Chapter 7

Abandoned America

Oliver adjusted the focus on his large format SLR camera, double checked the exposure settings, then stepped away and tapped the remote trigger button on his phone. The camera began snapping and whirring as it cycled through a series of exposures, ranging from a low setting so dark that it captured nothing but the rays of sunlight streaking down through the dense cover of cypress limbs and kudzu, to an upper range at which only the deepest shadows beneath the dilapidated porch were not blown out to pure white. It was tricky, capturing so many frames of the same scene without blurring the image, but Oliver thought that the end result would be worth the effort. Once the camera had captured the scene in every possible range of light and depth of field Oliver would download the images into his computer, run them through a series of combining filters, and craft an image that was as much a work of art as a traditional photograph. Rather than a mere photograph of an abandoned farmhouse, the image would convey precisely the details and mood that he chose. In his more eloquent moments, usually fueled by several beers and a late night of photo editing, Oliver had been known to describe the process as “light painting.”

Such rambling, artistic rants tended to leave Oliver with a feeling of embarrassment the next morning, but with his usual topic of relic hunting somewhat off limits at the moment, he supposed that he had to find enjoyment wherever he could.

Oliver’s decision to take a break from the relic hunting game had not exactly been on a voluntary basis. About half a year before arriving in Louisiana, Oliver had succeeded in finding yet another of the mysterious metal shards that he had been hunting for over a decade. Each of the fragments, he had tracked down five in his own right and inherited a sixth from his uncle, was made of a mysterious silvery metal that remained cold to the touch in seemingly any environment. Oliver had found the shards in remote locations throughout the world, many of them hidden by a mysterious organization that Oliver had initially called the Creed, but had since leaned referred to itself as Watchers. Whatever they might be called, this organization had long guarded the shards, arranging for them to be placed in remote locations throughout the world where their impact on humanity could be minimized. It was by tracking down the shards and gathering them together in one place that Oliver had drawn the ire of the organization and, as strange as it still seemed to him, attracted the attention of three persons who had once been worshiped as part of the Norse pantheon. Following the near disaster of his encounter with those long forgotten deities, one of them, a woman named Remiel, had arranged the truce between Oliver and the other Watchers. Under the terms of the deal, Oliver had once again scattered the shards, this time to a variety of bank vaults in small towns across the United States, and had agreed to not bring them together again without Remiel’s consent. It was an unspoken, but strongly implied, element of the arrangement that he would also cease to search for more shards.