John stood with locked knees. His arms extended straight out in front of him, stiff and strained, the Glock pistol grip wrapped up in his chubby hands. The wind rushed through the pine in laboring waves of white noise. A light veil of clouds kept the sun at bay, making the day chillier than usual. John’s comb-over hair wisped about while Sanna stood directly behind him.
“Five pounds of pressure is all it takes.” She waited with impatience.
“Yes, so you have said. Just five pounds of pressure is all it takes to kill a person. I will do this at my own pace, thank you very much.” At this moment, John was not a happy person.
“Think of it as a Jack-in-the-box. If you slowly turn the crank, the surprise and tension build and build, but if you quickly turn the crank, you get to the jack popping up in an instant. No nervous build-up, just action.”
Keeping his right eye sighted down the barrel and his left eye shut he asked, “What’s a jack-in-the-box?”
Sanna rolled her eyes. “Just pull the fuckin’ trigger.” Then she took one step to the side.
John resighted on the two-foot-wide tree stump. The target he was supposed to shoot, approximately 30 feet away. He pulled on the trigger – nothing. He pulled harder- nothing. John let out and took in a big breath. He pulled harder still and then…Bam! The Glock fired and kicked back through his tense arms and shoulders, throwing his upper body back. His locked knees had no time to react to his upper body’s backward movement. He was quickly falling like a chopped tree. As he went down his hands tightened and two more shots left the pistol, killing some high pine boughs. He hit the ground with a thud and grunt, by Sanna’s feet.
“Ah, fuck me running,” John growled out as he caught his breath and stared at the sky.
Sanna shook her head, smiled and bent over looking down at John. “Well now, we got that over with, didn’t we? What did ya do wrong?”
“I wasn’t loose in my arms to absorb the kickback. I was also standing square and stiff.” It was John’s turn to roll his eyes. “Did I at least hit the stump?” Sanna shook her head.
“Hard to hit something when your eyes are closed,” she said.
“Yeah, right.” John scrambled to his feet, flailing the gun around in all directions.
Sanna grabbed his wrist with a quickness that startled John, stopping him about halfway up. She calmly said, “Please, do not wave that around while your finger is on the trigger. You have already topped two pines with errant shots; I have no plans to follow in their fate.”
“Ah yes, sorry about that.”
He set the gun down very deliberately on a stump, stood up and started brushing off the dirt and pine needles. John had argued vehemently with The Regulator that carrying a gun wouldn’t be necessary and that the Good Lord would protect and guide him as he always had. He was, after all, chosen for this life by the head lady upstairs, herself. God had guided him this far without violence, and she would, surely, provide into the future. The Regulator had just smiled at him, like a parent would do with an ignorant child. He explained, much to the dismay of John, that not all of this world is accessible to his god and her nailed son. They would be going into the pagan lands. They will be hunting the souls and children of Asgard. The Christain God has no dominion there. He even offered John a strap of leather with an amulet of Thor’s hammer. It was explained that it might do him a bit more good, over the cross currently adorning his neck. At first, John refused the amulet, but the old priest suggested it would be a good idea. So, within a matter of 60 minutes, the good Christian John now donned a pagan hammer from his neck and held a weapon of death in his hand. It had been a strange morning indeed.
John straightened up and fixed his stray hairs. “Well, now that we have that over with, should we talk about the plan?”
“Over with?” Sanna cocked her head. “Listen, John, you have a very important part in the success of this mission. The Regulator and I need to know you have at least a small chance of defending yourself.” She narrowed her eyes. “Plus, my brother likes you and if he likes you, well then, you are worth keeping alive.” Her eyes then motioned to the gun.
Reluctantly, he picked up the gun and stared past Sanna to the Regulator about thirty feet away. The priest stood next to him. With all the false confidence he could muster he said, “I am not a killer.”
Sanna stepped forward to block his sight and coldly said, “Oh, but you will be. And, your unique abilities to damn souls to an eternity of pain is going to come in handy. So don’t get all high and mighty with us.”
John slumped a little. He was not used to being ordered around. He was not used to being so stressed out, and he was most certainly not used to hanging around heathens. On top of that, he was not used to them being in charge. Sanna looked at him sternly and pointed towards the target.
“You can do this under your own power or under my will. Your choice.”
John nodded, turned and set his feet, this time with the right foot back and his body turned with his left shoulder forward. His hands wrapped around the pistol grip. Loose but not too loose. His arms were slightly cocked to absorb the kickback. He closed his left eye and sighted down the barrel. John took in a deep breath. Suddenly, he felt Sanna’s body against his back and he was both startled and slightly uncomfortable. She put her hand on his belly, pulling back and up. “Strong here,” she said. Then her other hand grabbed his left triceps then forearm. In turn, she said, “Strong here, loose here.” Her right hand that was on his belly moved to land gently on his chest. “Breathe here.” She faded away from him, but John felt all her wisdom remain, along with the slightly seductive touch of her body. He pulled the trigger and plugged three bullets into the stump.
When the echoes from the shots drifted off into the forest, John stood in shooting position. A slight smile creased his lips. A satisfyingly warm feeling ran through his body, while the hairs on his neck stood up. That was awesome! He thought, just plain awesome. John was stunned at how utterly enjoyable that was. He lowered his eye to the target once more and ripped off four more shots. Only the last missed the stump. He turned to Sanna, who watched with a slight air of amazement. John looked like a five-year-old who just discovered there had always been a cookie jar under his bed.
“Now that is what I am talking about!” The Regulator yelled. “Not a killer. My ass.” Even the priest let out a laugh.
John lowered his eyes with a bit of shame but deep inside he thought to himself, I can do this.
They worked on getting John familiar with all the different weapons they had available. John especially liked the pump-action shotgun. There was not much left of the stump after he let loose with that puppy. The Regulator was delighted with this and figured this was the perfect weapon for him. It was loud, scary and he didn’t have to have particularly good aim. They went over all the planning they had laid out on the whiteboard back at the Bat Cave. John and the priest were filled in on all the details. After that was done, they set to pack up their equipment and John went to gather his things. The priest joined him.
“God will be with you, my son,” the old man said. He was not convincing.
There was a heavy feeling in the church like it was closing in. It was getting smaller, almost disappearing. “No, she won’t,” John said with eerie ease in his voice as he packed up a small duffle bag. “She has stood by me for many years and guided me through many tough situations. Now it is time for me to do something on my own. Something truly worthwhile and with no backup. My good intentions will not save my soul on this one. Either I do my job right, or things will fall apart.” Looking up at the priest, he just smiled his St. John smile. “Don’t wait around. I will be back someday, but I don’t believe it will be anytime soon.”
“Why do you say that? This all shouldn’t take but a few days to work out and we can go back to Scotland.”
“Something is telling me there is more out there I need to find. Something out in the pagan lands. I feel there is a reason I have been sent to do this job and it won’t end with this hunt.” He stood tall with his bag in one hand and Broncos football team hat in the other. “I love the church, and she has treated me fairly, but it’s time to find something else. I have been feeling this for a long time but have been too scared to accept it. Meeting the Regulator brought that fear front and center. It’s time to see what it is all about.”
The small old priest hugged the burly man. He stepped back and nodded. “Go find it, my son. Oh and please don’t forget the correct sequence of the prayers. Remember the last time you screwed that up? We had a very nice storekeeper sent to Hell while the robber was playing harps.” He patted John on the shoulder. “Now off with ya. Go have your fun.”
John just chuckled and walked out the back of the church.
While John got wedged into the back of the Firebird, The Regulator went to talk to the priest.
“We get this done, and you remember the deal, right?” The Regulator said.
“Yes, yes, yes. This extension of the church will be excommunicado.” The preist looked around. “It will be a shame. I do love this country. Cool and dry: it’s good for my lungs. I do believe I will miss it, but a deal is a deal.”
“You all haven’t been here in a hundred years or so. Said it yourself. Shouldn’t be too hard on ya’.” Bob was using his most honorable eyes. “Not that I have anything against the church. It’s just hard to have any more encroachment on our lands.”
The old man looked out around the valley below. “Good luck, Bob.” He nodded, turned and walked back into the church. Just before he got to the door, he said, over his shoulder, “Keep all your eyes open.”
The Regulator stood for a second taking in the early evening light. He listed to the wind push about the hills and the valley. He was pondering the last words the priest had said. Then, as if a fly buzzing by his ear he heard a voice. It said, “They will come.” The light dimmed in his eyes, and the shadows grew darker. He felt it. The Mood was coming, building in the back of his mind. Looking over at his sister as she was about to duck into the passenger seat, he yelled, “Sanna!”
She stopped and looked over the T-top roof. “What’s up?”
“You want to drive?”
“Hell yeah, I want to drive,” she said with a slightly puzzled look. One thing she knew about her brother was that he always drove.
Sanna moved around the front of the car. The Regulator slowly and silently crossed the thirty feet to her, and as he approached her, she saw it in his eyes. Something about his look said just to let him be. By the time they settle into the Firebird, The Regulator was gone. His eyes were open but vacant, and he seemed to be barely breathing. Sanna figured this was what people talked about when they said he would become absent, but she had never witnessed it before. Something was not right. Most people said he would be operating fine, just a bit disconnected. The Regulator seemed more than a bit disconnected right now. He seemed downright lost to the real world. Sanna drew her eyes away from her brother and started the car.
“Right! Off to restore order in the land of chaos,” an eager voice came from the back seat.
Sanna shot John a stare via the rearview mirror. John seemed to take up the whole of the backseat.
“What?” His round face looked confused. Sanna’s eyes pointed to The Regulator.
John leaned to his left to get a look at the being sitting in the passager seat. He then felt it, and decided it best to get as comfortable as possible and enjoy the ride in silence.
The voices were loud and angry. They had hints of fear and confusion in them. Five people stood in a dark room, but only two were talking. The room was dark, and the light coming through the windows behind the two talking figures left them faceless and distorted. One was a woman and one a man.
“What do mean they are gone?! Eight men go with you to Crested Butte, and they are now gone.?”
The woman held up a hand waving off her partner. “Fell, are you telling me The Regulator knew we were coming? That is the only way to explain this.” There was an annoyance in her voice.
“Eight men, just disappeared? How could The Regulator take out eight men and come to think of it, how come you are still alive?”
Fell sat down in a large, high-backed dark chair. “I told you, you can’t fight the Johnsons on their land.”
The man swiped a notebook off the desk and across the room. It landed on the floor and pages of notes spread out over the corner of the room. The other two figures stood still and silent. The man turned and walked to the windows. The woman sighed and sat in the office chair behind the desk. Then the man turned. “Wait. What do you mean, ‘The Johnsons’? You mean The Regulator.” The woman sat up straight and retrained her eyes on Fell.
“Oh, you have more to deal with than just the Regulator. Were you aware that Sanna is back?”
“Back? That is impossible. She ran off years ago, renouncing the family. She told me herself in so many ways that she was leaving and would never return. If she came back for her father’s funeral, she would have come to see me,” The woman said matter of factly and with an air of indignation.
Fell had a look of pity in his eyes for the woman. “Well, she is here, and she has been reunited with her brother, and my guess is they are coming here, and you will all soon be dead.” His finger slowly swept the room. The two figures standing to Fell’s right looked at one another. These two had kept silent, so far. “Your mother here has led you to the slaughter.” Fell jerked his head towards the woman who was still wide-eyed.
“No one is getting slaughtered, especially here. This compound can be turned into a fortress if need be. The technology is unparalleled.” The man spoke clearly, but the tone in his voice betrayed him.
The woman looked up at the two figures standing to her left. The taller boy stood square to her, and the shorter was looking out the window. Knowing their places, they said nothing. A short silence settled in, whirling with thought.
Fell leaned forward. He had been watching the other four figures, taking in their energy, body language, and facial expressions. “Right, this one is coming with me.” He pointed to the shorter boy. “The rest of you get ready for the storm. Make your fortress or whatever you need to do. Get more dogs and locks and cameras. But, let me be clear of one thing. They will do no good against two shadows and a goddess.” The woman’s eyes widened further with surprise. “Yes, that is right, Jane. Bridget is coming as well.”
The Regulator motioned for Sanna to pull the car over. He opened the door, leaned out, and threw up. Sitting back in the bucket seat he sighed and looked straight ahead. His eyes were now clear and free of the vacancy that had enveloped him over the last 20 miles.
“They know. They know you are with me. They know mother is alive. They know we are coming.” He turned to Sanna. “What they don’t know, is that we have him.” He pointed to the back seat with his thumb.
They both turned to look at John. John looked back, and with an air of half confidence, he signaled back with two thumbs up.