"I don't know what it is or what it isn't. I don't know how it works or functions. I don't know if it's magic, pure evil straight from hell, alien, or what. All I know is what it does when the lights go out. And I know I never want to be in the same room with it in the dark."
A mysterious and deadly threat-housed in a strange puzzle box-has found its way to the humble town of Timbuk, Pennsylvania. The object's origins reach all the way back to Moses, the plagues, and Pharaoh's wicked magicians.
For centuries, secret groups have been hunting the box and its contents. One group allegedly seeks to destroy it. The other-called the Descendants-seeks to use it to visit revenge on the Jewish people.
Now fate has placed the box in the hands of an unassuming Christian family, a small-town sheriff, a female state trooper, and a professor of biblical archaeology. Realizing the power the puzzle box holds, they must do everything they can to keep their community-and the world-safe from the deadly darkness.
Elsa kept the gun trained steadily on Sheriff Battell as she moved into the kitchen and stood beside the box containing the cube.
"I have to say that I'm impressed. How did you, a Podunk sheriff, connect the dots so quickly? Who else knows about me and the cube?"
"Well," said Bill with a mock drawl, "I reckon that'd be a bit of a tale." He looked directly into her cold eyes.
"Cute. And you have a sense of humor. But seriously, before I take out your kneecaps, who else knows about me?" Elsa spoke firmly, slightly raising her voice to emphasize that she didn't' find this funny.
"By now," Bill replied dryly and embellishing a little, "at least twenty or thirty people. All of my deputies and a good-size contingent from the state police. Maybe a few Feds."
Elsa was not happy. She glared at Bill and then glanced out the front window. "How did you find me? How did you know who I was?"
"We got a tip from a professor, a Dr. Ramses Banoub. I guess it's been his hobby for years to track down information about that cube you've got in that box. And, yes, we know your guys made a mold of the real box."
Elsa was stunned. "Banoub? That old man is nothing but an eccentric busybody! We've known about him for years-knew of his curiosity about the cube. But we never suspected he had any serious interest or particularly useful information. You're lying!"
"Sorry, he's our source. And a friend of his, another professor, Dr. Gabe Bahat." Bill was calculating how much to tell her. He wanted to keep her talking to buy time. He knew one of his men would be by soon, especially if they couldn't get him on the radio. At the same time, while he was confident Elsa wasn't getting away, he didn't want to give her too much information, just in case. He decided to redirect the conversation.
"So, where are your two friends?" he asked. "I heard you were telling people they were your brothers from Ohio. They headed home already?"
Elsa realized that news really did travel quickly in this small town. And she was beginning to suspect that Tad and Sadie were aware of what was going on, and Lord only knew who else.
Inside her head, Elsa was kicking herself for not taking Banoub more seriously. Someone really got it wrong about him. And now, she was truly taken aback by how quickly things were falling apart. It put her off her game.
Even though it was a sunny day outside, the inside of the house was dark, filled with shadows pooling on the floor and in the corners, particularly in the kitchen, which was on the back side of the house. The property was overgrown in the back with large, leafy trees that all but blocked the sun. If it were her house, Elsa would have cut those trees back to let in some light.
Now the trees were creating a false sense of early evening in the house. This added to her momentary discombobulation. Her sense of frustration was escalating.
Elsa stood in the shadowed kitchen thinking. Bill was seated a few feet away in the brighter dining room, watching her carefully.
"Are the guys in the house?" Bill prodded.
"Shut up. They're gone. No one's here but me!" As soon as she spoke, she wished she hadn't.
She looked at him, hate oozing from her eyes. "One more word and I will put a bullet in your head."
She hesitated to kill him because he might make a valuable hostage. She stood, frozen in thought, holding the gun steadily on Bill, staring at him but staring through him as she tried to formulate a plan.
The house was silent. No cars passed by outside.
Without warning the sound and a brief, intense flash came from behind Elsa. Startled, she whipped around, knocking the box off the counter. As it fell to floor, it came apart. Then the lights went out, and the kitchen was shrouded in dark.
Bill heard Elsa's half-scream followed by the thud of her body hitting the floor just as the lights came back on after barely a second. Someone emerged from the back door of the kitchen. He carried a bright flashlight and directed the wide, intense beam at Elsa and the cube beside her.
Tendrils of thick dark snapped back into the cube as the light hit it. The air was chilled. Elsa lay on the floor, her bottom half nothing but dust. She was barely alive. Her upper body was pale, a bloodless shade of whitish gray.
She gasped painfully, pleading, "Turn off the light! Let it finish me!"
"In a moment," spoke the man holding the flashlight. "First, where are your brothers, and what were you planning to do with the cube?"
Bill was now standing with his gun drawn on the stranger. "Who are you? Where did you come from?"
"Please, Sheriff Battell, you can put your gun away. I'm no threat to you. But please let Elsa answer my questions, and then I'll answer any you have of me."
The man, the same man who had been watching from the car, held a hand up to Bill to indicate he needed to be silent as he repeated his questions to Elsa.
Keeping the bright flashlight on her, he knelt next to Elsa as she quietly breathed out answers as best as she could. Then she begged him again to let the cube finish her.
The man rose, stepped to where Bill was in the dining room. "Stand back, Sheriff. This will only take a second."
With that, he flipped off the lights in the kitchen and turned off his flashlight. Elsa let out a brief sigh. Then they heard a faint, wicked chuckle.
The man flipped the lights and his flashlight back on and moved toward the cube and the box lying next to an Elsa-shaped pile of dust.
Stephen R. Clark is a member of the Evangelical Press Association, the National Association of Evangelicals, and the principal of CleverSmith™ Writing (www.CleverSmith.com) based in Oreland, Pennsylvania, as well as the writer of the award-winning blog, FaithBraised™ (www.FaithBraised.com). He has been writing for more than forty years.
He has authored short stories, poetry, online content, ad copy, scripts, speeches, direct mail, feature articles, and much more. He has also ghostwritten several Christian books including Preparing for Battle by Mark Bubeck (Moody Press). He has contributed chapters to compilations, devotionals, and other books including the NIV Men's Devotional Bible (Zondervan) and Inside Mysteries of the Bible (Time & American Bible Society).
He is joyfully married to BethAnn Clark, and they are members of Huntingdon Valley Presbyterian Church in Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania.
He also walked on fire. Once.
You can visit his personal web site at www.StephenRClark.com where you can learn more about him and his other books.
Follow Stephen online at these social media sites: