Blood and Brimstone, Chapter 10 – Free Serial Novel

Blood and Brimstone, the free sequel to my paranormal romance Flesh and Fire, continues below. You can get caught up on previous chapters here.

The police found no evidence of foul play. No sign, other than her absence, that she had even left the room. No one in the neighborhood saw her leave. Since her clothes were left behind, she would have run away naked. How no one had noticed a naked, fit woman in her early twenties running around the suburban streets baffled the police, and Dale when he stopped to think about it. But it wasn’t like she could have vanished into thin air. That was just stupid.

After a long, difficult night of providing the officers with photographs (“she doesn’t usually smile this much,” Dale said, as he printed out and handed over a picture from their last day at the beach) and all other pertinent information on Melissa, Dale lay awake until a quarter to six in the morning. Then he just paced the room, thoughts racing. He couldn’t wrap his head around any of it: the sudden disappearance, the unseasonable chill in the air. He thought about how upset she had been. And the scream.

He wondered what his next step would be. Will it hurt more if I stayed here or if I went back to base? Both places contained reminders of painful things. Home, his father and other fractured family relationships, relationships he couldn’t imagine trying to rebuild now as he panicked over Melissa’s disappearance and fought to hold off the grief from her potential permanent loss. On base, the reminder of her would be constant. For the first time in his military career, he considered going AWOL. He could hitchhike across the country and look for…for what? For myself? What a cliché.

He decided to go back to base and immerse himself again in training and work. At least that would give him something else to think about. Throwing himself into his on-base activities had worked before. Surely, he thought, it would work again.

Still, as he booked his ticket back to San Diego, his hands trembled. Tension pressed into his neck and shoulders. He hovered the cursor over the COMPLETE ORDER button, took a breath, and clicked. He considered leaving without saying ‘goodbye,’ thought about writing a note and setting it on the island in the kitchen, or maybe just sending a text.

Best to face Katie, tell her in person. You owe her that much. Probably a lot more.

He waited until she woke. He didn’t expect Jake to be there, but Jake came by that morning to check on her. They sat down to another mostly quiet breakfast. This time Katie cooked. Halfway through the meal, Dale worked up the courage to break the news.

“I changed my flight,” he said. “Think it’s better if I go.”

Katie looked up from her plate and frowned. “When are you going?”

He hesitated, felt poised to jump off a precipice so high that he couldn’t see the bottom. “Tonight.”

Jake slammed his fork down, but said nothing. Dale stared across the table, but Jake wouldn’t meet his gaze.

“I just,” Dale began.

“You don’t need to explain anything,” Katie said. “Just…do what you have to do.”

“I’m sorry.”

“No, you’re not,” she said.

He opened his mouth to say more, thought better of it and sighed. He downed the rest of his food, barely tasting it. No one else said a word, not until it was time to say goodbye.

Katie and Jake walked him to the door that afternoon. He brought the guitar with him. Katie lowered her gaze, gave the guitar a once over, and looked up at Dale, her eyebrows raised. She hummed, something close to a grunt of approval, but not quite.

“Yeah,” Dale said. “Thinking of playing again. Got Dad’s songs on my MP3 player and thought it might be cool to learn them.”

“That’s nice. That’s really great.”

They embraced, then released each other. Dale and Jake made eyes at each other. They stared without speaking. Katie glanced between them, sensing the tension.

“Let me help you with your things,” Jake said.

Dale nodded. He didn’t need help, but from Jake’s look, he guessed his sister’s boyfriend wanted to talk to him about something. He handed Jake his suitcase. Katie stayed by the door and watched them walk to the car.

Dale popped the trunk to the rental car. “So what’s up?”

Jake stayed mostly quiet, but Dale could hear his uneasy breathing behind him. Dale turned. Jake chewed his lip.

“Don’t suppose you could stay?” he asked.

“I…”

“Katie needs you, man. Hell, I could use some help with her too. She’s been kind of a mess lately.”

Dale loaded his guitar in the trunk. “I can’t.”

“You run out of leave?”

“It’s not that. I just…it hurts too much to be here.”

Dale shut the trunk, opened the back door and took the suitcase from Jake.

“I can’t blame you.” Dale stuffed the suitcase in the back seat, kept his back turned to Jake. “It’s what you’re best at.”

Dale spun to face Jake. “What the hell did you say?”

Jake withered, looked like he already regretted his words, but Dale wasn’t about to let him off. He took a step forward.

“You don’t know a fucking thing about me.”

“Look, all I’m saying is…”

“I heard what you said, asshole, and I don’t fucking appreciate it.”

Jake held up his hands. “Hey, listen…”

“No, you listen.” He stuck his finger in Jake’s face. “Just because I’m leaving doesn’t mean I don’t care about my sister. You don’t fucking ever…”

Jake slapped Dale’s finger out of the way. Something broke inside of Dale. He lunged forward, tackled Jake to the ground. Katie yelped, or maybe it was Jake; Dale wasn’t sure in his moment of perfect, blind rage. He reared back, rammed his fist into Jake’s nose. Felt the mash of cartilage, the spray of blood, and just like that, his rage dispersed like fog in front of a fan. He rose to his feet, heart thrumming, guilt welling.

Katie started to cross the yard. “What the hell are you doing?”

He looked up, opened his mouth to answer, but Jake’s heel smashed against his kneecap. He pitched forward, landed face-first against Jake’s shoulder.

“Fuck,” he groaned.

Dale rolled over, clutching his already swelling eye. Jake rolled on top of him.

“Jake, no. Stop it.” Katie hooked her forearm around Jake’s throat and pulled him back. Dale got up to lunge forward, but Katie stuck herself in front of him. “Both of you, just…hasn’t the last couple of days been hard enough?”

Dale and Jake glared at each other over Katie’s shoulder, but her presence had done its job. No more punches would be thrown. Jake pressed his shirt against his bleeding nose. Swelling forced Dale’s eye shut. Both men sucked in deep, seething breaths.

Katie took Dale by the arm, turned him away from Jake.

“Come on, let me get you some ice.” She glanced over her shoulder at Jake. “You too.”

Her voice was husky, tired, defeated. Dale felt like the biggest asshole in the world and couldn’t decide if that would make leaving easier or harder. He followed her inside, head down and got some ice for his eye. The second time he went out the door that day, no one said a word. He drove off, wounds tender and chilled.

Blood and Brimstone, Chapter 8 – Free Serial Novel

Blood and Brimstone, the free sequel to my paranormal romance Flesh and Fire, continues below. You can get caught up on previous chapters here.


Dale dug through the closet in his old bedroom. He pushed aside creased and dusty boxes of books. He shifted all the hanging clothes he hadn’t brought with him when he left to one side of the closet. An earthy smell wafted from somewhere inside and took him back to his childhood. He expected to be nauseated, but instead he felt something entirely different. A strange serenity settled over him. He took a deep breath of the scent, and for the first time in a long time, he remembered his father in another light. When Dale was young, his father hadn’t been all bad. They played a lot together: music, video games, basketball. It wasn’t until Dale got a little older that his father started harping on him about choosing a career path. All that stuff Dale had enjoyed was just play, and playtime was over. It hadn’t been a gradual shift either. It had happened seemingly overnight. But before, during childhood, things had been pretty great.

“What are you looking for?” Melissa said.

He smiled at her over his shoulder. “I’ll let you know when I find it.”

“Oh, you tease.” She stuck out her tongue. It was a nice tongue. One he thought about often and one he’d tasted many times.

He turned and peered back into the closet and spotted the black guitar case leaning in the corner. Cobwebs hung between it and the wall. He brushed them off and lifted out the long-buried treasure. He stood it on the bedroom floor and leaned on it, grinning. Melissa frowned.

“I didn’t know you played.”

“I haven’t played in a really long time.” He felt himself darken. “My dad made me stop.”

“Surprised you let him make you do anything.” Her mouth went tight. She cocked an eyebrow. She was pure defiance, the type of bad girl he’d always wanted.

“Different time. Different me. Besides, it’s hard to bite the hand that feeds you.”

“Could’ve just run away like me.”

“If only I were so courageous.”

She shrugged, leaned back on the bed. “You gonna play me a song?”

“Not sure I’m ready for that. Besides, this probably needs to be tuned, maybe even restrung.”

“That’s fine. Was hoping to do some reading anyway. Still not feeling great.”

He felt a pang of concern. “Can I get you anything?”

She held up the glass of water on the nightstand. “I’ll be fine.”

“All right, well, I guess I’ll mess with this guitar in another room. Maybe even outside.”

She nodded, rested her head on the pillow. “Okay.”

Dale left the room, brought the guitar and his MP3 player with him. He had burned his father’s songs onto the device as soon as they got back from the storage facility. He was itching to listen to them again, after playing the CD in his car, and felt a crazy urge to learn them. Though he would never completely know this other side of his father, he thought learning the songs, hearing the words would at least get him close. At least enough to see there had been more to the man than the stuffy banker who seemed to love work and money more than anything else. Even family. Sure, as a child, Dale had seen those glimpses of the old man, but nothing like the passion in these songs. He didn’t understand it. They seemed to have been written and performed by another person entirely. The voice that sung over the bluesy chords didn’t sound anything like his father, at least not at first. Dale couldn’t even imagine his father expressing himself with such raw honesty, such energy, such vulnerability.

He went out to the back deck and sat on the edge of one of the loungers. He laid the guitar case across his lap and opened it. A thin layer of dust covered the frets and body, but otherwise, the instrument looked okay. He balanced the guitar on his knee and used the fifth fret harmonic to tune. Once the guitar was tuned, he put his earbuds in and started listening to his father’s album.

He leaned forward, closed his eyes, and let the music drift over him, let it carry him away. He skipped back to the first song, played it on repeat, until he felt comfortable strumming along. Nothing sounded right. He tried various chords until he realized the song was in a different tuning. He tinkered with the knobs until he thought he found the right pitch and tried strumming again. The song started to make sense.


When Katie got home, she went to her bed and opened The Cosmic Heart, but exhaustion weighed down her eyelids and she was asleep in less than ten minutes. The comforter embraced her. She sunk into the mattress. With each beat of her heart, she slipped deeper into oblivion. A woman whispered somewhere in the room. All around the room. Right in Katie’s ear.

“At the center of the universe one heart beats…now its blood is diseased.”

The voice spoke the words in sync with Katie’s heartbeat. It reminded her of some kind of weird experimental song. The voice was at times soft, and other times sharp, threatening. Katie’s eyes snapped open. The room around her was dark.

“At the center of the universe…”

Thud-thud.

“…one heart beats…”

Thud-thud.

“…now it’s blood…”

Thud-thud.

“…is diseased.”

The voice harmonized itself, speaking the same words, but in different tones, creating a wall of oppressive sound. Katie’s heart slammed. She couldn’t move. She tried to scream, but her breath caught. She felt like she was choking.

“…now it’s blood…”

Thud-thud.

“…is diseased.”

She turned to her book case. All the tomes were bound in old leather. Titles printed in old English, some in languages she couldn’t understand. Other titles were glyphs, symbols she had never seen before, but resonated within her. She felt lost, but like she should know where she is and what is happening. Sparks ignited at the base of the shelf and the first row of books caught fire.

Blood and Brimstone, Chapter 6 – Free Serial Novel

“What a fucking dump,” Dale said.

His father’s house stood at the end of a dirt road in the middle of a field off of Route 32. Though newly built, it had a lived-in, old homestead feel. Dale half-expected to see a couple of donkeys in the yard, along with some chickens and goats. He wondered how much of the field belonged to his father. He found it hard to believe the old materialist had traded a three-story, five-bedroom house smack dab in the middle of Suburbia, USA for a shotgun shack, unless the land was part of the deal.

“He wanted something as basic as possible,” Katie said.

“Hmm,” Dale said.

Katie told him their father had gone through some significant changes, but Dale still had a hard time letting go of the image of his father as a stiff banker who dressed in suits and bottom-lined everything. Could his father have changed that much? Was there a whole other side to him Dale had never seen?

As they got closer to the house, Dale saw splintered shards of wood and unraveled strings were strewn across the porch. He recognized the split remains of a guitar’s fretboard laying across the stairs.

“What happened?” he asked.

“Not sure. He broke it a little bit before he died. Can’t imagine why.”

Katie unlocked the door and opened it for Jake and Dale. Melissa had stayed behind, said something about not feeling well. Dale guessed she just didn’t feel like spending the day cleaning a dead man’s house. He couldn’t exactly hold that against her. She probably thought his obligation towards Katie was weird. She’d never met her mother and her father was in and out of rehab. She had no sense of loyalty when it came to family.

Funny thing was he didn’t think he did either, but when he saw Katie break down in the woods something shifted in him. He found himself wanting, more than anything, to help her. To salvage whatever pieces of his family remained. To try to reconnect.

Inside the house, a closet door was hanging open. Notebooks were stacked inside, some pages scattered on the carpet around the door. It looked as if his father had been going through them, maybe even moments before the heart attack.

Dale walked to the closet, picked up a notebook, and flipped to a random page. Song lyrics covered the paper, front and back. Even his father’s handwriting looked different than what it grew into. It looked less rigid, more flowing.

“I had no idea he wrote so much.”

“It used to be his life. Before us.”

“He can’t blame you guys for stopping,” Jake said.

“I second that, Jake,” said Dale and tossed the notebook back into the closet. “It was like he lived a double life. Remember when we were kids? He didn’t even let us in his study.”

“He barely let himself in,” said Katie. “And I’m not blaming him, Jake. There’s a lot about him we don’t know. Maybe we’ll never know.”

“Yeah, well, whatever,” Dale said. “Let’s just get this place cleaned up.”

Jake nodded. Katie wandered upstairs without another word.

Dale bent down among the notebooks and started organizing them, placing them back into their boxes. When he finished, he carried them, one at a time, to the Uhaul Jake rented and loaded them in the back. Down to the last two boxes, stacked on top of each other, he lifted the top one off and the bottom one’s flaps opened. He frowned, lowered the box in his arms, and approached the open box. Several CD cases were resting on top of everything. He grabbed one. The cover showed a much younger version of his father he wouldn’t have recognized had he not seen some old photos at the funeral. His father was holding a black guitar that looked like the one that lay in pieces on the porch. He gripped the CD tightly and hurried to the kitchen where Katie was boxing up some plates.

“Hey,” he said and she turned to him, her eyes pink with irritation from tears and lack of sleep. “I, uh, found one of these CDs. Do you mind if I take this one?”

Her face creased. She went pale, and Dale thought she might puke.

“Forget I asked,” he said and turned to put it back.

“No, I’m sorry. Go ahead. I just…it’s been a trying week.” “Well, I’m here for you, okay? I’m sorry I haven’t been.”

“What about Melissa?” “She’ll be fine. I’ll just promise her a trip to the beach.” They exchanged weak laughs. He held up the CD. “I’m gonna put this in my car before I forget.”

Katie nodded and Dale left the kitchen. He went outside and opened his rental car. He tossed the CD onto the passenger seat and stared into his father’s photographed eyes. He let them hypnotize him and tried to understand who the man used to be and why he changed. He wondered if it had anything to do with why his father died.

Blood and Brimstone, Chapter 5 – Free Serial Novel

Her father’s eyes held a vitality she’d never seen in them before. He looked much younger, almost her age. When he smiled at her, the expression didn’t look put on. It seemed effortless. He stepped towards her and a warm draft brushed across her face and encircled her. She relaxed in its embrace, feeling at ease for the first time since her world fell apart. Again, she felt removed from her surroundings, but not as she did in the church; she felt instead as if she stood in a different reality, a place behind the scenes of everything familiar.

Her father raised his hand. That strange green light glowed in his palm and he opened his mouth to speak.

“It’s okay,” he said.

“Dad?”

“Come here.”

He motioned for her to come and she approached belly aflutter, heart still slamming. He approached, too, moving far more confidently than she. They met and locked hands. She cried and felt no shame, because she and this apparition of her father were separate from the rest of the world. She could see it, but she didn’t acknowledge it and it didn’t see her. The veil only existed on their side, like a two-way mirror for the spirit world.

She drew closer to her father. He helped her forward and pulled her in for an embrace. Heat radiated from him. The closer she got, the less comfortable the heat made her. She felt like she did the time she fell asleep on the beach and got a terrible sunburn. He snaked his arms around her. She looked up at him. She needed to see him. She needed to know this was real. Maybe then she could ignore this awful heat.

He opened his mouth and leaned in for a kiss.

“Dad, no,” she said and tried to pull away.

The heat in his core increased. She squealed in revulsion and tried to worm her hands between them to push him off. Her father grinned. His blue eyes turned the color of burning coal. His mouth opened wider. A red tongue lolled between the lips and split in two, leaking yellow pus that dribbled down his chin. Finally, Katie kicked free and fell hard on her butt. Painful vibrations rocked their way up her spine.

When she looked up, she met the burning gaze of the monster that took everything from her. His hands were hooked into claws. Katie screamed and flailed and kicked, too panicked to regain her feet.

But then, something else broke through her fear: a pure rage unlike anything she ever felt in her twenty-one years, a rage she never before thought could live inside her.

She rose and tackled her assailant to the ground, screaming like a banshee with its hair on fire.

“Katie! Katie!”

The voice cut through her fury, distant and muffled. She swung her fists, pounding the face of the demon who had ruined her and her family. The voice crying her name took on a more anxious tone. A hint of pain slipped through. The face changed into Jake’s. He held her hands, but cringed against her.

“Katie?”

She jerked her head side to side, checked her surroundings for any sign of the demon. Dale stood at the edge of the woods, Melissa on his arm. His eyes were soft and wide. Melissa’s eyebrows were cocked.

“Jake, oh my God,” Katie said, and fell into his arms.

“What the hell was that?” he asked.

“I…I don’t know. I thought…never mind…I just…I think I need to lie down.”

“Sure. Sure. I’ll take you to the car.”

He took her to the black Corolla and she plopped down in the passenger seat.

“So, what was that all about?” Jake asked as he lowered the seat for her.

“Fuck if I know. Probably having a goddamn nervous breakdown.”

“Should we call Ruthanne?”

Ruthanne was her therapist, a middle-aged hippy with an office that smelled like cinnamon. The office was the only place Katie felt safe. She wanted to say ‘yes’ so badly, but there was still so much to do.

“I’ll call her, just…after today…after Dad’s house is cleaned up.”

“I can pitch in, too,” Dale said, coming up behind Jake.

“Sure Melissa will be cool with it?” Katie asked.

“She’ll have to be. I want to help you.”

Katie took her brother’s hand and squeezed it. After she released him, Dale and Jake rejoined Melissa and walked back to the church. Katie curled up against the passenger seat and watched the black, swirling storm clouds through the dirty windshield.

Blood and Brimstone, Chapter 4 – Free Serial Novel

The rented Ford Focus pulled up to the house where Dale grew up. He cut the engine and pressed his forehead against the wheel. The last time he’d been here, he told his father that he didn’t want his life, because his father’s idea of life was complete bullshit, a bad fucking play where the actors weren’t told they were acting but still faked every daily motion. Or at least that how he’d wanted it to come out. Wasn’t hard to envision his diatribe being far less eloquent. Probably a lot more vulgar. Now Todd had died without them ever reconciling.

“Well, here we go,” he said. He turned to Melissa. She had her feet propped up on the dashboard. Her phone rested on her knees and she typed a message to a guy whose name Dale didn’t recognize. Dale felt a flare of jealousy, but pushed it away. “Thanks for doing this with me.”

She finished the message and put the phone back in her purse. “You so owe me a trip to the beach after this.”

The beach was the only place he ever saw Melissa smile.

“It’s a deal,” he said.

“I can’t promise I won’t slap your sister or mom for saying something stupid though.”

“I’m sure it won’t come to that. Who starts a fight at a funeral anyway?”

“You don’t know my family.”

Dale didn’t pursue the matter further. They got out of the car and he slipped his arm around her shoulders. As they neared the front door of his old home, he felt nauseous, and his skin grew hot. He made himself ring the doorbell.

The door swung open. The woman on the other side couldn’t be his sister. She had grown up so much since he left. Her features held a weariness no amount of makeup could hide. He wondered what happened to her. He knew about the break-in, but not much beyond that. Katie had relayed only scant details. When he asked if she needed him to come home, she said not unless he was ready to talk to Dad. Fuck that.

Resentment toward their late father aside, he felt like a real shit right now. He and his sister fell into an embrace. The frame in his arms was thin and frail, as if it would break if he squeezed too hard. He almost cried, but he didn’t want to be weird. Especially not with Melissa standing behind him. She didn’t like oversensitive men.

They broke the hug, made introductions and went inside. Jake met them in the kitchen and offered them breakfast. The four of them sat down around the island in the kitchen. Katie took a gulp of black coffee, but didn’t touch her food.

“So did you lose your phone?” she said.

“What?” Dale said.

“You didn’t answer any of my messages.”

“Yeah, sorry.”

“I didn’t think you were coming.”

“He said he was sorry,” Melissa said.

A heavy silence full of shifting gazes fell upon the group. Dale’s face grew hotter.

“You’re right,” Katie said. “Let’s just…I’m glad you’re here. Both of you.”

“Thanks for reaching out,” Dale said.

Melissa gave a tight smile that held anything but warmth, nothing like her smiles at the beach. They finished their food and dressed for the funeral.

A Presbyterian pastor presided over the service, with most of the religious language removed. Katie was never clear on what her father believed or didn’t believe, and her mother was no help, so she went with something in the middle. She sat between Jake and her mother. Dale, Melissa, and Keith all shared the row with them. They showed solidarity, despite how fractured their family had become. The entire time, Katie felt as if she sat in a glass cage. The preacher’s words sounded muffled. Every few minutes, Jake tried to take her hand, but she kept her hands folded in her lap. She focused mostly inward, recalling the day her father died. She remembered the beaten expression on his face and the defeated words that conflicted with his determination to find some sort of answer for everything that had happened, to try to find Chloe.

She hoped he found whatever he was looking for, but resented him all the same. In his last few years, he seemed perplexed more than half the time, lost in his own thoughts, dreaming of that self-fulfillment he neglected for so long, perhaps.

She touched the scar on her cheek. It was mostly faded, but still rough to the touch.

“You okay?” Jake whispered. She lowered her hand and nodded. He tried to touch her knee, but she pulled away.

The pastor called Katie up for the eulogy. She left what she’d prepared in a folded paper stuffed deep in her dress pocket and improvised something formal, but sweet.

Dad was extraordinary. Blah blah blah. He was always a dreamer. Blah blah blah. I love you, Dad.

She finished, but felt no weight lifted off her shoulders. At her pew, she told Jake she needed some air, and she stepped outside.

A gray sky greeted her. She leaned against the cold brick wall and stared across the grassy acreage spread in front of the church. Thick woods surrounded the grounds and made her think of fairy tales and magical places, but there was nothing magic about this place. The preacher’s words rung hollow. Her eulogy, full of sweet words, came out cold. Headstones filled half the field around the church. This was a dead place.

She longed for the fire. At least it was warm.

As if in response, something pale and green glowed between the trees. The amorphous shape expanded and contracted. It floated some five yards into the woods.

Katie pushed away from the cold bricks and tromped down the chapel stairs. She crossed the headstone-laden field, hypnotized by each movement of the illuminated shape. Though she expected it to brighten as she drew closer, it seemed instead to grow dull. She got halfway across the field, and the light slipped behind a thick pine and disappeared.

She glanced over her shoulder. Part of her wanted to go back and write off the strange apparition as some trick of the light. Another part compelled her to move forward. She felt as if something awaited her in the woods she needed to see.

She reached the edge of the field and stepped through a carpet of undergrowth until she reached the tree the light slipped behind and peeked around its trunk. The light was gone. A bizarre scent drifted under her nostrils. It was milky and sweet and reminded her of her childhood friend Maddie. Something about that made her sad. Though she still kept in contact with Maddie, they weren’t nearly as close as they used to be. But it was more than that. It was her father. It was trauma that robbed her of a life without fear. It was something undefinable and very old, something that had been with her since she was born, or maybe even before that.

Her gaze scanned the expanse of pine trees, moss-covered rocks, and bushes she could never name. She heard no animal sounds. Usually the woods were full of life’s music: birds whistling back and forth, bugs click-click-clicking. But now she heard nothing, nothing but her thundering pulse.

Her father stepped out from behind one of the trees.

Blood and Brimstone, Chapter 3 – Free Serial Novel

Sorry this chapter’s a bit late. I had a lot of things due last week. Chapter 4 should be up Wednesday, and you can get caught up on previous chapters here. Another note: this chapter is when the story really starts to feel like a sequel. If you find yourself feeling lost, you may want to pick up the first book in the series, Flesh and Fire. I’ve posted the Indiebound link to support independent bookstores, but you can grab it on Amazon or Barnes and Noble, if that’s more your speed.

———————-

Katie didn’t remember much of what happened next, only that somehow she, her mother and father had escaped with their lives, while the strange, dark-haired girl had gone off with that monster to God knew where. Likely, she thought, they’d gone to somewhere God couldn’t reach. Almost six months had passed. A lot had changed since then, but she still dreamed of the man with the fiery eyes. In her dreams, flames engulfed her bedroom. Smoldering tendrils crawled up the wall like burning kudzu. Bright orange tongues swirled overhead, circling a black hole. He stood at the center of it all, as if the fire and the black hole all blossomed from somewhere inside him.

Now, she woke from another of these infernal dreams to find the spot beside her on the bed empty. Jake had been sweet enough to spend the night. But where had he gone? Had he gotten sick of how withdrawn she’d been, and decided to abandon her the night before her father’s funeral? Maybe the fire had consumed him and the black hole had swallowed his ashes.

Neither scenario seemed unlikely. Not after all she’d been through.

Katie sat up and checked her phone for messages from Jake, or from Dale, who swore he’d come home for the funeral. She dialed Jake’s number and gnawed her lip as the phone rang.

“Hey, I’m downstairs making you breakfast.”

“Oh, okay.”

“Bad dreams again?”

She pressed her hand against her forehead. Get a grip, Katie. You just have to get through today.

“Katie?”

“Yeah, I’ll be right down.”

She hung up and tossed the phone aside. She pulled on a pair of gray yoga pants and stumbled into the hallway, feeling hungover, even though she hadn’t imbibed since that night. In her experience, alcohol didn’t drown trauma. Instead, it it made trauma grow, the way water expanded those Grow-A-Boyfriends that cruel women bought for their single friends.

She paused at the base of the stairs and touched the doorway of what used to be her dad’s neglected study. It now housed miscellaneous clutter. The night before the demon came, she had taken a CD of her dad’s music, gave it a listen and returned it to her father the next morning, an act she felt set so many things in motion.

In the kitchen, Jake stood at the stove, already dressed in black for the funeral. Though his cleanly shaven face made him look boyish and soft, he still looked exhausted. Dark circles shaded his usual bright eyes. Being her emotional anchor had taken its toll on him. Yet, he remained, ever her anchor.

“How’d you sleep?” he said.

“Okay, you?”

“I didn’t.” “I’m sorry, baby,” she said. “Thanks for making me breakfast.”

Jake scooped some eggs onto a plate on the island. He pointed to the chair scooted next to it. “Eat. You may not get a chance until later.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“You’ll feel less like eating after the funeral.”

“Maybe.” Katie slumped into the chair and poked at her food with a fork. She pushed the eggs around her plate and sighed. “Fucking Dale.”

“You’re gonna drive yourself crazy.” Jake said and put a mug of coffee down next to her.

“I think I punched that one-way ticket a long time ago. I’m just pissed he hasn’t even called, texted, anything.”

“Look, he said he’d be here, right?”

“Right.”

“He had plenty of leave, right?”

“Right.”

“There’s still time until the service. Maybe he’s just running late.”

“Maybe you don’t understand how bad it got between him and my father.” Katie put down her fork and shoved the plate away, imagined she was shoving it into a black hole. “I can’t fucking eat right now.”

“Hey, come on. I’m trying to make you feel better.”

“Yeah, well…”

“Yeah, well, what?”

“Yeah, well, it’s not working.”

She held his gaze, watched him wince at the edge in her voice. She knew she was being a bitch and didn’t care. Everything hurt. Didn’t that give her the right? Especially today? She thought again of the black hole from her dream, flames encircling its perfect darkness. Is that where my father is now? Is that what Jake sees whenever he looks at me?

She lowered her gaze and tried again to take a bite of egg. The food had gotten cold.

Blood and Brimstone, Chapter 2 – Free Serial Novel

Katie and her mother cuddled in the back of the car driven by the demon who injured and violated them. Night darkened the sides of the winding road. The woods, barely visible, appeared as a giant living creature as leaves and branches tossed gently in the breeze. Katie felt as if she’d been transported to some primordial darkness, a black dimension full of monsters like the fiery-eyed naked man who drove towards some awful, unknown destination.

The car drove from country to town to city, but though the light increased, Katie felt no comfort. She and her mother gave up on asking the man where he planned to take them and what he planned to do to them. He offered no insights, and after a time, it became obvious that whatever he had in mind would be something dreadful. Stories like this didn’t end happily. Ever.

They took a route through the seedy warehouse district. Long abandoned and dilapidated buildings only accentuated the gloom and Katie’s bleak outlook. She clutched her mother’s hand tightly and found she no longer knew who was comforting who. Both women had suffered tremendously at the hands of this monster tonight, and both likely had something even worse in store. One could argue that what they’d endured so far was worse than death, but not to Katie. Despite the horrors or the night, she needed to go on living. She had a future. She had friends. She had love. With those wonderful things in her life, she could process tonight’s trauma. She good go on. 

Her mother, on the other hand, might feel differently. Their family stood on the brink of ruin. Late-middle-aged, one could argue she had entered the twilight of her life. She had a decade or fifteen years left of work, tops. Her looks would fade soon. Immense trauma at this stage of her life could destroy her, even if this awful man didn’t kill her tonight.

Thinking about her mother this way brought new tears to Katie’s eyes when she believed herself all cried out by this point. Guess there are always more tears to shed.

The car slowed down when they entered a section of buildings converted into row homes. Katie’s mother looked up and glanced around.

“I think this is where your father used to live,” she said.

“That’s right,” the driver confirmed, his tone sinister.

This new information prompted Katie to renew her inquiries.

“What is this? What do you want with us?”

“All in due time, sweet girl. For now, let’s just say I need the two of you as bargaining chips.”

Katie and her mother exchanged glances. By her mother’s expression, Katie guessed the woman who’d birthed her had no better idea as to their fate as Katie did. They resumed cuddling. They couldn’t seem to hold each other tight enough. How fleeting, our flesh, Katie thought, more aware of her mortality than she could ever remember being, even more than as a child afraid of the dark, even more than the time she had a fever high enough to induce demonic hallucinations of giant wolf-faced spiders crawling around her bedroom.  

The car rolled to a stop in front of one of the row homes. Katie looked up and her chest clenched at the sight of her father, standing on the front stoop with a strange, dark-haired woman. Her mother followed her gaze and gasped.

“Chloe?”