As A.J. Rand. The cynical but sassy Yeshua Star is an 'unofficial' demon hunter for the Church. When angels come knocking on Yeshua’s door, she finds herself pulled into one of the toughest situations she has ever had to face. Armageddon looms on the horizon and Yeshua has to make the decision that will decide the fate of humanity—does she stop it—or let it happen?
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Yeshua Star is deeply ensconced in a level of the world most people do not even know exists, let alone recognize. Her world is one of demons, dream stalkers and ancient immortals who were once worshipped as gods but now co-exist with the rest of society—like Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams who now runs the local opium den.
The cynical but sassy Yeshua Star is an unofficial contractor for the Church, handling those tasks that go hand in hand with a public policy of disavowal. When the angels come knocking on Yeshua’s door, claiming she is an incarnated angel, she and her self-appointed sidekick Chaz find themselves pulled into one of the toughest situations they have ever had to face.
Armageddon looms on the horizon, with one faction of the angels preparing to set Armageddon into motion. Using all of the knowledge they can piece together from tight-lipped groups with hidden agendas, Yeshua has to make the decision that will decide the fate of humanity—does she stop it—or let it happen?
Heaven and hell. I have to laugh. If I didn’t laugh, I’d start crying and never stop.
Crickets have to be the most annoying creatures on the face of the planet—at least when you need to concentrate. The sound of their shrill trilling cuts straight through every thought.
I was on a mission and needed focus. Lives hung in the balance, and my objective was close. The damned insects needed to shut up.
With every trill I felt my focus slipping. I was too close. My heart pounded an erratic tempo to the surging adrenaline in my veins. The edge of the precipice was in front of me. I could see the opposite side of the yawning chasm by raising my head.
The pounding of my heart was at a full throb, filling my ears with the dull roar of its bass beat. Still those little buggers cut through. I wanted to scream, but I couldn’t let my mark know I was there. Instead, I slammed my hands on the ledge of rock in front of me, pulled myself forward and looked over the edge. Big mistake.
He looked right at me. I tried to pull back but couldn’t. My hands were stuck, caught in a sticky web-like substance. Damn. I hadn’t seen it.
Without taking my eyes from his, I tried to yank free, but it was a no-go. The more I struggled, the more the substance entangled itself around my fingers. His expression was amused, almost contemptuous. His dark eyes absorbed the night, reflecting no light. This man was darkness, all the way down to whatever passed for a soul. He was a true creature of the night, wrapped in its black arms.
Stupid bugs. I really needed to focus. I couldn’t afford a misstep. It would be my undoing.
He started toward me at a slow, insolent pace across the web strung between the chasm walls. The webbing vibrated with each step, my hands resonating to his movements on the strands. He never took his eyes from mine. I was trapped—caught in his web—and I wasn’t alone. Scattered across the surface were almost a dozen women wrapped in various layers of silken entrapment, unable to get away from the creature that toyed with them at his whim.
I tore my eyes away from him and looked at my hands. They were burning now, the viscous substance of the web marking my skin with lines of raised red welts where it touched. I winced at the searing pain, trying to pull away. Each movement tightened its hold on me, so I stopped. His smile told me that he took pleasure from the struggle. It made him stronger.
He was close now. Too close. If I hadn’t known better, he could have snared me with the power of his attraction. Even though I did know better, I still had trouble separating what I was seeing from what I knew to be true.
He was almost perfection. The slight golden tan of his skin was etched in muscled, shadowed relief amidst the play of darkness. Long, dark hair caressed his shoulders, falling down his back. The face was like that of an ancient god––squared, chiseled, surrealistic symmetry––and I know my gods, trust me.
Every inch of him was designed to call to a woman’s deepest desires. He sucked me in, pulling on my life force, merging it with his own. I couldn’t stop him.
Then I met his eyes again. I felt the darkness bore into me, winding around me, choking off my life force...
That was all it took. I thrust my hands deeper into the web and grabbed tight. If I couldn’t break free, I would use it to my advantage. I yanked hard and quick, like jerking a rug out from under him. It worked.
Off balance, he fell back, landing in the web. He didn’t look happy about it. Neither was I. The weight of his body hitting the web flipped me forward off the ledge. There was no stopping. I was going to strike that sticky surface and I would be imprisoned like all those other women––just one more plaything. His eyes gleamed with anticipation of my entrapment. I closed my eyes and waited to land.
I expected the springy web to absorb my landing. Instead, the painful impact knocked the breath out of me. It was hard, solid and cold. Part of it wrapped itself around me, warm, soft and cocoon-like. I lay still for a second, re-orienting myself.
The sound of the cricket was near my head now. I was lost, struggling for awareness, trapped in a state of confusion…
Then it hit me. A dream. It had all been a dream. I lay on the cold wooden floor of my bedroom, with blankets entwined about my body like webbing. I shook off the feeling, still caught in the state between the dream world and my waking one.
I groped for the sound of the annoying insect and grabbed hold of it like a lifeline to anchor me in a moment of physical reality. I let loose a long, shaky breath and flipped open the cell phone. It had been the cricket, cutting through the wandering realm of my dream.
“This had better be good.”
My voice sounded dry and harsh to my ears. As my mouth formed the words, I tasted the rich, coppery flavor of blood. I must have bitten my tongue. I moved it around, testing. A brief flash of pain made me pull it back further into my mouth. Nope. I had bitten my lower lip.
“Yesh?” The voice on the other end of the call was hesitant.
What time was it, anyway? I looked around the room and then turned over to look at the clock on the bedside table. The red numbers burned through the darkness. 5:58. The alarm would have woken me up in another two minutes. Chaz was saved from the worst of my crabbiness this time.
I thought about the dream and shuddered, pulling the blanket tighter around me for what—warmth? Protection? The kid had actually done me a favor. But I was irritated enough not to tell him that.
“Yeah. I’m here.”
“Fine.” I snapped, trying to get my annoyance under control. “I’m fine. What’s up?”
“I’ve got another one for you.” His voice held the kind of excitement that always spelled trouble.
“Like the last one?”
“No.” I could almost feel the heat of his face rising to embarrassment. I knew he wouldn’t likely make the same mistake a second time––at least not so soon after the first. “This one’s for real, Yesh. I think––I’m pretty sure anyway.”
“What is it, Chaz?”
“I think we have a dream stalker.”
Of course. What else would it be? The thought of the piercing gaze of the man from my dream made my stomach turn over. Or maybe it was the combined taste of blood with the morning breath still thick in my mouth. The alarm clock went off and I reached to shut it down.
“Yeah. I’m still here. Where am I going, kid?”
Chaz shot me an address that I fixed in my mind. I wasn’t about to scramble for a pen and paper in the dark. There wasn’t any in the bedroom anyway. I made a vague promise to be there when I could and snapped the phone shut. It took me a few minutes to get motivated. I used them to collect my thoughts and center. I leaned back against the bed, still semi-wrapped in my blanket and surrounded by the dusty darkness of the early morning.
People are afraid of the dark. There is something about darkness that makes them uneasy, twitchy. It sets even the bravest on edge, ready to jump at a glimpse of movement, or sometimes to freeze in fear, unable to move at all. When light dispels the shadows, they laugh at their own foolishness to find nothing there.
I stopped laughing a long time ago.
I have learned over the years not to be afraid of the dark. It’s the things that hide in the dark that scare me. Occupants of darkness wear it like a shroud, hiding their true nature from eyes that wouldn’t understand what they’re seeing anyway.
The worst part is that in the light, they look the same as you or me.
They don’t have to hide––they do it only because it’s something deeply ingrained into their nature. People have forgotten how to see them for centuries. Or most people have. Not me. I’ve always been able to see them. Sometimes I wished I couldn’t. Life would be so much simpler.
Time to get moving. Chaz could be onto something. A dream stalker. The thought made me want to puke. I forced myself to get off the floor and extricated my body from the tangled blankets. As I headed to the shower, I snagged my robe from a pile of clothes at the foot of my bed.
I flipped on the light and tossed the robe onto the hook on the back of the bathroom door. It stayed in place. Must be one of my better days. It just didn’t feel like it yet. While I went through the physical rituals of morning absolutions—like getting the fetid taste out of my mouth by brushing my teeth—my mind wandered, starting to wake up.
Chaz was a good kid. Maybe a little overly enthusiastic for someone like me, but that’s okay. We need a little enthusiasm in this world. I’m cynical to tip the balance against a dozen of his kind. Chaz was once one of my rescue victims. I get a few of those, tossed my way by the church that raised me.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a religious person. I was raised in an orphanage funded by the church. That’s where my old man dropped me off after my mother died in childbirth.
The thought still hurt at odd times. It’s not like it wasn’t for the best. Pops was a sociopathic drunk––and did I mention pathological liar? No matter. I was alone in my apartment where only I could see the vulnerability in the eyes staring back at me from the mirror. I didn’t have time to wallow. And more and more, I had even less time to feel.
I turned on the shower and hopped in while it was still cold, letting it shock me fully awake. The streaming droplets ran over me. I let them warm as the moments passed, before I started washing.
The nuns at the orphanage figured out that there was something different about me—my dreams were not the normal dreams of a five-year-old child. They were night terrors with a basis in reality. It terrified them that the things I said I saw and spoke about were not the “imaginary” musings of a child trying to compensate for loneliness, but rather the kinds of things they had forgotten how to see. So they turned me over to the priests.
Not everyone realizes that religions have more to their concepts of light and darkness than they see. Oh, yeah, sure. There are the regular teachings of heaven and hell. But those focus on having faith that heaven exists and is a happy place to go to.
They gloss over the part about the balance that needs to be maintained between the light and the darkness, and hell is not only real, but it’s all around us. I’m pretty sure it’s because if they could see what is really there, they’d drop faith for the future of their souls and live in the physical reality of the now in order to survive the onslaught against their minds and bodies.
That was my job.
I finished washing and reached to turn off the water. Something stopped me. I brought my hands back and held them under the water, turning them over to see both front and back. They were crisscrossed with red marks––some raised to welts. My fists clenched in frustration. Chaz was definitely onto something. I hated dream stalkers. With a resigned sigh, I turned off the water and went to get dressed. It was time to get to work.