Tuesday Sampler: Place of Skulls

In the midst of his war on drugs inside Mexico, a DEA agent finds undeniable proof that Christ has already returned to earth, coming to the Aztecs. Some want to steal it. Others will kill for it. If true, it will forever change the face of Christianity. Read an excerpt from my Place of Skulls.

THE CATHEDRAL WAS Danny B.’s refuge, a place to hide when he was the prey instead of the predator. The confessional was stifling. The stench around him had been left by the multitudes of sweating peasants who preceded him to the booth, heavily smitten with guilt, leaving their burdens for the priest to deliver to God in prayer, saying their Hail Mary’s, then stumbling out again into the heavy August dust to await a miracle. God was their only hope. Lazaro Fuentes did not grant either grace or dispensation.

The hot wind stayed in the streets outside, unable or unwilling to enter the sanctuary or penetrate the curtain that draped the face of Danny B. He could barely force any air into his lungs, but even the most difficult of breaths was better than no breath at all. He needed a drink. No, he needed to sleep. But Danny B. was afraid to sleep.

He did not hear the footsteps. They were as silent as the night itself. But he heard the faint rustling of someone suddenly seating himself in the booth next to his. Danny B.’s hands tightened around the handle of his revolver.  Instinct told him to fire and to keep pulling the trigger as fast and as often as he could until the pistol rid itself of the bullets lodged in its chamber. He would not have time to reload, and he could not pretend he no longer existed behind the ragged velvet curtain.  Someone knew otherwise. Indecision could cost him his life. The time to fire had already passed.

“Have you sinned, my son?” said the voice, as old and tattered as the curtain, a familiar whisper in the darkness.

Danny B. did not answer.

“I have a gift from God,” said the voice.  The words were shattered by a dry, hacking cough.

Danny B. waited. His hand loosened its grip on the .38

“Follow me,” said the voice, a whisper in the darkness.

Danny B. did as he was told, and there were two shadows moving without sound through the darkness, climbing down a narrow wooden stairway that led to the basement and into a small, forgotten chapel whose dirt floor held the graves of the ancient ones, the holy and the sanctified, who had given their lives to preach the gospel in a land that had always known a different God.

An aging casket, smelling of damp mold, lay open beside an empty grave, barely visible in the thread of moonlight that crept through a tiny window and fell like a broken shard of glass upon a skeletal face partially hidden by the rotting cloth of a prophet’s robe. The skeleton’s mouth gaped open awkwardly in a silent scream, and a cracked, leather pouch was held clutched in the broken fingers of his hand.

The hooded shadow reached down and picked up the pouch, snatching it from the moonlight, taking it back into the darkness where it had remained for centuries.  “I am the way, saith the Lord, the truth and the light,” the voice said simply. “I have come to find those who are lost, to heal those who are sick, to be with those who are alone and have no one to be with them in their time of agony and suffering.  I am with you now and am with you always.”

“I’m not sure I understand.”  Danny B. heard his own voice but did not recognize it.

“He died, but He came to us and He was not dead, nor had the centuries healed the wounds where he bled.”  The words were sung as though the priest was chanting a sacrament celebrated for the first time in five centuries.

“Who?”

“He returned as He said He would and walked with us and among us.”

The question remained.

“He left his footprints on the same sacred earth where you have left yours.”

A sharp chill hammered its way into the base of Danny B.’s neck with the sudden, unexpected impact of an assassin’s rifle shot.

“When He died for us, He gave us these so we would know that His words were truth, His promise was for us and forever.”

Danny B.’s throat was too dry to swallow, his lips too parched to spit.  “Are you telling me that the dead rose again?”  His voice belonged to a stranger.

“The dead never died.”

“I don’t understand.”

“It is not for us to understand but to obey.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“My time is at an end.  The secret of my fathers shall not perish with me.”

“What’s in the pouch?”

“A secret known only to a few, then only to me and now only to you. His promise was to come again, and His promise was fulfilled.”

“And you are holding the proof.”

“It is an unbearable burden. To have it is to be cursed. I must die. It must not.”

“If you have to give it to somebody, why not the Pope?”

“The church chooses its own testaments.  This is not one of them.”

“But I’m not a believer, not like you anyway.  When I cry out for God’s help, nothing happens.”  Danny B.’s laughter was dry in his throat.

“When believers do not understand what is presented them, when it defies the teachings they hold in their hearts, they turn their backs on the truth.  To the believers, I would be branded a heretic.”

“Or maybe crazy.”

“Perhaps.”

Danny B.’s mind dangled between skepticism and curiosity.  “What’s in the pouch?” he asked again.

“The truth.”

“A diary?  A letter?  What’s left of some ancient scroll?”

“A confession. The truth, when it is absolute, is never written in words.”

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