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The Harbinger

Rumors about the phenomenon were spreading like sparks in a forest fire. Within a few months the number of deaths reported to have been preceded by an ear-splitting headache and the sound of bells had grown exponentially. And the curious phenomenon had acquired a name. The Harbinger in stark black capital letters began appearing on billboards from San Diego to the base of the grapevine.
The mere idea that one's death would be foretold unnerved people. It cracked the foundation of their beliefs and challenged the accepted order of things. It focused the mind on death and sent a chill up spines all the way to Santa Barbara. The Harbinger turned the laid-back culture of Southern California into an unfamiliar, apprehensive place.
The scuttlebutt about the Harbinger morphed as people glided from one theory to another. Perhaps the harsh sound killed the victims. Perhaps the deaths occurred when victims became distracted or suicidal. Perhaps it was the beginning of the Rapture although it bore little resemblance to the instantaneous event believers were expecting. Perhaps it was due to any of a thousand explanations which rose and fell on the tides of social media splashing hard against the bulwark of organized religion.
Whatever it was or where it came from, it was here and it was just beginning.


First Edition 
397 pages
Paperback $17.99
ISBN 978-1-64890-029-7

E-Book $6.49
ISBN 978-1-64890-028-0


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The rowboat had seen better days. It smelled of fish and mold, but it was seaworthy, and the lake was smooth as glass. Artemis picked a fetching looking spot on the opposite shore and started rowing. A light breeze rippled the surface of the lake and blew her hair away from her face. She breathed in the moist air, and peace sank deeply into her being. Reaching the center of the lake, she hauled in the oars and closed her eyes. The world was alive with sounds carried on the wind. Birds chirped and whisteled, and the leaves danced along the limbs of tall trees. The water massaged the wooden slats of the little boat, making soft slapping sounds. She felt the sun warm on her face and sighed. It was good to be alive. From somewhere in the distance came a hum. Closing her eyes, she focused on the new sound. It approached swiftly, and the hum grew into a roar that sputtered like a ragged cough. Opening her eyes, she turned toward the sound in the eastern sky. A commuter plane cleared the tops of the trees near the destination she'd selected. The plane banked heavily to one side, and a wing clipped the topmost branch of a pine tree as it emerged from the woods and flew over the lake. It headed straight for her and then over her, sinking as it approached the little town. She lurched to her feet in the rowboat, causing it to sway precariously. Her mouth opened to warn Ichabod, but her scream was absorbed by an enormous explosion as the aircraftslammed into the structures at the front end of the town. A white-hot shockwave knocked her to the floor of the boat, and an enormous fireball rose, consuming a swath of wooden buildings, thier hotel among them. Smoke and ash rained down on the beach and rolled toward her across the lake. "Ichabod!" she screamed as she dove into the water and swam with adrenalized strength toward the devastation.

"Artemis parked the motorcycle and removed her helmet before fastening it to the handlebars. She checked the brick facade of the aging building for a hint as to the location of the Riverside Messenger and headed to the second floor. It felt good to step out of her self-imposed exile. Apologizing to the reporter she'd treated so rudely was as good a motivation to get out of her chair as any. More importantly, she wanted to make sure the story being written contained no mention of her or Ichabod. She mounted the stairs, found the office she wanted, and stepped inside. The room was smaller than she'd expected. Half a dozen people sat in cubicles hunched over their keyboards or stretched out conversing on their phones. She spotted Lucy at the back near a glass enclosure Artemis assumed belonged to the managing editor. She walked directly toward the woman she'd come to see. And every head turned to watch her. Jake Durant looked up from his desk to see a woman walking toward his office. His jaw dropped as his eyes took her in. She was stunning. He surveyed every curve as she moved gracefully down the aisle. Her black pants hugged long, shapely legs, and the slogan on her sleeveless t-shirt was hard to read since the fullness of her breasts distorted the letters. She carried a leather jacket slung over her shoulder. Her long black hair seemed to float as she moved, and her eyes, amazing crystal-blue eyes, made him draw a deep breath. "I think I'm in love," he admitted, lowering the pipe from his mouth. "Now that's a woman."

Benedict Fergamo sat at his desk staring at the figure that had just appeared in the doorway. "Temmie, you have become even more beautifu. How is that possible?" He rose from his ornate wooden desk and walked to her. "Why did I not marry you when you were a lowly undergraduate in my boring class?" Artemis smiled. Ben was just as elegant and charming as she remembered him. "We both know the answer to that, Ben." She accepted a hug and a kiss on each cheek. "It's good to see you again." He took her hands in his and squeezed gently. Then he raised her arms from her sides and inspected her with an approving grin. "Are you here to chastise me for not replying to your message?" he asked, sounding apologetic. Artemis shook her head. "I didn't think you would, but I decided to ask anyway. Only now that I am here, I would like to coax an answer from you. This way you don't have to put anything in writing." He offered her a seat in his spacious office, pulled a series of documents from his file, and shared what he could. The World Health Organization was engaging the issue of the Harbinger on several fronts, all of them highly confidential. They had determined that the phenomenon was genuine. They had established the pattern in which the phenomenon affected physical and psychological reactions. And they had verified the 72-hour duration between onset and death. Artemis nodded politely. He closed the file and sighed. "But, of course, you already knew all of that. I heard you were with Ichabod when it happened. I'm so sorry about your brother's passing." She ran her tongue along her lip. "I need to know, Ben. I can't put him to rest until I understand everything." That was what he expected. She had been the same as a student: focused, driven, and unendingly curious. He stood and motioned for her to follow him. He led her through a maze of offices to a restaurant on the bottom floor. He requested espressos for each of them and, clearing dishes to one side, claimed a table in the back. He explained that it was not prudent to speak about certain matters in his office. She studied his face and waited for him to tell her what he really knew. "We cannot find an external cause," he said after a while. "If I look at all the information, and I have many times, the best I can conclude is that the experience is a normal cerebral function." "That's not possible!" She was stunned. He took a deep breath. "But it is, Temmie. It is known as precognition. Science has never had an explanation for it, and so it has been largely dismissed, even derided, as paranormal garbage. But precognition does exist." Artemis felt disappointed and a little angry. "I don't believe my brother was some sort of new age psychic, Ben. He never saw anything coming. He was a regular guy with a big heart and dreams for the future. Then suddenly that future was taken away. He didn't know he was going to die." "Because he didn't know what his brain was telling him. He didn't understand what it was. But if it happened to him today, he would know." Ben wanted her to understand. Humans have a variety of senses that act as early warning systems. The feeling you get when you are being watched, or the sudden impression that you shouldn't walk in a certain direction or that the phone is about to ring or that someone you love is in trouble. Artemis didn't need the primer. She had experienced all those things and much more. But the Harbinger had not visited her. It had selected Ichabod. "We don't know very much about the human brain, Temmie. He reached over and took her hand. "We can't be too surprised when our assumptions are challenged. I believe the Harbinger is just that. A sudden infusion of blood near the auditory region of the brain causes intense pain which is experienced as the sound of bells. And, I believe, it activates a previously dormant precognitive sense." Artemis ran her tongue along her lips. "The future isn't knowable, Ben. It doesn't exist until we get there." Ben stirred his coffee and played with the slice of orange peel in the saucer. "Do you remember the story of Saint Augustine and the seashell? He watched a boy running back and forth on the beach with a seashell. The boy was trying to put the ocean into a small hole he had dug." "Saint Augustine told the boy it was not possible to pour the whole ocean into a small hole," Artemis continued with a frown. Then the boy turned into an angel who told him it was no different than trying to put the mystery of the trinity into a human brain." Ben smiled. "Maybe it's time to put away our metaphorical seashell, Temmie. Whatever's happening is beyond our assumptions of ourselves. I cannot tell you why this is happening. I cannot be certain of what is happening. There is a better question we should ask: What should we do about it now?" "That's a question for philosophers, Ben." He looked out of the window at the spire of St. Peter's Basilica. "And for the church."

"I have no problem with you personally, Bishop," Uberdorf schmoozed, putting his feet on his desk and cradling the phone on his shoulder. "But your church is a different story. Your pope says terrible things about us." He paused to light a cigarette. "And as God is my witness, I don't understand why. We are all men of God. We should be tending to our flocks. Why can't we work together?" The man on the other end of the phone was not giving an inch. "The autumn fair is a Catholic event, Reverend Uberdorf. We have plenty of volunteers, and frankly, we neither need nor want your help." "There, you see what I mean?" Uberdorf was enjoying the conversation. He knew how much it bugged the bishop to call him reverend. He covered the phone and chuckled. He liked playing with people, especially when he held the high ground. There was nothing the bishop could do to him except refuse his offer. And that had been a given. Uberdorf was merely setting the stage for what the Servants were going to do anyway. "You won't even entertain the prospect of working together. And a fair is a positive thing. It's a perfect occasion to come together in Christ. I hope you will give our offer more thought." The bishop was firm in his denial. "Well, I will have my Servants around the fair to assure your safety. You can't stop us from that." He hung up and tossed the phone on his desk. "You can't stop us from anything, Bishop Jackass." It would be much easier to plant explosives when the booths were being set up. But the fair would last all weekend, and his men would find a way. They would rush in after the detonations and be seen helping the victims. It was another brilliant plan and just the kind of war Uberdorf preferred. The bad guys end up the heroes, and the world begins to spin the other way. Best of all, he was the one who got to spin it. He dashed off an encrypted message to his mentor. He asked again for a meeting because his mentor was not on board with more violence. Uberdorf didn't see the need for the secrecy between them any longer. It was getting in the way of what he wanted to do, and time was a big factor. The Harbinger had gone national, and he was preparing to follow. His broadcast was being syndicated. He was on the verge of superstardom. He turned his attention to a newsletter prototype he wanted to start issuing weekly. The Voice of the Harbinger - he still wasn't solid on the name - contained accolades about his broadcasts and prints of his best sermons. It had pictures of the Servants at work and puff pieces about individual monks, particularly the good-looking ones. It was not quite what he had in mind after he read it. It looked all right in print, but it was wanting something to capture the short attention span of the internet viewers. He marked up the copy with changes and sent it back to the writers for rework. Everybody should be working harder, he thought. "My dearest friends, this religion isn't going to establish itself!"

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