Grim reaper end of days, p.1

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Grim Reaper: End of Days
 



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Grim Reaper: End of Days


  Grim Reaper: End of Days

  Steve Alten

  In the 13th century, Europe suffered through war, famine, and the evils of the pogrom — acts of hatred that massacred tens of thousands of Jews. In 1346, at the height of corruption, the Black Plague struck the Eurasian continent, wiping out half the world's population while spawning a new legend: The Grim Reaper. Now coming full circle, the Reaper returns in 2012… 666 years later.

  Steve Alten

  Grim Reaper: End of Days

  Dedicated with love, to my teachers

  Eliyahu Jian, Yaacov Bourla & Chaim Solomon

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  It is with great pride and appreciation that I acknowledge those who contributed to the completion of GRIM REAPER: End of Days.

  The concept for this series began five years ago during brainstorming sessions with my friend and fellow writer Nick Nunziata. After a three-day excursion in Manhattan, where we “walked in the shoes” of our characters, we pieced together a beat sheet that would eventually become a script. Although the screenplay was solid, I think we both instinctively knew there was a far deeper story to be told. Sixteen months later, I began penning the novel you are now reading, not realizing it would be a two-year journey, one I could not have completed without Nick’s insights and creativity. GRIM REAPER remains our creation.

  My heartfelt appreciation goes out to the great people at Variance Publishing: to my friend and owner Tim Schulte, his assistant Stanley Tremblay, and to my copy editors, Bob and Sara Schwager. My gratitude and appreciation to my editor, Lou Aronica at the Fiction Studio ([email protected]) whose advice was spot-on; and to my literary agent, Danny Baror of Baror International, for his continued friendship and dedication. Thanks as well to his tireless assistant, Heather Baror.

  Special thanks to Erik Hollander (www.HollanderDesignLab.com) for his amazing cover art, and to artist John Toledo, who must have channeled the late great Gustave Dore in creating the original interior drawings. Thanks as well to publicist Lissy Peace at Lissy Peace and Associates, along with reader/editors Barbara Becker and Michael McLaughlin.

  My extreme gratitude to two individuals who define the word “patriot.” First, to attorney Barry Kissin, who continues to battle the windmills of injustice as he attempts to protect humanity by exposing a covert US biowarfare program that threatens us all. Second, to Captain Kevin Lasagna, an eighteen-year veteran whose experience training soldiers helped lend authenticity to the military passages included in the hero’s journey. In Kevin’s honor, and on behalf of all my fans in the military I offer this: The themes in this story may be interpreted as antiwar, but they are not anti-soldier. As such, I have not hesitated to bring up the darker side of issues that we need to bring into the light… for everyone’s sake.

  A very heartfelt thanks to my Kabbalah teachers, Eliyahu Jian, Yaacov Bourla, and Chaim Solomon, along with the entire Berg Family; Rav Philip S. Berg, his wife, Karen, and their sons Yehuda and Michael, who succeeded in mainstreaming a four-thousand-year-old ancient wisdom and whose books and teachings so profoundly influenced my life, my writing, and the characters in this book. Finally, to my soul mate, Kim, our children, and my parents, for their love and tolerance of the long hours involved in my writing career.

  — Steve Alten

  www.SteveAlten.com

  Author's Note

  On May 5, 2009, at approximately 8:15 P.M. on a Tuesday night, I was vegging on the couch, recovering from a daylong writing session of Grim Reaper, resting up for a midnight edit. My six-year-old son was asleep in my bed; my fifteen-year-old daughter was at a neighbor’s house being tutored.

  I had been working on the novel you now hold in your hands for two long years, doing extensive research while coming to embrace a newfound sense of spirituality. With only two more weeks of writing anticipated, I felt excited to be in the home stretch of a book that contained a message I honestly believed could change people’s lives.

  What I had no way of knowing was that, within a span of minutes, reality would come crashing in, bringing me dangerously close to the very story I was writing.

  Less than five miles away, my wife and soul mate had just entered a health-food store located in a strip mall close to our home. As she spoke to a clerk about her merchandise, two armed men wearing hoods and ski masks entered the store. One of the men aimed his gun at my wife’s head…

  Bad things happen to good people every day. Tragedies befall families. We search for meaning, we question God. Our faith is tested. Two years earlier, I had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at the age of forty-seven. No family history. I never blamed God; I simply thanked Him for not making it something far worse. There are so many people suffering in this world… how could I ever feel sorry for myself?

  That night as I sat on the couch pondering my hero’s fate, my wife was being held hostage, her arms and legs bound with duct tape as two men committed an act of evil that placed her life in their hands. After stealing her purse, jewelry, and the contents of the store safe, the armed robbers left. The police arrived. My wife called me, sobbing hysterically. Thankfully, no one in the store was hurt.

  It was a bad night, but of course it could have been far worse.

  This book is about good and evil, the choices we make, and why we are here. It draws wisdom from a two-thousand-year-old text that literally decodes the Old Testament, providing scientific explanations about existence and spirituality without the burden of religious dogma. My wife had involved me in these studies a year earlier, setting me off on my own spiritual journey. The information revealed to me in books and lectures provided answers to questions about life and death that were as simple as they were astounding, yet so clear that I instinctively knew it to be true. It also became clear to me that Grim Reaper was intended to be something far more than just a thriller. And yet, had the events of that fateful Tuesday night turned out differently, you might not be reading this book.

  I’d like to think differently. I’d like to believe that my faith would remain unshaken had my wife been murdered and that, eventually, I would have finished the book in the light it was intended. Then again, I could just as easily have grown angry and torched the manuscript in a fit of rage, having learned nothing from my studies, or my own hero’s journey through Hell.

  Thankfully, my wife came out of it all right, and I was spared the test of grief. After a brief respite, Grim Reaper was completed — my own spiritual journey having taken on a new sense of purpose.

  How should I interpret the events of May 5, 2009? Did God intervene? Did my wife’s faith keep her safe? Were we simply lucky? Was the incident intended as a reward or punishment for some past deed? I have learned that cause and effect is made deliberately confusing to ensure free will; otherwise, we’d all be animals performing for our master.

  But, who knows — perhaps one day the man who held a gun to my soul mate’s head will pick up this novel and garner the spiritual tools he needs to transform his own life.

  That would be nice.

  Either way, I’m grateful to have you reading the book. I sincerely hope it brings Light and understanding into your life, as writing it has done for me.

  — Steve Alten, Ed.D.

  “The earth was also corrupted before God and the earth was full of violence. God looked upon the earth and saw it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their ways upon the earth. And God said to Noah, ‘The end of all flesh is come before Me for the earth is filled with violence because of them. And behold, I will destroy them with the earth.’”

  — Genesis

  "The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality."

  — Dante Aligh
ieri, Dante’s Inferno

  Prologue

  Tigris-Euphrates valley

  (Ancient Iraq)

  His left arm had been hurting since he had awoken. It began as a dull pain, birthed deep within the shoulder he habitually slept on every night, his right arm always reserved for cradling his wife. But as he pressed his palms against the thick wall of cedar in the bowels of a swaying darkness, his left biceps began to throb.

  The surly old man ignored it, but then he ignored most things. It was easier with age. Not so with youth. Pride had railed against the indiscretions of the masses; the more he had spoken out, the more he was beaten. Still, there were worse things than physical pain. Words cut deeper than any wound.

  The Voice had beckoned in his misery. It had promised a soul mate. Children. A covenant was struck. The outcast was no longer lonely.

  Surrounded by darkness and evil, the righteous man had cleaved to the nourishing Light. When the stain of corruption spread, he moved his family into the wilderness. But the Voice grew weary of the wickedness and sexual immoralities. And when the Voice told him of his task, he committed himself and his sons without question.

  He could never ignore the Voice.

  But as the years turned to decades and the scorn of the men of renown plotted against his household, the man’s certainty waned, not because he didn’t trust the Voice, but because he grew to despise the defiled ones whose ego-driven sins had so overwhelmingly changed the course of his own life, forecasting the End of Days.

  Time and task stole his youth. His sons labored with him, married, and started their own families. He toiled on, forgoing comfort for devotion. Middle age bled into terminal weariness. As old age nestled within his bones, the memory of his covenant waned and his patience with the Voice gradually darkened to tolerance and at times resentment. What he never realized was that he was being tested, that his lack of compassion for the wicked had tainted his own soul, forever sealing his enemies’ fate… and his own.

  It began in the grayness of a heavy winter’s morning. Icy rain. Unrelenting. After two days, the rivers overflowed. After a fortnight, the valley submerged.

  The deluge made servants of the affluent and anchors of their gold. The suddenly homeless fled to higher ground. They demanded access into his vessel, but the old man said no. As the days passed, they offered to share their ill-gotten wealth. When the sea rose to meet the horizon, they pleaded.

  The old man still refused. After a lifetime of humiliation and suffering, it was far too late for any reconciliation.

  They threatened his sanctuary with fire, sealing their own fate. The mountainside erupted. The molten earth set the waters to boil. In the dark confines of his sanctuary, he listened to the tortured cries of the condemned… his satisfaction overcome by guilt. Taxed with the burden, he anointed himself the true victim; in doing so, he mentally excused himself from any accountability associated with the chaos, thereby discounting his own inaction and any transformation he might have had to bear.

  Time passed. The Earth was baptized. He busied himself with daily worship. Maintained the livestock. His soul remained restless and tainted.

  * * *

  The candle flickered as it approached, its light partially veiled by the particles of barnyard dust churning in the air. His soul mate’s face appeared, her inflection chiding. “And why is my husband hiding in the stables?”

  He struggled to ignore the burning sensation radiating down his left forearm into his fingers. “Lower your voice, he might hear you.”

  “Who might hear me? The Blessed One?”

  “The Angel of Death. Come closer… mind the flame. Press your ear to the cedar, then tell me if he is near.”

  Apprehensive but curious, she knelt by the wall and listened.

  The middle deck was at water level, the boat rolling gently beneath them, and she could hear the sea beating against the vessel’s creaking hull. For a long moment she waited, the heat within the suffocating enclosure causing her to perspire.

  And then she felt it… a cold presence that filtered into her frail bones, obliterating the warmth. The animals sensed it, too. The horses grew agitated. The cattle herded themselves into an adjoining pen.

  Then, more terrifying — a faint scratching sound — the supernal being’s metal scythe testing the wood.

  Unnerved, the old woman leapt to her feet, dropping the candle in the process. Flame met hay, the conflagration rising from the sparks like a hellish demon.

  Stripping off his robe, the old man attempted to smother the beast, his feeble efforts only causing it to multiply.

  Regaining her composure, his wife hurried to a trough, dipped a clay pot in the water, then doused the fire into submission. Steam rose from the ash, dispersing through the hold. Woodsmoke weighted the air.

  The elderly woman embraced her naked husband in the darkness, their rapid pulses beating in sync. “Why is death stalking us?”

  “Blood pressure’s dropping, sixty over forty. Hurry up with that brachial artery, I need to administer Dobutrex before we lose him.”

  The old man babbled, confused by the strange voices suddenly sharing his head.

  His wife grabbed him by the shoulders, shaking him back into the moment. “Why is death stalking us?”

  He pushed her hand from his throbbing left shoulder, the pain magnifying in its intensity. “Man’s negativity has summoned the Angel of Darkness… he stalks the earth unbridled. Fear not, for as long as we remain hidden from sight, he cannot harm us.”

  “Your arm… is something wrong?”

  “You sure this was an IED? Look at the skin hanging below the remains of his elbow; the flesh has melted.”

  The old man pulled away from his wife and moaned, his left arm suddenly radiating in scorching heat.

  “Artery’s closed, start the Dobutrex. Okay, where’s the damn bone saw?”

  “I think Rosen was using it to carve his brisket.”

  “What is it?”

  He cries out in agony, the blood rushing from his weathered face. “The flesh… it’s dripping off the bone!”

  “How’s his BP?”

  “Ninety over sixty.”

  “Did you burn your arm in the fire?”

  “No. It began hurting before the roosters arose to rant at the day.”

  “Tell me what to do. How can I help?”

  “Fetch me a cutting tool.”

  “You’re scaring me. Let me find our son—”

  “No time… ahh!”

  “Let’s get another unit of blood in him before we take the arm. Nurse, be an angel and hold up that X-ray. I want to amputate right here, just below the insertion on the biceps tendon.”

  The surly old man collapsed. His wife knelt beside him in the swaying darkness, the scratching sounds growing louder. “Speak to me! Please, my love… wake up!”

  “Doctor, he’s awake.”

  * * *

  The soldier opened his eyes to bright lights and masked strangers wrapped in surgical gowns. The pain was blinding, his left arm ravaged meat, the agony competing with the pounding ache in his damaged skull.

  The anesthetic washed cool his nerve endings. The panic smothered, he closed his eyes, drowning in sleep.

  From across the Baghdad surgical suite, the Grim Reaper stared at the soiled American soldier like an old friend… waiting.

  PART 1

  Darkness

  July

  "Evil does not exist, or at least it does not exist unto itself. Evil is simply the absence of God. It is just like darkness and cold, a word that man has created to describe the absence of heat. God did not create evil. Evil is the result of what happens when man does not have God's love present in his heart. It's like the cold that comes when there is no heat or the darkness that comes when there is no light."

  — Albert Einstein

  Fort Detrick, Maryland

  7:12 A.M.

  Somewhere in the cul-de-sac, the grayness of morning is violated by the hydraulics
of a garbage truck. A dog responds from a screened-in patio. A school bus negotiates the loop with an emissions-belching growl, transporting campers to the local YMCA.

  In the house with no kids at the end of the block, the woman with the candy-apple red hair snores softly against a down pillow. Her subconscious refuses to be disturbed by the awakening neighborhood. Her bladder tingles, still she lingers in sleep.

  Mary Klipot clings to the dream the way a non-swimmer clings to a capsized boat in tempest seas.

  In her dream, the emptiness is gone. In her dream, her father is not a nameless John, and her drug-addicted mother feels the remorse of abandonment. In her dream, there is a home and a warm bed. Chocolate chip cookies and good night kisses that do not taste of tobacco. The air is lilac-sweet and the walls a cheery white. There are private bathrooms and showers and teachers who are not nuns. There is no soundproof room on Wednesday and Saturday mornings, no leather straps and holy water splashes, and certainly no Father Santaromita.

  In her dream, Mary is not special.

  Special Mary. The orphan with the high I.Q. Smart, yet dangerous. Satan is the tiny voice in your head that says torch the cat, it’ll be fun. Jump off the ledge, you can survive. God is missing in these moments. The brakes on a runaway truck. The doctor with the cold stethoscope gives it a name — temporal lobe epilepsy, and offers a prescription.

  Father Santaromita knows better. The weekly exorcisms last until her eighth birthday.

  She takes the medication. The bridled I.Q. pays dividends. Parochial-school honors. A college scholarship. Degrees in microbiology from Emory and Johns Hopkins. The future looks golden.

  Of course, there are “other” challenges. Parties and coeds. Beer and drugs. The introverted redhead with the steely hazel eyes might be trailer-trash cute, but she doesn’t put out. Special Mary is branded Virgin Mary. Abstinence labels her an outcast. Come on, Mary. Only the good die young. Mary dies a hundred deaths. She works two jobs so she can afford her own apartment.

 
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