Hughes entered the hallway ahead of Amos at a brisk pace, his hands extended at his sides as if awaiting something from him. However, he grew nervous when he saw both Jedidiah and Ronnie standing at Amos’ side.

“Where is Meyer?” Hughes asked eagerly.

“In the judge’s room, with a gun to his head.”

Hughes pursed his lips together and turned to the side. “Has he said anything?”

“Other than the fact that he’ll blow his brains out if we come near him? Nothing.”

Gesturing Amos away from the other two men, he led them further down the hallway as he whispered hastily. “We must get to him.”

“Ronnie tried. Didn’t work.”

“What’s so special about him that Meyer would listen?”

Amos folded his arms as he stopped and faced Hughes. “It seems there’s a lot of weird things going on.”

“Tell me.”

“Perhaps you would care to tell me.”

Hughes couldn’t conceal his reaction. “What do you know?”

“Meyer apparently has information on members of the Commonwealth that would question their integrity. Ronnie knows about it, and so do you.”

Amos’ face became severe. “I want an explanation.”

Hughes grew immediately defensive. “Listen, you must understand what’s at stake here. This upcoming vote is critical, absolutely critical. But we don’t have the votes right now to ensure our constitution is approved.”

“And you want to ‘encourage’ Christoph and his friends to vote your way and not theirs.”

Hughes nodded.

A terrible look of grief fell over Amos’ face as he withdrew, leaning against the wall with his elbow pressed against it. His deep sighs left Hughes timid for a moment before he regained his self-assured demeanor. “My friend, I know how you must feel.”

“You do?” Amos snapped. “You know what it must feel like to have lost everything and spend your good years living day-by-day in a war that cost you whatever else you had left to take? You know what it must feel like to have done it because you hoped for something better, and now that it’s finally about to happen, someone plans to destroy it?”

“We’re not destroying this world. We’re rebuilding it.”

“The foundation of this new church will be blackmail. God’s curse on us!”

At that, Hughes raised his chin defensively. “If you thought this world would be a perfect one, you’re mistaken. Your world was simple: kill or be killed. My world is considerably more complicated. If we don’t get the votes, another government will be formed favored by those we might now control. What do you think will happen after their faction takes power? They have already proven themselves corrupt. And we can’t expose their deeds to the public without risking societal collapse and anarchy in the streets once more. I won’t argue with you that it is not a good choice. However, it is the best one available to us.”

“There has to be a better way,” Amos insisted. “There must be.”

“How many times did you do terrible things because there was no other way?”

“The same number of times I’m tormented by regret.”

“You must forgive yourself and press onward, as we all must. When you have little power over your circumstances, you don’t get to choose the most moral thing to do. Power buys you that choice. We cannot let this choice go, or else we will have left with even less admirable choices sometime later. For all we know, another conflict could ensue. Is that the kind of future you want for your sons?”

Still fixated on the wall, Amos dropped his arm and offered Hughes a distraught gaze. “I fear it has already become their world.”

Ronnie strolled toward them with Jedidiah practically rubbing against his shoulder. He grinned satirically at Hughes. “Hello, your royal eminence. I trust you have explained to our good companion of the church’s ‘enlightened’ theological stance on blackmail.”

“Quiet!” Hughes snapped.

“What is happening?” Jedidiah demanded of Amos. “What are we going to do about Meyer?”

Amos eyed Hughes. “Well?”

“Do you think he will listen at all?”

“Worth a try. Ronnie and I couldn’t do it.”

Praying softly, Hughes adjusted his suit as he approached the doorway to the judge’s room. He paused at the threshold, noting the odd looks he received from the bounty hunters.

“Tell them all to leave,” he told Amos. “We can handle this.”

“Jedidiah and Ronnie stay.”

“Very well.”

Sending all his men away, Jedidiah and Ronnie took over watching Meyer. He was still at the desk, his pistol sliding up and down against his head. Amos stood in the back near the door, watching their prisoner carefully as Hughes came inside.

Meyer sneered. “I figured you’d show up sooner or later.”

Hughes was stoic. “I won’t waste time. Where is the information you received on the Commonwealth? We know you have it.”

“Because he sold it to me,” Meyer said, pointing at Ronnie.

Jedidiah jerked his head as he glared at the man beside him. “Is this true?”

“We don’t have time for this,” Hughes said.

Jedidiah turned to Amos. “Is he right?”

“The Archbishop is right. We can discuss this another time.”

“Where is it?” Hughes said again. “Do you care to discuss terms or payment?”

“I’m listening.”

“Once all is handled from my end, a reduced sentence and possibly even a pardon.”

“How could you do that?” Jedidiah cried. “He burned Amos’ home to the ground!”

“This does not concern you,” Hughes asserted to the young man. “You may listen and watch, but do not interfere, or there will be proceedings filed against you through the Church tribunal.”

“That’s not going to happen,” Amos said to Hughes before shaking his head at Jedidiah. “Everything will be explained later.”

“Already I see divisions among you,” Meyer said. “Not that it matters, really.”

“How so?” Ronnie asked.

Suddenly, they heard a strange humming sound coming from outside and above the building. Meyer began cackling hysterically. The four men stiffened their backs as they glanced at each other.

“You fools,” Meyer muttered. “The Commonwealth knows I’m here. I gave them a nice little message right before you broke into the room. They’ve sent a bomber to level this place. I just needed to make sure you wouldn’t get away. Now they’re here.”

Chuckling again, he tossed his pistol aside and smiled deviously at Amos. “It’ll be our last adventure together!”

No response came from Amos. He was already grabbing Ronnie and Jedidiah and shoving them out of the room. Hughes raced to keep up with them as Amos cried out to the rest of his men to flee. Their training had been thorough, and without question, they headed to the entrance. As they leapt from the stairways to shorten the time to the door, they kept hearing Meyer celebratory cries resonating as though following them. Meanwhile, the ominous humming noise grew louder and louder until Meyer’s morbid laughter could no longer be heard.

“Go! Go! Go!” Amos yelled at his friends as they dropped down to the first level and moved swiftly through the lobby. By then, they could hardly hear his shouts on through the messaging system above the continuous droning.

Now outside, they sprinted down the steps back toward their vehicles. Other than the four of them, all the puritans had entered their rides; they took off on Amos’ orders. Glancing back up at the sky, Amos saw the faint shape of an aged, unmanned bomber that composed the Commonwealth’s serviceable fleet.

“We have to get to the transport!” Jedidiah cried.

“We won’t make it,” Amos said in between heavy breaths. “The blast radius is too wide. It’ll overtake us as we drive away.”

“That’s it, then?” Ronnie asked. “We’re done for?”

Spotting a crumpled concrete slab structure to the left and no more than two hundred meters away, he directed the other three to follow him there.

“We won’t make it!” Hughes said, struggling to keep up. “It’s too far away!”

“It doesn’t matter; we’re dead men, anyways!”

As the youngest and fittest, Jedidiah raced ahead of them and reached the structure first. Dropping to his knees to examine a gaping hole inside it, he grinned broadly as he waved the rest of them over.

“What is it?” Ronnie asked.

“An underground parking lot,” Jedidiah called back. “Hurry!”

Hughes went in first, followed by Ronnie. Jedidiah tried to defer to Amos, but the older man pushed him down as a high-pitched noise pierced the air. Amos dove through the hole into the darkness, ahead of silhouettes moving frantically past a concrete pillar. They kept running until a power tremor shook the ground. Amos crouched for protection as a cloud of dust and smoke blew across the parking lot. The structure heaved and buckled, but the pillars remained firm. He covered his mouth and nose with coat as he tucked his head down. The ground continued to shake for moment, and then suddenly, it was over. A deep silence pervaded over them.

He then heard Ronnie’s hysterical laughter. “Oh, Amos…it’s going to be just like old times again!”


This is an excerpt from T.J. Martinell’s new novella, The Pilgrim’s Digress. You can purchase the book from Terror House Press here.