"I am up," Rad said in a soft, chocolatey voice, lounging back on the crimson luxury king-size bed that they were currently lying in with one arm behind his head.
"I mean it, wake up now," the woman chuckled seductively, caressing her hand across his chest softly.
"I'm talking to you right now, aren't I?" he said with a tad bit of confusion. "I'm not asleep."
"Rad!" the woman shouted, rearing her hand back as if to bring it across his face. As it made contact, his world transformed and he found himself sitting in the back of a ransacked rumbling van in the middle of a vicious thunderstorm transpiring outside of the vehicle. He was irritated now. His fantasy had consisted of the usual for a man of his age and current position: Beautiful women, a mansion, loads of money; the good life. Now he was forced to return to the merky and dismal environment he lived in in the real world with a team of individuals that didn't like, respect, care for, or appreciate his presence in any way shape or form. It was a close equivalent to returning from your own wedding to find your dream house on fire. Somewhere in that category.
A young brown-haired woman was standing over him as he lay on a small sack in the corner of the back of the van, giving him the most belittling look a human could give to a fellow human being. "For the last time, wake up. We're almost at the warehouse."
Rad rubbed the side of his cheek tenderly after she'd delivered the powerful smack. "You know, you're going to have to cut out this physical assault routine if you all want me here to help you do this."
"We don't want you here," said a dark haired young man that sat in the front seat of the van, beside the driver. He was abnormally slim, but tall with high cheek bones and pale sun-deprived skin. His adam's apple throbbed against his throat every time he spoke. "You're only here because you have experience with cryptids like these and you have the knowledge to go about handling them."
"And there are three of you who have the same skills. But you decide to keep me, either because I am just that awesome or because you were too lazy to find a another fourth."
"I'd choose the second faster than the first," a large African American man muttered dismissively from the driver's seat. His bald head and gruff appearance excentuated his aggressive deep voice, which sounded twice as threatening when he spoke to Rad.
"At least you're bold enough to admit it, Richard. You, Will, and Erica could have found a paranormal investigator that you would have gotten along with, one that could be just as serious and uptight as you, with the same sized stick up their ass and everything. I'm sure they're out there. But no, you chose to go with moi`, because despite the fact that you hate everything about me, you chose to recruit me to your little outfit because I'm the best at what I do and I was in town at the same time you were. Very lazy move on your part. And I thought you said laziness gets you killed."
"Shut it, Munday," snapped the woman who's name was Erica, her brown locks swaying quickly as she shot him a dangerous look. "You talk too much."
"I talk too much truth, Erica, there's a difference," Rad said through a yawn, standing up to stretch. He held on to the roof of the van as he did to keep his balance as the vehicle rocked back and forth across the stormy wet road. The past fifteen years had been kind to him. He was tall now; six foot even, impressively built, and sporting an iconic wardrobe that he was quickly becoming famous for. He wore a waist-length leather trimmed black pea coat, a pair of black fingerless gloves, his favorite dark brown loosely fitted toboggan hat, and two medium-sized earrings in both earlobes. Underneath, he sported a tight black t-shirt with two tattoos on both of his forearms: A tribal phoenix on his left and a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson written on his inner right which read "The World Makes Way For The Man Who Knows Where He Is Going." Around his neck was an antique bronze key that hung from a chain necklace and below were a pair of skinny khakis and a pair of black combat boots with buckles latched across them. He rubbed his thin beard after he was done stretching and began to ponder on the accumulated evidence in their latest case. "So we've got a dead body here, right?"
"Obviously," said the dark haired man named Will with a touch of attitude.
"Oh yeah, make the new guy feel stupid when he asks an important question," Rad said with complete sarcasm. "You should ask the rest of your crew if they knew."
"Hey, we're here, so shut your mouth," Richard snapped as they turned off of the road and pulled onto one of gravel, traveling up hill to a large warehouse that reflected off of the dark, rainy sky. The van's wheels treaded through the wet mud as it climbed the hill and stopped directly in front of the warehouse, shining its bright headlights at the front doors of the building.
They all began to exit the van, emerging into the rain as they headed towards the door. The last to leave the van was Rad, who unlike the others, carried an umbrella out into the rain, while they glared at him disparagingly as their clothes began to soak.
Beside the warehouse was an old Cadillac that turned its lights off just as they pulled up. As the team exited, so did an elderly man from the car, who walked up to them cautiously.
"You're the team I asked for I presume?" he asked with a touch of suspicion. Closer observation showed them that he was missing his pinky finger on both hands as he reached for his keys to open the door to the warehouse, most likely war wounds from a life long forgotten.
"That would be us," Will spoke up for the group. "The Grim Searchers."
"Stupid name," Rad muttered under his breath. Erica gave him a death stare, which he ignored like he did most of their abuse.
"Alright," the man said hesitantly, sticking the key into the door lock and opening it, leading them into the building. As they walked in, they were instantly hit with a blast of cold air that quickly engulfed them like an ice-chilled blanket. The man walked to the side of a wall and flipped several switches. Few by few, the lights in the warehouse flickered on, starting from the back and traveling to the front.
"I didn't call the authorities because I knew they wouldn't help with something like this. They've never been much help."
"Regardless, you're going to have to call them to take the body to the morgue," Will said with authority. "A murder like this needs to at least be recorded so the victim can be given a proper service and burial. We don't mind investigating the scene though, help uncover what the authorities will probably miss."
"Thank you. I greatly appreciate it."
"Yes, how noble of you," Rad muttered under his breath as he pulled in his umbrella and shook the rain water off of it, closing the door behind him.
The man led the group down an aisle of items towering many feet above them. The place was damp and there was a large amount of noticeable maintainance and infrastructural defects. Water could be heard echoing as it fell from the ceiling in another part of the warehouse. Rad left the umbrella by the door as he entered the building. He shivered a bit from the chill as he walked behind the group, surveying his surroundings. His hands were in his jacket pocket, one of them twittling a pairs of dice between his fingers, which he always kept with him and handled when he was bored or in thought. Something was going on and Rad was already putting pieces together in his brain.
After turning a few corners, a strong odor of decay filled Rad's nostrils. He knew what it was. They were about to reach their subject. After another turn, it came into view. It was a body, hanging from the side of one of the scaffoldings, literally crucified against it, its arms in an eagle wide position and its legs crossed over one another. It was being held up by rotting nails that pinned its limbs against the structure. The body was of a naked man, but his jaw was missing and blood covered his multiple flesh-wounded torso, down to a large puddle of blood under him. The man's skin was a pale grey and his eyes were slightly ajar.
Everyone held their breath as they walked over to the scene, surveying the body.
"This is it," the old man said weakly, hollow of emotion. "Found him like this last night. I didn't disturb anything for the sake of evidence."
"Okay, so we've got a Young Adult, Male, Cau"- started Erica before Rad jumped in front of her with his hand in her face, mumbling incoherently to interrupt her. He walked ahead and examined the body closely. As he surveyed the area, he pulled the pair of purple dice out of his pocket and raddled them in his hand as he quickly scanned every aspect of the crime scene, backing up proudly when he was finished.
The Grim Searchers waited for his reaction. "Well?" Will called.
"Huh?" Rad said, turning to them. "Oh yeah, go ahead."
Erica shook her head in annoyance and continued. "Young Adult, Male, Caucasian. Victim has several lacerations across the torso, legs and arms, bottom jaw completely detached, body left in a crucified position."
"Gracias`, Senora Obviouso," Rad whispered under his breath.
"Victim is most definitely human"-
Rad cleared his throat loudly as everyone turned in his direction. He pointed up at the body. "Might want to look a little closer."
Erica turned around curiously and surveyed the body more precisely. She gazed up into the victim's face and noticed its eyes were slightly open. She could see into its pupils vaguely and nearly gasped in realization.
"The victim's pupils have a multi-colored glimer," Erica said in a near whisper before turning to the others in surprise. "The victim was an angel."
"PLOT TWIST!" Rad said loudly, filled with excitement.
"Angel?" the old man repeated, looking at the Searchers with wide eyes. "What is this? Are you saying that Gabriel was an angel?"
"That sound like an angel to you?" Rad asked with a touch of sarcasm, walking up to Erica's position, rattling the dice with every step. "I mean 'Gabriel'? Come on. An angel murdered in a warehouse, several lacerations all over the body with the bottom jaw missing, left crucified. I've seen this before. We're definitely in pretty deep, I've got to say."
"What do you mean?" Will asked, turning to him curiously.
"I mean, we didn't come to the Pine Barrens for sight-seeing. Gruesome murder in New Jersey, victim is an angel? Anyone?"
"Just tell us what it is," Richard said impatiently, folding his arms.
Rad turned to them with a serious face. "Jersey Devil."
"How do you know?" Erica asked, cocking her head with confusion. "What do you even know about the Jersey Devil?"
"The Jersey Devil, or the Leeds Devil as some call it, was brought into this world several hundred years ago. Now, there are a bunch of different explanations for its existence but the constants are that it was conceived by a woman who was either cursed or provoked its creation through witchcraft. When she gave birth to it, the creature came out misshapen and deformed, growing wings and flying away from its home, never to return again. Now, its been seen all over the area for many years following this until its last appearance nearly one hundred years ago. Few know what this creature really is but based on my extensive research and interviews with other paranormal investigators that say they've come in contact with this creature, its speculated to be, and most likely is, a demon spawned here on Earth, which explains why all of its victims have been angels. And only angels that have hidden here, people who's very existence on Earth have never been documented because of their divine status, and therefore their deaths were never recorded. It's been about 275 years since the creature was born, but it seems to still be pretty active."
"This is ridiculous," the old man said with a flustered attitude. "You talk all of this nonsense about angels and demons and - I thought this was some sort of psychopath that got creative. I didn't sign up for this."
"Yes, but you did call us for this and this is what we do," Will said, turning to put a hand on the man's shoulder and comfort him. "We'll find out exactly what's going on here and get rid of the problem for you."
"Okay," the man said, nodding nervously. "This is a bit over my head though. I mean, I am an athiest, I don't believe in any of this supernatural nonsense."
Rad chuckled under his breath. "Sucks for you when you die," he whispered.
"So why has the Jersey Devil all of a sudden decided to come out of a 100 year hiatus?" Richard asked curiously.
"You ever heard of a Sleeper Spy? They're secret government agents that completely emmerse themselves in a foreign environment; starting families, getting jobs, making friends, basically covering up their true identities for years until the point where its time to strike and then they go through their mission and leave their fake lives behind for good. It takes a lot of sacrifice and willpower but they do it all for their native country. That's basically what the Jersey Devil is, only his mission is to kill specific angels that are here on Earth, particularly in New Jersey, which has a whole community of them....ironically. In the early years after it made its way to Earth, it was probably a novice, reckless, didn't know exactly what it was doing and thats why it had been sited in the area multiple times. But about a hundred years ago was when it finally got skilled and elusive enough to complete its job without ever being seen again."
"A demonic Sleeper Spy Angel-Killing Assassin," Richard repeated with a touch of sarcasm. "Fantastic. So you're saying that demons can change into humanoid forms?"
"Yes, but there's a catch," Rad preached, moving vibrantly as if he were teaching a class. "And this is what it all boils down to. Taking form gives them the appearance of a creature of that has been on the Earth just as long as they have. So say one comes to Earth and then stays here for 12 years. They take the appearance of a 12-year old, which means they can change to whatever appearance they choose, as long as they appear to be at the age of 12. Therefore, their human form ages with them and they can only transform based on their age."
"And where does this all lead exactly?" Erica asked, getting impatient.
Rad slowly eyed the old man. "The Jersey Devil is 275 years old. How old do you think he is?"
Everyone turned their attention to the old man. His eyes darted back and forth between them. "What? This is unbelievable! You think I'm the demon you're talking about?"
"Come on, Rad, this guy can't be more than 60 or 70 years old," Will said dismissively.
"Right," Rad muttered with a raised eyebrow. "But I forgot to mention, once they reach a certain age, you know, the extent at which an average human's lifespan can go, the form ceases to age physically, otherwise there'd be no point in having the form after a while, since you'd just be living in a bag of bones for the majority of your time on this world. Its usually at this time that the demon decides to return to Hell and after a few years, rebirth their form on Earth and repeat the process, almost like an interdimensional phoenix. But that's only demons that are here for the luxury. This one is on a mission, has been for many years, and thats why he hasn't gotten the chance to replinish himself back in Hell. And don't try to be curtious, Will, you know this guy looks like he's at least a hundred or something."
"How dare you!"
"Okay, I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Rad said quickly, withdrawing a bit with his hands up defensively. "That might've been a little bit much. I might have jumped the gun with my overly active and scarily accurate paranormal detective skills, so I apologize for that. But if you could answer me just one question, we can be done with this whole thing and continue our investigation."
"What? What do you want?" the old man asked cautiously.
Rad slowly began to approach the old man, sizing him up from afar. He spotted the pinky fingers that were missing on either hand and pointed them out. "Your fingers. You're missing one on both hands. Can you tell me how that happened?"
"I lost them in the war, P.O.W Camp."
"Th-the World War."
"World War 1?"
"....Y-Yeah, that's it."
Rad turned to the rest of the group, who looked at him suspiciously. "Demons have next to no perception of time and era, whatsoever, because they're accustomed to how time develops in Hell, not on Earth. Even for one thats been on Earth for 275 years."
"Uh, Rad," Will said, pointing past him cautiously.
Rad turned back quickly and saw that the old man had disappeared. "Damn it," Rad said aggressively. "Stupid thing is fast. I'm surprised he knew what a P.O.W. was, I'm impressed."
"What the hell do we do now?" Richard asked, frantically looking around the warehouse for any sign of the creature.
"Calm yourself," Rad said, turning to them. An instant later, the lights shut off at once and they were immediately covered in darkness. Erica screamed at the top of her lungs, a shriek that shook the rest of them to their core.
"God, Erica, what the hell!?" Will exclaimed from within the dark.
"That wasn't me," Erica said with a bit of offense.
"Sorry," Rad said embarassingly. "The light thing caught me off-guard."
Everyone sighed in exasperation and soon, a flame pierced through the darkness when Richard lit a lighter and held it out in front of him.
"We need to get out of here," Will said with authority.
"We should be okay, right?" Erica said, wide-eyed with fear. "I mean, I thought the Jersey Devil only killed angels."
"I never said that," Rad spoke up, walking closer to Richard's light so he wouldn't have to stand in the dark alone. "I just said that all of its known victims were angels. It's a freaking demon, if you think it'll hesitate to screw us over, you might need to go back to PI College."
"Why'd it trap us though," Will asked confusedly. "That doesn't make any sense."
"Apparently, it wants to get rid of ALL of its enemies, not just angels. If I were you guys, I'd be proud. This means you actually have a reputation."
A guttoral growl echoed throughout the warehouse rhythmically, causing the four of them to shift on alert. They gathered around the flame of Richard's lighter, staring around at the tops of the scaffoldings in their aisle. As they stood vigilantly for several moments, a gentle but abrupt breeze blew by and Richard's lighter dimmed slowly, flickered a bit, and eventually snuffed out.
When the darkness over took them again, a loud screech filled the area, growing violently as the Devil drew in closer. Everyone evaded their current position, slipping farther into the unknown to avoid whatever was headed for them. A deep voiced-scream could be heard as the sounds of claws scraping through flesh filled the air. Suddenly, the scream, the movement, and the growls became distant and the area around them was quiet once again.
"Rad!" Erica exclaimed. "Get out your maglight now!"
"What?" Rad said, caught up in the excitement. "Oh yeah!"
He reached into his peacoat and pulled out a large black maglight. It was the size of a baton, approximately a foot and a half, and when he flicked it on, the light shot into the darkness, temporarily blinding everyone.
"How'd you fit that into your coat?" Will asked incredulously at the sight of the light.
"He has one of those enchanted rings in one of his jacket pockets," Erica said quickly. "The ones that allow you to store large objects in small spaces."
"You could have told me that earlier, I would have told you to store some of our fucking guns into that thing!"
"Cry me a river, Keanu Reeves, it can only store so much."
"Guys can you shut up and stop arguing for a second!" Erica exclaimed. "We should be spending this time thinking of a way out of here."
"Damn it, Richard," Rad muttered. "You had to be the black guy and die first. I better stop with the charisma, I've already got both strikes against me."
"Rad, get that thing ready," Erica said vigilantly. "It's going to come back."
"It's okay," Will said calmly. "I think we're okay as long as that light stays on us."
"You may be right," Rad declared. "But I'm the one actually holding the light, so I'm still in the darkness."
"That's too bad," Will said with no compassion. "Keep the light on us, we're going to try to get to the exit."
Rad was a bit offended, which was one of the first times he'd actual reacted this way in the time he'd be employed with the Grim Searchers. It showed exactly how much patience he had with them, despite their constant abhorrent insults and repugnance. But now Will was asking, no, telling him directly to sacrifice his life for theirs.
"I have control over this," Rad said, temporarily moving the light away from them and up at his torso. "I decide where I want to shine the light and I'd rather protect myself and live than die, for you ungrateful bastards."
A shriek could be heard in the distance, growing as it swept in once again and screams could be heard from Will. Rad quickly shined the light back on him to see the grotesque creature sweeping him up by the waist and digging its fangs into his shoulder. The Devil's skin was dark red, its skeleton protruding through its skinny anatomy. It was smaller than Rad once thought at about four feet with a five foot-wing span, but it was still large enough to murder a human being or unsuspected angel with ease. It had a long neck with a head shaped like a horse and large thick fangs that sprayed Will's blood all over the warehouse floor as it dug into him. As quickly as the creature appeared, it just as quickly disappeared with Will in its clutches. Rad felt a tad bit guilty after witnessing the incident.
"Radcliffe!" Erica yelled in his direction. Rad shined the light on her.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry. That bastard moves fast."
"We have to get out of here now. Keep the light on me and don't take it off until we're out of here."
"Gotcha," Rad said with a nod as he began to follow Erica through the aisles. His eyes darted around, hoping that the light would be his protection, even though it wasn't directly on him. A few minutes into the journey, they could hear the cackling of the old man echoing in their ears.
"You won't be leaving this place any time soon," he croaked in a sinister voice.
Rad and Erica didn't let it effect them as they continued on, backtracking each step as it led them back to where they'd begun. They managed to reach the front door in one piece, but now it was a matter of escaping unscathed. Suddenly, something fell from the top of one of the scaffoldings, crashing to the floor behind them. Rad turned around to see a broken box and quickly realized what was happening. It was a trap. He heard the Jersey Devil screech as it swooped in for Erica, who was frozen with terror in the darkness. He turned the light back on her.
"Catch!" He screamed, tossing the light in her direction. She caught it awkwardly and shined it directly into the aberrant face of the creature as it turned its path and flew back into the darkness. She quickly shined the light back on Rad, who was looking up into the scaffoldings with determination. "That was close."
"Yeah," she muttered. "Let's go."
She let Rad get in front of her as they reached the door, shining the light on him as he walked. Rad turned the handle several times with no luck.
"It's locked," She said, losing all hope in her voice. "How do we get out now?"
Rad turned back to her. "Give me the light and get in front of me."
Rad took the light and allowed her to get in the line of it. He gripped the center of the maglight with both hands and forced the two sides apart. The maglight split into two, with the light half still pointed at Erica, but the bottom half was now in Rad's right hand. Rad motioned for Erica to come by him once again, as she grabbed the light and shined it on him. Rad walked towards the door with the bottom half of the maglight and twisted a knob on the butt of it, which propelled a large hunting-knife blade from its top end, using the maglight side as its handle. Rad grabbed the door knob, jammed the blade into its socket, and turned hard, breaking the lock. When he heard the crack, he forced the door open and motioned for Erica to follow. They were out.
The two of them emerged outside in the rainy darkness. Rad took his peacoat off as the rain began to soak his black t-shirt and opened it for Erica as she walked out of the warehouse. He put it around her shoulders and allowed her to cover her head with it.
"You need it more than I do," Rad said with a smile. She nodded and smiled back as they continued on to their van. It almost seemed as if they were home free; that is until they heard another screech from within the warehouse. The sound of glass breaking echoed in the distance and Rad quickly realized that there was more than one exit to the building. "Run!"
The two of them sprinted towards the van as quickly as possible. The screech was getting louder and louder in the distance until it sounded as if it were right behind him. Erica could tell that they weren't going to make it.
"Rad!" She shouted as he turned around briefly, still running ahead. She tossed her half of the light at him as the creature grasped her from behind and into the darkness. Rad caught it as quickly as he could, retracting the blade on the bottom half and attaching the two halves of the light together. Now back in its original condition, Rad pointed the light at Erica, who was bravely fighting off the creature on the muddy grass but was visibly losing the battle. Rad flipped another switch on the light and watched as a rail protruded out of the top and the sides of it flung out, displaying the two prods of a bow. A trigger ejected from the bottom side and an object slid down the rail, clicking into place. The object was an bolt and the maglight had now taken the form of a crossbow.
Rad pointed his new weapon directly at the creature. He pulled the trigger and watched as the bolt swooped through the air and struck it in the face. He fired several more times as it penetrated the Devil's skin, causing it to fall back. Each arrow was more deadly than it appeared, causing it to hit the ground hard where it lied inanimately. Rad sighed with relief and ran to Erica's side.
She was bleeding profusely with several scars all over her face and body, but she was still breathing though it was slow and weak. Rad knew there was nothing he could do for her. She was fatally wounded. Yet still, she smiled up at him.
"Maybe you should have activated that crossbow thing earlier," she said with a chuckle. Rad tried to return it but his heart was aching for a woman that he barely even knew. As the light left her eyes, Rad said a quick prayer for her soul as well as for the salvation of Will and Richard. They may have been a group of rancorous individuals, but none of them deserved the end they'd been given. He picked her up delicately and carried her to the van.
Rad walked to the back, opened it quickly, and laid her in the back lightly. It took all of his willpower to turn away from her but he managed, letting a single tear fall from his eye before moving on as he let the rain wash it away just as quickly as the rest of the drops on his face. He walked back to the body of the Jersey Devil and carried it back to the van as well. He put it in the back beside her, but tied it tightly to the floor of the van to assure that it wouldn't escape, should it regain conciousness. Just to be safe, he covered it with a tarp before leaving it.
Rad closed the back of the van and walked to the front. He didn't have the keys, as they'd been with Richard and were most likely long gone, so he reached down below the wheel, broke off the cover under it and hotwired the engine to start. He quickly put the van in gear and pulled off of the pathway to the warehouse, swerving off into the street.
Sirens blared behind the van. Rad had been traveling for nearly an hour with no clue of his next move and this was probably the worst occurence that could come his way in a situation like this. Rad pulled over to the side of the road. The rain had stalled and the water by the curb shot into the air as he rolled to a stop. He waited for the two state troopers following him to stop behind the van. One of them exited their vehicle and walked to his door.
"License and registration," the middle-aged state trooper said with a thick moutache and a country accent.
Rad sighed heavily. "I don't have a license on me."
"Please step out of the vehicle, sir."
Rad sighed again and got out of the van quickly. The officer looked to his right to see another state trooper following up behind him. His face was much younger and it was obvious that he was only a rank or so above a rookie.
"No license?" the second state trooper asked the first.
"Nope. I think that gives us reasonable suspicion to check the vehicle-"
"Yeah, yeah, I know how it works," Rad said, in annoyance with his hands in his pockets.
The young state trooper walked to the back of the van and opened it up. "Uh oh," he said with an apathetic voice. "Looks like we've got a body back here."
"Sir, you're under arrest," said the older state trooper, pulling his handcuffs from around his hip and grabbing Rad's arm forcefully, pinning it behind his back.
"Oh, looks like we've got another," the young state trooper said, exploring the back of the van. "What's this now-"
Suddenly, he screamed at the top of his lungs. The first state trooper only managed to get one of the handcuff loops around Rad's wrist before he ran to the back with his gun drawn. As soon as he stepped out of view, the older officer was tackled to the front of the police car by the Jersey Devil as it began to slash and tear into him. Rad reached back into the van for the maglight and quickly activated its crossbow function as he sprinted for the police car. He fired at The Devil several times, knocking it off of the state trooper as it fell to the ground beside the car.
The state trooper got up quickly, scars covering his face, and charged toward Rad. Rad looked around to see what he was headed for and quickly realized that he was the current target. The state trooper tackled him to the ground quickly and knocked the maglight out of his hand, turning him over and hooking the second handcuff to the other wrist.
"I said, you're under arrest!" he said aggressively, pulling Rad up to his feet.
"Oh, fantastic, I get arrested for saving your life," Rad said with sarcasm and discontent. "Wonder how this'll look for you when your dashboard cam footage gets on youtube. Hooray for the justice system!"