By James LaFleur & Gordon Massie

LaFleur
Massie

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THE CATASTROPHE SCROLL—CHAPTER ONE: REGROUPING

Galton slammed on the brakes, and the silver Escalade skidded on the rain-soaked dirt road and bumped to a halt in front of Adelaide’s cottage. Galton stuck his head through the window and saw that the back end of the vehicle had taken out a row of rosebushes that dressed the front of the lawn. Fiero, who had forgotten to wear his seat belt, had braced himself against the dashboard to keep from flying through the windshield. The front wipers smeared a thin layer of mud over the windshield for a few seconds, until the pelting rain washed it away.

“Holy Mother!” Fiero yelled. “You trying to get us killed, jefe?”

Adelaide, who was holding Caesar’s head in her lap in the back seat, added her own gentle reproof. “Yes, Lionel, please try to be more careful. Caesar just came out of a coma.”

“All right, all right,” Galton muttered. “Kept the dang thing on the road, didn’t I?”

“Ask the rosebushes,” Fiero said.

The commotion had disturbed Caesar’s sleep, which had been his only respite from the painful memories of his last moments with Anna. He lifted his head from Adelaide’s lap and struggled to a sitting position. His head hurt and he was still groggy.

Adelaide looked at him and said, “I’ll be back in a few minutes. I’ve got to grab my suitcase.” She kissed him on the forehead, then got out of the car and went into her cottage.

Caesar looked at Galton. “What’s going on?”

“She’s coming with us,” Galton said.

Caesar placed a hand to his forehead, closed his eyes, and listened to the rain pounding the roof of the vehicle. After a moment he whispered, “Why did you tell Adelaide she could go with us?” His voice was hoarse and breathing was painful. His punctured lung and fractured ribs had healed, but the sting of Anna’s touch still lingered.

“My baby girl is gone, you’re barely alive, and we need all the help we can get.”

Caesar sighed and nodded. “How long was I out?”

Galton looked at Caesar in the rearview mirror. “A week. Thought I was gonna lose you. In fact, it’s a miracle any of us are here, with what happened at the beach house.”

“What did happen?” Caesar asked. “I don’t remember a thing.”

“That’s probably for the best,” Galton replied. “Anyways, we got to the beach house and found Annie. I won’t forget it, Caesar. She, she—” Galton swallowed and could say no more.

Caesar leaned forward and put his hand on Galton’s shoulder.

“It was horrible, Caesar,” Galton whispered, his lips quivering as he stared through the windshield. “She just stood there. Her body was covered in these god-awful tattoos, swirling around, just like the ink on the Scroll. When I looked into her eyes, they were pure black, no pupils, no whites, no nothing. She didn’t even recognize me. Next thing I know, I’m lying in the hallway. When we found you, you were out cold in the sand outside. Fiero thought you were dead.”

“Then the waves,” Fiero added.

“Yeah, the waves,” Galton repeated. “Freakiest thing I’ve seen so far.”

“Must be hard to pick the most freakiest, jefe,” Fiero said.

Galton gave a laugh, in spite of the awful memory, and continued his story for Caesar. “A tidal wave came rushing in after we saw Annie disappear into the waters. We were goners for sure.” He jerked a thumb at Fiero. “But this big ape wouldn’t give up. He grabbed you and started running. We bolted for the streets, but the wave receded before it reached the beach house.”

“And then the firestorms,” Fiero said.

“Firestorms?” Caesar asked.

“Meteor showers,” Galton said. “Soon as Annie was gone, the rains started, and the night sky was ablaze. Hasn’t stopped yet. Happening all around the world, too. Fires, floods, hail the size of tennis balls, meteors hitting cars and buildings and even airplanes. They’re starting forest fires, too. It’s worse than before. Everything we did to stop this mess was for nothing. She’s going to destroy us, Caesar.”

“Not if I can get to her.”

In the front passenger seat, Fiero leaned forward and peered through the rain-lashed windshield toward the cottage. “Someone’s in the living room with Adelaide,” he said.

“That’s a daughter of an old friend of ours,” Galton said. “Little Kayla Hendricks. Well, she ain’t so little anymore. She got into Belize yesterday and said she’d watch the place and take care of Miley. Least till we’re all dead.”

“Something’s wrong,” Caesar whispered. “Adelaide—”

Fiero and Galton glanced at each other before exiting the vehicle and bolting toward the cottage.

* * *

When Adelaide opened the door, a young woman ran up to hug her, as if she’d just found her long-lost mother. “I’m soaking wet, Kayla,” Adelaide said, as they embraced.

“I don’t care,” Kayla said. “I’m just—it’s so good to see you after what I’ve been through.”

“Hush, child,” Adelaide said. “It’s all right. You don’t need to say a word. I’ve already seen it all, and I know it was an accident. And everything that followed was pure circumstance.”

Kayla pulled back and stared at Adelaide with her eyes wide.

“Don’t worry, child, I tell no one about my visions. Your secret is safe with me.”

“I’m scared, Adelaide,” Kayla said.

“Like I said, child, I’ve already seen it all. You will be fine. You can stay here as long as you need to. Lionel stuck some money in the safe under the sink and stocked the fridge. You’ll be good here as long as you need to stay.”

“Thank you, Adelaide,” Kayla replied. “Momma said I could always count on you. Tell Lionel I appreciate it.”

“One condition, though,” Adelaide said. “Like I told you earlier on the phone, I have to leave Belize. And where we are going, we cannot take that precious little ball of fur sleeping on the couch. She’s your responsibility now.”

Kayla smiled and looked at Miley, who was curled into a ball on a hand-knitted shawl. “Aw, she’s so adorable. How long will I be taking care of her?”

“I don’t know, child,” Adelaide replied. She watched as Kayla walked over to the dog. “It may be a few weeks. It may be forever. Just don’t abandon her. Miley needs a lot of love.”

“Miley,” Kayla whispered as she bent down and kissed the little dog on the ears. “I’ll take good care of you, girl. We’ll take care of each other.”

“That’s good, because—.” Adelaide stopped and looked toward the hallway. “Did you hear that?”

“No,” Kayla said. “I didn’t hear anything.”

Adelaide walked down the hall toward the back of the house. She suddenly halted mid-stride, her body rigid, the air seemingly sucked from her lungs. A girl walked toward her. It was Grace.

Mommy is losing herself, the apparition said. You’ve got to bring her to me. Be ready. Only you can lead her when Daddy is gone.

Adelaide’s eyes glazed over and rolled to the back of her head, just as Fiero burst into the cottage and entered the hallway. Fiero reached her just as she fell to her knees, and Galton was two steps behind. Fiero cradled her in his arms and laid her gently on the floor.

“Adelaide, speak to me,” Galton said, as he hovered over her. “Are you okay?”

Her eyes refocused and she stared up at the ceiling. “It was Grace,” she said. “I’ve never felt a presence so strong. It was draining the life from me.”

Caesar limped into the house and joined them. “It was Grace,” he said, as he leaned against a wall. “I saw her. I felt her.”

Adelaide nodded.

“What did she want?” Caesar asked her.

“She wants to save us from her mother. Annie plans to kill us all.” Adelaide couldn’t bring herself to repeat the words that Grace had said about her father.

Caesar began to cry, something no one in the room had ever seen. “It’s my fault. I’ve killed my daughter and now my wife. I didn’t follow my heart. I should’ve known Anna wasn’t ready.”

Galton shook his head. “No, Caesar, you couldn’t have known. You couldn’t have.”

“I knew, Lionel. I didn’t follow my heart.” Caesar grabbed the silver cross from around his neck, knelt down next to his aunt, and hung it on her. “If you’re going with us, I want you to wear this. It’s the only protection I can offer.” He looked up at Fiero and Galton. “I wish I could give you all more. Right now I can’t remove the artifact or Scroll pendants. But if something happens to me, I want each of you to take these chains from my neck. They have power that will get you through this.”

Fiero knew that Caesar spoke the truth. He had experienced the flood of energy contained within the pendants as he ran down the side of Mount Kilauea.

“Ain’t nothing gonna happen to you,” Galton said. “Someone or something has made you invincible, and it hasn’t failed you yet.”

“Not any more, Lionel.”

Galton scoffed. “You expect me to believe that? You just came back from the dead. If you can do that, your ticker will outlast all three of ours.”

Caesar nodded, if only to give them a bit of hope. But he could see fear slowly infecting them like a deadly virus. “You’re right, Lionel. We’ve made it this far, we’ll finish it and save Anna—if we can beat her to the Gobi desert.”

Adelaide sat up, and Fiero helped her to her feet. “I’ve got to get my things,” she said, before disappearing into her bedroom.

“What’s in Mongolia?” Galton asked.

“A tomb,” Caesar replied.

Galton chuckled. “It got some ancient warrior you gonna bring back to life to fight my daughter?”

“The tomb contains the original source of the red powder. The one the old man used to put me in a dream state. It’s the only thing I can use to control Anna.”

Galton looked puzzled. “The old man tell you this?”

“No, he’s no longer with me,” Caesar said. “I can’t explain how I know what I know. When I was in the coma, I had many dreams. They were more like unlocked memories. I’m remembering things from my past. I don’t know how to explain it.”

“That where your wife is heading, amigo?” Fiero asked.

Caesar nodded. “She knows what I’m planning. She knows everything.”

Fiero’s focus shifted to Kayla, who leaned against the wall at the end of the hallway, looking small and timid. “What about the chica?” he asked, nodding in her direction.

“Your secrets are safe with me,” Kayla replied. “I’ve seen a lot over the years growing up around Adelaide.”

“I’m sure you ain’t seen nothing like that freak weather going on outside,” Galton said, gesturing toward the window behind her.

Adelaide emerged from her bedroom, suitcase in hand. “None of us have,” she said. “But let’s see if we can do something about it.”