It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
About the Author:
Author, artist, woodworker, and world traveler currently thrives in Austin, Texas with his beautiful wife Mandy and daughter Zoё Isabel who has recently joined us in this world. His plethora of numinous literary inspirations are often stirred by being in nature – hiking, camping, fishing, spelunking, rock climbing, and, of course, reveling in the unadulterated, wall-less freedom of riding his motorcycle through the hill country. (ISBN#9781440160073 , 384pp, $31.95)
The thoughts of those who dwell on the earth shall transgress within them; and they shall be perverted in all their ways. They shall transgress, and think themselves gods; while evil shall be multiplied among them. Enoch 79: 8-9 Apocrypha
When the human race began to grow rapidly on the earth, the sons of God saw the beautiful women of the human race and took any they wanted as their wives. In those days and for some time after, giants lived on the earth; for when the sons of God had intercourse with women, they gave birth to children who became the heroes and famous warriors of ancient times. Gen. 6:1, 2, 4, NLT
First light would be the perfect time for any other hunt.
Soft, white mist drifted, swirling slowly past tall, lush green ferns, as two figures, mere shadows, stole silently through the forest. The early morning light, barely penetrating the thick foliage canopy high above, gave the waist-high mist an anomalous, pearlescent hue. The ground was invisible below the mist. Tips of shade grass, ferns, and mushrooms peeked out from the top of the listless fog.
The two human shadows stopped behind a huge, mossy tree trunk. The larger of the two leaned in and whispered to the other, and then slowly moved away stalking, hiding. The smaller one stayed by the tree, blending into the dark, hazy shadows of the massive trunk.
With a longbow in one hand and a leather quiver filled with arrows on his back, the stalker crouched behind a morel mushroom still in line of sight from the tree. The massive mushroom, textured like a sea sponge was conveniently just the right size to hide a full-grown man.
The hunter remained motionless: listening, watching.
He could hear the bubbling sound of a stream coming from the misty unknown, the periodic creaks and moans from lofty cypress trees … his own heartbeat. But what he could not hear told him that something was awry. No birds singing, no squirrels chirping, no animals of any kind could be heard. This was not normal, especially for these particular woods. And he could not ignore that feeling … or was it a knowing? A feeling that something was out there … that sense deep in his spirit that something ill-intentioned was watching him, possibly even stalking him, could not be ignored. Typically this would be a bad omen, but this morning it was a good one.
The crisp sound of a breaking stick echoed through the mist.
The man froze, and hoped that his son did the same. Chances were that it was just a deer or an ox just like all the other times when he had tried to hunt this particular murdering beast. But his spirit senses were screaming otherwise this time. And … what was this second sense that gripped his spirit so strongly?
He felt his heartbeat accelerate. There was another presence … a second one. There were two evils out there in the morning mist, hunting as much as they were being hunted.
Suddenly, he regretted bringing his son along. Mother did say that it was a bad idea and he should leave him at home along with the younger.
The morning light had grown brighter, piercing through the thick canopy of treetops, giving the mist a golden hue.
Crack. This time the sound was louder and closer. He tightened his grip on the bow as he scanned the forest for movement. It was as quiet as a tomb.
This is it. His spirit would not be screaming so loudly if it were not.
He made sure his arrow was in place. Remember the plan, son …
Movement caught his attention. The hunter’s eyes fixed on a thicket of ferns, bushes, and low-hanging branches. He caught a swift, passing glimpse of orange through the hazy green. The hunter watched, waited … steadied his breathing.
Then he saw it. A long, slender, orange-and-black striped tail swaying and twitching just above the mist. Four or five steps in front of the tail he saw a flash of striped, rippling, muscular shoulders. The beast’s head was still buried in the mist, heading straight for the huge, mossy tree that was hiding his son.
The hunter slowly swiveled so he could see from the other side of the morel, then raised his bow into position but did not draw. He had to wait for a closer shot. The first shot is the only one that counts and, due to this tiger’s reputation, anything but an instantly fatal first shot would just dangerously fuel his bloodthirsty wrath.
His heartbeat accelerated even more. He was tempted to think about all the people in his village this damned beast had killed … and how it didn’t eat them … just killed them … often tearing limbs from the body and leaving them there to bleed to death.
The hunter’s instincts kicked back in at the sound of another stick cracking under pressure. The beast was now so close that the man could hear the faint sound of its fur brushing against the wet ferns and dangling vines. Still heading his son’s direction, he could see it clearly now: crouching, almost slithering like a serpent through the undergrowth, nothing but evil intent in his wild, blackish-green eyes. Those eyes … those black eyes … they seemed to emit a spiritual darkness that he could almost see. Then he saw the teeth … twin entities of death. They jutted out of the huge tiger’s upper jaw: large, sharp ivory spears ready to draw blood … craving to draw blood.
Suddenly, with intensity that formed bumps on his skin, the hunter sensed that unseen mysterious second presence drawing closer. It was not the tiger … it was something unseen.
The beast was close enough. He drew the bow.
The saber-tooth tiger kept stalking toward the mossy tree, huge muscles rippling, and tail maliciously twitching.
The hunter heard a slight movement from his son’s tree a split second before releasing the arrow.
As the arrow sliced through the damp air, he heard his son release, then the whistle of his son’s arrow. Two arrows soared through the air at the same target. The timing was perfect.
Time seemed to slow down, almost pause, as the unimaginable happened … the tiger dropped below the mist with lightning speed reflexes and a large dark shadow appeared from nowhere and stood between the tiger and the mossy tree.
The moment of silence was broken by a quiet, yet chilling, growl from the tiger. The growl was not one of pain as the hunter expected, but one of malice … one of spite.
The hunter promptly reached back and slid another arrow from his quiver never taking his vigilant eyes off the tall, dark, hooded figure standing in the mist. As the mist rolled back from the quick movements, he could see the figure’s left arm stretched out, and a large fist poking out of a black, long-sleeved robe. The fist was holding his son’s arrow. The haunting figure turned its head slightly and looked directly at the hunter, though no eyes or face could be seen under the shadowed hood.
The mystifying figure then clenched his fist. With a snap that eerily echoed through the misty forest, the arrow fell in three pieces into the mist.
Instantly, the tiger reappeared from below the mist. The hunter looked a little closer. He could see the red fletching of his arrow poking out of a mushroom a few steps behind the tiger.
Unbelievable! The beast had dodged his arrow! And the mysterious dark figure caught his son’s arrow in mid-flight with his bare hand. Impossible …
Unmoving, bow drawn, he never took his focus off his two enemies.
What man can catch an arrow with his bare hands? He was still not entirely sure he saw what he thought he saw. No matter what or who this mysterious shadow was, if he so much as twitched toward his son, he would unleash all he had, sending him into the afterlife.
The tall, dark form, only a step away from the tiger, bent down slightly, and seemingly whispered in the beast’s ear. Instantly, the tiger’s crazed gaze locked onto the hunter as the hooded form lifted his long arm and pointed at him with a bony finger.
A chill of fear crawled up the hunter’s tensed spine.
The tiger lurched toward him with nothing but evil intent in his blackish-green eyes. Every muscle under that orange-and-black coat moved in unity toward murder.
The hunter released the arrow, aiming low so the beast could not duck it.
Just as anticipated, the tiger dropped down again, trying to duck the arrow.
The tiger roared.
He heard the thud of his arrow hit flesh just below the golden mist. Then the tiger jumped up with a guttural wheeze, and proceeded with his attack on the hunter.
It will take more than one arrow to bring this beast down. He saw the arrow’s red fletching sticking out of the tiger’s side. Frothy blood oozed and bubbled from the wound. The shot was too high. It hit a lung.
The hunter nocked another arrow as he called out, “Hithia!”
Another arrow flew level with the top of the mist. The tiger twisted to the side and with its huge paw, claws extended, swatted the arrow to the ground. He jerked his head to the side and let out an angry roar, then stealthily dropped down, disappearing again into the misty foliage.
Silence. The hunter turned his head side-to-side looking for the creature and its hooded master. Both had vanished.
“Hithia, are you alright?” The hunter called out.
A voice from the mist responded, “Yes … did you get him?”
He knew that his son could not see the entirety of what was happening from his position. “Stay where you are. I’m coming to you.”
With yet another arrow ready to fly, the hunter moved toward the big, mossy cedar, watching, listening, sensing. He knew the demonic tiger was close. But he no longer sensed that second evil presence. Spinning around he heard a shuffle in the mist entirely too close to him.
Fear is something he trained himself not to feel … or rather … if he did feel it, he would take charge over it. It would be in subordination to him, not the other way around. A man in his position could not afford to let it control his mind. Far too many responsibilities rest on his shoulders to be paralyzed by such a trivial thing as fear. But right now, in this not-so-typical hunt with his twelve-year-old son in danger, he was powerless to resist … fear gripped his heart in its cold, strong fist.
The hunter heard the twang of an arrow release just as he exited some bushes and saw the entire body of the crazed wounded beast leap off a mossy fallen tree toward Hithia landing a few steps in front of him as the arrow soared over the tiger’s back, disappearing into the forest.
Hithia dove to the side of the tree and fell down. The tiger, wheezing, with blood dripping from its mouth, crouched ready to pounce on his prey for the kill.
The hunter released another arrow. With a dull thud, it penetrated the beast’s side not far from the other arrow.
The hunter, in a protective violent rage, threw his bow down into the ferns, drew his long dagger from the sheath on his belt, and charged the tiger.
The raging beast spun around angrily and faced the brave hunter.
“Aahh!” the hunter attacked the tiger head on, blade swinging.
“Father!” Hithia yelled. On the ground next to the large tree trunk, he scrambled back to his feet.
No more than a stone’s throw away, another pair of eyes watched the violent scene unfold: the innocent, hazel eyes of a child. Hiding behind a large cluster of orange fungus on the side of a rotting log, which lay on the moist forest floor, a young boy was watching, not moving.
He had to do something … anything. His brother and father were in danger … the very danger he knew would happen.
He had to do something … this is why he had followed them. He already saw this happen and he had to stop it.
But, his body was solidly in place, paralyzed by fear.
Before the hunter could even get within striking distance, the saber-tooth swatted him. He took the powerful claw blow in the right shoulder, stumbled backwards, and landed in the bushes several steps back.
Dazed, he stood back up. Blood oozed from four jagged rips in his leather tunic.
“No!” Hithia charged the tiger from behind, stabbing him in the side with an arrow.
The hunter grabbed his bow from the ground not too far from where he had landed and swiftly nocked an arrow … but he was too late.
Ferociously, the beast spun around and slashed Hithia with his sharp claws three times before the boy hit the ground.
The hunter’s arrow penetrated the beast’s neck. The sharp, bloodied flint head poked out one side, and the feather fletching out the other. The tiger instantly dropped to the ground, his two spear-like teeth stabbing into the soft forest soil.
The hunter noticed movement out of the corner of his eye, but ignored it as he ran over to the twitching beast and his wounded son.
“Hithia,” the father said as he knelt beside his boy. The sight of his lethally wounded son made him cringe. He felt his very life force weaken as if he had drunk poison. Instantly, he turned the pain and grief off. It’s not time to grieve … not yet.
Hithia tried to say something but could not due to the deep tear across his bloodied, shredded neck. The hunter drew his son’s knife out of the leather sheath on his belt. Eyes hard and cold as the north mountain stone, he spun around and looked at the murdering beast lying on the ground. The malicious eyes shifted around, even now, with ill intent as if he were looking for one last victim before the end. Its tail twitched irately as a low guttural hiss escaped its bloody mouth.
Controlled by pure vengeance, the hunter grabbed the tiger’s long tooth in one hand and with the other, ended the beast’s life with a slash to its throat. Blood sprayed out, soaking the tiger’s pelt and the forest soil.
The hunter looked up toward a sound in the forest. A million feelings raced through his soul, grabbing and pulling in every direction as he saw a small ten-year-old boy standing over the other side of the dead tiger.
The innocent hazel eyes were grimly fixed on his brother.
“Noah …” The hunter turned around and saw that Hithia’s spirit had left his broken body. He then lunged for his younger son, wrapping his arms around the boy. Embracing him, he turned him away from the horror.
“Papa …” Noah muttered in a soft, trembling voice, “I … I’m sorry … I dreamed this. I came to stop it … I’m sorry …”
Still holding Noah tight, the father whispered, fighting back tears, “It’s alright. We killed the beast, my son.”
“Is Hithia …?” Noah’s voice quivered, staring at all the blood.
“His spirit has passed into the afterlife.” Noah’s father held him tightly for a few painful moments. Then he gripped his son’s head in-between his blood-stained hands and looked him in the eye. “Son, do not fear. Grieve if you must, but only for a time, then you must live, love, and fear nothing.”
A tear ran down Noah’s cheek, creating a trail through the bloody handprint his father had left. He could not know how this one foreseen event would define his future identity.
It happened after the sons of men had multiplied in those days that daughters were born to them, elegant and beautiful. And when the angels, the sons of heaven, beheld them, they became enamored of them, saying to each other, Come, let us select for ourselves wives from the progeny of men, and let us beget children. Enoch 7:1-3, Apocrypha
“Where are you?”
A streak of silvery moonlight eerily beamed through a single round opening in the center of the domed ceiling. Several smaller moonbeams softly streaked in from high circular windows in the huge flora-laden room.
The silvery light washed over numerous flowering plants and short trees in stone planters, streaking past towering pillars as the main moonbeam brightly shown on the surface of the far wall.
Painted onto the massive wall was a giant map mural. The moonlight washed over it, revealing the crooked contour of coastlines, many serpentine rivers, and the rough terrain of mountain regions. Even the names of the regions were painted in beautiful characters.
In front of the map wall, paced a man’s silhouette.
“Where are you?” The old man’s mumble softly echoed off the mural, drifting into the expansive plant-filled, moon-lit room.
The shadowy form was slightly slouched, leaning on a staff. Soft, silver light shone upon the nearly bald head.
“Where are you?” He paced, never turning from the map.
The butt of the staff tapped the marble floor with every step, echoing softly through the lunar haunted room.
The silhouette abruptly stopped and rapped the wall map with the top of his staff.
“Are you there?”
Unknown to the old man, another shadow covertly watched from behind a large white and red passion bloom, with keen eyes that hauntingly mirrored the silver of the moonlight.
The last colorful sun rays of the day warmed the lush, green valleys and rolling hills of the Freelands. An elongated hill stood in the center of a wide valley, with its grassy dome stretching just over the treetops. The elevated hill of rye grass and brightly painted wildflowers was a colorful island in a green sea of forest.
Near the highest point of the grassy ridge, a solitary, old, twisted olive tree proudly stood. It was not very tall, compared to the giant cedars of the hills and the massive cypress of the valley, but it’s beautiful branches stretched out well over three times its height, giving it a unique flattened top. It was as if it was playfully reaching out to the other trees of the valley, beckoning them to come join it in this ever-peaceful, elevated home of splendor.
The trunk forked into two main branches about two men’s height off the ground, making a perfect seat where Noah could rest and peacefully enjoy the view: a place for him to relax and meditate, away from the noise and clamor of all the lively people and the drama they spawn. Of course, Noah loved the town folk, but sometimes one just has to get away from the drama that existence creates. And this twisted old tree atop the dome of color was his sanctum.
Two chirping blue birds landed on a high branch.
Noah enjoyed sharing the tree with the birds; although the tone of their song made it clear to him that they did not share the sentiment.
A light breeze gently blew Noah’s dark brown, shoulder-length hair as he looked over the landscape with his hazel eyes.
From his high perch on the hill, Noah could see the world … at least his world, the one he knew, and a small portion of the world beyond, the one he hoped to someday explore.
To the south, down the hill and past the tree-lined creek, he could see his home village of Cypress. The reason for the name was obvious; a forest comprising primarily of giant, cypress trees shadowed the village. Some of the more adventurous men built their houses in the trees far above the forest floor, but most dwellings scattered through the forestland were made of sun-dried clay bricks and local wood.
Through the gaps in the distant trees, the people looked smaller than ants. Noah could see them milling about town, shopping in the market, children kicking a ball in the streets. Noah wondered if the people were looking up at the tiny tree on the hill as he looked down at them.
He could see the smoke of the cooking fires and the single, large billow of white smoke pluming from Uriah’s blacksmith shop. He could hear the chopping and banging of the carpenter’s shop near the western edge of town. And of course there were the two watchtowers strategically located on the south and northwest edges of town.
On the side of the ridge just east of town he could see the tall oak tree in front of the house he had lived in for years. The house could not be seen through the thick canopy of leaves but it was there. Noah would never forget what that tree looked like. Every knob, every branch was permanently seared into his mind. He and his brother used to compete to see how high they could get before they would get too scared and come back down. He wished his brother could have been around to see him beat their old record.
Noah looked north, abandoning the memory.
North, the mysterious north, the forbidden north … scanning the horizon Noah could see rocky, wind-swept mountains. They stood like a mighty dam of jagged teeth keeping out the dark water of the Black Sea, the great sauri of the wilderness of Herrer beyond, and the rumored evils of the north.
Are they more than rumors?
Noah did not know exactly how far it was, but somewhere on the other side of the rugged, mountainous wilderness, along the southeast coast of the Black Sea, was the City of Cain.
Some call it great, others call it an abomination. It has been said of the city that it houses witches, sorcerers, and the most evil men; not just men, they say, but also those infamous, cursed, mighty giants, the Offspring. Even the fathers of the Offspring, the great teachers known as the Watchers, have been lured there by the evil. They are now the lords of the great city. Some even say that the Watchers are the source of the evil power that fills the north lands.
Cain himself, the cursed son of the great father, Adam, is the lord of the great city, as well as many other cities and towns scattered throughout the northern regions.
People say that once one enters the City of Cain, they rarely come back and if they do, they are different … they carry evil in their soul. Even a purely, innocent soul would come back incubating a rotting evil hidden deep inside … as if a poison was slowly killing the essence of their being.
That’s what they say, anyway. And who’s they?
All Noah actually knows of the city is what he has heard from townspeople and his own parents. But if no one ever returns, then how does anyone know what truly exists there? Yet, if what they say is true, then the answers to Noah’s multitude of nagging questions just might be found in the City of Cain or somewhere beyond.
Noah gazed longingly at the mountain-lined horizon. The mountain range started in the far northwest, where the mountains seem to fade away into the endless pink sky; they stretched as far to the east as his mortal eyes could see. A vast ocean of trees and rocks, valleys and hills, laid in-between him and the mountains: waiting, beckoning him to explore them. He had done some exploring, hunting, and gathering in those woods over the years, but nothing that had satisfied his relentlessly adventurous free spirit.
Noah wondered what lay beyond that mountain wall. What phenomenal lands and unseen beauty hid in the wilderness beyond? What would he find if he just started walking north until he reached land’s end? The answers are out there hiding, waiting to be found … dancing alone in the forest mist.
Noah rested his right hand on his left shoulder, and with two fingers touched the off-white, carved bone handle sticking out of the long, leather sheath strapped to his back.
Things were about to change on several fronts.
It was about time to revisit that dreaded place in the north woods that he had been avoiding for over a decade. And, it was well past time for Noah to take his Journey … the traditional venture that every young man takes into the wild: a long quest along unknown trails and unexplored country to find one’s own life path.
Why have I waited so long to take it?
He could feel it deep inside … now was the time.
Noah’s father often told him that it is only on that quest when you truly find yourself.
Find yourself? What does that even mean? It sounds foolish … like a waste of time.
But he has more questions now than ever before. And the older he gets, the more he feels a need growing in his soul, a need to go. Go where? It doesn’t matter.
Just go. Just leave. Go.
Noah needed to find the answers to his questions, and those answers are hidden somewhere beyond the borders of his small world.
A bright, fluffy cloud floated lazily through the red sky, slowly drifting toward Noah.
A stiff breeze suddenly picked up, bringing an ominous dark cloud from the horizon toward the small bright cloud. As the dark cloud grew closer, Noah could feel a deep forbearing evil presence. The cloud was constantly moving; its dark vapor seemed to be caving in on itself, and then cycling around to the sides of the cloud.
When it reached the bright cloud, it surrounded it. With dark vapor swirling about, it trapped the bright cloud as if locked in shackles. Then the wind shifted from the south, blowing the two clouds back to the north, from where the darkness had come.
The evil presence was strong; it was over powering. Noah was feeling weak at the knees. He felt as if he had just lost something he treasured, something familiar. As he watched the bright cloud float away, a feeling of urgency swept over him like a wave.
Something had to be done. He had to do the impossible and get that cloud back.
He took off after the clouds running along the ground not letting them leave his sight, but he could not keep up. With every step, the dark cloud carrying the bright cloud away, gained distance. The more he chased them, the further they got.
Elohim help me.
Noah stopped to catch his breath.
Suddenly, a thick white mist came up from behind and surrounded him. It was a cloud. As it began to pick him up, he could see himself getting further and further from the ground.
He felt a sensation deep in his core that he had never felt before … total weightlessness: freedom from the shackles of gravity.
There were now clouds all around him. The black sky above was filled with stars and a blood red moon. Below him, there was nothing. He had never seen “nothing” before … but there it was. No color, no light, no darkness, just emptiness … nothing.
Most of the clouds that surrounded him were dark, forbearing … even malicious. The few white clouds that were there were being engulfed by the dark mist. He looked behind him and saw that there was a dark cloud following and gaining on him.
Suddenly there was a voice. “We must leave now.” It sounded like it came from …
Did that cloud just talk?
A strong gust of wind blew, sending them north.
Noah opened his eyes, instantly wide awake.
Moonlight, beaming through the window of his loft, reflected off the glistening steel of his sword that stood, leaning against the wall.
The candle he had lit hours ago had melted down into a river of wax, and streamed off his small table like a solidified waterfall, creating a lake of wax on the floor.
A gust of cool night air blew light brown hair over his eyes. He brushed it aside and looked out the window. The half-moon and its halo of greenish-blue light swirling around it sent soft beams of light into the room.
He lay there for a while and gazed at the beautiful light trying to regain his coherency after his fitful sleep.
This moon isn’t red … was his first thought. His second was the words of the bright cloud echoing in his head: We must leave now.
Did his grandfather not tell him to heed his dreams?
Noah sighed and rubbed his eyes.
Noah closed his eyes. Is this it? Is today the day?
Yes. It is.
Noah got up and quietly got ready. He put his favorite blue tunic on. He then wrapped a leather belt, with his dagger in its sheath dangling from it, around his waist. He knelt down, reached under the little table and pulled out a brown, ox leather satchel and his leather shoes. He slipped his shoes on and then opened the satchel and put in his other shirt, a candle, a sharpening stone, a rope and his new canteen. Finally, Noah grabbed his sword off his bed and strapped it on his back.
The floor creaked as he took a step toward the ladder … as did the ladder itself when he climbed down.
He could still see glowing red embers in the fireplace from supper. The aroma of roasted venison still lingered in the air, making his stomach growl. He searched the moonlit room for the leftovers. Noah found them next to the shell sink already wrapped in a cloth. He put the whole thing in the satchel as well as a small loaf of bread.
That should last a couple of days.
Noah silently stood in the dark moonlit room looking around. He had a feeling he would not be seeing this house for a while.
Noah opened the door and took a step outside … the first step of his journey.
The first violet and red colors of the morning were just starting to appear over the misty hills. But before he could lose himself into the unknown, he had a couple stops to make.
Click the bookcover or title for more info or to purchase a copy. Look for other FIRST Wildcard member posts and opinions also. Don’t forget to click the author’s name or photo to visit his website. My review is coming soon. Thanks to Kyle Kimbrough for a review copy.