Gray beams of light from the overcast skies permeated past the dirty glass into the warehouse. The mold from the old abandoned warehouse wafted into his nostrils. Joseph rubbed his nose and scrunched his forehead to avoid sneezing. The sound of footsteps running on the concrete caused him to turn away from his computer screen.
Pedro tried to catch his breath as he spoke, “We have to go.”
Joseph asked. “Where are the others?”
Ewan responded, “They’ve all left. It’s just us.”
Joseph turned, closed his laptop, and then handed it to Pedro, “You must get to safety, and don’t let anything happen to my laptop.”
“I’d take a bullet before giving up this laptop.”
Ewan raised his eyebrows, “You’re not coming?”
Joseph grinned, stretched out his legs, and crossed his ankles, “No, I have some unfinished business.”
“But they’ll kill you.” pleaded Ewan.
Joseph smirked, “They’ll try.”
Ewan crossed his arms, “Then I’m staying.”
Pedro stepped forward, “Me too.”
Joseph stood and took each of his companions by the shoulder, “You are good friends and brave men, but your fight isn’t today.”
Pedro shook his shoulder loose from Joseph’s grip, “Save it, I’m staying.”
Joseph let go of Ewan and focused his attention on Pedro, “If you stay, you’ll fail to get my laptop to our new hiding place.”
Pedro scoffed, “Come on, give me some credit. We’ve done this before.”
Joseph shrugged, “Very well, but you must hide, and no matter what happens, do not come out until I call for you.”
The two friends’ foreheads wrinkled, and they looked at each other.
The men ran from the room. The rusted metal squeaked, rattled, and echoed around the old building as the two ascended to the catwalk. A few seconds later, rapid banging on the old warehouse door sounded like thunder. The building sat dead quiet.
Joseph began to walk towards the locked and bolted door slowly. More thunder filled the room, and he could see faces peeking through the windows.
“I see him,” hollered a woman’s voice. “It’s him, we found him.”
Joseph removed the key from his pocket and slipped the lock off the door’s bolt. He paused and sighed for a moment.
An angry voice hollered from the other side. “You better let us in, or things will get worse.”
Joseph pulled back the bolt and started pulling down on the rusted chain. The warehouse door slowly made its way up. The gap was barely two feet high when several bodies rolled underneath. People wearing black hoodies and skull facemasks grabbed Joseph, threw him on to the dusty concrete floor with a thud, and began kicking him.
Joseph felt his ribs crack. He coughed and struggled to breathe. His head lurched back for air, and a boot kicked his nose. Joseph’s world turned red with his blood. He coughed again, and blood trickled out of the corner of his mouth when another boot kick broke away his front teeth. He gurgled in a vain attempt to find oxygen. White flashes of pain blocked his vision with each punch and thunk to his back by someone using a wrapped chain.
Joseph heard the sound of the large door moving as his vision began to blur.
“Stop,” hollered an angry voice.
The mob dropped back except for two large men who pulled Joseph to his feet. His nose sat flat on his blood-covered face. Joseph’s eyes rolled around, unable to focus. A stinging slap caused him to gasp, and his vision temporarily cleared.
Joseph’s chest hurt, and the acrid flavor of blood expelled from his mouth with every cough. His back cramped, and his legs wanted to give way to the pain, but the men holding him up would have none of it.
The person in front pulled down their mask. Joseph’s eyes teared up.
“If it isn’t my old teacher, the prophet of peace.”
Joseph gagged, and then spoke through his red spittle, “It’s not too late, Aras. Please forgive those who have wronged you. Step away from the darkness that’s destroying you.”
Aras smiled and looked around the room, “You see, defiant to the end. The man who said peace and love would overcome the injustice. Yet, here at the end, telling me what to think.” Aras glared at Joseph, “You’re no different than the rest of us.”
Joseph tried to speak, but more blood came up. Working to control his breathing, he almost whispered, “It’s not too late.”
Aras roared with laughter, and the crowd joined in. The sound reverberated, and the whole building seemed to be laughing at Joseph.
“Not too late?” asked Aras as he rolled his eyes.
Joseph watched a large, silver revolver come out of Aras’ waistband, and aim at his head. Joseph blinked tried to stay focused.
Aras’ voice went flat, “Any last words?”
Joseph’s breath grew more shallow. The imaged of Aras and his masked gang begin to morph into shadows. Black mists with red eyes filled the room. The sounds of shuffling feet and the cocking of the gun hammer drifted off into the distance.
“I forgive you and love you,” stammered Joseph.
A clap of distant thunder and a sharp pain in his head lasted less than a moment. Joseph felt his body’s pain disappear, his breathing cleared, and the room lit up around him. The red eyes appeared to shut at the light before them.
Pedro’s familiar voice echoed through the old building, “No!”
The sound of a laptop falling and bouncing off objects until it hit the concrete somewhere in the darkness caused everyone to stop and look. Joseph could hear Pedro runoff in the shadows at the rear of the large building.
Joseph’s freedom released all hindrances of his human flesh, and the room lit up brighter than the sun. The black mists fell back and screeched as Joseph moved quickly around the large room. The angry men and women now appeared as children dressed in jeans, shorts, t-shirts, dresses, and even some in small suits. They appeared frightened.
Joseph rose above them and spoke, “All of you listen to me.”
“Go away,” shouted a little boy nearby. “Go away whatever you are, I don’t like you. You’re scaring me.”
“Yea,” shouted a girl next to him.
“There is nothing to fear,” replied Joseph. “I’m your creator and friend.”
The shadows floated back towards the children but kept their distance from Joseph. An immense shadow spoke up, “Yes, that’s right. Joseph is scaring you. Creator? Isn’t that his body down there? How can he be any sort of god? Look at what he did, making you feel like frightened kids. With us, you are strong, powerful. People fear you. You fear nothing when we’re together.”
Aras spoke up, “Yea, I don’t want to be a kid.”
The shadow shot across the bottom of the warehouse floor and disappeared into Aras. Aras waved his gun around, “Who’s with me?”
Hands shot up, and shadows disappeared back into the black-clad crowd, except for two. A young African American boy and a pale girl with black hair held hands and huddled with each other near the rear of the warehouse.
“Well?” growled Aras, “What about you two?”
The young man replied, “I’m tired of being angry.”
“Yea,” interject the girl. “I miss my friends and family.”
Joseph floated down between the young pair and the horde. His light made them cover their eyes.
“Do not touch them,” bellowed Joseph.
He floated above the masses and settled in front of Aras. “You have done enough.”
Aras gave a cold laugh, and then spoke, “You can’t hurt me, you’re nothing more than a ball of energy.”
Aras raised his gun and fired. Joseph deftly dodged the bullet, and it landed with a crack into the skull of a nearby person. A black mist disappeared into the air.
A woman screamed, “Murderer.” She growled, “He saved your life against the police when you beat their sergeant.”
Aras stammered, “It’s an accident. It’s not my fault he was in the way of the bullet.”
Two members behind Aras stepped up, “Yea, it’s an accident.”
More members stepped up to defend the grieving woman, and soon weapons began to appear. The crowd of people descended into chaos and violence as they attacked one another. Joseph rose above the fighting and approached the man and woman. The pair had removed their masks and stood with their backs flat against the wall.
Joseph whispered, “Don’t move.”
They nodded and waited. Screams of pain echoed for several minutes as the sound of bones breaking, gunfire, chains, and pipes falling to the concrete floor continued. Black mists seem to dissipate in such large numbers that the whole room appeared darker. The building fell silent, and blood covered the old dirt floor. Joseph watched the remaining shadows flee the warehouse.
Familiar footsteps coming down from the catwalk caught the attention of the trio.
Joseph spoke to the frightened couple, “That’s my best friend. You’ll be safe now.”
He floated back towards his broken body, lying on the floor and descended inside. He took a quick, sharp breath as a momentary pain pierced his lungs, and then his breathing steadied. Joseph stood up and stretched. He carefully made his way around the mass of twisted and broken bodies on the floor.
A bewildered look covered the faces of Joseph’s friends.
“I don’t understand.” stammered Ewan.
Joseph twisted and turned at his waist, “Excuse me, just getting out the last of the kinks.”
The woman pointed at his face, “Your broken nose, does it hurt?”
Joseph gave an awkward smile and said, “No. I’m keeping it as a reminder of what love has cost me today.”
“I don’t understand,” repeated Ewan.
Joseph grabbed his friend with his familiar shoulder grip, “Darkness can’t overcome the light. I am the light. Remember my teachings?”
Ewan smiled and grabbed his friend’s forearm, “Of course.”
They released, and Joseph turned to the frightened couple. “Rest easy. You’re among friends. What are your names?”
“I’m Paul,” whispered the man.
The woman answered, “Lisa.”
“Glad to meet you both. Ewan will take you to a safe place. I’ll meet you there soon.”
Ewan’s eyes looked past Joseph, “Does this mean we’re finally destroying the darkness?”
“Eventually, but now we must gather friends and family and get them to safety so I can train them how to find the others. Find Pedro and tell him not to worry about the equipment, I have a backup. Go now.”
Ewan nodded, and the three new friends quickly left the warehouse.
Joseph walked around the room and stared at the deceased. Tears pooled in his eyes. He walked over to Aras’ broken body and removed the mask and hoodie covering his old friend. He sat down on the bloodied floor, cradled Aras’ head, and wept.