Nick didn’t remember going to sleep the night before. He remembered getting home and sitting down to sort through the thick pile of neglected mail he had on his coffee table. He gently put his technology magazines neatly on the table by the front door so he wouldn’t forget to put them in his backpack for the train ride to work on Monday.
His last memory was getting to the 2nd notice to pay his cable bill. He had the money, but going online and paying had become a low priority to everything else that kept popping up during the day. He was about to get up to grab his Macbook, when his mind wondered off in some irrelevant direction.
When his cellphone rang at 3am, it left him disoriented. He somehow had made it to the bed, but never undressed. He was sleeping on-top of his neatly-made bed with the clothes still on, yet his pant were unzipped and open. He took a guess that he’d started to take his pants off and then lost interest.
His phone was flashing bright blue and vibrating crazily on his nightstand. This hadn’t happened to him since he retired from the Apostates. Late night / early morning calls were common. Most Para-human incidents happened while regular people were sleeping. Nick didn’t know who the call could be coming from. The job of a copywriter didn’t require off-hour emergency calls. It was one of the reasons he loved his current mundaneness. No muss.. No fuss.. No pressure.
He reached over and grabbed the phone, the bright fluorescent flashing light hurt his eyes, piercing the darkness of his bedroom. The read-out simply read ‘blocked’.
“What The fuck..” He mumbled.
He knew who it was. He’d been mistakenly called a half dozen times since he quit the crusade. Their record-keeping wasn’t exactly stellar. He slid the slide-lock open on the screen and fumbled the phone to his ear.
“Hold for the Cleric.” A voiced called out to him.
“Wrong number again.” He mumbled back.
Normally, there would be a few seconds of pause, and then the admin on the other line would hang up. But this time, the admin stayed on.
“Hold for the Cleric, Mr. Poole.” she said, followed by a very familiar muzak.
Nick sat up and turned on the light. No one had ever called him by name on the line.. Even when he was still active. He put the call on speaker-phone. The muzak was incredibly loud.
‘Is that The Girl from Ipanema?’ he thought to himself.
The muzak halted and there was a series of clicks. Nick knew it was the automated system preparing to record the call.
“Hello, Nick.” A voice spoke almost immediately.
He recognized her voice. It made him wince.
“Hello, Barbara.” He answered.
“It’s Cleric Hayes now.” She answered.
“Well well.. Congratulations, Barbara.”
Barbara Hayes was an Apostate he knew back when he was active. But she was never one of the boys. She was the consumate bureaucrat, quietly maneuvering herself up the ladder, to apparently positioning herself in the ultimate desk job. The position of Cleric was the equivalent of a Branch Manager. Now she had just enough authority to order the real soldiers around, while kissing the asses of any Priests or Arch-Bishops who The Vatican send for inspections and updates.
The fact the Nick called her by her first name when he knew her position was considered disrespectful. But to be honest, he’d lost his respect for the crusade as a whole. It was something entirely different. He had no regrets being a killer. He knew being what he was would condemn him in the eyes of all that was holy. He could except that. He sacrificed his soul to protect others. He could live with that. He couldn’t live with being a puppet for the Church.
“I’m sending a car for you.” Barbara said. “We need to talk.”
Nick sighed. “Sorry. Not my problem.”
He hung up the phone.
Just as he turned the light off and rolled back into bed, as if on cue, there was a knock at the door. He noticed the flashing red and blue lights from the Police car coming through his bedroom window.
The second round of knocking, coupled with his phone ringing again, finally got him out of bed. He turned on the light, and answered the phone as he headed for the front door.
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me!” He yelled into the phone.
“I’m sorry, Nick. This is serious.” Her voice called back a little softer. “I understand you don’t want anything to do with us, but this it coming down from The Church.”
“The Church? I still don’t understand what this has to do with..”
Nick opened the door to find two Sheriff officers standing behind a man he didn’t recognize. He stood way above 6 feet tall. Very gangly, he wore a thick black trench-coat, over a black suit and shirt. The priest collar colored red was very pronounced.
“You’ve got to be kidding me?” Nick laughed. “You send a Priest to get me?”
“What? Oh, no no..” Barbara cleared her throat. “That’s the standard Apostate uniform.”
“They make you dress like Priests?” Nick laughed.
“Please, Nick…” the voice on the phone changed. The male voice, strong and pronounced.
“Gabe?” Nick stopped in his tracks.
“Yeah, buddy.” He called back.
Gabriel Eames had been Nick’s teacher, mentor and friend since day one as an Apostate. He had been in command of the Unit until the Catholic Church took over the calling. He was the one who convinced Nick to leave.. although it was a good six month after Gabe spit in the face of the Arch-Bishop.
Gabe seemed to choose his words carefully. “There’s a slight situation that’s about to get way out of hand. I can’t speak about it over the phone, but you know if I’m standing in this place, it has to be important.”
Nick was about just say no and slam the door in the face of the anonymous man and his Sheriffs. But he had to admit he was intrigued. The fact that The Church let Gabriel Eams back into their sacred office said a lot about the situation.
“O.k.” Nick replied and then hung up the phone before anyone on the other line could answer.
“We will wait for you in the cruiser.” The Anonymous man said turning and walking off toward the flashing lights.
The Sheriff’s cruiser had been on the highway for a good 15 minutes. It was flanked by two motorcycle cops that periodically rushed in front of them to clear the way of traffic. Inside, Nick and the anonymous Apostate sat in the back in silence. Nick stared out the window, flashing back to all the times he did this, minus the police escort. It had been almost a decade since these dire situations woke him from sleep and put him on the hunt for some mythical creature. He didn’t miss it as much as he thought he would.
“My name is Alec.” The man sitting next to him said.
“Hey.” He replied without looking at him.
It wasn’t for almost 30 seconds that he didn’t realize Alec had his hand out in greeting. He returned a firm handshake.
“I would tell you it’s an honor to meet you, Sir. But The Church has listed you as excommunicated.”
Nick laughed. “That’s.. Wonderful.”
“They say you turned your back on the mission.”
“No.” Nick replied, still gazing out the backdoor window. “I didn’t turn my back on anything. The Church changed the mission. They took it and sanitized it. Turned it into a their own personal agenda. You can’t turn your back on something you were never a part of.”
“That’s not what The Church wrote.”
“The Church can eat me.”
Two blocks away from their destination, the police vehicles turned off their flashing lights. The two motorcycle escorts waved to the Sheriff car and and drove away speedily.
On the corner of 26th and Valencia sat a small Ethiopian cuisine cafe called Sebat. It was a cute little shop, which looked like it couldn’t hold more than 20 people. There were plenty of outside tables and it had a large floor window so you could see everything inside.
The Sheriff cruiser pulled over to the curb a block before Sebat and let the two passengers out. It stayed parked and quiet while Nick and Alec reached the cafe.
The front door opened before they could knock.
Gabriel emerged from the darken cafe, he offered his hand to Nick while turning to Alec, who sulked a bit backwards.
“Thank you, soldier.” He told Alec. “Go home.”
Alec nodded to both men and promptly started walking back toward the cruiser. Gabriel then signaled for Nick to follow him into the cafe.
He walked behind his mentor with his hand on his shoulder until his eyes got accustomed to the darkness. They navigated around the mass of tables with chairs stacked upside down on top. Into, and passed the kitchen, they came to an opened giant freezer. As they passed through, Gabriel closed and locked the door behind them.
Nick knew where they were going. He use to take this route to the office everyday for years. At the back of the freezer, behind the hanging frozen half of beef and lamb, an elevator door slid open. A bright light hit them in the face, causing them to raise their hands for protection.
There were no buttons in the elevator. There was only one destination and it automatically descended once the door closed. As they felt the lift rapidly drop, Gabe hesitantly turned to his former understudy.
“O.K.” He started with a deep breath. “Before this all goes down, I need you to make me a promise.”
“Say it.” Nick said without turning around.
“I need you to NOT lose your shit once we’re in the middle of this. I mean, I need you in full composure mode. You hear me?”
Nick smiled. “I’ll do my best.”
“No! No no no no no.. I NEED you to do this for me.”
The lift reached it’s destination, and the doors slid open to reveal a long, poorly lit corridor, which lead to a large steel double-door. They started to walk.
Nick was a little unnerved. “Why are we in the middle of this? More importantly, why are YOU in the middle of this? They kicked you out! After 20+ years, they pushed you out. You don’t have any obligations to do this.. Whatever this is.”
“It ain’t about obligation or even the situation.” He spoke intently. “There’s a big curve ball in the scheme of things right now. There’s a big paradigm shift in the paranormal landscape and the current status quo ain’t gonna get the job done.”
They reached the door but delayed entering the room.
Gabe continued. “We both knew what was gonna happen to the order once The Church took over. And we were right. The Apostates are nothing but a bunch of light-weights carrying crosses and holy water. They got their marching orders, but they don’t have the mission.”
“Then let ‘em fall on their asses. They deserve it.”
“True. But it ain’t about them. It’s about innocent people. You know it’s a delicate balance out there. The smallest of changes in the environment can send everything out of wack.” Gabe sighed, wiping his face. “We didn’t sign on to protect The Church. That’s why we both left. But we did swear an oath to protect the people. That wasn’t a job to us. We don’t get fired from that. Fuck this place. I feel the way you do. But this is different. They need old-schoolers like us. Don’t do it for them. Do it for me.”
Nick nodded in agreement. “You had me at ‘fuck this place’.”
Gabriel put his hand on his former student’s shoulder with a firm grip. That was always a sign that he was proud of him. It made Nick smile.
“O.k.” Gabriel took a deep breath and started to open the door. “Put on your shitty grin face and let’s get through this.”
The florescent lighting in the Apostate Hall was bright, yet uninviting. The random slender bulbs overhead flickered periodically. Nick thought it reminded him of the Saw movies. Flickering lights inside of the room that resembled a boy’s club recreation room. The slight green tint made him feel like they were in the Matrix.
‘That would explain a lot of things.’ He thought.
Nick and Gabe entered and walked down the narrow red carpet in the middle of the room, which lead to four rows of burgundy folding chairs. There were eight chairs in each row. To their right was a series of small desks with computers on them; which all seemed to be opened to Google. To the right were two burgundy leather couches up against the wall. Two Apostates sat on each couch– three men and one woman, all dressed in the Priest-like uniforms.
“Who’s this?” Nick heard the woman whisper to the guy sitting next to her.
“The Cleric called them in. They’re suppose to help us.” The other replied.
Nick and Gabe sat in the back row of the folding chairs and settled in.
They could hear the Apostates whispering behind them. It was apparent they weren’t welcome.
After a minute or so, Nick turned around.
“Hey guys.” He called back. Gabe grabbed his arm, but it was too late.
“What?” the woman called back.
“You got a problem?”
“We know who you are.” She said standing up. “We know you two turned your backs on The Church. You have no right to be here.”
Nick was surprised when Gabe stood.
“The Cleric sent for us. We’re just here to help.”
One of the Apostates grew agitated. “Help with what?!? We don’t need the help of cowards.”
Now Nick stood. “Excuse me? Cowards?”
“That’s right. Cowards.” The woman responded. “We’ve been chosen by God to fight this Holy War. We’re out there everyday doing our duty, while you two turned and ran. What have you done to be any help to us?”
Nick and Gabe looked at each other and smiled. They started going back and forth.
“Let’s see.. Uh..”
“We stopped that zombie outbreak in Richmond..”
“Robots from Mercury. That was a bad one..”
“That Spider Queen Disco thing..”
“And what were those things with the ‘prickly’ thingies in their heads?”
“That’s right! The Mo-Dü invasion..”
“THAT’S ENOUGH!” came from the front of the room.
Cleric Barbara Hayes had entered the room during the argument. She had positioned herself at the podium in the front. Unlike the Apostates, she was dress in business wear. Her designer lady pants suit fit perfectly on her slender frame. Her dark brown hair was pulled back tightly and she wore very little makeup. Even though she was a petite 5 foot 2, she stood on something behind the podium which made her tower over them.
Nick and Gabe fought the urge to laugh.
“Sorry, Ms. Hayes.” They said in unison.
Barbara glared at her Apostates. “These two may not be with The Faith, but they’ve earn the respect of this place. If it were up to me, I’d trade these two for the rest of you in a heartbeat. So until you’ve manage to save the world a half dozen times, you’ll sit and show them the proper respect!”
The Apostates fell in line. They all took seats directly in front of the podium.
Gabe and Nick sat and looked at each other.
“Respect.” Nick snickered.
Cleric Hayes took a calming breath.
“Mr. Poole.. Mr. Eams.. Thank you for coming. I understand this wasn’t an easy thing to do. I know both of you made it clearly known you didn’t want to be associated with this organization ever again. I think after you hear what’s going on, you’ll understand by we need you.”
The lights went down in the meeting hall. The ceiling-mounted projector slowly sprang to life, while Cleric Hayes grabbed her iPad from the podium. After a few seconds, the Panasonic logo disappeared and the iPad’s home-screen filled with icons appeared.
“This isn’t normally how I handle these things.” Barbara started. “Normally I’d call one of you in and give you the assignment. But this isn’t a ‘normal’ assignment.”
She tapped an icon on the iPad and a presentation title screen popped up on the projector.
“Seventeen days ago, the husks of four vampires were uncovered by a UPS delivery man in Richmond. Apparently, it was a nest, which had weekly deliveries of blood in accordance with the ‘Mutual Coexistence Act of 2004’. What he discovered were four bodies in the backyard, fangs exposed and claws extended.”
A crime scene photo of the incident popped on the screen.
“So? Dead vampires.” The female Apostate said.
She didn’t see the problem. Nick did.
“Four vampire corpses? In broad daylight? No signs of sun exposure?”
“No.” Barbara replied. She made a few finger gestures on the iPad to zoom in on one of the bodies. “A vampire’s allergic reaction to UV sun rays resides in the blood. The infection makes it unstable and highly acidic. These corpses had none.”
“Vampires completely drained of blood?” Nick whispered to himself.
“Time of death?” Another Apostate asked.
“We’ve studied samples of the remains. The time of death seems to be between 11pm and 2am the night before.”
“So whatever did this to them, did it at a time when they were at their strongest?”
Barbara didn’t notice that Nick had gotten out of his seat and made his way to the screen. He studied the image.
“They all look like they were in a defensive posture. They were fighting when they died. And it looks like it was pretty instantaneous. No burn marks from holy water or religious relics. It looks like something just teleported their insides away leaving them instantly hallow.”
“Puncture marks?” Nick asked.
“No type of lacerations to suggest they were bitten or syphoned of their bodily fluids. There were slight impact indentations on their bodies. But nothing that would break the skin.”
“No idea.” Cleric Hayes changed the slide. “We were gonna put it on the backburner for research until it happened again two nights later. This time, it was the bodies of both Arachnid and Insectoid colonies in a BART tube between the 16th street and 24th street stations. Evidence suggest that they two species had been fighting until something else showed up and killed all on both sides. Again, no internal fluids were found on any body. And there was no trace evidence of this killer.”
Nick sighed. “And let me guess. It happened again?”
Cleric Hayes paused and then swiped her iPad to reveal and collage of gruesome images.
“Yes. Four more times, in fact. The latest victim..”
The slides advanced forward.
“..were human.” The image showed two young women, maybe in their early 20’s face-down in what seemed to be a kitchen.”
“Ah..” Nick sigh. “Everything was ‘hush hush’ until it turned into a homicide.”
“Correct, Mr. Poole.” Cleric Hayes turned off the projector. “Initially it was an otherworldly problem. But now the Police Commissioner is involved, getting pressure from the city government. That’s why we need you guys. You two combined still have more resources on the street then everyone we have enlisted. I need this stopped immediately.”
Nick smiled. He had actually drank the Kool-aid that Gabe was handing out. He got up and grabbed his coat. “Bullshit.”
“Nick, please…” Gabe tried to get his former understudy to sit. But Nick resisted. Gabe tried to grab his fore-arm, but he promptly yanked it away.
“Screw you, Gabe!” he replied. “I can’t believe you tried to get me involved in this shit.” He started to back away toward the exit.
“Nick, this isn’t what it seems..” The Cleric tried to persuade him.
“Like hell it isn’t! This is all the circle jerk! Two weeks of monster deaths and it’s all nice and quiet. Then two normals show up dead and everything goes to def-con 1?”
Gabe stood. “Nick! They need our help!”
Nick laughed. “No they don’t! They need scapegoats! The Commissioner’s don’t ask, don’t tell agreement with this place is out the window. Now they’re trying to find someone to pin this on with it eventually comes in to the light. Fuck that!”
Nick swung his coat around his shoulders; his arms slide cleanly into the sleeves and before the others knew it, he was disappearing into the darkened exit.
Cleric Hayes was about the call out again, when Gabe stopped her.
He smiled. “No need for anything else.”
Barbara was confused. “He’s not going to work for us?”
“He never was.” Gabe smiled at the Cleric. “Didn’t you know? He hates this place.”