two pool tables and several dart boards. The bartender smiled and motioned him over to the mostly empty highly polished counter. “Come on over, Slick. Take a load off.”

Caleb walked over to the bar, sliding onto one of its high stools and resting his heels on the crossbar near the floor. “Nice place,” he said pleasantly, giving the bartender a worldly smile that he would never admit to having practiced in front of the mirror. Sometimes his age made this job a little more challenging than it was for someone with a few years on him.

The woman behind the bar tilted her head and raised an eyebrow in speculation. “Evening, young fella. I’m Mandi.” He just nodded in response. “And as the proprietor of this establishment, I have to ask … Why you packing? You a cop?”

Read the rest in The Twelve Days of Fic-mas – Holiday Tales With a Twist Vol. I

The Bar*****