Thomas Calabrese…A band of outlaws rode into the small town of Escondido, California just after sunset on October 8, 1888. Their horses were jet black stallions and the leader of the group had the largest steed of all, standing eight feet tall and weighing 3500 pounds. The massive creature had a bright read blaze on his face and when he exhaled, steam seemed to come out his nostrils.
Dozens of townspeople that included men, women and children were dragged out of their homes and tied to stakes in the ground. The leader stepped down from the large horse and recited the following incantation as screams of panic and fear filled the evening hours. He spoke in a hoarse whisper (caused by a throat injury) that channeled pure evil into words; “Behold! Rust erodes the mystic sword of Michael and the faithful Archangel is deplumed and dropped into the void. The thunderbolt lies frozen in Jove’s hand. Like pale meteors, the angels will fall like rain from the skies. Even Jehovah himself is powerless. Never forget that Satan is king of the physical realm.”
The outlaws poured kerosene over their prisoners and lit them on fire and while their flesh was burning the horses stomped on them until there was nothing left, but indistinguishable pieces of charred flesh and broken bones. When the evil ritual was completed, their screams of demented pleasure echoed across the countryside as they rode off into the darkness. Lightning flashed and thunder roared to acknowledge their depravity.
Not far away in a secluded area on the unspoiled lands of Rancho Buena Vista and Rancho Guajome, near the small town of Vista, California, Lucas Paladin looked up to heavens when he saw the lightning and felt the thunder vibrate through his body. This was his call to duty, so he walked into the other room of his small stone house where his two Colt 45 Caliber Peacemakers with the cross insignia on the pearl handles were holstered and hanging from a wooden hook. His bullets were a combination of gold and silver recovered during the third crusade in the year 1190 and made by Italian Monks in the Monastery of Saint Benedict just outside the city of Norcia, Italy. His eight-foot whip was made of kangaroo hide because it was many times stronger than cow hide and Lucas was so adept with it that he could snap a fence post in half with a flick of his wrist.
Twenty years earlier, Lucas was only four years old when his mother, father and two older sisters were victims of one of Lucifer’s marauding gangs. His father was the town preacher in the Ramona Valley, located along the stagecoach route between San Diego and Julian. The locals were enjoying a festive Saturday evening dance when the gang rode in. Lucas’ father told him to hide in the root cellar and to be quiet. As the evildoers killed and mutilated his family and the others, the young boy watched through a small crack in the wooden door.
A man sniffed the air like a dog that just picked up a scent and growled, “I smell something, there is still one left.” He walked over and lifted the trap door and saw Lucas cowering in the corner, “Time to join to the others, my little one” and raised his sword to kill the young boy.
He never got the chance because Jonas Abraham stabbed him through the heart and his body disintegrated into a pile of smoking dust. Jonas then turned his attention to the other miscreants, killing them by bullet or blade. When a dozen piles of smoking dust were lying on the ground, he offered a helping hand to the young boy, “My name is Jonas Abraham; I am a Reckoner.”
Lucas responded, “I don’t know what that is.”
Jonas Abraham helped Lucas Paladin bury the remains of his family and the townspeople and over the years, Jonas trained the young boy to become a ‘Reckoner.’ A Reckoner was an individual who served in Michael the Archangel’s army to fight Lucifer’s Legions. After years of tutelage, Lucas finally accumulated the required skills and proper mindset to engage in the war on evil. Jonas took on the additional role of mentor and confidant to his protégé and when he arrived at the ranch, Lucas was already saddling his horse, Tesoro, a golden Palomino, “How are you doing?”
“I heard the call, I was just ready to ride out,” Lucas responded.
“The legions are growing larger and stronger with each passing day,” Jonas said.
“I know, it seems like I can’t go more than a few days before I get another call.”
“The ‘Whispering Monster’ is responsible for this latest attack,” Jonas informed Lucas, “His legions have been cutting the wide swath through the entire west.”
“Do you want to come along?” Lucas asked.
“I would, but I have an assignment in Los Angeles, there’s another group of his marauders up there that has been hitting churches and missions along the coast.”
“I’ll see you later, God willing,” Lucas commented.
“Don’t forget that the Whispering Monster is one of Lucifer’s up and comers, be careful,” Jonas warned.
“You trained me to be careful, I won’t forget now,” Lucas replied, “Want to ride together to the fork in the trail?”
The two Reckoners rode side by side for several miles without speaking a word then went their separate ways. Many of the men who joined Lucifer’s legions were weak-minded and morally bankrupt cowards who found courage being in a lawless mob. The fact that they could prey on the innocent and defenseless fed their depraved souls and they relished the notoriety that came with being a member of Lucifer’s Legions.
They wore a bright red sash with the initial L embroidered on it around their waist to let people know who they were and laughed with scorn when they saw the fear in people’s eyes. Men women and children would hide when they came into town. The red sashers, as they were sometimes called, took what they wanted, then tortured, killed and sacrificed anyone they found. All that these miscreants were required to do for this power was give their eternal souls to Lucifer. The Legion leaders were much wiser than their minions and while they did not fear the Reckoners, they had a profound respect for their fighting skills. The Whispering Monster was a Caym/Camio, a high president of hell who commanded 30 legions and was the most ruthless of them all.
Lucas saw the small town of Broken Wheel Junction in the distance and tapped Tesoro on the neck, “Let’s see what awaits us.”
The town was eerily quiet and this aroused Lucas’ suspicions. As he rode down the middle of town, Lucas noticed a dozen stakes in the dirt and some black markings around them. Tesoro turned his head around to warn his master. “I feel it too, boy,” Lucas responded then slipped his pistols in and out several times to make sure that they moved free and easy. When he entered the saloon, Lucas noticed a dozen men wearing red sashes sitting at several tables. Each man glared at him as he sauntered over to the bar.
“The bar is closed” The bartender growled.
Lucas noticed that the man was also wearing a red sash, “Looks open to me, I’ll have a Sarsaparilla.”
“This hombre wants a Sarsaparilla!”
Everybody laughed and when they stopped, Lucas added, “If you don’t have that, I’ll take goat’s milk.”
Once again, everybody laughed and Lucas patiently waited for them to stop before he spoke again, There is only one thing that I like better than bringing frivolity to grim-faced scum,” “You know what that is?”
“What’s that?” The bartender asked.
“Killing red sashers,” Lucas picked up a shot glass. When the bartender reached for a weapon beneath the bar, Lucas grabbed him by the hair and slammed his head into the bar with such force that he crushed the man’s skull, killing him instantly. When another man by the tables reached for his pistol, Lucas snapped his hand off at the wrist with a flick of his deadly whip. The rest of the men stood up and spread out in front of Lucas who calmly stated, “You going to unleash those barking irons or just stand there and quiver like saplings in a storm?”
Lucas threw the shot glass into the air, drew his pistols, shot the nine men, holstered his weapons and caught the glass before it hit the floor. Before leaving the bar, he pulled a card out of his pocket and set it next to the dead bartender. It read; Have Reckoning Will Travel.
The Whispering Monster was in his mountain hideout near Julian, California when one of his underlings came walking in, “I have news, sir.”
“What is it?” Whispering Monster demanded.
“Some of our men were killed.”
“How many did we lose?”
“Ten,” The underling responded.
“By whom?” The Whispering Monster wasn’t concerned about his men because now their souls belonged to Lucifer; he just considered it a personal insult that someone would take something that belonged to him.
“It was a Reckoner.”
“Do you know which one?”
“He rides a golden Palomino,” The underling answered.
The Whispering Monster gritted his teeth and clenched his fists in rage, “Lucas Paladin.”
“Should I send one of our legions to go after him?” The underling asked.
“Not just yet, I need to develop a special plan for Lucas Paladin,” The Whispering Monster vowed.
The war between good and evil had been going on since the Garden of Eden where God gave man free will and the ability to choose. In the ongoing battles between Lucifer’s Legion and Michael the Archangel’s Reckoners, the combatants could only use the skills they could develop with their human capabilities; there would be no divine intervention or satanic assistance. Lucas Paladin was one of the most deadly Reckoners and The Whispering Monster claimed the same distinction on the other side. They were destined to meet; it was just a matter of when that epic event would happen.
There were designated areas for the Legions that Reckoners could not enter and places for the Reckoners that the Legions were prohibited from going. These sanctuary stops allowed the warriors to replenish and re-supply, but they could not stay more than three days, and then they had to go back into harm’s way. Lucas killed twenty-three more ‘red sashers’ before he reached Felicity Langtry’s sanctuary station.
Felicity’s family was the same age as Lucas when her family was killed by a marauding band of red sashers. An elderly man came out of the barn and took the reins of Tesoro as Lucas stepped down, “Good morning, Micah.”
“Good to see you again, Lucas,” Micah replied, “I’ll take care of him.”
“You always do,” Lucas smiled and walked to the main house. Felicity had a meal waiting on the table; Lucas sat down and began eating as Felicity commented from the kitchen, “Word is that you’re on the trail of The Whispering Monster. You know that he’s already killed three Reckoners?”
“Are you keeping score?” Lucas quipped and took a bite out of a chicken breast, “Did I ever tell you how much I love your cooking.”
“Don’t give me too much credit, its heaven’s recipe. With all the other things you have to worry about, the boss must want food not to be one of them.”
The Whispering Monster came up with his plan, he decided to send all his legions on a deadly rampage through Southern California; his strategy was to exhaust Lucas before their duel to the death. He was prepared to lose hundreds of his men in the process, after all they were expendable and others were eagerly waiting to take their place. It wasn’t a hard sell; all the Whispering Monster had to do was offer them an easy way through life and they didn’t give a damn what followed afterward. By the end of his second day at the sanctuary, lightning was flashing across the sky and thunder was rumbling non-stop. Lucas knew it was time to go, even though he still had earned one more day of rest.
“You’re leaving, aren’t you?” Felicity guessed.
“You see what I’m seeing and hear what I’m hearing, that’s the thing about evil, it adheres to its own schedule.”
One hour later, Lucas was saddled up and ready to ride out, “I’ll pray that I’ll see you again,” Felicity said.
“Never underestimate the power of prayer,” Lucas responded and rode out.
It seemed that everywhere that Lucas traveled; he crossed paths with red sashers and wasted no time sending their souls to hell where they belonged. He was camped along the river bank when he came under heavy fire from all around him, “Is that you Reckoner? It seems that we got you in a crossfire, how do you like that?” A voice called out.
“I like it just fine, now I can shoot in any direction,” Lucas responded and walked over to Tesoro and pulled out his Winchester rifle then ordered his horse to run, “We’ll meet up later.” Tesoro raced through the brush and trampled several red sashers during his escape.
Lucas made sure his pistols were fully loaded then walked into the gunfire, killing men as he walked. After exhausting his ammunition, Lucas used his bullwhip to kill several more men. He walked into the stream and came face to face with another red sasher. Both men pulled out their knives and came at each other. They engaged and pulled each other underwater where they stayed for over a minute. Eventually blood appeared on the surface, ten seconds later Lucas’ head popped up as he gulped for air; the red sasher floated up a few seconds later.
Lucas had a deep cut across his ribcage so after making it to dry land; he called his horse and took some supplies out of his saddlebags. After starting a fire, Lucas heated up a metal rod and cauterized his open wound and his screams of pain echoed across the open land. His entire body was filled with scars of various sizes; a documented history of previous battles with Lucifer’s legions.
Several weeks passed until it was Halloween, the day that the Whispering Monster had been waiting for. He had captured 100 Oceanside residents and sent a message to Lucas, threatening to sacrifice them all unless he came alone. Lucas was intercepted several miles from his intended rendezvous point by Jonas Abraham, “Where you headed?”
“Nowhere in particular,” Lucas responded, “What about you?”
“Same, mind if I ride along?”
“I kind of do,” Lucas responded.
“Why don’t you let me handle this?” Jonas asked.
“He asked for me, it wouldn’t do the Reckoners any good if I failed to show up.”
“I can’t argue with that, although I wish I could,” Jonas answered.
Lucas rode on by himself to a seaside bluff then dismounted. A few minutes later, the Whispering Monster galloped up on his black stallion. Tesoro came up on his hind legs when he saw the other horse, it was obvious that they hated each other. The Whispering Monster jumped down from his horse and walked over to Lucas and spit at his feet, “You’ve been killing a lot of my men.”
“The killing isn’t done yet,” Lucas answered.
“Let’s do this,” Whispering Monster said.
Both men dropped their weapons and held up their open hands to show they had nothing in them. The Whispering Monster was six inches taller and a hundred pounds heavier than Lucas, but despite his size, he was nimble and quick as a cobra. He kicked Lucas in the chest and knocked him off his feet then jumped up and tried to stomp him with his boots. Lucas rolled out of the way and came to his feet.
“Good, you’re not going to make this easy, I want to make you suffer,” Whispering Monster quipped.
Lucas smiled, “Whose suffering? You kick like an old lady.”
The Whispering Monster charged forward and Lucas punched him six times in the face in less than a second. The Whispering Monster spit out a mouthful of blood.
“How does you own blood taste?” Lucas asked.
The two combatants exchanged kicks and punches until both were battered, bruised and bloody. The Whispering Monster threw a looping right hand and Lucas ducked under it then threw an uppercut that lifted his opponent off the ground. Anybody else would have been knocked unconscious, but not the Whispering Monster who merely spit out several teeth and was ready to go again, “You’re pretty good…but not good enough,” then tackled Lucas and clamped his legs around him and in a vice-like grip. Lucas screamed out in pain, “Aaaaaaahhh!” He struggled to free himself and just when he was ready to pass out, he saw a vision of Felicity and summoned enough strength to grab a handful of the Whispering Monster’s inner thigh and squeezed with all his might. All it took was just the slightest release of pressure for Lucas to escape. Both men had drained their remaining reservoir of physical strength and were now fighting with their souls and hearts.
Lucas took a deep breath, looked up to the heavens and came forward. He blocked and ducked under every punch and kick from the Whispering Monster then unleashed a barrage of punches and kicks of his own until he had driven Lucifer’s lieutenant to the edge of the cliff and then with one final kick, Lucas launched the Whispering Monster to his death, who fell seventy five feet and landed on the jagged rocks below. Lucas looked down and made eye contact with his adversary for several seconds and watched as the Whispering Monster’s body turn to dust. A moment later, a huge wave crashed over the rocks and washed the remains out to sea.
By the time Lucas reached the sanctuary station, he was semi-conscious in the saddle and seriously injured. The giant black stallion was meekly following behind. Felicity helped the Reckoner into the house, but instead of Thunder and Lightning to signify a Legion attack, there was a full moon that shined brightly to indicate a Reckoner victory.
It was a happy Halloween because the Whispering Monster had been killed, but Felicity knew that the battle against Lucifer’s Legions and their relentless assault on goodness would never end. As soon as Lucas Paladin recovered from his injuries, he returned to the battle because that is what a Reckoner does.
It was Halloween October 31, 2018 and the thunder cracked and the lightning flashed. The descendant of Lucas Paladin checked his weapons and left his home in the Vista Hills.