Speculative Science Fiction Suspense

“Third Shift,” Jimmy says. “Up and attem.” I rise from my bunk and dress. Jimmy trudges through the bunkhouse jackhammering the wooden paneling with his heavy steel-tipped combat boots. The last rays of divine light dim to a palette of unnumberable oranges, sunset crashing through the bunkhouse windows. The bunkhouse is like that. Noise and beauty. Frenzy and leisure. Holies play cards, watch videos, and chat at the feet of the bunks, while their brothers sleep just feet away.

“Big night tonight, moonie,” Jimmy says. “You’ve got two souls to save from becoming collateral damage of a high-speed chase on the AC Expressway, Harry.”

“Can’t wait,” I say. I throw on my heavy winter camo shirt which has an arm patch of my unit, The Kneeling Mercies on the sleeve. I’ll need to stay warm. It is a frigid New Year’s Eve back on Earth in southern New Jersey.

I briefly notice the patch on my sleeve in the mirror on the side table by my bunk. It is an image of a winged angel kneeling by a fallen man, under a half-moon emblazoned with a red medic’s cross. I can’t wait to retire this uniform for the uniform of a Story Arc Division (“SAD”) scribbler, the image of an angel at a desk with wings flared, writing in an opened volume with a feathered pen, an inkwell to the side.

The scribblers script stories and plot out transformations their lieges must undergo, placing guiding roadblocks in their path to draw out their character arcs. Protecting them from danger that might stop their growth trajectory and from fruitless side trips that lead nowhere. They see the big picture. Whereas we medics just rush into the field to pull out the wounded, prevent unscripted accidents, and avoid runaway B-stories that detract from the larger narrative. The scribblers really craft the beats that make the difference. Complete with stage directions.

Sure. There’s nothing wrong with being a medic. It is an important job. Meaningful. But unrelentingly tedious—always dealing with worried souls in the grips of crisis and confusion—editing and revising standalone story threads—but never getting to see how the whole story plays out.

Looking in the mirror a bit longer, I notice how thin and spindly I’ve become. I look like a human spine in my jumpsuit. When was the last time I was down to the mess hall? I really must remember to eat to keep up my strength. Living off coffee and nicotine may be possible for an eternal being, but it is hell on the figure. My poor pale face hangs off my bones like the fraying canvas of a military transport truck, clinging to the steel ribs of the wagon by its fingertips. I grab my skydiving goggles and get ready for my drop.

Jimmy stands next to my bunk, flashing a mile-wide smile. Beneath his red beret cap is a round head with a pockmarked face. The caramel skin of his cheeks is set off with scruff that grows in with a perfect salt and pepper coloring. He has a soft and compassionate mien. But don’t be fooled. He is a fighter pilot constantly engaged in life-and-death dogfights with hostiles. Twenty-three ribbons stand on the chest of his dress uniform, representing the twenty-three hand-to-hand combat kills to his name, while behind enemy lines. Jimmy “Jawbone” is the scourge of the Persian Patrol. Feared and targeted. A price perennially on his head.

Jimmy is a sun paladin. I am a moonie. Angels on opposite shifts are responsible for getting their bunkmates out to the front, beyond the wire, on schedule.

If I’m honest, I just don’t have it in me this night. But in the cold and infinite math of our eternal barracks, the morale of the brigade is taken for granted. Indivisible integers. Irrational numbers. Following orders without complaint. It is a fact of enlistment.

“Up late working on a story again?” Jimmy asks, a bellow of laughter emerging from his solar plexus like a foghorn.

“I was going good,” I say. “I think it’s a keeper.”

“Let’s have it,” Jimmy says. “You better have a reward for those bags. You look like you’ve got a set of baggy purple tits on your face.”

I throw my Composite notebook at Jimmy as he dresses down into a standard-issue white polo and his usual dinosaur-print pajamas, and climbs into his bunk, which is right next to mine on the floor level, pulling up the green blanket to warm him from the celestial winter chill. “Ahh, let’s see what we’ve got here. Okay. A siege tale. Revolt! I like it. This should have me out like a light in no time.”

“Take it easy,” I say. “I only got three hours today and have a long night ahead.”

“I’m just teasing,” Jimmy says. “But if you want to get a transfer to Story Arc Division, you’re going to have to stay on top of your deployment assignments. Looks like you’ve got an important rescue tonight. Two college boys to save. Transport leaves at 7:30 p.m. sharp. Get this right and maybe First Lieutenant Arrack will consider your transfer request.”

“I’m sure he’s out there tapping his foot, arms folded. He’s the ‘if you aren’t fifteen minutes early you are already late’ type, you know?”

“A military man. Through and through.”

I hear the thumping blades of the Black Hawk-styled Helicopter the human military ops kind are inspired by. Those blades are like an alarm clock going off, beckoning me to get out there. But I am hanging on for a crumb of a reaction to my story from Jimmy that doesn’t come. He is already snoring in his bunk. The Heliport tarmac calls. The red fuselage strobe lights and glaring yellow searchlight of the chopper cut the purpled gray of the early evening at Fort Rampart. And I can wait no longer.

“I’ve got to be going,” I say.

“See you tomorrow. Same bat time, same bat channel,” Jimmy says, lifting his eyes back open.

I run out to the chopper, hunched down, and board. Lieutenant Acker hands me my parachute, and I tie it on as we leave Fort Rampart behind.

Acker says, “So nice of you to join us, moonie. We’ve got to hurry. Get ready to jump.”

I watch the largest celestial Military Base, more than 2,520 square miles, growing smaller to our six, with our bunk at McCall Air Base just a small dot below.

Something about this night, this mission, has me feeling uneasy. And that is not a good sign. I have the gift of prescience. My radar is going off.

This portends trouble.

* * *

As I step off the platform, the divine air rushes up to meet me, and the lavender and silver marlin shades of dusk wave by me in the distance, and then shake as I enter the void, and at last fall and descend to the human realm. It is a quick trip. Less than a minute of freefall to reach the Great Divide. And then you find yourself disoriented at your destination—unless the coordinates on your arm compass are off. If that happens, you could find yourself in a bygone age or a thousand miles off course. Tonight, I’m right on target.

For us moonies, we watch over the night owls. It is all gas stations, dive bars, hotel lobbies, security offices, oxygen-infused casinos, hospital halls, truck stops, and firehouses. Any place where night is day and day is night.

I find myself in the Median off of the AC Expressway. Small, infinitesimal flurries prick the freezing late December (technically early January) air. A prevailing wind buffets me, crisscrossing undecidedly from one side of the roadway to the other. These boys were headed down late to Atlantic City for a New Year’s celebration but had not changed the oil on their late model Saab for more than five years. And now the engine has seized up.

According to the scene notes from the SAD, I have ten minutes before a white minivan hauling Fentanyl out of the open-air markets in Kensington is going to sideswipe the Saab, and without my intervention: (1) the perpetrator would get away with it; and (2) the two boys would be sitting in the vehicle when it was sideswiped and folds like an accordion, rendering them quite dead. I take off my skydiving goggles, ready to complete my mission.

I can see a shorter boy and a taller boy sitting in the Saab, confused as to why it won’t start, waiting for AAA. Sitting ducks. These are my lieges. “Target acquired,” I scream into the coms, loud enough for Acker to hear me.

“We’ve got a problem,” he yells back. “Incoming Persian Patrol on the overpass.”

A shot of fear tightens my chest. I am a rescue medic. A Kneeling Mercy. I have never seen combat. I have never encountered a demon before.

“What are they doing here?” I ask. I see them looking down toward where I stand. They are wearing biker gang uniforms with black leather and studs, facial hair, earrings, and armfuls of tattoos, with the distinctive arm patches of the Persian Patrol. A red scythe with a drip of blood on the tip, below a silver star. They are revving the engines of their hogs. They are up to something. They look down at me like guard dogs sniffing out an intruder, gnarled angelic faces shimmering with the glitter and dust of the eternal realm.

“Acker, Acker, repeat. What are they doing here?” Nothing is coming through on the coms.

Acker must have gone back to the base for reinforcements and must be on the other side of the Great Divide. It is the only explanation. All that is coming back through the microphone is strained static.

I watch the Saab swaying in the wind and the rush of the speeding traffic, grazing by ominously, just inches away from the driver’s side of the car. I rush over to the hood of the vehicle, reach inside, and release a stream of thick gray gas, which wafts upward with a poofffff and the smell of burnt licorice. I turn the engine heat gauge all the way up to indicate overheating, the knob clicking ominously as the boys watch it. I make all the emergency lights go off in flashes. That should alert the boys to the fact this car is long dead. Give them the feeling the thing might explode at any moment.

I hear the shorter boy say, “I think we should get out to flag down the tow truck. I don’t think this thing is going to start. We might want to get out of here. Something is seriously wrong here.”

The taller boy says, “Okay, but let’s not go too far, maybe down by the overpass. We don’t want to miss the tow.”

The boys open the car doors and start walking down the shoulder, their phones out, flashing red alert signals from their iPhones, hugging themselves against the cold. According to the SAD, the accident is minutes away, and then they are stuck out in the cold for two minutes, but I need to keep them on this side of the Expressway.

The Persian Patrol is on the move, but I have no idea where they are going. There are six of them. They make the right to enter the Expressway and rush ahead toward Atlantic City. The roar of the wide-open throttles, the throaty growl of hungry twin engines, and the thrumpy exhaust notes crackling in the night.

I keep the boys huddled roadside, and then it happens in an instant. A white van thunders down the roadway dopplering in the night, and side-swipes the Saab with a clack. The car folds in half. The driver’s side mirror goes flying toward our location. I swat away the projectile which is hurtling directly toward the shorter boy’s head, and it clatters into the roadway leaving a trail of shards of glass all the way down the staggered yellow line.

As the white van wobbles in the right lane, teetering from the impact, it looks totally intact and no worse for the wear, except for a gash of black paint that bleeds off on the van’s right side.

“Holy shit,” the taller kid says.

“Luke, we could have been in that car,” the shorter kid says.

“We’d be toast, dude,” the taller kid says. That’s correct, I think. Good thing you’ve got an angel looking out for you. But do we get any credit? No. Not so much as a nod to the gods. It is demoralizing. At least the scribblers occasionally merit note at the throne judgments or during a life review. Us Kneeling Mercies, on the other hand, we’re just the unsung heroes of the mortal struggle.

I hear the Persian Patrol revving their engines with roars and throaty growls. Something inside tells me I will be tangling with these demons before the night is out. But first, I have to get these kids and this tow truck driver on the same path and see if I can get local law enforcement on board, to pull over this rogue van.

Reno is a greasy man. He wears a wife beater and a chest full of hair, while his head is balding rapidly under his green trucker’s hat. His rig is called “Run Around Sue” and that is what it says on the hat. He is coming from a truck stop on Rt. 206 and just happened to be within striking distance of the shitshow we are currently in the middle of. As a boy, Reno had raced motorbikes on the dirt roads of no-name towns in Gloucester County, as a young man, he had raced sports cars down at Atco Speedway, and as a middle-aged man, well, the need for speed is still in his blood. Reno had never married. Even though he’d had a lot of storied romances. And he’d always lived alone. But in the cold Trenton nights, and working the holiday shifts, like this New Year’s Eve, Reno would become nostalgic and cranky. And sometimes that led to him drinking too much to keep the rig steady. He was in just such a mood tonight.

I appeared in the cab of the vehicle and got my bearings. Half-smoked cigarette. Check. Two full nips of brandy in the black leather hip flask. Check. Red eyes from two days without sleep. Check. Our hero is ready for action! I instantly begin feeding a series of thoughts into Reno’s head to get him primed for action. Then the call comes in on the two-way. “Ehhh, dispatch here. We’ve got a couple of twenty-somethings out on the side of the road by Turnersville. Need pick-up. The vehicle is totaled. Roadside collision. Copy?”

“Roger. RAS here. Run Around Sue en route. ETA in less than five minutes. What is the payday?”

“Job is paying out $23/hr plus standard mileage and whatever tip you can squeeze outta the customers.”

“Roger dodger.”

All Reno had wanted was a leggy blonde, a tall pour at Jay’s Elbow Room down in Maple Shade, and a bottle of Schnapps for the Motor Inn. So much for his night of bliss. I keep focusing his mind on the money, the double digits in his bank account, and the child support payments that are three weeks overdue with probation. It does the trick.

As Reno steps on the accelerator, I phase back to the two youths. They are shivering, teeth clattering, but otherwise in one piece.

The lights of the tow flash as Reno pulls over and checks out the car which is headed for the junkyard. A brief conversation ensues and it is decided (with my help) that the tow should try to get within shooting distance of that van and notify local law enforcement because Progressive paying out on the insurance depends on bagging this hit-and-run driver or at least verifying the liability of another driver.

As they roar off into the night, I phase ahead trying to locate the Persian Patrol. They are five miles ahead. That’s a lot of distance for a rig of this size to cover. And the Persian Patrol is protecting the van for some reason, flanking like a Presidential envoy. That could be a problem.

“Acker. Acker. Come in.” Nothing but fuzz on the coms.

“How you boys doin’?” Reno asks as he guns the throttle and starts downshifting to the lower gears, churning the engine with more and more power. That tow rig starts to sing in the night. And I phase ahead again to see what is going on in the van. Shrink wrapped narcotics. Check. Doped up transport driver. Check. Nightmare. Check.

As I phase back, Reno is only two miles out. And then my own personal nod from the gods comes through. Acker screams through the coms, “Harry. Copy. I’ve got Jimmy the Scourge coming through for a special deployment. When you see his F-16 please join in and go to town on the Persian Patrol.”

“Roger,” I say. I had never known that sun paladins could go on night duty. Maybe this was a one-time thing? Who were these kids, anyway?

And with that, I was in the cockpit, riding Goose to Jimmy’s Maverick.

“You ready to give these PP’s a Happy New Year?” he says.

“Can’t wait,” I say.

“Good job with the boys—yeoman’s work. I told Tony over at SAD that you’re ready to make a move.”

“You put in a good word for me?”

“Of course. I’ll level with you. Those stories you’ve been writing are murder. The best thing for all involved is if we get you on SAD duty, so you can have a proper creative outlet.”

“Thanks, Jimmy.”

“Listen, kid, sooner or later, it’s going to be the two of us against the world.”

November 17, 2023 05:20

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Roger Scypion
01:37 Dec 06, 2023

Well written, action packed and a thriller. Great job!


Jonathan Page
04:02 Dec 25, 2023

Thanks Roger!


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Sarah Saleem
13:44 Nov 22, 2023

The writing style is cool and very descriptive.


Jonathan Page
04:01 Dec 25, 2023

Thanks Sarah!


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Jorge Soto
05:02 Nov 22, 2023

Very vivid read! The military-grade grim sense of humor was very authentic.


Jonathan Page
04:01 Dec 25, 2023

Thanks Jorge!


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Asa P
12:58 Nov 18, 2023

Strap in before you read :/


Jonathan Page
04:01 Dec 25, 2023

Thanks Asa!


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05:12 Nov 18, 2023

A very interesting story. Reminded me of a Korean Series (with English subtitles) called Tomorrow, with Rowoon as the main actor. It is about a group of 'grim reapers' helping suicide victims (whose numbers are not up) to have another tomorrow. I think you would like it. Not usually into stories like this with the undead, angels and demons etc. But when Fantasy deals with it in an interesting and satisfying way, it's a good read. A night in the life of a down-to-earth do-gooder. No pun intended.


Jonathan Page
04:01 Dec 25, 2023

Thanks Kaitlyn!


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Mary Bendickson
15:59 Nov 17, 2023

Once again JP magic. Concept of angels on opposing watches and SAD scriptors and...all good stuff. Thanks for liking my 'Hang it on the Moon '.


Jonathan Page
04:01 Dec 25, 2023

Thanks Mary!


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Sam Wilson
13:35 Nov 17, 2023

This story was a wild ride! You managed to build such realistic characters in such a short amount of time and I found myself full invested right from the start. I really enjoyed the concept and you did an incredible job building suspense throughout every part of the story. Bravo!


Jonathan Page
04:01 Dec 25, 2023

Thanks Sam!


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