All the chaos I have in my heart, devils I make and the love can relate
|August led us to the cluttered garage where a vehicle lay shrouded beneath a grey nylon cover. He grabbed hold of one corner. "Say hello to our new ride." Whipping off the fabric, he gestured to the automobile with the air of a showman. I gasped in awe.
A sleek Dodge Challenger SRT gleamed, colored in a flawless pearlescent candy apple red. It looked brand-new, as though it'd just rolled off a sales lot. The car had a fierce presence to it, speed personified, a bucking bronco that only the bravest dare handle. Just by looking at it, I knew it was worth more than the house, hell even more than both of our homes combined, practically smelling zeros on the price tag.
"H-how does your dad have this?" I stammered.
August frowned, scratching his head. "I know Mom and Dad had plenty of fights over it. Said he was going through a mid-life crisis or something. He used to be a stockbroker before settling down so I guess he used his retirement fund on this? Either way, we've had it for a few years now."
He rummaged around on the dusty shelves behind the sports car. "Pretty sure he hid them around... ah!" A pair of keys flashed in his hand. "So you guys ready to take it for a joyride?" August grinned.
"Not yet," I said, inspecting the Challenger warily as if it was a vicious animal. "We'd better make some preparations first. How much holy water do you have here?"
He shrugged. "I guess some. Why?"
"I've got an idea of my own."
I helped August gather together all the holy water bottles he could find, the contents of which managed to fill half a bucket. Even though it would probably have little effect on Vern, he was still distrustful of the fragrant smelling fluid and kept his distance as I washed the car. Mentioning there were a few relics he could supplement our defenses with, August vanished back into the house, shadowed by a reluctant Laila.
My fingers were wrinkly, nearly finished with the job when the automatic garage door began to rattle. Vern put a hand on my shoulder and squeezed gently. "We'd better hustle, kid. I think our friends outside are getting antsy."
I nodded, dropping the sponge. "Let me see what's taking August so long."
As I passed through the kitchen, familiar faces leered through the windows. "Let us in, Bell. Stop with these games," My dad sternly ordered. Flies crawled out of his empty eye sockets, swarming over his greasy face. He pounded on the transparent barrier with a fist as more insects squirmed free, crawling up his hand.
"Yes hun, we just want to be a family again. Don't you want that?" My mother hissed, tongue licking at the glass. Her reptilian irises tracked my movements as I backed away from the possessed couple.
I shuddered, pace quickening in my search for August. Voices drifted from upstairs. He was in the midst of a heated debate with Laila, saying it didn't matter about which relics we brought while she insisted some were too important to risk damaging. Taking the steps two at a time, I burst into the bedroom and interrupted the pair.
"Screw all that. Let's hit the road. We're under attack right now," I snapped. They stared at me in surprise. Downstairs, glass shattered with a musical tinkle.
"NOW!" I shouted and grabbed his arm, yanking him into motion.
My mother was slithering over the kitchen counter, scaly body halfway in as a swarm of flies poured upwards onto the ceiling. Her forked tongue reached for me, bugs humming as the black cloud parted in two, seeking to divide us. Another window broke, new hands reaching for the deadbolt.
Laila swung her holy sword, fending off the insects. August and I took advantage of the opening and dashed through the side door into the garage where Vern was already waiting inside the Challenger, revving the engine. It snarled and growled, shaking tools off shelves, rattling paint cans as it begged to be unleashed.
"Move!" August opened the driver door. Vern begrudgingly hopped into the back seat as I claimed the passenger side. Laila phased into the car as the driver pressed a button on the sun visor. The garage door began to slowly open, revealing countless feet restlessly shifting, legs tensing, repulsive faces ducking, crawling under the steel barrier as the puppet horde eagerly came after me.
Blue-bottles hummed, hairy little shapes darkening the garage. My mother slithered in, reaching out to touch my window. She recoiled instantly, her scaly hand a smoking ruin. Flies landed on the windshield, exploding in tiny puffs of brimstone as high-pitched whines keened.
August stepped on the gas, pressing forward into the crowd. The demons howled, leaping away from the Challenger as it brushed against them. The sea of bodies began to part. August drove faster, picking up speed as we were met with less and less resistance. Soon we were approaching the town limits and about to hit the freeway.
My boyfriend turned to me. "Hope you can give directions, I'm flying blind right now."
I glanced back at Vern. "Little help here?"
"Just use GPS," He yawned lazily. "All I know is the coordinates. 36°21'32.2" North, 114°50'35.3" West. Got that?"
August handed me his phone. I asked for the numbers again, punching the digits in as Vern rattled them off. My eyebrows bunched together, annoyed at the results. "Nevada?! You couldn't find one closer?"
"It's gotta be there. Never closes for any reason, not even an earthquake would shut those doors." He gestured to the road. "Besides, you even see a single car driving right now? Whatever's going on, it's happening everywhere."
He was right. The notoriously busy highway was devoid of any traffic, which was a marvel. But the stillness made me feel uneasy. August felt it too, giving me a nervous look. I placed my hand over his, squeezing gently. "We're going to figure this thing out. So far so good, right?"
"You jinxed us," Vern grumbled.
A roadblock stood ahead, police cruisers barricading our path. Spike strips lined the road, sharp points gleaming wickedly as a motionless group of law enforcement observed our progress behind mirrored sunglasses.
I looked back to see more cop cars giving chase, an army of flashing blue and red lights. "Vern, can't you do anything?"
He glumly shook his head. "Not this time, kiddo. Got gimped, remember?"
Laila sighed and pushed up her flowing sleeves. "I've never performed a miracle this large, but..."
She put her hands together, calling upon the divine powers at her disposal. "Oh heavenly father, bless this car with your grace. Please grant it the effervescence of your love, the speed of the holy spirit and the protection of your only begotten son."
The Challenger began to pick up speed, rocketing towards the road block. I buckled my seat belt, praying the airbags would work.
"Is it going to do anything?" Vern wondered, nervously grabbing hold of my seat.
Laila smiled sweetly. "Oh ye of little faith." She rested hands on the pommel of her holy blade, humming a hymn.
We were almost upon the spike traps, close enough to see the five o'clock shadow on the chins of the policemen. The Challenger snarled, engine whining. I put my hands to my face, certain we'd crash horribly. In unison, the cops took out their pistols and aimed as a head-on collision was imminent...
And then we skated over the barrier, into the open air.
August crowed, honking the horn. "We're flying?! Laila, you're amazing!"
The angel slumped against the seat, blonde head lolling to the side. "All glory... to God. Thank you, heavenly father..." She whispered, visibly weakened by the miracle.
Vern checked on her. After a few moments, he gave a thumbs up. "She'll be alright. That was a big one, especially for her state. Just needs some rest and she'll be bugging us in no time."
I consulted the GPS. The estimated time of arrival was dramatically shortened, numbers glitching until they settled on a respectable seven hours. Much better than the full day it would have taken before. I glanced down at the whirling landscape. Hopefully nobody would be needing a bathroom break anytime soon.
August was thoroughly enjoying the novelty of whizzing through the air. I chuckled at his child-like enthusiasm. "First time?"
"Actually, yeah! Haven't even taken a plane yet. This is the best!" He whooped. It delighted him even further to know that turning the steering wheel altered our course. After playing around for a few minutes, he left it alone once we were making a direct beeline for our destination. But I just knew he wanted to do some crazy loop-de-loops or other tricks.
Unsurprisingly, Vern insisted on messing with the radio, switching through stations until he found one that played classic rock. "Gotta set the mood. I always fancied a road trip," He admitted. "They looked like fun in the movies."
Guitars squealed from the speakers as the singer crooned about driving all night. We bobbed our heads, singing along to songs by Led Zeppelin and AC/DC as Laila snored in the backseat while we jammed out. A few hours later, she cracked open an eyelid. "You three make enough noise to wake the dead."
Vern put his arms behind his head. "Didn't seem to faze you much. You were practically comatose from Massachusetts to Illinois."
"Well despite your best efforts I'm still alive and well. You're welcome for the assistance, by the way." She winced, cracking her neck.
Charming as ever, Vern waved a hand. "Yeah yeah, you done good. Don't get a swelled head over it."
I turned around, giving the angel a grateful smile. "Oh, ignore him. We're indebted to you for saving our bacon back there."
Laila looked out the window and played with her golden tresses absentmindedly. "I wasn't trying to help either of you. I just didn't want August to get hurt is all."
"Either way, I'm still thankful. Vern is too." I glared at my snarky guardian who responded with a look of pure innocence.
The divine guardian didn't reply, but a faint smile twitched at her lips.
August pointed at a landmark below. "Hey, check it out! We're passing the world's largest chair! You missed the House of Cheese a few minutes ago, Laila."
"You humans and your need to build the strangest monuments," She shook her head, amused by his excitement.
I settled back in my seat as friendly banter filled the cabin. The feeling of camaraderie was a lovely one, tension and anger long forgotten as we began to enjoy our unconventional means of travel. I never had many friends growing up. Now I was traveling with the most unlikely of companions on a quest to save the world. Was it possible to be this happy? I'd given up all hope of ever finding it and now my heart was nearly bursting at the seams.
Only two more hours left, and we'd be finally able to put my troubles aside for good. But I should've known it wouldn't be that easy.
Less than an hour away, the Challenger began to lose steam, dramatically slowing as it drifted to the arid desert below, a few miles into Nevada. "What's going on?" August frowned as he regained control of the car.
"The invocation was only temporary," Laila sighed. "It was thanks to his will it lasted as long as it did. I do not have the strength for another."
I glanced at the GPS, forty three minutes left. "Well, at least we're pretty close. Gotta count your blessings, right?"
"I think a better phrase is counting your chickens," Vern said, looking out the rear window. "And they ain't all hatched yet."
Peering at the side mirror, I glimpsed a bulbous shape hovering over the desert, bloated arms outstretched. Pestilence. And beside it, a huge cloud of locusts whirled, taking on a vaguely human shape before dissipating and reforming with each step. But there was no buzzing or humming coming from that insect tornado. It seemed like... clacking, teeth gnashing hungrily.
"Looks like Famine has joined the party," Vern muttered.
"Why are they here?" August wondered. "Meggido is in Israel, not North America."
Laila shuffled her wings. "Ezekiel didn't exactly mean a specific place when he saw the valley in his visions. He just figured it was the most likely spot given his knowledge of the region."
"So that means it's all going down at... Death Valley?" I blinked in surprise.
"Unless they're here for sightseeing, I'd wager that's a pretty good guess," Vern remarked.
On the horizon, two more shapes loomed against the fading sun. A great vulture arose, flapping wings streaked with dried blood. Atop the long neck, a malformed human face lay, beaked mouth agape as it issued a bloodcurdling war cry. Around the bald throat, a collection of human skulls rattled, wearing helmets from numerous battles through out the ages. The heads grinned humorlessly, jaws clacking as the vile carrion feeder took to the sky.
And next to it, a great and terrible angel.
Death rode upon a stallion of pale mist, which was as beautiful and formless as its master. The greatest Horseman held a scroll in hands that morphed, sometimes clutching it in three palms that poured into a new shape like living liquid. He, she... it - gender had no meaning to a being whose countenance constantly shifted between the innumerable dead, souls carried within the abhorrent entity, an endless litany of death-masks, rising to the amorphous surface before drifting into a new shape. An obsidian scythe hung from its back, a disastrous weapon that seemed to cleave the atmosphere itself.
Horsemen came from all four points of the compass, closing in as we sped down the deserted highway, hoping beyond hope that the Challenger would reach safe haven before they began their final ride.
The GPS chimed. "Turn right," It remarked with robotic cheerfulness. August cut the wheel, turning off the highway as we bounced down a dirt road, spewing a dust trail which obscured my vision of Famine and Death.
I bit my nails, glancing at the phone every few seconds. Thirty minutes. Twenty-nine. Twenty-eight. Each sixty second interval lasted a brief eternity, fraught with terror as my accomplices watched the titans of destruction loom ever nearer.
"There!" Vern cried, gesturing to a faint protrusion in the distance. I squinted at the blurry outline. Sure enough, it was the place we were aiming for: the humble borough of Nemooaka, where we pinned all our aspirations.
August glanced at me, color gradually returning to his pale complexion. "We just might pull this off-"
The earth rumbled, jolting the Challenger. The sports car fishtailed for a few harrowing moments before regaining its footing. Before I could open my mouth to scold the driver for taking his eyes off the road, a great chasm opened a few hundred feet before us. Two grey feet emerged on either side.
I shrank in my seat, wide-eyed as the first head rose from the depths, snorting blue flame from a reptilian snout. A second one followed, twisting around to gaze at me. The great beast had come, the fell steed upon which I would spread my reign of torment.
"Hold on!" August shouted, a half-crazed smile plastered on his face as he drove full speed towards the insane spectacle, knowing there was no way to avoid it.
The remaining siblings slithered up until all seven dragons were now roaring in triumph. Trunk-like feet crushed the ground, raising soil and stone under its mammoth weight as it began to pull itself out of the crevasse. Cracks deepened in the dry terrain. All the serpentine throats strained, trying to raise the massive bulk.
We were seconds away from collision, either striking the abomination head on or plummeting into the bottomless gorge.
Neither option suited August. He jerked the wheel, veering towards a tilted rock slab. The Challenger struck it, yellow sparks showering the air as metal scraped the makeshift launchpad. I shrieked, covering my eyes as we soared between twin writhing necks. Vern cackled madly. Laila slid her arms around August, holding him tight against the seat.
My stomach lurched as everything became weightless, held in place only by my seat belt. The beast snapped at the car, missing by a hairsbreadth. We slammed onto the other side, bouncing one painful time and settling back on the dirt road.
August cheered, his colorless skin now beet-red with adrenaline, cheeks flushed, eyes bright with the vigor of life. "Take that you ugly fucker!" He roared at the retreating monster as it finally extricated itself.
"Language!" Laila exclaimed, shocked by his vulgar speech. But her broad smile outweighed any serious offense taken, sharing in the victorious spirit felt by all.
Vern leaned forward, clapping the daredevil on the back. "Damn fine driving, ya crazy bastard!"
The stuntman shot a glance at me to see if I would praise his death-defying maneuver, but my eyes were fixed on a new figure behind us. A woman arose from the chasm, flaring magnificent black velvet wings. She cocked her head, tilting a ivory circlet of bone as a slender hand waved in greeting. The succubus queen had arrived.
Lilith held an iron leash, casually flying after us as the seven-headed dragon meekly followed behind her, shaking the world with each step. She flicked her other wrist. A flaming crown appeared in the air, which Lilith clutched reverently.
Her words whispered in my mind, dark and seductive in tone. Jezebel, darling... You cannot escape from this destiny. It will haunt you to the ends of the earth and beyond...
I clutched my skull, shaking it violently as I tried to get her silky purr out of my skull. "Shut up! I'm never becoming her! You hear me? NEVER!"
Oh, but I think you will. Lilith gloated, sensuously rubbing against my psyche. It's in your very nature, whether you can see it or not. Why don't you just give up, I promise to be gentle...
"LEAVE ME ALONE!" I screamed while the hydra responded to my fury, howling as our cries harmonized.
A hand grasped my shoulder. "You alright?" Vern questioned, worried eyes searching my face in the rear view mirror. I nodded, trembling with rage.
"Can you go faster?" Laila asked August as she watched the succubus queen follow at a leisurely pace. He shook his head, lips pressed tightly. "I've been flooring it this whole time. How much longer till we get there?"
War cawed again, hideous echoes reverberating over the desert. I watched its throat crane towards us, still miles away and yet far too close for comfort. It clacked a beak, ready to tear flesh from bone...
"Bell?" August asked again. I snapped out of it, blinking rapidly. "Sorry... it- it says we're ten minutes out."
Pestilence was now drifting on my right. The rotten maw belched disease over cacti and tumbleweed which withered away under its putrid shadow.
Death and Famine flanked Lilith and the beast. All the major players were converging upon us, making escape an impossible dream. I chewed on my fingers, praying Vern's plan would work. If not... I didn't want to imagine it. Still, I knew we were all thinking of that ghastly possibility, that it was possible to do everything right and still fail.
The town was clearly visible now. We passed a sun-bleached sign with a bubbly font, welcoming visitors to Nemooaka. Five minutes away.
We were going to make it. I laughed despite myself, losing hold on what little sanity remained. It was going to be a razor-thin margin but thanks to August, we were right outside the town limits, zeroing in on the humble building where salvation lay. The GPS blinked, revealing the final dot.
"In one thousand feet, your destination is on the left."
I held up the phone, pointing to the red circle. As I began to speak, a golden arrow arced through the air and struck the windshield, spiderweb cracks fracturing the town into a thousand images. In the sky above, a legion of angels descended slowly.
August barked a warning. I didn't hear it, focusing on a second missile that struck the driver side. There was a sickening pop as the Challenger's tire exploded. We served, losing control. Yanking the wheel, August attempted to right the vehicle. My panicked voice was lost in the chaos, wheels squealing, a hundred crosses magnified in the broken glass, Laila shouting, burning rubber filling my nose, Vern diving towards me, a brown pillar split many times across the crystal screen, sudden impact, metal screeching, seat belt snapping, my body jerking towards the dashboard, pain, sudden piercing anguish.
And all went dark.