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Armageddon, Texas: Cover and Excerpt Release

Armageddon, Texas

Editor’s Note: Today we release the cover of Armageddon, Texas, the third and final volume of The Messiah Trilogy (October 2014). To celebrate the cover release, we have chosen the following excerpt to share with our readers. It is an excerpt from a chapter called “Two Great Lights.”

So this was what was left of Texas: one half swallowed by the sea, the other half buried under a desert. He hadn’t been back since the War. There were no landmarks anymore, at least none he could recognize. But he knew he was getting close, close enough to smell them in the breeze.

He kicked out the stand on his dusty bike with his boot heel and stood up from the saddle, trying to stretch his aching back. He shook out his legs, slapping some of the dust from his worn chaps. Riding this fatboy was a whole lot easier back when the world had roads, he thought to himself. It probably wasn’t the most low-profile way to travel, but he didn’t care. Fuck low-profile, he thought. He was still an Angel. He was still the darkness. He would be the Serpent once again. But right now, when the wind hit his face, this motorcycle was still the closest he could come to flying again.

Not for long, he muttered, searching the empty sky. Not for long.

To the west, he could feel a change in the weather; another two or three day’s ride and he’d be right back where everything had ended: the graveyard called Armageddon. The same place where it was all about to begin. What was the old lie that bastard Sam told his lost sheep, when he was alive? The last shall be first, and the first shall be last. The rider spit into the dust and shook his ragged head. Maybe it was fitting, he thought: the last story ever told in that dying world was a complete lie.

He had heard the stories about people living on the edge of Armageddon. They had managed to find themselves some kind of hero. The hounds of Hell he’d left behind on the battlefield were no doubt keeping this hero busy; they were his lost orphans, left behind to wander the wasteland, a grisly accounting error. The rider smirked. Evil had never been an exact science, he mumbled as he shrugged his broad shoulders and tugged at his grizzled grey beard.

It would be good to see his old comrades again.

And now, after all these years, he would be able to give them brand new orders: find me this boy, and this girl.

*****

The travelers stayed close to their wagons as they waited outside the gates of Armageddon, drinking from their water sacks that were fat now from crossing the river. There were five of them, all old men born long before the War, each staring west in silent wonder as a dark bloom of purple clouds billowed up on the far horizon, as if the mountains had caught fire. Even from a distance these men knew they were not clouds at all, but a warning; they could feel a sharp wind blowing east across the open desert, pressing their rough faces. And yet these clouds did not move.

Overhead, a ragged flock of black cormorants suddenly buzzed their wagons, riding the hot wind towards the sea, screeching back and forth in a hasty language of escape.

The travelers nodded to one another with grim faces. They did not have to say out loud what they already knew in their dry bones: something was coming.

There had been signs. On their slow journey north through Old Mexico, they had watched the faded moon inch higher in the midday sky; a few more days, maybe a week, and there would be an eclipse, turning the world to black. And then there was the silence: three days ago they had crossed the wide wash of the Pishon River to the south, and they had not heard the screams and sad cries they had expected. It was as if the leftover creatures from Hell had all vanished through a trapdoor, or worse, lay in hiding somewhere out of sight. In some ways, the silence had been more frightening than those horrible voices of the night, making sleep impossible.

And now, this sinister eruption of clouds behind Mount Megiddo. Something was coming, it was clear: even the cormorants had heard the story of the dragon that still lived in the mountain that loomed over Armageddon.

Four of the men craned their necks to follow the birds as they dissolved in the distance until they were only black dots dancing on the lemon-colored sky. Their leader sat by himself in the lead wagon, a wire-thin man who leaned both his hands patiently on a gnarled cane made of whale bone. He was working a slice of peyote under his tired gums; once in a while he leaned over and spat juice to the ground. One of the other men had put a metal cup of water on the bench beside him, but he had not touched it. Somehow a line from an old movie lingered in his memory: when I drink water, I drink water, and when I drink whiskey, I drink whiskey. Or in this case, peyote. It was funny how memory worked: he could remember some random line from a John Wayne film he’d seen as a kid, but he couldn’t remember things like his older sister Martha’s face, or the sound of his younger sister’s voice as she’d call his name out like a curse.

Or even what it felt like to wake up and rise from the dead.

He sat patiently, watching the horizon; they had passed a funeral cortege at the river crossing, so he knew there would be a long wait. No doubt his old friend Hyatt was among them, saying goodbye to today’s lucky dead.

I don’t feel old, he said to himself, listening to his own raspy breath, feeling the thump of his heart in his throat. But whenever he saw his reflection in a mirror – they had several tucked in the wagons for trade – he saw the deep grooves around his mouth and eyes and the dark patches of skin on his cheeks and they reminded him he’d lived more than one life.

In his previous life, he’d drowned to death, only to be brought back to life. He wasn’t the only man still alive who called the dead lucky, but he was the only one on earth who knew it was true.

Yes, he thought as he sat still and waited. They were all lucky, the dead.

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About Tommy Zurhellen

Tommy Zurhellen is author of the three novels of the award-winning Messiah Trilogy from Atticus Books. He earned his MFA from the University of Alabama and currently teaches writing at Marist College. A U.S. Navy veteran, he is a Life Member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 170 in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

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