October 2016


(Book Three)

Chapter 19

Approximately two hours after Wolfenson departed on his trip, the convoy of relief vehicles left the airport for the city. Five SUVs led a parade of half-ton trucks, which carried the Israeli disaster equipment and supplies.
After easily circumnavigating a devastated overpass, they came to a field of refugees. Patricia wanted to stop—how could she not? Men groveled at their caravan for water and food. Babies cried in the field. But another charity was already gearing up to assist these people, and Patricia’s team was focused on clearing the road and getting supplies to the Red Cross. 
Not long after the refugee encampment, the convoy came across the first impasse. A building had collapsed. Its massive blocks had spilled into the roadway. Nothing but a motorcycle could have passed without a detour off-road. 
A team of rescue workers immediately set upon the rocks with jackhammers. They stood aside periodically while bulldozers scraped debris into the desert. Forty-five minutes later it was clean. 
They drove five minutes to the next blockade, and an hour later they drove to the next. Patricia stood outside her SUV, staring at the latest fallen concrete goliath. Carl stood nearby, watching the men work.
Patricia kept dreading that they might find someone under all that stone. She could only hope any victims would survive, and not just die in some tent, or worse, die at the very moment of being saved.
“At this rate,” she said, “we’ll never get into the city.” 
She had said it to herself, but loud enough for Carl to overhear. He looked at his watch and fretted over the hold this would put on Wolfenson’s plan. Their ropes and pulleys would definitely work better on Patricia in the smoke and mirrors of night.
That was a small concern, however, when compared to the Black Pages. Or more accurately, the two new keepers of their ancient knowledge. Dr. Fincher’s mission was to erase the document, and all memory of its contents. He claimed to need Carl’s help, but with Fincher, Carl had learned over the years that the doctor preferred to work alone. So there had to be a compelling reason for his request.
Since their conference in the freezer, Carl had come up with two theories. One, Fincher really needed his help because he was afraid to disappoint the envoy. Perhaps very afraid. That’s why he was willing to change his modus operandi. Or two, Fincher already realized he was going to fail in his task, so his new plan was to make sure the blame fell on Carl. The envoy’s target list of Red Veil names didn’t include Dr. Colin Fincher. No doubt the doctor wanted to maintain the special relationship he enjoyed with the angel. A bond that apparently included the envoy’s full confidence in sharing with the doctor the real reason they were in Aleppo. 
Patricia, deafened by the jackhammers and earthmovers grumbling into position, winced and covered her ears. She had barely tolerated the first few excavations, but this latest one shook her to the bone. 
Then Carl saw Patricia’s face freeze. 
The rescuers had just uncovered part of a body, a hand poking out of the rubble. It shook and dangled limply as the team continued to disinter the corpse. 
Patricia raced back to the SUV and climbed into the passenger side, slamming the door behind her. 
Carl waited a beat, then got in behind the wheel.
“Patricia, are you all right?”
“Yes, I’m sorry. I’m fine.”
“Don’t apologize,” Carl said. “Those kinds of sights are shocking. I don’t care who you are.” 
“It’s not just that. It’s everything. It’s John being gone. It’s me feeling like a fly on the wall in a... busy beehive. It’s a million and one things you couldn’t possibly understand.”
She noticed Carl react to her voice. Patricia closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “I apologize. I’m completely all right now.”
Carl smiled—and then laughed. “Are you sure you’re completely all right?”
Patricia blushed at having her words playfully thrown back at her. She certainly felt better, having released all those pent-up emotions. “Well, maybe not... completely all right. Look, I’m really sorry. Despite what I just said, I’m sure you’re more than capable of understanding.” 
“Is there anything you want to talk about?” Carl asked, choosing his words for the effect he knew they would have on her.
Patricia chuckled. “It’s funny, you have no idea how hearing that makes me immediately feel better. Maybe I should turn that into my mantra.”
Carl pretended to be confused, so Patricia touched his arm to explain. 
“A lot of things have happened in my life, Carl. Unfortunately I’ve said more to therapists than to anyone else.”
He nodded and fell silent for a few moments, demonstrating that he truly was listening. “So I guess the phrase ‘Anything you want to talk about’ is like... comfort food for you.”
Patricia laughed and reached over again to touch him, lingering longer this time before withdrawing her hand. “That, and a cigarette on the side,” she said, “yes.”
Nothing about their effortless interaction surprised her. When they had first met at Balshem Medical Center, after John’s attack, Carl and Patricia had talked for hours in the waiting area and cafeteria. In her experience, most of John’s security operatives had personalities as cold as the metal of their side arms. But Carl, just minutes after they had become acquainted, was proudly showing off pictures of his wife and two sons. Patricia had wanted to show him a photograph of her son, Scotty, but with the added turmoil of John’s attack, she hadn’t risked the tears. 
The drama of that moment paled in comparison to the anguish she now felt. Just the thought of what lay on the other end of the hand they had found disturbed her. Patricia feared she would lose it if the victim turned out to be a child.
“Well, then fine,” Carl said, “talk to me. Tell me about those other problems you mentioned. I’m already on your husband’s payroll, so I won’t be charging you by the hour.”
“No,” Patricia said, “I don’t think so. It all feels so... petty and trivial complaining about my personal problems in the middle of all this. People have lost their families out here. People have lost their lives.” 
Despite her noble words, Carl could see that she wanted, and even needed, to talk. He didn’t want to push her too hard, but he also wanted to get her to open up. 
“I understand,” he said. “But I hope you don’t mind me asking... what in God’s name are you doing here, Patricia?”
On the plane ride over, she had devised a whole repertoire of answers to this type of question. Her answers ranged from excuses to outright lies, but one version came very close to the truth. Patricia wanted to give Carl that version, if she could. But every time she opened her mouth, she couldn’t figure out what to say, or how to say it.
She almost came right out and said that John wasn’t John, he wasn’t her husband, but that had started to sound crazy even to herself.
“I’m sorry,” Carl said, “I shouldn’t have said anything...”
“No,” Patricia said, “I don’t mind you asking. It’s just... I’m not sure I can answer you. I can tell you I’m not here for some adventure to tell my girlfriends about. And I’m not here to...” She looked over at the rescue team as they continued to dig up the body. “Not here to find myself in the reflection of some poor earthquake victim’s eyes. But I guess I’m still not answering your question.” She turned away, frustrated and confused. 
“Patricia, I only ask because...” Carl pretended to shift uncomfortably in his seat. “Everything we’re about to see and experience... it’s probably the worst this planet has to offer.” He let the words resonate with her a second.
In no way did Patricia believe Carl was exaggerating. She had often heard John criticizing the media’s running theme that tragedies brought out the best in people. They ran stories of heroic rescues or selfless conduct. But, as John had informed her countless times, the news also shelved stories about how tragedies brought out the worst in people.
“Are you prepared to handle that?” Carl asked her.
“What about you?” Patricia asked. “Why are you here? And don’t tell me because you’re getting paid. Your security team could keep us safe without you here, endangering yourself too. If this is the worst the planet has to offer, why come? Why not be with your wife and children?”
Carl didn’t have to pretend to think about the question, because he hadn’t expected it. “Well, Patricia, I’ll be honest with you. I’m not a religious man, but my answer will sound religious...”
Outside, the jackhammers suddenly stopped. Indeed, it was a child at the end of the hand.
“I believe that on any trip to heaven, there are always detours through hell.”

Chapter 20

Reitz drove John Wolfenson’s Humvee into the Old City, where the Citadel of Aleppo on the hill once shined. He parked near a tourist bus crushed under white bricks.
In this part of the city, those bricks were thousands of years old. Fincher wondered if the envoy had planned them too.
Candles, oil lamps, and fires burned here, outside the stone wall of Khan al-Shouneh. Their light erected a golden dome upon the ruins of archways and towers. In this glowing sanctuary, people had gathered, as they had for centuries. 
Aleppo had long served as a nexus for the great trading routes, including the Silk Road. Once an inn for traders, Khan al-Shouneh had become an extension of over nine miles of covered marketplace: stone archways sheltering a narrow cobbled maze, where all manner of God’s people haggled. Imports such as Damascene coffee, Indian spices, and raw Iranian silk; domestics, such as wool and soap. 
Tonight, three guards stood at the khan’s intricately carved door. 
They looked as if they would haggle for nothing. But Dr. Fincher knew every man had his price, even if just the one on his head.
“This is exactly the type of situation I was trained to avoid,” Reitz announced.
Fincher laid a hand on the guard’s MP 5 to steady it. “Don’t let your emotions control you,” he said, hoping his psychoanalysis would help.
“And lead with your ears,” Wolfenson added. “A calm reaction is key to a satisfactory outcome.”
Fincher was amazed each time when the envoy’s grip on Reitz’s shoulder put the man at ease. As if the envoy knew some age-old pressure point. 
“In fact, let us lead,” Wolfenson said. “Our hosts will want to see our faces.”
Before either of his men, the envoy got out and took the loaves of bread. Several sacks in each hand. Fincher followed after him, and obediently, but not blindly, Reitz trailed behind.
A congregation of women wore black veils, revealing only their mourning eyes. As Wolfenson entered their temple of rubble and light, they all gathered around for alms of bread. Each woman accepted her loaf with a respectful bow and blessings and thanks: Shukran, Mashallah, and Allah Ma'akom. Wolfenson, too, repeated Mashallah, Mashallah: God bless you all. Reitz watched all of this, clearly confused, and uncertain what to do with his gun. 
At the entrance to the khan, the armed guards caught sight of Wolfenson and his entourage. Two of them tossed their cigarettes aside and raised their guns. The third, to the right of the door, stopped petting a dog to grab a pistol from his belt.
Fincher checked on Reitz, who was itching at his trigger guard. The doctor opened his mouth to whisper more consolations, but then Wolfenson chuckled and surprised them both. 

“Gentlemen, gentlemen,” the envoy said to the guards. “I expected a warmer welcome.” He lifted his arms, as if inviting a congregation to stand. Under his breath, so that only those closest to him could hear, the envoy said, “While the trumpets are silent, my voice will lift the veil. I will raise the dear departed to rebuild on shattered stone.”

Dr. Fincher listened carefully to this incantation, taking comfort in the cadence and tone. He didn’t know how, but this prayer played a necessary part of what they were about to do. 
The door to Khan al-Shouneh suddenly opened, and a man stood in the shadows. He said something to the three guards in Arabic, and for several seconds no one moved.
“No Jews and crusaders can see the Imam in this state,” the man in the shadows said.
Wolfenson nodded. “We are neither.” In Arabic, he added, “We are from the Red Veil.”
The shadowy figure stepped quickly into the light. Long white robes draped his skeletal frame, and a headdress and beard lent a fullness to his hollow face. “We are from the Red Veil,” repeated Ilyas Saeed in Arabic. “Nahno min jama'et Alkoofeyah Alhamra.”
At Saeed’s command, the three guards lowered their weapons. Two of them lit new cigarettes, and the third went back to petting his dog. 
To Reitz, the envoy said, “We won’t be long.” And then he and Dr. Fincher disappeared into the shadows, leaving their bodyguard behind. Hopefully, Fincher thought, Reitz’s nerves wouldn’t get the best of him.
Once the khan’s heavy door had shut, the women in veils picked up their bread, but did not eat of it, not yet.
Aleppo’s marketplace had several khans, each named after its location and function: such as the Khan al-Gumruk, caravansary of customs and excise, including the consulates of French, English, and Dutch commerce. 
Khan al-Shouneh specialized in the trades and traditional handicrafts of Aleppine art, none of which was on display tonight. 

The khan resembled a colossal dark shell: a corridor of tall archways, arcaded with wooden shop fronts and their fanlights. The brick walls had cracked, as had some of the huge tiles on the floor. Otherwise the building remained intact.
Ilyas Saeed led Wolfenson and Fincher down the arcade. He spoke quietly, and yet his voice traveled far. “I am sure you have heard. The infidels sent their fireflies to burn down the Imam’s home in Beirut.”
“Yes,” Wolfenson said.
Fincher had heard this too. For ten years the United States had been trying to kill the man named Omar Sheikh Kashmiri—or OSK, as the intelligence community referred to him. Kashmiri and his terrorist group had bombed American military outposts in Afghanistan and Iraq, killing soldiers, U.N. aides, and civilians alike. 
Recently, the CIA had launched drones to the Shuf Mountains to fire missiles into the Imam’s castle. 
“I trust the Red Veil gave him fair warning?” Wolfenson asked.
“Yes, and he escaped. The Americans believe the Imam is hiding in Jordan. They are fairly confident in stating it.”
“Perfect,” Wolfenson said.
Saeed’s eyes became even sadder. “I am afraid not perfect, my envoy. I am afraid not.” He grew gravely quiet as they came to an intersection and turned left, over a decorative grid of tile work in the center. 
Down this covered street there was lamplight, and a group encircling a crudely constructed bed. Half a dozen of them knelt in prayer. The other half simply stared at the body laid out on the thin, lumpy mattress. A white cotton kafan shrouded the man’s corpse all the way to the neck, and an open copy of the Koran rested beside his head. 
Years ago, when Carl Saracen had first given the Imam’s dossier to Dr. Fincher, the psychologist had been struck by the terrorist’s profile, which seemed to run the table on the psychopathy checklist, the PCL-R. 
In Egypt, during the 1980s, the Imam had founded the terrorist organization Zulfiqar, a reaction to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. Since then, the group had become more anti-Semitic, anti-Western, and anti-modern, and OSK had personally masterminded the deaths of hundreds of people. He alone had become one of the most wanted terrorists in the Middle East. 
Though members of Zulfiqar preached Islamic fundamentalism while proselytizing at mosques, Fincher knew from the files that OSK cared very little for religious texts. Almost as little as he knew about them. Which ruled out the initial diagnosis from another member of the Red Veil—borderline personality disorder with extreme disassociation. 
No, OSK was a man who loved to make video threats, spouting more than just a black-and-white ideology. He was a killer, indiscriminately. Not just of Westerners, but of Sunnis and Shiites alike. And if those targets included women and children, all the better. 
Each of these traits and tendencies led Fincher to label OSK with an amoral, narcissistic personality. More than that, the doctor felt certain he was looking at the profile of one of the modern world’s most prolific mass murderers. A perfect recruit for the Red Veil.
Now, as Fincher loomed over OSK in the dim lamplight of the khan, he was underwhelmed by the corpse’s stature. Surely this body, this sunken-in meat, was not the legendary OSK. Too garden variety. The dead man certainly wasn’t recognizable: his face, although cleansed of blood, had been pulped and bruised in death.
But indeed, this was the man they had come to see. The man who had long ago told his followers that he wanted to brand himself, not only as the spokesperson of their group, but as the face of destruction itself. And here, the Imam’s face had certainly been destroyed.
“There is the brick that took him,” Saeed said, pointing to a bloody chunk of rock, around which more people were praying for some ungodly reason. It looked older than the masonry in the khan, and had a different color too, as if it had come from a different building altogether.
Again, Wolfenson and Fincher had already heard this news, but the doctor admired the envoy’s show of sadness and surprise. 
Fincher himself found it difficult not to comment on the irony of OSK’s death: after the U.S. military and intelligence had spent millions of dollars and thousands of man hours trying to eliminate him, it had been a simple brick that had taken the Imam’s life.
“Who knows of this?” Wolfenson asked. “This tragedy?”
“Only those amongst us,” Saeed replied.
The envoy nodded. Fincher as well. Like the envoy had said before: perfect. All according to plan. 
“Could we have a few minutes alone with the Imam, please?” Wolfenson asked Saeed.
“Yes, but I must stay.”
The envoy smiled. “I understand.”
Saeed nodded and then executed a flourish to everyone surrounding the bed. The people instantly scattered into the darkness, their robes dusting old floors.
Wolfenson stood by OSK’s bedside and stared down at him, as if trying to read the Imam’s mind. Saeed shifted uncomfortably and took a step toward Wolfenson, who acknowledged him.
“It was not his time,” the envoy said. “There are things he still needs to do.” 
Fincher noticed Saeed trying to hide his confusion, but a slight crease in the man’s weathered brow betrayed him. 
“We believe that Jesus Christ is not dead,” Saeed replied obliquely. “We believe he was taken to heaven by Allah, peace be with him. And I personally believe Imam Kashmiri will soon return to the army of Allah.”
Wolfenson did not respond, vastly more skilled than Saeed at hiding his reactions. He knelt and laid a hand on the cotton kafan over OSK’s chest. Once again, he stared at the terrorist before closing his eyes. 
Fincher waited eagerly for something to happen. After a full minute, he glanced at Saeed, who now looked openly confused, but also intrigued. He did nothing to stop the envoy.
Eyes still closed, Wolfenson turned to Saeed. “I need your help. Our friend Kashmiri has fallen asleep, but I am going to wake him.” 
“Suras...” Saeed stammered, “holy warrior... Allah...” 
After a few long, anxious moments, the envoy spoke again, this time loudly. “Take away the stone!” 
It was not clear who Wolfenson was speaking to, and Saeed looked to Fincher with concern. The doctor kept his eyes on the envoy.
“Saeed,” Wolfenson said, his eyes still closed. “Your brother will rise again. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies. Do you believe this?” 
“Yes!” Saeed said. “Yes, I believe!”
With that, the envoy removed his hands from the Imam’s chest. Then he opened his eyes. 
Omar Sheikh Kashmiri opened his eyes as well.

Chapter 22

The ruins looked built out of bodies. Pillars of them. Archways. Buttresses for shattered stone. 
The relief convoy drove past Aleppo’s new monuments.
Patricia, Carl, and two U.N. workers all shared the same SUV. Tanaka drove. Carl rode shotgun. It had been Patricia’s idea to roll down all the windows, to listen for signs of life.
“Oh God,” she said, overwhelmed by the smell. “It’s worse than the year of the garbage men strike.” Trash all across Washington, D.C. had rotted for weeks. At the time, some of Patricia’s social circle had characterized the conditions as scenes from a third world country.
Across the back seat from her, one of the U.N. workers, a Polish Jew in his thirties, was thinking of the Third Reich. “My grandparents...” he finally said, staring at the bodies. “They died in the Holocaust. I’ve always only had photographs to understand what that must have been like for them.”
Patricia stared at the young philanthropist as he gazed out at the deaths. Though it wasn’t intentional, his musing made hers seem trivial, a reminder of how she and her friends all lived on a hill.
“I’m sorry, people,” Carl said, “I can no longer handle the smell.” He rolled up the windows via the controls in the center console, and then switched the SUV’s filtering system to recycled air. For him, it wasn’t the stench of the bodies, but the nauseating, all-encompassing stink of piss and shit. 
“Better?” Carl asked Patricia, who was gripping the armrest of her back passenger door. 
She took a deep, cleansing breath and nodded, but didn’t let go of the armrest. Her fingers dug into the veneer. “Yes.”
But it wasn’t. The immediate comfort just gave her more time to think. The most horrific thing now, she thought, was how disasters desecrated even the sanctity of death by making each body indistinct. It blurred them until they weren’t even human, just unceremonious meat.

One of Aleppo’s biggest hospitals had once stood nearby. Now it was one of its biggest gravel pits. At every intersection, Syrian soldiers stood with their backs to each other, assault rifles cradled. Their sights were on the earthquake survivors, who scurried around the streets. 

In all the disaster zones Carl had ever visited, the survivors all moved the same, like a hive of insects that had just been sprayed: the asphyxiated shambled like zombies, while the not-yet-dying ran away. He knew that the quick ones scurried to save their families, or to loot for food and gain. At some point Carl had realized the difference.

“Almost there,” he said as they approached the park. Around the fountains and in the lawns, the Red Cross tents had been set up. The loud hum of portable generators had attracted people to the park from all four quarters. 
Tanaka steered their SUV toward the storage area designated for food and medical supplies. 
“I’ve been here before,” Patricia suddenly announced, recognizing one of the fountains. “Every day, I bought us lunch in the open market right around here. For John and me.”
After a few seconds with no response, a U.N. volunteer from Ecuador said, “Yes, but I think now you were here in another life.”
The relief caravan came to a stop, and the screeching of brakes cut through the din of the portable generators. Immediately, hundreds of earthquake survivors descended upon the SUVs. They slapped the windows and clamored for handouts. 
Some of them looked angry, shaking fists, beating at the metal and glass. Others had tears cutting down their dirty cheeks. Patricia couldn’t understand what they were saying, but she heard an underlying chant: “Raja'an, raja'an.” In other words, “please.” Even the angry ones were saying it.

From out of the military trucks nearby, Syrian soldiers emerged to push people away from the SUVs. The armed men formed a human shield around the caravan, and a few soldiers fired their AK-47s into the air. 
Patricia watched the civilians scatter. “Is that really necessary?” she said. No one in the SUV answered her. Everyone was getting out.
Carl came around and opened Patricia’s door for her. “It’s okay,” he told her.
“I know it is.” She took his hand and let him help her out, knowing it was acceptable to show the occasional weakness, but hating it anyway.
The convoy began to unload the supplies into the storage area. “I don’t understand it,” Patricia said, as she and Carl ran into each other at the back of one of the trucks.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“Why are we bringing supplies to some roped-off guarded area? Why aren’t we just handing them out?”
Carl said, “You have to believe me, there’s a reason this sort of thing evolves a certain way.”
“The worst this planet has to offer?” she said, and her tone confused Carl. He couldn’t tell whether she was reminding herself of what he said, or accusing him of living down to his own words. He decided to give her the benefit of the doubt.
“Trust me,” he said, and left it at that.
She learned what he meant quickly enough. Several refugees tried to sneak past the armed guards to steal food and medical supplies. Some of them pushed whoever got in their way. One of them pushed Patricia. She dropped the box of bottled water as she fell, and the man swooped down upon it. The guards struck him with their batons and forced everyone back.
“Are you all right?” Carl asked, helping Patricia up.
“Yes,” she said, dusting herself off and glancing sideways at the man who’d pushed her. She had never felt so afraid in her life of someone she was trying to help.
Carl picked up her spilled water and gave it back to her.
He nodded, and then went to get his own box. 
Patricia carried hers toward the storage area. She glanced again at the man who’d pushed her, and saw him sitting on a park bench, holding his bleeding head. A young Syrian girl, no older than eight or nine, stood by him, folding her headdress for his wound. No one scolded her for taking it off. His blood was already on it anyway. And on her face. 
The little girl looked over and saw Patricia staring, saw the box of bottled water in her hands, none in her own. The girl coughed.
“I assure you,” Carl said, startling Patricia from behind, “helping her will only get her trampled to death.”
“Then why did we come here?”
Again, her tone confused him. He had already proven that point to her. “There’s a right way to hand out these supplies, Patricia. The other way will kill more than it saves.”
She didn’t like being taught the same thing twice, but she carried the water to the storage area anyway and went back for another load. She hated that he was right.
Unloading the supplies took hours, and took even longer after a group of U.N. workers split off to set up a water treatment system. Patricia offered to help, so one of the workers handed her two steel-reinforced suitcases containing some of the hardware for the system. 
“We’re setting up the first one near the refugee camp,” the U.N. worker said. Patricia told him she hadn’t been there yet, and he said, “Just go through the main medical tent, and then out the back. I’ll be right behind you.”
Before Patricia even reached the tent, which served as the emergency triage center for the Red Cross, she could hear the dull, monotonous moans and piercing screams. 
The sights inside were worse. Row upon row of cots. People practically mummified in bandages. Crushed body parts. Missing limbs. Amputation was the only viable option at that point, due to the lack of better medical equipment.
Patricia realized she was looking at the living dead. The idea hit her hard and fast. These people weren’t here to be saved, they were here to die.
One girl was screaming down at her missing feet while her father and a nurse tried to console her.
Patricia stumbled through the tent, saw a young boy lying on a stretcher, motionless yet crying. His mother, in broken English, was trying to explain to a nurse that a wall had collapsed on the boy while he lay in bed; the nurse, on the other hand, was trying to use the few Arabic words she knew to explain that the boy’s back might be broken. Neither of them fully understood the other.
None of the emergency medical personnel appeared to be locals. Patricia had heard that many of the city’s medical professionals had been killed, or were now part of the wounded needing attention. 
Near the back of the tent, she heard an old man speaking to the nurse who was changing bandages on his amputated arm and leg.
“Ma ne'dar n'aared 'el 'arwah. 'Eqabna men 'el 'arwah.” 
Patricia couldn’t fully understand the Arabic, but she heard several word repetitions, as if he were reciting some kind of prayer to comfort him.
As Patricia moved past his cot, trying not to stare, not wanting to, the old man’s eyes locked onto her as intensely as he gripped the sheets. “We cannot go against the Deva!” he said in English, but with a heavy Arabic accent. “Our punishment is from the Deva!” 
Again, he repeated the verse like a prayer. But his piercing eyes and indignant tone added an edge to his words, turned it into a fervent chant that echoed in Patricia’s head, joining the cacophony of pain and despair and other prayers so that it seemed louder than the jackhammers and bulldozers before it, louder than anything, and all one song. Something mounted beneath it, a thrum of generators and something else, almost like machinegun fire, only more uniform and more powerful, and quickly on the approach.
Patricia dropped the suitcases and rushed out of the back of the tent, but found no relief. She found acres and acres of the wounded and dying. Some of them lay on bed sheets, cardboard mats, or mattresses. Others just squatted on the streets that usually accommodated hundreds of market stalls. Smoke from campfires and burning trash loomed higher and higher over the camp. 
At a distance, the things with loud wings looked like a plague of locusts to Patricia, black through the smoke. Until she realized they were helicopters. It hadn’t been machine gun fire she had heard earlier, but propellers, loud enough that she could see the people screaming, but not hear them. 
Apparently the Syrian military had begun their curfew sweep, herding everyone off the streets. The helicopters provided guidance from above, while scattered dogs howled and barked.
In the last few seconds, Patricia had lost feeling in her legs. She had almost collapsed, until something caught her eye: Carl Saracen, overlooking the wounded too, and weeping.
He heard her and quickly turned away to hide his face. It was then Patricia thought about her husband’s glib remark. Clearly tragedies also brought out the best in some people. 
After drying his face on the sleeve of his coat, Carl turned to Patricia with a look of determination. She admired his attempt and tried to match it. She was no longer quite as faint. And she could feel her legs again. She stepped toward Carl. 
“You tried to prepare me...” she said.
“I probably didn’t prepare myself,” Carl admitted. He pretended that he was just clearing his voice on the last word. 
“Tell me that you’re all right,” Patricia said. “Tell me that you’re...” she forced a smile, “completely all right.”
Carl broke into a smile too, and then into a genuine chuckle. “Yes, I’m completely all right.”
The U.N. worker appeared, carrying more parts of the water treatment system. He saw Patricia standing with Carl, but didn’t see her suitcases of equipment.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “I left them in the tent.” She touched Carl on the arm, and he immediately moved closer to her. “Want to help us construct a water treatment system?”
“I would love to,” he said. “I’ll go get the stuff you left in the tent.”
“No, it’s okay. I’ll get it.”
“Then we’ll go together,” Carl said, and he followed Patricia toward the tent. She was glad for his company.


In the two hours after they had assembled the water treatment system, Patricia estimated that they had given out one hundred two-gallon buckets to as many refugees. She felt proud, as if she had purified the water by running it through her own fingers. 
“Can you help me, beautiful woman?” a little girl asked, the same girl with the father who’d tried to steal the bottled water.
Patricia shook her head. “I wish I was half as beautiful as you.” 
The girl’s sweatshirt, several sizes too large, sported a Celtics basketball logo from the U.S. She had rolled up the sleeves so that she could use her hands, and the hems of a dress, pink and cotton, peeked out from beneath the sweater. Under other circumstances, she would have warranted squeals of adoration, which only made the situation more heartbreaking.
“What is your name?”
“Tira.” The young girl spoke almost perfect English, with very little trace of an accent. 
“Where are your parents?” Patricia asked.
“My mother is back there making dinner. My father has gone to get us more food.”
“How’s he doing?” Patricia asked.
“He’s okay. He says this whole thing hurts his head.”
One of the spigots from the filtration system continued to pour out clean water into a bucket for the young girl. It burbled half full.
“Well, I’m glad he’s okay,” Patricia said. “What else can I help you with?”
“Please,” she said, “can you help my brother?”
“Your brother? Where is he?” Patricia looked around, wondering if Tira had brought her sibling with her, or if he was somewhere in the refugee camp, one of those who had yet to receive medical help.
“He was in school at the time of the earthquake,” Tira said. “He still hasn’t come to join us.”
Patricia, upset by the news, didn’t realize the bucket was full until it overflowed with water. She knelt and twisted the faucet shut, then, still taking a knee, turned back to Tira. They were at eye level now.
“Please, beautiful woman,” Tira said, “help me. I miss my brother!”
“Hey, hey, hey,” Patricia said, taking out a Kleenex from her pocket. She dampened it a little and cleaned the girl’s face. “Sweetie, how do you know your brother is still...?” She stopped, wondering why she had even started the sentence.
“No, I know he’s alive,” Tira said. “I saw him and his classmates in a building nearby after the shake-shake. Please, you must go to him and bring him back!”
Tira jumped into Patricia’s arms and started planting kisses all over her face, as if to sweeten her request. 
Carl came over to empty a bit of water from the bucket, so that it wouldn’t spill when the little Syrian girl carried it.
“Did you hear this?” Patricia asked him as Tira continued to shower her with kisses.
“Yes, I heard.”
“What do you think?”
“I think the curfew is in effect and there’s very little we can do.”
Patricia managed to pull Tira away from her face, but the girl wiggled free and resumed her obsessive show of affection. 
“Oh my God, look at her. Please, Carl, we need to help.”
He shook his head. 
“Oh, Carl, how can we not?! Tell me you will help.”
He paused, wanting Patricia to think he was torn by the decision. Finally, he nodded. “Fine.”
Patricia smiled at him. “Tira,” she said, “we’re going to find your brother.” 
The young girl stopped kissing and threw her arms around Patricia. As they embraced, Tira looked up at Carl. He saw she had the same vacant look in her eyes that his own son Ami possessed.

Chapter 24

“It looks like the moon,” Carl said as he maneuvered the SUV over the rocky remains of the Christian Quarter, al-Jdeideh. 
They had traveled less than two miles from camp. At least a dozen military patrols had stopped them, though no Syrian soldier kept them long; Patricia and Carl each wore a jacket designating them as volunteers from the Red Cross.
On the dash, the GPS directed them to the school where the girl, Tira, had last seen her brother. The screen showed evidence of streets and city planning. The windshield showed something else.
“Blocked,” Carl said, pulling to a stop. “I’m afraid we’ll have to go on foot.”
Patricia leaned forward and studied the map. 
One Sunday morning, over a year ago, she and John had toured the citadel walls. The whole world had stood silently below them. The amphitheater had stood quietly behind. And then all of a sudden, all the church bells in the Christian quarter had begun to sing: Armenian Catholic, Greek Catholic, Maronites, Armenian Orthodox; Greek. John had remarked that it sounded as if the air itself were made of bells. 
Patricia had been writing poetry at the time, and she discovered that he liked to feed her lines, like some subliminal muse. He had, as everyone said, a way with words. Some of that was honestly earned. But other times it was because he practiced too much. John liked to hear himself speak.
“You know,” he said, “they used to recast the metal of cannons back into bells.”
She held up her hand to silence him. Patricia just wanted to listen to the beautiful sounds.
John waited until the last bell had rung, then he added, “It was in medieval times. Sometimes the bells would be named after saints.”
“Interesting,” she said, because Patricia didn’t want to fight. But she was always disappointed when her husband would not allow a special moment to speak to him simply because he was so busy getting ready to speak himself.
According to Carl’s GPS, one of the churches with bells stood just in front of them. The windshield showed a roadblock capped in a dome and a leaning cross, as if cannons had blown it all down. It was the first real sign of al-Jdeideh.
“We don’t have to do this,” Carl said, engine idling. “We could always go back.”
Patricia ignored him and started getting out. “Where are the flashlights?”
Carl nodded. “I guess we really are doing this then.”
They gathered their backpacks and trekked toward the school through a sprawling, narrow brick maze, obstructed with new mountain ranges. All through her life Patricia had loved hiking. Usually tame trails. But every now and again she challenged varying terrain. She remembered Table Rock, and how, on top, where you could see everything, for 360 degrees, the basalt made interesting cubic architectures of steps and climbs. She could imagine the moon had similar courses, as Carl had implied. But not just the moon.
She opened her mouth to tell him Aleppo was more like the rockier Mars, but he spoke first. 
“Did you know al-Jdeideh, in Arabic, means ‘the new’?”
“No,” she lied. “I wasn’t aware.”
“Yeah. The Christians were able to build so many mansions and palaces because they built outside the Old City walls, in their own little cell. So they became kind of like the brokers between foreign merchants and the locals.” 
Patricia knew the history lesson was meant to calm her down, which was why Carl had omitted the part he obviously didn’t think she knew: that the Christian quarter had been built after a Mongol siege—after the Mongol leader had ordered the construction of a tower outside the city; a tower of twenty thousand skulls.
But Patricia didn’t need a tour guide or anyone to comfort her. For the first time in Aleppo, she felt she had a chance to make a real difference.
She didn’t stop Carl from prattling though. His lecture seemed partially for his own benefit, something to keep his mind off the endless mineral mounds and mountainous dead ends to which his GPS always seemed to lead them.
Sometimes the destruction had been retained by the fragment of a westerly wall, which probably had some great historical significance, as most walls in the area. As if every single unit of masonry had been individually blessed, or bled upon, or consecrated by someone’s tomb.
“Oh, this isn’t good,” Carl said, shining his light on one of the very few shops left extant. People had shattered the storefront glass, and had stripped the shelves completely bare. Judging by the glimmering chandeliers and Persian rugs, with their geometrical pattern and sub-patterns, and their number of floral and fractal motifs, the shop had dealt in antiques.
“If the quake didn’t destroy your business,” Carl said, “the survivors finished the job.”
Patricia put a hand on his arm. “I know. The worst this world has to offer. That’s why we need to find this school.”
He shook his head. “With all due respect, this GPS is the only thing that’s kept us from moving in circles. We’ve been walking for a solid hour, and we’re no closer than when we first landed.”
She didn’t appreciate the exaggeration, but knew what he meant. She had sensed they were in trouble the minute he started acting like a lost sailor navigating by the light of some far-flung star.
“If this next street doesn’t put us back on track,” Carl said, “I’m afraid we’ll have to call it quits.” 
Patricia never got the chance to protest. Something growled in the dark alleyway ahead of them. 
Carl, spinning, drew his weapon, a Glock 9mm with its own tiny flashlight. He had donned the shoulder holster right before leaving camp. 
“Wait here,” he said, moving forward.
Patricia started to call out to him, but didn’t. 
A few more careful steps and Carl could see into the alleyway. Four sets of eyes shined in his light. 
A pair of medium-sized feral dogs was rooting through the trash in the narrow corridor of open shops and stalls. He noticed that, once again, the stores had been broken into, the glass fronts shattered. One of them had been a restaurant, and suddenly the presence of dogs foraging for food made sense. As with most disasters, the earthquake had created its own food chain, with human scavengers second above all the rest.
Carl fired a shot into the air. The dogs startled and scurried away, their nails scrabbling on cobblestones and over toppled bricks. 
“Just dogs,” he said, and holstered his gun as they resumed their walk. 
Even in the dim aura surrounding his flashlight, Patricia could see the deep lines of tension on his face. 
“So I take it you want to go back?” she asked.
“Yes, that’s definitely on my wish list. Actually, more like my to-do list.”
“Okay, so I want to hear about this to-do list of yours,” Patricia said. She needed to keep him talking about anything but turning back.
 “Well, one of the items includes keeping you safe. Because that’s what I promised your husband I’d do.”
“Duly noted. So what else?” 
“Meeting up next week in Jordan with my wife and sons is definitely high on the list.” 
They came upon large puddles reflecting the moon. In the disaster footage broadcast back in Tel Aviv, Patricia remembered that the local Syrian law enforcement had fired water cannons to purge hundreds of looters from shuttered shops. But she imagined the water in this part of the city had formed from some other event; the tight, twisty alleyways could hardly play host to water weapons.
Carl, glancing at his digital map, hesitated at a puddle’s edge.
“It’s not a moat,” Patricia said, and she splashed right through it. 
Carl crossed with more caution.
“So,” Patricia said once he had caught up, “I trust finding Tira’s brother is not on your to-do list?”
“I’m sorry, but no. Finding that girl’s brother would be wonderful, and I know it would mean the world to you, but that definitely is one for the wish list.”
“Sounds like you got this whole list thing down pat.”
He didn’t offer a retort—because he had stopped walking.
Patricia stopped too. “What’s—”
Carl scanned with his flashlight all around. Ruinous shadows leapt. Patricia saw a few black dogs, just shades that stretched and ran away, but other than that, the flashlight revealed nothing. 
She noticed for the first time that the sound of helicopters had receded in the distance. She could hear her own breath, and Carl’s too. She almost expected the church bells to ring.
Then Carl started walking again. 
“I guess my whole life is a balance between my wish list and to-do list,” he finally said. “And then there’s the scared-shitless list.”
Patricia laughed. “Oh my God, another list!”
“Yes, and I fear the scared-shitless list is overriding everything else.”
“You? Scared shitless? Hard to believe.” She was glad to have loosened him up enough that he would admit to being unnerved. 
“Give me an example of the scared-shitless list.”He shrugged. “Ending up as just another body on the street, piled up but totally alone.”
Patricia stopped Carl with a hand on his arm. “But you’re not alone.”
A figure ran across the beam of his flashlight—a small figure in a red parka. 
Carl whirled around but the figure was gone.
“Did you see that?”
“Yes,” Patricia said, and she took off running.
All the passages and cross passages seemed to double back, circle around, and yet twist a slightly different way each time. 
Her flashlight, and Carl’s light behind her, both crisscrossed, catching flickers of red parka as the figure dashed down one passageway after another, splashing through the puddles like a child.
“You need to stop!” Carl said as he caught up and grabbed Patricia’s arm. 
The red-cloaked figure vanished down an adjoining alley, into deep fog.
Carl had pocketed his flashlight and was gripping his pistol instead, using its tactical light. Patricia was surprised by his reaction. She didn’t say anything though; she was already wondering why a child would run rather than greet people who could provide aid. 
“Wait—do you hear that?” she asked, holding up a finger and concentrating on a distant sound. “I think it’s...”
“Children singing,” Carl finished.
Patricia started forward again, but he still held her arm. 
“Don’t you go running off without me. We either do this together, or we turn back right now. And I mean it.”
She nodded. “Fine. Lead the way.”
Carl nodded, too, and led with his gun.
Flooded, potholed, the alleyway served as a nave to the narthex of fog. Even with their lights, they could see no more than a few feet in any direction.
Carl decided to trust his ears and follow the singing. “This way,” he said, taking Patricia’s hand.
They almost ran into a fountain, which stood dry despite the surrounding pool of water.
“Must be a courtyard,” Carl said. They made their way around the fountain, and the fog began to dissipate. “I think... I think this is one of Aleppo’s numerous—”
“Shhh,” Patricia said, “listen.”
The choir of children suddenly stopped.
Carl lifted his Glock. 
“Really, Carl? Do we really need a gun?”
“I’m not taking any chances.”
They approached the building where the singing seemed to originate, and Carl pushed open the wooden door, thrusting his pistol inside. 
“What is it?” Patricia asked. 
He put his gun back in his holster and waved her over. “Come see.”
In the dim glow of candlelight, Patricia made out at least thirty children seated at one of the many tables. The kids were passing around two giant bowls of fasulye stew, serving themselves before handing the bowl to the next classmate in line.
At the head of the table sat an older man, so short and delicate that, except for the beard and the bald spot, he might have passed for a child.
Carl and Patricia’s presence didn’t seem to alarm either the kids or the bearded man. They simply glanced up and then went back to their food. 
Carl took a few moments to look around. He put his hand on a nearby wall. He walked over to another and hit it with his fists. Then he came back to Patricia.
“I don’t like the look of these crossbeams,” he whispered. “And those fresh cracks in the plaster... This building could go at any time.”
She nodded. Then, with a look of determination, she approached the bearded, balding man at the head of the table. 
“Excuse me,” she said, “do you speak English?”
Her question elicited a round of laughter from the children. But then the older man tapped his fork on the table, and the kids immediately turned back to their meals.
“I speak perfect English,” he said. “Would you like some of our dinner?”
“Thank you, that’s very kind. But I’m wondering if we could speak with you for a moment.”
“Certainly.” He got up from the table and walked with her a few feet away. Not really far enough for a private conversation, but it would have to do. 
“Are you the teacher of these children?” Patricia whispered.
“Yes, this is my fourth grade class. My name is Adad. Would you like to join us?”
“Again, that’s very nice, but... is this where you teach your class?”
“No. The school was destroyed. We were brought here by a woman who saved us.”
“Oh, that’s excellent. Someone from the U.N. or...?”
Adad pointed to an old woman across the room. “She is the one who saved us. She is the one.”
The woman stood near the room’s entrance, beside a wooden column. Patricia and Carl must have walked right past her on their way in. Which, despite the woman’s proximity to the door, was understandable, she stood so still, just staring down at the floor. Long black hair hid all but a few pale slices of her wrinkled face. 
What caught Patricia’s attention now was the old woman’s red parka.
She exchanged a confused look with Carl. The woman had to be twice as tall as the child they had chased. 
“We were in the middle of a lesson when she rushed into the room and told us all to leave,” Adad said. “She told us the earth would shake and... swallow all the lovelies, is what she said. So we followed her outside, and that’s when everything around us started falling.”
Adad teared up and it took him a few moments before he could continue. “We heard the screams of my friends and... other students and... That woman, she brought us here and she gave us this food. We are all alive because of her.”
Patricia glanced at the old woman, who still stared at the ground. She had heard this kind of story before. Sometimes a pet would sense something coming and would forewarn its owner, or sometimes a person would save a bunch of lives from an imminent disaster that no one could have seen coming. 
“You are fortunate,” Patricia said.
Carl agreed. “But that’ll all end if you don’t leave here immediately.”
Adad cocked his head and frowned.
“My friend’s right,” Patricia said, “this building doesn’t look safe. If there’s another quake or aftershock... Please, you have to come with us to the Red Cross.”
Adad shook his head. “I will only go when she says we should go. Please, speak with her. Ask her when we should leave this place.”
Adad took his seat at the table with the kids, and Patricia looked over at Carl, who motioned for her to follow through with the request. 
She looked again at the old woman, at the black veil of hair covering her face. Black, in spite of her age. The woman neither lifted her head nor moved a muscle as Patricia approached.
“Excuse me, but... do you speak English?”
The woman nodded.
“Okay, excellent. My name is Patricia, and I’m from the Red Cross. What is your name?”
“Sabeen,” the woman said to the floor.
“Well, Sabeen, Adad over here tells us you saved all of these children. Is that true?”
“Why wouldn’t it be true? Do you not believe what someone tells you?” Sabeen scurried to a different part of the room. 
Impulsively Patricia reached out to stop her, but pulled back at the last second. Physical contact between a Western woman and a Middle Eastern woman would have ended the conversation more conclusively than Sabeen’s sidestepping. 
Patricia looked over at Carl, and he took a step toward her, obviously thinking he could help. She held up her hand. She could handle this. 
Confidently, assertively, she strode across the room. “Sabeen, I definitely believe you saved the lives of these children.” 
The woman in the parka said nothing as she stared at the floor.
“But I need you to help me save them again. We need to lead them to the Red Cross, where they’ll be safe.”
Sabeen looked up at Patricia, right into her eyes, and deeper. Patricia tried not to look away, tried not to be intimidated, and then Sabeen suddenly turned away from her, as if someone had spoken her name. 
Patricia turned, too, and saw nothing, just the flickers of candlelight and shadow play. 
Sabeen nodded a couple times, as if agreeing with something, then she tried to turn back—once, twice, but both times she stopped and listened; her imaginary friend had more to say.
The third time, she turned back uninterrupted. “How can we trust you, when you don’t even hear the music in everyday life?”
“I don’t... I don’t know what that means.”
Like anyone else, Patricia had dealt with her fair share of mentally unstable people: like the man in army fatigues in Bethesda who had chased all the parents and kids out of the park with his rant about worldwide conspiracies; or the patient in Dr. Hartman’s waiting room who had torn pages out of a magazine and shoved them into her mouth, to “eat away all the hurt in the world.” 
Both Hartman’s patient and the man in fatigues had shared the same vacant stare. Sabeen shared it as well. Patricia did her best to ignore it.
“Maybe I’m just not getting it,” she said, “but no matter what, I promise you can trust me—”
Gently, Sabeen touched Patricia’s wrist. In a soft, even tone, she said, “Ever since Scotty died, you have stopped hearing the music.”
“Look,” Carl butted in, breaking Sabeen’s hold on Patricia. “We’re just here to help—” 
Patricia put a hand on his shoulder. “It’s all right, Carl. I have it under control.” 
She stepped around him and led Sabeen by the arm to the darkest corner of the canteen. Only a few kids glanced up from the table, but then dug right back into their fasulye stew. They all ate very quietly. 
“How did you know about my son?” Patricia asked.
“Because. He’s here, in the dark of the light. I hear him. He sings.” 
Patricia checked once more, but if somehow the candlelight and shadow embodied her son, she couldn’t pick up on it.
“He wants me to ask you something. He wants to know why you have not given his glove to Ryan.”
Patricia had already begun to rationalize how Sabeen could have known about Scotty, how she could have guessed. But this last revelation hit her hard. 
On his death bed, Patricia’s son had asked her to give his Little League mitt to his best friend, Ryan. Patricia had promised. But she changed her mind after he died. The leather held his scent, and was scuffed from all the pitches he had caught, as if this weren’t an empty glove but her flesh and blood. 
Carl saw the tears spilling out of Patricia’s eyes, and once again moved toward her. She waved him away. 
“How do you know about the baseball glove?” she asked Sabeen, who had regressed to staring at the floor.
“Tears so fill your eyes that you cannot see your own son. He is there and wants to be with you.” The woman’s bony old claw latched onto Patricia’s arm. “He wants to return to you, but you refuse to open the door so he can walk back!”
“What are you talking about—what door?!”
Sabeen pulled her close. “A baby,” she whispered, cupping Patricia’s abdomen as if feeling for a kick. “Give him new life and you will hear it, the music once more.”

was from the 
DEMON DAYS Boxed Set   


DEMON DAYS - Book One 
This new version is creatively closer to the content quality of DEMON DAYS Books 2-4 



The original book of DEMON DAYS... written in 2008, is going to be re-written. 

The original book will disappear on after October 31st, 2014... NEVER TO RETURN. The 31st will also mark the end of any print versions of the original text being sold in the future. 

I will explain the main reason for rewriting the original book when it is published. But final alert -- After 10-31-14, the e-book will continue to sell via smashwords (and therefore on B&N - iBooks - Kobo) until the end of the year. 

The Great News is that I will feature chapters of the revised version of the book on this Blog Page. The publisher and I are talking about showcasing the entire book online... but I don't know if that's going to happen. 

On my newsletter I will focus on aspects of the rewrite in a way that will include exclusive extra features or early peeks at what will be featured on this blog page! 

I appreciate what the doors the original text opened, but I'm looking forward to the Revised Version of the first DEMON DAYS going out there to the next wave of readers interested in the Book Series.


The premise of  DEMON DAYS - Books 2-4 (aka "Angel of Light")

tragic train collision in America kills hundreds of innocent people.
A series of grisly and ritualistic murders baffle authorities in Europe.
A natural disaster in the Middle East annihilates thousands.
A global rise of accidents trigger Near Death Experiences in the victims.
                                                             ...OR A CONSPIRACY TO DESTROY HUMANITY?
Jenna Grant agrees to help her brother authenticate an artifact known as the Black Pages. But when she decodes a prophecy kept hidden for hundreds of years, the revelation plunges her into a world of deadly intrigue. Now she must embark on a perilous journey across three continents in a relentless pursuit to defeat the source of all EVIL.
Set in a world altogether too real, with a pulse-pounding story line and unforgettable characters, this shocking novel is a roller-coaster ride of plot twists and hairpin turns. Readers will feel compelled to endure a sleepless night until the last breathtaking page is turned. Gripping and thought-provoking, this terrifying thriller will linger in the mind long after the last staggering secret is... unveiled.


“DEMON DAYS - BOOK TWO" is the thriller sequel written by authors Richard Finney and D.L. Snell.  The book introduces the character, Jenna Grant, an Archaeologist who specializes in Paleography. She is hired by her brother, Neil Grant, to authenticate a medieval artifact he intends to purchase on the black market. Her task ends tragically… and plunges her into the middle of a worldwide conspiracy involving a deadly cabal known as the “Red Veil.”

At stake is the destruction of humanity.  

Events from “DEMON DAYS – BOOK TWO” take place just weeks after events depicted in “DEMON DAYS.” 

There are also characters who were first introduced in “DEMON DAYS” which appear again in “DEMON DAYS – BOOK TWO  

ORIGINALLY THE SEQUELS TO "DEMON DAYS" were published in one volume as "DEMON DAYS - Angel of Light" but the publisher decided to publish the contents of that book into three separate books --



“Demon Days” was published on December 1st, 2009, garnering almost across the board positive reviews by genre writers, critics, and by readers.

Genre writer Ray Garton said about the book that it was “by far and away, the best damned horror novel I’ve read in ages. It’s been awhile since anyone has written compelling religious horror, the kind that harks back to ‘The Exorcist’ and ‘The Omen.’

Sarah Jahier, the critic at the horror Internet site, “Fatally-Yours,” wrote, “I read the book from cover-to-cover in one sitting and I was asking for seconds. The end boasts a mind-numbing twist that I did not see coming and sets up the sequel.”

A sample from a typical reader response on “The book just sucks you in and doesn’t let you come back up for air! The big twist to the book was something that I NEVER saw coming. It was masterfully executed.”

The few negative reviews of the book focused on the fact that the fast pace of the story came at the expense of a deeper handling of the characters.

However, even the critical responses to the book uniformly cited their genuine surprise at the novel’s climatic twist ending.

“DEMON DAYS – BOOK TWO” takes up the initial premise of “Demon Days” -- a cabal, known as the “Red Veil,” is using Near Death Experiences to possess and recruit key people that will help them usher in the “End Days” on Earth. But the story told in “DEMON DAYS –  BOOK TWO” and the next books in the series, “DEMON DAYS – BOOK THREE" and “DEMON DAYS – BOOK FOUR" are altogether more ambitious, both creatively and in narrative scope. This time the story continues with the same fast paced plot from the first book, but is interconnected with an exploration of the novel’s main characters (and supporting characters as well). 

The story of “DEMON DAYS – BOOK TWO” begins with Satan as a physical presence on Earth as he seamlessly possesses the body of celebrated International diplomat John Wolfenson. Behind the mask of the diplomat who has brought world peace to the Middle East, Satan sets about beginning his Earthly conquest, foretold hundreds of years ago in “the Black Pages,” part of the Codex Gigas (known throughout history as “the Devil’s Bible”). These Black Pages, which reveal Satan’s modern plan for world domination, had been lost for centuries. When the pages resurface, expert Paleographer, Jenna Grant, is able to identify and decode the medieval artifact for what it is -- Satan’s game plan for bringing on Armageddon.

The story continues in the next two books, and all threes sequels are available as print or e-Books!


This interview with Richard Finney was conducted 
by Basha Skulski, media relations executive at Lono Publishing.

Q: What was the hardest aspect of writing the book?
A: The self-imposed demand to keep up the quality of the writing throughout a long novel. When we (“DEMON DAYS – Angel of Light” co-author D.L. Snell) had gotten past the half way mark, of what ended up being a 1300 page manuscript, I became obsessed about ending better and bolder than I had started. But that very thought could end up hurting a writer’s creative sensibilities, making you more creatively self-conscious about the process yet to come. It’s an artistic Catch-22 situation.  

Q: But from everything I’ve gathered, you guys never knew when you were “half-way” through the writing…
A: Yes, that was true during an early part of working on the novel. But eventually we did reach a point in the writing process where we finally had a finishing strategy. The problem was that we were constantly surprised about the length of the book and shocked by how long it was taking to write. After a while it became difficult for us to psychologically absorb the constant movement of the markers. It was even harder to keep on explaining to our publisher, who believed we had begun a novel that was going to be 400-500 pages and take less than a year to write, why we were going to need many more months to finish.

Q: What happened? How did the novel get away from you?
A: It never got away from us… but at a certain point, around the 200 page mark of the manuscript, we started to get more ambitious about what the novel could be. There’s a great quote from Norman Mailer, included in a biography on Herman Melville, written by Andrew Delbanco, on the process of writing -- “A good half of writing consists of being sufficiently sensitive to the moment to reach for the next promise which is usually hidden in some word or phrase just a shift to the side of one’s conscious intent.”
At a certain point… we saw “the next promise” and allowed that to guide us toward areas of the book we were planning on exploring, but just didn’t know exactly how we were going to do it. Then we knew. But getting through it took longer than we first imagined.

Q: Okay, the book never got away from you, but are you saying you were in constant control?
A: No! Far from it. Wait, I should clarify that I’m only speaking for myself. On my side, I tried to pretend that I wasn’t concerned, but I can now admit that I ended up very concerned. And I became paranoid. At a certain point I become obsessed that I would run out of steam… energy, creative drive… and not be able to finish. Two years of my life… a total waste because I couldn’t finish the book! To be specific – not finishing the book wasn’t the question, but finishing with the quality of writing that David and I felt we had achieved over the previous 18 months. The fear became so real that at a certain point we jumped to the end of the book, wrote out the last two chapters while we still felt in the groove… and set it aside.

Q: What fear dictated that you write the final two chapters six months before they eventually would have been written?
I was terrified that readers would take the trouble of digesting what turns out to be a 220,000 word book… only to get to the end chapters, expecting a BIG FINISH, and instead… getting something that didn’t more than satisfy and reward their effort of going on this long journey with us!
As it turned out, David and I ended up being more creatively productive at the end of two years of writing on the book than we were when we first started. And I will point out that both of the final chapters (written out of sequence) finally ended up only being changed for grammar and spelling issues… not content.  That’s how completely worked out the book was from beginning to the end.

Q: Both of you started writing this book as a follow up to the novel, “Demon Days,” that came out in December 2009. Your intention was to write and release a sequel close to the original novel’s publication, right?
A: Absolutely right. When we started writing the follow-up, we both estimated that in 6 months or less we would have the next book in the “Demon Days” franchise out there. But then sometime in the 4th month we realized the book was becoming deeper, the plot more wide ranging. We also wanted to invest creatively in the main characters, exploring their personalities in a more substantial way. And we wanted do all of this within the context of a fast paced thriller plot. At that point, with these new ambitions, we figured it would take about a year to finish. When one year came and went, David and I agreed to stop predicting the date we would finish writing.

Q: I know you are already beginning to post some major artistic influences on the writing of the book. Can you name a few that were minor, but also important? 

NOTE: Here is the link to Major Influences on the Novel:

A: Since I’m dealing with a few major books and a TV series that influenced the writing, I will deal with a couple of movies here. I dare say only a few who might be reading this interview have ever heard of a movie called “The Wisdom of Crocodiles.” Years ago, I sat down with the director of the movie with the intention of trying to finance another film with him directing. I thought “Wisdom” was an amazing take on vampires and the movie felt fresh when I first saw it years ago. When I was almost done writing the book, I watched it again with one of my daughters. She loved it and I thought it was still original and fresh, more than a decade after first seeing it. Definitely I can say that the movie had an impact on my creative sensibility when we wrote our book.
Another movie I have to cite as an influence was the 1973 film “Don’t Look Now.” I was 75% finished with the manuscript when I got a chance to watch the movie (after not seeing it for 20 years) with my other daughter. There is an intentional homage to the film in a chapter of “DEMON DAYS – Angel of Light” that takes place in Aleppo, Syria. So on one level I was very conscious of how much the film meant to me. But when I saw the film again recently, I was stunned by how much the movie clearly informed my creative process during some key points in our novel. Clearly the film pointed the way for me to realize the fears I have whenever I visit a foreign country. Also, the storyline of “Don’t Look Now” explores the concept of how a protagonist who doesn’t believe in the supernatural may be paying a price for that denial. That was an essential part of the construct of our main character in both “Demon Days” as well as “DEMON DAYS – Angel of Light.”

Q: So after such a long time spent writing, how are you different than when you first began writing the novel?
A: After two years of working on something non-stop… I’m weaker. I didn’t realize that fact until after I had finished. If writing the book had taken much longer, I might not have been able to finish. The Book would have finished me.


The book was a huge sensation when it was first published and then a few years later it was made into a famous motion picture that changed Hollywood forever. Most people have only seen the film and not read the novel. That may not be as true with people who are my age because at the time of its initial release, it was the book to read. 

The novel was written around 1969 by William Peter Blatty and published in 1971. And though the author has claimed otherwise, the book was immediately a hit. Excuse me while I run through the plot in a few brief sentences. If you don’t know the story of this book via the famous film, then your biggest worry is more along the lines of someone discovering where you’ve landed your flying saucer. 
A Washington D.C. teenager, Regan MacNeil, becomes possessed by a demon and her mother eventually turns to a young priest, Father Karris, to perform an exorcism. The young priest is not experienced in such matters so he brings in an older priest, Father Merrin, to perform the rites of expulsion. The confrontation between good and evil climaxes with the demon being excised from Regan but at a cost to the living. 

According to Wikipedia – “It was inspired by a 1949 case of demonic possession and exorcism that Blatty heard about while he was a student in the class of 1950 at Georgetown University, a Jesuit school.” 

Neither I nor my friends knew any of the above when we got a hold of the novel in paperback. By this time the year was 1973. I was 13 years old, going to junior high school, and the book for a few weeks was a major distraction in our lives. I distinctly remember the day I first read the illicit passages from the novel. The paperback was being passed around class while the teacher was obliviously giving his lesson on… whatever. When the book finally was handed to me, it looked like some sacred holy book -- dog eared, marked up, and otherwise showing all the signs of having been through the sweaty fingers of hundreds of the devoted. 

“Just read the underlined parts.” That was the mantra being said as it was slipped underneath chairs or buried in the middle of a text book as it made its way around the room from student to student. 
The “underlined parts” were like nothing I had ever read before… heard anyone talk about before… even imagined before! It had a young girl saying filthy things, doing awful things… and some of those nasty things were sexual… and religious… combined! I mean a cross jammed into her private parts while saying obscene things about Jesus Christ!!!!!

I think I got about only half way through the underlined parts before the guy sitting behind me tapped my shoulder and urged me to hand over the book. I wasn’t a slow reader; it was just that there were stuff that I couldn’t help reading dozens of times! I handed the book over, but a few days later I secretly obtained my own copy of the novel.

I read “The Exorcist” from cover to cover in a day and then read it again. This was the beginning of a long affair with the book. And it had nothing to do with the salacious stuff. Okay, well maybe a little… but the nasty bits isn’t why I have read the book nearly a half dozen times since. 

The fascination with the writing is because of Blatty’s ambitious attempt to grabble with the concepts of good vs. evil within the context of a commercial thriller. Indeed, his thoughtful philosophical probing would just a few years later seem ridiculously quaint and redundant when other imitators in the genre jettisoned that aspect of the novel in their own attempts to follow up the commercial success of Blatty’s book. When Blatty wrote the book he was a successful Hollywood screenwriter who would take off time from working on scripts for serious writing - novels. For him, the deeper exploration of religious and philosophical concepts probably was the reason for devoting time to writing the book in the first place. It was almost as if that he decided to throw in a riveting thriller plot so he didn’t have to share his dark ruminations by himself.

Blatty’s depiction of Regan’s “possession” is complicated, ambiguous, and far more nuanced than the screenplay (which Blatty also wrote, winning an academy award) for the famous movie. But that’s what books can do that other mediums often fall short of. The amazing thing about looking back at the book from a modern vantage point is to see how much “doubt” Blatty raises about the “demonic possession” even though the mental health field then wasn’t even in the same ballpark with today’s modern practices. The fact that Blatty spends more than a fair amount of time exploring the medical possibilities to explain Regan’s bizarre behavior seems almost prophetic.

Also in the book, using Father Karris as his surrogate, Blatty plays around with a lot of questions... musings… doubts concerning the problems facing humanity. Years before he took on writing the novel, the author studied to be a Jesuit priest and there’s little doubt that the failure or problems associated with Blatty not answering the order’s call ended up informing the development of the Father Karris character. In fact, the most shocking aspect of the novel is how a plot that is ostensibly about good vs. evil has so much lack of faith on the side of good. It is just one of several miraculously time resistant reasons that this book is still such a great read!

Years later, after my initial reading of the book, in 1989 to be exact, I had and encounter with William Friedkin, the director of the movie “the Exorcist.” Friedkin, was in the middle of directing another supernatural movie hoping to resurrect a career that had a few peaks, but too many valleys since his celebrated blockbuster film from 1973. 

The movie was titled “The Guardian” and I was there because I was just starting out my career as a writer, working for “Fangoria” magazine.  Often times this is the only way a punk like me gets a chance to spend some time with a director of such great accomplishments – my career escalator was going up from the bottom floor… and Friedkin’s career escalator was stuck between floors.

Asking Friedkin questions about “The Exorcist” was a natural part of the interview. His latest production was clearly an attempt to get back to that early high water mark. Unfortunately, none of his answers concerning his masterpiece yielded any insight, except an unintentional one -- I learned that often times artists don’t age as well as their creations.

We discussed his relationship with Blatty… the book… the movie they worked on together and why a sequel of “the Exorcist” had neither involved, reportedly because of disagreements they endured over the years involving the one project that made them both famous.

“Blatty and I argued a lot,” Friedlin said to me that day. “I wish it wasn’t the case. The sequel was an abomination. The simple explanation is we didn’t always see eye to eye. And neither of us wanted to look the other way.”

They would end up having more disagreements over the years, but neither would see the success of their collaboration exceeded, or even approached. Which probably also reveals something insightful about the fragility and complexity of achieving artistic greatness. 

I was supposed to have a follow-up interview with Friedkin the next day but it was cancelled. I was told later by a member of the crew that the director of “the Exorcist, “the French Connection,” (but also “Jade” and “Blue Chips”) had a disagreement with someone on the set, pulled down his pants and stormed off the soundstage. His comeback film would bomb both commercially and critically a few months later. 

William Peter Blatty never pulled his pants down in public, but he did over the years make every effort to reveal his soul in his later work. And though he never achieved anything remotely as deep or groundbreaking as his 1971 novel, there were flashes of brilliance in “The Ninth Configuration” and “Dimiter.”  

The last influence Blatty’s work had on me personally came in the literary sequel to “the Exorcist” entitled “Legion.” The book unfortunately was not a return to the artistic quality of his masterpiece. The film based on his novel, which Blatty himself directed, captures some shocking moments and has a few interesting set pieces. But alas, missing from both the book and the movie was any real attempt to further the discussion about the bigger questions of good vs. evil… except at the very end of the novel. 

The coda of “Legion” I found to be very profound. And it was something that stayed with me for years and years. Truth be told, it ended up being the first piece of the puzzle when I began conceiving of the plot for “Demon Days – Angel of Light.” Reaffirming that it’s possible that a writer working at the top of his game can possess you for decades and never let go of your soul.

Q: You started as a screenwriter, and eventually became also a film and TV producer. Recently, you’ve been writing novels. I believe there’s been a “cross-connection” between the three mediums – Film, TV, and Books – that ended up influencing the writing of your novel, “DEMON DAYS – Angel of Light.”  

A: I’ve always loved books… way before I fell in love with movies and TV.  But any creative artist in this age who does not pay attention to the fact that all three are important elements of popular culture ignores a simple fact – readers, movie goers, and TV watchers are usually absorbing all three mediums. And in enjoying all three, it has changed the way we all process each medium separately.

Q: But “DEMON DAYS – Angel of Light” is not your first novel. So have you had this philosophy for a while?

A: I certainly had that philosophy on my mind while writing the book “Demon Days,” (which proceeded “DEMON DAYS – Angel of Light”). It’s wonderful that the book has been generally well received, but I believe I fell short with what I wanted to accomplish. I wrote a book that was fast paced and had the visceral thrills of a movie, but ultimately it lacked the character depth of a good novel or a well written dramatic TV series where you get to fully understand the characters.
So, my goal was to completely rectify the situation when I wrote “DEMON DAYS – Angel of Light.” Whether I achieved that goal is now up to readers to decide.

Q: Okay, then let’s talk about a “film” term that some readers will know about, but others may not – a “MacGuffin.”

(Wikipedia defines the term as: "a plot element that catches the viewers' attention or drives the plot of a work of fiction." The defining aspect of a MacGuffin is that the major players in the story are (at least initially) willing to do and sacrifice almost anything to obtain it, regardless of what the MacGuffin actually is. In fact, the specific nature of the MacGuffin may be ambiguous, undefined, generic, left open to interpretation or otherwise completely unimportant to the plot. Common examples are money, victory, glory, survival, a source of power, a potential threat, or it may simply be something entirely unexplained)

A: Alfred Hitchcock popularized the term to refer to an object – for him it was something tangible – that, within the framework of all the mystery/thriller movies he was making, would kick start the plot. In “North by Northwest” it’s a roll of microfilm.  In “Psycho” it’s money that the main character has stolen. Now eventually in a Hitchcock film, the MacGuffin is tossed aside… discarded… no longer of any interest to the rest of the plot or story as the characters either die or their quest allows them to achieve something… more important.  By repeatedly insisting his screenwriters use the same technique, Hitchcock was at least creatively consistent… but it also became a way for a thriller story to be told where the main character often times discovered that not only was the MacGuffin a throwaway, but something in their life was as well.   
Somehow the plot device of a MacGuffin always made me think of John Lennon’s Beatle song, “A day in the life” and the line about counting “Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire.” I believe Lennon meant it as a commentary on the shallowness or rote nature of many human endeavors that can’t possibly lead to spiritual transcendence. But I used to think of it because I know Hitchcock could have used the line as a plot for a movie – “While counting all the holes in Blackburn, Lancashire, Tippi Hedren’s character discovers a dead body. Eventually, she discards her counting of the holes and learns a few things about truth and happiness.”

Q: I brought up the MacGuffin because the plot of your book has everyone trying to get a hold of what is called “the Black pages” -- a medieval document that might reveal the key to a deadly plot to trigger the Apocalypse. The Black Pages are your MacGuffin, and yet you don’t play it in the way a MacGuffin often functions in a thriller plot, right?  

A: I’m not going to spoil the surprises of “DEMON DAYS – Angel of Light,” but in an attempt to answer your question, I will confirm that the “Black Pages” function within the plot of the book as the artifact that the main and minor characters are trying to possess. And, you are correct, unlike a Hitchcock movie, these Black Pages are not a “throwaway.” Indeed my goal was to embody the Black Pages with more significance than just being a kick starter to the plot.  

Q: Another cross-connection between the three mediums is how you handle your narrative.  The way you unfold your plot sometimes feels like it has the energy of a movie or TV series rather than the normal narrative language often done in thriller books.

A: A few years ago, I read a very popular thriller novel, by a very well-known author. I’m not going to name names here because that’s not important. The novel’s premise was said to play out within 48 hours or something like that. Now that is exciting if you’re a reader because it promises a fast paced plot. The reality though was that often times chapters would begin with the characters moving into a room with a “sense of urgency” only to have the author than write something like, “they had met before… many years before … under completely different circumstances…” And then the narrative flow would switch… actually beginning all over again, as the chapter would then depict the prior meeting, in every detail, as if it was happening in the “present.” After that past “scene” was finished, the author then jumped back to the present, played out the scene we had originally begun with, and then the chapter would conclude.
On the most obviously level, that kind of storytelling hurts the pace of a thriller book. And rather than a sense of “urgency,” there was none, which means that “suspense” is going to be a narrative victim as well.  
But on another level, that type of storytelling completely ignores this cross connection of the three mediums we’ve been  talking about. Not only has the author failed to keep up with the possibilities of techniques to reveal his plot and characters, he’s ignored his audience, who have gotten way more sophisticated about receiving a novel’s narrative flow.
Movies started with non-linear story-telling, and when it was done right,  it could enhance the suspense and thrills of the plot. TV series, like “Lost” and “Breaking Bad” have gone even a step farther. They have taken the non-linear storytelling to another level where they are not only dealing with a single episode but they are running a whole season of shows underneath a non-linear umbrella.
Now, “DEMON DAYS – Angel of Light,” is, for the most part, told in a straight forward linear plot. There are “diversions” and what I call “plot hiccups” that allowed me as a writer to increase the suspense, character richness, and thrills. And I was able to attempt this only because I know readers have gotten very sophisticated with the way they absorb their entertainment and I was able to use that sophistication to be very aggressive in my story telling.
So, yes, I grabbed the strengths from all three mediums in writing THE DEMON DAYS Books. I would be completely disengaged with my potential audience if I didn’t attempt it.