BY: CHRISTINE WALL
Sixteen-year-old Australian, Killara Jones, is the chosen one—for all the wrong reasons. A lone psychic in the sleepy town of Khalija, North Dakota, he is a self-proclaimed freak who can see angels, demons, and a lot of other things in between. Unbeknownst to him, his talents are a means to an end. His death has been foretold—he is a crucial element in the war between Heaven and Hell—until a fallen angel named Sullivan steps in. With Killara very much alive, he and Sullivan must break an ancient pact, stop Killara’s classmates from selling their souls, and prevent the Gates of Hell from opening again. Bad angels, good demons, and a teenager who just wants to survive. Only by believing in themselves and working together, can this team of misfits restore the balance and save their town. Will they succeed? Or watch as all hell breaks loose, forcing them into a Showdown at Evil High?
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Showdown at Evil High by Christine Wall, Killara Jones is supposed to die, until an angry angel gets involved. Apparently, Killara’s own guardian angel can’t guard worth crap. When Killara doesn’t die on schedule, Michael Sullivan, the angel who saved him, discovers that things are not as they seem in the sleepy little town of Khalija, North Dakota, and now he and Killara are in a fight for their lives, as well as the lives of everyone else in the town. So begins an epic journey with good demons, bad angels, and a whole cast of strange, but endearing, characters.
Showdown at Evil High is fun, scary, moving, and riveting. It will have you laughing and biting your nails all in the same chapter, if not on the same page. If you want a book that will make you laugh, make you cringe, and keep you turning pages from beginning to end, you can’t go wrong with Showdown at Evil High.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Showdown at Evil High by Christine Wall is a perfect example of what a really good author can do by playing “What if?” Wall has crafted a book full of contradictions: guardian angels who can’t guard, demons who are good and allergic to evil, muses who don’t just inspire but kidnap you if you don’t do justice to their inspiration. The book has a very unpredictable plot, a host of fun characters, and a novel twist on the old concept of good versus evil.
There are a lot of great scenes in the book as Killara, Sullivan, and their band of misfits struggle to save their town by convincing three high school students not to sell their souls to the devil. These are the only three left, who are direct descendants of the founders of the town and haven’t yet signed a pact with the devil like their forefathers did. If Killara and his group can save them, then the town is saved. If not, the apocalypse begins. It is a story line that is very common in YA novels today, but Wall makes it a lot more interesting by changing all the rules. I just love authors that can do that!
‘Take the step. Go ahead take the step.’ The voice in his head was slow and melodic. Compared to the biting cold of the wind, it felt comforting. He stared out into the blackness and pondered his options.
Unlike other kids, he had never been afraid of the dark. The things he feared happened in broad daylight. Glimpses out of the corner of his eye–that feeling of uneasiness when the hair on the back of his neck would rise up and his body spasmed with chills.
‘Sure, you won’t change your mind?’ goaded the voice
He gritted his teeth and shook his head. “I said, no.”
“Fine. Do it your way. You think you’re so smart, but what will people think?”
He had lived with seeing the strange and unusual for so long, he no longer cared what people thought. As a child, he loved the attention until he started to talk about his “special friends.” Normal people didn’t like it when he pointed to empty space and he quickly learned to keep his visions to himself. He realized early that he was a freak, the only one of his kind in town.
‘You’re almost there. Just one more step,’ reaffirmed the voice.
His foot twitched and he looked down to see pebbles everywhere. They sparkled in the moonlight. When he was a kid, he would have shown his dad and together they would have explored them in detail. Now he was a teenager and knew better. His dad was dead and he was alone. He shifted his foot and watched the stones disappear into the darkness. That was where he belonged. It was easy to hide in dark.
All around him the smell of burning brush drifted through the town. It was as common as the combines that chewed through the surrounding fields of mustard, wheat, and corn. Dusk had arrived to the small town of Khalija, North Dakota, and with it the familiar smell of autumn. Burning leaves from the folks with backyards. Burning stalks from the farmers, eager to put their fields down before the arrival of the biting winter cold.
To a different man, the burn couldn’t mask the smell of impending death. It was a surprisingly sweet smell–a saccharine stench of molasses and rock candy that only he could detect. It happened so infrequently that he almost forgot its significance. It was a direct warning not to interfere. They should know better by now. He never listened to warnings.
Michael Sullivan looked up and down the deserted main street of Khalija. He was a handsome man with dark hair and a perennial scowl on his face. Tall and casually sophisticated, Sullivan seemed out of place in a town filled with families, community clubs, and pot bellied farmers whose idea of dressing up was jeans without the baseball cap.
When he walked, his hazel eyes shone with the intensity of a man on a mission. Friendly, but reserved, Michael Sullivan, a former big city police detective, was as much an anomaly as the town itself.
“Don’t do it, Michael,” warned a voice that stretched out of the darkness.
Sullivan spun around, expecting to confront an attacker. The voice had enough of a menacing edge to reignite instincts that he’d long thought were dead.
“Who said that?” he bellowed into the emptiness of the night.
Silence was his only response. The smell of death hit him again, only this time it was overwhelming. Sullivan quickened his pace, ignoring the nausea and refocusing his effort. It would happen soon. His mysterious aggressor would have to wait for now.
Surrounded by lakes and built on a former slough, the small town of Khalija was split into two parts, separated by a deep gorge, which seemed to start and end at the town limits. Smack in the middle of the flattest state, its history was surprisingly colorful. Legend spoke of the great earthquake of 1861 that ripped a hole through the center of the newly formed town and created the gorge.
Residents at the time described it as the underworld reaching up to touch the sky. Being of Norwegian descent, the name, Khalija, Old Norse for a word that the English translated as Hell, stuck.
One hundred and fifty years later, with its quaint main street, Khalija was anything but hell to its residents. Six thousand people lived and worked in the thriving community. There were decadent buildings of stone and brass, entire neighborhoods of gingerbread style houses, and carefully landscaped squares and paths. The historical society had been busy restoring the grand architecture of turn of the century small town America. While the five and dime had long been replaced by a sparkly new CVS, and the old vaudeville theater was now a four plex movie house, its residents could still pull into a parking spot on Main Street and enjoy the charming feel of old world appeal.
Sullivan sprinted down the sidewalk, the paper bag of frozen dinners almost forgotten in his arms. He shifted his six-foot frame to the right and followed the scent. Someone was in pain and they needed his help.
With the sun setting fast, he picked up his pace and headed for the monstrous viaduct that spanned Khalija Gorge.
The bridge was an impressive sight, given the smallness of the town. Built in the 1930s as a Depression project, its expansive four lanes were separated by an ornate concrete wall, inlaid with mosaic and mother of pearl in hues of black and iridescent white.
Gigantic concrete columns rose seventy feet into the air. Stone statues of massive gargoyles, suggesting Nordic and Native American influences, framed the ends of the bridge. Anywhere else it would have been an impressive sight, but in such a small town, it felt disturbing and sinister, as if welcoming the weary traveler to the dying remnants of a lost world.
From his view point, Sullivan could see four people standing on the sidewalk that spanned the south side. No, not just people, he groaned inwardly. Teenagers. His adrenalin spiked as a realization set in. One of them was perched on the wrong side of the railing. He had felt that despair many times before. The kid was going to jump.
Echoes of shouts bounced off the canyon walls. The kid on the wrong side of the railing looked familiar. Sullivan searched his memory, trying to find a name. It was something weird like Killen or Kieran. He was memorable because he was the only black kid in town. No, not just black, but a combination of cultures. A mix of exactly what, Sullivan didn’t know.
The other teenagers, a blonde girl and two boys, were unknown to him. He frowned and scanned their faces again. There were far too many strangers coming through town of late. His instincts flared again, overwhelmed by the stench of death. The girl seemed to be pleading with the kid to come back over the side, while one of the boys, the one with red hair, was goading him on.
“Hey, kid, what are you doing?” asked Sullivan as he slowed his pace and came to a stop a few feet from him. He looked up as the street lights flickered on and off, turning the bridge into a stage of spot lights. The child’s despair washed over him and ache filled his heart but he couldn’t let that affect him now. Old instincts had reignited as the night crept slowly toward them. There was evil in the shadows. Sullivan drew in a deep breath and steadied himself as the last of the daylight disappeared behind the steep gorge walls and a malevolent darkness enveloped them all.
“The right thing,” said the boy dejectedly. He stretched out his arms and leaned farther into the nothingness of the canyon.
The red-haired kid pumped his fist in the air and danced around. “Do it! Do it! Do it!” he chanted viciously.
Sullivan scowled and wished he still owned a gun. He could feel the wind picking up. One gust would change this situation fast and even if the kid wasn’t serious, a current of air might do the job for him. He slowly dropped his groceries to the ground. He would have to do this the hard way.
“Killara, please come back over the railing. Don’t do it! You’re making me look bad,” pleaded the girl. She looked around and stamped her feet on the ground in frustration. “This isn’t fair. I’m not trained for this! If he jumps, you can’t hold me responsible!”
Sullivan picked up the cue and continued the conversation, slowly inching toward him. If he could just get closer. “Killara, son,” he started. “I know you’re hurting, but dying is not the answer. It’s never the answer.”
“What do you know, old man?” sneered the red-headed kid. “Go ahead, Killara. Jump. You’re a pathetic mistake–a problem that needs to be corrected. The world will be better off without you!”
“Stop it, Dagon! You’ve proven your point, so stop tormenting him now,” stammered the third kid. He was short and wiry with dark brown hair and a sullen look on his face. Glancing around, he kept hopping from foot to foot as if ready to run, given the chance.
“Shut up, Adam!” screamed Dagon. “You’re just as useless. I hate that I’m being forced to waste my time coddling you!”
He reached out to Adam and grabbed him by the arm. With an impossible feat of strength, he threw him across the bridge. Adam slammed into the mother of pearl wall and slid to the ground. All around them mysterious rumblings echoed, as if the earth responded to his actions. The light standards swayed and below his feet, the concrete moved.
Sullivan froze, his gaze never leaving the boy on the wrong side of the rail. Two hands, still tightly gripped, were very good. He didn’t care if the others grew fifteen heads and turned green, his focus was on that boy.
The girl glanced up at something on the bridge behind him and shrieked. She staggered back, as if something was going to reach out of the darkness and snatch her. A series of screams echoed off the canyon walls and seemed to make the shaking worse. Sullivan’s gaze flickered to her for a second and he watched her vanish before his eyes. In the space where she stood, a soft glow of gold remained as if a cascade of gold fireworks had exploded into the air.
Sullivan swore under his breath and took a few additional steps toward Killara. The kid seemed oblivious to Dagon or the girl’s actions, choosing to stare out into the dark maw of the canyon below.
Turning back to Killara, Sullivan felt anger rip through him. He swore softly again and struggled to maintain his focus. If this had been the old days, this situation would have been over by now. No matter, he still had a few tricks up his sleeve. He could feel the vibrations of evil rippling from Dagon. Every word out of his mouth seemed to slow down time. Sullivan felt his muscles strain as if he were trying to move through quicksand. Neat trick but he had endured much worse from bigger morons than him.
“Go ahead, Killara,” said Dagon, his voice low and hypnotic. “Let go. Just let go and all of your troubles will be over.”
“Don’t listen to that ugly jerk, Killara. There’s plenty in this world to live for,” Sullivan said sharply. He struggled to keep his rage in check. It wouldn’t take much to send the kid over the edge. He was rewarded with one step closer and that was all he needed. “Hey, you ugly loser!” he said to Dagon. “Why don’t you shut your trap and go bully someone else?”
Dagon erupted into a fit of screams and taunts. He turned his fury on Sullivan, lunging at him with his fists drawn. With the spell broken, Sullivan dodged him easily and snatched Killara by his jacket collar, hauling him back over the railing.
Down they fell, hitting the concrete pavement hard. For a minute the kid was incapacitated, the wind knocked out of him, and that suited Sullivan just fine. He needed to deal with him, but that would have to wait for a second.
Sullivan leapt to his feet and turned his attention to Dagon. He grabbed the back of his jacket with both hands and hauled him off his feet. Beating him senseless was an option, knowing that the bully was no match for his size and strength, but he had other ideas in mind. He needed to buy time.
“Let me go! What are you doing?” screamed Dagon.
His mouth opened wide and a piercing scream thundered across the bridge. The streetlights crackled and exploding sparks rained down on them. Killara looked around in horror. He could feel the bridge rumbling and wondered if he was headed to the bottom of the gorge after all.
“That’s enough out of you half breed!” Sullivan hissed.
Killara put his hands to his ears and curled into the fetal position on the ground. The scream was excruciating, but not enough to draw his eyes from the mysterious man.
He watched as Dagon was dragged to the railing and lifted high into the air. Ignoring the screams, the man tossed him over the side and watched as he disappeared into the night.
“Jesus Christ!” Killara yelled hysterically. “Jesus Christ, you just killed him!”
Sullivan turned and pointed his finger at him. “Hey! Sullivan’s rule, Number Eight. No swearing.”
“But you killed him! You just threw him over the side!” Killara couldn’t tear his eyes from the edge of the bridge. Dagon was there one minute and then he was gone.
“Good riddance,” muttered Sullivan. Without an ounce of surprise, he looked up and noted that the second boy had disappeared. He walked over to Killara and watched as he scooted away in fear.
“Get up,” he said gruffly.
“Why, so you can throw me over, too?”
Sullivan sighed and rubbed his eyes. “No. So we can get you home.” He paused and looked at him curiously. “You know, for a kid who was trying to off himself a minute ago, you seem to care an awful lot about dying now.”
Killara opened his mouth but his words tumbled away. He slowly climbed to his feet, glanced at Sullivan, and flushed. “I–I don’t know why I did that. I just felt so bad and with everyone yelling at me, it just seemed like the cool thing to do.”
Sullivan glared at him. “Cool? No wonder your generation is screwed up. Suicide is never cool, kid.” he said sarcastically.
“I just wanted everything to stop.”
Sullivan shook his head in disbelief. “Welcome to life, kid. Nothing stops. Not time, not life, not even death. It’s just one endless journey and your attitude dictates the state of the road.” He looked at him and scowled. “Suicide is the coward’s way out. Everyone has their problems and from where I stand, you don’t look like you’re too badly off.”
“Yeah, well you don’t know me,” Killara shot back.
“Maybe not, but I know that bad judgment aside, you appear to be intelligent, not bad looking, and have two working arms and legs.”
“So you should be making something of your life, not letting some loser tell you how to end it.” Looking at him warily, Sullivan went to collect his groceries from where he left them. “Come on. We should get you home,” he said. “What side of the bridge is your house?”
Killara pointed across the bridge to the east side of town. Still in a daze, he backed away as Sullivan walked toward him. “I can’t believe that you killed him,” he sputtered. “Shouldn’t we call the police?”
“And tell them what? They won’t find a body. He’s not dead.”
Killara stared at him like he was crazy. He gestured to the spot where Dagon had stood. “What? What do you mean he’s not dead? I saw him go over. No one could survive that fall.”
“Can’t kill a Demon, kid. At least not that way.” Sullivan sighed. A sense of wistfulness laced his voice. “Believe me, I wish it were that easy.”
“Demon?” The word a mere whisper on his lips, Killara stood there and stared at the man in disbelief.
“Yeah,” Sullivan said. He picked up Killara’s knapsack and handed it to him. Not getting a response, he hooked it on the boy’s shoulder and lifted his arm to keep it in place.
“You mean like from Hell, spouting fire, and killing everyone in sight, Demon?”
“Look, kid, can we get moving? I’m feeling a little exposed here,” Sullivan said as he started down the street. Getting the boy home was the only way to make sure that he was safe. That Demon had friends and who knew when they would come back?
“Who are you?” Killara replied with a mix of shock and disbelief.
“Name’s Michael Sullivan–but everyone calls me Sullivan.”
Killara looked at him as if he were crazy. “You want me to believe that Dagon is a Demon–a servant of the Devil with pointy teeth and–and a tail? That’s crazy.”
“No. What’s crazy is that you can see and hear them, kid,” Sullivan said slowly. “That’s not supposed to be possible.”
“My name is Killara Jones. I’m sixteen and not a kid,” Killara replied indignantly. He blinked and Sullivan could see him still trying to process his statement. “So what are you, like a Demon killer? Do you walk around with wooden stakes and holy water?”
“I think that’s a vampire hunter,” Sullivan replied, a hint of a smile crossing his face. “I’m willing to bet that you’re psychic, right? That’s why you could see him?”
Killara’s face flushed. He shoved his hands into his pockets. “Maybe. I see a lot of weird things. Sometimes I think I’m nuts. I can see and hear things that other guys can’t.”
“And with you tonight,” said Sullivan carefully, “How many could you see?”
He rolled his eyes and smirked at him. “Testing me to see how crazy I am? There were three–Grace, Adam, and Dagon.”
Sullivan increased his speed and forced Killara into a run to keep up. The kid could see too much and that was disturbing. Sullivan’s mind raced. A psychic kid who could see Demons. What was going on here? After several minutes of walking, the main road ended and he let Killara take the lead down a series of picturesque side streets.
“So you decided to make friends with things that no one else can see?” asked Sullivan. “Not too smart, considering they don’t care if you live or die.”
A look of resentment flashed across Killara’s face. “They’re not my friends,” he said in a huff.
“So how do you know their names?”
“I listen. I don’t think they know that I can see or hear them. They keep talking at me so I shut up and let them go on.”
“And all three of them travel together?”
“No. The guys hang out a lot. Dagon is bossy and I don’t think the other one likes it. He’s quiet most of the time,” Killara said. “The girl, Grace, appears when I think about… well…other stuff.”
“Demons live to get in your head. They excel in influence. Whisper things that make you want to do all sorts of bad stuff.”
Killara laughed bitterly. “So the Devil really is making me do it? Didn’t know she appeared as such an airhead. Half the stuff she says doesn’t make sense.”
“The girl isn’t a Demon,” said Sullivan
“Then what is she?”
Sullivan sighed and stared out into the night. “Someone who isn’t doing her job,” he replied bitterly. A puzzled look made him think that the kid was at his limit for the strange and unusual tonight. “Forget it,” he added brusquely, “She’s not important right now.”
He silently weighed his options as they walked down the dark side street. He knew he needed to help this kid, but how was the question–if only it were like the old days.
Sensing the silence was getting awkward, Killara changed tactics and tried to find out more about the mystery man that had saved him. “So what do you do? You know for a living?” he said, interrupting the man’s thoughts.
“I’m retired. Used to be a police detective,” Sullivan replied absently.
“Right. A cop who knows about Demons. I’m not that stupid,” Killara said. “Besides you’re too young to be retired. You can’t be a day over, what forty?”
Sullivan grinned and took a long, deep breath. “Sure. Sounds good to me. Say what kind of name is Killara anyway?”
“Australian. That’s where I was born,” replied Killara. There was so much more about this mysterious man that he wanted to know. Killara shuffled along the road, trying to delay his arrival home which was only a block away.
“Neat, so you’re–”
“Aboriginal. Well, half. My Dad was and my Mom is Norwegian.”
Killara shrugged and kicked a pebble down the street. “He died when I was eight. After that, we came back to The States to live with my mom’s family. Her side is from here.”
“In good old North Dakota, where if the cold doesn’t kill you, the mosquitoes will,” Sullivan mused. “Far cry from the Land Down Under.”
They had entered one of the nicer areas of town with two-story gingerbread houses and neighborhood watch groups. A cat sat at the end of a driveway and meowed a greeting. Kids on bikes rode by. A small, but tidy Victorian, complete with wraparound porch, sat cheerfully on the corner of the street.
“Not much I can do about that now,” Killara replied. He stopped and motioned to the house in front of him. “This is me.”
Sullivan looked around at the pretty houses and well-groomed yards. He shook his head and wondered how such a normal kid could get mixed up with their kind. A couple walking their dog passed by and wished them a good evening. There was nothing unsafe about this neighborhood. He wasn’t sure if that gave him cause to be alarmed. What was so special about this kid that would put him on the wrong side of someone’s radar?
“Look, Killara, about those Demons. They can’t physically hurt you, but they can influence you.”
“Can’t I get rid of them somehow? You know, toss a crucifix or holy water at them?”
Sullivan’s eyes rolled up in exasperation. “No. Got anymore Hollywood clichés you want to throw at me? What about mummies or haunted houses?”
“So what can I do?” Killara asked.
His shoulders sagged and he stood there with a defeated look on his face. He shuffled around, looking like he had something else to say.
“Keep your head down, don’t listen to them. Is there a time when they aren’t in your face?”
“Sure at Evil High,” Killara said with a shrug. “There are too many other distractions.”
Sullivan rubbed his neck with his hand. The corners of his mouth turned up in a tight smirk. Evil High was the nickname for Khalija High School–the only secondary school in town. He couldn’t remember a time when the kids hadn’t called it that.
“Good. See you around.”
“Wait, that’s it? Am I ever going to see you again?” asked Killara.
“It’s a small town. I’m sure we’ll bump into each other,” Sullivan replied. He gave him a wave, before walking into the darkness of the night.
Killara stood in the street, then turned, and walked through his front door. His mind was spinning. Did this conversation just happen and, more importantly, was there someone else who could see what he saw?
A short distance away, Sullivan turned and watched until the kid was safely inside. Something was going horribly wrong and he needed to know why. Despite the fables swirling around the town, Khalija was not a place for a Demon to set up shop. His eyes narrowed–or was it?
And then there was Grace. He hadn’t seen her kind for over fifty years. Why now and what was so important about this kid? He knew he had set things in motion when he shouldn’t have interfered, but something stunk here, and now he needed to talk to someone about it. He glanced down and looked at his watch. Ten hours, maybe twelve, tops. Go looking for trouble and it was sure to find you. He wouldn’t have to wait long, he guessed, before that someone would come looking for him.
© 2013 by Christine Wall