DECEMBER 2018

            Anthony hunched down over his steering wheel on the 101 eastbound freeway and glared through the windows of the other cars. So far, he hadn’t seen one Demon this morning, which was surprising. There had been an increase in Demon activity in the past few weeks. He had seen some loitering near his house and at Tom’s Thumb trailhead. He was certain that his neighbor had been turned into a Demon, but her aura kept changing and it was hard to be sure.

Anthony felt on edge. Any one of them could lead him to Jessica and Ollie. Anthony jammed his foot down on the accelerator as soon as the lane in front of him cleared. He wove between the near gridlocked cars. Jessica and Ollie had been taken nearly a year ago now. Their home still smelt of her. Her sweater was still slung over the back of her favorite armchair.

When Anthony had discovered she had been taken by a Demon, his only option had been to rescue her. The only problem was that he still didn’t know which Demon had taken her; the Archangel was refusing to tell him. Apparently, he needed to discover it on his own.

“Fucking hell!” Anthony yelled as a driver cut in front of him. He slammed on his breaks and glared out through his windshield. A strange aura emanated from the car, reddish brown. The hairs on the back of his neck prickled. A Demon.

Anthony edged his car closer to their back bumper and turned on his indicator. He wanted to pull up alongside the car and catch a look at the Demon inside. Anthony drummed his fingers on the steering wheel.

“Come on…come on.” He urged, but the traffic had slowed to a crawl and no one was letting the dinged up Subaru in.

His phone began to buzz in the passenger seat. He had been ignoring it for two days. Brian had left six voicemails already.

“Go away.” Anthony didn’t turn his head. The phone continued insistently.

“Hello?” Anthony snapped.

“Anthony? It’s Marcus…where are you?”

Marcus was his boss at the Newhaven Literary Agency in downtown Phoenix. “I’m on my way…traffic is bad.”

“But…you’re two hours late.”

“I know Marcus.” Anthony’s heart rate quickened and he could feel his breath coming heavier. “I have to…there were some things I had to do.” Anthony’s mouth pinched as he tried to control his anger. Marcus had been telling him to give up on his Quest to save Jessica and Ollie for a while now.

“Is this…is this about…” Marcus’s voice sounded tense and clipped.

“No, no…I just had to finish reading that new manuscript we got the other night.” Anthony wracked his brains for the name of it. It had been good. He had fallen asleep at 3am with it in his lap. Why couldn’t he remember the name?

Marcus sighed with relief on the other end of the line, “Pangea?” He smiled as he spoke, his voice lighter, “that’s great. Did you like it? Donna said it was amazing.”

“Yeah, great.” Anthony said through gritted teeth. The traffic had begun to move. The Demon was going slow; slow enough for Anthony to pull up beside him.

“Fantastic. I’ll have Donna get in touch with the author.” Marcus sounded jovial now and Anthony seized the opportunity.

“Sorry about the tardiness.” He pursed his lips and pushed his glasses back up his nose. A film of sweat had broken across his face. “But, traffic is awful, I’ll be there ASAP.”

“Great…great Anthony.” Marcus’ voice was loud, authoritative. “See you shortly.”

Anthony hung up quickly and flung the phone back into the passenger seat. It bounced off the fabric and disappeared down the crevice between the seat and the door. Anthony didn’t care. He was about to see the Demon.

 

Anthony stood in the leafy park close to where Jessica and Ollie had been taken. He had failed, once again, to get a Demon. The Archangel had told him that the Demon who had taken Jessica and Ollie had taken them to another realm. He had even gifted Anthony with powers to help him get them back. He slowly walked the loop around the park. It was the end of summer, but the air was still hot. The waterway running through looked meager and dirty. The ornamentally placed saguaro cacti were mangy.

The Archangel hadn’t visited him for over a month, and Anthony wondered how long his ‘gifts’ would last; he could see Demons all the time, not only after dark, he could manipulate time, and he could communicate telepathically with Jessica. The last gift was what kept him going. Hearing her asking, begging, him to help.

Jessica had been telling him that she and Ollie were safe. She said she was more worried about him; the Demons knew he was hunting them and now the Demons were hunting Anthony back. That was why he was carrying a Colt Python revolver, tucked safely into a holster on his hip.

“No chance…” He shook his head. He couldn’t let the Demons get to him first. What would happen then? The Archangel wouldn’t tell him. He would only say that he didn’t have forever, that his Quest to rescue his beloved wife and child would end in despair if he didn’t hurry. “None at all.” He looked around.

There were Demons in the park. Plenty of them. He could see their vile stale-blood auras skulking around the edges, waiting for a chance to swoop in and take an innocent, just as they had done to Jessica and Ollie. Jessica knew better. That was the only thing that still rankled with Anthony. Jessica knew how to defeat Demons better than anyone. She wouldn’t have been taken down easily.

He stood at the gate to the park, watching the cars pull in and out of the lot. Jess and Ollie had been taken right here, right from this spot. Anthony was surprised to see a Monk standing in the small asphalt entrance to the park. He carried a book with the St. Jude Insignia. It was harder and harder to find Monks’ in this day and age. Most of them had vanished as Demons had increased. People were scared. Too scared to fight for what was right. Maybe if there were more Monks, Jessica and Ollie wouldn’t have been taken, Anthony thought bitterly.

“Nice day.” The Monk said casually.

Anthony grunted. There were no nice days anymore. The last nice day he could remember was coming home from the literary agency, a fresh manuscript in his bag, to Jessica sitting on the living room floor. She worked as a stationery designer. Paper covered with her incredible calligraphy and careful detailed filigree was strewn about her. As soon as Anthony walked through the door she smiled and held a finger to her lips. She scrunched her eyes up in concentration for a second. Anthony smiled back and leant down to kiss her.

Pay attention to the Monk Ant, he can help you find me.

Anthony was jolted from his reverie. Jessica.

“You know she isn’t gone forever.” The Monk smiled knowingly at him.

“I know.” Anthony replied calmly, though most days it didn’t feel that way.

“There are just so many…so many of them around nowadays. Demons.” The Monk replied waving his hand at the parking lot.

Anthony’s head snapped up and his ears pricked. He turned his head towards the parking lot. The car from this morning had just pulled in and whipped into a space.

The Monk frowned, “awful.” He shook his head.

“I know…it has to stop.”

“It has to stop now.” The Monk looked pointedly at Anthony.

The gun. Anthony felt the metal digging in to his side. He looked back over to the parking lot. More Demons had come in. A group of them stood around looking over the park eagerly. Looking for more victims. Anthony felt bile rise in his throat. Had they done this? Looked at Jessica and Ollie and decided upon them? Had it been a group like this? Is that why the Archangel wouldn’t tell him who the Demon was?

“That’s it.” Anthony spun away from the monk.

“Be careful.” The Monk warned, but Anthony wasn’t listening.

He un-holstered his gun and strode over to them. It held eight bullets, pure silver, nestled in their dark little chambers, waiting to pierce the heart of a demon. Anthony raised the gun. The Demons turned to him, their eyes glowing red through the nasty haze of their auras. No one else could see it, but the park goers knew what was happening and they froze.

Anthony smiled at the Demons. Their lips pulled back revealing jagged rows of teeth, blood stained and sharp. Their faces stretched unnaturally, the skin gaping in places and showing bone and muscle, half-rotten, beneath.

Do it.

            Jessica urged him forward. Anthony released the safety and began to fire the bullets at the Demons’. Each one hit its target with a satisfying thud. Some went clean through, to the Demon standing behind. The rapport from the gun carried across the park, but Anthony kept striding towards the Demons, closer and closer, until he could smell their fetid blood. Seven of them lay in a tangled heap at his feet. One, half curled and snarling, leant back against the car.

“Where is she? Where is Jessica? Where is my son, Ollie? Tell me!” Anthony demanded. He only had one bullet left.

“No.” The Demon rasped, a faint sneer on his lips.

Anthony pulled the trigger. Blood splattered over his face as the Demons skull exploded into a million pieces.

 

OCTOBER 2018

 

The Demon watched Anthony carefully from her manicured garden. He was being shifty, a common thing lately, and peering out between his curtains at the street. She didn’t like it one bit. She had been trying to get close to Anthony ever since Jessica and Ollie had been taken but he was sharp, too sharp, on edge.

She pretended to water her flowerbeds. Pansies. She didn’t like pansies, but the last owner had planted them. They bloomed well and she couldn’t really be bothered to change it. She was too busy scouting for souls. Searching out the most damaged and vulnerable ones.

She kept her eyes down. Recently Anthony had been particularly suspicious of her. She had told him to give up on his Quest to rescue Jessica and Ollie one too many times. Now he avoided her like the plague. Perhaps he knew. She chewed the inside of her cheek and worked to avoid looking over to his twitching curtains. Soon, soon enough, his soul would become weak, and he would come to her on his own.

 

Anthony cursed under his breath. His neighbor was loitering outside. He strongly suspected she was a Demon, but he hadn’t been able to read her aura properly. She hid it well if she was one. He was late for work again. He had been up all night trying to connect the dots. Trying to figure out where Jessica and Ollie could be, trying to work out how to get there. The Archangel had visited him in the small hours with depressing news. Anthony must find Jessica and Ollie soon, they were growing weak.

He told Anthony to kill more Demons. He told him how to use the gifts. He just didn’t tell him the one thing Anthony wanted to know; where Jessica and Ollie were.

His basement looked like a police investigation room. Pictures of Jessica, pictures of Demons, surreptitious videos Anthony had taken of suspicious people, barely eaten power bars and empty soda cans; it was all strewn in a chaos only Anthony could understand.

“Anthony?” There was a banging on his front door.

Anthony jumped out of his skin. He licked the inside of his mouth. It was thick with fuzz and his breath was stale. He quickly glanced to his neighbors yard. She was still there, fussing, so it wasn’t her at least.

“Who is it?” He snapped.

“Are…are you kidding? It’s me.” A woman’s voice. Soft. Sad.

Anthony felt his head swim. Jessica.

“Tabitha. Tabby.” She sighed.

Anthony’s head slumped to his chest.

“Hey Tabby.” He said stiffly opening up the door. He glanced behind him at the living room. The shafts of sunlight caught the dust that had settled on everything.

“Hey.” Tabby looked around. She hadn’t been over in weeks, but the living room looked unchanged, save for the layer of dust. Pictures of Jessica still covered every surface.

“How are you?” Anthony tried to smile, but it was more of a grimace. He had work to do.

“I’m good…” She said slowly, taking in a picture of Jessica on the mantle.

Anthony wondered if the Archangel had visited her, told her something, or if the Demon had. Maybe Jessica had been able to communicate with her. They were best friends after all.

“Do you want a drink?” Anthony knew that there was nothing in the fridge and the best he could offer was lukewarm tap water or stale herbal tea.

“No…I’m fine.” Tabby swallowed. “I spoke to Brian.”

Anthony squinted. Brian? “Like…my friend Brian?”

“Mmm hmm…I’m dating his sister.”

“Oh I didn’t know that.”

“It started a few months ago.” Tabby pursed her lips together. “He told me that you’re on a Quest to find Jessica. To save her from a Demon.”

Anthony stayed silent. He knew that not everyone could understand. Most people just gave up when a loved one was taken by the Demons.

“I…I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

Anthony’s face hardened. He ushered her to the door, pushing his hands between her shoulder blades to hurry her along. “I have to Tabby. I have to save her, to save my son, even if you don’t care anymore.”

Tabby turned, her mouth agape, to try and argue, but Anthony slammed the door in her face.

 

He had his new gun. It felt heavy, but then, Anthony wasn’t used to guns and he supposed that they all felt quite weighty. The weight of the steel, the weight of the lead, the bullets, and the weight of the crime all added up. He had ordered special bullets off a dark site, made from silver, the only ones that would properly kill the Demons.

The gun was tucked into the side of his jeans in a black holster. Another special order. Anthony had left the house soon after he had forced Tabitha out. Every time he thought about her nasty bile came into his mouth and it twisted his lips strangely. He saw people looking at him and crossing the street. He didn’t care. He wandered towards the city canal and walked down the bleached steps to the walkway. Several underpasses were spaced along the canal, and Anthony had found that the homeless often hid Demons, or knew where to find them. He had taken to lurking in the hopes of hearing something helpful.

His phone buzzed in his back pocket, the ringer off, but the vibrations still unsettled Anthony.

He reluctantly picked up, turning his back on the oncoming underpass and looking out at the shimmering canal. “Yep?” He said tersely.

“You coming in to work today Dude?” It was Walter.

“I…” Anthony looked down at his watch, confused. He had thought it was Saturday. “Shit…it’s Friday.” He reached for his wedding ring with his thumb. A bud of thought bloomed in his mind, why was he still wearing this? Before he could dwell on the thought, Walter’s voice cut in.

“Um…yeah…” Walter sounded annoyed.

“Sorry…I just got caught up in some stuff…”

“Demons?”

“Yeah.”

“Nice.” Walter gave a tired laugh, “but you still have to come into work. Marcus might shit a fucking watermelon if you miss another day.”

“Shit.” Anthony rubbed his eyes. “I’ll be right in.”

Anthony turned and began heading back to the Trader Joe’s parking lot.

He sensed the Demons before he saw them. He was still on the canal sidewalk. Several trees with wide branches lined one edge of the walkway, and half obscured the steps back up to the main pavement.

“Nice glasses.” A Demon called out. The edge to his voice was razor sharp, and he let out a cackle. Two female Demons stood behind him, their eyes flicking over Anthony in a serpentine manner.

Anthony kept his head down but slowed. He had the gun. He felt it, a rich warmth, that spread through his body and made him feel powerful and strong.

“He’s like a sadder Harry Potter.” One Demon snickered. Her voice was nasal and Anthony looked up through lower lids. Her aura was particularly noxious in color.

“Uh huh.” Anthony grunted quietly to himself.

“You say something?” The Demon said with a sneer.

Anthony looked up. He had a choice. “Do you know where Jessica is? Do you know where Ollie is?” Anthony was already snarling.

“I don’t know no fucking Jessica.” The first Demon hissed back.

Anthony looked at the two female Demons. They looked shifty, uncomfortable. They exchanged a surreptitious glance.

“They know!” Anthony jabbed a finger at them. “They know something.” He took a step forward and the male Demon lunged towards Anthony.

“Mother-

“Stop right there.” Anthony screamed. He had yanked the gun from his holster and he waved it at them.

“Jesus fuck.” The Demon held up his hands but he was shaking his head and sneering.

“Tell me what you know about Jessica.” Anthony turned to the two female Demons. “Please.” The word slipped out without him meaning too, and Anthony felt hot tears on his cheeks. “Tell me where my son is. Please.” He couldn’t stop himself.

The male Demon was sneering but the two others were shaking their heads and backing off.

“We can’t…we can’t…sorry.” One Demon said. She tugged on the others and they hurried away, leaving Anthony holding the gun limply and staring at their quickly vanishing backs.

 

SEPTEMBER 2018

 

The stranger had approached Anthony in the bar. He had been nursing a whiskey, which he didn’t much enjoy, in a darkened booth. Walter had said this particular bar was a hive of information and would help him with the answers he needed for his Quest.

“Heard you were after a Demon.” The man had his hood up and his face was barely visible in the low light.

“Yup.” Anthony shivered. He felt exposed and awkward talking to a stranger about this.

“For your girl?”

“My wife…and my son…were taken.” Anthony said after a pause.

“Fuckin’ Demons.”

“She a fighter?”

“The best.”

The man shook his head and tsk’d. “Damn shame…W said Archangel visited you.”

Anthony stayed silent. The Archangel had said he couldn’t tell anyone about his powers, and yet, he felt he could trust this stranger.

“He visited me…long time ago.”

“For a Quest?”

“Yeah.” The man’s head bobbed inside the hood.

“Demon?”

“Demons.” The man took a sharp inhale. “If you want my help…I need to know what is going on.”

“A Demon took my wife and son. The Archangel gifted me with some…skills…to help see Demons, to help fight them so I can find my family.”

“Good…good. That’s good. So you need weapons?” He was blunt and gruff, but Anthony felt awash with relief.

“Yes, exactly.”

“Not a problem. Colt Python. Silver bullets. We’ll have you good to go in no time.” The man patted a scuffed black bag on the seat beside him.

“And the cost?”

The man lifted up his hood. His face was deeply scarred down one side. He waved to the waiter, mumbled for a drink, and then turned back to Anthony.

“I’ll need something…gold. Valuable. Priceless.”

Anthony’s gut churned, “gold?”

“Something that ties you to her…to them.” The man’s face was fixed on the gold band around Anthony’s finger.

“I…oh…” Anthony searched blindly in his shoulder bag for something, anything else, to give the man.

Anthony nodded. Sickness coursed through him in waves. Jessica had the matching ring. Gold, thin, engraved. She would understand though, when he got her back, she would get it.

“Ok.” Anthony slid the ring off his finger.

The man took it the ring his open palm and folded it inside his thick fingers. Anthony’s head swam. He had suspected Brian, but he hadn’t wanted to believe it. He felt faint and leant back on the plastic-y booth. A moment later he slid into darkness.

 

He didn’t remember getting home, but he awoke in his bed, the covers wrapped snake-like and cloying around his legs.

He had stopped calling out for Jess and Ollie in the mornings. Finally. He walked through to the kitchen to make coffee. Outside, the sky was a bruised purple, and warmth was already creeping through the dawn.

Anthony made coffee and stared at the fridge while the hot liquid dripped at a snails pace. It was a mess of ticket stubs, stained recipes, tiny cards with snippets of calligraphy, and pictures. Mostly pictures. Jessica had them printed on to paper and then drew designs around them; words or sayings mostly, but sometimes she would draw small animals or flowers.

Anthony sighed and poured himself a cup. He had Jessica had known one another since they were twelve. They had both attended Desert Canyon Middle School. They were nerds, not outcasts, just more into books and Pokémon than house parties and football. They had their own social circle, and everyone was interested in Demon hunting. Back then it had seemed more like a game.

He had been in love with her from day one. It had taken her a year to really notice him back. They had been on an enforced school trip to Sedona. They had hiked together, uncomfortably, and from then on they were a couple. Through high school, university, moving out, travelling and first jobs, they had been so happy with one another, it never crossed either of their minds that there wouldn’t be a wedding and a happily ever after.

Anthony slid out the picture of them from their Senior Prom. Jessica had written ‘I would walk into Mordor for you.’ The script was written in a wide nibbed fountain pen, deliberately cracked and exactly the same as the LOTR title on the films.

Anthony swallowed and slid the picture behind a recipe for chocolate chip cookies. He had to find her.

 

 

JUNE 2018

 

 

Anthony was slumped on the couch. He felt stale, wrapped in a filthy blanket; eyes crusted with sleep, and un-brushed teeth. He had hunted Demons all night, returning home at 4am, eaten some ancient ramen that was loitering at the back of the cupboard, and then passed out on the couch. He wasn’t even sure what time it was. It was light outside but both the blinds and the curtains were closed. The room was dull and it smelt of old coffee and that sour, sleep smell.

Anthony grabbed his laptop.

Several emails pinged into his inbox, which he ignored, and a message from Marcus popped up, Are you coming in to work today?

            So it was a weekday. Anthony’s fingers hovered over the keyboard. Marcus knew about the Demons, and the Quest. He was the one who encouraged him to do it, along with Walter and Brian.

You need to stop this Quest stuff.

            Three dots bounced up and down as Marcus continued typing.

You’ve already missed nearly a week of work. I’m your boss Anthony…I can’t keep ignoring this stuff.

Anthony seethed. Marcus was his boss, technically, though it was more of a title than an actual hierarchical structure.

Brian and I both think you need to give up this whole Quest. It isn’t good for you. You have to let her go.

            Anthony was about to reply, the scathing words already flowing into his fingertips, when an eerie howling echo filled his house.

“What the…”

Anthony turned. An older gentleman in a pale gray-white suit stood by the sofa. The insignia of the Archangels, St. Jude, was stitched onto the lapel. It was this insignia that adorned Monks who were sympathetic to the cause. He looked around the room and cleared his throat. He had a white cloud of hair and a weathered, kindly face.

“I…” Anthony’s eyes went wide. “Um…”

“Um.” He said back to Anthony. “Yes, indeed.” He chuckled softly.

“Hello?” Anthony lifted his hands helplessly.

“I am the Archangel. You are on a noble Quest.”

Anthony gulped. He nodded vigorously. “I am. For Jessica. And Ollie.”

“Yes. Quite.” The figure moved closer to Anthony. “I am here to help you.”

“Help?”

“You have not found the Demon who took her?”

Anthony shook his head.

“Nor have you been able to find out much.” The Archangel said with assurance. Anthony didn’t bother to confirm. It obviously knew.

“I am here to give you a gift. A few gifts actually.”

“W…why me?”

“Your Quest is noble. All Questors need help from time to time.” The Archangel said gently.

Anthony nodded. He would take any help he could get.

“This’ll show Marcus.” He mumbled.

“You must not tell friends about these gifts. They will make you a target…”

Anthony nodded quickly.

“I will give you three gifts.” The Archangel held up what Anthony assumed was a hand. “First, you shall see Demons all the time, not just at night. Second, you shall be able to manipulate time.”

Anthony was now enraptured. “Thirdly…you shall be able to communicate with Jessica.”

Anthony flinched as though he had been struck.

“What? H…how?”

“You shall hear her. She is not gone from this realm…only being held in a…limbo. I shall open up the channels.”

“When?” Anthony demanded. He didn’t care about the other gifts, but he longed to hear Jessica’s voice.

“Anthony. You must save her soon.” The Archangel said severely.

He vanished, the same keening echo carrying through the house, leaving Anthony with the foreboding sense that he was running out of time.

 

Anthony practically skipped to work. He could talk to Jessica again. Not all the time, but he would hear her, like she was talking through the phone, and Anthony had an earpiece in. She would pop up. Sometimes she cried, and begged him to help, and Anthony would spend the entire night hunting Demons. Other times she would tell him that her and Ollie were OK. Anthony spent every moment waiting to hear from her. Now, nothing else mattered.

 

MARCH 2018

 

Anthony sat at his work desk and looked at Walter. Walter was engrossed in a manuscript, his red pen poised over the fresh white pages. He scribbled, shaking his head, then laughed and a big red tick appeared on the page.

“This is so good…so good.” Walter didn’t look up as he spoke.

Walter was the editor in charge of comedy literature, fiction and non-fiction, and he continually struggled to find great books. Whereas the rest of them found good manuscripts fairly regularly, good comic writers were few and far between.

Anthony felt like he should ask Walter what was so funny. He knew that he should, but he didn’t. Since Jessica had been stolen from him, he simply couldn’t care about anything else.

Walter kept mumbling to himself and scribbling. Anthony breathed a sigh of relief.

He looked back down to the manuscript in front of him. It was a poorly written, overly long fantasy about werewolves and Demi-Gods. He rubbed his eyes, confused.

“You ok Anthony?” Marcus stepped out from his corner cubicle.

“Yep.” Anthony didn’t look up.

“Right…” Marcus shifted uncomfortably. Walter had stopped reading and Brian stood and stretched his legs, subtly eavesdropping. “Well…we still on for takeaway at yours…Hobbit marathon.” Marcus smiled.

“Oh I-

“Yes, you said Anthony…you said. Come on dude.” Walter grinned. “But no takeaway, I’ll bring some of my Mom’s lasagna.” He nodded at Anthony. “Come on Ant.” His tone was more serious, and he looked at Anthony expectantly.

“Yeah…yeah fine.” Anthony tried to smile, but found there was a lump in his throat, so instead he looked back down at the manuscript and pretended to be engrossed in demi-gods and werewolves duking it out.

 

A fine patina of dust dulled the gaming console. Three smallish screens, an Xbox One, a PlayStation, as well as a plethora of mic’s, controllers and an unopened VR headset sat on top of the beech Ikea stand.

“When did you get this?” Brian picked up the VR headset and looked at the box.

Anthony didn’t answer, he just turned away from the gaming set up, studiously ignoring Jessica’s black and green controller. It had small biohazard signs on the side. It was one of her custom ones.

“So, Hobbit?” Marcus came into the living room with a fake, jovial smile. Walter had portioned out the steaming lasagna onto plates. The TV was on; spewing out adverts about Viagra medicine, lunchmeats and awful reality shows.

Anthony sighed. “Sure.”

He picked up the remote. At least he wouldn’t have to talk to everyone once the movie was on.

They watched the final Hobbit movie in a stifling silence. Walter and Marcus tried to banter, but Anthony glumly stared at the TV screen unresponsive. Brian was glued to the TV too, but in a much more enraptured state.

When it finally drew to a close, Walter stood and began busying himself with the dishes scattered on the coffee tables.

“So…um…you guys got any weekend plans?” Brian said through a yawn.

“No, just chilling at home with Brenda.” Marcus rolled his eyes, “probably get roped into doing chores or DIY.”

Brian and Walter gave halfhearted laughs

“There’s the product launch for the new Lost Tombs.” Walter came back out of the kitchen. “The game designers are local guys, so they’re having a thing down at the Hyatt conference center.”

“That’s cool.” Marcus chipped in enthusiastically. “You should go Anthony. You’re into Lost Tombs right?”

“Oh uh…yeah.” Anthony shrugged. “I guess.”

“When’s the last time you gamed?” Brian had stood and walked over to the gaming set up. He ran a finger on top of the black Xbox console. A clear line was left behind.

Anthony looked down at the floor and gritted his teeth. Why were they all still here? He had stuff to do. He didn’t want to be discussing his hobbies right now.

“You haven’t been on in weeks.” Walter said, earning a black look from Anthony.

“Come on Ant…we all knew.” Marcus chimed in.

“I just…I haven’t felt like it…ok?” Anthony heard the higher pitched whine at the tail end of his voice. “I…I…” He stopped, the lump in his throat threatening to spill into choking sobs.

“I know.” Walter walked over to Anthony. “I mean…I don’t…but I get why.” He held up a hand as if to pat Anthony on the back, but then pulled him into a hug instead.

Anthony stood stiffly. He hadn’t touched another human in weeks. He couldn’t even remember the last time. He ducked his head, not wanting to see pity on the other guy’s faces.

“I…actually have something for you…” Walter said slowly.

From the corner of his eye, Anthony saw Marcus subtly shaking his head. Brian pursed his lips together thoughtfully.

“What?”

The three guys’ were standing around Anthony in a semi circle and he felt claustrophobic and irritated.

“What is it?” Anthony snapped.

Walter went to his bag, leaning against the siding by the front door, and pulled out a slim DVD case. He handed it silently to Anthony.

“It’s the expansion pack…I got it before…for…well…” Walter trailed off.

Anthony nodded and put the DVD case by the Xbox. “I…I’m really tired…”

“We should head home.” Marcus said quickly, nodding.

Anthony watched them leave eagerly, feigning yawns. As soon as the last set of headlights disappeared down the road, he hurried to the console and powered it on for the first time in three months.

 

Welcome Anthony.

Do you want to FastTravel to Jessica?

            Yes                  No

            Anthony’s hand shook as he selected Yes.

            Jessica is Online at the Park.

            Anthony gulped. He felt sweat beading on his forehead. The park was always her favorite place, in every world.

Anthony’s fingers worked without thinking, casting the spell needed to enter the park. A portal opened. Anthony stepped inside. He looked around. Jessica was there, her long hair in a thick braid over one shoulder. A knife on her hip. A tiny gamer tag hovered above her stomach. Ollie. Anthony shook his head. It was bright and summery. A thick band of sapphire water ran through the leafy area.

Anthony just stood there, watching, smiling for the first time in months.

He was about to walk over to her when a thick fog of muddy brown, streaked with red and black, filled the park. Anthony spun around, trying to fight his way to Jessica through the miasma.

Demons.

            Anthony stumbled, blind, but when the fog finally cleared Jessica was gone.

            He rushed to the town, his fingers pushed down on right toggle, a fast sprint. He went to the bar, just like the one off Market Street, and ducked inside. He spun, searching for the barkeep.

            A man in a deep, hooded jacket stood next to the bar.

            ‘You look troubled friend.’

            The barkeep still hadn’t appeared, so Anthony turned to the hooded stranger. ‘Demons…they took my wife…have any of them been in here?’

            ‘Demons have been taking many innocents these days.’ The man said gruffly.

            ‘How do I find her? How?’

            The man turned to Anthony, the dim lighting catching his face. Anthony stifled a gasp. A thick ridge of scar ran along one cheek, but what caught his eye was the small St. Jude Insignia on his jacket. A Monk. ‘I know where you can find the one you seek.’

            ‘What?’ Anthony leant in closer to the Monk.

            ‘I know the Demon who took her. You can still save her.’ The stranger finally looked up from his glass of amber liquid. ‘You must embark on a Quest.’

            Anthony nodded dumbly.

            He selected Quest menu to the left hand side of his screen and selected ‘Begin Quest.’

  

JANUARY 2018

 

Anthony sat in the small, warm room beside the crematorium. Hydrangeas, blue and white, were nestled in small alcoves around the wall. His face felt stretched and it stung where fresh tears kept running over dry skin. People milled around the room in a state of muffled melancholy. David was around somewhere, and Tabitha kept coming to check on him, handing him glasses of water or small nibbles that he didn’t eat.

“Hey you.” Anthony’s Mom sat down beside him. She reached out a hand. It was warm, and her gold wedding band was worn and scratched. Anthony studied her hand. It was lined, her nails were painted a pale gray, and it was wrapped tightly around his shaking knuckles.

“I can’t…” Anthony started before dissolving into a fresh bought of tears. “I can’t do this without her Mom.”

Anthony pushed away from his mother, away from the people who stood in small groups and watched him over the rims of their glasses. He pushed through a door marked ‘Staff Only.’

The room was painted an ugly rust color. Anthony felt his head swimming, the sludge color of the walls closing in on him.

“Sir. You can’t be in here.” An older gentleman in a light gray suit said. His voice was firm but kind. “Come on now.”

The man led Anthony out of another door, not back into the function room. They were in a small kitchen. A Formica counter held a toaster, coffee maker and kettle. A white fridge was tucked beside a table and two chairs.

“Have a seat.” The older man said. His voice was deep and comforting. He had white hair, longer than usual, down to his shoulders. He was bigger, but he moved around the small staff kitchen gracefully. “Coffee? Tea?”

Anthony nodded, “ok.” He said obediently.

“Things will get better.”

“Uh huh.” Anthony said with a rueful shake of his head. “No.” He added, letting his chin slump to his chest.

“Listen son. I’ve been where you are. One day, you won’t see the bad all around you, you won’t feel like time has stopped…you’ll be able to live again.”

Anthony kept shaking his head as he began to weep.

The man leant forward and placed a comforting hand on Anthony’s shoulder. A small St. Jude medallion dangled from his neck. “She isn’t gone forever Son, she just isn’t with us on earth anymore. She’s dead…but not forgotten.”

 

 

JANUARY 2019

Phoenix New Times – Thursday 17th

MAN ARRESTED FOR MASS SHOOTING IN DOWNTOWN PHOENIX

by Brianna McCain

 

Phoenix Police have arrested Anthony Mifford yesterday for a mass shooting that saw six people killed in Cielito Park in Phoenix. The victims were six high school students. Five were pronounced dead on the scene. One student, Martin Lewis, was taken to hospital with traumatic head injuries and died shortly after midnight. Two others were taken to hospital with minor injuries and are expected to recover.

 

Police spokesman Sgt. Abigail Alves said the Phoenix Police Department were called after the suspect drew a Colt Python on the students in the Cielto Park parking lot and began shooting. Bystanders saw the suspect draw the gun on the students, but were unable to stop him before he began shooting.

An elderly man, Bob Reynolds, spoke to the suspect moments before the shooting began. ‘He just came right up to me, made a kind of, beeline. I had just left the service, at the St. Jude Episcopal, and he kept on staring at my hymn pamphlet. I thought he was odd, you know? But…I had no idea he was dangerous.’ Mr. Reynolds told reporters on the scene. ‘He was talking to me…kinda at me…like he was having some whole second part to the conversation. He was real agitated by those poor kids in the parking lot…about them smoking and larking about…’ Mr. Reynolds watched the suspect walk over, thinking he was going to talk to them, when the suspect suddenly pulled out a gun and began firing.

 

One of Anthony Mifford’s neighbors, local psychiatrist Vivica Shields, spoke to us about the suspect. ‘He is, or was, a nice man, but he’s been having problems since his wife passed. I suspected he was struggling. I tried to talk to him. I spoke to his friends and family. We all knew he was losing his grip on things. We tried to help. After Jessica died, he seemed depressed, and then things changed. He started acting erratically, mumbling to himself, suspicious of everyone. It’s terribly sad. To lose so much.’

 

A teen driver killed Jessica Mifford and their unborn son in a tragic, unrelated accident. The case shook Phoenix and prompted harsher crackdowns on texting and driving fines.

 

Police say the man arrested, Anthony Mifford, is facing multiple first-degree murder charges.