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Earth Unraveled

Earth Unraveled

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Earth Unraveled

Lunghezza:
344 pagine
5 ore
Editore:
Pubblicato:
Apr 27, 2014
ISBN:
9781310368387
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

Soldier Tom Brooks returns home from the war in Iraq only to be caught up in a battle between Heaven and Hell. After a night of drinking, a medium links him to the supernatural world where Brooks finds himself as the sole representative of mankind. He must commit an act that will represent humanity for final judgment. Pursued by fallen angels and a relentless detective, Brooks must save mankind from hell before the laws of physics turn inside out and the Earth descends to its final destruction.

Editore:
Pubblicato:
Apr 27, 2014
ISBN:
9781310368387
Formato:
Libro

Informazioni sull'autore

Hello, I’m Rath Dalton. Yes, Mom was a Basil Rathbone fan so that explains the name. I hope you enjoy my work here on Smashwords. I can’t stop writing anyway, so if you keep coming back there should always be something new. By the way, thanks; it is an honor to be allowed to have some measure of access to the controls on the entertainment system in your life. I will try not to let you down. Different authors have different takes on writing. I see it as a process where the writer needs to touch and tickle stored memories in the reader’s head, memories that bring out emotions and feelings that turn a shopping list of incidents into something real. It is a multi-tasking process that can go easily awry. I liken it to driving a bus and doing pantomime at the same time except the driver never knows for sure if he got his point across. At best, he knows that some people went for a ride. Occasionally there is positive feedback and that’s fuel in the tank. So hop aboard, let’s go on a trip. There should be interesting stops along the way. If you like what you read, write a positive review here on Smahswords and if you wonder why I was flapping my arm as we rolled around that last bend, ask me about it at rathdalton@gmail.com. Rath

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Anteprima del libro

Earth Unraveled - Rath Dalton

Dedication

Prologue

The woman was in the water, her limp body swept forward by the river. A man ran along the embankment, straining to keep sight of her in the fading light. Her hair billowed like seaweed as she sank beneath the surface.

He leaped. The river slapped his face as he plunged deep, water ramming up his nostrils, his body sinking at first, then rising as he stroked upward. He broke into the open air, choking on water that streamed down his face. The woman was nowhere in sight. He cast about searching, seconds ticking away the odds of her survival. She was there, the dim light revealing her in the eddies. His fingers caught her hair and he wrenched her head up. He pulled her close. There was warmth in her body. There was still time.

They were in a stretch of the river bounded by stone walls, no way out, but the man knew of a place ahead. They were swept toward it. It appeared as a dark arch against grey stone and he swam hard, pulling her, crossing the current toward it. The river tugged at them but he kicked into the tunnel to calmer water.

His gasps echoed in the dank space. Light from the entrance showed a stone jetty sloping up out of the water. The man swam to it, holding her head above the water, stroking with his free arm, the last swing scratching across stone, peeling back nails.

Their clothes were heavy as he dragged her onto land. Her breathing was shallow but she was alive. Her eyelids fluttered open.

It’s all right now, he whispered.

She tried to speak, but coughed instead.

It’s me. You fell in the river. A half-lie. You’re safe.

His hand found hers and he squeezed. The woman was too weak to give a real squeeze back, but he felt her fingers move.

I have something for you. He reached back and pulled it from his belt. Somehow, it was still there after his struggle in the river. It reflected grey and metallic in the dim light as he held it high. The woman saw it and her eyes filled with confusion. He clamped his hand down on her throat, squeezing off her air, pinning her. The woman’s hands flew to his, struggling feebly, her legs trying to kick. He saw the fear in her eyes.

It’s the only way, he whispered, I’m sorry, and he plunged the dagger into her heart. The woman’s eyes bulged and her mouth opened in a moment of shock, shock that her life was ended by a man that she trusted, even loved. Then, as her life faded it hit - energy ran up the shaft of the knife with a sound like a jet of wind, searing his hand. He rode the pain like a roller coaster, enduring it rather than letting go because he knew that her life would open the door.

Fate

up against your will

Through the thick and thin

He will wait until

You give your soul to him.

- The Killing Moon

If man is five

Then the devil is six.

- The Pixies

1

Tom Brooks braked and shifted his Celica to neutral. Traffic was backed up onto the bridge and his car was stopped close to the middle of the span. He unclenched his hand from the wheel, forcing himself to relax back in his seat. Only a few weeks ago he’d had the power to move this traffic out with a few barked orders. Paradise lost. Now he was just another civilian.

The steel deck of the bridge vibrated and swayed under him as cars rolled by in the other direction. It gave him an ungrounded feeling. He looked out the window. The bridge deck was built of steel mesh, unpaved, and he could see down through it to the river rapids below. Kayakers paddled, negotiating a course between gates. One of the kayakers slid into white water and the boat flipped. The craft was swept downstream with the paddler underneath. Tom imagined what it was like for him in the dark, upside down, relying on his own skill and a fistful of luck. Maybe God was in the equation too. Sometimes God let things slide on you, though. What he threw into the mix was strange. His own situation proved that.

Tom relived the attack that put him here the way he had relived it a hundred times. He remembered the sound of bullets pinging off the steel body of his overturned Humvee. He remembered the screaming from the back of the vehicle as it became a ball of flame. Gabir, the interpreter, thrashed as he burned.

Tavreau shouted in near hysteria from the driver’s seat, I-E-D, fucking son of a whore, as he fumbled at his safety restraint. Bullets slammed into the frag resistant windshield, one, two, three. The third punched through and a red patch appeared on Tavreau’s chest causing him to stop screaming and start burping up blood.

The heat from the burning fuel at the back of the Humvee baked Tom’s skin right through his uniform. He released his own safety restraint and fell to the ceiling, his uniform smoking. He knew the front seat would be in flames in moments. Tom unsnapped Tavreau’s harness, letting him tumble down, still puking blood but alive. The frame of the Humvee was twisted from the explosion and the door was jammed. Tom heard firing and shouting coming from several points. He hoped to God it was his men firing back at the enemy. Tom kicked at the shattered windshield, crunching it outward, clearing a hole. He crawled through pulling Tavreau with him just as the passenger seat burst into flame. He expected a bullet to catch him at any moment and several did whine off the pavement near him.

The sound of gunfire continued as Tom unslung his M-16 and tried to get his bearings. There were three other vehicles behind his in the convoy, none damaged by the IED. He grabbed Taveraeu and dragged him up the line, his rifle in his free hand, swinging it left to right, searching for the sniper. He spotted a bearded figure with a rifle on the roof of a building and fired wildly as he moved. There was little chance of hitting him, one-armed as he was but the assailant ducked just the same. Tom drew even with the next Hummer in line.

Get him in the truck, he screamed, letting go of the man, in favor of his rifle. The Haji was back up, drawing a bead on them. Tom fired a burst. Again he missed – too much adrenaline, but this time the Haji did not duck. He fired off a round striking Tom in the chest. The body armor absorbed most of the impact but the blow hit him like a shot-put, knocking him off balance, slamming his head against the side of the Hummer. He rolled on the ground in a daze, his mind screaming at him to get up, that the sniper was sighting in on him right now, setting up for the final shot, but the world had folded in on itself. There was no up or down. Tom pushed off something, maybe the ground, his head spinning, his lungs locked, unable to draw breath. A metronome ticked in his head as he pictured each step of the sniper’s progress; chamber the bullet, ram the bolt home, lock it down, raise the rifle, aim at the American, squeeze . . . and there was the sound of a gunshot but it was his men firing first. Instead of a bullet, he felt strong hands grasp him and pull him into the vehicle. The engine roared and they surged backward.

Where you hit, Commander? a voice shouted. Where you hit? Hands pawed him over, searching for a wound.

Tom pushed them away. M’ okay.

How many fingers? the voice asked. A hand waved in his face. What do you see? What do you see?

Your mother’s ass.

There was laughter. I think he’s okay.

Tom rubbed his face. Did you get Tavreau?

In the next truck – sucking wound. If he makes it, we’ll only have one casualty – Gabir.

Gabir. Tom remembered the Iraqi interpreter screaming as he burned in the back of the humvee.

Shit, Tom said, The guy wasn’t even supposed to be here. He stood in for Rahim.

That’s four times Rahim missed it. He’s the luckiest man alive.

He is, Tom said, wondering. Four times. Tom’s mind was pulled back to the present by the sounds of traffic.

* * *

Tom cornered Rahim later, back at the base.

Where were you yesterday morning?

I went to see my mama. I thought you knew.

Your mama was at the market yesterday morning. I checked.

Rahim slumped and his demeanor changed. Alright, I’m seeing a girl. I can’t let anyone know because she could get in trouble. You know how it is in our country; when a girl has been with a man outside of marriage, she could be shunned or even stoned.

"Three patrols that you bailed out of over the last month got hit. Why?

You know why – it is what happens here. It is what we are fighting.

You were scheduled for four different patrols, but you made excuses to get out of them. All three were hit.

Why are you asking me these things? You are my friend. I trust you with my life - we trust each other.

Tom held his rifle and he pointed it at Rahim now. I have an eye witness that puts you at the scene just before the last patrol was hit. What’s your explanation?

The eye witness is lying. I’m seeing a girl. Do you want to ask her?

The special forces plant cameras. Explain this. Tom threw a picture down. It had taken some phone calls to get, but the unofficial side of the military was efficient.

Rahim picked it up and studied it. He spoke in an even voice. You should have checked me out more closely before hiring me as a translator. I don’t have anything against you personally Sergeant Tom, but I’d like to see every American soldier in Iraq die a slow death. My cousin, Jamail, liked Americans. He listened to rock and roll and dreamed of going to an American university. He said the American soldiers would bring democracy to our country, prosperity. A marine shot him in his own home. It took him twenty minutes to bleed to death in his mother’s arms. She begged your people for help but they did nothing. Now that you have caught me, I look forward to experiencing your fair justice system. When do I get my day in court?

Tom didn’t know what part of him pulled the trigger. He had pulled it so many times on this job, forced to judge friend from foe in a heartbeat, forced to discern good from evil. He heard the crack of the rifle even as part of him screamed in protest. Now, months later, Tom still woke up nights with part his mind screaming.

* * *

The kayaker still floated upside down in the river. Tom had lost track of time. He shifted the Celica’s transmission to park and leaned out the window for a better look. No one seemed to be noticing the trouble. The other boaters paddled around in the river and the drivers on the bridge waited for the light. Tom could almost feel the agony of the man trapped below the water, struggling, his last breath ready to burst from his lungs. A cloud passed in front of the sun and the world grew a shade darker. Tom stepped out of his car

Hey, Tom yelled down at the boaters. They were thirty feet below. Hey, there’s a guy down there. The rushing water and the idling cars smothered his words. He turned, searched inside his car, found an ice scraper from the past winter and chucked it down over the railing.

It hurtled toward the kayaks and by some miracle, bounced off the hull of a boat. The occupant looked up. Hey, Tom shouted, pointing at the overturned kayak, he needs help.

At that moment the troubled kayaker popped upright, puffing and drenched. The boater he had shouted at aimed his middle finger at Tom. A car horn honked. The light was green and the cars in front of his moved out. He jumped back into the Celica and fumbled with the shift as more horns honked.

Keep your pants on, Tom said under his breath. His car jerked forward and he threw a last glance downward. The boater was paddling his kayak into a dark archway at the bank of the river. Tom wondered what was in there. He could almost smell the dankness of the tunnel as he stepped hard on the accelerator to catch up with the tail end of cars moving away through the traffic light.

2

The counter top was too high and the edge dug into his ribcage. His back ached from the awkward position, but the clean dish pile was getting bigger and the dirty one was shrinking. Solero Costas pulled his hand out of the sink, shook off the soap suds and rolled his wheelchair back. He worked his arm and shoulder around to get the kinks out. There were five clean dishes on the counter. Five less dishes for Lyn to wash. His niece had plenty to do without adding her crippled uncle’s dishes to the burden. He was surprised at how proud he was over the accomplishment. A year ago he could have done a sink-full and then gone out to split cordwood, but that had been a year ago. Now he was a taker.

That was one revelation the wheelchair had provided, one of many. You are either a giver or a taker. Givers don’t know how annoying they are. They don’t know their own secret language. When they ask ‘can I give you a hand?’ it means ‘you are a burden on society and I am not. Let me prove it by opening this door for you.’ It was always something helpful like opening a door or reaching up high at the grocery store and it made him angry. It shouldn’t, but it did. He wanted to shout at them for it. Who were they to judge him? But he always held back. He kept it inside, partly because they were trying to be nice, but partly because they were right; he was a burden. Sometimes he did need help. Sometimes he had trouble getting through the door or reaching the high shelf. Doing these dishes was one small way he could tip the scale back. He could still be a giver in this world. Better to be a giver in a wheelchair than a taker on two legs.

Something at the window caught his eye and he turned his chair. There were footsteps outside. He rolled his chair to the screen door and looked out. Yes, it was that deadbeat. The tenant was walking around the corner of the house. Costas pushed the screen door open and shouted to him.

When are you going to pay the rent?

The man stopped when he heard Costas. Oh Christ, it’s you, he said. He threw his cigarette to the ground, as though in response to the question and ground it under his toe. There was a six pack in his other hand and he pulled a beer from it.

Well? When are you going to pay? Costas barked again. You’re two months late. I don’t know any landlord that would carry you this long.

I’ve been busy. The man twisted the cap from the bottle with his teeth and spit it onto the walk near the cigarette butt.

Busy my ass, you don’t have a job. I never see you go to work in the morning. It’s no surprise you don’t have the money.

I told you when I moved in, I’m self employed. I make my own hours. He turned and started to walk away. Costas called after him.

If you don’t pay today, you’ll be evicted by the end of the week.

Evict this, the tenant said, raising his six pack hand along with his middle finger. He continued on up the outside stairway.

I mean it, Costas yelled. He heard the man say something about an asshole. Costas let the screen door slam shut. That went well. The guy would pay his rent now for sure.

Costas wondered why he had even taken the guy in. Yes, it was all about giving. Everyone looks like a victim when you see them from a wheelchair. The guy came to his door with a story; new in town from Maine, getting his business set up. He never would have let the guy in before the accident, before his legs were ruined. But three months ago, when the man came knocking on his door, Costas had been at a low point. He missed Helena, he was feeling sorry for himself, useless legs, all alone. He had to help someone in order to feel good about himself – weakness. Now he felt like an idiot. Maybe his tenant had problems, but Costas didn’t want them spilling over into his own life. That’s a great way to get pulled down.

He thought about his low point back then and wondered if he had come very far out of it. It didn’t seem so. He rolled his wheelchair to the far wall and looked at a picture of his late wife. There was dust on it. Helena had dusted every week. He took the picture down and wiped it with his hands. He meant to put it right back up, but found himself peering at it instead. He couldn’t shake the feeling that she might walk in from the next room any minute and start bustling about, cooking and cleaning, keeping the house ready for company. She had loved having company over; one thing he never did well with. He wished he had been better at it for her, but she loved him anyway. Sadness welled up. He fought it back and hung the picture on the wall. The last thing he needed was to fall to pieces. Sadness was like water sucking down a drain - once you got close to the whirlpool, you spiraled in. He didn’t need to be wallowing in self pity when the new tenant showed up.

Costas looked at the clock on the wall. The guy was late. That was a good way to make an impression. A guy who showed up late would probably pay late just like the deadbeat tenant he had now. Costas glanced back at the picture and then rolled away from it.

He and Helena had been happy together. Living with her was like curling up in a warm blanket. Saturday morning was French toast and bacon and then a trip to the bank. Sometimes it was pancakes and eggs, but on that morning, it had been French toast. And they always went to the bank. They could have used an ATM and done their banking anytime, but they liked getting out with people. Sometimes they ran into friends. That morning Sol Costas had started the cooking, but Helena shooed him away to his newspaper. She hardly touched her own food and when he asked why, she said she wasn’t feeling well.

You should have let me cook, Sol told her.

No, no - I feel better when I move around a bit.

Do you feel any better now?

Better than I did, she said, nibbling on a piece of toast. Sol didn’t believe her.

Why don’t you stay home and rest, while I go to the bank?

I’ll be fine. I didn’t get a good night’s sleep, that’s all. She insisted on driving. She usually drove on Saturday mornings and Sol didn’t stop her that morning. It was the biggest mistake of his life.

He remembered the accident, or the stroke – whichever you wanted to call it. It was both. They had been driving back from the bank, coming up to an intersection, when Solero realized something was wrong. Helena wasn’t slowing down for the light. He glanced over and saw the look on her face; eyes wide, head tilted back, staring up at the sun visor, only she wasn’t seeing it, she was looking a thousand miles beyond. Her mouth was open as if to exclaim ‘oh!’.

Helena – what’s wrong? he yelled, reaching for her and the wheel at the same time. He knew at a glance that her mind was far away as they rolled into the intersection.

He jerked the wheel, as if it would do some good. It didn’t. The truck slammed into the side of their car, rolling it over several times before Sol blacked out. When he came to, his body was pinned by twisted metal, Helena’s limp body pressed against him. Even in his disoriented state, he knew she was gone. Her ribcage, he was told later, had been crushed by the impact. The stroke had started it, the accident finished it. Now, at the age of eighty one, he was not only alone, but he had to learn how to take care of his crippled body.

3

Tom parked his car in front of the building and snapped off the radio in the middle of a report on burglaries. He was a young man, twenty, brown hair, green eyes, intelligent face. His arms and chest were toned from his weight lifting on the army base.

Tom leaned forward to get a better look at the place where he was going to live and he peered up to see a Victorian style home. It was located in a once affluent neighborhood that had fallen to middle class. There were scraggy lawns and kids toys in the yards around it. It’s own lawn was getting long. The building itself rose up to sharp angled peaks giving the impression it was stretching to point at the sky. The balconies were inset rather than protruding. At one corner of the building was a turret with a cone roof.

Tom had promised to be here at five thirty and it was almost six. The rental had been arranged entirely through email. He knew most landlords wouldn’t work that way but this one had seemed welcoming. A few doors opened easier for veterans.

He got out of his car and hurried toward the building, telling himself that thirty minutes late was passable considering he had come all the way from Iraq. As he moved, he appeared taller than his five foot ten height, partly due to his easy gate and partly due to his build. What happened next was something his mind returned to many times in the following weeks. One moment his car keys were wrapped in his fist, the next moment they were falling. They disappeared into a patch of greenery. Annoyed at himself and at the delay, Tom brushed the weeds aside to get a better look. Pain stung his hand with blinding agony and he jerked it back. A welt wound its way across his palm.

You might piss on that, came a voice from above.

Tom looked up to see who it was, wondering if he had heard right. Something about pissing? A man stood on a balcony holding a beer.

Your hand, called the man, hurts a little?

"Stung by a bee or something.

Probably those nettles, the man said, motioning with his bottle. Those frilly green things you were reaching into. Bastards will sting you like a jellyfish. Only cure for a jelly sting is to piss on it. I always thought it would work the same for a nettle sting, but I never tried it. It’s your call. The stranger hawked a lunger off the balcony. The string of phlegm spun like a bola as it sailed outward and down to the lawn.

* * *

Tom rang the bell at the front of the building. The throbbing in his hand had subsided enough so he could think. It looked as though a red hot worm had slithered through his fist. He dropped his hand to his side and tried to ignore the pain while he waited.

The door of the building opened about a hands-width before thumping into something on the inside. Tom watched it bang a several more times while someone inside grumbled and wrestled, then it finally swung inward to reveal a man in a wheelchair. He appeared to be in his eighties with a stocky body and close cropped hair.

Tom Brooks? The man asked.

Yes

You’re late. His words were gruff but he held out his hand. Solero Costas.

I’m going to break convention and decline the handshake, Tom said, holding up his hand. No offense. This hurts a bit.

Costas glanced at the hand. Heck of a burn there. Seen worse, though. He turned his wheelchair around and headed up the hallway. Follow me, he called, and close the door behind you.

Tom wasn’t used to taking orders from a civilian but he didn’t complain. He shut the door and followed Solero Costas.

Welcome back to the United States, Costas said, and thanks for serving. I know how dangerous it is over there. They entered a kitchen. Know it feels good to be thanked, too.

Tom had mentioned his time in the army in one of his emails.

It’s good to be back. Tom hoped it would be. So far, he wasn’t certain. And thanks for renting to me over the internet. Not a lot of landlords would do that.

True. It’s a risk taking on someone with no tenant history and no job to speak of.

I was a unit commander in Iraq. That’s got to count for something.

I’d say it does – mostly against you. People will think you’ve got a screw loose after all that killing and dying. I’d call them ignorant bastards except it’s not entirely wrong. Some of my buddies came back all bollixed up in the head. Their therapy was tipping a bottle and beating the kids. Only the strong ones escaped with their heads straight - or the lucky ones.

Which one are you? Tom asked.

Lucky one. World War Two – Omaha Beach. Survived it with hardly a scratch. He patted the wheelchair. Earned this last year in peaceful downtown Manchester.

An outside screen door bumped open and a young woman pushed her way through, arms wrapped around two overstuffed grocery bags, one with a tear in the side. She had long, straw blond hair and she was tall, most of it in her legs.

Help . . . she called. A can squeezed its way through the tear and thumped on the floor. Tom took the torn bag from her arms, favoring his injured hand as best he could.

Got it, he said, and set it on the kitchen table. The woman slid the other bag in next to it.

Thank you Mister . . .

This is our new tenant, Costas said, Tom Brooks. He just came back from Iraq. This is my grand-niece, Lyn.

Tom scooped up the stray can with his bad hand without thinking. Good to . . . The pain turned the rest into a grunt as he dropped the can and caught it with his good hand.

Oh – that burn. Lyn, honey, Costas said, he’s got a burned hand. Could you get him some ointment for that? He turned to Tom. "Lyn is in nursing school at

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