The God Hunters: Book One David Ruger has always been curious. That's how he landed his charming on-again, off-again boyfriend, Wyler, and how they started in St. Louis and ended up in the Expanse, an alien universe where humans take on supernatural abilities and demons munch on Chinese takeout. Thirty thousand years earlier, the Expanse was devastated by a gruesome war. The old gods and a group of shifters known as The God Hunters fought and failed to restore order. Little does David know that they’ve been waiting for the perfect time to try again—and they've set their eyes on him as the one with the power to restore the Expanse to its former splendor. Strolling along cobblestone streets in a technologically advanced city floating above the clouds is fascinating, and David and his companions venture ever deeper, where strange beings welcome David as an old friend. But what should have been a brief exploration becomes a race against time to save David's life.
HERE, right here, high above an enfant world I dream of laying down my burdens. I dream of simply fading away to find a long-sought peace, a rest I’ve desired for countless ages, for this flesh surrounding my eternal spirit is tired and worn.
At this very moment, above a garden of life, I float amidst a sky saturated in voluminous clouds forever reaching toward the heavens, softly, casually blending into one another until they spill forth a liquid cargo that drenches me invitingly. This world beneath me is young and tumultuous, much like an unrestrained child. Mountains of thunder flash and rumble before me; flows of lava attack tidal pools in a boiling rage that steams forth the beginnings of life as they fill the air with caustic spew carrying elemental specks.
Strangely I feel free here. I feel at peace. My ancient eyes are in awe of this fledgling world; a powdery-blue orb nestled securely in the cradling, loving arms of a dark and frigid mother.
Across my face, intense orange starlight warms me, penetrates me eagerly, its beams slipping through every crack the ever-changing winds force open among the clouds. It paints the sky with purple and yellow and red. The colors glow as fire in my eyes.
The universe never tires of creating such beauty, and I know this to be true. A million worlds my eyes have seen, all no more than grains of sand underfoot, yet I have never glimpsed an absence of the beautiful along with the incredible. Maybe the two are one and the same. I truly cannot say even after all this time.
For all of my life, through countless ages, I have listened to the mutterings of primitives who worship me as a god. I derogatorily refer to them as lesser beings—forever dull, forever unoriginal, I fear. I would have no regrets in abandoning them. They crowd my life. They are always asking, always wanting, always hungry for answers even though they have the capacity to solve many of their problems. Sadly, as much as it pains me to state this, it is the beautiful things in life that call to these lesser beings. The beckoning of a beautiful universe consumes them. It drives them to venture away from their worlds and to step blindly into the uncertainty of what lies beyond. Unfortunately, in doing so, the lesser beings discover much but they learn so very little.
In their worship of me, I have provided for their needs and wants that over time evolved into more rash and greedy demands—demands which now force my course of action, demands which give birth to a desire to set myself free and to show them that there is a new path they must follow. Sadly, the repetitious rise and decline of these lesser beings—who are rich with presumptions, false greatness, and so-called ingenious creation—has made me withdrawn. I have come to feel empty toward their lives. I have stepped away from them, away from those who value me so dear. My heart no longer cares. They are imperfect by design, with much arrogance and with many hard lessons in life to learn.
However, they are merely what the universe creates. It’s just unfortunate that many are unable to control themselves, so they seek control of others. They are compelled to control. Their desire for such power keeps them airborne like amber leaves falling away from an autumn tree, and into every corner of creation the lesser beings have haplessly traveled on the wind, always in search of more, always on the hunt for more, and always returning empty handed.
Even now, as I glide through this intoxicating bliss of sky and cloud, taking a moment to revel in the quiet of this world, the lesser beings are following me. Convoys of space-faring vessels both formidable and meek scour the heavens—cities of steel powered by false energy search for me, spying from a distance, tracking my movement. They are as irritating as a swarm of mosquitoes in the heat. However, they would never dare to get so close to me. They worship their god from afar. Yet they are sightless and unknowing of how tired of them I have become. A day will come when I redefine their lives. When I leave they will question their ways. They will be tearful from their shortsightedness, from their breeding of irrational behavior, their desperate clinging to archaic practices and beliefs. Those days of worship are over. Change is called for. And I will bring it.
Yet, as fires of dislike burn within me, hatred does not consume my spirit. My heart is not all stone. A single, young boy reminds me of how meaningful life once was, of how splendid existing with your heart can be. He calls me Goddess, and I am his star that brightly lights the night sky high above all of his understanding.
Hand in hand, blood red gently wrapping around pale white, he steals me away from the keep of the lesser beings. We explore my visions of the future (my dreams), for it is this world beneath me that will one day bring my salvation, my escape.
Together, my boy and I have witnessed universal birth and death. We have watched glimmering expanses collapse into eternal darkness. We have seen great battles, heroic victories, as well as immense sadness and great rejoicing. At times, we have even heard the universe crying out as it gnaws at the shackles suppressing it, as it writhes in pain, trying to escape from an infestation of growing chaos. And perfect examples of such chaos are the spacecraft that chase after me.
They try to be clever, yet they are not. These manned craft attempt stealth that is no more subtle than a heavy mace bludgeoning the skull. Return to some remote temple is what they want of me. It never changes. It never will.
Well aware of their encroachment, my young boy silently calls to me from far in the distance. Goddess, our visit here is at an end.
Hearing him, I reluctantly surrender myself to this world’s grasp. I fall, plummeting toward torrential oceans, unable to breathe, unable to see, yet feeling free and satisfied, with outstretched arms that rip through sheets of cloud. The sky ends too soon. I am born again.
I slow my fall while gazing down at my disciple. He stands atop high bluffs, overlooking a raging sea, eager to leave, eager to get far away from our pursuers. He trusts them not (a smart boy, indeed), and in the blink of an eye his wondrous gift will take us from this place. We will then continue our voyage at another time, which only infuriates the lesser beings; control issues, as I said.
Behind me the ships begin to move down from above, invasively breaking their way through the edge of my lovely sky. They know I am fleeing. They grow angry without doubt. With my companion facing me, our hands intertwine: an act that will make the inhabitants of the ships much more furious. They hate my loving young boy. They hate that he touches me, and that he sneaks me away from under their watchful noses like a sheltered child who repeatedly runs off into the alluring night.
We hear the disgruntled bellows of their lead. Uncertain of our course, the smaller vessels scatter as I look beyond my boy’s dark eyes and see the wind moving over the distant plains. The high grasses and flowers surrender to its push. As I hover before him, he happily pulls me closer with raised arms. The air is chilly, yet he shivers only slightly. Gentle rains have soaked his short hair, giving rise to a tiny stream that now flows gradually down his face. Again, I explain to him that one day my deliverance will cost him heavily, but boldly he shows no fear. There is no doubt in his look. There is no question he would ask me. He only stares ahead with a satisfied smile in knowing simply that I am.
The mightiest ship loudly calls forth once more. It blasts a heated mix of anger and disapproval. Hearing its roar, I rejoice greatly in knowing my day will come, and the joy it brings me draws a wide smile across the face of my young companion also, for he sees rightly, he is not a lesser being.
Together, we shared another brief repose on this world. Rest assured, though, we will come again to this place. We will sneak away from watchful eyes, returning to this world as it slowly matures through the coming ages. A great strength is destined to come from this world. Strength my own home will one day desperately need. It is only a matter of time, a matter of patience.
I take a final breath, a farewell. I hate to leave my beautiful skies behind so soon. But I must surrender this tale of mine to a new voice—a young man who can tell a story far better than either I or my disciple can, a young man who holds a very dear place in both our hearts.
Hand in hand, making use of his preternatural gifts, my disciple and I vanish. We flee from these pursuers of mine. The soothing breeze vanishes, too. It is time for our dearest friend to begin his journey.
“I PROMISE, Davie, I’ll be there.”
I was having a few friends over tonight at my house. Nothing fancy: a barbecue spawned from the need for some rest and relaxation, an invitation for welcome laughs and playful tears that would come from poking fun at one another until the wee hours of the morning. In my mind, I could already see the rising sun completely ignored as our biological clocks tried in vain to remind us that bedtime was forever ago.
I couldn’t wait to see my friends. Just thinking about hanging out with them put a huge smile on my face. My look soon magnified a hundredfold knowing that the man who spoke those words, that promise to me some ten days ago would be here tonight as well.
I’m speaking of my boyfriend. He might secretly be a magician also, because he’s outstanding at the disappearing act. Here one day and then gone the next, with absolutely no explanations of where he runs off to.
It drives me crazy not knowing his whereabouts. Since we started dating three months ago, I’ve tolerated it more than I would have cared to. And your guess is as good as mine as to what he’s doing. His intentions are always a mystery. He only conveys to me “business stuff” as an answer, and then poof… he’s gone.
Yet, as brief as our relationship is at times, I am thankful to have him in my life. We fit together quite easily. The two of us would make a nut on a greasy bolt turn green with envy. However, it’s debatable which one of us is the greasy bolt and which one is the nut.
I call him my little buddy, my little guy. He’s boyish and spirited, sporting a devilish charm as well, which proves beyond adept at coercing me to his ways; more so in fact than I could ever do to him. At twenty-three, I’m five years younger than him, but both of us are vertically impaired, at five feet seven inches, which is actually a great height. It’s an ideal height in regard to tastes of the heart. Side by side, we’re two small-framed guys—similarly fit, regularly active, both with short, dark hair and a few days’ growth of stubble outlining our jaws, since we’re both fans of such.
Facing each other isn’t like looking in a mirror, though. There are noticeable differences between us. He’s a financial advisor; I am a grease monkey—an auto mechanic—which as a profession has never attracted too many of the gentlemen callers. I’ve always found that strange, too. I thought men and grease went together like milk and cookies. Maybe that’s a myth.
A grimy job wasn’t my first choice in life by a long shot. I’m just good with my hands in the fixer-upper kind of way. Not to mention I grew up around cars, forced as a child by my mother to stand beside my brother and watch as he worked on his car all weekend long. So the road ahead seemed a bit inevitable. The paycheck isn’t shabby either. I take good care of myself. Independent is my middle name, and I like it that way. Although I’d like it a lot more if I could be independent with my boyfriend next to me.
I live in St. Louis, Missouri, which was chasing the tail end of summer, it being the first week of September. However, it was still warm enough to make my workweek in this garage miserably hot and sweaty. Fortunately, this week had just taken its final breath; today was Friday, Labor Day weekend. So after clocking out, I almost danced while climbing into my truck as I anticipated the air-conditioned, three-day-weekend comfort of home.
Miller’s Auto Repair was sandwiched between a man-made suburb and the natural world. The roads along the Mississippi river, the roads leading home, had stayed dried and dusty from two weeks of no rain. That meant more layers of atomized soil would be covering my poor red truck.
So much for clean, I thought.
After pulling off my sweaty work shirt and cranking up the air, I blasted out of the parking lot. It was twenty minutes’ drive time to my house, including the four traffic lights, which would be cutting it close, since I’d told my buddies to come over at five. I hadn’t left work until four thirty. Jason and Chris were usually prompt, but Wyler, my disappearing boyfriend I mentioned, would show up at some unpredictable time, as he always did.
His actual name is Mason, but I’ve always called him by his last name, the way kids do to one another in high school or in college—though I’ve never been to college, so I’m guessing on that last one. Wyler never went to college either, which I’ve always found interesting, because he managed to land such an outstanding job in finance. I suppose his success could stem from a natural talent. He’s quite skilled with moneymaking. Every time I slip my hands into his pants pockets, I find a fat wad of cash that always sparks a curious concern on my part.
Throughout our intermittent dating, I’ve kept mental notes of “concerns about Wyler” that pop up from time to time. It’s not a scandalous list by any means. It’s just little Post-it Notes—little curiosities—that would ease my mind if ever they were answered by him. He’s very clever when it comes to changing the subject. He deflects any prying questions with consummate skill. Evasion is Wyler’s middle name.
Hitting the gas, I flew along the river road, turning up clouds of dust a mile long before reaching my turn. My house, an older ranch style, sits atop a steep hill, making the driveway considerably inclined—it frequently turns into a sheet of ice during the winter. So the absence of a slippery driveway did give summertime a few brownie points.
Creeping under the old pine trees lining the driveway, I parked my dirty truck on the carport directly off of the sunroom. I grabbed my sweat-soaked shirt from the passenger seat and then swung open the driver’s side door to hear my two dogs barking from inside. Up three steps before opening the door, and I walked into a crazy dance of jumping and barking, sniffing and snorting. Two female siblings I picked out of a litter of Akita and chow mix pups several years ago, Sian is black and Zoe is tawny; Sian is very fit, while Zoe is somewhat brawny. They stay indoors while I am at work, but my backyard has a few fenced-in acres, so after I get home it’s always their time, a time to frolic, a time to be free.
“All right, come on.” I happily yielded to the dance. “You gotta pee-pee outside?” That was the only magical phrase I knew, but it pushed their canine buttons, sending them into overdrive.
I took a left into the kitchen then on to the patio doors, then barely opened both doors before they slipped through the crack to bolt across the brick patio in a blur of black and tan. Both dogs raced through the yard, chasing some unlucky critter into the trees with the summer heat the furthest thing from their minds. Only smells harbored real value.
Watching them play made me feel all the better to be home. Don’t think of me as bragging about myself, but I consider this to be a good home. It’s a comfortable-sized two-bedroom, two-bath with a fireplace in the living room, although the hub of activity is the sunroom near the carport. Also there is an unfinished basement, a walkout kitchen, and a long red-brick patio I had a few friends help me install three summers ago.
I untied my work boots, and they came off fast. I dropped them on the top step outside the patio door before closing it. My feet were never happier to be free. And what a mess I noticed all around me. The oblong kitchen table could have been cleaner. Some noticeable smudges and crumbs covered its dark wooden surface, but there was no time to clean with the clock ticking. I then spied a small load of dirty dishes in the sink too.
“Way to go, David,” I fussed at myself as I tossed my wallet and keys onto the breakfast bar.
Down the hallway, heading toward my bedroom, I stopped to turn the air-conditioning down a couple of degrees. Although shirtless, I was still greedy for cool air, plus I doubted anyone would complain tonight. I’ll turn it back up before bedtime, I thought.
I flung my shirt into my bedroom hamper, and each sock soon followed along the same flight path. After I unbuckled my belt, a quick yank on the buckle pulled it from around my waist. I sent it air express to the top of my bed. A dresser, an armoire, and a small loveseat were also occupants here. I kept an area rug covering a small section of the hardwood floor so both doggies could enjoy naptime a little more. The patio doors in here—as well as in the kitchen—faced east, and the dogs liked to lie in the sun on the bedroom rug.
I flicked on the bathroom lights and was close to jumping in the shower when I heard a car horn that didn’t come from the street. Someone was already here.
Lickety-split, I went back through the house to the sunroom and opened the carport door just as Wyler was climbing the three little steps leading inside. His arms were loaded with plastic shopping bags full of supplies for tonight’s barbecue. I braced the screen door open with my right shoulder to let him pass.
“Bad timing,” he grinned, ogling me before handing off a few of the bags to my free hand.
“I just walked in the house and let the dogs out. That’s as far as I got.”
I squeezed back a bit, opening the door as wide as it would go. As he slid by me, I noticed the bags were close to bursting. Despite his full hands, Wyler did manage to tickle my belly in passing.
“Going to be a little hot, aren’t you?” I teased him. He was dressed in jeans with a dark shirt unbuttoned only at his neck.
“Well, I brought a change of clothes, figuring I probably wouldn’t be driving back to my apartment tonight… wink, wink.”
“I’m not complaining,” I said with a smile. “You know I’m always happy when you spend the night, little buddy.”
I closed the door and followed him into the kitchen. I was quick to set the bags on top of the table, making an obvious attempt to hide its untidiness by spreading each bag around as much as I could. Sharp as a tack, he laughed as I tried to cover the table.
“Like I give a shit about a little dirt in your kitchen. And seriously, you’re going to worry about a table top when your pants look like that?” He playfully shook his head, acting appalled by the grease and filth encrusted on my jeans.
“You’re so cute,” I chuckled.
With brown eyes and a youthful face, Wyler misguided many people into thinking he was much younger than his twenty-eight years. Looking at him, I wasn’t sure how I got rewarded with such a sweet guy, especially when so many previous boyfriends turned out to be jerks. My only wish would be that he’d take the next step and move in with me. I’ve offered a few times, but as I’ve said, Wyler deflects my questions with ease. Why date a person and continually be aloof? It throws up red flags and just makes getting closer to him that much harder.
Four bags down, and we were still unloading. “You think we’ll need all this food?” I asked.
“I bought most of this a few days ago. There’s no way I’m going to eat it all, so I just brought along everything. Oh, and by the way, Jason and Chris bailed on us for tonight. They’re not coming.”
“You’re kidding me.” Now we were officially outnumbered by the groceries.
“I kid you not, Davie.” He smirked while handing me a grocery bag. “So congratulations, Mr. Ruger, it’s a boatload of groceries—just what you’ve always wanted.”
“Thanks… goofball.” I crumpled the plastic bag and then mischievously tossed it back at him. “So what’s up with Jason and Chris, anyway? What are they doing tonight?”
“I don’t know,” he said a little dismissively. “Chris called and told me that he got sick this afternoon at work and didn’t think he would be up for a barbecue, so Jason is going to stay home and pamper his hubby wubby.”
A zucchini had poked through one of the plastic bags. Wyler picked it up and shook it at my face. “Vile, aren’t they,” he snickered.
I laughed at him, which doesn’t take much sometimes, but I wasn’t sure if he was referring to Jason and Chris as being vile or the suggestive vegetable in his hand. Either way, I snatched it away from him and laid it on the countertop before turning my attention to the dogs, who wanted back inside. They raced in and scurried around Wyler’s legs, sniffing him, in love with him as always.
Back at the table, I braced my hands across its edge and leaned forward to give my little guy an overdue welcome on his lips. He was eagerly receptive, and I was reluctant to quit too, but I had a bomb to drop onto him, so keeping a straight face became impossible.
“Do you think you could fire up the grill, entertain the doggies, then maybe straighten up the kitchen a little bit while I take a shower?”
“Jeez… a cold shower already, Davie? That was just a little innocent kissing.”
“Don’t be a smartass,” I joked, lightly tweaking his nipple beneath his shirt. He flinched and grabbed his chest, giggling as he accepted my request. Feeling just as tickled, I shook my head all the way to my bathroom.
“Call me if you need any help in there,” Wyler shouted to me, still amused.
I stood in the shower for a long moment, relaxed, quenched, pleasured by the most basic of elements. However, I didn’t feel right pushing all of the work onto Wyler, although I knew he wouldn’t mind. I finished up fast, dried myself off, and then brushed my teeth. I put on square-cut trunks—my favorite style of underwear—and a pair of long shorts with a tank top. Wyler is a scent freak like me, so I sprayed on a few shots of cologne too. I didn’t need to shave—or rather I chose not to, since I’m a fan of five o’clock shadow. The only upside to shaving, in my opinion, is the smell of aftershave. I love a man who smells of aftershave.
By the time I got back to the kitchen, Wyler had the grill going. He had also cleaned the table and washed the dishes and had all of the barbecue fixings spread out across the breakfast bar. And with all of that crossed off his list, he still managed to change into a T-shirt and shorts—minus the shoes, of course, because we both loved running around the house barefoot.
“Here, Davie,” he said, handing me a tall glass of frozen margarita with no salt around the rim. He knew me so well.
“You don’t waste much time, do you?” I flirtatiously winked at him as I took a drink of his icy potion. It was a little heavy on the booze—Wyler’s preference—but it still tasted mighty good going down.
With silliness abounding, he grabbed a pair of grilling tongs and clamped them together a few times in front of me. “Follow me,” he said, making his way outside, “and don’t forget to kiss the cook.”
You can count on it, I thought, taking another swig of my drink before I followed him outside.
As usual, we ended up making way too much food. The filled platters completely covered my round patio table. Wyler’s grilling enthusiasm couldn’t be eased, and I was no better by yielding to his “leftovers defense.” I told myself that I’d slip a few pieces to the dogs later on. I was sure they’d have no qualms about some tasty handouts.
We loaded our plates, ate like hungry hogs, and contently watched as our evening slowly changed to a more tolerable temperature. The sun tucked itself around the front of the house, creating generous blankets of shade that graciously allowed us to sit for some time and simply talk with one another, which was my second favorite way of spending time with Wyler. There was still so much I didn’t know about him, and a big part of me feared it would take a lot of persistent prying to learn what mysteries lay buried within him.
We lounged for the longest time, being lazy, leaning back comfortably in our patio chairs and staying that way until the last bit of sunlight that gleamed across the yard changed from golden yellow to a darker green, then finally to a deep black. Unfortunately, mosquitoes were swarming in full force, so we worked our way back into the house and parked ourselves on the longest sofa in the sunroom.
Before we sat down, I closed the window blinds and turned on the floor lamp while he grabbed more drinks. Wyler is a bit of a social boozehound. He’s a television whore too. It lures him in as a carrot does a horse. The History Channel was a favorite of his. He also enjoyed cartoons, which enticed him to keep his feet propped up on the leather ottoman all day long as he giggled. Tonight, though, we sat oblivious to any programs. We created our own dialogue throughout the rest of the night, while distant cicadas in the background did the same.
Wyler has a clear, fresh voice; a young man’s voice, full of excitement and determination. Between the two of us, he is the talker. I’m the listener. Always, I give him my full attention even if the topic sounds less than interesting to me. Our time together is what I value; the subject matter is secondary.
Shoulder to shoulder, attached by invisible glue, we sank deep into the cushions with our bare feet propped up on the ottoman. We laughed, we drank more drinks, and the passing hours reminded me of how much a wanted a life like this on a daily basis. Caring for Wyler hurt me sometimes, mostly because of his elusive nature. It pained me as I imagined a lonely future in this house without someone to share it with. But on the flipside, I loved it when he returned after being gone. Seeing him pull up in my driveway would make me feel like a child again, free of worries, satisfied with life, adventurous and unstoppable.
“It’s been a long road, Davie,” he hiccupped. “It’s been a long life.” His speech was slurred. His eyes started to close. He sounded like “remorse of drunkenness” had taken hold of him.
“Wyler,” I chuckled, “you’re only twenty-eight years old, sweetie. I think you’ve got a few years left in the old body.”
He hiccupped again.
Enamored with my little guy, I poked my finger along his ribcage while harassing him further by singing the words “someone’s a little tipsy.” I then leaned against him and grabbed his chin to press my lips against his stubbly cheek.
His head immediately lost all ability to stay upright as my amorous move started to tip my drunken sweetheart over. I stood up and took hold of his shoulders while easing him down onto the couch. I pulled the nearest pillow closer and laid his head gently back onto it. I lifted his legs and stretched them out along the couch, then unbuttoned his shorts so he would be as comfortable as possible. I kept a few soft blankets in the old trunk behind the sofa, and I used one to cover him for the night. Ideally, I would have preferred that he slept in my bed with me, but I’d take what I could. In looking upon his sweet face, I found only a trace of regret in my acceptance of sleeping apart.
Kneeling down, I kissed his forehead. I rubbed my hand across his head, too. He was already lightly snoring.
“I love you, little buddy,” I whispered. I kissed his soft lips once more before finally turning off the TV and lamp.
My two faithful companions followed me to my bedroom, where I undressed to my underwear before sliding under the cool blankets of this roomy yet lacking bed.
“Come on, kids.” Patting the comforter, I invited both dogs topside for the night. They jumped up, happy to join me, both of them turning around a few times before plopping down in their favorite spots on the bed. I turned off the bedside lamp then settled against my pillow.
Sleep tight, little buddy, I thought.
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