By Robbie Cheuvront, Erik Reed
Barbour Publishing, Inc. Copyright © 2011 Robbie Cheuvront and Erik Reed
All rights reserved.
New Orleans, Present Day
Let's do another shot!" The young woman strained her vocal cords to get above the music and noise in the nightclub. She and her friends had been there nearly four hours.
Outside, the streets were filled with the raucous noise of thousands of tourists and locals, all celebrating the year's most anticipated event. Mardi Gras. Everyone wore their beads and gaudy masks in celebration of the festival. It was almost midnight and the last of the partying was at hand.
"Come on, Anna," the girl pleaded to her companion. "Just one more! It's almost midnight. You know they're gonna kick us out at twelve."
"Are you crazy?" Anna protested. "My head is swimming. I'm looking forward to midnight."
"You're a prude! We travel all this way to come to Mardi Gras, and you wanna wuss out on me thirty minutes before it's all over? You're kidding me, right?"
"Look at that, Jane." Anna pointed to the middle of the room.
The rest of their friends were in the middle of the dance floor, bouncing up and down like they had pogo sticks for legs. "I'm sure they will all do another shot with you. I'm going to bed. We have a nine a.m. flight back to Nashville, and I don't intend to be throwing up on it!"
Jane chuckled at Anna's remark. She knew that Anna wasn't much of a drinker. It practically took her twisting Anna's arm just to get her to come down here in the first place. "Okay," she said, "but I'm not leaving yet. So you're gonna have to just sit here and wait on me."
"You know what? I think I'll just walk back," Anna said.
"No you will not! This is New Orleans, girl,—the French Quarter—not Nashville. Not to mention, the biggest freak fest in the whole world is going on outside those doors!"
"It's literally two blocks. There are cops every nine feet out there. I'm going to be on the main street. I'll be fine."
"More like seven blocks, and no you won't."
"I have my mace, my cell phone, and my police whistle. I'll be fine. I promise. I'll even let you know when I get there. Okay?"
Jane hesitated. She didn't like the thought of her friend out there alone, but she wasn't ready to leave yet. "All right. But when you get there, you text me."
Anna Riley stood from her stool and hugged Jane. She grabbed her jacket from the seat and walked outside. The cool night air felt good at first, but after a few steps, she felt a slight shiver. At least her vision wasn't as blurry as it had been an hour ago. She had only had two margaritas, but being the lightweight drinker she was, they had exacted their revenge. She sucked in a deep breath and let it out. Maybe that would clear away some of the cobwebs.
As she passed the bars and nightclubs one by one, she turned
her head and looked into the windows. She had heard as a little girl the outlandish things that went on down here during the festival. Seeing them for herself, she was both stunned and embarrassed as women passed her on the street exposing themselves to passersby. Men shouted obscenities at the women from the sidewalk. The women yelled back propositions.
Anna continued walking until, little by little, the noise became fainter and the people became fewer. She hadn't realized that she and her friends had come this far down Bourbon Street. The alcohol made her less aware of the time she had spent hopping from club to club as well as how far they had gone.
She finally made it to Canal Street where she turned to head to her hotel, the Fairmont. The streets were a little more deserted outside the French Quarter. As a matter of fact, there didn't seem to be much of anyone around. She picked up her pace. Suddenly, walking home by herself didn't seem like such a great idea. She reached into her pocket and felt for her can of mace. That eased her a little bit.
As she passed a dimly lit alleyway, she thought she heard a child crying. She stopped, listening. There it was again. It was definitely someone crying, although she wasn't sure now that it was a child.
"Hello?" Anna half whispered. "Is anyone there?" Nothing.
"Hello?" she said again, a little louder this time. Still nothing. The crying had stopped.
"Do you need help?" Anna now asked full voice. "I have a phone with me. I can call for help if you need it." She pulled her mace out of her pocket. Still nothing.
Anna waited for a few seconds. Maybe her mind was playing tricks on her. Maybe she should just quit drinking altogether.
She turned away from the alley, ready to run the rest of the way to her hotel. But standing in front of her was a little boy who looked to be about ten years old. She almost knocked him over.
"Holy freakin'—Good grief!" she screamed as she jumped back. "You scared the life outta me! What are you doing out here this late?"
"Maybe you should watch where you're going," the boy said. "I'm sorry. It's just ... well ... you scared me to death." "That wasn't my purpose."
"Well, you did."
"I'm sorry, Anna." He really did look sorry.
Anna couldn't stay angry at him. "Don't worry about—Hey! How do you know my name?"
He only lifted an eyebrow in a manner that seemed far too old for such a young boy. "I have a message for you."
A shiver ran down her neck. "From who? How do you know my name?"
"You need to go home."
"What? Who are you?"
"You need to go home." His expression looked compassionate, almost pitying.
Anna found it hard to breathe. She didn't want to show she was frightened of this strange little boy. Anger seemed safer. "I am going home. Tomorrow. What is it any concern of yours?" She meant to take a step toward him, but her feet moved backward instead. "How do you know my name?"
"You need not fear me."
"What? Who talks like that?" she asked. "Especially some little street punk! I asked you a question. Who are you and how do you know who I am?"
"Anna, listen to me. I am a friend. It doesn't matter how I know you. All you need to know is that you need to go home. Right now. This instant. Get into a cab and go to the airport. Take the late flight out to Pittsburgh and go home."
"Hah! I'm from Nashville, you little twerp! You aren't as smart as you think, huh?"
"No, I do not mean where you grew up with your parents. I mean where you are from. Pittsburgh. That is where you were born."
Anna's mouth dropped. No one knew that. She'd never told anyone. She and her parents had moved to Nashville when she was six, after her grandparents had died tragically. Her father couldn't handle the grief. Or at least that's what her mother had told her.
Anna had never really known her grandparents. They were always gone. Constantly traveling. The last time she remembered seeing her grandfather was in a church. She could barely remember. She had been kneeling down in front of the altar. The church was empty except for her, her grandfather, and the pastor. She remembered a prayer being said over her. And that was it.
"Pittsburgh?" she finally responded. "My grandparents were from Pittsburgh."
"Yes, and so are you."
"You obviously have me confused with someone else."
"I don't think so," the boy said. "You are Anna Riley. Daughter of James and Elizabeth Riley. Granddaughter of Thomas and Olivia Riley."
"Okay! That's enough!" She shifted her purse higher on her shoulder and took another step away. "Who put you up to this? Jane? Alex? Did they do this?"
"Neither Jane nor Alex have anything to do with this," the boy said. "Anna, your grandfather needs you."
"My grandparents died when I was six, you idiot!" This entire conversation was ridiculous. Why was she even talking to him?
"I know that's what you were told," the boy said.
"What are you, some little voodoo psychic or something?"
"Actually," he said, "I'm something quite different."
"Yeah, like crazy. I'm outta here." She started to walk away.
"Your grandparents did not die when you were six," the boy called after her. "Your grandmother just died recently, and your grandfather is still alive."
She looked over her shoulder and found him smirking at her. "Actually, your grandmother is very much alive, too. Just in a different way."
Anna whirled around set on ending this ridiculous conversation. "What are you talking about? Who are you!" she demanded. "Anna, give me your hand," the boy said. "I'm not giving you anything!"
The boy grabbed her hand with such grace and speed that Anna didn't even notice until she felt his little hand squeezing hers. All at once, the street disappeared. So did the buildings. She couldn't see anything except a great white blinding light coming from behind the little boy. She tried to pull away, but as he held on, a strange sense of calm came over her. She felt warm and safe and an unbelievable sense of euphoria. The only thing she could think of was she didn't want to let go of this little boy's hand. She wanted to hold onto it for the rest of her life. She could only describe it as complete and total peace. She didn't know who this little boy was or why he was talking to her, but for some reason, she knew she had to listen to him. And then the boy let go.
Anna fell backward and caught herself just as she was about to land on the sidewalk. "Wh–what was that?"
"Anna," the boy let out a long sigh, "I have said more than I was sent to say. Go to Pittsburgh. Your grandfather needs you. He has something for you. It is yours by right. It is to be your charge for the remainder of your life. He will explain all of this. Go to him. Go now. He is in Mercy Hospital. His time is short. You must hurry."
Anna stood there in complete disbelief. The world, as she knew it, had just changed. Her grandparents hadn't died when she was a child? Why? Why would her father and mother tell her that? Why would they do that to her? She always envied her friends in school at Thanksgiving break who said they were off to their grandparents' for the holiday. She and her parents never did anything special. They cooked a big meal and watched football, but other than that, it was an ordinary day in her household. And what about Christmas? Of course, her parents weren't religious, but they still exchanged gifts. Had she missed out on all of the fun times at Christmas with her grandparents?
"Why?" Anna asked the boy. Suddenly tears filled her eyes. "Why would you do this to me? My grandparents are dead!"
"Yes, Anna," the boy said, "your grandmother has passed away, but your grandfather is alive."
"How do you know this?" she asked again, now crying.
"Go to him. He needs you. It is your destiny."
"I don't understand!" Her words were choked with sobs.
"You will, soon. Now go. The time is short."
And then there was no little boy, only an empty alley filled with the sounds of Anna's tears.
New York City
Father Vincent Marcella sat in prayer in the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine on Amsterdam Avenue, just one block off Broadway in Manhattan, New York, in the fourth pew back from the altar. He hadn't felt much like praying these last few days. He had failed.
A long time ago, Father Vin, as he liked to be called, was given a proposition, an opportunity that he'd been told was only given to a select few. So select, in fact, that he was only one of four people in the world who would know about it. The other three were the priest who was offering him the deal, the man whom he would be assigned to, and the pope himself.
"This is the opportunity of a lifetime, Vincent," Father Giovanni had told him. "Understand that if you say yes, you can never change your mind. You will be making a covenant with God Himself."
And there was the catch! There was always a catch. He wasn't allowed to know what the assignment was until he said yes. But that created a whole new set of problems. What if he said yes and then was unable to do this task? What if after hearing about it he had no interest in it at all? Father Giovanni had said it would be the ride of a lifetime. He had always been an adrenaline junkie. Hadn't he? Ever since he was a child he would do anything and everything he could to get that rush. That's partly why he became a priest in the first place. He was so afraid of what he could become out on the streets as a teenager that he gave his life over to God. He looked to God for his strength. That was the only thing that kept him out of trouble. And he was grateful for it.
That's why when Father Giovanni brought this proposition to him, he barely hesitated before saying yes. If God had given him this need for action and adventure in his life, then maybe it was for God's purpose. "Yes! I'll do it!" he had said. And he never looked back.
That was forty years ago. He was an old man now. Slower. His mind wasn't as quick-witted as it used to be, and physically he couldn't beat up a dustcloth, let alone his many enemies he had running around the earth. Times had changed. Technology had changed. He was out of date. And for all he knew, he had failed.
Father Vin whirled around in his pew to see who it was. Caught off guard, he also came around with a backhanded fist.
The speaker quickly ducked the roundhouse punch aimed at his head. "I see you still have something left in you, old man."
"Sammael! I really wish you wouldn't sneak up on me like that."
"After all these years, I still catch you off guard."
"I was praying. You of all people, or ... whatever, should know that."
"Ah ... but you weren't really praying. Were you? You were just going through the motions. If you had been, I would not be allowed to disturb you. Would I?"
"No, I guess not." Father Vin hung his head. "I've failed, Sammael."
"Actually, you didn't."
Father Vin lifted his head. "What do you mean?" "He's alive."
"But ... but ... I saw him! Surely he couldn't have survived that. I was too late. When I got there, they were ... they were ... stabbing him. I got scared, Sammael. I could see the beasts hovering above, circling over him like vultures. I've never actually seen them before. It was awful. Their faces were grotesque and distorted. And some kind of foul grunting noise was coming from their mouths. They were just waiting for the men to finish him. I shot at the men, but Thomas was already down. I waited until the ambulance got there, and then I ran. I think I was more afraid of the beasts than the human attackers. I've never seen anything so terrifying in my life—and that's saying a lot."
"Some would say I am frightening to look at."
"Yes, but once someone knows who, or I guess I should say what you are ..." Father Vin waved his hand at him, pointing out his unique appearance.
"Still, I have this uncanny ability to unnerve some people."
"Is that why you show yourself as 'the boy'?"
"It is, at least until they get to know me."
"Well, I must say those beasts were a hundred times scarier than anything you could ever appear as." Father Vin stood to pace.
"My friend, I see those foul creatures everywhere I go. Do not be afraid. It seems you have been given the gift of protection." "What do you mean? Look at me! I'm as frail as a brittle piece of paper!" Father Vin flung out his arms.
"I mean by being able to see them, you have been given a gift. You can protect yourself from them now. And if you know that they're there, then you may well be able to protect—"
"Yes, yes, I see what you are saying." He continued his trot back and forth. "But still, I abandoned him! I ran." He sank down into the pew and ran his hand through his hair. "I am old, Sammael. I think it's time I found an apprentice."
"I would hardly say you are old, my friend. I've been here since ... Well, let us just say you are not that old. Nevertheless, I understand your concern. That's why I am here."
"So, it's time then?" A hint of disappointment colored his voice.
"Yes, I believe it is."
"You know, every time you and I talk, inevitably someone comes in here and thinks I'm talking to myself. Maybe someday they'll just commit me!"
"They could see me, too, if they would just open their eyes. All of your kind could. Don't worry though. We won't let them commit you until you find a suitable replacement!"
"Thanks! That's just what I needed to hear!"
Sammael let out a chuckle. "Oh, and one other thing ..."
"She's been found." "What! Are you kidding me! Where?" "She's on her way to see him." "Does she know?"
"I think that's going to be left up to you and him." "It doesn't matter. We've found her."
Sammael tilted his head and said, "She will not be that easy to convince. You have your work cut out for you."
"She has to. She's next in line. If she doesn't, then who?"
"She will. It might just take some time." "How do you know that?"
"Because, my friend, God has purposed it. It will come to pass." (Continues...)
Excerpted from The Guardian by Robbie Cheuvront, Erik Reed. Copyright © 2011 Robbie Cheuvront and Erik Reed. Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc..
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