Weston Ochse returns with an action-packed, high-octane solo adventure for Preacher's Daughter, and the world will never be the same again. Preacher’s Daughter Saves The World When a town in South Dakota USA disappears only a drunk, an old Indian, and a truck driver notice. Investigators decide all three of them are crazy. Only they aren’t, and they all swear that there was a town there that no one remembers. Then the same thing happens in England. A town is gone but no one in the entire country will even acknowledge that it ever existed. Only one old bishop tries to impress on his local MP that he has missing constituents, and a member of the Black Dragoons—a clandestine military unit dedicated to protecting the country from supernatural threats—investigates. Soon, the Black Dragoons and Special Unit 77—their American counterparts—are working together to figure out what is exactly happening. Preacher’s Daughter is on the case, and she won't stop until she finds some answers. England Will never be the same again...
Release date: October 26, 2021
Print pages: 336
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Hole in the World
Francis Scott Key Catches the Enemy woke up in a ditch, which wasn’t all that uncommon. People had their own ideas as to why he chose such places to sleep, but the truth was that he had narcolepsy and would often wake up in the most curious places. What was uncommon was that he was in the middle of nowhere. He checked his pockets. He still had a few dollars and his wallet with his Tribal ID card and food stamps. So, what was he doing there? He scratched an itch only to see it was an ant. He pinched it between two fingers and flicked it onto the empty roadway. He still had his work boots and jeans. He still wore his favorite T-shirt he got from a Minneapolis Starbucks. He still had on his Cleveland Indians baseball cap that he wore as a joke that no one seemed to get. If he had everything, then why was he here?
The landscape was as flat and dry as the rest of the Res. West he could just see the smudge of the Black Hills, their sacred place turned into tourist place by the white man eager to make more money than they could spend in two lifetimes. Prairie grass grew in clumps along the road and metal fences separating the properties. Quail led their families from clump to clump, mastering the fast waddle. The cloudless blue sky already promised to be another scorcher and without a piece of shade in sight, he was going to get one hell of a burn. He could thank that to some-as-heretofore-unknown white man in the woodpile.
Nearby on a cutoff stood five white FEMA trailers that had been repurposed for permanent use. Each of them looked as if they’d gone through a hurricane or two. It was too early for anyone to be out except a few goats and a mangy cur. A free-standing basketball hoop lay on its side as if it had been shot. Three of the five trailers had blue tubs for rain catchment. Each one had a satellite dish on the power pole at the end of the house. An industrial-sized garbage can rested at the juncture of the cutoff and the main road, already half full with trash and, by the swirling black mass of flies, fresh mule deer carcass.
He pulled himself to his feet through sheer willpower and staggered to his left before he was able to get his balance.
Other than the trailers, an odd street sign was the only thing that rose any higher than he did. Anyone from the Res didn’t need any signs to know where they were. The signs were for the government men when they came so they could get around. He knew this one especially because he was on the work detail that put it in. It said No Flesh Road, named after a famous Sioux Chief who went to Washington with Chief Red Cloud. A semi-dry creek of the same name paralleled the road. Those in the FEMA trailers were No Flesh ancestors, the last of an important line.
Francis Scott Key Catches decided to sit and wait for a ride back into Iron Hat. He pulled himself up an old tire and sat on it, wishing for something to quiet the murmuring in his empty stomach. He’d been expecting cars and trucks for some time. Little Wound School in Kyle would be opening and it served not only Kyle, but Iron Hat, and other places nearby. With no cars on the road, Francis Scott began to wonder if he hadn’t missed a Tribal Emergency Warning.
He was just considering getting up and going to one of the No Flesh trailers to see if they knew what was going on when a car appeared coming from the direction of Kyle. It skidded to a stop even with him. The driver looked around in confusion, then used the cut-off to pull in, back up, and turn around.
Francis Scott watched it go back the way it came. They must have forgotten something, he figured. Had to get back home. He craned his neck towards Iron Hat to the south and didn’t see a thing.
Soon cars and trucks began to come with more frequency, in ones and twos and threes. But the odd thing was, they all stopped in the same place, turned around, and went back. It was as if on reaching the spot in the road they received a warning on the radio to turn around.
Once again, he looked towards Iron Hat.
Nothing at all from that direction.
Was there a chemical spill?
He saw nothing on the horizon to prove the notion.
He spoke for a few moments with the people in the nearest trailer. They hadn’t heard of any warnings. There were no alerts. The only thing that confused them was that they claimed to have never heard of Iron Hat.
Five hours later a feeling began to dawn on him. One he’d learned to listen to—one that had kept him alive on many occasions. It was strange being on the right side of things. Francis Scott—never Francis—had been largely misunderstood since Desert Storm. But that never stopped him from trying to be understood. His problem was he had too much time on his hands. He noticed things. And when he took the time out of his busy day noticing things to point things out to people who didn’t notice things, they tended to dismiss him or not believe in him.
Like the time he saw giant butterflies coming off the surface of Devil’s Tower in Wyoming when he was out delivering a load of lumber as part of a tribal interchange. No one had even taken a second to think what he said was true. But he’d proved it. Sure, they had been sky divers free basing off the top of the monument with butterfly-pattern-shaped parachutes, but that didn’t mean he’d been wrong.
It meant he’d been paying attention.
Or like the time he saw the herd of Ghost Buffalo stampeding from Custer along Highway 16, their rumbles like thunder in the middle of winter, Hell’s own sulfur pouring from their noses as they puffed their way down the iced roadway. Sure, it turned out to be actual buffalo who had run through twelve-foot-high snow drifts and been covered from horn to hoof by iced snow, but anyone seeing what he’d seen would have believed they were Ghost Buffalo as well.
Or even like the time when he’d been in North Dakota on a sixty-day work team at the oil fields and had seen several UFOs come, land, and remove cattle for some sketchy experimentation. He’d reported the information and had worked with a sketch artist to create a proper rendering. As it turned out, he’d been watching the events unfold over several nights on a drive-in movie screen erected in the middle of nowhere by a Silicon Valley billionaire who’d created a reproduction of the drive in from his youth for his own personal enjoyment and just loved cheesy cheap sci fi movies from the fifties and sixties.
Who knew there was a giant movie screen in the middle of nowhere? Was it his fault a billionaire wanted to recreate his youth?
Still, Francis Scott Key Chases had been paying attention.
He refused to believe that he was a poor witness with bad eyes and a loner’s sense of the universe. He’d just been put in situations where his ability to witness was at odds with the curious folks and conditions that were presented before him. But now he had witnesses. And now it seemed as if an entire town had gone missing and it was only him who seemed to know about it.
An entire town.
Since when had that happened before?
And he, Francis Scott Key Catches, son of the Homecoming Queen of Kyle, South Dakota, Class of 1966 and Francisco Morales, itinerant worker and traveling magician, was the first one to see it happen when a car bound for the booming metropolis of Iron Hat, South Dakota, skidding to as stop in the middle of the road, the driver glancing both ways, then pulled a U-turn and went back the way they came from.
In fact, traffic had been like that for hours, cars and trucks and semis rumbling down the road, only to stop dead in the middle of it, then turn around as if they’d never intended on coming that way in the first place. At first it was just him watching the gigantic clusterfuck, but then came Freddie Makes Room who pulled up on a Razor ATV and asked what was going on.
The conversation had gone:
“No one’s going to the town anymore,” Francis Scott said.
“There’s a town there?” Freddie Makes Room asked—something he shouldn’t have to ask. Iron Hat was famous on the Res because of the Department of the Interior’s intrusion after a well-digger found a Rare Earth metal deposit large enough to make a boardroom of billionaires.
“Of course, there is, Freddie. We’ve been there. Don’t you remember Big Sal?” he asked referring to the triple-sized gal who slung beer from the back of her trailer, party lights, and everything.
“Never heard of her.”
“You and her made out last Thanksgiving.”
“Don’t remember and we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving.”
Then Little Frank Wounded showed up—all five feet of him, dressed in jeans and workshirt and boots.
“Whatcha doing, Francis Scott?” he’d asked as he hopped out of his pickup.
Francis Scott grinned. Little Frank was perfect and would be his ride. He angled his head towards the empty road before them. “Let’s go into town and get some lunch,” he said. “I’m buying.”
Little Frank shook his head. “I just came from there. Traffic is a lot more than usual. People are driving in circles. Don’t want to mess with that again.”
“No, I mean Iron Hat. The town down that way.”
Little Frank pushed back the rim of his cowboy hat and squinted at Francis Scott much like Clint Eastwood would have done minus the cheroot. “What the hell is an Iron Hat? I thought you gave up the hard liquor and were sticking to beer?”
There was a time after Desert Storm where no bottle would have been safe from Francis Scott. But that was an age ago. Still, he licked his lips at the memory of the taste of rye. Memories are rough things to ignore, but he was having too much fun living life to succumb to one with memories of mortars and blown out Iraqi tanks. “Where do you think you bought your truck? And your clothes? You live in Iron Hat for god’s sakes.”
“Nothing of the sort.” Little Frank looked up at Makes Room. “How long has he been like this?”
“A couple hours at least. Think he sprung a sprocket?”
“I think it’s worth checking into.” Little Frank strode over to Francis Scott. “Maybe we should check you into the clinic. See if there’s a fever or something.”
“Saw on Nat Geo about this brain worm from Africa that can make people see things that aren’t there,” Freddie Makes Room said.
They watched another car come up, stop, the look on the driver’s face pure confusion, then turn the car around and head back into Kyle.
“See that?” Francis Scott said, thumping Little Frank in the shoulder.
“What I saw was a driver realize they’d taken a wrong turn then go back the way they came. Happens every day.”
“But why here?” Francis asked, gesturing to the road. “Why this exact spot?”
Little Frank shrugged. “Good as place as any. Really, Francis Scott. Aren’t you taking this a little too far?”
What had been fun was becoming anything but. What’s the good of having a good time if you’re the only one having it? Then he had an idea. He strode over to the pickup, climbed in, grabbed the leather book where Little Frank kept all of his meticulous maintenance records. Sure enough, he got his oil changed in the same location every 5,000 miles and the address was in Iron Hat.
He brought it down and showed it to Little Frank.
The diminutive man removed his cowboy hat, flattened his hair, then put the hat back on.
“I see what it says, but it makes no sense.”
Francis Scott thumped the paper. “What you see are receipts from a place that existed right up until this morning. The questions are, why doesn’t anyone except me seem to remember that it existed and what’s going on in there? I mean, the residents can’t just be gone. They have to either be trapped and can’t get out or they don’t think anything else exists outside of their town.”
“What you’re talking about is Twilight Zone,” Freddie Makes Room said.
Francis Scott shrugged.
They all watched another car come, make a five-point turn, and go back the way it came.
“I don’t care what it sounds like. I’m tired of being called crazy. I’m going to report it.”
“How do you report a missing town?” Little Frank asked. “You and I both know the tribal police will lock you up in a second.”
“He’s right,” Makes Room said. “That just means we need to think outside the box.”
“Does that mean you believe me?” Francis Scott asked.
“Oh, hell no. But you’re my friend. If you believe, I’d be a dick to think you’re crazy.” Little Frank nodded to the truck. “Follow me back to my place. We’re going to blast this thing all over the internet.”
Laurie May—aka Preacher’s Daughter—annotated the results of the experiment, darkened the screens on her computers, and sat back in her chair. She detested office work. She especially hated science. She had a Master of Arts in Religious Studies with an emphasis on monotheistic religions. Although there were some who tried to apply science to explain religions, most frequently the suspect science of psychology, she knew better. After all, who else had she known who’d been captured by Sufi mystics and held hostage in order to power the mind of a dying demi-god? She’d been up to her eyeballs in real life games between gods and men and didn’t need any PhD trying to placate her beliefs with their scientific theories.
“Ms. May, can you run through the results one more time,” came a voice over her desk speaker. “I want to verify before I input them into the master database. Remember what they say. Measure twice, cut once.”
She imagined emptying a thirty-round clip from an HK416 into the speaker.
“Ms. May, do you copy? I need to know if you hear me.”
His name was Dr. Norris Fields. He was a thirty-year-old wunderkind who held a PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience with an emphasis in extrospection from the Berlin School of Mind and Brain. Fields had done his thesis regarding Non-Linear Memory Retention. He eschewed the Ebbinghaus Forgetful Curve and had created his own topological model that they were trying to prove through experimentation.
Which was not the sort of thing she’d imagined herself doing when she’d joined Special Unit 77. She was a gun jockey and not a research monkey. Not that research wasn’t important, it was just that she felt her talents were best used elsewhere. She was a five-foot-ten-inch thirty-two-year-old combat veteran of two wars with multiple tours, capable of equally identifying supernatural entities in the wild without resorting to theism and breaking down any man-held or crew-served weapon currently or historically in use. Truth be told, when she’d been informed of the opportunity to be assigned to an excitable freshly-minted scientist who wanted to change the world, she naïvely thought that it was a grand idea and a great way to break her teeth on the ins and outs of her new unit. But now after three months, six days, and seventeen hours of not being in the field she was afraid she might pop off like a fifty-year old Soviet-made land mine.
“Ms. May, are you there?”
“I’m here, Norris. I will recheck the data and send it to you.”
He hesitated to respond. She knew why. He hated being called by his first name and much preferred Doctor, but he was young and full of himself and she felt it her duty to disabuse him of his notion that he was anything more than a newly-minted excitable scientist fresh from the educational womb.
She did as promised, and spent another forty-five minutes ensuring that the computational data was correct, then fired it off to him. She didn’t give him a chance to react, instead, grabbed her pack, turned off her workstations, and headed to the indoor firing range. She was into her three hundredth round when Lieutenant Poe arrived wearing his 1950s standard issue OD green Army uniform complete with tie and belt. The uniform was as much an anachronism as he was. He was too old to be a lieutenant and the military hadn’t authorized that particular uniform in over sixty years. Still, he was one of the only members of Special Unit 77 who wore a uniform of any sort, probably as a reminder to everyone that it was a military organization and not some pseudo mercenary outfit operating outside the jurisdiction of any actual government. Otherwise, no one would ever know that the complex of abandoned warehouses which were once part of a Chevrolet assembly plant on the edge of Muncie, Indiana, was now a secret government enclave with an even more secret mission. Every week the guards reported locals coming to see if there were any jobs at the plants, hoping beyond hope that they could go back to what their families had done before it had all been taken away.
“You come to watch me fire, or to dress me down?” she asked when she was finally through and cleaning her weapon.
In truth, she was still a reserve lieutenant in the military intelligence corps of the United States Army. So, on the surface of it, she and Poe were equals. But he wore lieutenant’s bars to throw people off. No one put a lieutenant in charge of an entire organization like Special Unit 77. Her former mentor and friend, Boy Scout, figured that Poe had to be at least a lieutenant colonel if not a full bird.
“A little of both,” he said. He was the Midwest all-American—fit, six feet tall, crew cut blonde hair, square-jawed—everything American wanted in its fighting man, but he seemed more at ease with himself than most people were with themselves. “Doctor Fields is doing important work, PD.”
She so loved that he still referred to her by her call sign. She still felt awkward using her real name. “Norris is a good kid.”
He sighed. “That’s what I mean. Why do you have to call him Norris? Why don’t you call him Dr. Fields?”
“It’s his name.”
“He’s only a year younger than you.”
She gave him her best smile. “He’s just such a cute little scientist, isn’t he?”
Poe sighed. “I’m sending you on a mission.”
She stopped cold.
“I’m putting you in charge.”
She smacked her pistol back together. “About damn time. When do we leave?”
“A little under three hours. You have a mission brief and need to be at the special weapons armory.”
“Special weapons?” She felt her heart skip a beat. “Can you tell me what we’re after?”
“That’s all going to be in the brief.” He turned to leave. “Oh, and Preacher’s Daughter?”
“You’re taking Professor Fields with you as an observer. Don’t get him killed.”
Her jaw dropped as she struggled to say something, but her body knew better. If she complained, she might lose her chance to get out of this place. She had to play nice. And that included her treatment of Norris.
Three hours and forty minutes later she was already regretting Poe’s order to bring him along.
He had his own personalized gear, which was the first thing that should have been a concern. He wore gray and blue urban cammies with matching body armor and ballistic helmet. He wore yellow shooting goggles and had his own personalized set of 9mm pistols in matching shoulder holsters. A knife the size of a baby’s arm was strapped to his right thigh. Combat knee pads and elbow pads were in place. He looked like he’d just modeled for Soldier of Fortune magazine or a video game while the rest of them looked like practical urban terrorists.
She and the other four men on her team wore 5.11 tactical pants in black, not because of the popularity, but because of the stretch, give, and durability. The T-shirt of their choice—hers was an Iron Maiden concert T-shirt. Black combat boots, ballistic helmets, and body armor rounded out their non-traditional uniform. The idea was that they should go in with as little as needed and with absolutely no attribution. So, no flags, no patriotic patches, no well-known sayings. Just what they needed.
As it turned out, their special equipment was actually special ammunition and it wasn’t as special as one might think. There were no silver bullets. There was no holy water in hand grenades. All they had were 410 gauge pistols made by Taurus called the Judge which used shotgun shells filled with Himalayan Rock Salt and lead balls. They each carried two and had several bandoliers of 410 shells. Which according to the mission brief was just what they required if they were going to take down a monster’s nest of homunculi.
She’d let Norris keep his pistols but had taken all of his ammo.
He was furious at first, but when reminded that she was mission commander, he resorted to fuming, resembling a teenager who’d just been told he couldn’t play any more video games. She knew he’d make her pay, but for now, it was best for him and the mission if he stayed in the rear with the gear and didn’t have anything he could accidentally shoot them with.
The other four men on her team had no trouble with her being in charge. During the relatively short time she’d been in Special Unit 77 she’d interacted with all of them either on the combatives mat or on the range and they knew her to be as much a professional as they were. Plus, they’d been allowed to read the file about her last mission, where she had survived interaction with Zoroastrian demons. That alone gave her enough street cred for a thousand miles of bad decisions.
The mission was to travel to a Western Pennsylvania farmhouse that had been taken over by an infestation of homunculi. Special Unit 77 would normally allow another of the country’s special units, like SEAL Team 666 or the Pathfinders, to take them out, but 77’s proximity to the supernatural outbreak made them a prime candidate. Their mission was normally to protect the continental United States and her technology from supernatural exploitation from other countries. 77 had been around since the Cold War and was the tip of the spear in protecting the West Coast of America for decades.
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