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Wednesday, January 26, 2022
Kickstarter - Apocalypse? Not Now! - Chapter 2
I hope you enjoy this little taste. Apocalypse? Not Now! will be sent to all backers for their support.
Ed wasn’t about to kiss any man’s hand, but he needed to mind his manners since he represented the good ole’ U.S. of A. The pope was the head of a foreign state besides being a religious leader.
He settled on bowing to the pope. “A pleasure to meet you, Your Holiness.”
The Black priest murmured to the pope in Italian. Ed shot Father Lambert a puzzled look.
“Father Mbaye is a part of our taskforce, and in this case, he’s the Holy Father’s translator,” Lambert said.
The Black priest grinned before he repeated Lambert’s words to the pope, who in turn also smiled at Ed and said something in Italian.
“The Holy Father says he welcomes you to the taskforce, and he would like to bless you before you embark on orientation.” Despite his perfect English, the Black priest had an accent Ed didn’t recognize.
“Wait.” Ed held up his hands. “What taskforce are we talking about?” He eyed Father Lambert. “You said you needed an accountant and procurement specialist.”
“Among other skills you possess,” Father Lambert said. “Now that I’m out of the army, I lead one team in the Vatican’s demon hunting taskforce.”
The pope said something Father Mbaye repeated in English for Ed’s benefit. “Really, James? You didn’t explain this job to the young man before you dragged him halfway around the world?”
“I planned to disclose our sacred mission to him once he was here. Ed is not Catholic, and he would not simply take me at my word without seeing our operation for himself,” Father Lambert said in a huffy voice. “Forgive me, Holy Father, but I wasn’t expecting you to come down here before I had a chance to explain everything to Ed.”
“And you said the young man had fought demons by your side in Vietnam,” the pope said through Father Mbaye.
“That is true, Your Holiness.” Ed’s army training made him jump in and defend a fellow soldier. “Father Lambert did teach me to fight demons during our deployment in Vietnam. And he’s right in saying I would have been skeptical about coming to Rome if he’d told me he wanted me to battle the forces of darkness again.”
Ed waited for Father Mbaye to translate his words before he continued. “Is it all right if I speak with Father Lambert and his team and they explain what’s going on? Then I’d be happy to accept your blessing if—” He held up his right palm. “And that’s a big ‘if’, I decide to join your taskforce.”
When Father Mbaye finished his translation, the pope smiled and inclined his head. “That is most acceptable, Mr. Hudson,” he answer through the Black priest. “Until you make your decision then.”
Once the pope exited the catacomb and was well out of earshot, Ed scowled at Father Lambert. “You still should have told me what the hell was going on before I flew all the way to Europe.” He waved toward the woman. “And what the hell are you thinking by dragging a girl into this?”
“It’s the Seventies, man.” She gestured to indicate herself and the Black priest. “They gotta have a chick and a Black on the team. Like Mod Squad.” Her accent had the laid-back tone of California and the attitude of the dying hippie movement.
“Have you ever encounter a demon before?” Ed retorted.
“Yeah, man. I have.” She pulled up the hem of her blouse. An ugly scar marred the left side of her tan and very fit abdomen. She pivoted to show a matching scar below and to the left of where her kidney should be.
Ed frowned. “That’s not like any gunshot wound I’ve seen.”
“Because it’s not.” She dropped the hem, and the cotton fluttered down to cover the expanse of her lovely skin. “My grandmother was possessed, and she stabbed me with a tomato stake.”
“Are you a nun?” Ed asked.
“Hardly.” She held out her palm. “Laura Campbell.”
“Ed Hudson.” He shook her hand.
“I already know.” She grinned.
Her smile was so endearing he didn’t mind being the butt of her humor.
The Black priest stepped forward and held out his hand. “Adama Mbaye.”
“You’re not Italian,” Ed commented as he and the priest shook.
“I am from Senegal originally,” he said. “My specialty is languages, both spoken and written.”
“And yours?” he asked Laura.
“Getting through locked doors,” she said with a flip of her hair.
“You’re a thief?”
“You make a lot of assumptions, man.” She rolled her eyes. “My family owns a locksmith shop in San Francisco.”
“But you’re not Catholic,” he said.
“Assumptions, again?” She laughed. It was a very nice laugh. “This time, you’re right.”
Ed scanned the faces of the three priests. “Are Laura and I the only non-Catholics here?”
“On my team, yes.” Father Lambert shrugged. “Sometimes we recruit outside of Mother Church. We need people who can keep their heads in a fight and don’t panic when faced with creatures from Hell.”
“Maybe you’d better start form the top, padre,” Ed said.
“We’ve had many names over the centuries,” Father Lambert began. “While the Mother Church fights evil at a spiritual level, there are some of us who focus on demonic incursions on earth.”
“You mean like the Miracle of the Swine in the Book of Mark?” Ed asked.
“Yes,” Father Lambert replied.
“The what of what?” Laura cocked her head and looked at Ed as if she was suddenly unsure of him. “Are you a holy roller?”
“What? No.” When her expression turned suspicious, he added, “I was bored during basic training, and the Bible was the only book I had to read.”
“Oh, you’re one of those guys. Mister Super Patriot.” Her mocking wasn’t so funny now. Neither was her sarcastic salute. “Stomp all over people who can barely raise enough food to feed their children.”
“You keep saying I make assumptions.” Ed folded his arms over his chest. “You’ve spouted several about me in less than a minute.” He looked at Father Lambert. “There’s a reason the Department of Defense doesn’t let girls join the army. They fly off the handle over the stupidest shit.”
“You’re right,” Laura said. When Ed turned back to her, she lifted her chin. “I did make some assumptions about you. But contrary to the assumptions about women the idiots running the world hold, I can and will fight when it matters. Like when it comes to demons.”
“Okay.” He shrugged.
“Okay?” She stared at him, now thoroughly confused from her expression. “You’re not going to tell me to prove I can fight?”
“Why would I do that?” He shrugged again. “You were part of this team before I was invited.”
“Because that’s what—” She stopped herself before she spouted something else stupid. “Father Lambert, weren’t you going to explain what we do to Mr. Hudson?”
“He already knows.” Father Lambert smiled. “He’s the G.I. who fought beside me in Vietnam.”
“You said he was an accountant?” Laura sounded thoroughly confused.
“I am,” Ed said dryly. “I finished my degree after my discharge.”
“Anyway…” Father Lambert eyed the two non-clergy.
Ed kept his mouth shut, and for the first time since he entered the catacomb room, pretty Laura Campbell didn’t make a sarcastic or nasty comment.
Maybe he’d be grumpy too if his grandmother had stabbed him with a tomato stake.
“As I said, the Vatican taskforce fights Hell at a physically level.” Father Lambert waved to indicate the five of them. “All of us encountered demon-possessed people prior to learning of the taskforce. And in each of our cases, a veteran member of the taskforce helped us survive our first encounter with demons.”
“Those we recruit often come from other religions,” Father Mbaye said. “It’s necessary to find those who don’t allow their fear to leave them open to possession. While men are not a rarity within the taskforce, women are, simply because we needed to move through the world without attracting too much attention.”
“Like the time there was a demon outbreak in Mecca a few centuries ago.” Father McAvoy folded his arms across his chest. “The handful of Catholic clergy accompanied our Muslim brethren to the city, but they all went in knowing it would be a suicide mission.”
“How often does that happen now?” Ed asked.
“More than you realize.” Father Lambert shook his head. “But the particular mission we need you for is here in Rome. There are some odd, large-value transactions between the Vatican and a couple of Italian banks that don’t make sense. The cardinal in charge of the Vatican bank hung himself rather than submit to questioning.”
“I am here to translate the portions of the paperwork in Italian,” Father Mbaye said. “You will review the numbers.”
“And Ms. Campbell?” Ed inclined his head in Laura’s direction.
“My job is to make sure you have the real accounting books.” She grinned.
There was one last question Ed had. “How many demons are we dealing with?”
Father Lambert grimaced. “That’s a large part of our problem. We have no idea.”
“You’re going in blind?” Ed couldn’t keep the disbelief out of his voice.
“A member of another taskforce team was able to confirm one demon is involved,” Father Lambert said. “Sister Joan pretended to be the cardinal’s biological sister. She went to the Bank of Caesar and spoke with the cardinal’s contact with the excuse of informing him of his friend’s death.”
“And she’s absolutely sure?” Ed asked.
Father Lambert nodded. “But she wasn’t able to confirm any others at the Bank of Caesar, and she failed to meet with the cardinal’s contacts at the other two banks.”
The whole thing sounded like something out of Mission: Impossible. But Ed owed Father Lambert for saving his life in Vietnam. He couldn’t turn down the priest’s request for help. One more fling with danger before he settled down in suburban life, right?
“All right. I’m in.” Ed glanced at Laura and prayed he wouldn’t regret his decision
Wednesday, January 19, 2022
Kickstarter - Apocalypse? Not Now! - Chapter 1
So, I'm working on a prequel about Pestilence's father-in-law. There are serious reasons. Grandpa Hudson revealed some interesting stuff about his service in Vietnam and his life prior to marrying Grandma Hudson while I was writing Pestilence in Pumpkin Spice.
Here's a little preview of that prequel novella, and I hope to announce the Kickstarter soon!
He never thought he’d have the chance to visit Europe until he was an old man. However, a plane ticket and job offer from his Army unit’s chaplain was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
The driver stopped in front of the hostel and quoted an outrageous demand for his fee. Ed refused and named the original price. In the little English the driver spoke, he made a few anatomical suggestions that would impressed any cabbie in Chicago and even a few in Saigon. After a bit more haggling, they agreed to a price, and Ed handed over the appropriate amount in lira.
Black smoke poured from the tail pipe as the driver gunned the antique car and sped off in search of a more gullible prospect. Ed shook his head. He hadn’t been many places in his twenty-three years of life, but cabbies all over the globe hustled the same way.
He slung his duffle, courtesy of Uncle Sam, over his shoulder and strode toward the front door of the hostel. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dim interior after the brilliant morning sunshine. Unlike the street, this place smelled like his barracks during boot camp. A little bit of cleaning products, a touch of processed snacks, and a whole lot of bodies, both washed and unwashed.
The entire place seemed to be painted a shade lighter than industrial gray. The only colors in the place were the outfits worn by the handful of people sitting in the lobby. One long-haired guy with the round, granny wire rims John Lennon had made popular played a guitar with a lot less talent than the former Beatle.
Father James Lambert stepped out of the right hallway and gestured for Ed to follow him. Like Ed, he was clad jeans but his casual shirt was a solid yellow instead of the mustard and scarlet stripes Ed wore. And his receding hair was more white than the salt-and-pepper it was three years ago.
“Not even a hello?” Ed murmured as he trailed after his former Army chaplain.
“Not until it’s safe,” the priest hissed.
A sense of déjà vu smacked Ed, but instead of crawling through a wet, muddy jungle to avoid soldiers trying to kill the two of them, he strode down the relatively clean floor of an Italian hostel. A shiver ran down his spine. From past experience in the little village the Vietnamese farmers simply called “Home”, Father Lambert would explain things when they were safe.
Which meant they weren’t at all safe at the moment.
Ed’s fingers clenched. He had the Swiss army knife his dad had given him for good luck when Ed was drafted. He could have gotten out of the war since he was already attending college, but his dad had done his time in the Pacific, so going to Vietnam seemed the right thing to do despite popular opinion in the States. Besides, Uncle Sam had picked up the last two years of college and the classes for his CPA exam. Dad hadn’t said much about his own service, other than the knife had gotten him out of a couple of scrapes. Except for the knife, Ed had no other weapons with him.
He swallowed hard and picked up his pace down the long hallway as the priest did.
Father Lambert rounded a left corner and pushed open the door. Once again, Ed was out in the sunlight. The priest headed straight for a little blue car parked in the alley, which had its engine running and had seen slightly better care than the taxi that had brought Ed to the hostel, but not by much. He jogged after Lambert.
But when Ed hesitated at the rear passenger door, the driver yelled at him in Italian.
“Get in,” Father Lambert snapped.
Ed gritted his teeth and opened the door. He threw in his duffle and wedged himself into the rear bench seat. The driver didn’t wait for Ed to close the car door before he stomped on the accelerator and left a relatively thick trail of rubber on the stone pavement.
“Sorry, man.” The driver’s reflection in the rearview mirror grinned. “Didn’t realize you didn’t know the local vernacular.” He had a Scottish accent, but he sure sounded Italian a moment ago.
“Ed Hudson, this is Father Deacon McAvoy.” Father Lambert waved his left hand. “Deke, this is Ed, the kid I told you about.”
“Nice to meet you, Ed.” Father McAvoy bobbed his head while he drove wildly, dodging other cars and scooters. Like Father Lambert, he wore casual clothes. Tan chinos and a pale blue short-sleeved oxford shirt.
“You sure you’re a priest?” Ed braced himself when McAvoy swerved left to avoid a couple of old ladies attempting to cross the street.
The younger priest laughed. “My pop drives cab in London. He taught me. The skills have come in handy.”
Ahead of the traffic, a dome stood out over the surrounding buildings. A majestic and imposing done. One that Ed had only seen pictures of. And McAvoy was driving straight for it.
“Is that what I think it is?” Ed asked.
“Depends on what you think it is,” McAvoy quipped.
Father Lambert remained quiet.
Ed whistled in amazement. He’d planned on visiting the Vatican. Maybe even see the Sistine Chapel. He wasn’t Catholic, but there was a hell of a lot of history and art behind the walls of the world’s tiniest nation-state.
McAvoy drove around the wall, away from the entrance at Saint Peter’s Square. He turned into a tiny drive that ended abruptly in a very tall wrought iron gate. Two guards stood at attention. McAvoy showed his identification to the gendarme who approached the driver side window. The other guard scowled as he examined the passengers.
The first gendarme nodded, but the signal was to whoever controlled the gate. It slowly slid back. Once the iron cleared the opening, McAvoy gunned his tiny car. The engine whined and the wheels spun before the rubber caught and the vehicle surged past the wall.
They drove down a tiny lane, and Ed gawked like a typical tourist. With its buildings, gardens, and parks, Vatican City reminded Ed of the small town colleges he visited in Illinois during his last two years of high school. Spring flowers lined the roadway. Definitely not what he was expecting when Father Lambert contacted him about a job.
McAvoy guided their vehicle to what appeared to be an outbuilding. He pressed a button on the dashboard, and one of the wide doors slid upward. Of course they had automatic garage door openers. Vatican City had the money. McAvoy braked hard, and the garage door rumbled back into place. Ed blinked while his eyes adjusted to the dim interior after all the bright sunshine since he got off his flight.
Father Lambert had already exited the car while Ed was dealing with the purple afterimages. The priest bent over and looked into the rear seat. “Come on, kid.”
Ed grabbed the latch, pushed open the back door, and climbed out. The most surprising thing was the number of different models and years of cars. A couple were rust buckets like the taxi that picked him up at the airport. But the rest were much newer and cleaner, including the Ferrari at the end of the row of vehicles.
He grabbed his duffel, slammed the rear door shut, and ambled after the two priests. They exited through a nondescript gray door at the end of the garage into a stairwell with fluorescent lights overhead. He peered over the railing. The steel, preformed steps led down four stories.
At the bottom of the stairwell, the next door opened into a tunnel formed by masonry stones. He read that ancient tunnels and crypts crisscrossed all over Rome. It made sense there were tunnels beneath Vatican City, too. Father Lambert led them past a few doors on both side of the corridor, but all of these were plain unpainted wood and carved with the same protection symbols Father Lambert had taught the unpossessed folks like Ed back in Vietnam.
“Why don’t you use steel doors down here?” Ed asked.
“Too damp,” McAvoy said. “They rust faster than the wood rots.”
Father Lambert opened the fifth door they came to on the left side of the corridor. Ed gasped as he stepped inside.
The huge room was a catacomb. Instead of stonework, the walls were layers of bones and mortar. Skulls formed the supporting arches, including the door. Once again, things he’d only seen in library books.
But it was the people that surprised him the most. A tall Black man with a clean-shaven face who wore the black coat and white collar of a priest. A shapely woman who appeared to be Ed’s age with long, light brown hair and dressed in jeans and a white peasant blouse.
But the third person was very familiar from the news. A white cap covered his gray receding hairline. White robes flowed from his stooped shoulders. A huge gold crucifix hung from his neck.
Father Lambert stepped forward, bent, and kissed the ring on the second man’s hand. “Your Holiness, I present to you Sergeant Edward Hudson, formerly of the United States Army.”
Friday, January 14, 2022
Release Day - A Granddaughter of Mine
This story fills in some gaps around Anthea's birth, how Gerd discovered the identity of her own birth mother, and that the renegades' activities have been going on longer than the Temples suspect.
Thalia of Orrin. Upholder of the Queen's Peace. Friend of the Downtrodden. The Breaker of Pirates.
Two generations before the End of the Demon Wars, before there was Thalia the Legend, there was a young justice with a wicked sense of humor, a zest for life, and a duty to her people. These are her cases.
When her granddaughter is born touched by Balance, Thalia blames her own sins for the babe’s blindness. But someone else has plans for the child, and it’s up to Thalia to stop them.
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Wednesday, January 5, 2022
A Reminder about a Craft Class
The class will be held through Zoom on January 13, 2022, at 6:00 PM EST.
The cost is FREE.
However, you will need to preregister with the Findlay-Hancock County Public Library so Ms. Flick, the adult services librarian can send you the link prior to the class. If you are remotely interested, go ahead and register now!
If you have a problem registering, please contact me on my Contact Form.
Hope to see you there!