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L O S T

By

R.S. Guthrie

 

Copyright © 2011 by R.S. Guthrie

Kindle Edition

 

 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the author.

 

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Amazon.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

Book art by Brent Dawson

 

Cover art: Pictures by iStockphoto

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Author’s Note:

 

Most of the action in this novel takes place in the Idaho Panhandle near Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Certain liberties have been taken in describing the city, its institutions, people, locations, history, etc. Most importantly, the references to all tribal language, traditions, beliefs, rituals, or any other references to the Coeur d’Alene Nation and/or its people (past or present) is entirely fictional. In fact, the entire world presented here is completely fictional, as are its characters, events, departments, legends, historical references, and other details. Any resemblance to actual incidents or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

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Acknowledgements:

 

I want to thank my de facto editor, Elise Stokes. You are a fantastic author in your own right, and I owe you a deep debt of gratitude for working painstakingly through the final drafts of this book in the eleventh hour, never complaining yet always remaining impressively sharp. You were honest in dispensing astute, crucial editorial advice—more importantly, you did so because you cared so much about my book and my writing. I am profoundly grateful.

 

Thank you to Becky Illson-Skinner, Trish Gentry, and my lovely wife Amy for proofing my book. As a writer, it’s amazing how many mistakes we leave in the wake of our creation. Each of you helped me to minimize mine.

 

Finally, to my readers. Without you, I would not write. You are the ears for which I compose my song. That you honor me by reading what I have written, giving me such wonderful feedback, and waiting patiently for my next book instills in me the greatest pride an artist can attain. These books are always, ultimately, for you.

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For my readers.

To authors, you are the lifeblood;

                                           we admire no one more.

4

-PROLOGUE-

 

Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.”

 

~Friedrich Nietzsche

 

OVER TWO thousand children are reported missing every day, the largest percentage taken by family members. In other words, people they know: estranged fathers and mothers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, even siblings. In some of these cases we can sympathize, if not condone.

 

However, there are abductions every day that are not the act of a spurned ex or a frustrated grandparent. In these cases, the most innocent amongst us are taken by monsters; evildoers with no intention beyond causing harm to their victims. Too often, the harm comes in the form of torturous, unspeakable acts.

 

When we read about such heinous, willful disregard for young life—or for any life at all—we’d like to deny that the Universe could possibly contain such evil. Unfortunately, we all know that it does. What is more shocking to contemplate is where this evil exists—in other words, inside of whom? The church pastor? The manager at the supermarket? The nice teacher from the school down the street? How many times do we see people on the news, talking about yet another “average” neighbor being escorted from his or her home in handcuffs?

 

Amongst us at any given time, either feigning innocence or hiding undetected in the gray fog of the peripheral walks raw, consecrated evil. We break bread with these people. Invite them into our homes. Too often, entrust them with the care of our children.

 

The sane mind wants to know if it is possible for such evil to have evolved from within our own human ancestry. The answer is a complicated one. People are unique in this capacity; nowhere else in the animal kingdom do beasts wantonly torture and kill their own for no greater need than self-pleasure. Nowhere else do predators turn to evil for the sake of evil. Instances of death outside humankind are almost benign, so tied are they to nature’s will to survive. Food. Protection. Advancement. These are the motivators behind killing for other species.

 

So how is it that some human beings have evolved into pure specimens of evil? It is impossible to answer such questions without first engaging the possibility of evil as a force—an entity completely outside human existence; an external force in and of itself; a force as real as those in physics, except that this force is exerted constantly upon the human mind, heart, and, eventually, its very soul.

 

And, like the laws of any physical force, there must be an opposite. For there to exist such inordinate forces of evil, there must also exist counterbalancing forces of good. One cannot exist without the other.

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from within our own human ancestry. The answer is a complicated one. People are unique in this capacity; nowhere else in the animal kingdom do beasts wantonly torture and kill their own for no greater need than self-pleasure. Nowhere else do predators turn to evil for the sake of evil. Instances of death outside humankind are almost benign, so tied are they to nature’s will to survive. Food. Protection. Advancement. These are the motivators behind killing for other species.

 

So how is it that some human beings have evolved into pure specimens of evil? It is impossible to answer such questions without first engaging the possibility of evil as a force—an entity completely outside human existence; an external force in and of itself; a force as real as those in physics, except that this force is exerted constantly upon the human mind, heart, and, eventually, its very soul.

 

And, like the laws of any physical force, there must be an opposite. For there to exist such inordinate forces of evil, there must also exist counterbalancing forces of good. One cannot exist without the other.

 

So if we accept that there are forces of good and evil in the Universe, there is another unavoidable maxim:

 

It is on the game field of good versus evil that humans play out their finite existence.

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-1-

 

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.

King Solomon, Proverbs 17:17

 

MY BROTHER Jackson and I have not spoken much over the years. The reasons are complicated, but in the end, it is in large part because we are far too alike. Human beings have such incredible difficulty coming to terms with their own imperfections; it is no surprise that we tend to clash hardest with those most like us.

 

It’s not that Jax and I don’t love each other. I certainly love him, and I know he would be there for me if the walls were ever to come crashing down. Both of us believe family is always there for you. Forever. No matter what you need.

 

We are only a few years apart. I am the oldest. We’d been friends, off and on, for many years. Through most of our young adult lives, in fact. But things eventually changed. We didn’t exactly grow apart. It was more like old wounds stopped scabbing over, instead remaining diseased and festering.

 

That has been the hardest truth for me to accept; two brothers who were once so close—the kind of friends that shared their innermost secrets—having become so irrevocably distant. Yet we had. Over the years we fabricated our own personal war—battles and skirmishes would appear and be waged at a moment’s notice, and it seemed over the years that after such conflicts we receded into the frailty of friendship less and less often. Eventually we had to make some kind of peace; we were forced to face the fact that the emotional hurt we caused ourselves and those around us outweighed the value of the friendship.

 

Scotsmen tend to war within their own borders as well as without, and it is a wise general who recognizes the moment that a campaign becomes untenable.

 

So it had been a number of years since Jax and I had spoken regularly. We exchanged the obligatory greeting cards and holiday phone calls. I couldn’t speak for my brother, but I learned a long time ago to release my heart’s yearning for the days of yesteryear when my younger brother looked to me as his boon friend and confidant. In other words, I learned to accept the significance of the silence that had permeated our lives.

 

Therefore, when I saw the message on my desk from the P.A.A. telling me my brother in Idaho called and needed me to get back to him ASAP, I assumed bad news. He wouldn’t call me at work otherwise.

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untenable.

 

So it had been a number of years since Jax and I had spoken regularly. We exchanged the obligatory greeting cards and holiday phone calls. I couldn’t speak for my brother, but I learned a long time ago to release my heart’s yearning for the days of yesteryear when my younger brother looked to me as his boon friend and confidant. In other words, I learned to accept the significance of the silence that had permeated our lives.

 

Therefore, when I saw the message on my desk from the P.A.A. telling me my brother in Idaho called and needed me to get back to him ASAP, I assumed bad news. He wouldn’t call me at work otherwise.

 

I took the elevator down to the first floor and exited into the bright, sunny bustle of downtown Denver. It was a gorgeous day—the heart of the city beating beneath a vast, baby-blue sky dotted with fat, marshmallow clouds and a seasonal fall warmth that reminded me why I would always live in Colorado.

 

The nearest city bench looked as good as any spot to digest whatever my brother needed to tell me. I sat, but I did not call him right away. When faced with the prospect of speaking with Jax, I always made an attempt to calm myself first.

 

Later came the decompression.

 

“Chief Macaulay,” the voice said.

 

“Hey, Jax.”

 

“Bobby. How are you?”

 

He didn’t seem upset. Unfortunately this realization did little to assuage the trepidation in my gut.

 

“Hanging in there,” I said. “How’s the family?”

 

“Trish’s doing great,” he said. “The little ones have grown. Celia is eight; Gracie just turned eleven.”

 

“Like weeds, right?” I said, wondering where this uncharacteristic chewing of the rag was headed.

 

“I hesitated to call, but I’ve got a situation up here.”

 

‘Up here’ was in Rocky Gap, Idaho—a small town in the panhandle of the state, not too far from Coeur d’ Alene. My brother was the Chief of Police.

 

“Let’s hear it,” I said.

 

“Well, I can’t divulge specifics. And I sure don’t want you thinking we need some of that big city detecting up here. But I have to admit I could use your counsel.”

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“Hanging in there,” I said. “How’s the family?”

 

“Trish’s doing great,” he said. “The little ones have grown. Celia is eight; Gracie just turned eleven.”

 

“Like weeds, right?” I said, wondering where this uncharacteristic chewing of the rag was headed.

 

“I hesitated to call, but I’ve got a situation up here.”

 

‘Up here’ was in Rocky Gap, Idaho—a small town in the panhandle of the state, not too far from Coeur d’ Alene. My brother was the Chief of Police.

 

“Let’s hear it,” I said.

 

“Well, I can’t divulge specifics. And I sure don’t want you thinking we need some of that big city detecting up here. But I have to admit I could use your counsel.”

 

“Go on.”

 

“A local fella up and killed some of his family. Wife and one young daughter. I don’t have to tell you how close that hits to home. Thing is, I know this guy. We all know him. He’s not the family-murdering kind.”

 

“It’s been my experience there’s no exact blueprint.”

 

“Well, that’s probably true in a lot of places,” he said. “But I can tell you, here in Rocky Gap, you get to know folks.”

 

“Understood,” I said.

 

“I heard a little about what happened down there last year,” he said.

 

“Heard what?”

 

“I have a couple of friends that moved down that way—beat coppers. Word of the village has it you all ran into some pretty nasty characters in relation to a double-homicide. Sounds like maybe that one played a bit out of bounds.”

 

“It was a strange one, all right,” I said. “Not sure how that relates, though.”

 

“You have any time coming?” he said. “I really could use you up here.”

 

“I’m a little busy with casework,” I lied.

 

“I’ve got this guy in my jail. He’s going to stand trial for the whole truckload. Probably face a needle, and God knows, if he did what it looks like he did, I’d push the plunger myself. But he’s got some pretty strange claims.”

 

“Maybe he’s thinking of an insanity defense,” I said.

 

“Maybe. We’ve got the feds from Coeur d’ Alene coming up here every other day, scratching at the back door wanting in. I’d like to get this thing taken care of locally—I know you get that.”

 

“Look, Jax, I don’t know what you’ve heard, but I doubt very much if anything that happened down here draws parallel to a guy going stir crazy in the sticks and taking out his entire family.”

 

“Part of his family,” he said.

 

“What?”

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“Heard what?”

 

“I have a couple of friends that moved down that way—beat coppers. Word of the village has it you all ran into some pretty nasty characters in relation to a double-homicide. Sounds like maybe that one played a bit out of bounds.”

 

“It was a strange one, all right,” I said. “Not sure how that relates, though.”

 

“You have any time coming?” he said. “I really could use you up here.”

 

“I’m a little busy with casework,” I lied.

 

“I’ve got this guy in my jail. He’s going to stand trial for the whole truckload. Probably face a needle, and God knows, if he did what it looks like he did, I’d push the plunger myself. But he’s got some pretty strange claims.”

 

“Maybe he’s thinking of an insanity defense,” I said.

 

“Maybe. We’ve got the feds from Coeur d’ Alene coming up here every other day, scratching at the back door wanting in. I’d like to get this thing taken care of locally—I know you get that.”

 

“Look, Jax, I don’t know what you’ve heard, but I doubt very much if anything that happened down here draws parallel to a guy going stir crazy in the sticks and taking out his entire family.”

 

“Part of his family,” he said.

 

“What?”

 

“I said part of his family. There’s one member gone missing.”

 

“Missing?”

 

“An eleven-year-old girl.”

 

“Jesus.”

 

“The father claims the Devil took her.”

 

I let the words hang there in the stratosphere a moment. I really didn’t want them to ever come down to earth.

10

“Missing?”

 

“An eleven-year-old girl.”

 

“Jesus.”

 

“The father claims the Devil took her.”

 

I let the words hang there in the stratosphere a moment. I really didn’t want them to ever come down to earth.

 

“No kidding,” he said. “I don’t know what to do with this one.”

 

“I might be able to swing a week or two,” I said.

 

“This guy, he’s normally so sane it’d bore you to tears.”

 

“We all have our breaking point. This little girl, how long’s she been gone?”

 

“Three days,” he said. “We think she may be in the Coeur d’ Alene wilderness.”

 

I felt like throwing up.

11

-2-

 

MEYER WEST, my cousin, the ex-priest, convinced me to drive the 1,222 miles from Denver to Rocky Gap. He was right. Flying didn’t seem like a wise option. It was clear I needed to bring the Crucifix of Ardincaple—the family heirloom that had saved our lives in the forest around Grand Lake, Colorado. I still wasn’t sure that I would be able to command the power of the weapon again, mainly because I had no fucking clue how I’d mastered it the first time. It was more like the weapon mastered me.

 

But we needed to bring it. And we weren’t about to entrust its care to bag throwers at two different airports.

 

Meyer and I talked in depth about the night at Grand Lake. Calypso. Father Rule. The demon horde. Not easy things to reconcile. The mind is tempted when faced with the unbelievable to construct barriers of explainable alternatives. Meyer’s calm acceptance of the preternatural made my own acceptance less cumbersome, if not easy. Meyer helped me come to grips with what had happened, though he himself admitted to having his own doubts as to what really occurred. Time has a way of eroding our confidence and even adding false memories to events. But still, his camaraderie was important to me. I had become very close with my cousin in that past year. Because of my splintered relationship with my only brother, I believe Meyer’s companionship arrived at exactly the right time. Not only did I need a comrade, I also needed a friend.

 

Like Burke, my deceased partner, Meyer was an anachronism. Both of them were born out of time. Burke would have been much better suited to the era when men opened car doors without being scolded for it—a time when men were gentle and austere rather than triathlon competitors, weekend warriors, and Wall Street swindlers. And as for my cousin, how many children would tell you they want to be a priest when they grow up? All Meyer ever wanted was to serve the world in the name of God. The betrayal by his own mentor, Father Rule, had extinguished a light in him he believed could never flicker. Rule’s evil had not driven Meyer West from the priesthood because it made him question his faith (although it would be foolhardy to believe it had not)—rather, my cousin felt he had failed; he felt responsible for Rule’s successes. Meyer was shamed that he had not somehow seen through the ruse of the monster.

12

he believed could never flicker. Rule’s evil had not driven Meyer West from the priesthood because it made him question his faith (although it would be foolhardy to believe it had not)—rather, my cousin felt he had failed; he felt responsible for Rule’s successes. Meyer was shamed that he had not somehow seen through the ruse of the monster. 

 

My cousin had always held things inside, divulging only what was necessary. After realizing how thoroughly the wool was pulled over his trust and faith, he became even more withdrawn and prone to turn from companionship rather than to seek it. I had to admit, I liked him all the more for it. He cared enough to sacrifice a part of himself to a cause and he felt responsible for the things in his world. In my estimation, these truths made him all the more approachable. More human. I placed an inordinate amount of trust in him right from the beginning. That’s not something a Scotsman does easily. I learned that from my father, Paddy Macaulay, who only ever let a handful of men close enough to really know him.

 

In the Marines we called it The Nine.

 

“Fuck all but The Nine.

 

Six to carry the casket.

 

Two as road guard.

 

One to count cadence.”

 

I already considered my cousin part of that select group.

 

“You’re kind of quiet,” I said to him, just south of Wilson, Wyoming.

 

“Mother Theresa taught her followers that God cannot be found in noise and restlessness.”

 

“I guess that explains a lot.”

 

“How so?”

 

“My own relationship with the Lord. Fractured, at best.”

 

“I think you are closer to him than you realize.”

 

“Maybe.”

 

“The fact that you are willing to consider the possibility gives me hope,” he said.

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“I guess that explains a lot.”

 

“How so?”

 

“My own relationship with the Lord. Fractured, at best.”

 

“I think you are closer to him than you realize.”

 

“Maybe.”

 

“The fact that you are willing to consider the possibility gives me hope,” he said.

 

Faith was always a tough rubric for me. I grew up as a pragmatist and a bit of a Missourian. I like the tangible. Questions with answers.

 

The laws of the physical Universe.

 

The odds at the craps table.

 

Divorce rates.

 

This belief structure based on pragmatism made the Calypso case, what we all witnessed, and more importantly the surprising claims regarding my family history, that much more implausible to the logicians in my head.

 

The ability of erasure our grounded mind wields is impressive.

 

“Define distance,” I said.

 

“God’s distance does not necessarily relate to our own concepts.”

 

“How so?”

 

“Everything we consider is based on our own paradigm—the lenses through which we view humanity, the Universe, even time.”

 

“Okay.”

 

“God’s view is from a vantage point of omniscience.”

 

“All seeing.”

 

“All knowing,” Meyer said, cracking the seal on a bottle of water from our ice chest. “God knows the permutations we’ve yet to consider.”

 

“Faith is a human construct. We define it, not God,” I said.

 

“Faith is a connection. It cannot exist in a vacuum. You can’t connect to something that isn’t there. Faith in another implies a relationship. It is a form of trust.”

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“Everything we consider is based on our own paradigm—the lenses through which we view humanity, the Universe, even time.”

 

“Okay.”

 

“God’s view is from a vantage point of omniscience.”

 

“All seeing.”

 

“All knowing,” Meyer said, cracking the seal on a bottle of water from our ice chest. “God knows the permutations we’ve yet to consider.”

 

“Faith is a human construct. We define it, not God,” I said.

 

“Faith is a connection. It cannot exist in a vacuum. You can’t connect to something that isn’t there. Faith in another implies a relationship. It is a form of trust.”

 

“But what of faith—or lack thereof—in the existence of a thing?”

 

Before he could answer, a little girl ran from the dense pine forest, across the slight barrow ditch, and directly in front of the truck. My reactions were gelatinous, having been lullabied into apathy by several hours of Wyoming nothingness. As my foot moved instinctively to the brake, I realized there was not enough time or distance.

 

The mind is a funny thing. Given enough time, the brain would love to ponder such notions as a young girl having no place in the middle of godforsaken Wyoming in the middle of a Wednesday night. But in a moment of mortal decision, the mind reacts. Our nature takes control. Sink or swim. Turn or run down an innocent.

 

I cranked the wheel and my truck lumbered left, crossing lanes, rubber crying out against the pavement. We missed the girl, but as I went onto the gravel shoulder of the far side, the back end started sliding and caught up with the front.

 

I resisted the instinct to overcorrect, kept the gas pedal mostly depressed, and let the sixty mile an hour sideways power slide continue. It was our only chance, though I’m pretty sure Meyer did not understand.

 

As the back end began to fishtail to the left again, I eased a bit off the gas and corrected by turning the wheel right to counterbalance the inertia building in the horizontal slide. After taking out a handful of mile-marker posts, and (thankfully) meeting no new oncoming traffic, we skidded to a stop with the front tires still on the edge of the two-lane blacktop.

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the gravel shoulder of the far side, the back end started sliding and caught up with the front.

 

I resisted the instinct to overcorrect, kept the gas pedal mostly depressed, and let the sixty mile an hour sideways power slide continue. It was our only chance, though I’m pretty sure Meyer did not understand.

 

As the back end began to fishtail to the left again, I eased a bit off the gas and corrected by turning the wheel right to counterbalance the inertia building in the horizontal slide. After taking out a handful of mile-marker posts, and (thankfully) meeting no new oncoming traffic, we skidded to a stop with the front tires still on the edge of the two-lane blacktop.

 

My heart was thudding like a bass drum in my chest and my fingers were cemented to the steering wheel. I turned to Meyer, who opened the door, leaned out, and vomited his dinner on the frigid night earth.

 

“You were saying?” I asked him as he closed the door and wiped his mouth.

 

“What…in the name…of all that is sacred…was that?” he managed.

 

“I have no idea,” I said, turning around to an empty road. “Where the hell is she?”

 

“Where is who?”

 

I glanced sideways at my cousin, who had obviously not fully recovered from his emasculating performance.

 

“Funny. You just keep wiping the bile from your chin.”

 

“Did you fall asleep?”

 

“Give me a break. No, I did not fall asleep.”

 

“You almost killed us.”

 

“I’m not in the business of running down children.”

 

Father West sat there in stunned silence. I now looked him full in the eyes. I saw the incredulity therein.

 

“You didn’t see the girl.”

 

Meyer just kept staring.

 

“She ran from the tree line. Sunday dress. White shoes. Locks of hair flying behind her. She ran like a fucking track star. What the hell are you staring at?”

 

“There is nothing in the road.”

 

“Not now,” I said, suddenly feeling stupid and distraught. Had I fallen asleep? Could I have dreamed it?

16

“Give me a break. No, I did not fall asleep.”

 

“You almost killed us.”

 

“I’m not in the business of running down children.”

 

Father West sat there in stunned silence. I now looked him full in the eyes. I saw the incredulity therein.

 

“You didn’t see the girl.”

 

Meyer just kept staring.

 

“She ran from the tree line. Sunday dress. White shoes. Locks of hair flying behind her. She ran like a fucking track star. What the hell are you staring at?”

 

“There is nothing in the road.”

 

“Not now,” I said, suddenly feeling stupid and distraught. Had I fallen asleep? Could I have dreamed it?

 

“I think we should pull in when we reach Wilson,” Meyer said. “Get a room. We’ve been on the road too long.”

 

I nodded, putting my truck back into gear.

 

What was happening to me? I was sure I had not fallen asleep, but it seemed there was no girl waiting in the road, and I doubted she would have returned to the forest (what sense would that make?).

 

Then it grew inside me, a realization that I’d just seen the girl we were meant to save. How exactly had I known it was her? It wasn’t possible, of course. Not really.

 

But that didn’t stop me from knowing it.

17

-3-

 

MY FATHER was a hero. Paddy Macaulay worked for the Denver Fire Department for thirty-seven years. He rose to the level of Lieutenant, largely on the reputation he built as a smart, tactical firefighter who saved lives and was well-liked by his own peers.

 

Jax and I grew up in our old man’s considerable shadow. There was not always time for the two young Macaulay boys. Paddy’s dedication and first priority was always to his smoke-eater brethren. My brother and I understood. We knew our father loved us. It wasn’t about that. He made the same facts clear to our mother when he married her; he may as well have been born into the fire department. He lived to serve his city and he couldn’t change who he was or what he believed even if he had wanted to.

 

I always respected him for his honesty, in part because I’d always felt the same desire to serve (though it took me some time to finally understand the nature of that calling). I don’t think Paddy knew anything about the family history—about the legends of the Clan MacAulay. If he did, he never shared it with me. When he got sick, the cancer took its time with him. He went into remission twice. I sat by his hospital bed on more occasions than I could remember. We had many chances to bring up the things that needed to be said between a father and son.

 

Yet he rarely spoke of our family history, and he didn’t offer any new information before he died. I’ll never know for sure what that means, but he may have been protecting me from my own destiny.

 

Either way, I missed him. I wanted to talk to him about all that had happened in my life since he died. We certainly could have had some deep discussions about the family genes.

 

Jax and my father were never very close, and they developed an even more damaged relationship near the end of Paddy’s life. Not long after our mother’s death—which was almost a decade before Paddy learned of his cancer—Jax began to feel differently about our father’s professional estrangement from the family. More specifically, he started to resent the distance the job had put between Paddy and our mother.

 

I understood his disappointment. There were times I felt the same. Ma never stood up for herself. Rather, she chose to stand behind her husband. She never complained. And she raised us boys to be the same way. She told me once she loved Paddy with all her heart and that people don’t change. She knew who Paddy was when she married him, so she accepted the good and the bad.

18

more damaged relationship near the end of Paddy’s life. Not long after our mother’s death—which was almost a decade before Paddy learned of his cancer—Jax began to feel differently about our father’s professional estrangement from the family. More specifically, he started to resent the distance the job had put between Paddy and our mother.

 

I understood his disappointment. There were times I felt the same. Ma never stood up for herself. Rather, she chose to stand behind her husband. She never complained. And she raised us boys to be the same way. She told me once she loved Paddy with all her heart and that people don’t change. She knew who Paddy was when she married him, so she accepted the good and the bad.

 

Jax began to think he was Ma’s defender, I think, and so he grew more distant from Paddy as the years went on. They never really had a breakdown—only a weakening of the relationship’s structure. When Paddy died, Jax was there with him, too, so I don’t think he harbored any regret.

 

I understood Paddy more than my brother did because I knew I was like my father in many ways. My relationship with my own son, Cole, had been strained since he reached the teenage years. My wife, Isabel, died of cancer while she was supporting my career. I saw now that her dreams had come in second, usually relegated to the back burner. My job came first to me. Like my father. I think it was in my blood.

 

It therefore came as no surprise that I fell so hard for Special Agent Amanda Byrne of the FBI. In her I’d found someone who loved the job as much as I did. Two peas in a law enforcement pod. I didn’t have to worry about her cursing my dedication to my career, nor did she have to worry the same about me.

 

                                                           ~ ~ ~

19

Meyer and I had settled into our hotel room in Wilson, Wyoming. The wind moaned through the valley and whipped against the side of the building, sounding as if it might shake the walls until they gave in. I had much on my mind. The girl in the road and my certainty of who she was—or at least what she represented.

 

“Are you all right, Mac?”

 

“I’ve been thinking about Cole.”

 

“It is not flesh and blood, but heart which makes us fathers and sons,” Meyer said.

 

“Marcus Aurelius?”

 

“Friedrich von Schiller.”

 

“It’s a nice notion,” I said. “But I doubt von Schiller understood the twenty-first century teenager.”

 

“Good point.”

 

“I worry about Cole. College should be a fun time. The boy has dealt with more tragedy than he should have.”

 

“He’s like you, Mac. He’s strong.”

 

“There’s a difference between being strong and being forced to be strong.”

 

“He’ll be all right. Are you sure this isn’t more about your relationship with your son than it is about his wellbeing?”

 

Typical Meyer. Cut to the quick.

 

“Probably,” I said. “We used to be close. Now, after last year—losing his mother and Greer…”

 

“Methinks thou talks more of thyself than the boy,” Meyer said.

 

“I need to walk,” I told my cousin.

 

“I need to sleep,” Meyer replied. “Go clear your head; it will do you some good. But please—do walk, don’t drive.”

 

I nodded and put on a light jacket. Outside the temperature was dropping fast. Thin, smoky clouds veiled the incandescence of the half moon, casting a dull glow on the land surrounding the hotel. I climbed out of the parking lot and toward the tree line, picking my way through the small rocks, twisted scrub, and up the steep grade.

 

The ground leveled some once I reached the stand of evergreens and I followed an old trail, away from the hotel. There was enough collateral light from the row of hotels along the main road by the interstate that I could see fairly well when my eyes adjusted. The small foot trail stayed parallel to the tree line and hotel row.

 

A couple of miles into the walk, I stopped to catch my breath. My lungs were attesting to the difference in altitude. I sucked in oxygen through my nose, willing my pulse to drop.

 

Then just as the pounding inside my ears subsided, I heard a large animal move in the forest to my right, snapping a large limb as it tried to pass. An elk, perhaps. I then heard another. And another. A herd? Unlikely this close to town, though wilderness seemed to encircle us there.

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“Probably,” I said. “We used to be close. Now, after last year—losing his mother and Greer…”

 

“Methinks thou talks more of thyself than the boy,” Meyer said.

 

“I need to walk,” I told my cousin.

 

“I need to sleep,” Meyer replied. “Go clear your head; it will do you some good. But please—do walk, don’t drive.”

 

I nodded and put on a light jacket. Outside the temperature was dropping fast. Thin, smoky clouds veiled the incandescence of the half moon, casting a dull glow on the land surrounding the hotel. I climbed out of the parking lot and toward the tree line, picking my way through the small rocks, twisted scrub, and up the steep grade.

 

The ground leveled some once I reached the stand of evergreens and I followed an old trail, away from the hotel. There was enough collateral light from the row of hotels along the main road by the interstate that I could see fairly well when my eyes adjusted. The small foot trail stayed parallel to the tree line and hotel row.

 

A couple of miles into the walk, I stopped to catch my breath. My lungs were attesting to the difference in altitude. I sucked in oxygen through my nose, willing my pulse to drop.

 

Then just as the pounding inside my ears subsided, I heard a large animal move in the forest to my right, snapping a large limb as it tried to pass. An elk, perhaps. I then heard another. And another. A herd? Unlikely this close to town, though wilderness seemed to encircle us there.

 

The noises grew more pronounced, less veiled. My stomach sank as I realized whatever was out there was coming for me. Wild creatures were more careful than this. The only animals that made such a racket when approaching were either unaware of the presence of others or they simply did not care. Such indifference normally implied a confidence in numbers, strength, or both. The sounds coming from inside the tree line seemed intentional. Confidently so.

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approaching were either unaware of the presence of others or they simply did not care. Such indifference normally implied a confidence in numbers, strength, or both. The sounds coming from inside the tree line seemed intentional. Confidently so.

 

Father Fic Rule stepped from the darkness directly ahead of me, along with half a dozen lesser demons on either side of him. Cruel, misshapen things. Dark as pitch; nearly invisible in the ethereal light.

 

Rule, who once masqueraded as a priest, believed he was indeed Satan on earth. He looked as evil and terrifying as the first time he appeared to me in my Denver home. His face and hands looked as if he’d survived some kind of terrible fire, most of his flesh having either melted away or melded with the underlying bone structure, giving him a skeletal appearance.

 

“You aren’t really here,” I said to him, hoping it was true.

 

“Believe what you must,” the gravelly voice responded. “It matters not what you think. What matters is I am who I am.”

 

“Have you been working on that opener since the last time we spoke? Because it needs work. More sincerity, maybe.”

 

“The days of smart talk and complacency draw nigh to a close, cop.”

 

“Now you’re sounding more like Calypso. Is he out there someplace with you, Rule?”

“They are all here with me. Your time is running out.”

 

“You going to kill me right here, in the middle of Wyoming? That’s not very biblical.”

 

“I make the times and the places. I make all you see around you. This is not your God’s world, or even your own. It is mine.”

 

“Fine. Do your worst. Dream or no, I’m not afraid of you. You’re a ghost. A specter of imagination. Your power can only go as far as it is given to you.”

 

“You cannot choose my fate,” he said. “But I shall command yours.”

 

“Just words,” I said. “Here are my words to you, beast: go fuck yourself.”

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not your God’s world, or even your own. It is mine.”

 

“Fine. Do your worst. Dream or no, I’m not afraid of you. You’re a ghost. A specter of imagination. Your power can only go as far as it is given to you.”

 

“You cannot choose my fate,” he said. “But I shall command yours.”

 

“Just words,” I said. “Here are my words to you, beast: go fuck yourself.”

 

I turned to walk away, or wake up, whichever was next. Rule was instantaneously in front of me, as if materializing from the dew of night. He blocked my way, leering with those curled, pointed, blackish teeth.

 

“I could tear your soul from within. Right now. End it.”

 

I pressed my nose against the gnarled flesh where his nose should have been. It felt tender and cold, like hamburger just pulled from the cooler.

 

“Then do it,” I said. “I told you. I am not afraid of you.”

 

Rule raised both his arms and the throng of demons descended all around me as a crowd suddenly swells and traps one of its own. The creatures were indeed hideous, and my courage began to wane.

 

“With one passing thought I could release their rage; give them what they so desire,” he said, pallid eyes locked with my own. “They wouldn’t leave so much as a splinter of bone.”

 

“End it, then,” I said.

 

He lingered there, his hatred of me palpable.

 

And then, without a breath of sound, the horde retreated into shadow, leaving only Father Rule and me.

 

“Not here,” he whispered into my ear, wheezing through those mangled holes in the middle of his face. “Not until you’ve mourned the children.”

 

With that, he vanished, leaving me to shiver against the cold of night.

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leaving only Father Rule and me.

 

“Not here,” he whispered into my ear, wheezing through those mangled holes in the middle of his face. “Not until you’ve mourned the children.”

 

With that, he vanished, leaving me to shiver against the cold of night.

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L O S T

Book By R.S. Guthrie