Faithless: A Jane Doe Thriller
In a secret lab, a woman awakens from a bizarre dream. She’s alone, immersed in a tank with wires and tubes. The other test subjects are dead—drowned in black water. Her only memory is dying from her wounds during a night raid in Afghanistan. Something brought her back, uninjured. Men in gray suits try to end Jane. Each time they shoot her, she heals. Leaving a trail of bodies, she runs. Now, she must discover who these men are and why they want her dead. But a debilitating fever rages inside Jane. In the lab, she was on an experimental drug. And without it, she will die.
Release date: May 16, 2021
Publisher: Glass Highway
Print pages: 384
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Faithless: A Jane Doe Thriller
What I’m about to tell you sounds crazy. I died. More on that later. I’m still piecing together the story. Each fragment is like a Post-it I was lucky enough to pull from deep inside my disjointed memory. Or from a trusted friend. Or an enemy. A lot of it’s jumbled—maybe even made up. Who the hell knows? But I’m here to debrief. So, buckle the eff up.
I used to have a name. Bear with me—it’ll come to me. For now, I can tell you I was a PFC—Private First Class—in the United States Marine Corps. Oorah. They deployed me to Afghanistan, along with Lance Corporal Tyler Berry. There were others whose names I can’t recall. We joined a squad of men and women—many who’d seen combat. I thought we’d get the lay of the land first. I was wrong.
They sent us north to the White Mountains near the border with Pakistan. The same mountains Bin Laden hid out in when we couldn’t find him during the Tora Bora offensive. Now, the Marines were here on a night raid to clean out a nest of IS fighters.
When we arrived in the village at the foot of the mountains, we found we weren’t alone. The dead had gotten there ahead of us. I remember glimpses. A cold, driving rain, coming down like glass knives on flesh over us and hundreds of corpses. The worst was the children, smashed like bugs in a coffee can. No one left to mourn the small, still bodies.
Wearing NVG—night vision goggles—we hid behind white stone houses as intense streams of gunfire assaulted us. IS tracer rounds zinging through the air like fireflies on meth. My friend was on my left. We shared the unspoken language of trust, Tyler and me. A knowledge deep in our young souls that one would not let the other come to any harm. I wish I’d done better by him.
Lt. Gorman, teeth clenched, gripped his M4 and peered across the way at a walled compound known as a qalat. That’s where the rest of our squad was hiding. A river of fast-moving water separated us, carrying the dead and dying with it. When the lieutenant gave us the signal, my chest tightened and my pulse quickened. I looked at Tyler, who nodded. We advanced, heading to where the shooting came from. Another glorious day in the Corps.
As enemy fire intensified, I took the lead, with Tyler next to me. Using the shadows as cover, we made it past the first few houses. We ducked into a narrow alley as an angry stream of bullets caught Blevins. The impact sent him spinning and falling hard on the wet stones. My instinct was to save him, but he was gone. First tour, too. Like me. Guy was motarded—loved this combat shit.
The insurgents hid behind a cluster of dwellings to the right. Blinded by the rain, I focused on Tyler. Though he was a lance corporal, he was never part of the underground where bad information gets passed around like Pokémon cards. And his cutting score was high enough for him to make terminal lance. Tyler was a brother.
In the distance, a haji darted across the path ahead of us. Must’ve gotten separated from his unit. I was convinced he was the one who’d killed Blevins. Using my NVG, I tracked him as he ran. Rays of moonlight shone from behind dark clouds. Behind him, the steep stone stairs carved into the mountain seemed to rise toward heaven. I didn’t know it then, but for me, those steps would lead somewhere else.
I pointed my M4, steadied myself, and fired. It was good. The kill shot sent the bullet tearing out the back of the insurgent’s head. The fragments exploded outward in a scarlet bloom between his surprised eyes. Bright blood sprayed everywhere. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear he fell in slow-mo. When he dropped, he didn’t make a sound.
Lt. Gorman gave us the signal. Time to advance again. I turned to Tyler, closed my eyes, and took a breath. He was shorter than me. But I’m tall for a girl—six feet. It was better he was behind me. I’d protect him. He gripped my shoulder and spoke the last words I would ever hear him say.
“You got this.”
I ran full out, firing as oncoming bullets whizzed past. Someone cried out. Veering, I flattened myself against a building. Holding my weapon tight against my body armor. Wishing I could melt into the wall. Tyler was hit. He lay face down in a rush of dark water. I scanned the darkness, hoping to spot a medic.
Across the way, the rest of the squad took heavy fire and returned it in equal measure. I signaled for them to cover me. As they let loose a maelstrom against unseen hostiles, I went after my friend. I’m small-boned but stronger than I look. I deadlifted his limp body and carried him to the nearest building.
When I got to the corner, a scorching round struck me in the shoulder. Grimacing from the pain, I drove on. The platoon took out more of the enemy, but insurgents were hiding near the base of the stairs. I could almost feel their body heat. The rain was relentless. Tyler was breathing, but he was in a bad way. I examined myself. I’d taken a bullet under my OTV—bleeding badly. I wished I’d had a QuikClot pack. No idea where the medics were. It looked like we were on our own.
More bullets came at me from the rear like murder hornets. The enemy had moved and was closing in. My one chance was up those stairs. I’d have to leave my friend behind. Maybe the insurgents would think he was dead.
Gritting my teeth against the pain, I dragged Tyler’s unconscious body deep into the shadows and propped him up against the bullet-scarred wall. I faced the stairs, my breath ragged. From out of the sky, a single yellow ray of light fell. It showed me the way.
My brother, Bo, stood next to me in the pouring rain, wearing battle rattle. He was four years older than me. And even taller. He resembled an avenging angel as he loomed over me. I knew the look.
“What are you waiting for?” he said. “Run.”
Nodding, I gripped my rifle and dashed toward the stairs, firing to the left and right. If I hadn’t been injured, I might’ve made it all the way up. A hail of gunfire cut me down. It struck me in the legs and sent me forward onto the slick, muddy steps. Screaming, I tried getting up, but I couldn’t. Bo stood over me, impervious to the bullets raining down on us. His face was wet and shiny, and he was angry as hell.
“Get up,” he said.
Big mistake. He grabbed me by the scruff of the neck—the way he used to when I was ten. I remembered falling during the endless training he put me through. He’d stick his face up against mine until his beard stubble chafed me raw. No mercy in those eyes.
“Excuse me?” he said, then glanced back. “Behind you.”
Groaning, I turned in time to see a haji approaching fast, about to fire. I found my pistol, and with one clean shot, I brought him down. Whimpering, I fought my way up the stairs one by one on my belly, using my elbows. My blood mixed with the rain.
The gunfire changed direction. The platoon must’ve drawn off the insurgents. I was near the top now. Distant voices shouted, punctuated by nonstop shooting. I looked up. Something in a deep mist floated in front of me. The brightness hurt my eyes, and I tore off the goggles. When my eyes adjusted, I looked again.
It was a strange old man, with long, stringy yellow-white hair and a full beard. One eye was clouded over like bad milk. He wore an old gray suit and sandals, and a white scarf. Strings of bright beads hung from his neck. On his head, a red, green, and white turban. During MOS training, I’d read up on Afghanistan and knew what he was.
Villagers feared these shamans because of their power, real or imagined. It was said they could summon a demon and make it do their bidding. In this case, a demon being a djinn. And now, here he was. Perched at the top of the stairs in the rain. Unafraid.
“Help!” I said, reaching toward him. “Help me!”
He stared at me with his good eye, tilting his head like a curious dog. I dug way down deep and brought up the little Pashto I knew.
He didn’t react—the bastard. Instead, he waited until I’d reached the top, barely alive and almost bled out. Soon, I’d lose consciousness. Lifting me, he helped me into his house, which overlooked the stairs. Like some fairy tale, a yellow glow poured out of the small, curtainless windows. It was eerily inviting.
The house was rustic but clean, the dirt floor covered in rugs. Candles burned everywhere atop simple homemade furniture. The odor of dinner hung in the air—lamb with saffron rice. As bad off as I was, the smell made me hungry.
The old man laid me on my back in the center of the room and removed my helmet, revealing a shorn head of hair. He peeled off my Kevlar and other gear. It was hard to keep my eyes open. I craved the comforting sleep of death.
After he left me, I became delirious. When he returned, he was carrying an old, chipped coffee mug. I recognized the writing on the side. USMC. Embrace the Suck. Had one of our guys befriended him?
He helped me up and offered me the drink. When I smelled the cardamom, I knew it was Afghan tea. I swallowed the pungent, slightly sweet liquid. Coughing, I lay back down. The malang began a slow, dark chant, his voice strong beyond his years. His breath reeked of tobacco and tea. He wiped my face, neck, and hands with a wet towel. The coolness soothed me, distracting me from the intense pain.
A sudden explosion rocked the house, sending the shaman onto his side. Struggling to his feet, he made his way to the window and turned back to me. He pointed outside and said something I couldn’t understand. Now, more explosions as missiles from the sky struck the village. Yut, we’d gotten our air support! I should’ve evacuated with the rest of the platoon. Too late now.
My vision blurred. I could just make out the lined face of the crazy old dude as I slipped away. He gave me a smile through a handful of rotting teeth. As he waved his hands over me, a low-pitch humming—like something out of hell—caused the floor to vibrate. An intense heat radiated from my body like a fever. Then, the real fun started.
Spent bloody bullets ascended from my body in slow-mo. Dull and misshapen in the yellow light, the slugs looked like bizarro raindrops in reverse. I tried looking down at my body, but I was in too much pain. The malang continued to chant.
Bullets kept rising, until all of them had left me and came to rest in his hands. A sudden wind blew, shaking the house and taking out the candle flames. Dirt from the floor swirled into a spinning cloud of powder, making it hard to see. The cyclone rose like Lazarus into...
It was a thing black like the night—a djinn. Amorphous and cloying, with horrible red eyes. Drifting toward me in a poisonous cloud of menace, it terrified me. I would’ve cried out, but I was too weak. Instead, I lay there, waiting for the ungodly thing to consume me.
Moaning, I whipped my head from side to side. I was unaware of what was coming as the infernal chanting grew louder. The djinn’s burning breath poured over me like demon coal fire. My heart raced to the end. But of what?
The malang shouted a command. Inside a fierce wind, the monster rushed to my side, its hot red eyes boring into me. The cursed thing raised a skeletal finger adorned with a decorated black fingernail. The djinn pressed it to my pounding heart. Excruciating pain ignited like fire from my chest and spread to my extremities. My eyes wide open, I released a final breath. And I stopped moving.
I believe I left my body. Because now, the old man and the demon were below me, lingering over me as I lay motionless. My vacant eyes open wide.
That’s when I knew I was dead.
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