Where was I? My brain is a bit jumbled… Mother got back with intel to remove my stain from Celly… Info that would have been very helpful for my trip in New Mexico. No use in crying over spilled milk, right? I spilled my milk at dinner plenty of times as a kid and I never cried over it, or is the saying referring to babies, or farmers who just milked cows?
Next we’re off to an undisclosed location in Turkey. The village is so remote, it isn’t even on updated GPS software, of course it is kept that way on purpose. We’ll set out when father gets back. I’m still relieved he isn’t home, otherwise I’d have to finish my journal entry while he sat with me until I was done. I’m sort of looking forward to going solo, but with how New Mexico went down, I don’t think that will happen for some time.
Again, what part was at?
Immediately, Raphael appeared out of thin air in front of me, by the shock on everyone else’s faces he chose to reveal himself.
Nike flat out cursed while asking who the archangel was. It was refreshing to be around a perfectly imperfect Nazarite. Blaze crossed before me, past Raphael and slapped Nike across the face.
“You curse like that again, and see what happens.” Blaze commanded.
To outsiders, parents parenting their grown children would seem as a perverse overreach of boundaries, but to fellow Nazarites we could be old and gray and if our parents still prevailed we would allow them to put us in our place however they saw fit. As long as it wasn’t done in a way that violated the Lord’s precepts. Technically, Blaze was holding Nike accountable to not be like the heathen pagans with her speech.
“Yes, father.” Nike responded, dropping her gaze to the ground. We could all feel the ripple of hot anger in her heart, and we felt the slow burn as she cooled down.
“What is the angel doing here?” Father asked. I assumed he already knew.
“Ah, he is here to help.” I answered.
“We’re in deep trouble,” Marge huffed.
“Why?” Nike and I asked in unison.
“Angels get sent when the Lord knows you can’t handle the situation with the resources he has already provided.” Leece added.
“Why is he just standing there?” Angus managed to ask the question everyone else was thinking but were too cautious to ask.
“Jude, go talk to him while the rest of us pack up to journey through the canyon.” Blaze directed in a very casual tone, almost as if he was making suggestions instead of an order.
“Okay,” I’m stunned. Not too sure where to go. Walking toward the well, I said, “Follow me,” to the slender giant.
I wondered at that moment in my head if the lore of the Slender Man really was a demon, because clearly angels were tall, so ex-angels, aka demons, would be tall too, right?
Before I stopped moving to turn and to face him, Raphael lectured me more about how unprepared I was for this mission.
“Did you even pray and fast before embarking on this mission?”
“Embark? Is that typical vernacular in heaven to be that fancy?” I sincerely was curious but he proceeded to shatter my ear drums with his thundering voice.
“I wasn’t granted permission to follow my pursuit of the owl. Instead, a legion of dark principalities in this region thought it would be fun to take me on. It was three against one, not a fair fight, but maybe if you were prayed up, when I requested backup, they would have been sent! But no! Thankfully, the LORD redirected me back here…”
“Why did you appear in front of everyone but not say anything.”
“I was sent to help you, not them, I’m only permitted to speak with you. They can all see me because most of them were Nazarites and the others are in touch with spiritual matters. It really doesn’t take a rabbi to explain that.” Raphael explained.
“Why, in my mind, do I hear you with a British accent but right now your voice is very American out loud?”
Grabbing me by the shirt and hunching over to intimidate me by sticking his face in front of mine quite closely, he grunted, “You have the attention span of a child.” Then, letting me go, he turned his back to me.
To purposely irritate him, I said, “Got to have child-like faith, right?”
Glancing at me over his shoulder, he sternly said, “Your carelessness is placing everyone on both sides of this in danger. If someone dies, could you live with that? Remember, it is you who will take an account for this mission, not me. I’m just here to follow orders.”
This time, like a vapor, he vanished.
He was right, and fear started coursing through me like a virus.
We packed enough supplies to last a week living like nomads in the canyons. We split up into three groups. Bonus, I was in Nike’s group… Total loss, Blaze joined us. I had a bad feeling about splitting up, but when Raphael made his grand, silent appearance, it didn’t take the group long to figure out I wasn’t fully prepared for this mission. Marge was voted to lead and be on point for this mission and I was to be what I was always intended to be: the consultant.
I really thought losing the pressure of the expectation of leadership would lessen my anxiety but it didn’t. Now, I had to add NOT BEING IN CONTROL on top of what I was already feeling.
What happened for the next week could be summed up into two words: NOTHING HAPPENED.
I was even forced to stay a few feet back from the group with only the grumpy angel to keep me company. I fasted a few meals and prayed on a rock, or a log, or under a tree when we stopped for breaks.
At night, we made camp wherever we were. Father and Blaze told us stories about the missions they worked on together in their youth. Learning that they used to be teammates surprised me. By morning, after we had a devo led by one of us, we packed up camp and kept moving.
While we were on the move during the day, we were tracking any traces of the skinwalkers we could find, but every clue we found literally led us into a circle. They were already ahead of us, by playing tricks on us.
Occasionally, we communicated with the other groups through radio to see if they were any closer to finding our foe, but no luck.
And I reread dear old Uncle Sam’s journal father gave me again and again, I even read the parts not related to the Navajo Nation and I got nothing! All the information I had before was accurate when I just skimmed the pages.
We met back up at Nizhoni’s hogan. We replenished our supplies and made new groups. Blaze got called away on urgent business, so Nike and I were placed in different groups. I was bummed about that.
Another week passed and still, nothing happened.
We were at Nizhoni’s ranch again, when finally, something occurred.
As we sat by the fire, eating a fresh cooked dinner, three owls appeared above us. They swirled around us like they were predators and we were prey. And the smoke from our bonfire grew thicker. The smoke suddenly took on the form of a man wearing a headdress made from a skinned wolf’s head. With an echoing voice that hissed like a snake, the smokey image spoke.
“We will not be found by surprise. We will have the hearts we seek. Leave us to do our work or else we will put a curse on this land. Your livestock will die, as will your soil. Your homes will go down in flames, and everyone in your bloodlines will die from addiction or suicide. You have 24 hours to send the Nazarites away, if you fail to comply, we will take two hearts from the Nazarites related to our recruits instead of the ones we have chosen.”
The man’s head faded as the smoke dissipated. Without me saying anything to Raphael, he randomly appeared only to disappear once the owls formed a line and flew away. I suspected he was following the birds.
“Who did they choose?” Nike wondered.
“It doesn’t matter, our families are safe, far away from here.” Marge said.
Just like in the horror films, Marge’s cell phone rang right on cue. The hogan was the only place the device had reception. She said it was her husband and she excused herself to take the call. In a matter of seconds she was buckling to her knees, crying. Nizhoni and all her sisters, but Nike, rushed to console her. Quickly, we all learned the skinwalkers found her husband and her son, and kidnapped them. The kidnappers snickered on her husband’s cell phone line.
Both would work as sacrifices for the new recruits. Marge’s husband, Tank, was related to the chief’s son, Brando, as his brother. Coby, Angus’s son, and Junior, Slim’s son, would have a sacrifice in Marge’s son, Hartley. They were in need of a third sacrifice.
“I knew I should have gone with my family to protect them,” Angus fumed. “The lot of you will do what you always do and take the bad guys down, I’m going to protect my family.” He said.
Everything we said to him fell on deaf ears. He wouldn’t listen to us. He packed up, got on his horse, and set off for his land first. Perhaps he had something to get before he reconveined with his family.
As horror films go, we tragically discovered Angus was taken by the skinwalkers, but we found that out later. Obviously, but it was predictable, right? Like at the moment I had a bad feeling about him leaving us on Nizhoni’s ranch, but then again, who trusts feelings?
When Raphael came back, he had their location, and he was able to scout it out. There was a total of nine skinwalkers, and three recruits. They were preparing for guests. Yet, the menacing group was prepared for invaders. Their cave, which split into three tunnels leading to other caves, was rigged with booby traps.
The guests they were preparing for must be the ones taken and their kidnappers.
This time we packed for war. Marge was ready to shed blood to get her family back, plus everyone agreed with me. The only way to end everything was to kill the skinwalkers. With the death of the pack, the recruits would be forced to return to their families.
We would sleep the remainder of the night and set out in the morning.
As we traveled by day to the cave, Raphael discovered some things didn’t add up. More teens in the community were missing. At least six more, and how do we know all skinwalkers were accounted for when Raphael scouted out the place? And who kidnapped Marge’s family, other skinwalkers or were they working with someone else? Plus, Navajo Nation was huge, were we dealing with just one pack of skinwalkers or a whole network of them in various parts of the Reservation?
I tried to bring up these points to Marge, but she wasn’t having it. All she cared about was saving her people, her family.
Just outside the cave, we were able to take cover behind some enormous boulders.
“Raphael will go in first, he’ll crossover into the physical realm to set off the booby traps, after he sets them off, we’ll charge in after him. Remember the ones with animal eyes were kill at any costs, severing their heads and leaving no survivors. Then we’ll find the recruits to take them back home.” Marge explained.
We were all geared up like we were ready for the Zombie Apocalypse, with the hot zone being the desert, but did she really think this plan would work?
“Hold on, wouldn’t it make more sense to send Raphael in and have him locate where your family is being held, and also have Raphael look for an entry point that won’t trigger the booby traps or at least let him observe how they get in and out. Then we split up, one team dedicated to rescuing the captured and the other team sentencing the skinwalkers to death by decapitation.” I pointed out.
Everyone was silent.
Surprisingly, father spoke up for me, “Jude’s plan is a better approach.”
He wouldn’t be going into battle with us, he would remain outside, ready to come in for back up if we needed him, but he was just observing and evaluating me. He couldn’t really interfere.
A hybrid approach won. First, Raphael would locate the ones in need of rescuing. Then, Raphael would come out and give us an updated layout of the lair. Next, Raphael would set off the booby traps and create a distraction. He would act like he was sent in alone, while Marge, Amarise, and Jaime would follow Raphael’s directions to the ones taken, while the rest of us charged in and to fight alongside Raphael. Our goal was to kill every skinwalker we could. And, hopefully, we would all come out alive.
That first battle against the skinwalkers was a blur to me. A huge, terrifying blur. What I remember most was warm, soppy, goopy blood splattered across my face as a result of Raphael using his heavenly sword to decapitate a skinwalker that wore a deer head. It wasn’t even a wolf one. Leece got injured but I didn’t witness how. We faced seven skinwalkers and killed three. We would have finished the other four, but we got stopped by an unexpected variable- Celly.
She ceased our battle, dragging a badly beaten and bruised Marge by her boot, into the front cave from the middle tunnel. Marge’s face was oozing blood from her broken nose and messed up mouth. Standing at a high point, with torch light held by Slim’s son Junior to generate focus on her, Celly picked Marge off the ground and headlocked a grip on her. Celly was ready to snap her neck.
“Celly don’t!” I called out.
“Are you talking to me?” Celly questioned. “Whoever you think I am, I’m not her.”
I was confused. I get that I ghosted her, but to just pretend she didn’t know who I was, who ghosts someone face to face in person?
“Who are you? You don’t look like a skinwalker.” Nike inquired.
“I’m Ari, Xontel’s girl, and you’re all kinds of messing with our plans. I’m gonna be nice, I’ll let you have this one back.” Celly- Ari said as she threw Marge across the cave floor about ten feet.
She had super strength like a Nazarite, and we all questioned how that was possible…
“You broke our terms and now we have no reason to keep them. Your loved ones will be our sacrifices now.” She snarled. She pulled a blue-green glass vial out of her back jean pocket and threw it on the ground by her feet.
From the broken shards, a cloud of whispering mist, that smelled like tar, urgently filled the cave. Suddenly, it felt like all the air was sucked out of the cave. I coughed uncontrollably, gasping to breathe but the more I coughed the more I felt like I was being choked from the inside out.
A blinding light burst through the center of the mist and a whirling wind pushed the mist away. The tar pit smell slowly dissipated as the mist disappeared.
Raphael was whirling his sword in sheath to clear the mist. Once it all cleared, he refastened his sword around his waist by the leather belt. The only people remaining in the cave were us losers. The skinwalkers, their mystery helpers, and their captives were gone without a trace.
The angel did what he did best and vanished as quickly as he saved us. I prayed that my prayers would come through for him and make him able to find out where everyone was going.
I picked Marge off the dusty, damp cave floor and carried her out into the wilderness. Father hung his head to witness we were unsuccessful. I was angry at him for not stepping in to try and to help us. He was the most experienced out of all us. We could use his expertise, but no, he was just there to observe me. Observe me do what? FAIL!
Back on Nizhoni’s ranch, Marge’s wounds were tended to by Jaime, she was a nurse as her normal life job. Once night fell, none of us could eat. Marge wasn’t conscious. We prayed for her recovery and healing, but we could all sense something was hindering our prayers.
I knew Nike had info about why Celly was going by Ari and had no clue who I was to her, but given that her sister was holding onto dear life, it wasn’t the time to press about that.
When it came time to rest and to try and sleep, I couldn’t.
I walked the perimeter of the ranch responsible for the first night watch…and leave it to me to encounter an intruder.
Ari sat on the fence by the south gate of the ranch. I really didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to attack her first because she was Celly to me, but I couldn’t let her hurt anyone else.
“You can try to swing but I’m not really here,” she said as she leaped off the wooden fence. Floating down,a she flickered like a glitching hologram.
“This is an astral projection of myself.” Ari said.
Celly really was a witch.
“I’m here to cut a deal neither of our parties would be fond of. I’ll give you our location. You and the angel come, no one else. You get the whole family back, wound the skinwalkers, but don’t kill them and no skinwalker will mess with this generation again, well, won’t recruit anyone from this generation again.”
“I can’t do that, Ari.”
“I’m not Ari right now. I haven’t been her since I arrived at this assignment.” She said walking closer to me, glitching with every step. She gave me that enticing look that always made me kiss her.
“I’m not really the Celly you knew, but I am more the real me and I haven’t been her in a long time.” She stated.
“And who are you really, and how do I know you’re not setting me up for my death?”
“The Celly you knew, would she have allowed you to ghost her?”
“I got in a lot of trouble for failing my assignment with you. I’m lucky I wasn’t killed. And it’s only because of some prophecy I’m still alive. If I fail this assignment, I can pretty much expect to be tormented much longer and I don’t know if the real me will survive the trauma. Celly was a unique alter because she was the closest version of my true self. On that last tour, you got more of this me I am now and not just Celly. And if you loved Celly and trusted her, then you can trust me.”
Her eyes were filled with distress and worry. She appeared like I already rejected her offer. I was not sure what to do.
“I’m glitchy because my powers are weak when my alter isn’t in full control. Ari is my most powerful alter, her astral projections can manifest in physical form. That’s why–”
I cut her off, “Alters? Are you confessing you’re mentally ill?”
“You haven’t done any research on the mark on your arm? You haven’t by now figured out who I am and why I was assigned to you?”
“No,” I confessed.
She gasped as she looked over her shoulder, “Look, you either take this deal or the people you’re trying to save will die and when you all try to come after us, we will end you. And I am here because I love you Jude, and I don’t want you to die like Levi did.”
She loved me? I didn’t know who she was but she apparently knew me so well she knew my brother was dead. Was she responsible for his death? Or did she know who killed him?
“I need an answer. I’m being summoned and if your answer is yes, you and Raphael need to come now or it will be too late.”
Smiling like I surprised her for her birthday, she loved surprises by the way, she sighs in relief.
“I can sense your angelic friend nearby. He found our new hideout. Call him back to you and then lie to him. Tell him the Lord gave you a new directive. He has to listen to you until truth comes to light, but if you keep the truth hidden he must give you the benefit of the doubt and listen to you. Once you get here, tell Raphel to find our hostages, I’m guarding them. You’ll be left to fight the Xontel and his goons on your own. Once Raphael gets everyone out, I’ll tell Xontel they’ve escaped. He’ll leave me and the new recruits to fight you. Once he is gone, I’ll knock out the new recruits and help you carry them to a safe hiding place. When Xontel returns, I’ll say you convinced the new recruits to abandon the cause and to turn to King Jesus. Then once we move out, you can call for backup to unwillingly take the recruits back to their families.”
Now, if father was watching me journal. He’d make me rewrite the whole thing down as it happened. It happened as she planned except for one part… I killed Xontel. He was really arrogant when he fought and made stupid choices. I killed him in the head and he fell on a rock breaking his neck. It was purely an accident. Ari wasn’t angry, she was panicked to see him dead. She kept up her end of the bargain. She made the new recruits unconscious and she helped me carry them out one by one to a hiding place by the base of a nearby cliff to the new cave hideout.
“I’m so sorry about Xontel,” I said sincerely.
Out of nowhere, she kissed me, which was the best thing to happen to me in a long time. The security of a lip lock with her was like magic.
Before running into the night, she said, “I sort of have you for helping me be alter-free, well, almost alter-free.”
“How so?” I wondered.
“I’m nearly convinced King Jesus can deliver me.” She said. Then she took off sprinting.
Nizhoni’s family was restored to their prospective homes. Her grandchildren, who were recruits, were angry that they were taken from the skinwalkers. Marge woke up to the sound of her husband’s voice. Marge’s toddler was so well cared for by Ari-Celly, he was hardly traumatized from the experience.
Father lectured me until his voice was raspy for acting alone. He thought it was reckless and stupid but when I showed the picture of Xontel’s rapid decaying body. Taking out the leader of the problem served as adequate vindication for my stupid solo choice. Then father told me to journal everything that night but I said I needed to process things…
I’m sort of glad father isn’t allowed to read my journal. If he knew I made a deal with a witch to win the mission, I think he would find another person to carry on his legacy. The wrong son definitely died.
*Edited by Kristen Wenneborg