The murder by mob of a black boy set the wheels of Armageddon in motion. Twenty years later, Thomas “Stony” Jackson finds himself at the center of an apocalyptic whirlwind. He is all that stands between America’s survival and the nation’s total annihilation.
To reset the doomsday clock, Thomas must uncover the secret of a strange and ancient text that finds its way into his possession. Assembling a motley team and hunted by forces from beyond the grave, he embarks on a perilous journey across time and space.
In a race across the African continent to the Sudan, Thomas undergoes an supernatural transformation that fulfills an ancient prophecy and earns him a huge following.
Finally reaching the Nile Valley, Thomas must survive an ancient initiation performed by a secret society. The forces of both good and evil gather for a final confrontation. The preservation of all he holds dear hinges on the outcome.
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The Secret of the Nile Valley
J. A. Hall
The sun was closer than usual that August noonday in Natchez, Mississippi. Trying to fend off the repressive heat, Thomas and his three closest buddies grabbed some bottles of pop and raced down to the red clay banks of the mighty river for a cool dip. Thomas was twelve and the others were nearly the same. He could never have guessed that the course of his mundane existence was about to change, and the world with it.
After barreling down a dirt path that snaked through a sparsely wooded grove, they were stopped in their tracks. Mild irritation at the sight of blacks in their neck of the woods swelled into outrage, a reaction instilled by one of the state’s most Klan-infested counties.
“What the hell are you niggers doing over here?” asked Billy Ray. “This here piece of river belongs to us. Yours is clear over in Dalton.”
Thomas and Billy Ray had been chums since grade school. And, while Billy Ray said what they were all thinking, Thomas dreaded over what his friend would do next. Billy Ray Tyler was big for his age, an advantage he exercised every chance he got.
Billy Ray’s questions put a halt to the splashing. The look on the two black boys’ faces stopped just short of panic. Thomas guessed their ages at about ten and twelve. The two emerged warily from the river; their skin glistening in the July sun.
The older of the two boys hasten pass Billy Ray, ignoring the bully’s gush of insults. As the black boy bent to gather their clothing, Billy Ray pounced, hurtling his fist hard against the side of boy’s face. The boy collapsed to the soft sand, clutching his head.
“You niggers got to learn to stay on your side of the tracks,” Billy barked, while continuing his assault. Thomas remembered watching as the second boy dashed to the defense of his besieged companion.
Skipper and Denny seized the younger boy and held him by his arms. Suddenly, the young boy let out a spine-chilling scream, startling his subduers. Skipper and Denny panicked, loosening their grip long enough for the boy to break free. Terror etched on his face, the younger boy bolted up the dirt trail.
Billy Ray, his face lobster red, glanced up from his onslaught in time to spot the younger boy making his escape.
“Don’t let him get away,” he ordered.
Denny and Skipper gave chase. Thomas glanced over at Billy Ray. He saw in Billy Ray’s icy cold stare his own father’s sneering disappointment at his hesitation. Unable to resist the pressure of his racist upbringing, Thomas finally gave in and joined the chase.
Jarred from his dark recollections by his therapist, Dr. Wells, Thomas returned to the present.
“Well, Thomas, it would seem our session is up. Continue notating your dream diary and we’ll discuss them at our next session,” said Dr. Wells, wiping his thick-rimmed glasses. “And, since you conference has been called off; let’s schedule a session for next week.” Thomas rose lazily from the oversized-leather chair, gave his customary wave and strode out.
On the ride home, flashes of the dead boy’s severed and mangled corpse caused Thomas to miss his exit, requiring him to circle back. While the therapy sessions were helping him to sleep nights, they sometimes freed his demons to haunt his days.
He turned into Michael’s Woods, where he resided since being released from the Veteran’s Hospital. Two short years ago, he settled in Hampton, Virginia because of its proximity to Dr. Adams and to the College of William and Mary, where he was pursuing a master’s degree in History.
Newport News, VA
The debriefings were becoming harder to stomach for James Dawson. This would be his last. Tired of being analyzed by shrinks for post-traumatic stress disorder, and probed and prodded by the medical staff, his mind was made up. It was time to call it quits. He saw the end of the road in the eyes of short-timers when it was their time. He suspected that the newbies could see that same icy indifference in his eyes. A young corporal approached him outside the doctor’s office.
“Captain, Dawson, your release papers have been cut. Good luck, sir.”
James Dawson, civilian, was beginning to sound good. He had come to crave the blood, destruction and death. The carnage of war had seeped into his flesh and wormed its way deep into his soul.
As he exited Fort Eustis, an Army transportation instillation, he thought of his wife, Rose, and daughter, Heather. They were there to welcome him home at the touchdown, but since then, he’d only spoken to them by phone. Because of the increasing number of suicides by returning vets, the Army had ordered extensive testing.
He had been stateside two days and two nights. Each night brought macabre scenes on a scale far greater than he had ever witnessed in his three tours of duty. In the recurring dreams, he saw millions burning in a sea of molten lava, food for devilish fish of fire. Among the eternally damned were his wife and daughter.
He knew that the dreams had something to do with the book, the one with the strange symbols and the primeval guise. He thought back to how he found it, or about how it found him. It had been six years since he was drafted into the war against the Sword of Muhammad, an Islamic clearing house for Jihadist and their holy crusade against the West.
His outfit had been assigned a mopping up detail in the city of Kirkuk, which had been rendered a ghost town in the wake of the bloody civil war between Sunni and Shi’a extremists. Years earlier, Syria and Iran had formally joined the fighting; with Al-Qaeda, HAMAS, and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades cranking out an assembly-line of human bombs.
By, the year 2008, it appeared that Iraq was stabilized. When the Iraqi government failed to garner the support of the people and was faced with key resignations in the nation assembly and wholesale desertions in the army, the war suddenly escalated. Instead of pulling out, America found herself faced with a growing insurgency, resupplied by Iran, Russia and North Korea.
James remembered how his company had stumbled into an ambush outside Mosul. Pinned down by heavy fire, including a sniper in the minaret of a mosque, James called in an air strike that leveled the onion-domed structure. While checking the cratered place of worship, he found the book amid the rubble, remarkably unscathed by the blast.
First, he thought the book may have held some Intel value, and wrote of his find in his report. But, when he turned the book in, he found its pages blank and its appearance rendered ordinary. After deciding to keep it as a souvenir, the cryptic text returned. This is also when the strange dreams started.
He became obsessed with his discovery. He carried the book around tucked inside his flak vest. During which time, not a single scratch did he received. Over the next few months he saw scores of soldiers die in house-to-house skirmishes. What remained of his company was reinforced with green recruits, who worshipped him as a god. They had all heard the stories of his nearly twenty firefights without so mush as a paper cut.
Home was mere minutes from Ft. Eustis, Virginia. The complex, complete with 24-hour guards and barded wire fences, housed military personnel and their families. Before fishing for his key, he stopped to listen to the sound of his daughter, Heather, quizzing her mother about his arrival.
“Daddy, you’re home,” Heather shouted, running and wrapping her arms around him.
Heather had a million questions that extended straight through the evening’s feast. In contrast, Rose wore a cardboard smiled and said little. Something was clearly wrong. That night, while Rose slept, James crept downstairs.
As his wife and daughter slept, he sat in the living room, studying the book. The detailed images on the cover seemed more lavish. But for the life of him, he couldn’t remember its former appearance.
The next morning he was rattled from his sleep, body dripping wet. He felt a dreadful emptiness. The sight of familiar surroundings calmed his nerves and he collapsed back into bed. Before he could close his lids, he sensed a presence in the doorway.
“Daddy, are you okay?” Heather asked, anxiously.
“Yes, dear, everything’s fine, except I could use with a morning hug,” he said, sitting up. Heather ran and hurled herself into his chest, flatting him.
“Mommy had to go out. She said to tell you that breakfast is in the microwave and that she’ll be back as soon as she can. He was partly relieved. He was still wrestling with whether to share his secret with her.
But, when his thoughts turned to the book, he sensed something was wrong. While Heather ate breakfast, he checked the closet where he’d stored the book. After chucking aside boxes of papers, he discovered the cause for his discomfort.
“Heather. Heather, get the hell in here, quick!”
“Yes, daddy,” she asked, appearing from nowhere.
The frightened look on his daughter’s face melted his arctic tone. “Did mommy say where she was headed, sweetie?” Before Heather could answer, he heard the car pull into the driveway. James hurried to the door. James threw open the door, catching Rose completely by surprise. He then looked down at Heather.
“Go to your room, Munchkin. Daddy has to talk with mommy.” James watched Heather pogo down the hall before he turned his attention back to Rose.
“Did she wake you, James?” Rose asked, entering the house and heading for the bedroom. “I asked her not to.” James ran and stepped in front of her, blocking her path.
“Never mine about that,” James fired. “Where have you been and what have you done with it?
“You mean with the book?”
“No, I mean with the QE2…of course I mean the book.”
“Is it in there?” he asked, yanking the bag off her shoulder. Oblivious to his wife’s growing anger, he rummaged through the bag. Book in hand, he looked up. But, Rose had already stormed off. Following her into the bedroom, he found her retrieving a suitcase from under the bed.
“Rosie, honey, please! You don’t understand,” he insisted.
“No, James, it’s you who don’t understand,” she responded, continuing to pack. I have packed to leave a dozen times. But each time, I was unable to go through with it. I thought of Heather and how hard it would be on her. She loves you so. At no time did I think of putting my needs first. If I had, Heather and I would have been long gone.
“It’s not just your long tours of duty, but it’s the faces of KIA’s plastered on the nightly news. Each time the phone rings, I jump, afraid that it’s the call...the one all Army wives dread.”
“But, that’s behind us now, Rosy. I’m home to stay,” he reminded her, taking a step closer. She stood frozen, arms loaded with dresses.
“Yes, you’re home. And I am grateful to God for that, but what are you coming home to? What are your prospects? The nation is in the grips of a depression. There are breadlines all over. So, there aren’t a lot of career opportunities for ex-army, or haven’t you heard.
“You have given the last six years of your life to this country. You deserved more than, if you’re lucky, a career in law enforcement. Anyway you look at it, it means more sleepless night for me. And, since we’re on the subject,” she said, tossing the dresses on the bed.
“I hate this tiny two bed-room dump that the Army calls a deluxe nucleus family unit. Whenever we pass through the gate, it’s like entering a prison camp. I want more for Heather. I want more for us.
“Even with my part-time job on the base, we are barely getting by. So, yes, I took the book to have it appraised and their tongues nearly hit the floor. One dealer said that he he’d never seen a book of such rare and exquisite beauty. He gave me the number of a serious collector. But, he seemed certain that the book is quite valuable.”
There was a prostrated silence as they stared at one another.
“I thought you might have been hiding a little something in the downstairs closet, something special for a wife you haven’t seen in almost a year. Stupid me! Look, Jimmy, there’s nothing wrong with wanting more, is there?” she asked. “I don’t know where you found that book, but it can mean a new life for us, a real life.”
James woke that night to find himself standing over Rose as she slept, his arm upraised, and his hand gripping a field blade. Something inside him, something powerful, urged his to strike.
He fought hard to stay his trebling hand. In looking away, he caught sight of an evil likeness of himself in the mirror. His eyes bored a crazed look, and his face possessed a murderous rage. It was the side of him conceived in war, set free on the battlefield. Slowly lowering his arm, he crept from the room, for the moment relieved.
Rose woke to the smell of scrambled eggs, blueberry pancakes, and Canadian bacon, all of her favorites. Following her nose, she entered the kitchen. Heather and James were all smiles. Before she could speak, James danced up and handed her a cup of steaming black coffee.
“Honey, you’re just in time,” said James. Rose stood watching, thoroughly mystified by her husband’s cheerful mood. He had never been a morning person.
“Mommy, daddy’s going to take us on a vacation,” Heather announced.”
“What is she talking about, James?” Rose inquired, blowing the steam off her coffee.
“I was thinking about what you said last night. I thought we’d get away for a few days. One of my buddies has a time-share down in Nags Head. I called him and it’s not in use this week. We could pack a few things and be there by tonight. The Army owns me some back pay; maybe we could get in a little shopping while we’re there. What do you say?”
Heather’s eyes lit up as she vaulted up and down on the stool. “Oh mommy, can we, pleasssse?”
Rose turned from Heather to her husband. “What have you done with the book, James?” her eyes tinged with suspicion.
“Not to worry, honey, it’s somewhere safe. We can figure out how to cash in on our good fortune when we return. From now on, things are going to be different, you’ll see.”