Scene 1: Obligatory thriller opening:
As the sun set over the quiet coastal town, its cozy southern-style homes radiated warmth and peace. Life was as normal as it got for the folks in Everton Shores.
Or so they thought.
Outside of town, a fierce and other worldly battle raged near the East River Bridge. The dense woods rattled with activity. Shadows hovered and flapped. A spine-chilling screech cut through the air, followed by haunting howls that blew through the trees. The sound was both loud and soft, as if the source of the noise was moving. Branches snapped and leaves rustled as unseen forces clashed, each side fighting for the loyalty of one woman — one faction aimed to safeguard her secret, while the other sought to expose it.
Near the bridge, a transfer truck careened down the street. Squealing tires followed by the sharp screeching of metal against metal filled the deserted road with a deafening resonance. The force of the impact sent a car hurtling off the bridge and into the water below. A deep voice bellowed from the bridge, "We got her!" The demon shouted again and launched into the air, determined to claim its prize.
Behind it, a bright flash of light illuminated the dense forest, zig-zagging around the thick tree trunks before soaring upward toward the cheering devil. “Not yet, you don’t,” the bright flash yelled. The eerie wail that followed was long and twisted, like a wounded animal trying to escape.
More animal-like shrieks reverberated in all directions, bouncing off the trees and the ground. Streaks of light followed, and soon the woods were alive with red and orange sparks, creating a chaotic and violent display that resembled a battlefield at night. The fight tumbled onto the banks of the river with a giant bolt.
The driver of the sinking car crawled out the window. The flow of the river drug her under. She gasped for air as she broke through the water's surface, swimming strong to reach the car before it completely sank. Tall red skinned warriors linked up a barrier along the river banks to guard the car from the angelic battle on the shore.
The driver reached the car, clinched the edge of the window, sucked in a long breath of air and dove inside.
As if pellets were blasting out of a shotgun, a swarm of evil creatures spewed out from the trees, tumbling into the sky like hundreds of buckshots aiming for the driver of the car.
Two women with wings like storks emerged from behind a grove of pecan trees, flapping their powerful wings in unison to get ahead of the swarm.
A net unfolded between them, flowing behind the women like a train on an evening gown. They closed in on the mass of evil creatures swarming toward their target.
Moriah unsheathed her sword. “Bethany, are you ready for some fun?” She arced her sword wide, her gestures animated with grace. She wrapped the net double around her free arm. “Let’s disable these beasts!” With a swift movement, she shot out in front of the evil beasts, making it impossible for the imps to reach the river.
Bethany didn’t hesitate. She mirrored her sister’s movements, stretching the net long toward the back, creating a barrier of escape back into the woods. The demons had only one direction they could go. “Swing out wide,” Moriah instructed. “and come toward me,” her voice firm and decisive.
The two women swung out and around in an arc, one toward the other, twirling the demon hoard like a water spout lifting off the river. Tangled arms and legs twisted in and around each other as the sisters fought to keep the demons at bay. Both women raised their swords heavenward, simultaneously spinning around to face the battle not yet won. Bethany blew a horn to get the attention of her brothers and sisters below and they yelled a warning to them. “Behind you! On the edge of the wood!” She shouted, her voice ringing out across the battlefield. The warriors on the ground turned to see a threat emerging from the woods, ready to join the fray.
The angelic warriors charged forward, their wings thrumming with power. Metal clanged against metal as their swords met those of the enemy flanking them on both sides. They flung demons left and right like swatted flies, their angry shouts ringing in the night air. The two women took to the skies, their wings beating in unison as they headed northward, still grappling with the vile wad of tangled demons.
High in the sky, the first demon was running out of moves. He was spinning out of control through the air. The giant bronzed angel halted his spin and grabbed up the scrawny little thing by the neck the way a mother cat carries a kitten. “Micah,” he yelled to his friend below. “She’s been under too long.”
“Be patient. She’s strong,” Micah said.
The bronzed angel turned the spidery demon this way and that, examining the little imp.
It screeched a cry for mercy. “Let me go! I’ll leave!”
“What’s your name?” the brawny angel asked, squeezing its chest.
“Doubt,” the demon replied, barely able to get a word out.
The bronzed angel raised his sword and snarled.
It cowed in fear. “I’ll go! Ethan, I’ll go! Please let me go!” the desperate demon wailed.
Disgusted, Ethan tossed it up and backhanded it as if swatting a fly. It arced long, before hitting the ground, and skidding on one good wing until it crashed into the coffee shop.
Seconds later, the driver’s feet emerged through the window. Grabbing the window edge for support with one hand, she pushed herself out of the window. Her other hand holding onto her friend. Once she cleared the sinking car, she placed her friend’s chin in the crook of her elbow and starting swimming.
As the chaos continued, a small timid creature crouched behind the bushes observing, biding its time, its eyes wide with fear.
An insane demon toyed with its garment, straightening it perfectly before spinning and flipping with wild abandon toward the swimmer. One of the red-skinned angels appeared as if from nowhere. Quick as a flash, he stood toe to toe with the insane demon. The scrawny little imp pulled a dagger on the tall, powerful angel.
Lakota had a quiet sense of humor, but he almost chuckled out loud. With one flick of his sword, the little dagger went flying. The crazy demon cartwheeled away, but he wasn’t fast enough. Lakota sheathed his sword, reached long and pinched the ridiculous creature on the shoulder. He held it by the nape of the neck and let it dangle for a moment before he tossed high in the air, flinging it miles away.
The swimmer pulled and kicked through the water. She was halfway to the shore where the general of the angelic host engaged in a fencing match with a suave demon full of grace, poise, and ease. Death was his name. Back and forth, one way and the next. The general landed a blow in its gut. Just like that, Death conceded the match and swaggered into the night sky on his own accord. With the shore line cleared, the swimmer reached the beach safely and lay still, catching her breath. She got to her feet and put her arms under her friend’s armpits and dragged her out of the water. The two collapsed on the hard, cold sand. The driver clutched the passenger in her lap and tried to think. “It’s going to be okay, Lily. We’re going to be okay. I’ll get us out of this mess.”
Ethan rushed to Emily’s position and knelt beside her, his eyes scanning the area for signs of danger. A large bump swelled on Emily’s head, falling back on itself in the middle.
Lily wasn’t moving. Emily checked her pulse. Her brow furrowed. “Lily, you’re doing good, but we need to get you some help.”
Emily gathered her legs underneath herself and hoisted her body off the ground. Ran her arms under Lily’s armpits and heaved Lily's body off the ground, dragged her a few inches, her muscles straining with the effort. She caught her breath, then heaved and dragged her another half-foot. They continued this slow, exhausting progress until they reached a hiding place beside the street.
Emily sat down behind a bush, cradling Lily's body in her lap. She felt for a pulse. Her eyes watered up. A tear rolled down her cheek. "Hang on, Lily," she whispered. "Help is on the way."
Ethan hadn’t left her side since the battle ended. He wished he could do more. Waiting for the right time to lend his help was difficult for him. He obeyed the order to wait, but he wasn’t happy to see her in so much pain and danger.
Blood rolled down Emily’s face. She raised a hand to her forehead and jerked it hand back. “Ouch.” Her eyes widened when she saw the blood on her palm. She blinked slowly as she scanned the area, checking for any signs of the truck driver who had run them off the bridge.
Her eyelids batted closed. She jerked them open and kept looking across the street, up and then down and checking behind them. No one stirred. The faint sound of a siren whirred off in the distance. She felt Lily’s pulse. Emily fixed her eyes on her friend’s pale face.“Lily, help is almost here, sweetie. I’m so sorry I let this happen. I should have kept you safe.”
Ethan knelt beside her, his hand on her shoulder. "You did everything you could," he whispered, but she couldn’t hear in the In-Between, yet.
The angels had out muscled the demons this time, but what the angelic host didn’t know was the horde of demons they demolished was a decoy.
As the moon set low in the sky, a legion of demons hung in the nearby trees, slithered through the shadows, creeping into Everton Shores with orders to secure the perimeter. So many of them huddled together, whispering in hushed tones, their beady eyes fixated on one target: Emily Rayburn.
Scene 2 Despair, a demon
Despair, a lazy, glutinous little demon a lay curled up like a cat on the bay window seat in front of Emily Rayburn. His target snuggled into her cozy over sized leather chair in front of the bay window that overlooked the East River. She'd been awake since three am scribbling ideas for the next podcast season of Exposed. Thanks to him, she was getting nowhere, which was exactly what his orders had said to do. Keep her sluggish.
A messenger devil tapped on a windowpane. Despair shifted his gaze, moving nothing but his eyes to see who was interrupting his nap. He laid his chin back down on his front paws. The messenger buzzed through the glass, laid two notes in front of Despair and buzzed away. Headquarters addressed one note to him, the other for his colleague, Deception. He stretched one furry arm long, extending a razor sharp claw to pick up the note addressed to him.
Report to the perimeter for new orders after Deception arrives.
“That’s all,” he said out loud, fully aware no one else could hear him. “No words of approval or appreciation?”
He scanned his assignment. Emily had been tough to manipulate in the past. This time around had been easy, boring, in fact. The first phrase out of her mouth in the hospital after she learned her friend Lily might not make it was I should have… It didn’t matter what came after those three magical words. He had to work long and hard to convince certain types of people to take responsibility for life and death. Emily was very good at that. So, his assignment this time was simple. Whisper reminiscing thoughts about her failures, specifically people she believed had suffered because she wasn’t good enough. Despair had spent the last six weeks smearing regret and self-condemnations into her mind with little resistance. He’d done a pretty good job, even if he had to work alone.
The toot-toot of the ferry sounded outside. Emily shifted in her cozy chair and watched it tool by. The People’s Choice Award sat on the table, staring back at her, a physical reminder of her failure. Emily Rayburn, Podcaster.
Despair was proud of the way he squelched her joy at receiving such an honor by reminding her it was her fault Lily was in the ICU.
The phone rang.
“Hello, yes, this is Emily Rayburn.” She sat up straighter. “Who are you with?” Her forehead crinkled.
“I’m not familiar with Religion Times.”
Despair couldn’t hear the interviewer very well. He pushed his paws out long in front of him and stretched his back toward the ceiling. Despair leapt into her lap so he could hear better.
“I’m a big fan of your podcast. I listened every week during the last season. My name is Georgia Goldstein. The Religion Times is doing a feature article on Tony Leaven and his work as the largest benefactor for the Serenity Family. I’m wondering if you have any background information you would could share.”
Her words came out slow and deliberate. “I’ll share what I can.”
“Why did you want to do a show on Serenity Family?” Georgia asked.
“My team and I set out to create a historical piece to highlight the beauty of their communal living organization.”
“Why did the FBI get involved?”
“I din’t know the FBI was involved.”
“Let me rephrase. Why did the FBI get involved with the Peace Project?”
An organization called The Peace Project started in the 1960s. The FBI got involved when a fourteen-year-old boy escaped and told the truth about the cult. The FBI accused them of using technology unlawfully in the minds of children. Despair lost his balance and tumbled beside her.
“I understand you also uncovered Tony Leaven is the largest benefactor of Serenity Family?”
“That was on the show.” Emily opened her journal to a new page and jotted down a note. What is Georgia really after?
Georgia skidded to another question. “My source said the FBI is investigating Serenity Family now. What do you know about that?”
“Any Information I might know would be hearsay.”
“You mentioned on your show that a man named Tony Leaven was a large benefactor to Serenity Family. What else do you know about him?”
She scribbled a note. I know very little about TL. Why does Georgia care? “I found his desire to help an organization that does so much good heartwarming.”
“Is it true the FBI reopened an investigation of the Serenity Family because you uncovered Tony Leaven was their largest benefactor?”
She didn’t give Emily time to answer. “Why do you think Tony Leaven is a person of interest?”
Emily made a note. Impatient. Her train of thinking makes little sense. What is she hiding? “I don’t see the connection between his generosity and the FBI. Are there details you’re leaving out that you’d like to share with me?”
Despair heard the confidence in her voice. He peeled himself up and snuggled in the crook of her neck.
Georgia skipped Emily’s question and asked another, “What about the car wreck you had after your last episode aired? Do you think Tony Leaven is behind your accident?”
She made a note. Why is Georgia hyper-focused on Tony Leaven? “I don’t work for the FBI. The cause of the wreck is an open investigation. I’m not a cop either. If I had information, I wouldn’t be at liberty to share it. I would like an answer my question. What leads you to believe Tony Leaven is a person of interest to the FBI?”
Silence hung between them on the phone. Emily’s confidence was rising.
She scribbled a note on her journal. Is Georgia feeding me information to get me digging in a certain direction?
Despair curled himself around her neck and let his paws drape over her shoulders near her heart.
Georgia’s huff of annoyance came through the receiver. “Maybe you can answer this question. Do you think your friend Lily Walker would be in the hospital if you hadn’t exposed the connection between the Peace Project, Serenity Family and Tony Leaven?”
Emily squirmed in her chair.
“Lily is in the ICU, and I have suffered concussive symptoms for six weeks. Accident or not, if I hadn’t done the story Lily and I wouldn’t have been on River Bridge that night.”
Emily slumped back in the chair. Despair grinned. He had completed his task. He had observed her for a long time. Her expression showed him she regretted saying that to the reporter.
“I need to go.” Emily said.
“But, I have more ques—”
Emily hung up the phone and stared at the award on the table. Her jaw twitched. She pressed her fingertips to her temples. Despair spoke to her mind. “Someone connected to the Serenity Family sent you and your team a deadly warning because you stuck your noses in their business. Winning the award should have felt like a hallmark in your career, but with Lili in ICU, you can’t enjoy anything…”
Emily leaned forward and backhanded the award. It toppled to the floor. “I won’t give up,” she stated out loud. Tony Leaven must be important because Georgia grilled me so hard about him.
That wasn’t the outcome Despair had hoped for. A fire lit inside her instead of curling up under a cozy blanket and feeling sorry for herself. That was okay with him. His assignment here was over. He jumped back onto his window seat, curled his furry body into a tight circle with his chin back on his paws, and looked out the window. A translucent, fluid-like shape rose from the river shore and floated toward the house. Its oily, filmy body swathed through the trees like silk blowing in a steady wind until it stopped outside the window in front of Emily’s chair. His figure spread thin before slipping through the space underneath in the window, resting one half of his body on the window seat and allowing the rest to drape over the bay window seat. “I’m here to relieve you.”
Despair stretched his furry arm long. Despair used a single claw to pick up the message that had been left for his replacement. Deception slipped in and reclined over the window ledge to read his orders aloud.
Our enemy in heaven has something big planned, and it involves this woman. Deception, your job is to betray Emily Rayburn until Prince Arden completes his work on her. Go unnoticed at all times. Let no one hear or see you. The band of four shenanigans, Doubt, Fear, Insanity and Death will support your work.
Despair whimpered a sound similar to a young kitten mewing for a meal. He felt disappointed the note lacked accolades for his good work in the last six weeks. “For once, I wish I could work with a team. Maybe then I would get noticed.”
Deception didn’t move or respond.
Extending one clawed paw forward and then the other, Despair arched his back in a prolonged stretch. Then he sat straight like a proud feline, knowing his master was calling, but the timing would be on his terms. He leapt through the bay window, landing softly on the lush grassland. He took his time meandering through the trees and disappeared.
Deception, still lounging on the window seat, aroused himself to make a move. The viscosity of his translucent body slipped over the edge, creating a striking and dynamic display of movement. Emily sat forward, her feet planted wide on each side of the ottoman. She laid her notepad down harder than necessary, opening it to a blank page. She pursed her lips as she thoughtfully created a list of ideas to share with her team mid morning.
The pool of a devil flowed over the ottoman and toward Emily’s cozy chair.
He slithered up the leather chair in folds like an inchworm, its movements silent and sinuous, and read her notes.
Then he settled at the base of her head, his excitement palpable. “I can't wait to see how this game plays out,” the devil whispered in Emily's ear, its voice imperceptible to her.