Demon Chaser IV by David Berardelli

EXTRACT FOR
Demon Chaser IV

(David Berardelli)


CHAPTER 1

Vicki would never forget the first time she saw the angel.
At first, she didn’t know if the lady was an angel at all. Angels just weren’t something a thirteen-year-old girl thought much about these days. In fact, she’d never thought much about angels at all before that afternoon. All Vicki had been thinking about was taking Toby, her three-year-old West Highland terrier, down the street for his afternoon walk. School would start in just a few days, and she wanted to spend as much time as she could with her furry little friend before summer vacation ended.
However, things quickly changed, and her mind went all sorts of crazy once the nightmare happened. Her whole world seemed to break apart in just a second or two, the moment the van slammed into Toby, and everything slowed down and stopped from that point on. It was almost like in a movie, when the camera stops right in the middle of an important scene and everything turns into one of those weird three-dimensional photos.
Moms had always told her to be careful when taking Toby out for his walk. “People drive like idiots,” she’d told Vicki over and over. “They don’t slow down for dogs, cats, or even other people. They text each other and don’t watch where they’re going. They talk on the phone and zone out, and the last thing they think of is their driving, or what’s ahead of them on the highway. I’ve seen women applying their makeup. Some even comb their hair at the same time. Some of the people driving on the roads are drunk, while others are on drugs. You’ve got to be extra careful, baby, and don’t give them a reason to do anything stupid because they really don’t need much of one at all…”
Because of what Moms had told her, Vicki promised herself to keep really close to Toby whenever she took him for his walk. She knew to be careful when they went down to the end of the driveway to get the mail and when they went down the street for a longer walk to exercise his short little furry legs. They lived in a quiet subdivision in a quiet neighborhood, but people still drove down their street much too fast—especially the ones using it as a detour to get to the main highway faster.
“Always hold on tight to his leash,” Moms told her, time after time. “Always make sure his collar is fastened to the clasp on the leash, and never forget to keep your end looped around your wrist so it doesn’t slip.”
This had never been a problem—except for just a moment ago, when she gave a slight tug and suddenly realized that the other end of the leash had been dragging behind her on the sidewalk. It took her only a moment to discover what had just happened, another moment to wonder why it happened, and one last terrifying instant for reality to kick in and send the panic ripping violently through her.
But by then, it was too late. The moment she realized that she’d really and truly messed up, she heard a sickening thump! behind her. At the same time, a horrible high-pitched squeal was abruptly cut off. By the time she’d spun around, Toby was already lying on his side by the curb, his back legs twitching.
“Toby!” Her heart had climbed up her throat the moment she broke into a run. Her limbs were tingly and her head felt like it had been shoved into a vat of hot water, but she forced herself to keep moving. The white van that had slammed into her beloved dog had already reached the end of the block and zipped right through the stop sign, but all she could focus on was the tiny white furry body lying on the grass just off the curb.
Toby suddenly stopped twitching and lay motionless. The sight of him lying there like that tore through her like barbed wire, and she was certain she could feel her heart crumbling into tiny pieces. Toby was her puppy, her friend. Her partner. He was her Christmas present nearly two years earlier and hadn’t left her side except for the time she spent at school. She’d taught him how to fetch the tiny squeaking rubber bone Moms had bought last summer and bring it back so Vicki could toss it again. She remembered how Toby had wagged his tiny nub of a tail the day she’d given him his first treat—a tiny piece of crispy bacon she’d smuggled from the breakfast table. Toby knew to cuddle her when she felt bad or sick…and how not to jump up in her lap when she was doing her homework. He knew to be quiet when she and Moms were sleeping, and how to patiently wait in the kitchen, underneath the pegboard next to the refrigerator, where his leash hung, to let someone know he had to go to the bathroom. He was her bright spot on a rainy day and never failed lifting her spirits whenever she was depressed.
Now her best friend lay next to the curb, and it was her fault. The clasp on the leash had broken, but it was still her fault. She should have noticed. She should have kept her attention on him instead of watching for traffic at the end of the block. She should have felt the leash coming apart.
But she hadn’t. She’d been wrapped up in her own little world, and because of it, she’d just lost her very best friend.
“Oh, Toby!” She knelt down close to him and bent over him. She wanted to touch him but was afraid to. She didn’t want to feel cold coming from him. She wanted him to be warm and furry as always, panting, licking her face, rubbing his head against her. Her tears filled her eyes, and she didn’t care one bit if another van roared down the street and hit her as well. She’d lost her very best friend and wanted to go with him, wherever that was, and the only thing that mattered was that Toby was dead and she didn’t want to go on without him.
Then, in the midst of her agony, a soft voice somewhere behind her startled her, pulling her out of her nightmare.
“Would you mind very much if I looked at your friend? I might be able to help.”
The voice was soft and warm, but Vicki was overcome with grief and was frightened that she could be imagining things. However, she realized that if she had heard a voice, and if this voice had actually said what she thought it said, maybe the person who’d said it could help her somehow.
But how could anyone help Toby? Her friend was dead, and it was all her fault.
“He’s…dead…” That last word hurt. For a moment she thought a sliver of glass had torn out of her throat. Toby. Dead. Two words Vicki had never ever wanted to put together.
“I’d still like to see if I can help,” the soft voice said.
Vicki took a breath and tried her best to collect herself. She still could not bear to pull her gaze away from her little friend. “Toby…he’s…my best friend…” She gently touched the little dog’s pointed ear, hoping to see it twitch. It always had whenever she touched the tip. But now it didn’t—which conveyed the dreaded message even more completely.
She sniffed and shuddered when she took her next breath. “Some bastard in a white van…hit him…and didn’t even stop!” The anger gushed out, making her hot and tingly all over. She wanted to find whoever was driving that van so she walk right up to them, tell them she’d seen what they’d done, then claw their eyes out, push them down onto the pavement and jump on them, over and over, until their guts splashed out onto the sidewalk.
But once again, some inner feeling told her she should listen to the voice behind her.
Taking a deep breath, she turned.
A very beautiful lady stood a couple of feet behind her, looking down at her with the kindest, warmest expression Vicki had ever seen. The lady was young, maybe just a handful of years older than Vicki, actually. She had the most beautiful face and the softest blue eyes Vicki had ever seen. The lady’s hair was a honey-blonde, covering her shoulders with shimmering curls, and when the sun hit it, tiny silver stars appeared, winking at her. The lady wore a bright-red short-sleeve tank top and dark blue Capri’s. Her shoes were opened-toed white sandals with two-inch heels and tiny glittering blue diamonds arranged in wavy rows on the sides. Vicki had never seen shoes like that before and wondered where the lady had found them.
But that wasn’t important right now. Toby was what mattered, and this nice lady wanted to help. Vicki had no idea why, but the feelings she’d had since she’d first heard the lady’s soft, soothing voice suggested that things might not be as horrible as she’d originally thought. She had no idea why, but as this lady drew closer, Vicki felt warm, content and safe. A strong sense of hope urged her to comply with this lady’s wishes.
“People are not very nice nowadays,” she said, and Vicki could feel both sadness and anger coming from the lady when she’d said it. “They don’t care about hurting others.”
Vicki felt even more hot, stinging anger sliding down her back. “They hit him and didn’t stop! They kept on going!” The fresh tears welling in her eyes blurred her vision.
“I’d still like to see if I can help.” Her smile returned quickly—as if it had never left her face.
Her smile was very bright, and Vicki felt even warmer and more content. The lady’s smile seemed to make the anger—as well as the hatred she’d felt for the driver of the van—go away. But reality quickly intervened, and she couldn’t stop wondering how anyone could possibly help Toby.
“Toby’s…gone,” she whispered. She didn’t want to say the d-word again. But even so, she choked down more tears. “How can you help?”
“I’d like to try. Will it be all right?”
Still skeptical, Vicki felt herself nodding.
The lady knelt down on the other side of Toby. She smelled sweet, like flowers, and when Vicki gazed into the woman’s eyes, she saw sunshine and felt even more warmth…and this was when she first suspected that this woman was very, very special. Vicki had read all sorts of fantasy stories she’d bought online and remembered the fairy tales Moms had read to her years ago, when Vicki was little. She strongly felt that this lady had somehow come out of a fairy tale. Vicki’s feelings of warmth and hope told her she was in the presence of someone truly special.
Vicki couldn’t help it; she began shivering.
“Are you all right?”
“I’m…fine.” Vicki tried to stop shivering but quickly found that she could not. “I’m just…I’m…this is just too—“
Without a word, the lady placed her hand on Vicki’s shoulder.
A rush of warmth ran down Vicki’s arm, and in seconds her whole body felt warm and tingly. It reminded her of the time she got off the rollercoaster last summer. But this was much different. This time, she had no idea why it was happening, and when she realized it was because this special lady had touched her, she shivered even worse.
“Please…let me see if I can help.”
“Do you really think you can?” Vicki asked in a soft voice.
“We won’t know till we try.”
Before Vicki could reply, the lady bent and began gently stroking Toby’s ruffled white fur. “He’s very soft,” she said, smiling.
“I…I brushed him…brush him…every day.” Vicki nearly choked on the words and was surprised that they’d come out right. She wanted to tell this nice lady just how much Toby meant to her. Vicki knew she would understand.
“You’ve done a fine job.” The lady smiled at her. Then she reached down with her other hand and began stroking Toby very gently with both hands.
Vicki couldn’t understand what was happening. The lady was stroking Toby’s fur—just as Vicki herself had done a million times before. Her friend was gone—how could a little stroking change anything?
“Miss?” She couldn’t keep it inside her any longer. She needed to know what was going on—what this woman was doing and why she was doing it.
“Sshhh…” She continued stroking Toby.
Vicki pressed her lips tightly together. Although she had no idea what was going on, she knew better than make this worse than it already was.
Then it dawned on her, and she instinctively placed her hand on her shoulder. Warm. The lady’s touch. It was so special…so strange...
So magical…
She touched me, and I felt warm and comfortable inside…
Could this be what she was doing to Toby? This lady obviously had a special touch. Could this actually help Toby? Would she be able to—
Suddenly…incredibly…Toby began to stir.
The lady continued stroking his fur, but more vigorously. Toby shifted, stretched his short furry white legs and rolled his head as if he’d just awakened from a nap. A moment later, he yawned. Then he turned his head toward Vicki and began panting.
“He’s…he’s…” Vicki found that she was much too choked up to finish her statement.
“I think he’ll be okay now.” The lady stopped stroking Toby and sat back. Squirming, the little dog sat up. After looking around, he shook himself, panted some more and without warning, leaped into Vicki’s arms.
Vicki squeezed her friend tightly. Toby squirmed in her arms, licking her face and wagging his little nub of a tail. More tears filled her eyes. This time, they were tears of joy. She couldn’t believe what had just happened. Only moments ago, Toby was dead… But now he was alive and acting just like he was before all this happened…
He was dead, wasn’t he?
Did it matter? Did it really?
Maybe he wasn’t dead at all. Maybe he was just stunned.
That sounded more likely, didn’t it? You couldn’t bring back someone from the dead, could you?
No one could…could they?
She realized that none of this mattered at all. As she hugged and kissed Toby’s face and head, she glanced at the lady and saw something in those beautiful blue eyes she’d never seen before. She couldn’t explain it. All she could think of was a bright rainbow, and when Vicki closed her eyes, she saw herself and Toby running around in a beautiful field of flowers beneath a bright, cloudless sky.
And this was when Vicki was convinced that the lady was an angel. She had to be, because nothing else made any sense. And even though Vicki didn’t know much about angels, she knew that only an angel could have done what this lady had just done.
But although this in itself was the most fantastic thing that had ever happened to her, she knew that it wasn’t the most wonderful thing that had happened in the last few minutes. Toby licked her nose, bringing her right back to reality, and in that one amazing moment, her world had become fun and exciting again.
“Toby, Toby…you’re back! You’re back!” She hugged him even harder, stroking his head and belly and kissing him all over as he licked her face, her nose and her chin. She bathed herself in the incredible moment, clutching her beloved friend, closing her eyes and enjoying the unbelievable feeling that Toby had miraculously been brought back to her…
And when she finally opened her eyes again, she discovered that she and Toby were alone.
The lady was no longer there.
Clutching Toby tightly, Vicki jumped up and spun around.
The lady was walking away. But now she wasn’t alone. A skinny little guy with wild red hair was walking beside her. Just as they reached the curb on the other side of the street, her companion bent and, without missing a step, grabbed a clump of grass, put it in his mouth and began eating it.
Strange. Really, really strange.
Vicki couldn’t help wondering where the lady’s friend had come from. It occurred to her that he might have been standing behind the lady while she tended to Toby.
That didn’t matter, did it? Not at the moment, anyway. It didn’t matter at all because there was something much more urgent that Vicki had to address.
She wasted no time. Still clutching Toby tightly in her arms, she trotted across the street, until she reached the two of them. “Excuse me! Miss?”
They both stopped. The lady turned around and smiled. “Yes?”
“I-I don’t know how to…how to…to thank…to tell you how much I—“
“It’s all right. I understand. Just don’t let it happen again. And if I were you, I’d buy a new leash. That clasp broke, you know.”
“Probably made in China,” her friend said, frowning.
“Please tell me something…”
“Yes?”
Vicki didn’t know how to say it. She swallowed, took a breath and opened her mouth, but nothing came out. I need to ask. I really need to find out. I don’t know how this lady can possibly know, but I have this strange feeling that she does. I think she knows a lot of things, and if I’m right, she probably knows if Toby will be okay.
It was almost as if the woman had just read her mind. Smiling, she said, “Toby’s back with you. That’s all you need to know.”
That sounded exactly right—but what about everything else? Toby was hit by a van. There wasn’t any blood, but that didn’t mean he hadn’t been severely hurt. There were probably injuries no one could see. Internal injuries. Those were the ones that didn’t show, the ones that were really bad.
Yet the furry little guy squirming in her arms and licking her face seemed just fine.
“He’s perfectly healthy,” the lady said. “Just take him home and love him and give him a special treat. I have a feeling he likes chicken.”
How on earth did she know that?
Vicki’s cheeks flushed. “H-How did…how did you—“
“Just a lucky guess.” The lady smiled. Then she waved. “‘Bye, Toby.”
Toby turned his furry white head and gazed at the lady. Then, wagging his tail furiously, he sent over a soft, “Woof…”
As the lady and her friend began walking away, Vicki wanted her to know what this truly meant to her. She wanted her to know that Toby was her very best friend…and that just moments ago, she’d wanted to die because Toby had been hit by a van. She wanted to find some way of thanking her properly. She wanted her to know that she’d never ever forget her.
I don’t even know her name…
All she knew was the woman was young and beautiful…and kind…and had the brightest blue eyes she’d ever seen …
Most of all, she’d brought Toby back to life.
“Toby’s back with you. That’s all you need to know.”
There was much more to it than just that. There had to be. Toby was dead. This sweet, wonderful lady had somehow brought him back.
And Vicki didn’t even know her name.
“I really would like to thank you,” she said.
“It’s all right. I’m glad I was able to help.”
“Please…at least tell me your name…”
“I’m Tiffany.”
Tiffany. It figured. Tiffany was a beautiful name. It fit her. Vicki remembered the Tiffany lamp her mother had seen in a fashion magazine and loved so much. The lamp was beautiful and bright and dazzling to the eye. But it was so expensive that there was no way Moms could afford it. It was only right that this beautiful lady should have a name like that.
“My name is Vicki.” She wanted her to know her name as well. “Vicki Shannon.”
“Nice to meet you, Vicki. You and Toby go home now, and stay safe. And remember what I said about buying him a new leash, okay? And, of course, his special treat. But don’t give him too much. You don’t want him to get fat. It’s not good for him.”
Are you an angel?
Vicki couldn’t help wondering. She’d wanted to ask it out loud, but something told her not to. Something told her to keep it to herself. She didn’t know if it was because she didn’t want to sound silly or because she wasn’t prepared to hear the answer. But no matter how tightly she kept her lips together, the thought squirmed its way out of her head anyway.
Just then, she knew she was right.
Tiffany didn’t say anything. She didn’t have to. Her eyes closed for a moment. When they opened again, they seemed even brighter. Another wave of warmth passed through Vicki, and she shivered again. It must have passed through Toby, too. He suddenly stopped squirming and relaxed for a moment. He uttered another soft, “Woof,” and continued squirming and wagging his little nub.
Vicki wanted to say something else but couldn’t find the words. She didn’t want Tiffany to leave, but she just couldn’t think of anything else to say. Before she realized it, Tiffany gave her one last smile, waved, then turned and began walking down the street with her strange-looking friend.

Demon Chaser IV by David Berardelli

EXTRACT FOR
Demon Chaser IV

(David Berardelli)


CHAPTER 1

Vicki would never forget the first time she saw the angel.
At first, she didn’t know if the lady was an angel at all. Angels just weren’t something a thirteen-year-old girl thought much about these days. In fact, she’d never thought much about angels at all before that afternoon. All Vicki had been thinking about was taking Toby, her three-year-old West Highland terrier, down the street for his afternoon walk. School would start in just a few days, and she wanted to spend as much time as she could with her furry little friend before summer vacation ended.
However, things quickly changed, and her mind went all sorts of crazy once the nightmare happened. Her whole world seemed to break apart in just a second or two, the moment the van slammed into Toby, and everything slowed down and stopped from that point on. It was almost like in a movie, when the camera stops right in the middle of an important scene and everything turns into one of those weird three-dimensional photos.
Moms had always told her to be careful when taking Toby out for his walk. “People drive like idiots,” she’d told Vicki over and over. “They don’t slow down for dogs, cats, or even other people. They text each other and don’t watch where they’re going. They talk on the phone and zone out, and the last thing they think of is their driving, or what’s ahead of them on the highway. I’ve seen women applying their makeup. Some even comb their hair at the same time. Some of the people driving on the roads are drunk, while others are on drugs. You’ve got to be extra careful, baby, and don’t give them a reason to do anything stupid because they really don’t need much of one at all…”
Because of what Moms had told her, Vicki promised herself to keep really close to Toby whenever she took him for his walk. She knew to be careful when they went down to the end of the driveway to get the mail and when they went down the street for a longer walk to exercise his short little furry legs. They lived in a quiet subdivision in a quiet neighborhood, but people still drove down their street much too fast—especially the ones using it as a detour to get to the main highway faster.
“Always hold on tight to his leash,” Moms told her, time after time. “Always make sure his collar is fastened to the clasp on the leash, and never forget to keep your end looped around your wrist so it doesn’t slip.”
This had never been a problem—except for just a moment ago, when she gave a slight tug and suddenly realized that the other end of the leash had been dragging behind her on the sidewalk. It took her only a moment to discover what had just happened, another moment to wonder why it happened, and one last terrifying instant for reality to kick in and send the panic ripping violently through her.
But by then, it was too late. The moment she realized that she’d really and truly messed up, she heard a sickening thump! behind her. At the same time, a horrible high-pitched squeal was abruptly cut off. By the time she’d spun around, Toby was already lying on his side by the curb, his back legs twitching.
“Toby!” Her heart had climbed up her throat the moment she broke into a run. Her limbs were tingly and her head felt like it had been shoved into a vat of hot water, but she forced herself to keep moving. The white van that had slammed into her beloved dog had already reached the end of the block and zipped right through the stop sign, but all she could focus on was the tiny white furry body lying on the grass just off the curb.
Toby suddenly stopped twitching and lay motionless. The sight of him lying there like that tore through her like barbed wire, and she was certain she could feel her heart crumbling into tiny pieces. Toby was her puppy, her friend. Her partner. He was her Christmas present nearly two years earlier and hadn’t left her side except for the time she spent at school. She’d taught him how to fetch the tiny squeaking rubber bone Moms had bought last summer and bring it back so Vicki could toss it again. She remembered how Toby had wagged his tiny nub of a tail the day she’d given him his first treat—a tiny piece of crispy bacon she’d smuggled from the breakfast table. Toby knew to cuddle her when she felt bad or sick…and how not to jump up in her lap when she was doing her homework. He knew to be quiet when she and Moms were sleeping, and how to patiently wait in the kitchen, underneath the pegboard next to the refrigerator, where his leash hung, to let someone know he had to go to the bathroom. He was her bright spot on a rainy day and never failed lifting her spirits whenever she was depressed.
Now her best friend lay next to the curb, and it was her fault. The clasp on the leash had broken, but it was still her fault. She should have noticed. She should have kept her attention on him instead of watching for traffic at the end of the block. She should have felt the leash coming apart.
But she hadn’t. She’d been wrapped up in her own little world, and because of it, she’d just lost her very best friend.
“Oh, Toby!” She knelt down close to him and bent over him. She wanted to touch him but was afraid to. She didn’t want to feel cold coming from him. She wanted him to be warm and furry as always, panting, licking her face, rubbing his head against her. Her tears filled her eyes, and she didn’t care one bit if another van roared down the street and hit her as well. She’d lost her very best friend and wanted to go with him, wherever that was, and the only thing that mattered was that Toby was dead and she didn’t want to go on without him.
Then, in the midst of her agony, a soft voice somewhere behind her startled her, pulling her out of her nightmare.
“Would you mind very much if I looked at your friend? I might be able to help.”
The voice was soft and warm, but Vicki was overcome with grief and was frightened that she could be imagining things. However, she realized that if she had heard a voice, and if this voice had actually said what she thought it said, maybe the person who’d said it could help her somehow.
But how could anyone help Toby? Her friend was dead, and it was all her fault.
“He’s…dead…” That last word hurt. For a moment she thought a sliver of glass had torn out of her throat. Toby. Dead. Two words Vicki had never ever wanted to put together.
“I’d still like to see if I can help,” the soft voice said.
Vicki took a breath and tried her best to collect herself. She still could not bear to pull her gaze away from her little friend. “Toby…he’s…my best friend…” She gently touched the little dog’s pointed ear, hoping to see it twitch. It always had whenever she touched the tip. But now it didn’t—which conveyed the dreaded message even more completely.
She sniffed and shuddered when she took her next breath. “Some bastard in a white van…hit him…and didn’t even stop!” The anger gushed out, making her hot and tingly all over. She wanted to find whoever was driving that van so she walk right up to them, tell them she’d seen what they’d done, then claw their eyes out, push them down onto the pavement and jump on them, over and over, until their guts splashed out onto the sidewalk.
But once again, some inner feeling told her she should listen to the voice behind her.
Taking a deep breath, she turned.
A very beautiful lady stood a couple of feet behind her, looking down at her with the kindest, warmest expression Vicki had ever seen. The lady was young, maybe just a handful of years older than Vicki, actually. She had the most beautiful face and the softest blue eyes Vicki had ever seen. The lady’s hair was a honey-blonde, covering her shoulders with shimmering curls, and when the sun hit it, tiny silver stars appeared, winking at her. The lady wore a bright-red short-sleeve tank top and dark blue Capri’s. Her shoes were opened-toed white sandals with two-inch heels and tiny glittering blue diamonds arranged in wavy rows on the sides. Vicki had never seen shoes like that before and wondered where the lady had found them.
But that wasn’t important right now. Toby was what mattered, and this nice lady wanted to help. Vicki had no idea why, but the feelings she’d had since she’d first heard the lady’s soft, soothing voice suggested that things might not be as horrible as she’d originally thought. She had no idea why, but as this lady drew closer, Vicki felt warm, content and safe. A strong sense of hope urged her to comply with this lady’s wishes.
“People are not very nice nowadays,” she said, and Vicki could feel both sadness and anger coming from the lady when she’d said it. “They don’t care about hurting others.”
Vicki felt even more hot, stinging anger sliding down her back. “They hit him and didn’t stop! They kept on going!” The fresh tears welling in her eyes blurred her vision.
“I’d still like to see if I can help.” Her smile returned quickly—as if it had never left her face.
Her smile was very bright, and Vicki felt even warmer and more content. The lady’s smile seemed to make the anger—as well as the hatred she’d felt for the driver of the van—go away. But reality quickly intervened, and she couldn’t stop wondering how anyone could possibly help Toby.
“Toby’s…gone,” she whispered. She didn’t want to say the d-word again. But even so, she choked down more tears. “How can you help?”
“I’d like to try. Will it be all right?”
Still skeptical, Vicki felt herself nodding.
The lady knelt down on the other side of Toby. She smelled sweet, like flowers, and when Vicki gazed into the woman’s eyes, she saw sunshine and felt even more warmth…and this was when she first suspected that this woman was very, very special. Vicki had read all sorts of fantasy stories she’d bought online and remembered the fairy tales Moms had read to her years ago, when Vicki was little. She strongly felt that this lady had somehow come out of a fairy tale. Vicki’s feelings of warmth and hope told her she was in the presence of someone truly special.
Vicki couldn’t help it; she began shivering.
“Are you all right?”
“I’m…fine.” Vicki tried to stop shivering but quickly found that she could not. “I’m just…I’m…this is just too—“
Without a word, the lady placed her hand on Vicki’s shoulder.
A rush of warmth ran down Vicki’s arm, and in seconds her whole body felt warm and tingly. It reminded her of the time she got off the rollercoaster last summer. But this was much different. This time, she had no idea why it was happening, and when she realized it was because this special lady had touched her, she shivered even worse.
“Please…let me see if I can help.”
“Do you really think you can?” Vicki asked in a soft voice.
“We won’t know till we try.”
Before Vicki could reply, the lady bent and began gently stroking Toby’s ruffled white fur. “He’s very soft,” she said, smiling.
“I…I brushed him…brush him…every day.” Vicki nearly choked on the words and was surprised that they’d come out right. She wanted to tell this nice lady just how much Toby meant to her. Vicki knew she would understand.
“You’ve done a fine job.” The lady smiled at her. Then she reached down with her other hand and began stroking Toby very gently with both hands.
Vicki couldn’t understand what was happening. The lady was stroking Toby’s fur—just as Vicki herself had done a million times before. Her friend was gone—how could a little stroking change anything?
“Miss?” She couldn’t keep it inside her any longer. She needed to know what was going on—what this woman was doing and why she was doing it.
“Sshhh…” She continued stroking Toby.
Vicki pressed her lips tightly together. Although she had no idea what was going on, she knew better than make this worse than it already was.
Then it dawned on her, and she instinctively placed her hand on her shoulder. Warm. The lady’s touch. It was so special…so strange...
So magical…
She touched me, and I felt warm and comfortable inside…
Could this be what she was doing to Toby? This lady obviously had a special touch. Could this actually help Toby? Would she be able to—
Suddenly…incredibly…Toby began to stir.
The lady continued stroking his fur, but more vigorously. Toby shifted, stretched his short furry white legs and rolled his head as if he’d just awakened from a nap. A moment later, he yawned. Then he turned his head toward Vicki and began panting.
“He’s…he’s…” Vicki found that she was much too choked up to finish her statement.
“I think he’ll be okay now.” The lady stopped stroking Toby and sat back. Squirming, the little dog sat up. After looking around, he shook himself, panted some more and without warning, leaped into Vicki’s arms.
Vicki squeezed her friend tightly. Toby squirmed in her arms, licking her face and wagging his little nub of a tail. More tears filled her eyes. This time, they were tears of joy. She couldn’t believe what had just happened. Only moments ago, Toby was dead… But now he was alive and acting just like he was before all this happened…
He was dead, wasn’t he?
Did it matter? Did it really?
Maybe he wasn’t dead at all. Maybe he was just stunned.
That sounded more likely, didn’t it? You couldn’t bring back someone from the dead, could you?
No one could…could they?
She realized that none of this mattered at all. As she hugged and kissed Toby’s face and head, she glanced at the lady and saw something in those beautiful blue eyes she’d never seen before. She couldn’t explain it. All she could think of was a bright rainbow, and when Vicki closed her eyes, she saw herself and Toby running around in a beautiful field of flowers beneath a bright, cloudless sky.
And this was when Vicki was convinced that the lady was an angel. She had to be, because nothing else made any sense. And even though Vicki didn’t know much about angels, she knew that only an angel could have done what this lady had just done.
But although this in itself was the most fantastic thing that had ever happened to her, she knew that it wasn’t the most wonderful thing that had happened in the last few minutes. Toby licked her nose, bringing her right back to reality, and in that one amazing moment, her world had become fun and exciting again.
“Toby, Toby…you’re back! You’re back!” She hugged him even harder, stroking his head and belly and kissing him all over as he licked her face, her nose and her chin. She bathed herself in the incredible moment, clutching her beloved friend, closing her eyes and enjoying the unbelievable feeling that Toby had miraculously been brought back to her…
And when she finally opened her eyes again, she discovered that she and Toby were alone.
The lady was no longer there.
Clutching Toby tightly, Vicki jumped up and spun around.
The lady was walking away. But now she wasn’t alone. A skinny little guy with wild red hair was walking beside her. Just as they reached the curb on the other side of the street, her companion bent and, without missing a step, grabbed a clump of grass, put it in his mouth and began eating it.
Strange. Really, really strange.
Vicki couldn’t help wondering where the lady’s friend had come from. It occurred to her that he might have been standing behind the lady while she tended to Toby.
That didn’t matter, did it? Not at the moment, anyway. It didn’t matter at all because there was something much more urgent that Vicki had to address.
She wasted no time. Still clutching Toby tightly in her arms, she trotted across the street, until she reached the two of them. “Excuse me! Miss?”
They both stopped. The lady turned around and smiled. “Yes?”
“I-I don’t know how to…how to…to thank…to tell you how much I—“
“It’s all right. I understand. Just don’t let it happen again. And if I were you, I’d buy a new leash. That clasp broke, you know.”
“Probably made in China,” her friend said, frowning.
“Please tell me something…”
“Yes?”
Vicki didn’t know how to say it. She swallowed, took a breath and opened her mouth, but nothing came out. I need to ask. I really need to find out. I don’t know how this lady can possibly know, but I have this strange feeling that she does. I think she knows a lot of things, and if I’m right, she probably knows if Toby will be okay.
It was almost as if the woman had just read her mind. Smiling, she said, “Toby’s back with you. That’s all you need to know.”
That sounded exactly right—but what about everything else? Toby was hit by a van. There wasn’t any blood, but that didn’t mean he hadn’t been severely hurt. There were probably injuries no one could see. Internal injuries. Those were the ones that didn’t show, the ones that were really bad.
Yet the furry little guy squirming in her arms and licking her face seemed just fine.
“He’s perfectly healthy,” the lady said. “Just take him home and love him and give him a special treat. I have a feeling he likes chicken.”
How on earth did she know that?
Vicki’s cheeks flushed. “H-How did…how did you—“
“Just a lucky guess.” The lady smiled. Then she waved. “‘Bye, Toby.”
Toby turned his furry white head and gazed at the lady. Then, wagging his tail furiously, he sent over a soft, “Woof…”
As the lady and her friend began walking away, Vicki wanted her to know what this truly meant to her. She wanted her to know that Toby was her very best friend…and that just moments ago, she’d wanted to die because Toby had been hit by a van. She wanted to find some way of thanking her properly. She wanted her to know that she’d never ever forget her.
I don’t even know her name…
All she knew was the woman was young and beautiful…and kind…and had the brightest blue eyes she’d ever seen …
Most of all, she’d brought Toby back to life.
“Toby’s back with you. That’s all you need to know.”
There was much more to it than just that. There had to be. Toby was dead. This sweet, wonderful lady had somehow brought him back.
And Vicki didn’t even know her name.
“I really would like to thank you,” she said.
“It’s all right. I’m glad I was able to help.”
“Please…at least tell me your name…”
“I’m Tiffany.”
Tiffany. It figured. Tiffany was a beautiful name. It fit her. Vicki remembered the Tiffany lamp her mother had seen in a fashion magazine and loved so much. The lamp was beautiful and bright and dazzling to the eye. But it was so expensive that there was no way Moms could afford it. It was only right that this beautiful lady should have a name like that.
“My name is Vicki.” She wanted her to know her name as well. “Vicki Shannon.”
“Nice to meet you, Vicki. You and Toby go home now, and stay safe. And remember what I said about buying him a new leash, okay? And, of course, his special treat. But don’t give him too much. You don’t want him to get fat. It’s not good for him.”
Are you an angel?
Vicki couldn’t help wondering. She’d wanted to ask it out loud, but something told her not to. Something told her to keep it to herself. She didn’t know if it was because she didn’t want to sound silly or because she wasn’t prepared to hear the answer. But no matter how tightly she kept her lips together, the thought squirmed its way out of her head anyway.
Just then, she knew she was right.
Tiffany didn’t say anything. She didn’t have to. Her eyes closed for a moment. When they opened again, they seemed even brighter. Another wave of warmth passed through Vicki, and she shivered again. It must have passed through Toby, too. He suddenly stopped squirming and relaxed for a moment. He uttered another soft, “Woof,” and continued squirming and wagging his little nub.
Vicki wanted to say something else but couldn’t find the words. She didn’t want Tiffany to leave, but she just couldn’t think of anything else to say. Before she realized it, Tiffany gave her one last smile, waved, then turned and began walking down the street with her strange-looking friend.

EXTRACT FOR
Demon Chaser IV

(David Berardelli)


CHAPTER 1

Vicki would never forget the first time she saw the angel.
At first, she didn’t know if the lady was an angel at all. Angels just weren’t something a thirteen-year-old girl thought much about these days. In fact, she’d never thought much about angels at all before that afternoon. All Vicki had been thinking about was taking Toby, her three-year-old West Highland terrier, down the street for his afternoon walk. School would start in just a few days, and she wanted to spend as much time as she could with her furry little friend before summer vacation ended.
However, things quickly changed, and her mind went all sorts of crazy once the nightmare happened. Her whole world seemed to break apart in just a second or two, the moment the van slammed into Toby, and everything slowed down and stopped from that point on. It was almost like in a movie, when the camera stops right in the middle of an important scene and everything turns into one of those weird three-dimensional photos.
Moms had always told her to be careful when taking Toby out for his walk. “People drive like idiots,” she’d told Vicki over and over. “They don’t slow down for dogs, cats, or even other people. They text each other and don’t watch where they’re going. They talk on the phone and zone out, and the last thing they think of is their driving, or what’s ahead of them on the highway. I’ve seen women applying their makeup. Some even comb their hair at the same time. Some of the people driving on the roads are drunk, while others are on drugs. You’ve got to be extra careful, baby, and don’t give them a reason to do anything stupid because they really don’t need much of one at all…”
Because of what Moms had told her, Vicki promised herself to keep really close to Toby whenever she took him for his walk. She knew to be careful when they went down to the end of the driveway to get the mail and when they went down the street for a longer walk to exercise his short little furry legs. They lived in a quiet subdivision in a quiet neighborhood, but people still drove down their street much too fast—especially the ones using it as a detour to get to the main highway faster.
“Always hold on tight to his leash,” Moms told her, time after time. “Always make sure his collar is fastened to the clasp on the leash, and never forget to keep your end looped around your wrist so it doesn’t slip.”
This had never been a problem—except for just a moment ago, when she gave a slight tug and suddenly realized that the other end of the leash had been dragging behind her on the sidewalk. It took her only a moment to discover what had just happened, another moment to wonder why it happened, and one last terrifying instant for reality to kick in and send the panic ripping violently through her.
But by then, it was too late. The moment she realized that she’d really and truly messed up, she heard a sickening thump! behind her. At the same time, a horrible high-pitched squeal was abruptly cut off. By the time she’d spun around, Toby was already lying on his side by the curb, his back legs twitching.
“Toby!” Her heart had climbed up her throat the moment she broke into a run. Her limbs were tingly and her head felt like it had been shoved into a vat of hot water, but she forced herself to keep moving. The white van that had slammed into her beloved dog had already reached the end of the block and zipped right through the stop sign, but all she could focus on was the tiny white furry body lying on the grass just off the curb.
Toby suddenly stopped twitching and lay motionless. The sight of him lying there like that tore through her like barbed wire, and she was certain she could feel her heart crumbling into tiny pieces. Toby was her puppy, her friend. Her partner. He was her Christmas present nearly two years earlier and hadn’t left her side except for the time she spent at school. She’d taught him how to fetch the tiny squeaking rubber bone Moms had bought last summer and bring it back so Vicki could toss it again. She remembered how Toby had wagged his tiny nub of a tail the day she’d given him his first treat—a tiny piece of crispy bacon she’d smuggled from the breakfast table. Toby knew to cuddle her when she felt bad or sick…and how not to jump up in her lap when she was doing her homework. He knew to be quiet when she and Moms were sleeping, and how to patiently wait in the kitchen, underneath the pegboard next to the refrigerator, where his leash hung, to let someone know he had to go to the bathroom. He was her bright spot on a rainy day and never failed lifting her spirits whenever she was depressed.
Now her best friend lay next to the curb, and it was her fault. The clasp on the leash had broken, but it was still her fault. She should have noticed. She should have kept her attention on him instead of watching for traffic at the end of the block. She should have felt the leash coming apart.
But she hadn’t. She’d been wrapped up in her own little world, and because of it, she’d just lost her very best friend.
“Oh, Toby!” She knelt down close to him and bent over him. She wanted to touch him but was afraid to. She didn’t want to feel cold coming from him. She wanted him to be warm and furry as always, panting, licking her face, rubbing his head against her. Her tears filled her eyes, and she didn’t care one bit if another van roared down the street and hit her as well. She’d lost her very best friend and wanted to go with him, wherever that was, and the only thing that mattered was that Toby was dead and she didn’t want to go on without him.
Then, in the midst of her agony, a soft voice somewhere behind her startled her, pulling her out of her nightmare.
“Would you mind very much if I looked at your friend? I might be able to help.”
The voice was soft and warm, but Vicki was overcome with grief and was frightened that she could be imagining things. However, she realized that if she had heard a voice, and if this voice had actually said what she thought it said, maybe the person who’d said it could help her somehow.
But how could anyone help Toby? Her friend was dead, and it was all her fault.
“He’s…dead…” That last word hurt. For a moment she thought a sliver of glass had torn out of her throat. Toby. Dead. Two words Vicki had never ever wanted to put together.
“I’d still like to see if I can help,” the soft voice said.
Vicki took a breath and tried her best to collect herself. She still could not bear to pull her gaze away from her little friend. “Toby…he’s…my best friend…” She gently touched the little dog’s pointed ear, hoping to see it twitch. It always had whenever she touched the tip. But now it didn’t—which conveyed the dreaded message even more completely.
She sniffed and shuddered when she took her next breath. “Some bastard in a white van…hit him…and didn’t even stop!” The anger gushed out, making her hot and tingly all over. She wanted to find whoever was driving that van so she walk right up to them, tell them she’d seen what they’d done, then claw their eyes out, push them down onto the pavement and jump on them, over and over, until their guts splashed out onto the sidewalk.
But once again, some inner feeling told her she should listen to the voice behind her.
Taking a deep breath, she turned.
A very beautiful lady stood a couple of feet behind her, looking down at her with the kindest, warmest expression Vicki had ever seen. The lady was young, maybe just a handful of years older than Vicki, actually. She had the most beautiful face and the softest blue eyes Vicki had ever seen. The lady’s hair was a honey-blonde, covering her shoulders with shimmering curls, and when the sun hit it, tiny silver stars appeared, winking at her. The lady wore a bright-red short-sleeve tank top and dark blue Capri’s. Her shoes were opened-toed white sandals with two-inch heels and tiny glittering blue diamonds arranged in wavy rows on the sides. Vicki had never seen shoes like that before and wondered where the lady had found them.
But that wasn’t important right now. Toby was what mattered, and this nice lady wanted to help. Vicki had no idea why, but the feelings she’d had since she’d first heard the lady’s soft, soothing voice suggested that things might not be as horrible as she’d originally thought. She had no idea why, but as this lady drew closer, Vicki felt warm, content and safe. A strong sense of hope urged her to comply with this lady’s wishes.
“People are not very nice nowadays,” she said, and Vicki could feel both sadness and anger coming from the lady when she’d said it. “They don’t care about hurting others.”
Vicki felt even more hot, stinging anger sliding down her back. “They hit him and didn’t stop! They kept on going!” The fresh tears welling in her eyes blurred her vision.
“I’d still like to see if I can help.” Her smile returned quickly—as if it had never left her face.
Her smile was very bright, and Vicki felt even warmer and more content. The lady’s smile seemed to make the anger—as well as the hatred she’d felt for the driver of the van—go away. But reality quickly intervened, and she couldn’t stop wondering how anyone could possibly help Toby.
“Toby’s…gone,” she whispered. She didn’t want to say the d-word again. But even so, she choked down more tears. “How can you help?”
“I’d like to try. Will it be all right?”
Still skeptical, Vicki felt herself nodding.
The lady knelt down on the other side of Toby. She smelled sweet, like flowers, and when Vicki gazed into the woman’s eyes, she saw sunshine and felt even more warmth…and this was when she first suspected that this woman was very, very special. Vicki had read all sorts of fantasy stories she’d bought online and remembered the fairy tales Moms had read to her years ago, when Vicki was little. She strongly felt that this lady had somehow come out of a fairy tale. Vicki’s feelings of warmth and hope told her she was in the presence of someone truly special.
Vicki couldn’t help it; she began shivering.
“Are you all right?”
“I’m…fine.” Vicki tried to stop shivering but quickly found that she could not. “I’m just…I’m…this is just too—“
Without a word, the lady placed her hand on Vicki’s shoulder.
A rush of warmth ran down Vicki’s arm, and in seconds her whole body felt warm and tingly. It reminded her of the time she got off the rollercoaster last summer. But this was much different. This time, she had no idea why it was happening, and when she realized it was because this special lady had touched her, she shivered even worse.
“Please…let me see if I can help.”
“Do you really think you can?” Vicki asked in a soft voice.
“We won’t know till we try.”
Before Vicki could reply, the lady bent and began gently stroking Toby’s ruffled white fur. “He’s very soft,” she said, smiling.
“I…I brushed him…brush him…every day.” Vicki nearly choked on the words and was surprised that they’d come out right. She wanted to tell this nice lady just how much Toby meant to her. Vicki knew she would understand.
“You’ve done a fine job.” The lady smiled at her. Then she reached down with her other hand and began stroking Toby very gently with both hands.
Vicki couldn’t understand what was happening. The lady was stroking Toby’s fur—just as Vicki herself had done a million times before. Her friend was gone—how could a little stroking change anything?
“Miss?” She couldn’t keep it inside her any longer. She needed to know what was going on—what this woman was doing and why she was doing it.
“Sshhh…” She continued stroking Toby.
Vicki pressed her lips tightly together. Although she had no idea what was going on, she knew better than make this worse than it already was.
Then it dawned on her, and she instinctively placed her hand on her shoulder. Warm. The lady’s touch. It was so special…so strange...
So magical…
She touched me, and I felt warm and comfortable inside…
Could this be what she was doing to Toby? This lady obviously had a special touch. Could this actually help Toby? Would she be able to—
Suddenly…incredibly…Toby began to stir.
The lady continued stroking his fur, but more vigorously. Toby shifted, stretched his short furry white legs and rolled his head as if he’d just awakened from a nap. A moment later, he yawned. Then he turned his head toward Vicki and began panting.
“He’s…he’s…” Vicki found that she was much too choked up to finish her statement.
“I think he’ll be okay now.” The lady stopped stroking Toby and sat back. Squirming, the little dog sat up. After looking around, he shook himself, panted some more and without warning, leaped into Vicki’s arms.
Vicki squeezed her friend tightly. Toby squirmed in her arms, licking her face and wagging his little nub of a tail. More tears filled her eyes. This time, they were tears of joy. She couldn’t believe what had just happened. Only moments ago, Toby was dead… But now he was alive and acting just like he was before all this happened…
He was dead, wasn’t he?
Did it matter? Did it really?
Maybe he wasn’t dead at all. Maybe he was just stunned.
That sounded more likely, didn’t it? You couldn’t bring back someone from the dead, could you?
No one could…could they?
She realized that none of this mattered at all. As she hugged and kissed Toby’s face and head, she glanced at the lady and saw something in those beautiful blue eyes she’d never seen before. She couldn’t explain it. All she could think of was a bright rainbow, and when Vicki closed her eyes, she saw herself and Toby running around in a beautiful field of flowers beneath a bright, cloudless sky.
And this was when Vicki was convinced that the lady was an angel. She had to be, because nothing else made any sense. And even though Vicki didn’t know much about angels, she knew that only an angel could have done what this lady had just done.
But although this in itself was the most fantastic thing that had ever happened to her, she knew that it wasn’t the most wonderful thing that had happened in the last few minutes. Toby licked her nose, bringing her right back to reality, and in that one amazing moment, her world had become fun and exciting again.
“Toby, Toby…you’re back! You’re back!” She hugged him even harder, stroking his head and belly and kissing him all over as he licked her face, her nose and her chin. She bathed herself in the incredible moment, clutching her beloved friend, closing her eyes and enjoying the unbelievable feeling that Toby had miraculously been brought back to her…
And when she finally opened her eyes again, she discovered that she and Toby were alone.
The lady was no longer there.
Clutching Toby tightly, Vicki jumped up and spun around.
The lady was walking away. But now she wasn’t alone. A skinny little guy with wild red hair was walking beside her. Just as they reached the curb on the other side of the street, her companion bent and, without missing a step, grabbed a clump of grass, put it in his mouth and began eating it.
Strange. Really, really strange.
Vicki couldn’t help wondering where the lady’s friend had come from. It occurred to her that he might have been standing behind the lady while she tended to Toby.
That didn’t matter, did it? Not at the moment, anyway. It didn’t matter at all because there was something much more urgent that Vicki had to address.
She wasted no time. Still clutching Toby tightly in her arms, she trotted across the street, until she reached the two of them. “Excuse me! Miss?”
They both stopped. The lady turned around and smiled. “Yes?”
“I-I don’t know how to…how to…to thank…to tell you how much I—“
“It’s all right. I understand. Just don’t let it happen again. And if I were you, I’d buy a new leash. That clasp broke, you know.”
“Probably made in China,” her friend said, frowning.
“Please tell me something…”
“Yes?”
Vicki didn’t know how to say it. She swallowed, took a breath and opened her mouth, but nothing came out. I need to ask. I really need to find out. I don’t know how this lady can possibly know, but I have this strange feeling that she does. I think she knows a lot of things, and if I’m right, she probably knows if Toby will be okay.
It was almost as if the woman had just read her mind. Smiling, she said, “Toby’s back with you. That’s all you need to know.”
That sounded exactly right—but what about everything else? Toby was hit by a van. There wasn’t any blood, but that didn’t mean he hadn’t been severely hurt. There were probably injuries no one could see. Internal injuries. Those were the ones that didn’t show, the ones that were really bad.
Yet the furry little guy squirming in her arms and licking her face seemed just fine.
“He’s perfectly healthy,” the lady said. “Just take him home and love him and give him a special treat. I have a feeling he likes chicken.”
How on earth did she know that?
Vicki’s cheeks flushed. “H-How did…how did you—“
“Just a lucky guess.” The lady smiled. Then she waved. “‘Bye, Toby.”
Toby turned his furry white head and gazed at the lady. Then, wagging his tail furiously, he sent over a soft, “Woof…”
As the lady and her friend began walking away, Vicki wanted her to know what this truly meant to her. She wanted her to know that Toby was her very best friend…and that just moments ago, she’d wanted to die because Toby had been hit by a van. She wanted to find some way of thanking her properly. She wanted her to know that she’d never ever forget her.
I don’t even know her name…
All she knew was the woman was young and beautiful…and kind…and had the brightest blue eyes she’d ever seen …
Most of all, she’d brought Toby back to life.
“Toby’s back with you. That’s all you need to know.”
There was much more to it than just that. There had to be. Toby was dead. This sweet, wonderful lady had somehow brought him back.
And Vicki didn’t even know her name.
“I really would like to thank you,” she said.
“It’s all right. I’m glad I was able to help.”
“Please…at least tell me your name…”
“I’m Tiffany.”
Tiffany. It figured. Tiffany was a beautiful name. It fit her. Vicki remembered the Tiffany lamp her mother had seen in a fashion magazine and loved so much. The lamp was beautiful and bright and dazzling to the eye. But it was so expensive that there was no way Moms could afford it. It was only right that this beautiful lady should have a name like that.
“My name is Vicki.” She wanted her to know her name as well. “Vicki Shannon.”
“Nice to meet you, Vicki. You and Toby go home now, and stay safe. And remember what I said about buying him a new leash, okay? And, of course, his special treat. But don’t give him too much. You don’t want him to get fat. It’s not good for him.”
Are you an angel?
Vicki couldn’t help wondering. She’d wanted to ask it out loud, but something told her not to. Something told her to keep it to herself. She didn’t know if it was because she didn’t want to sound silly or because she wasn’t prepared to hear the answer. But no matter how tightly she kept her lips together, the thought squirmed its way out of her head anyway.
Just then, she knew she was right.
Tiffany didn’t say anything. She didn’t have to. Her eyes closed for a moment. When they opened again, they seemed even brighter. Another wave of warmth passed through Vicki, and she shivered again. It must have passed through Toby, too. He suddenly stopped squirming and relaxed for a moment. He uttered another soft, “Woof,” and continued squirming and wagging his little nub.
Vicki wanted to say something else but couldn’t find the words. She didn’t want Tiffany to leave, but she just couldn’t think of anything else to say. Before she realized it, Tiffany gave her one last smile, waved, then turned and began walking down the street with her strange-looking friend.