Across the street, glass scattered into the sky, flashing hints of the muted sun as the shards spun, while a group of masked teenagers hopped through the broken living room. A team of five, carrying a number of large electronics, jumped out of the vacated home, one after the other, and landed onto the soggy front yard.
“Hey!” Gabby yelled.
The teens froze in their muddy tracks. Their eyes met hers and, like frightened rodents, they bolted in a panic, sprinting away in different directions. She raced after them. Emma yelled something to her, but Gabby couldn’t hear it. She hated looters.
Once, during a citywide power outage, they broke into her dad’s hardware store and vandalized the place, stealing their high-end equipment. They never recovered from the loss they incurred that night, and it started their downward financial spiral. No amount of leg pain was going to stop her from chasing them down. What they were doing was unforgivable.
As she followed their escape, her mind battled between incensed anger and flashes of Father Peters’ chubby face. She wanted to pummel those guys, but her mentor’s voice incessantly whispered in her ear. Everything is forgivable. Even cowards who preyed on the vulnerable? Even a bunch of rudderless teens who saw tragedy as opportunity? Especially those, she heard him say. Her mind grasped his words, but her heart struggled to accept them.
Year after year, she sat in Father Peters’ cramped rectory office, staring at his wall of books and hearing him expound on the tenets of her faith. She listened about belief, trust, and mercy, and she tried to integrate them into her life. Yet, when push came to shove, her Old Testament eye-for-an-eye personality rose to the surface, and she labored to keep it at bay. From the stories her dad told her, she wasn’t always so angry, so ready to pounce. Gabby could blame her change on the death of her mother and the pain that followed, but even she couldn’t think back to that one moment where the light in the world dimmed. It just did. Maybe it was slow. Maybe it was sudden. She can’t remember.
It was why she always returned to the uncomfortable chair in the corner of Father Peters’ office every Friday at three PM. Without him, she would be as morally adrift as those teens. Her anger, her pain, would overtake her, and she’d be something she hated, like the thugs she was chasing. With one big exception. She’d be really good at being bad. She’d excel at it. And that scared her as much as the eternal flames of hell. When she’d sit in the church at Mass and listen to the gospel readings of the Bible, when Jesus referred to the wailing and gnashing of teeth, Gabby clenched her own. Without Father Peters’ guidance, without her faith and its seemingly impossible tenets, she would descend farther into the darkness that seemed to follow her. It remained just out of reach, waiting patiently for her to slip, to fall, to turn her face from the light and welcome her into a never-ending black abyss.
So, Gabby tried to do the right thing. She tried to help people, pushing the darkness away by actions, not words. Sure, sometimes she was sloppy about it, but she had to stay moving. She couldn’t stay idle. She was either climbing her way up or falling toward the void. There was no middle ground.
Out of all God’s attributes, she liked justice the best. As the slowest thug peeled off toward a creaking house, Gabby happily followed him, hoping she could inflict some of that justice on the frightened scumbag. She’d have to figure out how to forgive him later. One divine trait at a time. Gabby knew she wasn’t even close to being a saint and, in moments like this, she was okay with that.
She chased after the weakest link, a skinny thief running with a loaded backpack on his back. Her mind seethed with a large variety of unpleasant terms she wished to call him. She settled on maggot.
He looked over his shoulder, irritated by her unrelenting pursuit, and sped into the opened back door of a large house. Gabby rushed up to the building after him, finding the house darker than expected. She stepped into the first room that awaited her, the kitchen, with antique white cabinets and butcher-block countertops. The air—thick and stale. Her pulse—racing. Her focus—sharpened.
Each step into the old home felt as if she had entered a funhouse, the wood tilting under her feet. The entire building had an uneasy slant, heaved off its foundation by the rain and wind from Alexander’s outer bands. She crossed the leaning floor to the kitchen counter, pulling a large knife out from a homemade wood block made out of a chunk of oak tree. Gripping the knife in her sweaty hand, she stepped toward a hall leading into the heart of the home.
“The police are on their way,” she said into the hall. “It’s over.”
“Bitch, please!” a voice yelled from deep in the house. “Our little police force is too busy to be dealing with shit like me. Now, why don’t you go home before my buddies come back for me?”
“I wouldn’t count on that. They ran away like a bunch of cowards.” Gabby crept forward. “Trust me, the cops are coming. I have friends in high places.”
She walked down the long, thin hall that opened up into a small living room and faced a narrow staircase heading up to the second floor. Stopping, she stared at the room, its disheveled state hiding its familiarity. Where had she seen it before?
The floor shifted with a loud crack. She fell against the wall as the house groaned around her. “Did you feel that?” she asked. “This house isn’t stable. Just come out with your hands up before something bad happens.”
Maggot remained silent and hidden.
Gabby listened for any sound of movement, only hearing the wind swirling through the small fissures formed on the outer walls. Hidden under the faint whisper, she could hear what sounded like firewood popping in a fireplace. She sniffed. No smoke.
Gabby pushed off the wall and found her balance again, drawn back toward the small living room. The wraparound porch subdued most of the natural light falling through the windows. Without electricity, the older home cast unnerving shadows, giving Maggot plenty of places to hide in plain sight.
Her leg ached and sweat started to drip down her face, splashing onto the knife blade still gripped in her hand.
Looking at the shiny weapon, she paused.
What was she doing chasing a jerk around a collapsing home with a knife? For what? Taking some kid’s game console? Emma was right about her. If she were smart, she would have suppressed her compulsion and let Maggot go, but she never seemed to call on her brain in a pinch. She relied on impulse and instinct, sprinkled with a healthy dose of vengeance. That effective, but sometimes toxic mix, had led her to a crumbling house in an abandoned neighborhood hunting a hidden figure with unknown intentions.
She gritted her teeth. Even within the unstable walls of a damaged home, Gabby fought her intense urge to tackle Maggot and put him in his place. It was as if her cells were screaming for retribution.
She glanced at the blade one more time. Rage was too tempting. Too easy to attain. And it was dangerous in her hands. Was she really willing to stab Maggot? Possibly kill him? Even in self-defense? Just for looting? Would she be able to justify her actions if his blood covered the knife? Would his death make her feel any better?
Staring once more at the sharp edge and its reflective surface, she decided she needed to let him go. Fools like Maggot would make another mistake and, maybe next time, she’d be there to see he paid for it.
In a flash, a shadow charged toward her.
She flinched as a backpack swung passed her face and struck her hand. The knife flung through the air and stuck into the back door with a twang.
Gabby stumbled back into the uneven kitchen, falling against a cabinet as Maggot rushed her. She ducked under his grasp, shoving him into the mobile island. He spilled onto the floor near the back door and Gabby sprinted into the living room, running past the stairs and to the front door, grasping onto the worn, brass knob. Her hand spun the handle and pulled, but it wouldn’t budge. The doorjamb had warped and pinched the door closed.
Panting, she looked back toward the kitchen and saw Maggot’s shadow appear, entering the hall.
“It occurred to me…” he said. “Why am I running from a girl? Girls aren’t made for fighting. They’re made for something a lot more fun.”
Gabby rattled the handle with frantic pulls.
“We got off on the wrong foot,” Maggot said as he moved toward her, blocking her escape. “What do you say we get together and see what happens?”
Gabby rushed up the stairs, the crackling sound growing louder.
“Oh no!” she whispered. That sound wasn’t wood burning. It was wood breaking. The frame of the house was beginning to snap. She needed to get out of there!
At the top of the stairs was a short hall with three doors. The first two were wedged shut. The third was open. From the pink on the walls and stuffed animals on the bed, she guessed it was a young girl’s room. Gabby hurried over to the window facing the backyard and pulled. The window screeched as it rose, the sliding edges scraping against the bent frame.
“C’mon!” she said as she forced the frame up, one inch at a time.
“There you are!” Maggot said, his masked face barely illuminated by the darkening skies. “A bedroom. Just what I was thinking.”
Gabby slid her hands under the window frame and pulled with all her strength. Crack. She felt the pop of the wood around the window break. Crack. Crack. Crack.
The house dipped and the wall behind Maggot splintered open, allowing pinholes of light to form like stars in a night sky.
Gabby quivered. She was back in the metal shop in the industrial park on the Fourth of July. The setting sun pierced through the rusted metal siding like a star field. Patrick stood above her, holding a gun to her head, ready to fire.
“What’s wrong with you?” Maggot asked.
The images of Patrick’s heinous violence burst into her mind like buckshot, and Gabby froze.
Maggot approached her.
She couldn’t move.
Tomorrow – Chapter Five
This novel follows up almost immediately after the events which unfolded in Kneel & Prey. If you haven’t read the first novel, download it for free. I hope you’ve enjoyed this free sample and let me know what you think in the comments.