Jovan Crncevic swore softly. Next town, he promised himself. Next town he’d get the bus’ radiator fixed. For now he had his sleeves rolled up while he poured water into the radiator.
Flashing blue and white lights drew his attention away from the radiator. He set the water can down and rolled down his sleeves. After wiping his hands on a rag, he adjusted the celluloid collar at his throat. He scowled. The ecclesiastical garb defiled him. But needs must in the Dread Lord’s service.
The crunch of gravel on the shoulder of US Highway 12 heralded the deputy’s approach.
Crncevic pasted a smile on his face. “Deputy.”
The Deputy looked the length of the bus, an old school bus painted a neutral gray. White lettering spelled out “St. Sebastian’s Cloister” on its side. He peered into the engine compartment. “Trouble?”
Crncevic waved at the engine compartment. “Radiator. If I can just get us to the next town…Roundup, isn’t it?”
The deputy nodded.
“Well, then, I can get it fixed and we can proceed on our way.”
“You’re a bit off the beaten path, aren’t you? What brings you out this way?”
Suspicion, Crncevic wondered, or just curiosity?
“The tsunami, of course.”
The Deputy cocked his head to one side, the question plain on his face.
“We’re on our way to help with the relief effort.” Crncevic waved down the road. “We didn’t want to interfere with the official relief convoys so we stuck to back roads and—” He spread his hands, indicating the stopped bus. Looking up at one of the acolytes looking out the windshield at him, he made an unobtrusive gesture with the fingers of his right hand before dropping his hands to his sides. “—here we are.”
The Deputy nodded and leaned in to take a closer look at the radiator and its overflow tank. “It’s a piece yet to Roundup and you’re still awfully dry. I’ve got a water can in my cruiser. Let’s get you topped up and back on the road.”
“That would be most kind, Deputy.”
While the deputy went back to his cruiser, two of the acolytes, dressed in simple black robes, emerged from the bus. “Eminence?”
Crncevic raised a finger in warning. “Brother Padraic, Brother Simon, is there a problem?”
The acolyte to whom Crncevic had assigned the name Brother Padraic, caught his breath then said, “No, Father. We simply wished to stretch our legs for a bit while we’re stopped.”
The two walked toward the rear of the bus as the deputy returned with a five gallon can. They nodded amiably as they passed the deputy who nodded in return.
At the front of the bus, the deputy popped the cap on the can and started pouring it into the radiator.
While the water glugged into the radiator, the two acolytes returned.
“How can I thank you, Deputy?” Crncevic said.
“Oh, my pleasure, Father.” The deputy shook the can as the last of the water ran into the radiator. “Glad to help.”
The first genuine smile of the encounter spread across Crncevic’s face. “Oh, you have helped indeed,” he said as the two acolytes stepped up to the open door of the bus, “more than you can possibly imagine.”
As Crncevic’s nod, “Simon” pivoted and pressed a stun gun to the back of the deputy’s neck. As the deputy stiffened and fell, the two grabbed his arms while other acolytes boiled out of the bus.
From within his own clothing, Crncevic removed a ceremonial dagger. He held it out to one of the acolytes.
“Over there,” he said, nodding in the direction of a hollow that would not be visible from the road.
“The Dread Lord rises!” The acolyte whispered as he took the dagger.
“Dash cam,” Crncevic said to another acolyte. He pointed to the police cruiser. “Pull the memory completely. Don’t just erase the file. Then soak everything with gas. We’ll burn it with the deputy when we’re done.
The acolyte nodded.
From the hollow, the deputy’s screams began.
[ Later ]
One swift slash of the knife in the dim glow of a single lamp. Blood sprayed from the severed carotid artery.
“Sh’fath dulakh k’lathna vah. Djebdu methakha vektha K’t’rahl,” the acolytes of the Dread Lord chanted as Crncevic held up a bowl to catch the spurting blood.
The spurting stopped along with the heart of the sacrifice. The flow of blood slowed to a trickle, then a drip. Crncevic turned to face the wall, holding the bowl of blood before him. A fresh-dried coat of whitewash covered the wall. Gouges through the whitewash at each of the corner formed letters in the script of the Old Ones.
The acolytes continued their chant. “Shev’kha ezekhadja tredzkhan’th. Sh’fath dulakh k’lathna…”
Crncevic lifted the bowl high and stepped toward the wall.
The lamp blinked. Crncevic frowned. The lamp continued to blink. Crncevic turned to the acolyte at the front of the group and held out the bowl. “Continue the ritual.”
The acolyte bowed and took the bowl. Crncevic strode to the door of the small room, sparing a glance for the corpses, each with their throats slashed, piled in the corner.
In the hallway outside the room, Crncevic removed the hood and mask that covered his head. He stripped off the polyethylene rain suit and nitrile gloves. A quick glance showed no trace of blood on his priest’s garb.
With a sigh, he opened the door to the stairwell and climbed from the basement where the Order’s work proceeded to the ground floor where their public face waited.
“Father!” another acolyte, who had remained here to tend the lost and wounded that came to them, called as he entered the main foyer of the abandoned building in which they had set up housekeeping, “I was just about to call you.”
Crncevic looked from the acolyte to the two police officers who stood in the doorway.
“I’m sorry, Father,” one of the policemen said, “but could you come with us, please?”
“Is there a problem?”
The officer shook his head. “One of the search teams found someone and, well, he asked for a priest. I remembered you setting up an aid station here and…”
“Of course, Officer. Let me get my things.”
“Thank you, Father,” the officer said. “Truth is, I don’t think that guy’s going to make it.”
Crncevic forced a friendly smile to his face. “Then we had best hurry.”
Crncevic collected his bag, which contained the things a priest would have in ministering to the sick and dying. He pulled on a jacket against the chill outside then extended his hand toward the door. “Shall we?”
A big SUV with police insignia stood in the street, its engine running. One of the officers opened the back door for Crncevic and he climbed in. The two officers got into the front seats. “Shouldn’t take long, Father.”
Crncevic said nothing as the police officers pulled out. He ran his hand over his bag while affecting a serene expression while inside he wanted to scream. Two days. The pause before the final rise of K’t’rahl had continued for two days. It was time to receive the Dread Lord’s word. He should have been there to complete the ritual. Instead, the charade forced upon the order required he be here instead.
Very well, he would give that doomed fool his Last Rites, but in his heart he would dedicate his soul to Dread Shev’kha, one more to prepare for the rise.
You can find the full novel here:
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