Just a quick warning; this book will have a Christian theme with a supernatural sub-plot. I wouldn't want to waste anyone's time with something in which they have no interest.
Mike slept fitfully. He dreamt of his son. The dream revolved around his son being trapped and screaming and pleading for his daddy to come rescue him. The images were blurry at first, becoming more vivid as the dream progressed. Finally, he saw the image of his son bound, lying on a dirt floor, with a slavering demon above him. In his dream, he was running towards the demon as it raised a huge war hammer above its head. The boy screamed again for his daddy as the hammer descended, too quickly for Mike to prevent it from hitting him. Just as the hammer came down, Mike awoke with a start. He was crying, and he felt a wave of nausea overtake him. He got out of bed, staggered towards the bathroom and barely made it to the toilet before emptying the contents of his stomach into the bowl.
When he had emptied his stomach, he was wracked with dry heaves for a few minutes. When those had subsided, he leaned back against the tub and cried some more. Still sobbing uncontrollably, he leaned over until his face touched the cool floor and closed his eyes, “Oh God, oh God, how can I end this? How did this happen? Why did You let this happen?”
Suddenly, his stomach wretched again and he was beset with another period of dry-heaving. When those had subsided, he lay back down upon the floor and passed out into dreamless unconsciousness. He had no idea how long he stayed there, but just below the surface of wakefulness, he became aware of a rhythmic pounding in his head. As he became more awake, he realized that the pounding was at his door, not in his head. He got himself off of the bathroom floor and discovered that he had a raging hangover. He staggered to the door, opening it without first finding out who was there.
Standing in the hallway, holding a bag of groceries, was McCool, “It’s 9am and…rough night?”
Mike was standing there looking even more haggard and unkempt than the previous night, “No more than usual.”
“I’m sorry. Well, I hope to bring about an end to your suffering soon.”
“Believe me, I’ve tried. I’m running out of ideas.”
“Well, I think that we may be able to figure this out together.”
“We? What are you talking about?”
“We. As in, ‘you, me, and some others.’ ”
“Is this some kind of twelve-step program?”
“I could explain it better of you’d let me in.”
Wordlessly, Mike stepped aside. He didn’t understand why he trusted this guy other than the fact that he pulled his butt out of a tight spot the night before. Still, he was cautious.
“So when do we begin this…process?”
“Now. I’m going to make breakfast. I suggest you go take a shower. No offense but you could use one.”
Mike just looked at him for a moment as he went through the motions of preparing breakfast. Then, figuring that McCool had had ample time to steal from or kill him the night before, he went and did exactly that. He washed quickly and dressed in another set of clothes that were nearly identical to what he had worn the night before. He entered the kitchen just as McCool was dishing up the food.
“Hope you’re hungry.”
“Not really. Do you have anything to drink?”
“Orange juice, tomato juice, and apple juice. I also made coffee.”
“Tomato juice. And coffee. What did you cook?”
“Scrambled eggs and breakfast sausage with wheat toast.”
Mike mumbled “Thanks” as he accepted the plate from McCool. At first, he thought that his stomach was going to rebel against the food but, after he took a long drink of tomato juice, he began to feel hungry. By the time he took his first bite, he realized that it had been two days since he had last eaten. He finished quickly.
McCool looked slightly amazed, “Do you want some more? I can whip it up pretty fast.”
“Better not. I didn’t have such a good night.”
“Tell me about it.”
“Bad dreams, vomiting, passing out on the bathroom floor, pretty much the ‘alcoholic variety pack’.”
“Bad dreams? How bad?”
“The worst. Weird shit. Demons, stuff like that.”
“Did they involve your son?”
Mike suddenly became wary, “What do you know about my son?”
“I read about it in the papers. Was told a little more. Like I said, I know a bit about you.”
“Well, if you want…whatever it is you want from me, you’re going to have to start providing answers. Let’s start with, why are you here?”
“I’m here because I was asked to be here. Right now that’s all I can say. I will tell you this; if I had known what was happening with you, I would have done the same thing as I am doing now whether I was asked or not.”
“Did someone from the city send you?”
“In a manner of speaking. Like I said, I can’t say anything more yet.”
“What if I refuse to cooperate?”
“Then, we finish breakfast, I leave and you go back to your life.”
“Simple as that?”
“I’m not here to force you to do anything. I’m simply here to offer you a chance to regain some of what you’ve lost. To that end, I can promise you that the road will be rough, the obstacles huge, and in the end, you may still not get everything you want, but at least you will be on the right track. I also promise you that there will be support the whole way through.”
“What will it cost me?”
“Nothing but time and effort.”
“What do I have to do?”
“Will you do it?”
“I don’t know.”
“When will you know?”
“Because there are other people involved, other people to attend to, schedules to be kept, that sort of thing.”
“So, right now?”
Mike sat there looking at McCool. ‘Who would do such a thing? Who would send someone like this? Could she have..?’ he cut the thought off before he finished it. There was no way she could have done it. Not after what he had done to her.
He looked around his kitchen, out into the living room at the squalor and the mess and realized just how low he had fallen. He thought about himself and his appearance, his clothing, most of all he thought of his loved ones and what they would think about his current state. That, more than anything, guided his next words, “What do I have to do to get started?”
“Nothing. Just wait here for an hour. You will be contacted and taken to where you need to go.”
“Where am I going?”
“To a facility where you can be healed.”
“So I don’t need to do anything?”
“Well, there is one thing.”
“I need to take possession of your pistol. You’ll eventually get it back, but I need to take it for now.”
“My Glock? Why?”
“Just part of the program. Like I said, you’ll get it back.”
Mike picked it up off of the coffee table, cleared it, and handed it to McCool, “Anything else?”
“Just this; if you are serious, we need you to become a citizen of this process. In other words, if you’re going to hang out for a few days and then bug out, tell me now.”
Mike thought about that, “So this is a twelve-step program!”
“No, more like a twelve hundred step program. And the people involved are volunteers, so don’t waste their time. Or mine.”
Mike sat back in his chair stared at McCool. He was thinking about the events of the last couple of years; the losses, the separation, the rapid decline of his health, finances, relationships, and most importantly, his self respect. He wondered at how quickly he had lost control of everything in his life. ‘Was I ever in control? Did I ever really have it all together? Or was I just fooling myself?’ He got up wordlessly and walked through the tiny apartment, his earlier reflection on his situation replaying in his head. He looked at what his life had become and realized that he wanted nothing so much as a way out, “OK, I’m in for the whole ride. Now what?”
McCool said nothing. He pulled out a cell phone and pushed a button. In a few seconds he said, “He’s in. Meet him at the address I gave you. Bring the crew; we’re going full ‘on’.”
He quickly hung up, stood, and looked directly into Mike’s eyes, “OK, I’ve got to go ahead and let others know. I just want you to know that I, and others that you will meet later, rejoice at your decision. It takes courage to break out of your comfort zone. I promise you that I will stand with you brother.”
Taken aback at the intensity of McCool’s words, Mike just uttered, “thanks”
McCool laughed and walked towards the door. Opening it, he turned and looked at Mike again, “By the way, if you have a favorite Bible, bring it. Otherwise, we’ll get one for you.” With that he walked out, shutting the door behind him.
Mike stared at the door while he wondered what he had gotten himself into. He knew that he couldn’t continue being a drunk, and he had already proven that he couldn’t end it himself, so his last choice was to follow some crazy process to who knows where. He became aware that his stomach was churning. After a steady diet of vodka and occasional fast food, the breakfast he had eaten was causing his stomach to rebel. He sat on the couch to steady himself. After a few minutes he felt stable enough to make his way to his bedroom and lay down for a bit.
It seemed like mere minutes had passed when he heard a pounding at his door. Sitting up in his bed, he swung his feet over the side, paused to clear his thoughts, and went and answered the door. Standing there was a slim, African-American man that looked to be in his forties. He was dressed in denim shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. Behind him was a group of six other African-American men of varying ages.
Mike squinted, as if trying to see them more clearly, “May I help you?”
“Actually, I’m here to help you. I am Reverend Darryl Shelton of The Lord’s Beacon Evangelical Church. John called and gave us your address. I am here to take you where you need to go while these gentlemen will pack your belongings and take them to storage.”
Still staring at the crowd behind Reverend Shelton, Mike suddenly recognized one of the faces, “Hey! I know him! He tried to rob me last night! What the fuck???”
Shelton waved his hands in a calming motion at Mike, “We know all about that. DuShawn told us last night what had happened when he came to my house. You have nothing to worry about, he’s with us now. I’ll take full responsibility for any theft or damage.”
Still glaring at DuShawn, Mike motioned them in. DuShawn walked in and looked at Mike, “I-I’m sorry.” Was all he said before joining the others.
“Is there anything that stays?”
“Well, the furniture was here when I got here. The clothes are mine. The dishes, the TV, and the radio. The bed can stay. It was used when I bought it. Heck, just empty the drawers and closets and that’s pretty much everything I have.”
Reverend Shelton turned and addressed the group, ”OK, you heard the man; take everything in the closets and drawers, the TV and radio, leave the rest. Make sure you clean out the trash, and clean the place up before you go. Henry?” this directed at one of the older men, “You have your truck? Good. Send a couple of these boys down to get the cleaning supplies and packing boxes. Don’t you go hurting your back trying to do too much. That’s what these young men are for.”
He turned to Mike, “Is there anything you want to take with you? Don’t worry about clothes, those will be provided. Any valuables or sentimental things?”
Mike walked over to the coffee table, picked up the photograph of his wife and son and placed it in his pocket, “I’m ready.”
“Then let’s go.”
With that, Rev. Shelton walked out the door, waiting long enough to confirm that Mike was going with him. They took the elevator and walked out into the morning sun. Even though it was only half past nine, the day was already warm. Reverend Shelton pointed to an open-air jeep. They walked over to it and Mike clambered in. In less than a minute, they were on their way.
As soon as they hit the main street, The Reverend turned and headed deeper into the city. Their course took them down one of the busiest thoroughfares in the city, towards the City Airport. The stiff suspension on the jeep made the ride seem rougher than it really was. At one point, they stopped at a red light where the rough ride combined with the increasing heat and the smell of exhaust fumes caused Mike to lean over and vomit his breakfast on to the pavement. The sound of car horns honking in apparent protest only served to make him feel worse.
The Reverend laughed, “I knew that there was a good reason to take the jeep today.”
They continued on, driving directly towards the airport. They turned down a street that took them to the backside of the airport, where dozens of abandoned industrial buildings sat, looking like nothing so much as the aftermath of a war.
The immediate area was mostly abandoned, with only a couple of the homes looking occupied and only one of the buildings showing any signs of habitation; a small one-story motel. It looked as if it had been relatively inexpensive even in its heyday, now it just looked worn out. The entire property, front, back, and parking lot, was surrounded by a high, chain link fence topped with barbed wire. It was to that building that the Reverend drove. He came to a stop in front of an automated chain-link gate, also topped with barbed wire. He honked his horn twice, waited, and then honked again. The gate opened and he drove in. By this time, Mike was even sicker and his head was pounding from the hangover headache.
The Reverend pulled to an entrance on the side of the building. Out walked McCool and another man rolling a wheelchair to the jeep.
“Who’s that for?” Mike asked as he unsteadily climbed down out of the jeep.
“You. I figure that about now you’re feeling pretty bad.”
“How’d you know?”
“Experience. Sit down and let Roger take you inside.”
The other man looked to be in his twenties and very fit. Mike gingerly sat in the wheelchair. The younger man smiled at him as he wheeled him through the entrance and down a hallway, “I’m Roger. I’ll be helping you out for the next few days. You just concentrate on getting well. This is a safe place; you won’t have to worry about anything else.”
Oddly, the words that Roger had chosen about this place being ‘a safe place’ gave Mike comfort. Roger wheeled him down the hall to a room that had a bed, a small table with a lamp, and a small wardrobe. A door led to what he assumed was the bathroom. It was the type of place that, had it operated as a motel, would have charged hourly rates. However, even through the waves of nausea and the increasing pain of his headache, Mike saw that it was clean and well-kept. Roger wheeled him into the room, “This is your new place for the time being. We have some pajamas for you to change in to. I recommend you do it while you can. I’m not going to lie to you; the next few days are going to suck hard. When that’s done, it will still suck, but you’ll at least be ready to deal with it.”
“What is this place?”
Roger thought for a moment, “Sanctuary.”
Momentarily, McCool walked in. “Are you ready to begin?”
“As ready as I’m going to be. What do you need me to do?”
“Well, for starters, change into your pajamas. Roger needs to draw some blood and if you’re up to it, we need a urine specimen. Also, we need to bring in a cot for your monitor.”
“My monitor? What’s a monitor?”
“Someone who will keep an eye on you and prevent you from hurting yourself. Also, you’re going to need someone to clean up after you.”
“I am? What are you going to do to me?”
“Nothing. You’ve already done it. We’re just the clean-up crew.”
Mike stood up out of the chair and picked up the pajamas and the provided urine specimen cup, walked into the bathroom and did what he had to do. When he was done he walked unsteadily out and sat on the bed. Running a tremulous hand through his hair, he maneuvered himself so that he was lying down and extended his arm towards Roger, who had already prepared the necessary supplies to collect his blood samples. Roger proved to be efficient and skilled as Mike felt almost nothing when poked and he didn’t realize that Roger had given him a Heparin Lock in preparation for an IV until he started taping it into place.
Once all of the samples were taken and Mike was seen to be comfortable, Reverend Shelton and Roger left, leaving Mike alone with McCool. Mike looked around for a minute and then looked at McCool, “So? What now?”
“Now nothing. You’ll stay here for as long as it takes. Once you’ve overcome your addiction, we will advance to other areas of your life. If you have questions, feel free to ask.”
“How many people are here?”
“You’re the only patient right now. There will be staff monitoring you around the clock. We have a doctor on call whom you will meet when your test results come back in a couple of days.”
Mike nodded thoughtfully, “I’m not the first, am I?”
“Not by a long shot. We’ve treated others here for a long while now. You’ll meet some of them later. We operate up to five rooms if the money is there. We do what God allows.”
“Is this a religious organization?”
“Religious? I guess you could call it that. We’re a Christian organization, but we have no name.”
“So, what church are you with?”
“All of them. None of them. We try to keep churches out of it if possible. Correction, we are happy to allow churches to participate, but we don’t allow any single denomination control us. We welcome all denominations, but we remain autonomous.”
Mike was about to ask another question when he felt a wave of nausea wash over him. He barely made it to the toilet where, for the third time in twenty four hours, he emptied the contents of his stomach.
McCool walked in behind him, “It’s started. I’ll get Roger.”
He walked out the door and into the hallway. Roger was just finishing up packaging Mike’s specimens for transport when he looked up and saw McCool coming towards him, “Problem?”
“He threw up again and he’s got the shakes. If you want, I’ll take these to the lab while you call the doc and stay with him.”
“Good idea. I’ll put the call in now. From the looks of things, we’re going to have to watch him close.”
“He’s been through a lot. Plus, he’s been targeted.”
“Yeah. I have a feeling that this is going to be bigger than we thought.”
“I’ve never known your ‘feelings’ to be wrong.”
“That’s what I’m worried about. I’ll see you in a bit.”
McCool walked out and headed towards his car; a four door sedan that was several years old. Placing the package on his passenger seat as he got in, he started the car, pushed the button on the gate opener, and headed out to do his errand.
Roger, in the mean time, went into Mike’s room and checked on him. Mike looked like he was ready to collapse as he walked out of the bathroom.
“C’mon bud, let’s get you into bed.”
Mike sat heavily upon the mattress, “I really need a drink.”
“No. You may as well understand this; I’m here to help you. A drink would just put you back at square one.”
“I feel like shit.”
“I know. And the worst is yet to come.”
“Are you trying to cheer me up?”
Roger chuckled, “Hang on to that sense of humor. It will help you get through this.”