A Time to Rise
Tal Bauer © 2016
All Rights Reserved
Pressing back against the ancient stone-church walls, Alain palmed his pistol, his fingers curling around the heavy grip as he adjusted his hold. Cold ivy, wet with dew, flicked over the back of his neck, and midnight fog clung to his skin, the roughhewn stones, and the dreary courtyard. Across the cobblestone drive in front of the church, pebbles skittered wildly, an ill wind blowing through.
A streetlamp hummed down the road, but it was lost in the haze, and the entire night could have been a transplanted moment from so long ago. Antiquity drowned the air, heavy with every inhale. A fountain burbled, water falling from the mouths of fat marble cherubs beneath the light of a sickle moon.
Next to Alain, pressed against the rotten and crumbling walls of the Basilica di Sant’Aurea, Father Lotario Nicosia slipped his pistol under his suit jacket and into his shoulder holster. He was dressed in his usual Catholic priest’s attire—black suit and a Roman collar—but he packed heavier firepower than just a crucifix. Double shoulder holsters with modified twin 9mm pistols. Still, Father Lotario tucked the pistols away.
What they were hunting tonight wouldn’t fall to bullets. Not even silver or iron bullets.
Father Lotario coughed, breathing hard through the wet chill choking the nighttime air.
“You need to quit smoking,” Alain grunted.
“It’s not going to be the smokes that kill me.” Lotario drew his sickled blade—black handled with, as instructed by the Keys of Solomon, the seven names of God carved into the metal—in one hand and pulled two flasks from his suit jacket pocket with the other. Slim and silver, there were no markings to tell what each flask contained.
Alain rolled his eyes, watching as Lotario unscrewed the first flask and downed a swallow. Lotario hissed, squeezing his eyes closed, and nodded. “Yep. That’s the vodka.”
“One day, the Holy Water will burn up your insides just the same.” Alain jerked his head toward the church rectory. “Let’s go. There’s a priest pissing himself inside.”
Lotario spat and nodded. Across the street, the swirl of red and blue police lights made slow circles in the gloomy haze, disjointed halos of smeared light at the entrance to the cemetery at Ostia Antica in the southern suburbs of Rome. Senior Officer Angelo Conti would have his men spread out by now, circling the block with a tight perimeter, keeping their prey locked in. To anyone else, it would look like any other Italian Polizia di Statio operation. Maybe searching for a drug runner or an escaped drunk.
No one would ever suspect a revenant was on the loose.
The world was woefully—blessedly—ignorant of the dark creatures and evil spirits who had managed to cross through the Veil to make their home in the human world. What would people do, Alain sometimes wondered, if only they knew?
His job, of course, was to ensure they never knew. That no one would ever know about the darkness, the etheric, and the demonic forces preying upon the world.
He and Father Lotario, that is.
That evening, they’d received a call from their contact and counterpart Angelo, an officer in the Italian polizia’s Central Operational Core of Security, Special Projects branch. The Central Operational Core managed the Italian state’s counterterrorism and national security operations. The Special Projects branch, which technically didn’t exist, was on permanent cooperative status with the Vatican and assigned to paranormal security. Angelo was a gruff, no-nonsense veteran of the carabinieri and had only grudgingly accepted the transfer to the Special Projects branch when a gunfight at a Mafia sting in Sicily went south, and he ended up with six bullets in his body. He was normally the one to request them—seemingly always after dark—when a call about suspicious activity from a Roman citizen was quietly routed to the Special Projects desk.
Tonight, a revenant was tearing through the Ostia Antica Cemetery, screaming wildly out of the grave from which it rose and cracking marble tombs with its roars of rage. The shrieks, like dead branches scratching over glass, had chilled Alain’s blood when he and Lotario arrived. The cold followed, an unnatural chill that swam through the Roman fog and seeped into his bones.
They had arrived just in time to see the revenant shriek its way out of the cemetery and cross the street, a swirl of shadow and bloodred rage. Curls of terror and fury crashed through the drivers along the road. Cars spun out, tires squealing, horns honking, and people suddenly cursed at each other as they rocked with the sensations of an evil spirit they couldn’t see.
Across the street from the cemetery, Basilica di Sant’Aurea’s church, a bedraggled medieval building of crumbling, rotten stone and ivy-covered castle walls, sat in the middle of a cracked cobblestone courtyard. Candles inside the church twinkled, lit with prayers and whispers from the congregation, but it was the lights in the rectory that drew the revenant. Inside it went, and the elderly priest barricaded himself inside his closet.
Angelo was talking to the priest over the phone, trying to calm the old man down from his hyperventilating hysterics. A man of the cloth the priest may be, but preaching in a pulpit and saying grace didn’t prepare a man to come face-to-face with a resurrected corpse-spirit full of rage and bitter malice on a Tuesday night.
“The stairs around the back go up to the rectory,” Lotario said, motioning with his head. “I’ll slip up the back. You come in from the front and cover me. Distract it. I’ll hit it with the flask while it’s occupied with you.”
Alain stared, not blinking. “This plan sounds dubious at best.”
Lotario shrugged, and a devil-may-care smirk curled up the edges of his lips. “If you would carry more than just your pistol—”
“No.” Alain sighed. “How many times—”
“Yeah, yeah.” Lotario took another pull from the flask of vodka. “One day, Alain.”
“On three?” Alain ignored him and glanced around the church wall, looking at the front entrance to the rectory. “I can get inside in six seconds.”
“Well, then wait here for a bit before you go. You know I smoke.” Lotario pushed off the wall and ducked around the side of the church, heading for the rear stairwell. His long legs pumped behind him, his suit jacket flapping in the night.
Alain watched and waited, his lips pressed tight, holding in his curse, until Lotario reached the base of the stairs.
Then, he took off, racing around the other side of the church wall and tearing for the rectory’s entrance.
Alain burst inside, crashing through the doors with his shoulder and splintering the ancient wood from its hinges. He stumbled but heard the upstairs balcony door crash and then a roar from the revenant. Leaping, Alain dashed up the wooden stairs of the church rectory, taking them three at a time, and then kicked down the priest’s bedroom door.
The revenant, a swirl of ruby mist coalescing into a vaguely human shape, though elongated and stretched out of proportion, spun, the mist shrieking into Alain’s face. He raised his pistol and fired once, trying to squint through the haze.
Lotario knew better than to be in the path of his bullets.
Then again, he really could never be too sure with Lotario, but Alain caught the sound of a flask’s cap hitting the wooden floorboards.
From behind a thick wooden door, he heard sobbing, pleading, and frantic prayers to God.
He rolled to his side, edging along the wall as Lotario doused the revenant mist with the flask of vodka. Lotario brandished his blade in front of him, swished wildly through the air, holding the revenant back, and sprayed the demon’s incorporeal form.
Alain reached the closet doors right as he heard Lotario flick his lighter. “Jesus Christ,” Alain breathed, rolling his eyes.
He ripped open the doors in one quick jerk, sweeping with his pistol. Inside, the old priest was curled into a ball, a stain on his bathrobe showing where he’d pissed himself. Red-rimmed eyes and a tear-stained face turned toward Alain. He was gasping, reciting the Lord’s Prayer and Hail Marys by rote.
Behind Alain, Lotario’s lighter landed in the dripping pile of vodka tossed through the revenant’s mist. Flames bloomed, erupting in a fireball through the priest’s bedroom, engulfing the revenant and searing through its ethereal form. Another shriek, this one worse than all the others combined, tore from the revenant’s burning shadow, a formless, screeching cry of fury and agony. The flames followed the mist as it tried to flee, tried to scatter, the fire burning away the revenant like a vapor, flaring out in a single moment.
Burn marks smoked up from the priest’s bedroom floor. Lotario stepped forward and poured the second flask—Holy Water, this time—onto the black scorch seared into the wood. He ground his heel against the drops when they sizzled and popped.
Alain held out his hand for the priest, but the old man fainted, a breathless gasp wheezing past his lips.