“Papa?” Asha St. George called from within a crumbling old barn, hoping she heard her father’s footsteps outside.
At the end of a crooked trail in dark woods, the barn beneath a yellow moon seemed no more than the abandoned monument of a forgotten era. If you looked close, you knew it was not empty and held more than scampering rats and spiders busy spinning webs.
“No, not Papa,” she whispered, disappointed. She wanted to tell him, Jaeson was dead. She paced near walls of splintered wood.
The Harvest moon was nearing its zenith. A hazy circle of light, in midair at the core of the barn, began to glow. The portal bridging six worlds would be ready to open in an hour with the right ancient words. Asha, anxious and restless, was ready to recite them.
Three of the six worlds knew the horrors of war: demons, humans, and angels protecting humans were slaughtering each other. Two enjoyed peace. The sixth world, this one, witnessed the slaughters of war and joys of peace.
A quarter of a mile away, a tall man limped swiftly toward the barn: Uncle Jack. His cane was a third leg, and at six-foot-seven, he limped faster than most men could walk. Though the autumn night was warm and he was in the woods, the gentleman wore a linen suit.
His aging skin was the color of a pale map he carried in his left hand, but his long hair was a vibrant red. The map showed where a body was buried.
Jack knew every twist of the country trail and every bush or tree crowding it. He knew that the monstrous snakes of the region ate more than small rodents as the predators slithered on land and in trees.
The greatest danger in the woods tonight was not a natural predator. Instead, he came prowling back from the dead. The creature knew about the map marking the grave of a special dead body, but he had no need for it. The new undead creature was closing in on the living.
“Asha.” He liked the sound of her name.
The daughter of his nemesis, Justin St. George who snuffed out his first life, was at The Nexus and mourning the fresh slaughter of her best friend since childhood, Jaeson Madison. Madison’s body was still warm at the scene of a battle.
The creature mused that young St. George and Madison fought bravely, though they lost, in a clearing where their arsenal of guns and charms failed to ward off a superior being. The losers never knew they were close to his dead brother, waiting to wake.
In the barn, tears pooled in Asha’s dark brown eyes. They spilled onto her high cheeks, lining the beauty of her dark skin. In one last tribute to Jaeson for the night, she dried her tears with the sleeves of her denim jacket, then prepared to fight an interdimensional battle and win.
Beneath the barn’s paneless window near the ceiling that let in moonlight, she slipped an oversized burlap bag from a shoulder. She loosened the drawstring, pulled out supplies, and got to work.
First came the large circle she drew on the dirt floor. She made it big enough to hold three people, though she expected it to protect just two tonight. Inside it, she drew a hexagon. Then, the girl stood tall, trying to feel like a grown woman–after all, she was almost nineteen–and she waited for her papa.
He wasn’t coming.
Papa should’ve been there, she thought. He is strong and wise. He would’ve succeeded where Jaeson and I failed.
She would need to start the ceremony to open the nexus portal, soon. Reinforcements on the side of all things good would gather here from other dimensions. Her dreams of messages from The Oracle had shown her.
Interdimensional forces for peace would arrive on this night with her help. The problem was that when you opened the portal for allies of peace, you opened it for allies of war.
The young woman heard rustling noises outside the barn.
“Papa?” she called again.
Asha had no idea that her father had fought in another battle that night. Her face lit with new hope, expecting him to walk through the barn door any second now.
He wasn’t coming.
Uncle Jack was not alone in the woods.
“Move fast, kid.” Jack tossed the repeated command behind him to the teen who had no idea that his older sister was ahead of them in an old barn with an evil undead headed her way.
Jack had seen Asha in a vision that almost blinded him that afternoon. His grey eyes still throbbed, but his sight was fully restored. Even his third-eye, hidden, saw clearly again in the normal and paranormal planes. The young woman would be in a battle for her life, once more, just like Jack’s deceased wife, Asha’s aunt.
“Look, old man,” sniped the kid, “I told you, stop giving me orders, out here in this damn backwoods country. I hate the place. Why Grandma had me drive way out here and give you that map, I’ll never understand.”
“Keep up!” Jack ignored the young man’s resistance.
In a self-imposed exile, the old man had lived alone in the secluded country of the Texas Trinity Woods for a decade. Company seemed foreign to him as he rushed to the site of The Nexus.
Jack’s sinewy body etched lines in his old world suit. He was a startling contrast to the muscle-bound young man in denim jeans and a T-shirt. They had a few hundred yards to go before they would reach the barn.
Jack tried to distract himself from worrying about Asha. He had not seen the child since she was eight and wearing a look of innocence that always touched his heart.
Her brother, behind Jack now, was six then. The man-child sped through treacherous woods with the old man as a guide. He struggled to understand the sense of urgency.
Asha’s brother had arrived on Jack’s cabin doorstep just before sunset. He delivered a map, as his matriarchal maternal grandmother ordered. He put it in the old man’s hands.
Jack was filled with horror the moment he recognized the map and read the letter sent with it ... and his sense of dread was not abating. Instead, it was growing in the pit of his stomach. He tried distraction a second time that evening.
“So, kid, you said no one other than family calls you Monty anymore. What do they call you?” Jack’s voice was gravelly.
“They, who?” The teen was not in a chat mood.
“Don’t be stubborn. Your friends, if you got any. What do they call you?”
“Spring before last, I had a freak accident. An old tree fell on me during a storm. Busted my right knee. Had to have surgery. I limped for a while. Kids started calling me Crip for cripple.”
My fault, Jack thought. The lasting repercussions of my betrayal. They came for a family I love when they couldn’t destroy me.
The old man muttered something as he swatted a fat mosquito on his thin neck. Other than the cussing, Crip understood very little that he said.
“What’s that, old man?”
“You can call me Uncle Jack, instead of old man.”
“But you’re not really my uncle.”
“I was married to your mother’s sister when my wife Trina died. She’s been gone eleven years now.”
The boy recalled snatches of conversations he’d overheard about Jack.
When the family whispers about you behind closed doors, old man, they call you the Devil.
Crip tried to size up the lanky, old dude who wore an old-timey linen suit that smelled like mothballs, and Dude limp-walked faster than Crip could walk. He would never admit it, but the guy gave him the creeps.
Crip cleared his throat. “May I ask you something?”
“You may ask. I don’t have to answer.”
“Why do people call you the Devil?”
The boy couldn’t see Jack’s lopsided grin.
“Hey, nosy-ass kid. Oh, excu-u-se me, Crip. I told you. You can ask me questions, but I don’t have to answer.”
A blood-curdling scream stopped Jack and Crip in their tracks.
“That sounded like Asha!” Crip yelled in disbelief. They took off running toward Asha. In minutes, they reached the old barn grounds.
Crip stifled the unmanly scream that started low in his throat. Beneath the yellow moon, Asha was under attack. A winged wolf monster–twelve feet tall?–had buried a deadly claw in one of his sister’s sides.
Asha was writhing in pain, but she stretched her left hand to the moon. His sister appeared to be … to be levitating.
Asha can fly?! Crip was in awe. And her strength... she’s superhuman?! Does this have anything to do with the secrets she and Pop have been hiding?
Rising higher and higher, Asha felt as if she were in a trance. She was flying and pushing the winged wolf beast toward the yellow moon. Her right hand, smeared with blood, dug into his furry throat.
The creature was slow to retrieve his claw from his enemy’s left side. Asha’s grip–and perhaps the moon?–weakened it.
A sudden wind from the north slapped her and the creature. He howled then grinned, baring even more fangs. The young warrior recognized hate in feral eyes.
Asha felt her ascent slowing. She would never give up, but she was so tired.
Jack wasted no time. In one swift sequence of moves, he shed his jacket and shirt, then unfolded glorious wings, the color of his red hair.
Jack’s wings were magnificent. Within seconds, he was in the air.
His forgotten map was snatched by wind, then thrown to the ground. It landed inches from huge rocks that Crip grabbed and hurled at the creature.
“Damn you, let her go!” Crip yelled. “Whatever the hell you are, let my sister go!”
A missed-target rock hit Jack, then flew into the night. Uncle never felt it.
“Asha!” he called. “It’s Uncle Jack. I’ve got you, baby girl.” The warrior angel streaked into battle.
And this time, he silently vowed, I fight for peace!
Photo of Justin St. George (Papa)