He watched quietly as Jordan climbed into the back of the truck. There was a renewed interest in her of late, an interest that caused him great concern, and he knew instinctively that he had to remain vigilant or risk the loss. The fact that she had been marked early on made her more vulnerable than many, a critical target. Her capitulation would be of the highest value.
He was deep in thought when, without warning, he felt himself surrounded by a low, grating vibration. He waited while the dark amorphous cloud settled into its murky opaque form.
“Ah, my adversary, I expected you would be close by,” he said.
A deep guttural laugh followed by a hissing whisper echoed through the air. “Of course I am here, I am everywhere.”
“As am I, and ahead of you no less. Now, I am ordering you to leave this place and abandon your plan to corrupt the soul contained herein,” he commanded.
The Adversary laughed, a sharp sound, like tearing metal. “You haven’t the power to command me. I do not take orders from you or your ilk. I answer to a higher being.”
“There are many souls more tenuous than this one,” he argued. “You would be better served to concentrate your efforts on those.” He knew it was pointless to try to persuade the Adversary but the warning was fair play.
“Are you worried, Friend?”
“I am not concerned; I am simply extending you the courtesy of advising that you proceed with caution.”
“I admire your tenacity, but we both know that I will be held in high regard if I can turn this one. I am aware that she is quite valuable. All the more if I can make her mine. Tell me Friend,” the Adversary panted. “What is her value? Why is she chosen, why so important?”
“I do not have the answer to your question. There are things I am not meant to know. I am merely a cog in the wheel of a much larger plan. Her value may not be known for lifetimes, but that is of no consequence to me. I will do as I am instructed and leave the details to those with a deeper understanding than my own.”
“Ahhh, in that event, you are an even bigger fool than I imagined you to be.”
With that, the opaque form shattered and dispersed through the atmosphere, leaving a noxious scent of burnt ashes in its wake.
“And so it begins,” the Friend sighed, and he followed.
* * *
It was with a nerve-wracking sense of trepidation that Jordan stood in the back of the white Ford pickup, hands to either side of the ladder that her fiancé Jason had balanced himself precariously upon. She stood with eyes closed, head turned to one side, praying that he didn’t fall from the roof, tumbling end over end until finally splitting his head on the concrete pavement of the driveway below.
“Jason,” she said. “I’m not so sure this is a good idea.”
“Your dad’s ladder is too short to reach the roof line from the ground. Don’t worry. It’s not a long fall.” He laughed at the expression on Jordan’s face. “Just hold on to the bottom so it doesn’t give out, the way I showed you.”
Jordan braced her feet against the legs of the ladder and held on to each side. “I don’t know how you do it! I’d be terrified if I had to go up there. I hate heights, always have.”
“Eh, it’s nothing.” Jason climbed over the top of the ladder and braced himself on the edge of the roof.
“I remember a couple of years ago my friend talked me into climbing out her window to sit on the roof one night. I was frozen. It took me over an hour to make it back inside. She threatened to call the fire department.” Jordan chuckled at the memory, then stopped when she realized Jason wasn’t paying attention.
“Looks pretty bad in this spot. If he let it go too much longer, he’d lose the whole roof.” Jason pulled a piece of shingling off, tossing it into the bed of the truck, nearly hitting Jordan on the head. She moved out of the way and in doing so shifted the ladder. It hit Jason on the arm. “Watch it, Jordan! Why don't you pay attention before you get me killed?”
“Sorry,” she muttered. “Hey, you never did tell me how the police academy interview went.”
“I didn’t want to talk about it. Still don’t. If it weren’t for the stupid entrance exam, I’d be in…” He pulled another piece of shingling, throwing it off to the side this time.
“Oh no, I’m sorry, Jason. Is it something we can study for together?”
“No. It’s not that kind of test. Just ridiculous questions that made no sense at all.”
“What kind of questions?”
"Stupid things like, do I think my neighbors should mind their own business? What I want to know is who the hell doesn't think their neighbors should mind their own business? I have no idea what that could possibly have to do with being a cop…why don't they just ask how many licks it takes to get to the center of a tootsie pop?” he snickered. They were all just idiotic questions with obvious answers. The whole thing was a farce.”
“Maybe you can talk to someone who’s been through it, get some advice. When I wanted to get into nursing school I called—”
“I said I don’t want to talk about it! Just drop it, okay?”
“Fine. I was just trying to help.”
“If you really want to help, then give me that hammer with the black handle.”
Jordan let go of the ladder and rummaged through the toolbox. She stood a long screwdriver against the side and shoved a few wrenches to a corner until she saw a black handle. “This one?” she asked as she held it up for him to see.
“Yeah. Just bring it up to me.”
“Uh, Jason. I can’t. I just told you, I’m afraid of heights.”
“Just bring it up and stop being ridiculous. It’s not even that high. I don’t want to be stuck working on this all day.”
“You know you didn’t have to offer to do this. My father would’ve been perfectly happy hiring someone to get it done.”
“What, and be criticized for not helping. No thank you. Stop making it more difficult and just bring me the stupid hammer.”
Jordan, not wanting to get into a fight, took the first hesitant step up the ladder. She slowly made her way to the top and stopped. “Here,” she said as she hung on for dear life with her free hand. Fear had rendered her motionless. A low rumbling vibration ran up through her legs and she felt herself beginning to shake.
“Just hold it a minute.”
She suddenly had the sensation that someone was trying to yank her off the ladder. “I thought you needed it right away. I don’t want to stay here. I want to get back on the ground.”
Jason rolled his eyes. “Stop being such a baby, Jordan.”
Jordan turned as she heard the familiar hum of her father’s SUV pulling into the driveway. “There’s my dad. He can help you now. Just take the hammer so I can get down.” Jordan reached out again, further this time in an attempt to set it on the roof next to Jason, but when she did, the ladder slid. She overcompensated and lost her footing, tumbling into the bed of the truck, her right ear missing the screwdriver by mere inches.
“Ow!” she yelled as she grabbed her elbow, which had slammed into the leg of the ladder on the way down. “That’s why I didn’t want to climb up there, Jason!” Blood was starting to ooze through her sweatshirt.
“Jordan! Jordan, are you okay?” Her parents ran toward the truck. “Why in the world is this ladder in the bed of the truck? Don’t you know how unsafe that is?" her mother cried, panic raising her voice two octaves.
“She only got distracted because she heard your truck pull up,” Jason said defensively. "If she had been paying attention to what we were doing, she would’ve been fine.”
Jordan’s mom, Helen, gave Jason a scathing look, then climbed into the back of the truck. “Oh, Jordan. A couple inches to the right and that screwdriver would’ve impaled you. Here, take my hand and we’ll get your elbow cleaned up. Are you hurt anywhere else?”
“My leg hurts, but it’s just the way I landed. I can walk it off.” Her mother wrapped an arm around Jordan and guided her to the edge of the tailgate where her father, John, helped them both down. He was turning to follow when Jason said, “We’re lucky we found this when we did, John. Rotten to the core. But it doesn’t look like it spread too far.”
John raised his hand to shade his eyes, looked up at Jason perched on the edge of the roof, then glanced back at Jordan. "You need me Helen?" he asked.
"I don't think so," she said, brushing dirt off of Jordan's back.
Jason sighed. "We're losing daylight here. If you want to get this done sometime today, then we need to get over to Home Depot and pick up supplies."
John rubbed his chin as if he were debating something, watching as his wife led Jordan through the back door into the kitchen. He turned his attention back to Jason.
"All right, come down from there and we'll get this project started.”
Jason smiled. "Good deal. Why don't you give me the keys and I'll drive."
John tossed the keys to Jason and climbed into the passenger side of the truck, all the while trying to ignore the uneasy feeling that sat coiled in the back of his mind.
* * *
Helen lifted the blanket and slid into bed next to her husband. “Oh, that feels good,” she sighed, her head sinking into the down pillow.
“Ahhh, your feet are freezing!”
Helen giggled. “John, you know full well that I only married you for your body heat.”
“I swear woman, you must soak your feet in ice water every night before bed.” John punched his pillow a couple of times, then rolled on his side to face her. “Did you talk to Jordan before she went to bed?”
“Yeah, she’s okay, her elbow hurts and she has an ugly bruise where she smacked her leg on the ladder. She didn’t hit her head but I nearly had a heart attack when I saw how close she came to landing on that screwdriver.”
“It was a pretty dumb stunt, that’s for sure. I can’t imagine what got into those two that they thought it was a good idea to stick a ladder in the back of a pickup like that,” John said, laying his arm across her stomach.
“You know as well as I do that it wasn’t Jordan’s idea. She’s been terrified of heights since she was little. She won’t even get up on a chair to change a light bulb. There’s just no way it was her idea to climb to the top of that ladder.”
“True, but she did climb the ladder, you and I both saw her up there.”
“Under duress, I’m sure.”
“Under duress?” John chuckled. “Have you been watching court TV again, Helen?”
She slapped him playfully. “It’s not funny, John. If he can pressure her to do something that she is absolutely terrified of, then I worry about what else he might pressure her to do.”
She had his full attention.
“You mean sex?” A dark cloud covered his face.
“Yes, but not just that, anything really…I admit that on the outside he looks like a great guy, but how well do we really know him? A girl Jordan’s age can be blind when she thinks she’s in love. The more I see of Jason, the less I like him. He didn’t even check to see if she was okay after she fell today. Didn’t that strike you as odd?”
“It did, but I just figured it was because we came running up. Who better to take care of her than her mother?”
“Mmm…I suppose,” she said thoughtfully. “There have been other things, too. He’s impatient with her and a lot of his jokes are at her expense. He calls her a klutz every time she drops something or stumbles, and have you noticed she apologizes to him all the time? If I hear her say, ‘I’m sorry Jason,’ one more time I think I might scream.” Helen rolled onto her stomach and propped herself on her elbows. “I think it’s time to have a talk with her, maybe point out some of the things I’ve noticed.”
“You know she’s going to fight you if you say she can’t see him anymore.”
“I’m not going to tell her she can’t see him, but I am going to talk to her about the warning signs of abuse. I’m not saying he is abusing her but I want her to be aware and I want her to know that she can always come to us if things go south with him.”
John looked at her, his expression serious. “You know if he hurts her I’m going to kill him.”
“Of course I do. I’m going to help you,” she grinned.
“That’s my girl. Now come over here and give me a kiss,” he said, pulling her on top of him.
She rested her forehead against his. “I love you, you know.”
“I’m very lovable,” he said.
“Aren’t you going to say you love me?”
“You know I do.”
“Yeah, I know,” she smiled.
Start reading the supernatural suspense novella right away!
A heart of gold. A devious mind. In the clutches of a broken relationship, she’ll have to save her own soul. If you like resilient heroines, action-packed intrigue, and shocking twists, then you’ll love J.L. Harris and D. Rankin’s high-stakes thriller.