This week, a story from New York Times Bestseller Lamar Giles that mixes religion with deadly premonitions.
Listen to Lamar’s first NIGHTLIGHT episode, Wilson’s Pawn and Loan.
Narrated by Tonia Ransom.
Produced by Jen Zink.
Executive Producer and Host: Tonia Ransom
All episodes are brought to you by the NIGHTLIGHT Legion. Join us on Patreon for as little as $1 per month to help us produce more stories for you to enjoy.
Hi. I’m Tonia Ransom, creator and executive producer of NIGHTLIGHT, a horror podcast featuring creepy tales written and performed by Black creatives from all over the world.
This week we have a story from New York Times bestseller Lamar Giles that mixes religion with deadly premonitions.
But before we get to evangelists and supernatural abilities, just a reminder that all episodes are brought to you by the NIGHTLIGHT Legion. Thanks to our newest members Dana, Remedios, Ann, and Michael. Thanks also to Janice and Asiyah for increasing your monthly contribution. You all have my eternal gratitude. We’re working toward our goal of bringing you new episodes every week, but we need your help. Just go to patreon.com/nightlightpod to join the NIGHTLIGHT Legion and get a shoutout on the podcast. And don’t forget, our merch store is open. Just go to merch.nightlightpod.com to get your t-shirts, hoodies, notebooks and more!
Now sit back, turn out the lights, and enjoy “Power and Purpose”, by Lamar Giles, originally published in the anthology “Whispers in the Night”, and narrated by me, Tonia Ransom.
She didn’t answer. Synthesizer music and a mass choir sang from her television speakers; it had to be her fiftieth time seeing the ad, but it still entranced her just like the first.
“Karyn, you in here?” Her best friend Reggie had a key to her place and no problem letting himself in. “I’m coming into your bedroom. Don’t be naked.”
He stuck his head in, visibly relieved that she was, indeed, clothed in pajamas. His attention shifted to the screen. “Is this it?”
Karyn pointed to the right of the screen as the video cut to a group of four. Three men, one woman. “That’s her in blue.”
“You two look alike.”
She glared and turned up the volume.
“—come be enlightened at this four-day celebration and conference at the grand opening of the new Heavenly Duty Worship Center. Bishop Horace Sinclair invites you to change your life for now and forever—”
Bishop Horace Sinclair, spiritual leader to thousands, perhaps millions when you counted his television ministry. That’s who the ad campaign was really for.
Sinclair’s Power and Purpose Conference had been in the works for the last two years, set to coincide with the grand opening of his new worship hall, Heavenly Duty. It was a fifty million dollar Mega-Church designed to hold a congregation of thirty thousand. In the spiritual community it was the biggest of big deals. All of the celebrities of gospel, ministry, and evangelism would be in attendance, plus a crowd of eager worshippers that could rival a Super Bowl audience.
Including Karyn’s enraptured mother.
Her mom had been a loyal follower of the Good Bishop for most of Karyn’s life. From his original services in high school gyms, to his first church in the suburbs of Portside, Virginia, to now. Jessica Manning was a servant to God first and Horace Sinclair second.
Over the years she’d established a place in the Good Bishop’s inner circle, thus her prominent appearance in the Power and Purpose ads. Her access to church resources—and The Bishop himself—had many of the other church members, particularly the women, dipping into the Envy bucket of the Seven Deadlies.
All despite having a daughter like Karyn.
The ad ended with ticket and contact information, though Karyn was willing to wager there were no more tickets. It was long rumored the conference would sell out. Wasn’t like there was much time left. It started tomorrow.
She clicked the television off and turned to Reggie.
“Well?” he asked.
She raised an eyebrow. “Well what?”
“Are you going?”
Her gaze flitted to the two tickets wedged into the molding over her mirror—front row seats, a gift from Mom. She shrugged.
“I think you should,” he said.
“I know what you think. It’s easy for you to think that. You didn’t grow up with her . . .” she searched for a word powerful enough to construe the years of degradation she suffered at her mother’s hands, “rants. She threw more scriptures in my face than those crazy, Apocalypse guys on the corners downtown.”
“Things could be different now. I’ve seen Bishop Sinclair on TV and he focuses strongly on forgiveness. Maybe your mom—”
“Has forgiven me?” Her voice was hot venom. “What exactly is she forgiving me for, Reggie?”
He raised his hands—one palm out, the other grasping a large, padded manila envelope. “It will never be said that Reggie the Wise does not know when to shut up.”
Karyn, angry at Reggie for going where she didn’t want to go, but equally mad at herself for being angry at Reggie, hopped off the bed and disappeared into her walk-in closet. It was easier to cool off when she couldn’t see anyone, when she couldn’t feel the waves of emotion wafting off of them.
She tugged the day’s clothes off hangers. “What’s that envelope you’re holding?”
“Don’t know. I grabbed your mail on the way up.”
As she sifted through her denim, she heard the envelope rip. Then, “Speak of the dev—” Reggie caught himself, and then finished, “It’s from your mom.”
She found him holding a leather-bound Bible and a sheet of paper. “Her note says ‘God told me to send you this.’ ”
He cracked the Bible’s cover, chuckled.
“What?” she asked.
“It’s autographed by Horace Sinclair.”
The guy autographed Bibles? The cynic in her nearly overloaded. “Let me see.”
Reggie tossed it to her.
Her day immediately took a turn for the worst.
She felt the warmth immediately. The heat spread from her hands, up her arms, hit her chest, and went supernova through the rest of her body. Reggie and her bedroom blinked away. There were—
—People. Too many people. The aisles are choked, some rush the exits, and others rush the stage. There is already a crowd there, though. They huddle over someone she cannot see.
She CAN see the blood.
It drips over the edge of the stage.
There’s crying. So much crying.
In the huddle, she sees her own face. Crow’s feet clutch the corners of her eyes and her mascara is smeared. Karyn doesn’t wear makeup and she’s yet to develop her first wrinkle. This is her mother’s face, horrified.
Behind Mom, a banner of ten-foot tall letters read, “Power and Purpose.” A sloppy, bright red splatter fills the “o” in “Power” as if painted by a child who hasn’t yet learned to color inside the lines.
All becomes quiet. The crowd at the stage, including her mother, turn to her, and stare with pleading eyes. She looks past them, to what they concealed before. A man with a ragged hole in his chest lies motionless, gone from this world.
The Bible smacked the floor. Karyn leapt backward, banging her head against the closet door. She went limp and slid to her butt. Her legs felt like cooked spaghetti and her breathing was ragged.
Reggie knelt over her but did not touch. Not yet. “What did you see?”
“Someone’s going to . . .” The images were still fresh in her mind, still shocking. “Someone’s going to kill Horace Sinclair.”
Adrenaline flowed through her. She sprang to her feet and sprinted around Reggie in search of her cell. Had to call Mom.
In her wake she heard Reggie say, “Why is it never the winning Lotto numbers?”
The first time it happened, she was eleven years old.
They’d been visiting her grandparents in Stepton, a small, close knit community where most folks knew Jessica Manning and her precious little daughter Karyn. It happened in the market when Jessica bumped into an old friend from high school and began to chew the man’s ear about her new church, Heavenly Duty. His eyes glossed over before he politely excused himself, claiming a forgotten appointment.
“It was good to see you again, Jessica.” He shook Mom’s hand, and then turned to Karyn, “You too, Little Bear.”
He patted her head, and she cringed. Not from the odd nickname, but from the pictures flashing suddenly through her mind.
She saw the man on a ladder, trimming branches on a tree. An electrical line was tight-roped through the foliage. He did not notice the wire until his trimmers bit into it, and then it was too late.
The man quick-stepped to the checkout line, leaving Jessica in his dust and Karyn nearly in tears.
“Mom, he’s in trouble.”
Mom’s attention was on a leafy head of lettuce. “You got that right, you can tell he don’t know Jesus.”
“No.” She told her mother what she instinctively knew to be the man’s fate if no one interceded on his behalf.
Jessica Manning heard her daughter out, her expression unchanging. When Karyn was done, Jessica nodded. Karyn thought her mother would stop the man before he got away.
Instead she said, “I won’t have you making up any more stories.”
“No. I’m not making it up. I saw it.”
“Only God can see the future, little girl. Now stop this nonsense.”
Karyn panicked. She didn’t want the man to get hurt and she also knew what her mother said wasn’t true. She’d learned otherwise in Sunday school. “What about Prophets, Mom? They can—”
Her mother’s palm cut off the words like a severed limb. The slap echoed in the aisles. “Don’t you ever try to turn the teachings of The Lord to support lies. Do you hear me?”
Karyn nodded through tears.
The next day, her Grandpa Tom delivered the news of Darren Telfair’s electrocution while trimming branches off his Sycamore tree.
Karyn ran from the breakfast table sobbing, leaving her grandparents perplexed.
Jessica came to her room, a sullen look on her face. Karyn felt horrible for her mother. If Karyn felt this bad and she’d tried to help that man, the guilt must’ve been destroying Jessica who’d ignored the warning.
The sympathy for her mother dried up quickly, though.
“See what you’ve done?” Mom asked.
Karyn was more confused than ever.
“We can sometimes speak things into being. That’s why it is of the utmost importance to keep our minds focused on God and positivity, like Bishop Sinclair says. I don’t know what made you tell that story yesterday, but . . . ” she trailed off, perhaps realizing the insanity of her logic, if only for a moment. “I don’t want you to blame yourself. It must have been Darren’s time. The Lord works in mysterious ways.”
It got no better over the years. As she and her mother grew further apart, the visions grew stronger, clearer.
As an adult, she had more control over her ability. A mere touch wouldn’t trigger the visions, not unless the premonition was so horrible her learned defenses could not fend it off. Like now.
She tried to call her mother, but got her voicemail.
“Today is a day that the Lord has made. You have reached the voicemail of Jessica Manning. I’m unable to take your call right now, but if you—”
Karyn clicked END, redialed the number and let it ring three times. Voicemail, again.
Reggie hovered over her. She often found comfort in his presence. His bulky girth and fuzzy beard always reminded her of Baloo the Bear from The Jungle Book. It was what she loved most about him. But today, there was no comfort to be found.
He fumbled for words. “Are you sure about what you saw?”
Her eyes narrowed, and he dropped his gaze. They’d known each other long enough—been through enough—for him to know her visions were never wrong.
She paced the length of the apartment, unsure of what to do next. She’d learned long ago the police weren’t an option. She’d be written off as a nut, and if the shooting went down her advance knowledge would propel her to the top of the suspect list. If she could just get a hold of her mother . . . despite their differences Jessica Manning, like Reggie, knew her daughter’s visions were always on point, even if she hated admitting it.
Mom would make sure Bishop Sinclair was out of harm’s way. She valued his life over her own.
Probably even over mine, Karyn thought bitterly.
She shook it off and tried Mom’s phone again. No luck.
“Reggie, do you have a suit?”
“Because, if I can’t get my Mom on the phone tonight, we have to figure out a way to save Horace Sinclair.”
He nodded slowly. “Okay, again. Suit? Why?”
“You’re going to be my date to the Power and Purpose Conference.”
The next 18 hours were a blur of brainstorming, caffeine, and anxiety. Karyn kept touching the autographed Bible, unsure of what she hoped to see. There were no more visions freeing her of this burden. As far as her extraordinary gifts were concerned, Horace Sinclair would die before his congregation if she did not act.
It was eight in the morning before she gave into the inevitable. “Go home and change, Reggie.”
By nine-thirty, Reggie was wedged in the passenger seat of her Toyota Prius, looking like a clown-car passenger. “What’s the plan?”
“I don’t know exactly. Talk to security, try to use Mom’s name for leverage.”
“Sounds like a long shot.”
“Maybe not.” She turned onto Northwest Boulevard; it would bring them up on the tail end of the new Heavenly Duty building. “It’s early. The conference doesn’t start until eleven. Maybe we can make them listen if they’re not too concerned with a crowd yet.”
As the blocks and the buildings sailed past them, Karyn couldn’t help but notice how dead Portside was this early on a Sunday. All was still; the only movement was the wind through the branches of trees planted in the sidewalk. In a way it was ominous. As if she was already too late, and instead of having the death of Horace Sinclair on her conscience, it was the demise of the world that she’d failed to thwart.
Karyn, you will get this right. You’re here. There’s no crowd. You’ll get to a guard and everything will be all right.
As they crested the last block of squat buildings, the gray shale and regal blue dome of the Heavenly Duty Worship Center floated into view. It was modern architecture at its finest, a bald giant among square trolls. The air conditioning units alone were the size of Karyn’s apartment.
“This is going to work,” she whispered.
Then they passed the Heavenly Duty Worship Center and got a look at the front plaza.
“Ho-lee Shit.” Reggie twisted in his seat and Karyn felt her heart sink as she eased her car to a halt.
There were hundreds—possibly thousands—of worshippers crowding the plaza, bustling and conversing, raising their arms in praise of the Lord. They were joyful, an emotion Karyn could not share.
These people—this crowd—would slow her down, possibly prevent her from doing her job. And somewhere among them was a killer who would not be deterred.
“Find a place to park,” she said. “I’m going to wade through this, see if I can track down someone in security.”
Reggie glanced toward the throngs of people. “Are you sure about this?”
She tried to look sure. “I’ll be fine.”
He was wedged behind the wheel of the tiny car, looking even more awkward than he did in the passenger seat. “How will I find you?”
Karyn held up her cell. “You’ve got the number.”
She rounded the car and sank into the growing crowd of parishioners who looked like modern day royalty in the morning light. Karyn blended in well. Her enthusiasm for dress up was only slightly better than Reggie’s, but attendance here required a little more than casual attire.
She’d donned her tan linen pantsuit with a white blouse beneath, one of the outfits she kept on reserve for special occasions. Preventing homicide wasn’t on her list of possible affairs when she purchased it, but good fashion was prepared for anything.
Her outfit—and looks in general—were on her mind mainly because it was on the mind of the people—men—she passed to find security. She wasn’t a mind reader, not by a long shot. She supposed her ability fell into the empath category, but even that was more glamorous than the reality of it.
Every woman knew when she was being ogled. It was an instinct developed around the same time the body began to mature, making a young girl a target for the scrupulous and unscrupulous alike.
For Karyn, it was a million times worse.
With her talent, every unwelcome pair of eyes felt like a feather-light hand pawing her flesh. She was subconsciously aware of every part of her body being assessed as she passed even the subtlest voyeur. Her face, eyes, breasts, stomach, hips, butt and, more often than she cared to consider, her feet (she didn’t even own a pair of open-toed shoes).
She’d learned long ago, when her abilities were in their infancy, that this type of visual molestation was the nature of man. For that reason, she usually avoided crowds. Something else she learned long ago . . . it was rarely any better at church.
With her skin crawling, she forced her way through, suppressing the urge to scream. There were times in the past when she hadn’t been so successful. An outburst here could ruin her chances. Stay cool, girl.
Thirty yards ahead, she spotted what she was looking for. He was tall and lithe in a navy-blue blazer with the Heavenly Duty crest on his sleeve. A wire coiled out of his collar to a bud in his ear, Secret Service-Style. As she approached, she felt her mind slip into a prayer, her first one in a long time. Please God, let this work.
The guard faced her and immediately began undressing her with his eyes. She ignored the discomfort and went into her spiel. “Excuse me, sir.” She eyed the nametag on his left lapel. “Dale?”
He smiled. “What can I help you with, Miss?”
“Do you know Jessica Manning?”
“Of course. She’s a Senior Pastor here.”
“Good. I’m her daughter. Karyn Manning.”
His eyes flitted away then back to her. She didn’t need psychic abilities to read the expression. He was skeptical. “Well, she would’ve left your tickets at the Will Call table. The doors will open in an hour and you can—”
She dug into her hand bag and produced her ticket. “I have this. I’m curious if my mother is here yet. I need to tell her something.”
His skepticism shifted to suspicion. “I wouldn’t have any way to confirm Senior Staff’s arrival. That’s not part of my detail. I do know Miss Manning has a phone. I’m sure her daughter would have the number.”
She felt him shut down, the tunnel of cooperation contracted to a pinhole. The indirect approach wasn’t going to work.
“Excuse me.” He turned away.
Dale raised an eyebrow in a what-now? expression.
“I’m going to tell you something. I’m not crazy and here,” she raised her ticket and tore it in half, “I’m not even going in, so don’t think I’m the one who’s going to give you trouble. But you’re security, and if you choose not to act the consequences will be on you.”
“Miss, you’re not making any sense.”
She leaned close, unwilling to let anyone else hear. “Someone’s going to shoot Horace Sinclair. They’re going to do it when he goes on stage to open the conference. You have to warn him.”
Dale took a step back. His expression was stone.
“Please.” Karyn felt the tears coming. “You have to believe me.”
The guard turned away and spoke into a communicator attached to his cuff. Karyn could not hear what was said, but when he faced her, he nodded. “Come with me.”
It was her turn for skepticism. “Where?”
“Someone wants to speak to you.”
He shook his head and his face glowed with eerie reverence. “Bishop Sinclair.”
Dale ushered her inside Heavenly Duty through the front door. Some onlookers rushed the entrance and were halted by more guards. Curious shouting turned to angry screams. Karyn barely noticed.
This place . . . marble-tiled ceilings fifty feet high, gold light fixtures with crystal ornaments, a glass wall overlooking a sunken sanctuary, concession stands, a bookstore, credit union, employment office, full-service restaurant, day care, and over the entrance to the worship-hall, a gargantuan portrait of the Good Bishop. It was like the Sistine Chapel and Staples Center thrown in a blender.
In Reggie’s words, Ho-Lee Shit.
“This way, Miss.” Dale motioned to an unmarked corridor. She shook off her awe and followed.
The hallway took them to a steel door marked PRIVATE. Dale unclipped his ID badge and passed it over an electronic scanner mounted in the wall. It buzzed and a bolt retracted in the frame. The door swung outward, revealing a brightly lit stairway.
Karyn looked to the guard, uncertain.
“It’s all right,” he said.
They ascended to Heavenly Duty’s second floor.
This new level was less Religious Regal and more like a corporate call center. Grey carpet led through a bay of unmanned cubicles. On the far wall, a series of locked doors barred them from darkened offices. But one office was open and well lit.
“Wait here.” Dale entered the room and closed the door.
Karyn was anxious, but relieved. She’d never expected someone to actually listen and take action. Cooperation was so rare when it concerned things yet to pass.
The door opened. Dale motioned her in as he left, casting furtive glances over his shoulder.
This office resembled the royal décor of Heavenly Duty’s lobby. Rich carpet, high ceilings, oil paintings, and the Patriarch himself. Bishop Sinclair stared through his window, troubled.
Though it had been years since she’d been in his presence, she believed time had taken a greater toll on her than him. He had to be near the half-century mark, but didn’t look a day over thirty-five. He wore gold framed spectacles over hazel eyes, and only a few renegade strands of gray could be seen in his goatee.
He offered a strained smile. “When he told me Jessica Manning’s daughter wanted to see me, I was a bit startled. I hope I don’t offend you by saying this, but it’s been so long since I last saw you, I’d forgotten about you.”
Heat seared her cheeks; she hoped her complexion hid her blush. “It has been awhile, hasn’t it?”
“You’ve grown into a very beautiful woman. The spitting image of your mother.” It was an honest compliment. Flattering with not even a hint of salaciousness. With that, Karyn got a glimpse of how a woman could become undone by the praise of such a powerful man. Somehow, she couldn’t convince herself he ever took advantage of the affections of the women in his flock. He was one of the good ones.
And she was going to save his life.
“As happy as I am to see you, Dale gave me some troubling information. He says it came from you.”
She swallowed. “Yes. Someone—I think someone—is going to—”
He held up a hand. “Not here.” He motioned to the window and, for the first time, she noticed the people on the rooftops of a building in the distance. The people and their cameras.
Bishop Sinclair rose and closed the blinds. “It’s funny, there was a time when only movie stars had to worry about paparazzi. Our country is so consumed with celebrity. The saying should be, ‘In Tabloids We Trust.’ ”
He stopped her again. “There was a newspaper article a few years back, during the time Mayor Peppers was running for his second term. I spoke openly against his policies, so he attempted to discredit me. Things I said in private appeared in the article, out of context. At first, I thought someone in my Senior Staff was leaking information. We later found out my office had been bugged.
“That was taken into consideration when we designed this building.”
The Bishop moved to what she assumed was a bare wall. He pressed on the plaster. Some sort of locking mechanism clicked, and a crevice appeared.
A hidden room.
“Come,” he said. “It’s safe to talk in here.”
She stepped inside, awed by the level of intrigue the Bishop’s type of celebrity demanded. The room was a scaled down version of the main office. There was a desk, a small bookshelf, a console of security monitors, and a worktable littered with circuits and tools that smelled of oil. It was an odd setup—the worktable more than the rest—but she supposed it served its purpose. Especially today.
As soon as he closed the door, she vomited the words, “Don’t ask me how I know what I’m about to say, but you have to believe there’s going to be an attempt on your life. Someone’s going to shoot you in front of your congregation if you don’t do something.”
“Dear Lord.” He kneaded his face with stiff fingers. “That’s what Dale said. I prayed he’d gotten mixed up.”
“It’s true. I swear.”
He sighed, nodded. “I believe you, child.”
At his desk, he scooped up the phone and thumbed a red button on its face. “Mr. Markham, come to the back room, please. Bring Jimmy with you.” He placed the receiver back in the cradle.
“Who did you call?”
“Our Chief of Security.”
His statement could’ve been an introduction, for as soon as he said it, the lock disengaged. A linebacker-sized, blue-eyed behemoth entered the room. His hair was long, platinum and slicked back, a stark contrast to Bishop and the mostly black Heavenly Duty congregation. He looked Nordic—Odin without the eyepatch.
A shorter, frailer blonde—the bottle variety, his dye job was terrible—tailed him. Once they were all in, the room felt too tight . . . and hot. Karyn found it difficult to breathe, as if these men didn’t just inhale the air, but absorbed it.
The sensation wasn’t physical. This was part of her gift. A warning. Something wrong here.
Mr. Markham sealed the door behind his little buddy, and then focused on Karyn.
“What appears to be the problem, Bishop?”
She glanced at Sinclair. He couldn’t even look her in the eye. “She knows, Mr. Markham. I don’t know how, but she knows about our plan.”
The world tilted. Sinclair’s words and her heightened sensitivity to the present danger were almost too much to bear.
She backpedaled, collided with the wall, used it for support while she forced her breathing to regulate. A fine sheen of sweat plastered her blouse to her chest and back.
Why was it so hot?
Markham spoke. “She does, does she?”
His voice was high, squeaky. It made him no less intimidating. He shot the other blonde—Jimmy—a look. “Now how did that happen?”
Jimmy shook his head frantically, his previous grin morphing into a frown while a bit of drool slid from the corner of his mouth. “Nuh-unh, wasn’t me. Wasn’t Jimmy.”
Karyn didn’t need her powers to recognize Jimmy had intellectual disabilities. What the hell was going on here?
“We should call it off,” Sinclair told Markham. “If there’s a leak, we shouldn’t go through with this.”
Markham gave an easy smile. “Our objective hasn’t changed. Think of the good this will do. It’s worth the risk.”
Karyn found her voice. “The good?”
“Karyn.” The Bishop’s eyes begged her understanding. “You’ve got it all wrong. No one’s going to kill me. The bullet’s not even real.”
“It’s a blank and a . . .” He looked to the Security Chief for the proper word.
“A squib,” Markham said. “It’s what they use in the movies to make gunshots look real.” At the worktable he picked up a harness and a bag of what looked like hospital blood. “It’s a low-charge explosive and a packet of red corn syrup. Bishop Sinclair’s in no danger whatsoever.”
Karyn shook her head. What she saw in her vision wasn’t corn syrup. In the future place she could smell the copper stench. It was blood and it was real.
“Why?” she asked. “Why this?”
“Forgiveness, Karyn,” Sinclair said. “It’s all about His message. I’m going to have thirty-thousand people under my roof today, and my congregation isn’t even at its peak. We’re only going to rise higher. But somewhere along the way, His message got lost. It became about being in the ‘cool church’, about getting your Heavenly Duty license plate holder. It’s about being the Heavenly Duty Choir Director, or Chief Financial Officer. People have started to look at our church like a country club. The in-crowd belongs to Heavenly Duty, and we don’t cotton to nobodies around here.” Sinclair’s eyes glistened. “It never should’ve come to this.”
“So you’re going to fake an assassination?” she asked. “It’s come to that?”
Markham said, “It’s not the assassination that makes this special. It’s the assassin.”
Before she could question him, Jimmy began to bounce up and down like a hyper child. “Point and shoot. BAM!!”
Karyn could’ve made the attempt on Sinclair’s life herself right then. “Tell me you don’t intend to involve him in this.”
Sinclair spoke with his voice and hands, channeling the energy that made him a world-famous speaker. “If you’ll let me explain, you’ll see why it could only be him. People threaten my life all the time. Most recently, members from The Church of King Christ.”
He let that hang and she bit. She’d heard about them in the news lately “The Aryan church?”
“Right. The officialdom of the church claims no knowledge of the threats, of course. But it’s all semantics, now isn’t it? The lines have been drawn. There have been talks of riots, even among my people.”
She began to understand Jimmy’s bottle-blonde locks. If he wanted it to look like the shooter was connected to an Aryan church, he needed to look Aryan. She got that, but not what Sinclair hoped to accomplish.
“When we do this, there will be horror and panic . . . Old Testament terror,” he said. “The true Christians will be separated from the vengeful charlatans. We’ll finally know who’s been listening.”
Now Karyn was clear, on one thing anyway: Sinclair was insane.
“You’re doing this because you want to weed out the Luke-Warms?” she asked.
“No. I’m doing this so I can save them.”
“I thought only Christ saved. Or is that just semantics, too?”
Sinclair’s eyes flickered. He concealed the anger quickly. “When I ‘survive,’ and I forgive Jimmy for what he’s done, my message will be stronger than ever. My followers will be stronger for it. Don’t you see?”
“It won’t work,” she bluffed. She knew more than any of them it was going to work better than they’d dreamed. “You’ll be seen by medics and cops. They’ll find the squib.”
“You’d be surprised how many of our most trusted members are in law enforcement and emergency services.”
“What about Jimmy? He’s supposed to be ostracized, maybe go to jail, for your ego trip?”
Markham spoke up, “True followers make sacrifices to spread God’s Word. Besides, we have strong ties to the legal community, too. We know the DA personally. Someone in Jimmy’s condition will never see trial. This will work, Miss.”
She shook her head, her resolve hardened. “No. It won’t. Because I won’t let it.” She made for the door, but was halted by Markham’s manacle-like grip.
The heat in the room went nuclear.
This is not the future. It’s the past, gray and grainy, like old news footage. Markham’s here, talking to men who look like him. They nod, laugh, and over their heads a crucifix hangs and the Lord looks over their deeds with anguished eyes.
Markham shakes the hand of another. In the web between the thumb and forefinger of this other man’s hand, there’s a Swastika.
Fast forward. Markham tinkers with a rifle. He removes one set of rounds—the blanks—and replaces them with black casings that look like missiles.
Skip. The future’s now. While the masses huddle over a dead Bishop, Markham watches from a balcony with Jimmy murdered at his feet and a smile on his lips.
Karyn blinked to get her bearings. How long was she out? Seconds? Minutes?
“Is she all right?” Sinclair asked.
Markham watched her carefully. “She’s fine now.”
“Wait.” She went to move and felt her arm snatched backwards. A silver cuff chained her to the heavy worktable. To Markham, she said, “What are you–?”
Her eyes drifted past him, to the fifth figure in the room.
She bit back a scream.
A black mass of living shadow hulked over Markham. The heat from before—it came off the thing in waves. In all her years—all of her visions—she’d never seen anything like it.
Karyn’s phone rang.
Markham came closer, as did the blackness. She cringed.
“He’s not going to hurt you, Karyn,” the Bishop assured.
It wasn’t Markham she was concerned with. Not anymore.
The murderous Nordic reached into her bag and confiscated her phone, slipping it in his jacket pocket. “I’ll deal with you later.” Then, to Sinclair: “We need to go.” He gathered up the squib harness. Jimmy left, followed by the Bishop.
“We’ll work something out,” Sinclair said.
No, Karyn thought, you won’t.
Then went the Nordic, and thank goodness, that shadow.
Before the door closed, trapping her, the shadow twisted like a snake. The mound at the top—the head—faced her, shooting that unnatural heat her way. Then a horizontal crescent-moon appeared, perfectly white pointed teeth flashed. The Cheshire Cat from Hell.
Then they were gone.
Reggie hung up his phone. “Where are you, Karyn? Dammit.”
“Can I help you, sir?”
He turned, embarrassed. “Um, darn it. This darn phone.”
The man he faced was massive. Reggie was no small guy; at six-foot-two, two hundred and eighty pounds, he dwarfed most people he met. Now he knew how those folks felt.
This security guard was Shaq-sized. His skin was tanned bronze, his hair light-brown, with eyes like olives. The strangest looking man Reggie had ever seen.
“You seem lost, sir. Can I help you with something?”
People milled around, on beelines for Heavenly Duty’s open doors. Reggie scanned their faces. “I’m looking for my friend, Karyn.”
He tapped his earpiece. “I heard her name over the radio earlier. I think she was taken to meet Bishop Sinclair.”
A sigh slipped out of him. “Good. That’s good.”
“I should take you to her,” the guard said. Then, something in Reggie flicked on, a sudden need to get to Karyn and get to Karyn now.
“Can you do that?”
The guard nodded. “Just stick close.”
They moved through the crowd with odd ease. People stopped short or sped up to clear a direct path for them, yet no one even glanced their way. In the foyer, they detoured down a long corridor.
“Hey, I’m Reggie, by the way. I didn’t catch your name.”
The guard gave him the warmest smile he’d seen in a long time. “Just call me Michael.”
Moments later, they were on a deserted floor. Reggie knew when he was somewhere he wasn’t supposed to be.
“Don’t you think they’re in the sanctuary by now?” Reggie asked.
Michael opened a door at the end of the floor. Reggie followed and realized this was the Bishop’s office.
“Mike, no one’s here, man.”
The guard approached a bare wall and pressed his hand, fingers splayed, against the plaster. He turned to Reggie, and placed a small metal trinket in his palm. “You’ll need this.”
He looked past Michael at the door concealed in the wall. A step closer and there was a familiar voice. Reggie slinked into the hidden room and saw Karyn tugging on a cuff that trapped her wrist to a table. He looked down to the tiny metal in his hand. A cuff key.
“Karyn.” He rushed forward.
“I had another vision, Reggie.”
He stopped shy of her. “Just now?”
“No. It’s been awhile. You’re fine.”
Still, he was hesitant. Early on in their friendship, before he understood the nature of her abilities, he’d touched her while she was in the midst of a powerful, ugly vision. That day, they both found out that Karyn could not only see visions of the past and future, but she became a cipher of the visions, for a time.
When Reggie touched her, he saw what she saw.
His mind couldn’t take it.
It was three days before he woke up again, in a hospital with an IV snaking to his arm.
Warily, his hand hovered toward her wrist like she was a hot oven and he was afraid of getting burned. He touched her, snatched his hand back then touched her again. Nothing. Good. He unlocked her cuff while she filled him in on what was what in Heavenly Duty.
Listening to her tale of Bishop Sinclair’s Aryan Security Chief planning to turn his hare-brained scheme against him, he was again reminded of her burden and was secretly glad the ability was hers and not his.
She rubbed her raw wrist. “How did you find me?”
“This guard, Michael.” Reggie intended to introduce his ally and found the larger office empty. “He was right here.”
Karyn pushed past him, checked the wall clock. “Sinclair’s going on soon.”
“What do we need to do?”
“Give me your phone.”
He handed it over. She said, “Use the desk phone to call the cops.”
“And tell them what?”
“Tell them you saw a black man chase a screaming white girl into the church. That should get the SWAT team down here.”
“What are you going to do?”
“Reggie, I’ve got a date with a rifleman.”
He stiffened. “I’m going with you.”
“No. You’re not.”
“Look what rolling solo has done for you so far.”
She touched his hand. “You can’t come with me, Reggie. I know what I have to do and you don’t want to be there when I do it.”
He didn’t want to let her go, but they’d been down this road before—if she had a plan, he had to trust her. Before he could relent, she was out the door.
It took twenty minutes to find the entrance to the balcony she’d seen in her vision. She ran into no resistance from security. No surprise there. Markham was the boss on these matters, and since he was the only legitimate threat to Bishop Sinclair, of course he’d want the guards gone.
Which leaves me, she thought, a rodent of fear scurrying along her intestines.
She’d told Reggie she knew what she had to do. It was a lie.
The truth: Reggie was her only friend, and she didn’t want to risk him in this business. The image of that smiling darkness was fresh in her mind. It was real, as real as any vision she’d ever had. The forces at work here were sinister, indeed.
They were her load to carry.
Creeping through Heavenly Duty’s upper-level, she kept low and peered across the length of the balcony. It ringed the sanctuary—what some would call nosebleed seats—currently unfinished and unused.
Moving to the safety rail, she peeked at the illuminated pulpit below. The crowd murmured while a live band accompanied the low voices of a mass choir. Ahead of them all was the banner and the words from the vision that led her here: POWER AND PURPOSE.
There was movement to her left.
She crouched and backed behind a row of new stadium seats still wrapped in plastic and not yet bolted to the floor.
Jimmy approached the railing with a long duffel bag slung over his shoulder. Karyn didn’t need to guess what was in it.
He unloaded the rifle, snapping pieces into place, attaching a scope, and testing the trigger, all while grinning and humming along with the choir. Whatever his disability, his handling firearms was unhampered.
Sinclair wasn’t on yet. There was still time.
She pulled out Reggie’s cell and dialed the number to the phone Markham took from her. It began to ring and she lowered it from her ear to seek another sound.
Faintly, she picked up the sounds of Luther in the distance.
Jimmy turned from his task to peer in the shadows. “Mr. Markham?”
The Nordic stepped out, one hand digging in his jacket pocket to silence the cell.
“I didn’t know you was coming up here,” Jimmy said.
Markham grasped Jimmy’s shoulder. “Just wanted to make sure you were all right.”
“Right as rain. Ready to do the Lord’s work.”
Karyn watched, trying to figure her next move. Unfortunately, it wasn’t hers to figure.
Behind Markham, the shadows swirled and solidified into a hulking man-shape; the thing she’d seen in Sinclair’s office. It drifted toward her quickly, she had no time to react. It hovered before her, still radiating heat like a furnace. Then it reversed its direction, sailing towards Markham until the two nearly touched. A second later, it faded like smoke.
As if tapped on the shoulder, Markham turned in her direction. There was no way he could see her, but she knew he was aware of her presence, thanks to his Dark Friend.
“Stay here, Jimmy.” Markham approached, his hand slipping inside his jacket. He reappeared with a large saw-toothed knife, just out of Jimmy’s line of sight.
She stood, exposing herself, knowing she couldn’t outrun him and choosing not to try.
“Is your name really Markham?” She said. “Are you a member of that Aryan church, or did they just hire you to kill Bishop Sinclair?”
Markham tensed at her knowledge.
“Hey lady,” Jimmy said, his voice cheery. “That’s just a game. The Bishop ain’t going to die. God wouldn’t let him.”
“God doesn’t have anything to do with this, Jimmy. Right Mr. Markham?”
Markham closed the gap between them and his blade seemed to grow. Karyn rounded the seats she’d used for cover, keeping them between her and him.
“I don’t know who you are, lady, but you picked the wrong Sunday to show up in church,” Markham said.
She kept probing her mind for some sort of saving grace. She could scream, but she doubted it would even register over the noise of the increasingly crowded sanctuary. Her only defense at the moment was her mouth. “You’ll be gone when it’s over. When the Bishop’s dead, when Jimmy’s dead. They’ll look for Markham and find out he doesn’t exist. Wicked, but smart, I’ll give you that.”
“I don’t know who tipped you, but you’re not going to stop this,” Markham said. “Three bodies are just as simple as two.”
With one hand, he grabbed the corner of the loose seats and tossed them aside, removing the barrier between them. He feinted and she scrambled back several steps, her back to Jimmy.
“Mr. Markham? Why you got that knife?” Jimmy asked.
Markham said. “Shut your mouth.”
“You think he’s still going to shoot for you?” Karyn kept backing up, an idea in mind.
“Doesn’t matter if he shoots or not. That gun’s a Barett M107. I chose it because it’s one of my favorites. I’ll do fine without the dummy’s assistance.”
“Why’d you call me that, Mr. Markham?” Jimmy asked. “I ain’t dumb.”
“No,” Karyn confirmed, sensing his hurt. Feeling it. “You aren’t, Jimmy.”
Volcanic applause erupted below.
“Welcome to the First Annual Power and Purpose conference here at Heavenly Duty.”
Karyn was startled, not from the whooping and hollering, but by the speaker’s voice. She spared a glance over the rail and caught a glimpse of her mother behind the podium.
“The man I’m about to introduce—” Jessica Manning continued, but Karyn’s attention shifted.
Her distraction gave Markham an opening. He advanced, ready to gut her and Jimmy both.
“I ain’t no dummy!” Jimmy screamed, almost at random, it seemed.
It gave Karyn an idea.
“Jimmy, hold my hand,” she said, realizing if this gambit did not work, she’d have no time to regret her error.
Jimmy grasped her palm.
For the first time that day, she took control. Instead of a spontaneous vision, she summoned her ability willingly, peered into Jimmy’s past. He—
is an idiot. Stupid son of a bitch. A fucking retard.
Boys surround him after school. This is the past, but it’s bright and clear. Remembered well. Their fists fall, but their words hurt more.
The years shift. The setting changes. The attackers change, but the violence and the taunts remain. Filtered through a mind like Jimmy’s, these boys and men are hungry monsters, their sustenance is his anguish. And—
Karyn blinked. That was her gift. The ability to be in both places—the present and Jimmy’s mind—at the same time. Markham moved toward them, his knife leading, but his movements were slow, to her anyway.
The blade came at her; she sidestepped easily. Her free hand struck out and grasped Markham’s bare wrist. In that instant she became a circuit, the transmitter of Jimmy’s vision.
All of Jimmy’s torment became part of Markham through her. The visions weren’t meant for him, were too much for his mind to grasp. He tried to snatch away, but Karyn held strong. In this manner she was the mighty.
“It’s my pleasure,” Karyn heard her mother say through it all, “to bring you a true man of God. Rise to your feet and welcome Bishop Horace Sinclair.”
Applause rose, the loudest yet.
Karyn continued pumping visions into Markham.
His knife clattered as it hit the ground; his free hand flew to his head and tore at his platinum hair, as if to snatch the images out of his skull.
Karyn let him go. Markham writhed and spun, screaming, “I am me. I am me. I ain’t no dummy.”
He spun over the balcony rail.
There was a mighty racket as his body fell into the bandstands, destroying a set of drums with a clang like a misplayed note. Karyn peered over the rail at the broken, twisted form that used to be Markham. The applause for Sinclair ceased. Someone screamed.
“Be calm,” Sinclair demanded, then to the television crew, “Kill the cameras.”
The red lights atop the cameras continued to glow.
Sinclair’s chest exploded.
Karyn’s mother ran to him, shrieking. Sinclair staggered, his expression shocked and numb, viewing the wound over his heart like there was an odd bug on his shirt.
The squib had gone off.
Jessica Manning, frantic, touched the fake blood seeping from the Bishop’s shirt, rubbed her thumb and forefinger together, then touched the redness to her tongue. She backed away from the Bishop, confused.
Murmurs rippled through the crowd. Sinclair glared into the balcony, as did his congregation and cameras.
Karyn kept a softly weeping Jimmy behind her, while she glared back, knowing in her heart that she’d done the right thing, saving the Bishop’s life.
Even if it meant killing his movement.
Police and media filled the Heavenly Duty plaza on separate sides of yellow crime-scene tape. The authorities searched for facts and statements to piece together the crazed events, while reporters were willing to take what they could get from anyone willing to speculate.
Karyn spent four hours answering questions, and, by the end of it all, knew she’d be answering questions for weeks to follow.
Finally free to go, she met Reggie in the plaza, wanting nothing more than to see her apartment and bed. Before she got that wish, there was one more piece of business.
Her mother stood in the wash of bright lights with microphones shoved in front of her. Karyn could not hear her statement, but when separated from the media piranhas, she was clearly distraught.
“Stay here, Reggie.” Karyn left her friend.
Jessica Manning didn’t notice her right away, her gaze focused on the Heavenly Duty building.
Her mother blinked as if awakened from a trance. “Karyn?”
Karyn opened her arms to embrace. Mom stepped back. “Do you hate me that much, Karyn?”
Karyn’s arms dropped, suddenly heavy.
Her mom said, “They’re saying he’s ruined. You know, that don’t you? They’re saying all sorts of things.”
“They who? Mom, I saved his life.”
“When I saw you in the balcony, I knew.” Her voice became high; her eyes were spotlights. “I knew it was some deviltry that brought this blight on us. You’ve destroyed a great man today, and you’ve lost us a lot of souls.” Mom shook her head, disgusted. “I’m sorry I gave birth to you.”
She disappeared into the crowd.
Karyn couldn’t move. Stunned was not a strong enough word.
A heavy hand fell on her shoulder. She asked, “Did you hear that?”
“She’s completely lost her—,” the rest of the words wouldn’t come. The sobs beat them out.
Reggie held her amidst the chaos while she wondered if all heroes cried like this.
On top of the Heavenly Duty dome, two hundred feet in the air, a hulking being with dark, sharp eyes and a security blazer watched the two embrace. Even from that distance, he could see the tears on Karyn’s cheeks. He longed to comfort her but knew this was part of her trials.
An equally huge shadow materialized next to the being in the blazer. He fought a wave of disgust and prepared to be cordial. Those were the rules after all.
A toothy smile split the shadow’s face. “Some day, huh, Michael?”
“Yes, I suppose.”
The darkness of the being swirled and receded as it changed into another form. The previously indistinguishable shape formed a long black coat, matching untucked shirt, spit-shined shoes, and coal-colored hair slicked back. Its skin was bronze, its nose hawk-like. It could’ve been Michael’s twin, with one exception. It had no eyes.
“I have to say, it was a master-stroke getting the mother to send the Prophet that signed Bible. Good work. Tell Him I said so.”
“He already knows. I will not be delivering messages from you, Lu.”
“No, I guess you wouldn’t. I will say, I was surprised to see you working behind the scenes here. I’d have thought this beneath you.”
“I could say the same.” Michael glared at his fallen brother, The Morning Star. He never stopped feeling sorrow for the vile creature.
“It’s always good to get out and do a little of the old ‘go ahead, take a bite.’ Besides, it gives the minions a break. They get disgruntled, too.”
Michael’s eyebrows arched. “Like you once did?”
Lucifer did not answer, and said instead, “I still won. I’d say the outcome here was better than my original plan.”
“Of course you would. You’re short-sighted.”
“This church is destroyed. Without a leader the people will scatter, fall back into their old ways. My ways.”
Michael shook his head, and chuckled. “Some will, yes. The rest will be strengthened by the pain and loss. They will learn that their faith was misplaced. They shouldn’t believe in another man, they should believe in the teachings of He. As for Sinclair, he was misled, he’s human. But his faith is genuine. His students will return. He’ll be a better teacher for this. You’ll see.”
Lucifer nodded and patted Michael on the back with a hot hand. “You have it all figured out, don’t you? There’s one problem though . . .”
“And that is?”
A noticeable hiss escaped his throat. “Sinclair was only a secondary target.” His gazed shifted to the courtyard. “I want The Prophet.”
With that, Lucifer disappeared in an explosion of flame.
Taken aback—a rare thing—Michael cast a furtive glance to the tearful woman blessed with The Sight, then unfolded his wings and shot towards the heavens to report the news, praying to the Almighty that it was not too late to protect her.
Time would tell.
Thanks again to our patrons for supporting this podcast. Because of your support, listeners around the world get creepy tales in their ears every other week. If you want new stories every week, the only way for that to happen is to join the NIGHTLIGHT Legion by going to patreon.com/nightlightpod and supporting this podcast. You can also make a one-time donation via PayPal at PayPal.me/NightlightPodcast. If you’re unable to support us financially, word of mouth is the next best way to help. Give us a shoutout online on Twitter or Instagram @nightlightpod, or like us on Facebook @nightlightpod. Reviews are also a huge help, so be sure to leave a few kind words on your podcast platform of choice.
Audio production for this week’s episode by Jen Zink.
And to thank you for listening until the very end, we have a creepy fact for you.
You’ve probably heard of Jim Jones and congregation called The People’s Temple, and how more than 900 people died during the cult’s mass suicide/murder event. Followers either had to drink cyanide-laced Kool-Aid, or they were murdered with injected poison. But what you may not know is that Jim Jones was actually a civil rights activist in Indianapolis, and was instrumental in the integration of the city in the 40s and 50s.
We’ll be back later this week with an interview with Lamar, and remember to join us next week for a brand new story.