Second Dead

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Chapter 47: Prestor Timor Domini

“Move over. I’m driving,” Dad yelled. “Fucking unbelievable. I took you into my house. Treated you like a son. And when I need you, fucking really need you, you --”

Dad jammed the truck into gear, spun the tires and headed down the road. He gritted his teeth, jaw muscles working overtime. He slowed to a more reasonable speed when we approached the shrine.

He took a deep breath. “Simple thing I asked you to do. Drive us to the quarry, I said. But nooo, you took a detour.”

He kept his eyes fixed ahead. Finally, with a calm voice, he said, “I hope you know what you’re doing, son. You’ve taken on a lifetime of pain and heartache.”

Theo didn’t reply, at least not to Dad. He took my hand in his and smiled.

With less than one hundred feet to the shrine, Dad instructed everyone to pull into the outer circle. The gate stood open. We circled round the inner sanctum and back toward the entrance.

A brown lump of cloth lay on the altar. We drove past and the jumble of fabric stirred. My blood froze. It was the man I’d foretold. I wanted to scream, to tell Dad to get the hell out of here. This man meant danger, death. Whatever fate had in store today, I knew it would change our lives forever.

The person jumped down from the altar. One had every right to expect some small token of acknowledgment of our arrival. There wasn’t. He just knelt in prayer.

Penri exited his vehicle first. “Secure the gate,” he barked.

Chris and Susan slammed the gates shut. “There’s no lock, Major,” Chris shouted.

Penri glanced at me and said, “Do what you have to do. We got this.”

He limped toward the black SUV. “Jane, back this thing up.” He pointed her toward the gate.

Klara stood up through the gun hole of the Humvee and slapped an ammo can on the roof. She cocked the .50cal and pointed it out into the fields.

Mom, Dad, and I entered the inner circle. Unbidden, Theo followed.

Penri kept up his stream of commands. “Get the children in my vehicle. I want two guns at every other pillar. Let’s move, people.”

We made our way toward the mysterious figure kneeling in prayer. Ten feet from the altar, we stopped. Dad removed his pistol from his holster.

“Who are you? Let me get a look at you,” Dad said.

The figure made the sign of the cross, stood up, and turned to face us. A man’s voice with a thick Italian accent spoke from under the hood. “I am Prestor Timor Domini.”

Timor Domini? I racked my brain to remember my Latin. Fear? Fear of? Fear of the Lord. Hadn’t Nana told me when I attained fear of Trời all would be revealed?

“Show yourself,” Dad said.

“Certain-a-ly,” the man replied. He pulled back the cowl of his robe. With neat grey hair and pale blue eyes, the man, freshly shaven, didn’t appear to have suffered from the world’s turmoil.

“Please,” he said, “you are late and the hour is upon us. We must act quickly.”

“Right,” Dad said and raised his pistol. “Listen here. How about you explain what it is we’re supposed to be late for?”

A sadness which spanned the ages suffused Prestor Timor’s grin. “Yes… good. Violence in such a hallowed place. The work, she’s half done. No?”

“I want some answers.”

“Ah. You seek knowledge. Perilous path. You may find truth is not a what you crave.”

“Yeah, okay. I’ll play along.” Dad pointed his pistol at the priest’s head. “Let’s start with why and how you were expecting us?”

Prestor Timor’s disturbingly blue eyes alighted on me. “I know you.”

In a strange, inexplicable way, I shared his sense of acquaintance. Though I knew in my heart I’d never set eyes on him before today.

“Forgive me, if I’m a little, how youz say, disquieting. My English, she is not a so good.”

Timor turned to Mom and said, “Woman, do what you have come to fulfill.”

“Explain yourself,” Dad growled, his weapon still raised.

“As I say, I’m Prestor Timor Domini of the Prioratus Boanerges. I was sent here by my order to await your coming.”

“Listen, I’m not buying any of this bullshit.”

Timor’s blue eyes pierced mine. He whispered, “A grievous vision is declared unto me.”

A thrill ran up my spine. I replied with words pre-ordained, “The treacherous dealer dealeth treacherously.”

“Yes, yes,” Timor grunted. “And the spoiler spoileth.”

Dad glanced from the prestor to me. He was about to speak when Timor said, “The hour is at hand.”

“Listen, Priest--”

“Laura’s awake,” Chris shouted.

Dad froze. Mom gasped. Chris led Laura toward us. Mom and Dad ran to them. They both fell to their knees and hugged her.

Theo grinned. “You did it.”

I couldn’t speak. I brushed tears from my eyes. Mom and Dad held Laura’s hands while she walked into the sanctum. I knelt down, took her in my arms, and sobbed. The medicine really worked.

Laura and I exchanged smiles. “We’re ready, Annabel.”

We’re ready? I stared at Laura. She smiled back. I broke contact and gazed around. Everyone stared at me.

I was about to ask what she meant when Dad choked out. “Anna, I’m -- I -- Whatever you need to do, I won’t interfere. But please….” Dad’s eyes were filled with tears. He’d never appeared so unsure of himself.

I turned my gaze to the prestor. “What’s the plan?”

“The soul tempest is upon us. We must act now.” Timor’s eyes bore into me. “The Petræ must fulfill.”

”For God’s sake, what’s happening?” Dad begged.

“I -- I’m the Petræ,” I said, frightened by my words. “I am the cloud before the storm. But I don’t know what to do.”

Timor pointed to the sky. “This is a storm of lost souls. Great evil is at work. The departed depart not. Only Petræ can release them.”

“I don’t know -- how -- to free them,” I yelled. Months of frustration suffused in those seven simple words.

“You will,” Laura said.

Her words hit me like a gut punch. She appeared so certain. Did she, like me, have a trance experience?

“What if they don’t want to leave?” I asked, my thoughts on Margret.

Timor’s face turned grim. “Leave them to me.” He turned to Mom. “Woman, free whom you have come to release. Begin the soul ferrying.”

Mom pulled me away and we ran to Dad’s truck. We returned with a suitcase. She emptied it and we set up a shrine in the nearest tabernacle.

Mom handed me two small mirrors, which at one time adorned the front entrance to our house. I placed one on each side of the inner gate, facing outward. Mom filled two brass bowls with raw rice, lit a fistful of incense and thrust the sticks in the bowls. I placed Nana’s ashes on the shelf.

“I need Chris and Susan,” Mom said. She knelt down, a single stick of incense between her index fingers. Without another word to me, she placed her thumbs to her forehead and started to chant.

Chris and Susan knelt in front of the shrine. Incense in hand, they recited Buddhist prayers I’d never bothered to learn. Unable to join in, I stood behind my family. Head bowed and eyes closed, I thought of Nana. I told her to move on. Become what she was destined to be and join our ancestors to rest in peace.

Faster and faster they chanted. Mom led, said her prayer and bowed seven times. Chris and Susan intoned the refrain. After each verse, Chris struck a hollow tube and Susan rang a golden bell. Seven times for the first prayer. On it went, always repeated, always decreasing in count.

When three bells tolled, a voice, a man’s voice I knew well, whispered, “The Lamp. She must be placed on high for all to see.”

Shocked by the clarity of the voice, I opened my eyes. Sanguis sat outside the fence. Eyes mere slits, she gazed at me.

A multitude of voices erupted in my head. Most pleaded for mercy and release. A few raged at me. Buried deep, but struggling to emerge, loomed something far darker, sinister.

Mom arranged green strips of thick paper onto a plate. Susan set these on fire one by one, reciting prayers while she did so. Chris struck the hollow tube after she lit each prayer, seven times and descending in count for each. Once the prayers were ablaze, they resumed their canticle.

Chris now spun a small two-sided drum with green leather stretched across heads no bigger than my fist. While he twirled, two small beads on strings struck the drums. Susan rang her bell.

Soon Chris and Susan achieved a rhythmic melody. Their instruments blended with their chants. Mom used a green embroidered cloth to fan the flames. Before long, the sanctum reeked of smoke.

The thick haze from the prayers mingled with incense brume and swirled upwards as if on command. Combined, they twisted around the pillar and floated skyward.

I grabbed Máy Màn’s ashes, climbed the ironwork fence, and placed the urn in the lamp. Thunder rippled across the sanctum and shook the pillar. I gazed down.

Timor stood behind the altar. He pulled two small brown books and a large silver crucifix from his robes. Jane stood next to him.

“Here, take this.” Timor handed her a book. “Recite the chorus. This is important: once we start, we must see it to completion or imperil our own souls. Do you understand?”

Jane nodded. “Good. No matta what I might say to you, we must continue. Believe neither your ears nor eyes. Faith is the only weapon this day.”

“Moaners,” Klara screamed.

I gazed past the fence. Moaners approached from every direction.

I swooned, recovered, and fearful I’d fall, jumped from the pillar. Landing hard, I stumbled and fell to the ground. The voices in my head drove out my own thoughts. I staggered upright and leaned against the fence. I stared around trying not to faint.

Sanguis ran into the sanctum and jumped onto the main altar.

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