Chapter 18



Molly slipped out the back door of the cabin and around the outside wall until she could see the tall figure standing before her picture window. The fallen wires had stopped sparking out by the street and the stars and moon barely cut through the darkness at all. Strangely enough, she could clearly see the man by her front window because there was a faint glow shining around him.

Radioactive, Molly thought. He wore the long black duster favored by sand pirates. Why, though, would a desert marauder be out in a rainstorm?

She assumed the Hasso No Kamae stance, back straight, the sword held high and tilted back over her right shoulder, the sword guard at mouth level, her left foot forward. She was three steps from delivering a deathblow to the intruder. The sword balanced perfectly in her grip, so perfectly that it seemed to weigh nothing at all. She could feel the wet pine needles under her bare feet and wished that she'd put on shoes before dashing out into the night. The cold rain against her bare skin made her think that maybe a sweater would have been a good idea as well.

The glowing man looked toward the opposite corner of the cabin and Molly made her move. Three soft steps and she stood behind him; the edge of her blade lay across the side of his neck. A quick pull and she would cut him to his vertebrae.

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"Move and die," Molly said.

"Nuh-uh," said the glowing man.

The tip of Molly's sword extended a foot beyond the stranger's face. He looked at the blade. "I like your sword. Want to see mine?"

"You move, you die," Molly said, thinking that it wasn't the sort of thing you should have to repeat. "Who are you?"

"I'm Raziel," said Raziel. "It's not the sword of the Lord, or anything. Not for destroying cities, just for fighting one or two enemies at a time, or slicing cold cuts. Do you like salami?"

Molly didn't quite know how to proceed. This glowing sand pirate seemed perfectly unafraid, perfectly unconcerned, in fact, that she was holding a razor-sharp blade against his carotid artery. "Why are you looking in my window in the middle of the night?"

"Because I can't see through the wooden part."

Molly snapped her wrists back and smacked Raziel in the side of the head with the flat of her blade.


"Who are you and why are you here?" Molly said. She snapped her blade back to threaten another smack, and in that instant Raziel stepped away from her, spun, and drew a sword from the middle of his back.

Molly hesitated, just a second, then approached and snapped her blade down, this time in a real attack aimed at his shoulder. Raziel parried the blow and riposted. Molly swept his blade aside and came around with her blade for a cut to the left arm. Raziel got his sword around just in time to deflect her blade down his arm instead of across it. The razor-sharp tashi took a long swath of fabric from his coat, as well as a thin slice of flesh down his forearm.

"Hey," he said, looking at his now-flapping sleeve.

There was no blood. Just a dark stripe where the flesh was gone. He started hacking, his sword describing an infinity pattern in the air before him as he drove Molly back through the pine forest toward the road. She quickstepped back, parrying some blows, dodging others, stepping around trees, kicking up wet pine straw as she moved. She could only see her glowing attacker, his sword shining now as well, the darkness around her so complete that she moved only by memory and feel. As she deflected one of the blows, her heel caught on a root and she lost her balance. She started to go over backward and spun as if to catch herself. Raziel's momentum carried him forward, his sword swinging for a target that a second before had been two feet higher, and he ran right onto Molly's blade. She was bent over forward; the blade extended back across her rib cage and through Raziel, extending another two feet out his back. They were frozen there for a moment  -  him bent over her back, stuck together with her sword  -  like two dogs who needed a bucket of water thrown on them.

From a crouch, Molly yanked the blade out, then spun, ready to deliver a coup de grace that would cut her enemy from collarbone to hip.

"Ouch," said Raziel, looking at the hole in his solar plexus. He threw his sword on the ground and prodded the wound with his fingers. "Ouch," he said again, looking up at Molly. "You don't thrust with that kind of sword. You're not supposed to thrust with that kind of sword. No fair."

"You're supposed to die now," Molly said.

"Nuh-uh," said Raziel.

"You can't say nuh-uh to death. That's sloppy debating."

"You poked me with your sword, and cut my coat." He held up his damaged arm.

"Well, you came creeping around here in the middle of the night looking in my windows, and you pulled a sword on me."

"I was just showing it to you. I don't even like it. I want to get web slingers for my next mission."

"Mission? What mission? Did Nigoth send you? He is no longer my higher power, by the way. This is not the kind of support I need."

"Fear not," said Raziel, "for I am a messenger of the Lord, come to bring a miracle for the Nativity."

"You're what?"

"Fear not!"

"I'm not afraid, you nitwit, I just kicked your ass. Are you telling me you're an angel?"

"Come to bring Christmas joy to the child."

"You're a Christmas angel?"

"I bring tidings of great joy, which shall be to all men. Well, not really. This time it's just to one boy, but I memorized that speech, so I like to use it."

Molly let her guard down, the tip of her sword pointed at the ground now. "So the glowing stuff on you?"

"Glory of the Lord," said the angel.

"Oh piss," said Molly. She slapped herself in the forehead. "And I killed you."


"Don't start with the nuh-uh again. Should I call an ambulance or a priest or something?"

"I'm healing." He held up his forearm and Molly watched as the faintly glowing skin expanded to cover the wound.

"Why in the hell are you here?"

"I have a mission  - »

"Not here on Earth, here at my house."

"We're attracted to lunatics."

Molly's first instinct was to take his head, but on second thought, she was standing in the middle of a pine forest, in freezing rain and gale-force winds, naked, holding a sword, and talking to an angel, so he wasn't exactly announcing the Advent. She was a lunatic.

"You want to come inside?" she said.

"Do you have hot chocolate?"

"With minimarshmallows," said the Warrior Babe.

"Blessed are the minimarshmallows," the angel said, swooning a little.

"Come on, then," Molly said as she walked away muttering, "I can't believe I killed a Christmas angel."

"Yep, you screwed the pooch on this one," said the Narrator.

"Nuh-uh," said the angel.

"Get that piano against the door!" Theo yelled.

The bolts on the front door had completely splintered away, and the Masonite buffet table was flexing under the blows of whatever the undead were using for a battering ram. The entire chapel shook with each impact.

Robert and Jenny Masterson, who owned Brine's Bait, Tackle, and Fine Wines, started rolling the upright piano from its spot by the Christmas tree. Both had been through some harrowing moments in Pine Cove's history, and they tended to keep their heads in an emergency.

"Anyone know how to lock these casters?" Robert called.

"We'll need to brace it just the same," Theo said. He turned to Ben Miller and Nacho Nunez, who seemed to have teamed up for the battle. "You guys look for more heavy stuff to brace the door."

"Where did they get a battering ram?" Tucker Case asked. He was examining the big rubber coasters on the piano, trying to figure out how to lock them.

"Half the forest has blown down tonight," said Lena. "Monterey pines don't have a taproot. They probably just found one that they could lift."

"Turn it on its back," Tuck said. "Brace it against the table."

The ram hit the doors and they popped open six inches. The table hooked under the heavy brass handles was bending and beginning to split. Three arms came through the opening, half a face, the eye drooling out of a rotted socket.

"Push!" Tuck screamed.

They ran the piano up against the braced table, slamming the doors on the protruding limbs. The battering ram hit again, popping the doors open, driving the men back, and rattling their teeth. The undead arms pulled back from the gap. Tuck and Robert shoved the piano against the door and it shut again. Jenny Masterson threw her back against the piano and looked back at the onlookers, twenty or so people who seemed too stunned or too scared to move.

"Don't just stand there, you useless fucks! Help us brace this. If they get in, they're going to eat your brains, too."

Five men pointed flashlights at each other in a "Me? You? Us?" inspection, then shrugged and ran to help push the piano.

"Nice pep talk," said Tuck, his sneakers squeaking on the pine floor as he pushed.

"Thanks, I'm good with the public," Jenny said. "Waitress for twenty years."

"Oh yeah, you waited on us at H.P.'s. Lena, it's our waitress from the other night."

"Nice to see you again, Jenny," said Lena, just as the battering ram hit the door again, knocking her to the floor. "I haven't seen you at yoga class..."

"Clear the way, clear the way, clear the way!" called Theo. He and Nacho Nuñez were coming across the floor from the back room carrying an eight-foot-long oak pew. Behind them, Ben Miller was wrestling a pew across the floor by himself. Several of the men who were holding the barricade broke ranks to help him.

"Cantilever these against the piano and nail them to the floor," Theo said.

The heavy benches went up on a diagonal against the back of the piano and Nacho Nuñez toenailed them to the floor.

The benches flexed a little with each blow of the battering ram, but they held fast. After a few seconds, the pounding stopped. Again, there was only the noise of the wind and the rain. Everyone played flashlights around the room, waiting for whatever would come next.

Then they heard Dale Pearson's voice at the side of the chapel. "This way. Bring it this way."

"Back door," someone shouted. "They're carrying it around to the back door."

"More pews," Theo yelled. "Nail them up in the back. Hurry, that door's not as heavy as the front, it won't take two hits like that."

"Can't they just come through one of the walls?" asked Val Riordan, who was trying to join in the effort to hold the line, despite the handicap of her five-hundred-dollar shoes.

"I'm hoping that won't occur to them," Theo said.

Supervising the undead was worse than dealing with a construction crew full of drunks and cokeheads. At least his living crews had all of their limbs and most of their physical coordination. This bunch was pretty floppy. Twenty of the undead were hefting a broken pine-tree trunk a foot thick and as long as a car.

"Move the goddamn tree," Dale growled. "What am I paying you for?"

"Is he paying us?" asked Marty in the Morning, who was hefting at midtree, on a jagged, broken branch. "Are we getting paid?"

"I can't believe you ate all the brains," Warren Talbot, the dead painter, said. "That was supposed to be for everyone."

"Would you shut the fuck up and get the tree around to the back door," Dale yelled, waving his snub-nose revolver.

"The gunpowder gave them a nice peppery flavor," Marty said.

"Don't rub it in," said Bess Leander. "I'm so hungry."

"There will be enough for everyone once we get inside," said Arthur Tannbeau, the citrus farmer.

Dale could tell this wasn't going to work. They were too feeble, they couldn't get enough strength behind the battering ram. The living would be barricading the back door even now.

He pulled some of the more decayed undead off the tree and pushed in those who seemed to have much of their normal strength, but they were trying to run up a narrow set of stairs carrying a thousand-pound tree trunk. Even a crew of healthy, living people wouldn't be able to get purchase in this mud. The tree trunk hit the door with an anemic thud. The door flexed just enough to reveal that the living had reinforced it.

"Forget it. Forget it," said Dale. "There are other ways we can get to them. Fan out in the parking lot and start looking for keys in the ignition of people's cars."

"Drive-thru snackage?" said Marty in the Morning. "I like it."

"Something like that," Dale said. "Kid, you with the wax face. You're a motorhead, can you hot-wire a car?"

"Not with only one arm," Jimmy Antalvo slurred. "That dog took my arm."

"It stopped," Lena said. She was checking Tuck's wounds. Blood was seeping through the bandages on his ribs.

Theo turned away from the pilot and looked around the room. The emergency lighting was starting to dim already and his flashlight was panning them like he was looking for suspects. "No one left their keys in their car, did they?"

There were murmurs of denial and heads shaking.

Val Riordan had a perfectly painted eyebrow raised at him. There was a question there, even if it was unspoken.

"Because that's what I'd do," Theo said. "I'd get a car up to speed and crash it right through the wall."

"That would be bad," said Gabe.

"That parking lot had two inches of water and mud the last time I saw it," Tucker Case said. "Not every car is going to get up to speed in that."

"Look, we need to get some help," Theo said. "Someone has to go for help."

"They won't get ten feet," Tuck said. "As soon as you open a door or break a window, they'll be waiting."

"What about the roof?" said Josh Barker.

"Shut up, kid," Tuck said. "There's no way up to the roof."

"Are we going to cut off his head now?" said Josh.

"You have to sever the spinal column or they just keep coming."

"Look," Theo said, playing his flashlight across the center of the ceiling. There was a trapdoor up there, painted over and latched, but it was definitely there.

"It leads to the old bell tower," Gabe Fenton said. "No bell, but it does open onto the roof."

Theo nodded. "From the roof someone could tell where they all were before making his move."

"That hatch is thirty feet up. There's no way to get to it."

Suddenly the high chirp of a barking bat came from above them. A half-dozen flashlights swung around to spotlight Roberto, who was hanging upside down from the star atop the Christmas tree.

"Molly's tree," said Lena.

"It looks sturdy enough," said Gabe Fenton.

"I'll go," said Ben Miller. "I'm still in pretty good shape. If I have to make a run for it, I can."

"Right there, that proves it," said Tuck, an aside to Lena. "No guy with tiny balls would volunteer for that. See how the dead lie."

"I'm driving an old Tercel," Ben said. "I don't think you want me trying to make a run for help in that."

"What we need is a Hummer," said Gabe.

"Yeah, or even a friendly hand job," said Tuck. "But that's later. For now, we need a four-wheel drive."

"You really want to try this?" Theo asked Ben.

The athlete nodded. "I've got the best chance of getting out. Those I can't outrun I'll just go through."

"Okay, then," said Theo. "Let's get that tree over to the middle of the room."

"Not so fast," said Tuck, patting his bandages. "I don't care how fast Micro-nads is, Santa still has two bullets in his gun."


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