Night falls on a quiet, quaint farm outside of Washington, D.C. A field away, the lights of cars and trucks passing by on the interstate look like very organized lightning bugs droning by at stead intervals. The distant hum of the traffic’s wheels running on decades-old asphalt gently rolls over the field with the breeze.
The farm was once much larger, with more buildings. Proof of the existence remains in the slabs of concrete that are over-grown with grass. The main barn still stands, with a slight lean to it. The house looks like hundreds of farms built over one hundred years ago. Simple, functional, and comfortable. Despite its age and lack of use, it has recently accepted new tenants, if only temporarily.
A black sedan sits in the driveway near the house. Parked in front of the barn, a black Chevy Suburban sits. Both sport federal plates. Every few minutes, an armed guard makes his rounds, through the barn, around the outside, around the house, past the sedan, then back to the Suburban. At the end, he holds his hand up to his ear and murmurs his report.
Inside the house, standing in the living room doorway, Agent Taran Benson touches his hand to his ear, listening to the agent outside report in. He murmurs his response and quietly lowers his hand.
In front of him, Maria and Michael Torres rest on a sofa in the living room, watching TV. Michael giggles at a Canadian hidden-camera show.
Benson allows himself a moment to enjoy their normalcy. In the weeks since their escape from Las Vegas, he has come to know Maria and Michael. He has since realized Pry and Dane may have been right, at least partially. When he first took this assignment, they were just subjects to protect. But they are more than that. They are average people up-ending their lives, risking everything, to do what’s right.
Benson chuckles quietly at his own righteous thoughts. There was a time when his thoughts and actions were anything but good or righteous. Before the army, he was as far away from good and righteousness as anyone can go without being able to come back. Too many friends killed, blood on his own hands, and seeing no way out save for his own death. But there was another way. Discipline. Years and years of rigid discipline.
When he returned and joined the F.B.I., that rigid discipline remained. He was a role-model for the agency. They called him a career agent. He was all about advancement, and ensuring his own success. He was also distant. Disconnected. He was returning to his roots. But instead of being a kid on the street, he was a federal agent. He garnered a reputation among some of the seasoned agents. A tech geek called him Spock, after the Vulcan guy on Star Trek, the guy that feels nothing. He acted like he didn’t care. But he did.
He chuckles again. Despite wanting to change, it took a run-in with a ballsy, tough-as-nails, woman bounty hunter, and an irregular, and being saved by them, to make him realize changing was as simple as caring. He looked upon them as people. He used to see emotions as a weakness. That’s how it was when he was a kid. But emotions aren’t a weakness, unless you make it a weakness.
Benson comes out of his thought and spots Maria turning her head to look at him, a pleasant but curious smile on her face. “Yes?”
“What are you snickering at over there?” she asks.
Benson smiles slightly embarrassed. “Just thinking about Vegas, and the lessons learned.”
Maria nods in agreement and returns her attention to the TV, hugging Michael tight.
Benson turns and walks through the kitchen, past two other federal agents sitting at the kitchen table, towards another federal agent standing just outside the back door. A quick vocal update, and a nod to the men at the table, and Benson walks back towards the front door. Before entering the living room, he stops at the bottom of the stairs. At the top of the stairs, another agent walks by, giving a nod. Benson returns the nod and heads back into the living room.
An explosion outside brightens up the yard like day. The windows in the living room rattle in their frames.
Benson steps between the windows and Maria, who grabs Michael, sheltering him with her body, in case the glass shatters.
Benson looks towards the front door. The two men that were sitting at the kitchen table are there, guns drawn.
“Get out there. Check the perimeter. I’ll call it in.”
The two nod and head out.
Benson turns to Maria. “Get down. Stay put.”
Maria nods. She takes Michael and both lay on the floor.
Benson goes to the front door and looks out. Nothing. He backs-up, then turns, looking up the stairs. At the top of the stairs, the federal agent steps out of the bedroom over the living room. “Orders?” he asks.
“Stay up there. Keep a bird’s eye view.” Benson orders.
The agent nods and disappears back into the bedroom.
Benson goes back into the living room and crouches down beside Maria and Michael. He takes out a 2-way radio. “This is Special Agent Taran Benson, F.B.I. My team and I require immediate, armed back-up to safe house Alpha one-one-three, over.”
Benson waits for a response, but doesn’t get one. “Repeat, this is Special Agent Taran Benson with the F.B.I. My team and I require immediate, armed back-up to safe house Alpha one-one-three, please squawk, over.”
Static feedback forces Benson to recoil away from his 2-way radio. It is followed by a calm, quiet, deep voice.
“They will be too late, Agent Benson.”
Benson whips around, his gun aimed where he’s looking, ready to unleash lead. But no one is there. He glances back at Maria and Michael. He sees terror building up within them. He pushes down his fear and gently grabs Maria’s shoulder. “Lets get into the basement, ok?”
Maria nods and gets a firmer grip on Michael.
“Was that the bad man?” Michael asks quietly.
Benson turns to Michael, trying his best to be cool and confident. “Nope. The bad man is in jail. This guy is just trying to be scary. But my boys don’t scare easy. They can handle whoever is out there.” he puts his hand on Michael’s head. “Don’t worry Michael. I’ll keep you safe, promise.”
Maria glances at Benson, remembering what Pry said about making promises. A chill courses down her spine.
Outside, the two agents approach the Suburban, its rear blown open and the cab being ravaged by fire. On the driver’s side, on the ground, the body of one of their agents, with his radio pulled off and laying beside him.
The two agents quickly advance to check on their fallen comrade.
Beneath the roar of the flames, the engine revs. The Suburban shifts into gear. The flaming rear wheels spin as the vehicle launches itself at the two men.
Both agents are stunned, not just by the fact that the Suburban is running, and driving towards them, but that, through the flames, they can see that someone is behind the wheel.
One agent dives to the side, while the other is run over.
But the agents aren’t the main target.
The flaming Suburban veers left and crashes through the front door of the house. It drives up the stairs a few feet before they collapse. The vehicle drops, falling through the floor into the basement.
The fire in the back of the Suburban quickly ignites the house, eating up the walls to the ceiling and spreading across the main floor, into the living room and kitchen.
The windshield is kicked out and a man climbs out, flames swirling around him. Yet he moves unheeded by their damage and heat. He hauls himself up to the main floor, where he finds the agent guarding the back door trying to put out the flames.
The agent stops when he sees the man engulfed in flames walking towards him. Terror wells up within him, but his instincts take over. He drops the fire extinguisher and draws his weapon.
The flaming man charges the agent and grabs his wrist. The fire races up the agent’s arm. Soon, the agent is a screaming ball of burning flesh.
The flaming man steps outside and spots an old manual well pump. He goes over and starts pumping water up into a large bucket beneath the spout. Once full, he puts his hands in the cold water. Stream rises up and the air is full of hissing. Once his hands and fore arms are out, he picks up the bucket and pours the rest of the water over himself. More stream and hissing surround him.
Behind him, storm-shelter doors that lead to the basement open. Benson leads Maria and Michael out. They are joined by one of the agents that wasn’t run over by the Suburban.
Benson looks to the second floor of the burning house. He talks into his 2-way radio. “Jensen, you up there?” he pauses, waiting for a response. He gets none. His answer comes when flames burst out of the upstairs window. He turns to the other agent. “Cover us. We’re taking the sedan. Back-up is on route.”
The other agent nods, keeping his gun sights trained on the cloud of steam, waiting for a clear shot.
Benson leads Maria and Michael around the outside of the house.
The other agent doesn’t move. He just watches and waits. As the steam parts and he sees a head. He fires. The loudness of the gunshot is covered by the roaring inferno of the house behind him. He sees a spark, as if he struck metal instead of a person, yet the head recoils. He moves forward, gun at the ready.
The bucket is flung out of the remaining cloud of steam.
The agent ducks, avoiding the bucket. But when he does, he sees a fist coming at him. He braces for a fight.
The fist hits like iron.
The agent’s jaw breaks with a loud, definitive snap. He drops to the ground, stars swirling in front of his eyes. The last thing he sees is a handsome man made of wrought iron.
In front of the house, Benson leads Maria and Michael to the sedan. He opens the rear passenger door for them. Once they scramble in, he closes the door and moves around the front of the car. That’s when he notices the hood is ajar.
He opens the hood. All the wires have been yanked out.
Benson slams the hood. He looks into the car at Maria and Michael.
Behind the sedan stands Jericho.
Benson draws his weapon and fire, but the bullets bounce off his body and his arm that he raises to cover his eyes.
“Get out of the car!” Benson screams.
Jericho walks around the driver’s side and grabs the rear driver’s side door. It’s locked. He drives his fist through the window with ease. He grabs the door and with a few good yanks, tears the door off its hinges.
Benson charges Jericho, unloading his gun.
Bullets bounce of his body, ricocheting everywhere.
Benson stops, his eyes growing wide in dread.
“Thank you agent Benson.” Jericho says, his deep voice sounding as if it were coming from beneath the earth, through a long metal pipe. “Half of my work is done already.”
Benson slowly approaches the sedan and looks inside.
Maria holds Michael’s body, screaming his name over and over. Two bullets holes, one in his shoulder, the other in his head just above his left eye. His legs twitch as the life drains from his small body. His eyes stare out like terrifying white orbs. Blood from his head wound slowly drips down over his left eye. Soon, he looks like he’s crying tears of blood.
Jericho grabs Benson’s right shoulder with his left hand. His fingers close like a vice.
Benson screams as the pain pulls him out of his nightmare. Bones within his shoulder crack. His arm goes limp. His gun drops from his hand.
Jericho brings his left foot down on Benson’s right leg. It snaps like dry wood.
He lets go of Benson’s shoulder, and he falls to the ground.
“Wait here.” Jericho says as he looks into the back of the sedan. “I have some business with the lady.”
Benson tries to move, to reach for his gun with his left arm. But every movement grinds broken bones. He screams again and again.
Jericho walks around the other side of the sedan. His wrought iron skin and strength easily pry the door open. Maria is oblivious to everything around her as unbearable grief shuts out the world.
Jericho grabs Michael’s limp body and yanks it from her grip. He turns and tosses it aside, like he was tossing garbage out.
Maria snaps out of her grief. She scrambles out of the sedan, just as Jericho turns his attention back to her.
She balls up her right fist and punches Jericho in the face. The bones in her hand break. She recoils, falling back against side of the sedan, sliding down to the ground.
On the other side, Benson finally grabs his gun. He hears Maria screaming Michael’s name over and over again. He turns and lifts his head. With both rear door removed, he can just see Jericho, and Maria’s left shoulder.
Benson watches as Jericho lifts his right foot and stomps Maria. He can hear her ribs break like kindling. He stomps her again and again. Her voice turns from a scream to a wet choking noise. Every time he stomps, the sedan rocks.
Benson looks on in silent horror at the wrought iron man. The impossibility of what he sees, the brutality, wipes away all the thoughts of good and righteousness. Witnessing a woman’s obliteration by this thing, makes him realize that maybe he was right the first time. Irregulars are monsters.
His mind is so overwhelmed that he barely notices that he’s bellowing one word at the top of his lungs. “Monster!”
He comes out of his horror-induced trance when Jericho grabs him. He lifts Benson up drags him to the hood and flops him onto it, on his back.
“You’re a monster.” Benson murmurs, his body feels wrecked, like his spirit.
Jericho straightens up, regarding Benson. “Monster. Irregular. Whichever you choose.” he replies, his deep voice sounding more human as the wrought iron skin changes and fades, revealing his naked, natural, dark-tinged skin. “Centuries ago, you would have kneeled down to beings such as I. You call us monsters. Others irregulars. Back then, we were gods!”
“No!” Benson struggles to reply, his yell coming out as a whisper.
“No?” Jericho retorts, almost comically, “No! Of course not! Because humans are superior? Look around you! I laid waste to your armed men! I walked through fire unscathed! Bullets did not pierce my skin! I, an unarmed monster!” He leans in close to Benson, “Does that sound like a monster to you? No. They are the acts of a god!”
Benson spits in Jericho’s face.
Jericho straightens up. He casually wipes the spittle from his face, smiling. “Three years ago, the Black Wave Event washed over this world and found it devoid of true rulers. Before that day, power was gauged by monetary wealth and the number of men that were willing to die for their leader. The Black Wave showed that those versions of power were fleeting.” he holds up Benson’s gun. His hand begins to turn dark, matching the appearance of the gun’s material. “Whatever material my skin comes into contact with, whatever material I choose, my skin becomes that. The fire in the explosion. The wrought iron from the water pump. I need no wealth or men to rule. I am power!” he drives his metal fist into the hood of the sedan, creating a fist-sized dent a few inches deep. “And I promise you, the reign of humans will end soon enough.”
Benson chuckles and mutters something under his breath.
Jericho grimaces at Benson’s reaction. He grabs him and pulls up, closer to his face. “What did you say!”
Benson coughs, clearing his throat before smiling. “Those are the promises that can’t be kept.” he finds the strength add, “And your fucked in the head.”
Jericho tosses aside the gun as his skin takes on the dark, metallic sheen of Benson’s weapon. He grabs Benson with both hands. “Where did you hear that?”
“What, that your fucked–”
Jericho head-butts Benson. It sound like metal striking flesh. Benson’s head saps back. He feels unconsciousness pulling him down.
Jericho drops Benson, surprised at his words. But slowly, a smile creeps across his face. He almost too enraptured with the information he has inadvertently discovered, that he almost fails to notice that Benson might pass out. “Oh no, Agent Benson, not yet!” he says as he grabs Benson’s crushed shoulder.
Hot knives of pain return, making Benson scream.
“Your words have been surprisingly revealing! It is for this reason that I’ll let you live a little longer.” He searches through Benson’s clothes until he finds and pulls out Benson’s F.B.I. credentials. “This may be useful.”
Through the pain, Benson’s instincts tell him Pry’s quote struck a cord with Jericho. He tries to rally what strength he has left. “Not. Talk.” he forces out through trembling lips.
“Of course you will.” Jericho says as he hauls Benson up onto his shoulder. “You see, that turn of phrase isn’t new to me. In fact, I once said those exact words to a young woman. A woman I have been searching for.”
“Not. Talk.” Benson whispers, more like a prayer than a declaration. Any conviction he might have had is gone.
“Of course you will.” Jericho replies in a plain, cold tone. “In the end, no matter how brave, no matter how strong, everyone breaks. Everyone bleeds.”
Vehicles with red and blue flashing lights race down the highway. The faint sound of sirens can be heard carrying across the field, mingling with the sound of the burning farm house.
Jericho casually carries Benson towards the barn. “Once we get somewhere more private, I want you to tell me about this woman, Andreas Pry.”
Benson looks at the destruction and death caused by this one man, this monster. Deep down, he fears what this monster will do to him. He hopes he’ll have the strength, but Jericho’s words, the potential of them, melts what strength he has left.
Jericho calmly walks through the barn and is enveloped by the night.
Pry: The Ghosts of Promises Past: Jericho Mars Copyrighted © 2013 Mark James MacKinnon. Any use of these characters, without permission, is strictly prohibited. Any similarities to individuals, living or dead, is purely coincidental.