The House in Ascension Parish
The timber that floated down the Mississippi River resembled monsters and water folk, as soft moonlight cast its glow down on the mighty current. The waves slapped at the shore in syncopated rhythm, setting an impossibly complex beat for a song that whispered on the breeze and slithered through the thickest thickets. The path that followed the riverbank crossed dimensional barriers, and was much like the path that followed the banks of every river everywhere. The seven people riding four horses on that path were unique to Discordia, however. No other place had ever witnessed such an occurrence.
Jesus rode first down the narrow game path, and then Dorothy, with Louis and Lena holding tightly to their backs. Lena couldn’t believe Jesus would rather have a man’s arms around him than hers. Jesus had thought about that very fact a few miles into their ride, but he didn’t want to stop so soon. The assassin had already decided to swap Louis for Lena. Jesus noticed the dirty looks she kept giving him.
Not far behind Dorothy, Michael held on to Elizabeth on the back of her horse. He dwarfed the attractive warrior, and the sight was slightly ridiculous. Rosie brought up the rear, except for one rider-less black and white stallion. The unencumbered horse looked content, but everybody else showed signs of increasingly poor temperament. They looked and felt stupid riding two to a horse, and Rosie felt totally alienated at the end of the line. Their frustrations were about to boil over.
“I can’t believe you had a totally tricked out 1964 gangster, and we’re riding freakin’ horses,” Louis’ griped.
“I can’t believe we’re partnered off with the same sex,” Lena grumbled.
“I can’t figure out why I haven’t thrown you from the back of my horse yet, princess,” Dorothy menaced Lena.
“Can you all keep it to yourselves until daylight?” Jesus beseeched, but he didn’t believe it would happen.
“I’m sick of riding back here with no one to talk to,” Rosie spoke up loud enough to be heard in Lafayette.
“I do have to use the bathroom,” Elizabeth offered on behalf of everyone who wanted to stop, “and I’m not peeing in the saddle, Jesus.”
“I’m glad you said something, Elizabeth. I’ve had to go for an hour,” Michael gushed. “The sooner we take care of this, the sooner I’ll quit worrying my bladder will explode.”
“Okay! I get it!” Jesus acquiesced rudely. “Let’s take a few minutes. Try not to get bitten by a snake, or fall in the river.” He was only half joking.
The riders reined in their horses, and everybody dismounted. Michael sprinted into the dark trees. Even though he was in a hell dimension, he still couldn’t bring himself to urinate in front of women. Elizabeth walked a few feet into the undergrowth, pulled up her skirt and squatted down. Lena made for the trees, but Rosie chose the undergrowth. Jesus thought he might be watching a nature show on the urination practices of the human animal. He noticed that Dorothy was watching him observe the other people. The two laughed simultaneously.
“Well, which are you, Dorothy? A bushes person or a trees person?” Jesus giggled. The sound was refreshing, because it rarely came out of him.
“I’m a woman who waits with the horses until everyone else is finished,” she answered with a smile, “and then goes in the trees.”
“Funny, I would have taken you for a bushes person,” Jesus disclosed honestly.
“What about you, Jesus? Are you so uptight that you sweat out all your urine?”
“I’m so dehydrated that I’m seriously beginning to consider drinking river water. I didn’t get anything to eat or drink back at the fortress, and I didn’t bring anything with me. There’s a canteen on the horse, but it’s empty. I know only a couple of basic transmutation spells, and the process takes me half an hour,” the assassin lamented.
“You are wound too tight. Why didn’t you say something? If you’re leading us, then you have to keep your strength up. Hunger is bad, but dehydration will take you right out of the game,” Dorothy lectured him.
“I’ve been through much, much worse. I wanted to put as much distance between ourselves and Baton Rouge as possible, but we’re stopped now. So, Dorothy, do you have anything to eat or drink?”
“I just fight. That’s Elizabeth’s department.” Dorothy turned and called out, “Elizabeth. We need clean water, and something to eat.”
“Coming right up,” Elizabeth answered as she stood up.
Everybody returned to the horses from out of the night. Elizabeth picked her way down to the river and filled up all the canteens. She wasn’t sure how they forgot to fill them up, but it didn’t matter. On the way back to the horses she said some words over the water. The canteens glowed briefly. She handed one to Jesus, who showed his trust by drinking long gulps of the river water. Elizabeth passed out the rest of the canteens, and everybody drank.
Elizabeth gathered some grass and soil into a straw bowl. She said some words over the bowl, and a soft glow obscured the contents. When the glow subsided there was a long loaf of bread poking out. She passed the loaf to Jesus, who broke off a piece and passed it on.
Jesus climbed into his saddle before a conversation could start. He was anxious to get underway. He didn’t think they could afford the time to stand around and talk. Once he was mounted, he addressed the issue of seating and riding order.
“Lena, I want you with me,” Jesus told the young woman. She beamed and took his hand. She snuggled up against him after she was in the saddle.
Rosie looked totally jealous, so Jesus addressed her next. “Rosie, I want you right behind us with Louis, so you three can talk quietly. Keep it very quiet, though. We have no idea where the hell we are.” Both Rosie and Louis looked appeased by the idea.
Michael volunteered, “I’m sure I can stay on a horse as long as we ride at this pace.” The group slowed down after they left the city. To prove his point Michael walked over to the black and white stallion and climbed into the saddle. The stallion liked the attention.
Dorothy put in, “I’m going to bring up the rear, in case of attack.”
“I’m with Dorothy at the rear,” Elizabeth sounded off.
“Michael, I want you between us and the veterans,” Jesus told the priest.
When everybody got situated the horses cantered down the path once more. Sunrise was still an hour away, and the only thing evident about the scenery was the river. The path followed the course of the river, which meant the party was riding below the level of the surrounding areas. They wouldn’t have been able too see the countryside even in broad daylight. That was partially a good thing, because nobody could see them. It was also a bad thing. They could be riding through a densely populated conclave of evil, and they wouldn’t know it. For that reason Jesus insisted they converse only in hushed voices.
“Your parents were murdered and you wound up here? That’s terrible, Louis,” Rosie whispered sympathetically after the young man spilled his sob story.
“I don’t feel sorry for you, Louis. So your parents were murdered. You can’t keep using that as an excuse to live in misery forever. Your parents would want you to move on. I think destroying your life insulted their memories. Let me ask you a question. If you went back home right now, would you pick up where you left off? Would you start using heroin again?” Lena grilled him at length.
“No, I definitely would not. I’ve been through too much, and I’ve seen too many things. Besides, I think the Order of True Love cured me of the addiction,” he answered. “If I were to go home right now, there’s a girl I would like to see. She won’t see me until I take care of a few things, so my goal would be to get my life straight. After that I would look her up.”
“That’s sweet, Louis. What’s her name?” Rosie inquired with a slight touch of jealousy in her tone. Louis was holding on to her, but talking about another girl.
“Her name is Paula. I only met her one time, but it was like I fell in love with her on the spot. The demon who sent me here said it was just lust, but what would he know about it,” Louis muttered.
Jesus listened to the conversation. He asked, “What was the name of the demon who opened the portal, Louis?”
“His name was Sirius.”
“Don’t worry about anything he said, Louis. I’ve met Sirius, and he’s a total loser. If you really felt love, then that’s what it was. Don’t let anything else change your mind about it,” Jesus reassured him.
“Fat lot of good it does me right now, though. I’m on my way to fight a major devil, and I’m almost as worried about winning as I am about losing. I can feel something waking up. Actually, it feels like someone is waking up inside of me. My thoughts keep rushing through my head, and I don’t understand them all. I’m afraid that whatever lives inside me will destroy me when it comes to the surface,” Louis revealed. “I don’t want to be swallowed up. I don’t want to lose my humanity.”
Michael had strained his ears to listen for quite a while. He kept his horse very close to Rosie’s. When Louis began to open up, Michael knew that it was time to join the conversation. He had found a new angle to approach Louis’ problem.
“I think your feelings of love are critical to your survival, Louis. You did nothing but deaden all your emotions after your parents were killed. You didn’t feel love for anyone, until you met Paula. Even though you only felt it for a short period of time, you experienced love again. I am positive it was very genuine. That’s why the demon Sirius belittled it, and that’s why Asmodeus attacked her in your dream. The devils wanted to extinguish the love inside of you. Love is the key to your survival, Louis. Love is the ingredient you need to overcome everything reality can throw at you,” Michael finished what he considered his most inspired sermon to date.
“That’s the first thing you’ve tried to convince me of that I found rational, Father Flannery,” Louis said quietly. “I believe that, but I’m not sure how it will help me. I felt love for Paula, but I didn’t have time to get to know her better.”
““It isn’t about Paula, Louis. She’s just a girl you met. Love is the answer; love in general. You were so junked out that your feeling of love for her may have constituted the last bit of love in your entire being. I am sure that you need to cultivate that feeling. Love and God are basically the same thing, Louis. Don’t tune me out just because I said God. You want to survive, and I want you to survive. To do that you’re going to have to let love into your heart,” the priest lectured.
“I could help you, Louis,” Rosie offered innocently. “I liked Michael’s solution. Love is a good thing, and I haven’t heard any better ideas. I could show you love, Louis. Maybe you could even love me back.”
“That’s very sweet, Rosie. It makes me feel nice that you care enough to offer,” Louis expressed his appreciation in a sincere tone, but he was very turned on by what she said.
Louis felt his manhood stir against Rosie’s back, and from the way she stiffened she felt it too. Louis yearned for sexual intimacy. The last time Louis had sex was before he got strung out. Rosie’s offer sounded better and better. Every step the horse took caused him to rub against his pants, and worsened his condition. Rosie arched her back and leaned back into him, to increase the contact between them. Nobody noticed what they were doing in the predawn darkness, but the sudden silence indicated something.
“Not right now, Rosie. You’ll drive me crazy. We have to wait until we get somewhere safe to bed down, whenever that may be,” Louis whispered into her ear softly.
The conversation about love drove Lena to once again obsess about the man she was holding. She wished it wasn’t the middle of the summer, because it was too hot to really enjoy the snuggling. After Jesus complained of the heat she peeled herself off of him. The idea of rubbing her sweaty body against his hadn’t fully left her mind since she climbed up on the horse. The constant bouncing in the saddle was making her horny as hell. It certainly wasn’t improving Jesus’ chances of getting away from her.
Jesus was not thinking about sex or love or Lena. He was focused on survival. His companions worried him deeply. They didn’t seem to grasp the seriousness of their situation. Jesus wanted to keep everyone safe, and he needed their help to do it. He considered advising Louis and the girls about the procedures they were to follow in the event of danger. Jesus listed survival priorities in his mind. He made it to number three, “Where to meet if separated.” That was when Lena’s hand found it’s way into his crotch.
“What are you doing, Lena?” he hissed as quietly as he could manage. He didn’t want the other members of the party to hear him.
Lena pulled in very close to him, like she was going to whisper a response into his ear. Instead she drew his earlobe into her mouth and sucked on it. He tried to pull away, but they were entwined on the back of the horse. He couldn’t get far. Lena wrapped her other arm tightly around his chest, and pressed her chest against his back. Every single hair on his body was standing on end, and her actions were having the effect she desired.
“I want you so bad, Jesus,” she breathed into his ear.
“Normally I would definitely take you up on that offer, Lena, but right now is not a particularly good time. Please don’t get upset. As soon as we find ourselves in a safer place, I promise you we can enjoy each other’s company as long as you like. But not right now,” he told her through gritted teeth.
Lena worked on the zipper of Jesus’ jeans while he feebly attempted to stop her. The problem was that he didn’t want her to stop. He was tired of having to remain on constant alert. He spent two thousand years on high alert, and he didn’t want to do it anymore. He wanted to get off of the horse and throw Lena to the ground, but that would not help their situation. He intended to get them out of Discordia. Until then they weren’t safe to play sexual games. Jesus found one last pocket of resolve inside himself, and pulled Lena’s hand off of his crotch.
“You really promise, Jesus?” she asked him. Fear of betrayal lingered in the sound of her voice.
“I promise, Lena. If we live through this, then we can have sex until neither one of us can walk.”
“I’m going to hold you to that,” Lena pledged.
As a show of trust she backed off of him slightly. She could feel the slight breeze cooling the sweat on her chest, but her stomach remained miserably hot. She reminded herself to find another top as soon as possible. The latex made her look fantastic, but it wasn’t the right fabric for a Louisiana summer. She bet Moonshadow, the girl who picked it out for her, had no idea what warm, sweaty latex felt like.
At the rear of the party Elizabeth and Dorothy were carrying on a quiet conversation of their own. Dorothy evinced the friendlier personality of the two, contrary to her forbidding appearance. Elizabeth constantly searched Dorothy’s expressions before speaking up about a subject, and she gave the larger, more masculine woman more than an average amount of attention. The two shared an obvious bond, which Elizabeth took very seriously.
“Do you think they know we love each other?” Elizabeth made almost no sound as she asked the question.
“I don’t think so. I know how uptight you are about us, but I get the feeling that we aren’t among the most judgmental people around. For heaven’s sake, you could cut the sexual tension with a knife. I don’t think it would be the end of the world if they found out,” Dorothy murmured in a subdued tone.
“I don’t trust easily. You know that. If they disapproved of us, then they might be slow to help us in a jam,” the fair woman whispered back.
“Nobody here would willingly allow us to come to harm, Beth. I’m sure of that. The priest might frown upon our relationship, but I wager he would lay his life down for any of us. We’re in good company.”
“That’s what I thought too, Dorothy. I wanted to make sure you agreed with me, in case I felt like touching you later.”
“I will never understand why you’re attracted to me, Beth. You could have anyone, man or woman. I’m probably the ugliest woman in Discordia. Why me?”
“No, Dorothy, you’re beautiful. And I love you.”
“I guess I should believe you. That’s what you always say.”
The priest in front of Elizabeth caught fragments of their conversation. He shrugged and smiled. Michael surmised early on that the two warrior women were lovers, but it wasn’t because he bought into any stereotype. He noticed the way they exchanged glances. The night wasn’t dark enough to conceal their relationship. He disagreed with their choices for personal and religious reasons, but as a Christian he withheld judgment. It was not his place to presume to know best for everyone.
Louis disturbed the hushed atmosphere by speaking loud enough for everyone to hear. “Discordia doesn’t exist anyway. I know I’m back in my house in Spanish Town, sleeping or heavily hallucinating. There’s no way this is real. I experience it through my five senses, but perceptions can be altered. An altered mental state would mean altered perception of sensory information.
“The problem is that none of this makes any sense. My parents get murdered for no reason. A demon crawls out of my brain and transports me into a Dungeons and Dragons reality, or wherever the hell it is. I kick heroin during an afternoon nap. I’m still in Louisiana, only it’s full of street gangs with names right out of Sesame Street. You know, the Sesame Street Samurai. How much of this bullshit am I supposed to believe? We’re riding horses in the middle of the night. Don’t forget we can turn bread into grass and drink straight from the Mississippi. I just need a break. Can I please catch a freakin’ break here?
“You’re all going to tell me that this is real, that this is Discordia. Mystical magical Discordia, where things are as normal as we need them to be, and scary enough to make a good campfire story. Well, I don’t believe it. Screw you guys, I’m going home,” Louis concluded. The horses continued to plod along.
“You don’t think I’m real, Louis?” Rosie sniffled, her feelings hurt.
“Weren’t your parents murdered in normal reality?” Lena expressed her confusion. Louis ignored that question.
“It’s not you, Rosie, it’s this place. Something isn’t right. It’s too much like home to be so different,” Louis muttered.
“And then Louis cracked up, unable to grasp the idea of alternate dimensions,” Jesus announced to nobody in particular. “It’s the same, yet different; real cutting edge stuff. Get a grip, Louis. Also, for your information, I can see in this light, and so can the horses. Riding horses by moonlight is no big feat.”
“I don’t think I explained myself too well, Jesus. I can’t find the words I want to use. Maybe the words don’t exist. I do not believe Discordia is a real place. I think it may be a dream state that we are all experiencing,” Louis groped for understanding.
“Until you figure it out, Louis, try to remember that death here is real. Pain here is real. If you don’t believe me, then ask Rosie about it. Ask Dorothy or Elizabeth,” Jesus admonished, weary of Louis’ melodramatic doubts.
“It looked pretty real to me,” Lena added.
Louis decided to shut up about it until he had a clearer idea of what he wanted to say. That was good, because he was wrong. Discordia existed as surely as Earth existed. They were two identical places with different characteristics.
Jesus knew more about dimensional travel than the other members of the party, having traveled back and forth between Earth and Discordia hundreds of times. He didn’t publicize that fact anymore. People always wanted him to send them home when they found out he could cross dimensions. His abilities were severely limited. The contract he made with Belial guaranteed his return to Discordia after every trip, and nobody was allowed to tag along. Jesus hated fine print.
The pale light of dawn spread out over the lush Louisiana undergrowth, and everybody relaxed somewhat. At least if trouble approached they would all see it coming. The path they followed looked tiny in the daylight, and it wound through a wildly overgrown bottom. Saw palmetto and Johnson grass dominated the floral species beside the track. A short distance away a stretch of forest followed the river as far as the eye could see in either direction. The green of the forest pleased the eye. Ancient cypress trees, live oaks and mimosas stood out in a jungle of sassafras. The area looked totally uninhabited.
The veterans in the party agreed on the absolute necessity of leaving the river. The Mississippi zigzagged back and forth like the track of a dying earthworm. Though they traveled close to forty miles along the course of the waterway, they were only twenty-five miles closer to New Orleans. Jesus volunteered to scout the surrounding area before they left the secluded game trail.
Everybody dismounted in the rays of the newly risen sun. Jesus set off without preamble, taking only the pistols on his belt for self-defense. Elizabeth refilled all the canteens and transmuted more bread, which everyone partook of greedily. Thousands of birds began their daily lives in the nearby forest, sending a cacophony of whistles and chatter into the sky. By daylight the driftwood in the river’s current floated lazily by, without provoking sinister introspection. It was exactly like a deserted stretch of the Mississippi River back on Earth, right down to the stifling temperature that rose by the second with the sun.
“One thing worries me, Dorothy. We rode out of that tunnel with five horses, and we’ve ridden on soft ground all night. I checked out the trail behind us, and I could follow it with my eyes closed. Won’t the bad guys have trackers?” Louis inquired uneasily.
Elizabeth answered, “I specialize in equestrian magic. One of the more difficult spells I mastered hides tracks. For the first few hours of our ride we left no tracks. I have limited power, like everyone else, so the Order boosted the strength of my spell. It still wore off, but only after many hours. It’s unlikely that anyone will follow the riverbed until they find our trail, but that’s a risk we have to take.”
Michael peered hopefully at the river. The long night of riding left him dirty and sore. The water looked cool and inviting. He knew the current in the deeper part of the river could drown even the strongest swimmer, but the slow moving shallows by the bank didn’t appear too dangerous.
“Does anyone want to go for a quick swim?” Michael asked cheerfully.
“I do!” Rosie was ebullient at the suggestion.
“Only two at a time,” Dorothy warned, “and don’t take more than a few minutes. No place on Discordia is ever truly safe.”
Rosie ran down to the water’s edge and shed her clothes, heedless of modesty. She waded into the water and splashed around happily. Michael took longer, and he shed only his outer garments. He entered the water still wearing an undershirt and underwear. The water cooled him off wonderfully, and eased some of the soreness of riding all night. Rosie obeyed Dorothy’s warning like a good girl. She exited the water after about five minutes, directly followed by the priest. They both looked refreshed.
Dorothy looked at Louis and Lena. The two shook their heads vigorously. Neither one of them trusted Mississippi River water, regardless of what dimension it might be. Lena didn’t like the brown color of the water, and she didn’t like the idea of shedding her clothes like an exhibitionist. Louis pondered the subject for a second, and concluded that the forces of evil probably didn’t treat their sewage. He wondered if Rosie and Michael were going to die after their swim. Louis didn’t know that there were almost no sewers on Discordia.
Jesus marched back into sight twenty minutes after Rosie was fully clothed. Michael stood beside his horse, dressed and ready to go. The two swimmers knew that Jesus would have nothing good to say about their excursion into the water, so both Michael and Rosie acted nonchalant. If Jesus noticed their wet hair and damp clothes, he said nothing about it. Louis weighed the amusement value of telling the assassin he had missed a wonderful show, but decided against it.
“I have often observed that people rarely reside in isolated areas on Discordia. Without alliances people become easy targets here, so almost everyone lives in the cities and towns. This part of Louisiana is no exception. I scouted a one-mile radius around our position, and I didn’t find any signs of recent human activity in the vicinity.
“I did find a place for us to rest. There’s an abandoned house about a mile inland from here. This area should provide us with relative safety. We are in the middle of nowhere, and nobody knows we are here. This would be a good time to gather our wits and make our plans,” Jesus announced to the group.
Jesus took the reins of his horse and set off through the dense undergrowth before entering the forest. Lena positively glowed, and followed close behind without saying a word. Dorothy and Elizabeth chattered quietly about something as they fell in line. Michael glanced suspiciously at Rosie and Louis, certain they were up to something, and then he set off after the group.
As soon as the priest turned his back, Louis took Rosie in his arms and kissed her playfully. She warmed to his embrace, and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. He pulled away from her and put his fingers to his lips, and then he hurried to catch up with Michael. Rosie hoped her bad luck was finally changing. She led her horse along with a bounce in her step.
The party picked their way through old growth woods that stood several feet below sea level in a state known for flooding. The low spots in the forest floor contained stagnant green pools, and snakes congregated in the tree branches that hung over the water. The sunlight couldn’t penetrate through the canopy of vegetation hundreds of feet overhead. The layer of secondary growth along the floor sometimes obscured the travelers’ feet. The earthy smell of rotting leaves drifted in the thick moist air, and the constant buzzing of mosquitoes surrounded the slow moving line of people.
The swampy woodland crawled with species of wildlife that no longer roamed on Earth. Neither Louis nor his friends had a full appreciation of what they were seeing. The wilderness areas of Discordia existed unchanged since the beginning of time. There was no industry on Discordia, because almost everything was created through magic. The environment had not suffered the devastation that was so evident on Earth. In a world of constant warfare and a zero birth rate, there was never a housing shortage or a pressing need to clear land. They were walking through a forest that had never faced the exponential population growth of the United States. It was like Louisiana at the time of Christ.
The forest gave way to a clearing that contained an abandoned house, right where Jesus said it would be. Somebody had spent a lot of time on the dwelling. It was two stories in the Acadian architectural style. A low sloping roof increased in grade towards the back as it climbed to a high peak. A wide front porch ran the width of the front of the house, and the low roof ran to the front edge of the porch. The house had glass windows, and not all of them were broken out. The dark windows stared down upon the travelers’ arrival impassively. No clues about the house’s original builders could be seen outside.
The horses spooked when they entered the clearing. Something about the house disturbed the animals. They became restless and anxious to move on, and even Elizabeth couldn’t calm them down completely. Everybody brought her the reins of their horses and she led them a short ways into the trees they had just come out of. Jesus watched her as she took the horses, and they both exchanged troubled expressions.
“There’s something wrong here,” Jesus said immediately. “Dorothy, would you mind helping me check the inside of the house?”
“Let’s do it,” Dorothy told him. She freed a long knife with her right hand, and a can of pepper spray with her left hand. Jesus arched his eyebrows at her, and she responded, “Bow’s no good in a house.”
They flanked both sides of the front door, and then Jesus carefully turned the knob. The door was unlocked, and it opened noisily on rusty hinges. The two resembled Starsky and Hutch in the way that they entered the house, except Jesus and Dorothy were bizarrely mismatched. Dorothy looked like an extra from The Road Warrior, and Jesus might have been a well-armed Latino pimp, with silk shirts and white dress shoes. They disappeared into the interior of the house, and returned a couple of minutes later without incident.
“There’s nothing here. Whatever spooked the horses is invisible to us, and that means it can’t hurt us,” Jesus announced.
“Are you sure about that?” Louis asked him doubtfully. “Just because we can’t see it, doesn’t mean it can’t hurt us.”
“I think he’s right in this case. Horses can sense a lot of things we can’t. Maybe you should all follow us inside. You’ll have a better understanding if you witness it for yourself,” Dorothy said cryptically.
Louis went in first, simply because he was closer to the front door. Michael was close behind him. The girls waited outside. They didn’t like surprises. Elizabeth was busy with the horses. The ladies outside heard a holler from inside the house. Rosie almost jumped out of her skin. Louis ran out the front door and jumped off of the front porch cheering loudly.
“Yes! Yes!” he yelled and did a cartwheel across the clearing. “It’s furnished and air conditioned!”
Rosie ran over to him and pushed him. “Shut up!” she shouted at him, with a big smile on her face. She ran in the house, and a high pitched shriek emanated from within. Lena sprang into motion and entered the house like a blur. Another high pitched shriek echoed out of the house. Louis followed them both inside.
“Running water and soft beds!” Rosie exclaimed as she ran back out onto the front porch. She ran back inside immediately.
“Running water?” Jesus asked no one in particular.
“I don’t trust it,” Elizabeth called from the edge of the clearing. “And the horses don’t want any part of the clearing.”
“Could it be possible that this is a dimensional fold from Earth?” Dorothy wondered.
“Anything is possible, except for us to ever have answers to our questions,” Michael spoke up as he came back through the front door. “The house has a television set and video games, to go with the ice cold air conditioning. I’d call this place a mirage, but we aren’t in the desert. I’d call this place the devil’s temptation, but we haven’t heard from the devil, yet.”
“Maybe we just did,” Jesus voiced his reservations. “You have a point, padre. This place may be an attempt to make us complacent. I don’t think the house will hurt us, however, and I think we stick to the original plan. We stay here overnight and move on.”
“Good idea, Jesus,” Elizabeth agreed.
She tied the horses to a line she strung between two trees, and transmuted the grass and soil around them into high quality grain feed. She pulled the saddle off of her own horse, and Michael crossed the yard to help her. Jesus called into the house for assistance, and Louis popped out instantly. They soon had everyone’s gear inside, and Jesus called for everyone to gather in the living room.
“This house could be a trap, or it could be a gift. We just don’t know. I can’t see sleeping in the swamp with this air-conditioned house here, but we’re moving on after one night. Now, I know you are all tired, but we have a lot to do today. We can’t travel through South Louisiana swamps at night, either, so we need to be on a daytime schedule.
“I want everyone to conduct a concerted search of this house for anything that may be useful to us. Bring everything you find and put it on the floor here. Even if you only think it may be useful, bring it in here and put it on the floor. We’ll take inventory of all our assets after the search.
“Later I’m going to go over some practical points concerning our mission, such as chore assignments and emergency protocols. In the event of a crisis I want everyone to know exactly what to do, and to do that as if it were second nature. We’re always going to be outgunned and outnumbered, so we need to have planning and discipline on our side. Are there any questions?” Jesus had never led people into combat, but he took to the task like a natural.
“I want to know how to fight,” Lena submitted. “Can you teach me a few things?”
“After we have taken care of all our business, I’ll be glad to give you a crash course in self-defense. I don’t think it would be wise for you to go on the offensive only two days into your stay here on Discordia,” Jesus advised her.
“Yeah, I have a question. Are we still on our way to Asmodeus’ palace with no idea of what we’ll do when we get there?” Louis needled the Colombian.
“I had planned to drive an Impala through the front door, and then shoot a rocket into Asmodeus’ chest. We no longer have that option. I guess it would have been too easy. I’m open to suggestions. Are you still totally defenseless, Louis?” Jesus goaded the young man in return. Louis held back a dirty remark, thinking it foolish to argue.
“Which bedroom do I get?” Rosie asked, thinking ahead. She looked at Louis and smiled.
“Hell, I don’t know, Rosie. Pick one,” Jesus answered wearily.
Rosie yelped with joy and ran out of the room. Everyone else got to work searching the closets, cupboards and attic. A growing pile of items accumulated on the living room floor. The contents of the house gave every indication that the residence belonged to a large family, who enjoyed outdoor activities and sports. There were life preservers, backpacks, fishing rods and tackle boxes, baseball bats and football padding. The list of items grew.
Lena found camouflage hunting gear and guns, and claimed immediate ownership of the guns. Louis discovered topographical maps of Ascension, St. James and St. Charles Parishes, as well as detailed navigational maps of Lake Ponchartrain and Lake Manchac. Michael quit searching when he ran across the contents of the kitchen. Instead he set to work preparing a large feast for everyone. Rosie found bondage toys hidden under the bed, and figured they could use the shackles if they took a prisoner. She didn’t point out how much she liked the stuff, because everyone already knew. Elizabeth searched a closet in the laundry room, and found a large tent in a duffel bag. Dorothy pulled a six man inflatable raft from underneath it. They did a celebration dance and took their items into the living room.
While the party conducted a search inside the premises, outside Jesus found a power line. It started on one corner of the house, and disappeared into thin air. It seemed the electric line ran straight into the next dimension. Since the house had running water, he assumed that the water pipes did the same thing. None of the veterans had ever seen anything like it on Discordia, but everybody had learned to expect unusual phenomena. The group welcomed the phenomena that provided them with such comfortable accommodations.
After the search was over, the pile on the floor was much larger than anyone expected. When the search was finished, they lounged about on the couches and easy chairs in the living room. A wonderful smell floated in from the kitchen, and spirits were high. Jesus hated to spoil the festive mood, but their lives depended on it. He told Michael to put dinner on hold and join them.
“Rosie, what do you do if we get attacked?” Jesus quizzed the young woman.
She took a minute to think about it. “I’m not sure,” she shrugged. “Run?”
“You need to know for sure. Now, let’s get down to business,” Jesus told the assembled group.
They groaned, but everybody paid attention. It was a matter of life and death. After an hour the strategy session concluded. In the event of a battle, Rosie, Lena, Michael and Louis were officially instructed to flee. Dorothy, Elizabeth and Jesus would fight. Nobody was very satisfied with the strategy session.
“So I am supposed to run?” Rosie asked.
“That’s our strategy?” Louis expressed his frustration.
“You have to admit, Jesus, that plan won’t save us from being outgunned and outnumbered,” Michael pointed out. “The enemy can run too, and probably faster.”
“I still have a few details to iron out,” Jesus admitted.
“That’s it. We’re dead,” Louis threw out.
“Don’t worry, Louis. Let’s play video games,” Rosie suggested.
Jesus didn’t object, because Louis was right. They had no real strategy, and they were probably doomed. They might as well enjoy what little time they had left. Everybody left the room but Rosie and Louis, who sat side by side in front of the television and played Playstation games. Louis couldn’t remember the last time he had so much fun. They laughed and giggled together, and nothing in the world seemed wrong.