The End By Ben Larken
The end of the world—it’s one of those subjects that can be irresistible to authors, especially horror authors. We love clearing the board (a.k.a. the world) and starting over with a fresh (albeit radioactive) canvas. Everyone has their favorites. I love Stephen King’s The Stand and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, but I’ve always longed to create my own version of humanity’s last gasps. Then I started writing about Detective Thomas Pillar.
I wasn’t writing Pillar’s Fall for long when I realized this felt like more than a single novel of man-versus-demon. This was an origin tale for a larger scale story. I suddenly saw an apocalypse-level event built around my main character, and I knew I had found my end of the world scenario. This wouldn’t happen via earthquakes, asteroids or even zombies. I wanted a full-out war between humans and demons.
But that wouldn’t happen in Pillar’s Fall. Still, I wanted to foreshadow, and giving the right amount of foreshadowing proved to be a challenge. I considered going the Harry Potter route and mention some vague prophecy, but then I decided I’d rather meet the prophet himself. The following is a snippet of that scene. Tom Pillar goes to his old church for advice, and ends up meeting Nicolas Spire, a character who will be pivotal to the future of the series.
Detective Thomas Pillar had no premonitions of the day ahead. He didn’t know he was about to clash with a sadistic lunatic on Railston’s only suspension bridge. In one gut-wrenching moment, Pillar was forced to make a life-or-death choice that left the entire city shaken and set a madman’s plan into motion. Now, months later, it’s starting again . . .
This time, Pillar’s investigating a string of rage-filled murders, and all the clues point to the most unlikely of suspects—a twelve-year-old named Seth Morrissey. The child seems nice, if a bit lonely, but something malevolent and demonic hides beneath his surface. While Pillar searches for answers, the thing inside Seth prepares for a showdown that will rip Pillar’s life to shreds and pave the way the hell on earth.
As the body count rises and Pillar’s marriage begins to unravel, he races against time to stop the force that’s pulling all the strings. But how do you destroy the demon without killing the innocent child? This is Pillar’s dilemma. This is Pillar’s story. This is Pillar’s Fall.
The doorknob turned and Tom pulled back as the door opened. The person inside wasn’t someone he recognized. The man was thin and short with mousy brown hair that curled over his forehead. His eyes were deep brown and he dressed in simple overalls, a t-shirt, and work boots. Tom tried to place him, but couldn’t remember seeing him before.
“Can I help you?” the man asked, his voice thin but welcoming. He held up a coffee mug and took a sip.
Tom eyed the stranger, then stepped past him into the auditorium. Rows upon rows of empty pews. The man closed the door and approached him.
“When the rain falls it’s almost like Noah and the Ark,” the man said, holding the mug with both hands close to his chest. “I sometimes wonder if Noah stood inside a large empty lifeboat and simply listened to the raindrops as they started.” Tom turned to him and the man offered his hand. “My name is Nicholas Spire. I’m the replacement.”
Tom arched an eyebrow. “Wow,” he mumbled. “The elders were fast. I thought they just fired Brighton yesterday.”
The man smiled, looking strangely delighted. “What can I say? I jump right into the deep end. The moment I was hired I rushed down here to spend some time in my new church home. Some might call it getting the lay of the land, but I think it’s important to experience an empty church building.” He sipped a bit of coffee as he fixed Tom with a penetrating stare. “Can I ask your name?”
“My name is Pillar, Tom Pillar.”
“Well, Mr. Pillar, let me get you some coffee. You look like you could use it.”
“No, thanks. I really need to go. I just wanted to ask for Brighton’s advice on something.”
“Can you not ask it of me?” Spire posed. “I’d be happy to help.”
“I don’t think so,” Tom said. “I don’t even know if Brighton could have helped. I think I’m grasping at straws.”
“I hate to let you go,” the preacher said, setting the mug on a nearby pew. “It looks like we have a storm coming, and I don’t have much of an umbrella to offer you.”
Tom squinted back at the man, wondering if he noticed the water dripping off his clothing or the steady spattering against the windows. The storm, for all intents and purposes, was here. “That’s okay. I’ll manage.”
“I know,” the man said, his smile widening. “I have a feeling you’re good at managing yourself. You’re a take-charge kind of guy—a natural leader. I bet you passed all the tests at the police academy with flying colors.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence, but I—” Tom paused. “Wait a second. I never mentioned that I was a cop.”
Spire’s smile was unshakable. “You’re Pillar,” he said, beaming. “Everyone knows who you are—and I do mean everyone.”
Tom’s jaw tightened. “Look. That’s great that you watch the evening news, but I don’t have time for games. So if you’ll excuse me . . .”
Tom was almost to the door when the man’s voice stopped him. “I always think of storms like tests,” Spire said. “Both an individual test and a group one.”
Tom didn’t want to but gazed back at the preacher, curious.
Spire grinned softly. “Noah of course passed it, although most everyone else didn’t. They all had the chance. They all saw the boat being erected, and they knew why it was there. But they had to decide if they believed Noah’s crazy story. Turned out they didn’t. They thought he had fallen off his rocker.” He scratched his chin. “They ended up being the ones to fall.”
Tom stepped away from the door. Why the elders decided to pick this guy as a replacement was a mystery. He seemed to speak in circles. “What are you saying?”
“I’m saying it’s hard to be the only one who’s right.” Spire turned away from him, moving silently up the main aisle. “It’s hard to bear that burden. It’s easier to live in ignorance with the rest of the world.” He snapped his fingers. “But you have to think, if Noah hadn’t stuck to his guns, would any of us be here today?”
Tom felt a tremor inside and fought to keep it from becoming a full-blown shiver. “What has that got to do with me?”
Nicholas Spire rounded the new pulpit and continued up the risers to the baptistery. The preacher took a seat at the edge of the large tub, letting his fingers trace over the water and make tiny ripples. He finally looked at Tom, an uncompromising frankness in his gaze that unsettled Tom to the core.
“Because the storm that’s coming—it’s coming for you.”
Tom started up the aisle. “You’re not the new preacher, are you?”
“It doesn’t matter who I am. What matters is how you prepare for the storm.”
“What storm?” Tom shouted, throwing his hands up in frustration. “I just listened to a madman in a jail cell yammer on about a coming demon war, and now I have to hear you rant about some vague storm on the horizon. What kind of storm is this—another Noah and the Ark downpour?”
Spire didn’t look amused. “It won’t be as bad as that one. It’ll be worse.”
The stained-glass windows radiated like a strobe light as lightning split across the sky outside. The thunder that came next was a bone-rattler. Every inch of the building shook. “I don’t understand,” Tom said, stopping short of the risers that led to the baptistery. “How? How will it be worse?”
“Humanity has followed its destiny ever since it was created,” Spire said. “Everything leading up to this point has served one purpose—to get us where we are today, where we can be tested both individually and as a whole. God taught us and sacrificed his son for us. It’s time for us to show what we’ve learned.” The lightning flashed again, and the air froze in Tom’s throat as Spire’s eyes glowed soft blue.
“Who are you?” Tom asked, his voice small against the crashing thunder.
“That madman in the jail cell you spoke of,” Spire said, changing the subject. “If he knows about it, others know about it too. You need to be watchful, because they’ll work together to stop you.”
Tom gulped down the lump in his throat. “Why? Why stop me?”
“Because they want everyone to get caught in the rain. They don’t want to let any of us, not even one, continue on to start again. They think their leader will protect them while everyone else perishes—and they’re wrong.”
“Who are you?”
Nicholas Spire smiled, and his eyes suddenly glowed sapphire, brilliant in their intensity. “I’m no one—just someone who wanted to help you out of the rain.”
A lightning bolt crackled, converting each stained-glass window into a momentary lighthouse. Tom squinted as the auditorium glared with every color in the rainbow. The lightning passed, and Nicholas Spire was gone. The blue eyes hovered for a split second in the empty air above the baptistery. Tom blinked, and they disappeared.
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