Author and friend Alexander Preston is launching his new book The Gevaudan Project on Amazon. Included in this post is “The Watcher,” a prequel short story for your reading pleasure.
THE GEVAUDAN PROJECT
A team of naturalists find themselves facing a nightmare beyond anything they have ever known – and the product of unspeakable evil.
Philip Caster, a former Green Beret now working as a zoologist, leads an international team in Indonesia whose revolutionary new program may spell salvation for the endangered Sumatran tiger. They will release six artificially-conceived cubs into the wild, accompanied by their surrogate mothers. The effort will prove the feasibility of in vitro breeding as a new tool against extinction. But its success is overshadowed by the sudden emergence of a horror beyond reckoning. Something has been unleashed in the forests of Sumatra. A life-form never meant to walk the earth. One that claims humanity as its only prey.
As death unfolds around them, Caster and his circle of friends must uncover the truth behind an abomination: the instrument of dark and all-too-human forces pursuing a twisted ideological vision. Their creation has killed already – and their plans will consume millions more.
“I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem, which shall never hold their peace day nor night: ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence.”
August 15, 2007
There were blossoms on the wind. He knew that omens were a lie, but it brought him comfort nonetheless.
He was in danger here. The desert roads were natural hunting grounds for the insurgents who had replaced the robbers and Army deserters of earlier days. The hill itself had once carried the omnipresent threat from the old regime’s security garrison. None of them had molested him once.
He set his staff and lowered himself at the foot of the hill, having walked two hours. His muscles burned, and a dry tongue clung to the roof his mouth. He had brought neither bread nor water with him. The Brethren always joined him in fasting before the journey. He felt their sustenance even now. Nevertheless, each had their calling within the Body, and this one fell to him alone.
A vulture circled overhead. He had spotted bird when he began the journey, and it seemed to have followed him. He watched it in silence, brow furrowed against the sun. His fingers tightened around the staff.
He paid no heed to soothsayers and would do no more to unto the fowls of the air. But the Devil too had his agents upon the earth.
The rest ended. He rose and climbed. The hill was barely worthy of the name, but the slope burned at his calves.
He reached the top and spread the blanket beneath a cluster of trees. Only one other item had made the journey with him. He knelt and opened the book upon the blanket, a Testament far older than the Prophet his countrymen revered.
Our Father which art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name…
A single finger traced the script of his own beloved tongue upon the page, the letters flowing as mellifluously as the words.
The first of his devotions complete, he gently closed the book and leaned back to sit upon his heels. He looked over the parched grounds of the valley, his own resting place shaded by the palm leaves that thrived with other hardy vegetation in the desert clime. It reflected, he thought, upon the whole of this great yet unhappy land, to which he was both son and stranger.
His eyes coursed across the landscape, resting at last upon the ruins directly beneath the hill. Crumbled, sun-bleached brick was still visible amidst more recent construction – recreations of what had vanished centuries before. The walls surrounded a larger, rectangular building at the center. Spaced battlements stood silent and empty of the sentinels who had once watched over the city gates. Ghosts of the days when a king still ruled from Babylon.
In the ages since, many had come and gone. Persians, Greeks, Parthians, Romans, Sassanians. His own kindred had poured upon the land like an endless sea and paved the way for yet more ephemeral conquerors. Umayyads, Abbasids, Ayyubids, Mongols, Safavids, Afsharids and Ottomans, briefly replaced in their turn by the British, who had granted the land a Kingdom. Then came the Republic. Saddam.
Now the Americans.
The local garrison had observed his pilgrimages with apprehension at first. This gave way to curiosity, then amusement, fascination and, over time, respect. The commander himself had requested an audience. They had asked one another many questions, learned many things and parted with abiding friendship. The commander and his soldiers were departed now, most to their own homeland, the others redeployed to quell the uprisings in Anbar. He prayed for all of them each day. He too was at war.
He closed his eyes, breathing inward as the Vision came to him again. There were six now. Three architects. Three builders. The German had completed the circle.
Still self-blinded, he shifted the direction of his body. The Evil came out of the West. But it would rise in the East. It gathered there even now, awaiting its own birth.
Images unfolded before his mind’s eye. A green, verdant pasture, endless yet bounded by a forest. Within the grass, a flock stood grazing. Ewe lambs, white, unblemished, yet seemingly newly born. They wandered free within the open air, and he saw neither fence nor shepherd.
Then they came.
The forest itself became darker, viscous, the shadows themselves transforming into mist. Black, hooded figures emerged from the edge, scythe-armed, tall as the trees that should have towered over them. Three groups advanced of as many reapers, blades held high. The lambs were cut down in a swift, systematic slaughter, some silent, some bleating out their final cries of fear. The scythes descended in repeated strokes upon the dying, unleashing blood that flowed in streams.
The last victim fell, and the streams joined into a single river that cut across the pasture in angry scarlet. Their bloody task complete, the reapers knelt before it.
It was a very mockery of Gideon. Of the nine, six cast aside their weapon and descended to the knee, plunging their face into the bloody flow. The remaining three grasped their scythes and with the other hand dipped and lapped.
Of these three, one alone drank its fill. The head turned, and he beheld a face beneath the hood, staring back at him with golden, pitiless eyes. The likeness of a man – and a beast.
He opened his eyes and beheld the sun once more. The Vision – and all the others that had come and would again – held no terror for him. The futures he saw were not his own.
He took another breath, inhaling the scent of blossoms and of trees.
Like Daniel before him, he would pray three times today. But his face was not towards Jerusalem. Daniel had been a mediator, interceding for the sins of his people when there was yet no Covenant of Grace. He was a warrior, avenging the sufferings of Man. His prayers were his swords, rebuking the seat of Babel and all that it had brought into the world.
Thy Cross, O Lord, deliver us from the gods of this latter age…
Thus he warred for the innocent, the righteous, and the lost.
“And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.”