“Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned,” Nate said. He had left the prison feeling grimy deep below the skin. It was the kind of filth a long, hot shower had failed to cleanse. Maybe it was the new brand of fear digging in his craw that prompted this visit. Either way, he felt he was lacking a religious safety net.
“How long since your last confession?” the priest asked.
“Much too long, Father. Not since my high school days.”
Nate watched the young priest’s expression through small gaps in the lattice divider. He caught the corner of the priest’s mouth in his line of sight.
“Why return now?”
“I’ve uh…run across some trouble recently. And uh…I don’t know…I just feel helpless, like there’s no fighting it.”
Silence formed an uncomfortable space.
“Are you in trouble with the law?”
Nate snickered. “No. I’m a deputy sheriff.”
“Oh,” the priest replied, sounding a touch surprised. “What is it then?”
“I’m investigating a series of attempted murders, and the suspects are not your normal kind.”
“Not normal. How so?”
“I think they may be possessed by a spirit.”
Another pause. How often had the young priest heard this one, Nate wondered, if ever?
“Are you looking for an exorcism?”
Nate heaved a weary sigh. “No. I don’t see how that would work. The spirit enters its subjects at random. We have no way of knowing who is possessed and who isn’t.”
“Just as well. Many of the parishes have moved away from that practice. We take a different approach now and look for mental illness as the root cause. In most cases, modern psychiatry can treat and cure the ailment. The symptoms soon disappear.”
Nate wasn’t exactly sure what he had hoped to gain here. A solution would have been nice. A Latin mantra. A burly, unorthodox-type priest who specialized in combating the underworld. He should have known nothing that simple would come to him.
“Let’s just say for a moment I was confronted by a possessed man,” Nate said. “Is there any advice you can offer that might help?” Another use of deadly force would not bode well with the sheriff. And to make matters worse, the media would sooner or later latch onto the trend of fatalities like rabid dogs. “Is there some other option to stop him besides killing him?”
“Killing? Are you serious?” the priest asked incredulously.
“I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t. What happens to the possessive spirit when the host is killed?”
“Well…” The priest cleared his throat. “It transitions back to the spirit realm. I suppose it could search for another host.”
“Why doesn’t it go straight back to hell?”
“If only it were that simple. The Prince of Darkness rules the Earth now. He freely roams the land with his henchmen and will continue to desecrate humanity until the final judgment when he’s cast into the lake of fire.”
This wasn’t helping. Not unless the final judgment came within the next day or two. It seemed like every passing moment illuminated a bigger picture of hopelessness. “The body count is rising, Father, and there's no sign of stopping it. Not unless you can give me a miracle.”
“Only God can grant you a miracle. Now is the time to be ever vigilant with prayer. I will keep you in mine, but you must beseech God also. Never cease supplication.”
That answer struck Nate as a little canned. “There must be something more.”
“There is. You must start by having faith.”
Yes, of course. But Nate hadn’t the luxury to embark on some soul-searching quest to discover his inner whatever. It was either there now, or it wasn’t. If resolution depended on his faith, then more people were going to die.
“There is one thing,” the priest added.
“They have an aversion to anything holy.”
Nate exhaled long and slow through his nose, and ran his hands over his stubble till finally resting his head in his palms. What was he to do? Set up residency in the sanctuary?
“First and foremost you must regain the grace of God,” the priest said. “What have been your sins since your last confession?”
Nate regurgitated the highlights of his wanton ways of young adulthood. Mostly fornication, adultery, lust. He had a summer fling with a married woman before his junior year in college. Drinking. Fighting. More drinking.
“Give me ten Hail Marys.”
“God loves you, and forgives you, and I absolve you of all your sins. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”
“Thank you, Father.”
“Bless you, my son. Now go with God.”
The chapel was empty, made vast by a cathedral ceiling and a pipe organ extending high along the back wall. As he skirted the altar, Nate noticed a small crucifix hanging above the sacristy door. He plucked it from its perch and placed it in his pocket. Guilt trickled through him, but the weight of the object was comforting.
He pushed open the door and the pungent tide of mothballs washed over him. To the right, vestments hung from a long wooden dowel and folded altar linens were stacked on shelves. An ancient utility bench leaned against the left wall; a polished chalice and several stacks of gleaming patens formed a row along its back edge. Centered on its scarred surface was a silver vase, three-quarters filled with holy water. Nate went outside, retrieved a plastic water bottle from his car, dumped its contents, and returned to the sacristy to fill the bottle with holy water.
Killing these possessed assassins wasn’t the answer. There was an unlimited supply of people in the world. Eventually one of them would get through his defenses.
Perhaps where guns and conventional weapons failed, maybe these divine amulets would succeed. Otherwise, he was fresh out of ideas.
Title: Unholy Bargain
Author: Travis Holt
Genre: Supernatural Thriller
An assassin is at work—one of the best in the trade. His body turned to dust long ago, but his spirit roams the Earth freely, undetectable to the five senses. He stalks his victims waiting for just the right opportunity. Then, in quick succession, he possesses a human host and strikes down his quarry. For a century and a half he has served this way.
Deputy Sheriff Nate Barrington is riding the crest of a new relationship. Kaitlyn Spencer is beautiful, altruistic, enlightened—everything he’s not. She teaches classes in New Age philosophy at her growing school. Nate doesn’t share her spirituality, but the physical passion hasn’t subsided enough for him to care.
Nate’s nirvana quickly unravels when Kaitlyn’s life is threatened on two separate occasions. With no apparent motive or any evidence suggesting collusion, the police are stumped. Even more troubling to Nate, Kaitlyn is eventually convinced she is the target of unseen forces.
A hardheaded pragmatist, Nate isn’t prone to believe that spirits can possess people. As far as he’s concerned, Kaitlyn’s claims of perpetrators possessed by a spirit assassin are on par with comic book stories and have nothing to do with reality, and her esoteric, New Age mumbo jumbo begins to drive a wedge into their relationship. And why Kaitlyn? What secret is she hiding?
Even with the sheriff’s resources at Nate’s disposal, the odds for Kaitlyn’s survival are not in her favor. The true enemy is virtually invisible, and Nate’s conventional police tactics have no effect on the spirit world. Strikes come from anytime, anywhere, and from random, unwittingly manipulated people. Behind it all is a deal the assassin had made with the devil: send Kaitlyn Spencer to an early grave in exchange for a fresh start. For that, the assassin will stop at nothing to uphold his end of an Unholy Bargain.
Travis Hallden Holt is a former U.S. Navy surface warfare officer and veteran of the Persian Gulf War. He’s worked the past twenty-two years in the corrections side of law enforcement, first in the prison system, then in the streets as a probation officer. He spent three years supervising felons in a south Atlanta neighborhood ranked the ninth most dangerous neighborhood in America, where one in every twelve residents becomes a victim of crime each year.
For years, his interests were in weaponry (both small arms and large scale), warfare tactics, hand-to-hand combat, criminal justice and unsolved crimes. But life has a way of molding perspectives, and Travis came to realize the physical world known to the five senses didn’t have all the answers. It scratched the surface at best. Accordingly, Travis’s interests shifted to supernatural phenomenon, spirituality, the mysteries of life, the invisible world beyond our five senses and the forces that lie therein. He’s still a peace officer, but one who has mingled with psychics, mystics, mediums, energy healers, shamans, gurus, artists and denizens of the “underground.”
Travis is the author of Unholy Bargain, a supernatural thriller published by Blood Moon Publishing. He resides in Atlanta, GA.
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