Authors: Chute, Robert Chazz, Pop, Holly
The End of the World As I Know It
Book 2 of the Ghosts & Demons Series
Robert Chazz Chute & Holly Pop
Published by Ex Parte Press
Copyright 2015 Robert Chazz Chute
First Edition: April 2015
Second Edition: June 2015
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to people, living or dead, would be both insane and purely coincidental.
Media and rights inquiries should be directed to
Special thanks to Russell Sawatsky, Mazie Lane, Christina L. Rivers, Alex Kimmell, Tidal Ashburn and Dr. Janice Kurita for editorial assistance.
Want to be a beta reader on the next book in this series? Contact Chazz at [email protected] and use the subject line:
Dedicated to those who believed in us when no one else would.
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To live to the best of your ability, love.
If you must serve, do not be servile.
If you must fight, know why. And win.
If you must die, leave a light burning on your way out.
~ An intimate tattoo
The new recruits lined up, short and tall, male and female. Most were young. The soccer moms looked eager to begin. A couple of middle-aged men looked like they resented taking orders from a woman not half their age.
“Welcome to the Choir Invisible and to Brooklyn! Um…so….” I had to make a speech so, naturally, orientation did not begin well. I say, “um,” too much.
I cleared my throat and began again, too far back. “When I was born, Mama named me Tamara. When she’s relaxed, she calls me Tammy or Tam. When Mama’s really upset, she calls me Tamara Smythe. When she’s wreck-the-car mad, she calls me by my full name and my full name is so ridiculous, I’ll never tell you what it is.”
A few recruits shifted their weight and looked at their feet. One twit yawned.
Okay, stay on target: “Crazy as it sounds, I’m here to help you stop demons from invading our dimension. Among us, my name is Iowa. We train hard to kill demons with blessed blades and sacred bullets. We’re here to save the world.”
My hands shook as I spoke so I shoved them in my jeans pockets. A quaver crept into my voice. “You’ve all been told you were crazy because you can see what others cannot. You’ve been told you’re not good enough or not playing by the rules. I’m here to tell you, you aren’t crazy. The Unseen is bubbling and boiling, just below the surface of things. Your suspicions were right all along. We
being watched. We are
special. We are all part of a war between Good and Evil and the Choir Invisible needs you.”
I wished I’d made notes for this speech or at least practiced in front of the mirror more. “But…um…sorry, the weirdness doesn’t end there.”
I paced. “There are secrets everywhere. The ordinary lives you left behind…um. Look, if we win this war, we’ll get to preserve the boring and the ordinary. That’s our mission. If the walls between dimensions fall and the invaders break through, the fragile illusion that is our daily existence snaps, too.”
My best friend’s name is Manhattan. She’s the sword singer who looks like an exotic model who just stepped out of a poster for LensCrafters eyeglasses. She piped up from behind the ranks to help me out. “If the demons get through, no more chai lattes! We won’t have Jimmy Choos anymore and you can give up any hope there will ever be a reunion special for any of your favorite TV shows! Oh, yeah! And the demons will eat your kids
“Um…thank you, Manny. Right.” My throat went so dry, I heard a click when I tried to swallow.
“The training you’re about to go through will be demanding. After you get through Basic, find a distraction and hold on to a little bit of normal, if you can. I drive a hearse part-time. A few of us drive cabs. If you don’t feel safe outside the walls of the Keep, there’s always Sudoko. I find my little part-time job is a nice change from prepping for Armageddon.”
The recruits looked to each other. I’d lost them again.
“Most of you have read my first eighty-one lessons of life and death and demon combat in
The Haunting Lessons
. There’s much more to learn before we declare victory. The lessons continue, right now. So, Lesson 82 to prepping for D-day — that’s Demon Day to you noobs — when you’re prepping the troops, practice your speech in front of a mirror more and don’t bury the lead!”
Finally, they laughed. I knew I should have opened with a joke.
“You are all haunted by ghosts,” I said, “but those misty wistfuls can’t harm you. Demons deal in death lessons.”
Death Lessons was going to be the name of this book, but complications ensued. Lesson 83: Plans change. Pee your diaper and cry if you have to. Then, adapt or die. That makes no sense now, but you’ll get it later.
“Work as a team. Not everybody who works as part of a team will survive, but it increases our odds of winning. Actually, being a coward and running away might be your best chance at survival.”
Nervous chuckles rose among the noobs.
“There’s no contract here. We’re all volunteers. If you can’t handle the commitment, I’m not going to try to get you to stay by talking up the Tuesday night lentil casserole.”
Some chuckled, but it was still the nervous kind of laughter.
“Lesson 84: if you can live with running away from D-Day, you’re in the wrong place.”
Manny moved her hand in a circle, encouraging me to wrap it up.
“If you’re all about your individual survival, move to Alaska, learn to love seal blubber, hide and wait for the demons to get around to eating you, assuming the polar bears don’t get you first. We can’t use you. If you joined the Choir Invisible because you’ve lost your way somehow, get therapy or join a street gang. Cry to your therapist. Street gangs are safer than what we do.”
I walked past each recruit, pausing to look in their eyes. No idea why. It’s just what you’re supposed to do, I think, like Louis Gossett Jr. did to Richard Gere in
An Officer and a Gentleman.
Gere’s character was in basic training to fly Navy jets. He was extremely attractive, but only because of the way he looked in Navy whites.
“Your instructors’ goal is to keep you alive so you can defend our world,” I said. “Depending on your assignment, we’ll teach you how to field dress a wound or set a holy explosive charge. The elite will become the Samurai of the group: sword singers. Some instructors you’ll meet are all rah-rah-rah. I’m not like that. I’ll tell you what you need to know to survive.”
Watching their eyes, I realized I had to show what was in the Choir for them besides blood, sweat and martyrdom.
“You’re about to become your best self ever. You’ll be in the best shape of your lives. Look to your right…look to your left. These are your brothers and sisters. Each of you will take a new name depending on where you’re from. You take the name of the piece of ground you’re sworn to defend. Your name is a reminder of the lives you will save. When the demon invasion comes to New York, that one reminder might keep you on the attack when you want to run.”
I finally remembered to smile and hoped it looked encouraging. “In the Choir, my full and formal handle is Iowa, Castrator of Demons. If you want to add a fun and funky title to your geographical handle, earn it. I’m sure you’ll all get a chance to come up with a badass addition to your name.”
Most of these noobs were the first recruits who found the Choir through the publication of
The Haunting Lessons
. The book boosted our visibility to paranormal investigators and ghost hunters and people who had been told they were crazy.
Most arrived on my doorstep carrying nothing more than a backpack. I’d kept the Keep’s location secret, but my description of my apartment building led them to me. I’d named a few stores on Church Avenue, so I was easy to find on Google Street View. I felt an extra responsibility, as if I was sending my kids to war.
A few of them nodded, already all in. Some stared straight ahead and I wondered if my speech had impressed them at all.
“Lesson 85!” I yelled. “I hate to repeat myself, but every lesson is repeated until it is learned! You will make mistakes. Don’t let them paralyze you!”
“Lesson 86: it’s not enough to stop repeating your mistakes. Learn from my mistakes, like making too long a welcome speech!”
They all laughed, thank god.
“Lesson 87: If you freeze, you die and we all die. Think on your feet better than I’m doing right now. In the end, all we can do is our best. That’s all we expect. Oh yeah,” I ad-libbed. “Lesson 88: We’re surrounded by ghosts. The best way to serve the Choir is not to become one of them. Go to the central courtyard. We’ll fit you for training wheels and soon you’ll carry your own sacred blade! Armor up!
When the last of them was out of sight I turned to Manhattan. “How was that?”
“Don’t overdo the lesson thing. They’ll start to think it’s a tired gimmick and won’t pay attention.”
“Great. Any other critical notes, Madame Director?”
“Really? I didn’t think I should load up on the gory descriptions and info dump them on their first day. What if they feel overwhelmed?”
Manny rolled her eyes. “Oh, heaven forfend! The fate of the world shouldn’t be subtle, sweetie. Scare the shit out of them more next time, alls I’m sayin’.”
“If that didn’t do it — ”
“Movie night at your place,” Manny said. “I’ll show you what a mean sergeant really looks like. I’ll check to see if
Full Metal Jacket
is on Netflix. I hear the drill instructor in that is awesome.”
“Didn’t he get murdered by one of his own soldiers in that movie?”
“Geez, Iowa. Give a chick a spoiler alert, will ya?”
“Spoiler alert,” I said. “We don’t have the magic scrolls to keep the demons out forever, we’re losing this war already and we’re all going to die. How’s that?”
“I’m more a happily ever after, girl.” Manhattan adjusted her big, black-framed glasses and looked thoughtful. “The war hasn’t really begun. I’ll be kickass and you be badass and we’ll see if we’re singing a different tune when the demons come.”
Lesson 89: Optimism is not a plan, but sometimes it’s all you’ve got.
As the noobs went off to learn how to hold a sword, do pushups to exhaustion and then load a crossbow with shaking hands, I left to find Rory. He usually found me wherever I was, but he had insisted I meet him in the sounding chamber. There are many sounding chambers around the country. The newest one is deep under the 9/11 Memorial Museum. There’s one under Bunker Hill National Park, too. Sounding chambers are usually only reached through forgotten access tunnels and old sewers. The sounding chamber under the Keep had been there since our little slice of Brooklyn was nothing more than a church and a nunnery in a field.
I descended a staircase so narrow and steep I had to brace myself against the cold stone walls. When I reached the bottom of the stairs, a burlap torch soaked in kerosene flamed on. A Magical with a flair for the dramatic had left an Infiero Proximity Spell in place for the next visitor to the sounding chamber. It was silly magic. I’d brought my headlamp from Circuit City so, for the price of a nine volt battery, I could turn my light on whenever I wanted. In tight spaces, the magic torch could light my way but it could easily light my hair on fire.
Lesson 90: Simple solutions are often the best solutions. Remember that. It’ll be important later.
The tunnel floor was dirt and puffs of dust kicked up under my feet, making me cough. As I made my way, the tunnel sloped downward and I had to keep my weight on my heels to stay upright. A few hundred feet later, the tunnel narrowed again. Though the walls were closing tighter, the floor no longer angled down. Soon I had to duck my head so I wouldn’t risk a concussion on the low ceiling. Water trickled down the lichen covered stone. The mildewed air turned colder, chilling the sweat on my forehead.
“Rory?” I called. “This trip better be worth it.”
My voice was still an echo when Rory appeared ahead of me. There’s no flash or sound when Rory comes and goes. He’s not there and then he’s there as you finish your blink. (Mental note: Ask Rory how he does that sometime.)
Lesson 91: Rory is probably the only ghost you’ll ever see in the Keep. Every stone of the complex comes from a church, synagogue, shrine or mosque so most ghosts are repelled. Rory tolerates it well because he’s never more than what he calls, “Half-here.” His energies are split between his presence among us in the Keep and roaming the world looking for new recruits. He is also the best among us for scoping out Evil. He’s radar for bad guys.
“Greetings, child,” Rory said.
His eyes creep me out. When he’s looking elsewhere, he’s more of a shimmery apparition and his eyes are empty black holes and you can see through him easily. When he pays more attention to you, his eye sockets fill with orange flames. That always makes me want to pee.