Bobby Roland knows things he shouldn't.
Plagued with premonitions of disaster, he fights to save others’ lives. What Bobby doesn't foresee is that rescuing a stranger from death will place him in the line of fire.
He discovers a world of evil spirits and tormented souls when he becomes entangled in a madman's plot to kill the Servant, a man chosen by God to exorcise demons from the possessed. When Bobby falls under spiritual attack following the encounter, he must choose between saving others and saving himself.
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GRAHAM WILLARD had a decision to make.
He stared out his bedroom window at the rain falling upon the yard and surrounding woods. The moon peeked through a gap in the storm clouds, illuminating the pair of rain-washed automobiles parked in front of the detached garage at the bottom of the hill. The man tried to remember if he'd left his Grand Marquis unlocked and hoped that he had. It would enable a speedier getaway.
He drew back from the window and dragged in a deep breath. Not so long ago, making a decision such as this would have taken him no longer than a second. If asked the same question he was now asking himself, he would have responded with a resounding "No!" and gone about his business as if nothing improper had been suggested.
But the seed of an idea had taken root in his mind, planted by an invisible hand that came from nowhere. It arrived during breakfast on a sunny morning that dawned after a long week of rain, when the grass outside the dining room window was so speckled with dew that it looked like tiny pieces of the sun had fallen from the sky and come to rest among the blades. He could remember it quite clearly: he'd asked the young man to bring him more sugar for his coffee, and when the lad's back was turned he suddenly imagined himself lifting a gun and firing it into the back of his skull.
At first he'd waved the idea away as he would a pesky insect, dismissing it as the fantasy of an aging mind. He would never do it. The young man was his friend. He loved him much in the way that a grandfather would cherish his grandchildren.
But the pesky insect would not go away. The seed planted itself and began to grow.
His heart continued to pound. Yes, maybe he could do it. His friend would not suspect a thing until it was too late. But if the young man's heart could be changed ...
That was it. He would give the young man a choice. If he chose wrong, he would die.
With a trembling hand, the old man picked up the gun that lay on his bedside table and made his way toward the door.
* * *
THE WALL clock ticked away the time like a beating heart. Most people would be wrapped in the mantle of dreams at this hour, but Randy Bellison found comfort in sitting at his desk in the finished basement-slash-office as he read through the New Testament as part of his quest to pick out a decent passage for his and Lupe Sanchez's as-of-yet unscheduled wedding. The verse would have to be unique, as was their relationship. Forget Corinthians. 1 Peter 4:8 sounded like a worthier candidate.
And above all things have fervent love for one another, for love will cover a multitude of sins.
Behind and above him, the basement door opened and closed and was followed by the sound of soft footsteps. Maybe Graham Willard thought he'd fallen asleep down here and didn't want to wake him up. Graham could be a night owl too, but unlike Randy, the older man was pushing seventy-four. He was lucky to have lived that long. Many in their profession hadn't seen thirty, or even twenty-five.
Randy continued reading while Graham's unmistakable shuffle crept up behind him. What was he doing, trying to scare him? Randy wouldn't offer him the pleasure, so he kept his gaze fixed on the Bible in front of him and pretended to have lost his hearing.
A minute passed. Then another. He could hear the old man breathing a few feet behind him.
Randy turned another page even though he hadn't read anything since Graham came down the stairs. Keep up the illusion of ignorance. It would drive Graham bonkers.
Graham finally cleared his throat. "Randy." Years of smoking had blessed Graham with a gravelly voice, but tonight it held a hoarse note that made it sound like he'd been crying.
Randy heaved a melodramatic sigh and swiveled the chair around to face his mentor. "What —"
The question died on his lips. Sweat dampened Graham's gray hair and forehead, and the armpits of his baggy white t-shirt bore additional signs of excessive perspiration. He held a gun in front of him, with the barrel pointed at Randy's head.
Randy felt the hair on his scalp stand on end. "What's going on?"
Thin red blood vessels traced their way through the sclera of Graham's eyes. "Hold up your hands."
At first Randy wondered if this was another of Graham's jokes. For all he knew, the weapon could have been a harmless replica. "What if I don't?"
"Then I'll blow your head off."
The harsh tone of Graham's voice told Randy that this was no joke.
Randy put up his hands, wondering if all the neurons in Graham's seventy-four-year-old brain had started firing the wrong way. "You know what'll happen if I die before finding someone to replace me."
Graham smiled, revealing two rows of nicotine-stained teeth. "If you step down, I won't shoot you."
For a few seconds the only sound in the basement was the ceaseless ticking of the clock. Randy's mind raced to find the root of Graham's intentions. Stepping down without a replacement would have the same repercussions as if he died without one. Why would Graham even suggest such a thing? How could he?
Randy silently cursed his failure to find someone else. He'd set his sights on a couple of people in the past few years but after some consideration he'd decided that neither would fit the job. Lupe suggested on a daily basis that he hurry and find a replacement — they couldn't marry until he did since his current duties would not permit him to devote himself entirely to her. And as much as Randy longed to finally wed her, he wasn't about to settle by replacing himself with the wrong man.
Graham still hadn't lowered the gun. His eyes no longer looked like wells of anguish. They were cold. Like daggers.
"Can you at least tell me what's going on?" Randy asked, trying not to look at the weapon too closely so he wouldn't lose his nerve. He hadn't even known Graham owned one.
Graham ignored him. "What's it going to be?" He coughed into the crook of one arm and then looked back to him, waiting with a confidence he hadn't shown when he first came down the stairs.
The answer was simple, even though Randy knew that by giving it he would die. "I'm not going to step down. I don't break my promises." Suddenly Graham's brow furrowed as if he had briefly forgotten where he was. The look passed in an instant, and his eyes turned cold again. He lowered the gun to the height of Randy's chest. "Too bad. I didn't want to have to do this."
Pain seared through Randy's right shoulder before his brain could register the fact that Graham had fired the gun. Randy's vision doubled and a high-pitched ringing began to sound in his ears. "That wasn't my head," he hissed through clenched teeth, longing to scream but knowing it would further weaken him. Warmth spread down both his back and front — a sure indication that the bullet had passed all the way through his flesh.
"You'll die slower this way," Graham said, a note of indecision entering his voice. He lifted the gun, winced, and fired it again.
Something went numb somewhere in Randy's head, though that wasn't where the second bullet hit him. He slid out of the chair, ears continuing to ring from the sound of the shots. Graham's running footsteps ascended the stairs a million miles away, and the basement vanished in sudden darkness as the overhead lights winked out. A minute later he heard the engine of Graham's Grand Marquis cough and turn over out in the driveway.
Randy tried to pull himself to his feet but collapsed to the floor, gasping. The thought that he would be dead within minutes excited part of him because at last he would be in full communion with his Maker, never to suffer again. Yet the world he left behind would be thrown into turmoil at his passing, and he couldn't bear to let that happen when so many of his loved ones would have to endure it.
The carpet felt scratchy against his face. I should ask Lupe to go out and buy a throw rug to cover up the big bloody stain, he thought idly as dizziness filled his head. Only a few more minutes now and it would be over.
Even as his pulse slowed, his heart broke for Lupe. Her faith was not strong. She had been through so much already, and he knew that his death could very well break her.
Father, he prayed, not sure if he said it aloud or only in his head, if it be your will, take me. But if not, I'd appreciate it if you gave me a hand — not for my benefit, but for all those who will suffer if I die.
The image of Lupe's face wavered before him for a moment before dissolving into darkness. A jolt of energy entered his body in answer to his plea, and the pain lessened enough to allow him to focus on getting to a phone. He pulled himself onto his knees, and with the aid of his left arm, crawled in the direction of the staircase.
* * *
EIGHT HUNDRED miles away, an anxious teenager sat in his apartment with a road atlas open on his lap. It was high time he moved on from the place he'd called home for the past eleven months because it wasn't home to him, not really. Unable to make up his mind on where to go next, he'd resorted to pulling the atlas out of his shelf and leaving his destination entirely up to fate.
He closed his eyes, riffled back and forth blindly through the pages, and stabbed a finger at one that felt right to him.
He cracked open one lid and found himself looking at a map of a state he had never been to. He leaned closer and made note of the town to which his finger pointed.
Autumn Ridge, Oregon. Sounded like a nice place.
He reached for a suitcase and started packing it.CHAPTER 2
ONE YEAR LATER
MANY BOYS he knew dreamed of being firemen and astronauts when they grew up, but deep down, Bobby Roland had always wanted to be a superhero.
The plan was simple. He would have a secret lair and identity (unassuming musician) and devote the rest of his time to helping those in need. He would help old ladies cross the street. He would scare off bank robbers with his self-taught karate moves. He would be adored by the public and lauded a champion of the people in the newspapers, which would fly off the stands and be read by citizens the world over.
He had even come up with a name for himself: Rescue Man. Because that's what he would do. Rescue people in whatever way necessary to ensure their protection.
Ah, the follies of childhood. If only he had known.
Bobby steered his way home through the driving rain, trying his best not to let his anger blind him to the perils of the wet road. The condemning words repeated themselves in his mind like a broken record. You're fired. You're fired. You're fired.
Part of him wanted to cry. Part of him wanted to smash his fist into something soft and warm, preferably his former manager's face. But he'd just stood there, numb, and listened to the man's words like a truant schoolboy receiving a scolding from his principal.
Within his veins, however, his blood began to boil. He had only been doing the right thing. Rescue Man would have done the same, but Rescue Man did not exist.
He pulled into the driveway of his one-story rental bungalow at 10:17 pm. Funny how he'd only left for work half an hour before. Now he would be up all night with nothing to do but seethe.
A glow shined though the living room curtains. His roommate, Caleb Young, liked to stay up late studying. Bobby wondered how he would take the news.
He put the car in park and killed the engine. Caleb was generally a calm guy, but that didn't mean he would gladly pay all of the rent until Bobby had the luck to find more work. At least Bobby's frugal lifestyle had enabled him to put some cash away in savings. He could only hope it would last.
He dashed up the walk through the rain. Turned the key in the knob. Tried to take breaths to calm his simmering nerves, and swung the door open.
Caleb occupied his usual spot on the end of the squashed second-hand couch, his nose in a book called Quantum Mechanics. He claimed to be studying for a degree in liberal arts, but judging from the variety of tomes Bobby had seen him poring over during the months they'd known each other, the guy had to be taking every single course the college had to offer.
Caleb peered at him over the top of the book, his thick glasses magnifying his eyes so he looked like some kind of brown-haired insect. His expression seemed to ask, Well?
Bobby hesitated in the living room. Should he talk to Caleb now? No, he needed to meditate first. That's what you did when you were angry. Relax first, rant later. It might not feel as good initially, but in the end it was better than yelling and cursing.
He went into his bedroom and shut the door.
The room exuded stillness, just the way he liked it. He kept his few belongings in their proper places: band posters on the walls, papers in the filing cabinet, CDs and movies in the shelf beside his dresser. You could move around the country easier when you didn't have as much junk to haul. Clean easier, too.
He picked up a lighter and lit the unscented jar candle he kept on his nightstand, then got up and turned out the light. The flame of the burning wick spluttered and then grew longer and still.
Bobby sat down Indian-style on top of the bedclothes and stared at the flame for a long time. His hands, previously clenched into fists, began to loosen. His chest didn't feel as tight. Was he still angry with his boss's unfair treatment? Yes. Did he still feel like giving the man a black eye? Maybe a little.
Eventually he flopped onto his back and stared at the ceiling. "I suck at life," he muttered. His twenty-year span of existence had been one big failure. He had no friends, he had no girl, and now he didn't even have a job.
Only somewhere deep inside, he knew that this new bump in the road was no failure on his part. Failure resulted from poor decisions, and he didn't doubt that the one he'd made last night was the right one.
God, please don't let Caleb be angry with me when I tell him, he prayed. Please make him understand.
Out in the living room, the floor creaked and footsteps padded up to Bobby's door. Caleb said, "You all right?"
"I haven't figured that out yet," Bobby said, pulling himself back into sitting position.
The door swung open, and light from beyond filled the front end of the bedroom. "What are you doing in here, holding a séance?" Caleb stepped into the room but stayed near the doorway.
"Yeah, I was trying to contact the spirit of my old job. You can turn the light on."
Caleb did, and when Bobby faced him he could see a knowing glint in his roommate's eyes. "You got canned."
"Sorry about that."
For some reason, Caleb's lack of anger made Bobby feel even guiltier than if the guy had started screaming obscenities in his face. "I'm the one who's sorry. I know you don't make much at the bookstore, and —" Caleb lifted a hand. "It's okay. These things happen." His relaxed attitude made it seem as though he'd anticipated the news and already come to accept it.
Bobby hadn't expected it at all. If anything, he'd expected praise for what he'd done. Just showed what he knew.
He jumped to his feet, feeling a sudden need to pace. His blood began simmering again. "How is it okay? I do the best I can to get by. I work my tail end off so we can pay the rent, and then BOOM! I'm out of a job!" He marched out of the room and over to the refrigerator in their small kitchen. He grabbed a Sprite out of the door just to have something to do. He wished it were gin.
Caleb had followed Bobby out of the bedroom and watched him without comment. Some days Bobby wondered if his roommate was some kind of robot. The only time he'd ever seen Caleb display emotion was when they saw a story on the news about a young girl who had been brutally raped, stabbed, and left to die along the side of a nearby hiking trail.
Bobby remembered fear slicing through him as Caleb's face turned red and the can of root beer from which Caleb had been drinking crumpled like foil in his fist. "I'm glad I'm not in law enforcement," he'd said in a dark tone that made Bobby think that a very different Caleb Young lived inside the geeky college student. "Because if I caught him, I'd kill him just like he killed her."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Servant"
Copyright © 2019 J.S. Bailey.
Excerpted by permission of BHC Press.
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