Snippet from an old story, That Which We Fear

I wrote this opening a couple of years ago for a story in the 3rd Crimson Pact anthology with Steve Diamond. This was my second story about Diego Santos, Retired Marine and Freelance Exorcist.

I was rereading this today because Steve and I am currently writing the final story, wrapping this tale up for Crimson Pact 5. I write Santos (who knows the exact minute and how he’ll die) and Steve writes Tombs (the FBI agent who keeps coming back from the dead).  The last story is them at the apocolypse, battling demons, along with a shaman, a sniper, and a blind girl who can see through stolen eyeballs. 🙂

I read this intro and it made me smile, so I figured I would share it here again.

If anybody wants to red the whole thing, it is in here:

And the first story is here:

Diego Santos

Los Angeles, California


When you know you’ve only got two years, thirty days, one hour, and five minutes left before you get ripped apart by a demon prince at the beginning of the apocalypse, you try to make the best of your remaining time.

And what better way to do that than to spend it with family?

Grandma sat on a bench, sipping a lemonade, watching me dig. I was knee deep in a hole, shoveling, finishing the last project started by my grandfather before he’d passed away. He’d gotten the hole half dug, gone to bed that night, and died peacefully in his sleep. I’d been in Afghanistan and hadn’t even been able to come to the funeral.

“Oh, Diego, thank you for doing this. Your sister’s kids will love to come over and play with the fish. I wish you would’ve told me you were going to be in town. I would’ve told everyone to come over to see you. I would’ve cooked a good supper.”

“It was a surprise trip, abuelita.” I stopped to wipe the sweat off of my face with the back of my arm. Digging holes was hot work . . . Nicer than humping a ruck and body armor on foot patrol in the mountains, but my grandfather had done this sort of work for fifty years and never once complained. “I would’ve called if I’d known.”

“We see you so little, mi nieto. Now that you won’t be a soldier anymore—”

“Marine,” I corrected as I went back to digging. Medically retired, which was a nice way of saying that they really didn’t know what to do with me after a bunch of supposedly imaginary demons fucked up Quantico. But once a Marine, always a Marine.

Ay, Diego. Tan serio.” She said it with that smile that wrinkled her whole face. It was a face that the sun had darkened year after year. “Maybe you will be around more? Maybe you’ll stay for a bit?”

“Yeah. Si Dios quiera.” I hadn’t expected to be in my hometown at all, but sometimes you just had to follow your instincts. I’d found what I was looking for here, so now God needed me somewhere else. “But I’ve got to run down to San Diego tonight.”

“What for?”

I hated making her sad. “Some volunteer work . . . For the church.” Sort of. “Charity stuff.”

“Oh, Diego. I’m so proud of you. You always were tan religioso . . . I remember when you were little. You used to have the worst nightmares—”

I still did. Every. Single. Night. The same dream my entire life. Every time I’d slept since I was eight years old I’d seen the vision. It had terrified me at first, knowing the exact time and manner of my horribly violent death, but once I’d come to understand that the vision was a gift from God, giving me a chance to prepare, the terror had gradually subsided. That faith had made me strong. As time had gone on, the details had become increasingly clear, until now it was liberating.

“You scared so many people with your ways and your talk, but I always knew you were a good boy. Then you went away, so brave, and fought it so many wars. I tell all the ladies at the church what a hero you are.”

“Thank you, abuelita.

She talked for a time about the interesting things in her life, friends, activities, hobbies, TV shows, all things that I would never understand. She spoke of family and people I never had, and never would, bother spending the time with to get to know. Those things were all beyond my grasp. My purpose was to hone myself into a weapon for the Lord. It didn’t leave much room for anything else. Sometimes that made me a little sad.

The sun had been down for a couple of hours by the time the hole was nice and deep. Grandma didn’t notice that it was much deeper than it needed to be for the koi pond. “It’s so late. I need to go to bed. Are you sure you don’t want any supper, Diego? There are tamales in the fridge.”

“That’s okay. You get some sleep. I’m going to finish up here before I head out.”

“Fine, fine. But you make sure you take some tamales with you. There’s more than I can eat and I don’t want to throw them out. You always loved my tamales. You take them.”

“I will, abuelita. Te prometo.” I got out of the hole, came over and gave her a hug. Grandma didn’t even reach my chest, but the hug she gave me was fierce and strong. She may not have even been five feet tall—and truth be told a bit more round than tall—and her age showed in her short, age-whitened hair, but she had a spirit made of faith and steel. She was a Santos after all. I think some of my strength must have come from her. Abuelita took her cane and went back into the house. She always fell asleep fast, but I’d give her a few minutes. Besides, I still needed to get the bags of cement and the koi pond liner out of the shed where Grandpa had left them.

The neighborhood was mostly quiet. Grandpa had put up a sturdy fence, and there were rose bushes all along the interior, so the neighbors wouldn’t be able to see or hear anything. Besides, they were all old people who went to bed early anyway. My car was already parked around back. I took my .45 out of the glove box and stuck it in the waistband of my pants. Before I opened the trunk, I took one last look at the house. Grandma’s light was out, her curtains were closed, so she was probably asleep, and if she wasn’t, she was mostly deaf, so I was probably safe. I popped the trunk.

The man was right where I’d left him, which wasn’t surprising since I’d hogtied him with paracord and put tape over his mouth. He was staring at me with wide, fearful eyes. I leaned over, grabbed him by his tie, dragged him out of the trunk, and tossed him on the ground. He whimpered, so I kicked him in the stomach. I don’t tolerate whiners. “Stand up.” His legs were probably hopelessly cramped from being in the trunk of my car for the last few hours, but I really didn’t give a damn about his comfort. I kicked him again, harder this time. “Up, asshole. I don’t got all night.” I hauled him up by his tie, which probably choked the shit out of him. It was a nice tie. Silk. Nice suit too. Beautiful watch. Big gold thing with lots of extra dials. I’d have been tempted to keep it if it hadn’t had demon stink all over it. “You raise your voice, I kill you. Got it?” I waited for him to nod in understanding, before I ripped the tape off of his mouth.

“Please, please don’t—”

I smacked him upside his head. “No whining. Tell me what I want to know.”

“You’ve made a mistake. I don’t know what you—”

I slugged him just below the sternum. He went back to his knees as all of the air was forced out of his lungs. “If there’s one thing I can’t tolerate, it’s people wasting my time.” I caught his tie and yanked until he staggered back up. Ties sure are handy for prisoner control, sort of like handles. “I know who you are, and more important, I know what you pray to.”

“You’ve got the wrong guy! Please. Pray? I’m a Presbyterian! I don’t know what you’re talking about. Please. I’ve got a wife and kid. I don’t know what this is about!”

He sounded really sincere. His lies might be enough to make a lesser man doubt, but God had led me to this man, and I could smell the demon on him. He was consorting with evil, and thus he deserved to die. “Nice try.” I dragged him over to the edge of the hole, kicked him in the back of the knees, and let him tumble in. He landed on his face, but the dirt was soft. Mostly. The gradual realization set in that he was at the bottom of a grave, and he squealed in fear. I squatted at the edge of the hole. “You can’t shake my faith. I can smell their stink all over you. You reek of it.”

The man got to his knees. He was terrified. I couldn’t understand terror myself, but I’d seen that look before. “I’ll do anything. Just let me live.”

“Here’s the thing. Your GPS was already set and I found the piece of paper in your wallet with the same address on it. I know a demon wrote that because their fingertips always leave those little scorch marks on paper. I’m going there regardless. Way I see it, if you tell me what you know, that’s a good way to confess your sins. Now’s your chance to get right with the Lord and beg for his mercy. Think of this as confession. This is your last chance to repent.”

He knew the game was up. Demon worshippers were all the same. Push hard and they roll right over. It showed a real lack of moral character. He lowered his gaze, afraid to make eye contact. “We’ve got the photo.”

“What photo?”

“Of the child of destiny . . . ”

I scowled. There was only one thing I could think of that fit that description. Lazarus Tombs’ son had been imprisoned in a photo. According to what Tombs had told me, his kid was some sort of portal, captured by the forces of the Rusted Vale. There was something special about Tombs’ bloodline, which was pretty obvious since Tombs literally couldn’t seem to die. His kid was special too somehow, and as far as we knew, should he ever be released, his body would be possessed by a powerful demon. The photo hadn’t been seen since the attack on Quantico. “The photo’s in San Diego?”

He nodded. I could see now that he was crying, fat tears rolling down his stupid face. “You’ve got to understand. They showed me paradise. It’s so beautiful. It’s everything you could ever want.”

“Uh huh,” I stood up, grasped the shovel handle, and pulled it from the ground where I’d stuck it before. I raised the shovel overhead.

“What’re you doing?” he shrieked.

“Killing you.”

“But you said I could repent! I—”

“You needed to get right with God, man, not me. I’m just the messenger.” And then I brained him with the shovel.

He collapsed, limp, into the hole. The clang had been louder than expected. I looked to the house, but the curtains were still closed. Judging from all the blood pumping out of his cracked skull I was fairly certain he’d be dead in a minute or two, and I could just cover him up, but this guy was a demon cultist . . . In the movies people like that come back from the dead all the time. Though in real life the only person I’d ever seen come back from the dead was Lazarus Tombs . . .

Five minutes after I’d first met Tombs, the dude had been eviscerated by a demon. I knew dead, and Tombs was dead as fuck, but I’d also seen him in my holy vision, so I knew it would all work out. Being a man of faith, I’d kept everyone from screwing with his body. Sure enough, he’d woken up a few hours later, fine as could be. Neat trick, that.

But since this demon worshipping asshole was going to be buried under my grandmother’s new fish pond, coming back to life as a zombie or something like that would be completely unacceptable. Better safe than sorry. Grandpa had kept it sharp, but the shovel’s edge had dulled from my night’s digging, so it took a good five or six jabs to get halfway through his neck, and after that I just stood on it and leveraged it back and forth until his head popped off and rolled away. I tried not to get blood on my boots.

Figuring that decapitation should do, I started covering him back up with dirt, but then I noticed something in the dim light interesting enough for me to go get my flashlight to examine it better. There was a strange mark on the back of his head, like an odd, circular scab. I had no idea what it was though—some weird cultist shit probably—so I went back to shoveling. I packed the dirt down hard, then put the plastic pond liner from Home Depot in place on top. It took me another hour to mix the cement, pour it, and get it nice and smooth. Every minute of my remaining time was precious, but family projects deserve your best effort, and I figured this would make up for missing the funeral.

Work done, I put the tools back in the shed, got in my car, and headed for the freeway. This time of night I could make it to San Diego fast. I’d made that trip many times back when I’d been stationed there. I’d go down, check out this address, hopefully kill some demons, and maybe get my buddy’s son back. I was on the freeway when I realized I’d made a horrible mistake.

“Fuck. I forgot the tamales.”

The Drowning Empire, Episode 17: Isao on the Dragonspire
A quick hate mail 🙂

4 thoughts on “Snippet from an old story, That Which We Fear”

  1. I love the Son of Fire, Son of Thunder series. I’m kinda sorry that it’s coming to an end, but at the same time yay, the story’s coming down to its epic conclusion. Hopefully you guys do some other stories in the Crimson Pact series in the future.

  2. Tamales? OK, I could see turning the truck around for tamales. MMM! Good childhood memories.

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