Authors: Jacqueline Druga
Book One: Last Days Trilogy
Last Days Trilogy
Last Days, Exodus, Purge
By Jacqueline Druga
Copyright 2016 by Jacqueline Druga
Original Copyright 2003, (Shroud – Final Battle)
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any person or persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Thank you so very much to Kira and Shona for all your help with this series.
A special thank you to John P. Rutledge, Michael J. Vaughn and Dead End Street LLC for their extensive editing of the original book. And to DES for giving it its first chance.
Cover art created by Christian Bentulan
They had moved to the outskirts of Seville, Ohio, so close to the neighboring town of Wadsworth that the towns fought over the family’s legal residence. It was a good piece of land and while the Leons weren’t rich, the taxes on the property were worth the claim.
George Leon got the house and land for a steal, using the money he got from a settlement when a bus ran over his foot.
A story rarely told. Folks in Seville believed the Leons had money but just didn’t boast it. After all, they did purchase the Wilson farm.
The Leons were a close family, a proud African American family and in Medina County Ohio, they were also one of only a few African American families. For them, large gatherings of aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins weren’t uncommon, especially around the holidays. This time, it was George and Eliza’s turn to play host. Everyone had gathered in the young couple’s home for a long day of visiting on Easter Sunday.
As with every family, the Leons had both the quiet and take-charge types. Pop-pop was the quietest of them all; his wife, Grandma Helen, was the bossiest. It didn’t matter to Helen that it was her son’s home. She took control of the kitchen, barking out orders, trying to get the feast to the table in synchronized order. “The hot dishes aren’t supposed to be cold,” she griped, and then turned to slap little Marcus’ hand as he reached for a warm biscuit. “Little man, don’t you dare!”
Marcus was nine but looked more like six. Tiny, thin and innocent, he peered at his grandmother with the saddest of eyes. “We’re hungry,” he protested.
“Can’t Reggie and I share?” he asked. “Please…”
“No.” Helen stayed firm. “Go!” She pointed at the kitchen door. Turning back toward Eliza, she said, “Is Reggie here again?”
Eliza nodded with a smile as she mixed the potatoes. “Her father had to pull special detail in Tennessee. I told him we’d take her. I didn’t want her going to that aunt’s house.”
“As much as that child is here you might as well start calling her Regina Leon.” Helen walked to the oven. “And you’d better start asking that father of hers for some sittin’ money for all the care you give that child.”
Eliza shook her head. “Wouldn’t dream of it. Kyle Stevens was the first man we met when we first moved here. Besides, she’s Marcus’ little friend. Half the time you can’t separate them two with a crowbar.”
“Well then you best tell the Siamese twins to wash up ‘cause supper’s going on the table.”
Smiling at the force that was her mother-in-law, Eliza wiped her hands on a dishtowel and walked to the living room. Immediately, she could hear the giggles. Janice, her twelve-year-old, had braided Regina’s long blonde hair so tightly that it stuck straight out from her head.
Eliza shook her head in disbelief, and then looked to her father-in-law who was planted as usual in his favorite old chair. “Pop-pop, you let them do that to this girl?”
“Looks spooky,” he commented. “Not that she’s not spooky enough with those eyes.”
Marcus peered at his grandfather like a protective big brother. “I like her eyes. They’re...” Marcus looked back at the eyes in question, eyes that had always captured him with their blue, almost translucent color. “They’re different.”
Regina nodded with a smile. “Yeah, different. Like your Jesus.” She pointed to the painting of a black Jesus that hung above the fireplace.
“Momma?” Marcus looked up at his mother. “Is our Jesus different?”
“Oh, no, baby. He’s not.” Eliza answered.
“So whose picture is right?” Marcus asked, staring at the painting. “If he was a real guy he couldn’t have looked like both, right?”
“I guess not, but that’s not really important,” Eliza explained. “Just remember, he can look any way you want him to look, as long as you believe in him…. Now go wash up for supper.” Eliza began to leave the living room. “And Janice, take those braids out that girl’s hair.”
In her rush to fulfill her mother’s dictate, Janice leapt over Marcus, nearly knocking him down. But not even that could break Marcus’ stare.
He could look any way I want?
Even at his young age, Marcus found that statement a bit unbelievable.
It wasn’t the first question or the last that Marcus had about the man called Jesus. He never had the deep rooted faith like the rest of his family. His exceptional level of intelligence kept him from falling into what he called a ‘spiritual trap’. It did not, however, stop his obsession over the validity of Jesus Christ. And more than he cared to admit, it was an obsession that was the foundation for his work and the experiment that would forever change the face of the earth.
Dr. Marcus Leon chuckled as cookie crumbs poured from the peach envelope. He didn’t need to read the letter to know who sent them. The crumbs were a telltale giveaway.
He brushed them from his desktop and then unfolded the letter, a wide smile spreading across his handsome face.
His office was little more than a glorified cubicle, a collection of pre-fabricated walls and glass panels. As a result, Dr. Leon kept the blinds drawn most of the time. Not to keep out sunlight – he had no windows – but for privacy, which in a laboratory was often hard to come by.
He had shut his office door, a sign to his lab assistants that he wanted to be left alone. It was common knowledge that Dr. Leon only closed his door for three reasons; when he needed to sleep, when he needed to throw one of his famous but quick temper tantrums, and whenever he received
from Mrs. Reggie Stevens-Edmunds.
He read the letter twice. Not because he enjoyed it, but because – like all of her letters – it was rambling, and poorly written. Reggie had no use for punctuation. She’d go from one sentence to the next and from one thought to another without so much as a comma, semicolon or period. Even worse, her writing wandered off like a lost drunk. It made Marcus laugh. Where his letters were straightforward and focused, Reggie’s letters were... well, Reggie.
He wondered if Reggie emailed him or messaged him through social media if he would enjoy them as much as receiving them the old fashioned way. They certainly would come more frequently, less the cookie crumbs, of course. However, he knew that Reggie using a technological means to communicate was a pipe dream. Reggie refused to be modern. She didn’t even have a cell phone. Marcus attributed that to lack of financial means.
Reggie would defend her cell phone decision with, “Why do I need one? I have a landline.”
“No one uses landlines, Reg.”
“What if there’s an emergency?” Marcus would ask.
“Then they can call my dad. It’s Seville, they can open the door and yell. Besides, Marcus, I don’t like talking on the phone. Why would I want one attached to my hip?”
“Everyone has one.”
“If everyone jumped off a bridge does that mean I should too?”
Reggie had an answer for everything. Marcus even offered to get her up to date and technologically up to speed, but she refused.
She claimed she tried computers and the internet once but it failed her and she never bothered again. Marcus reminded her that was back in the days of dial up connections and things had changed, but she didn’t care.
Reggie swore she was an off the grid type of gal. When Marcus would hear that, he’d just nod and say, ‘Okay’, reminding her she could never be an official off the grid person when she relied so heavily on her pod based coffee maker.
Reggie was different and Marcus adored that about her.
He paced around his office, reading the letter one last time, trying to make sense of it, and then he picked up the telephone.
He let it ring four times, just to the point when the voice mail would pick it up. He hung up and dialed again. He knew she was home. Where else would she be? She certainly wasn’t out on a date. Not that she wasn’t pretty enough to get one, but she had never recovered from the death of her husband, killed in a car accident eight years earlier.
On the second ring of his seventh attempt, Reggie answered the phone with a mumble. Upbeat and chipper, Marcus spoke. “Hey. Glad you’re home.”
“Marcus,” she grumbled. “On this side of the world it’s three o’clock in the morning.”
“Shit. I thought it was later.”
“I mean, earlier, or morning or whatever. But since you’re up... You
“I am now. Just give me a second to get my bearings.” Hearing from Marcus was never a bother, she stumbled out of bed.
“Ready. Long or short talk?”
“Not sure. I just need to talk... period.”
“I’ll make coffee.” In old-man pajama bottoms and a long tee shirt, Reggie walked to the kitchen.
“I got your letter and cookie,” Marcus said.
“Did you eat it?”
“Yeah, it was good.”
“It still amazes me that my cookies make it just fine all the way overseas.”
“It’s that ‘handle with care’ you write on the envelope.”
“I saw your ex-wife at the Big Eagle grocery.”
“Which wife?” Marcus asked, half kidding, half stalling.
“Which wife do you think? Number one is in Indiana, and three is in Spain. I’d venture to guess number two.”
“Could be four.”
“I don’t count her. That lasted… what? Three weeks?” Reggie held the phone while staring at her brewing pot.
“What happened?” Marcus asked.
“She spit on me! You would think after seven years the woman would finally believe we didn’t have an affair.”
“You didn’t actually fight with her, did you?”
“No. I let the police handle it… again. It’s funnier that way.”
“Is your coffee done?”
Reggie lifted the pot. “Pouring it as we speak,” she said.
“Take a sip.”
“Sipping.” She brought the cup to her lips.
“Ready?” Marcus asked.
“Yeah,” Reggie said cautiously.
“What about it?”
“Reg, it’s all going down at our facility in Chicago.”
Reggie set down her cup before she dropped it, and she gripped the phone as if it were Marcus. “Please tell me you’re not lying.”
“I never lie.”
“Oh, Marcus.” She closed her eyes. “You’ll be close to home. And you’ll need to be close to home for this.”
“I know,” Marcus said. “I was relieved to find out. And I’m coming home for a visit as soon as the project is underway. You and Seth can come see me. I’ll pay for the flight.”
“We’ll take you up on that. But first, let me tell you, I’m so glad you’re coming home. Of course...” Reggie let out a snicker. “After tomorrow, or rather today, they may cast stones at you. You know how folks are here in Seville.”
“I’ll chance it. And speaking of today, I need to know that you’ll be watching me on TV.”
“I will. I’m working breakfast, but I promise you. I’ll stop whatever I’m doing.”
“Have you spoken to my mother about it?”
“Your mother doesn’t really talk about it, Marcus. You knew she wouldn’t. But she’ll be happy you’re coming home.”
“I’m sure. I’m afraid to call her with all…”
“I’ll tell her,” Reggie interrupted, concerned about her friend. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Marcus said, failing to sound convincing. “No. No, I’m not. Am I doing the right thing?”
“Marcus… Why the sudden doubts? And now… so close to the announcement?” Reggie sat down at the kitchen table. “Is it public response, or
you are about to do?”
Marcus didn’t answer.
“I guess I’m having doubts about the… oh how should I put this… about the consequences?”
“Consequences? In this world or beyond?”
“Reg,” Marcus said with a chuckle. “Come on... of course this one.”
“Then that’s a stupid reason to have doubts. Especially right now. You can’t stop it, and you don’t want to. So what? You’ll ruffle some feathers; you’ll offend a few people. You aren’t the first and you certainly won’t be the last. This is your work. You’re brilliant, Marcus, and you can do this. And you should do this, and do it with a clear conscience. Remember, no matter what the outcome, no matter what people say, I am very proud of you.”