Pool party. I’m an idiot, right? For someone like me, wouldn’t a big body of water by the prime place to avoid?
Most of the time, my brain’s thinking clearly, and I would have declined the invitation. Hell, I’ve gotten really good at thinking about all the twists and turns of any sort of social interaction – will there be booze, and I might lose control? Will people be getting wet? Is there rubbing alcohol around? Will my secret remain safe?
But when Kara looked at me, those big eyes of hers glimmering in the flickering light of our college graduation bonfire, my brain turned off. She grinned as she informed the rest of us that her parents had a pool in their backyard, that she was “watching their house” and could “totally get us in.” She leapt up to her feet, body parts jiggling in delightful ways that made my hindbrain applaud, and waved at us to follow her. Continue reading
“Hey, Teddy,” I called to the bearded man sitting outside my morning Starbucks stop, his battered piece of cardboard clutched in grubby hands. “How’s the morning?”
He looked up at me, his eyebrows drawing together with distrust – but then smoothing out as he recognized me. “Fancy Dave!” he answered, pulling back his lips to show me a grin mostly bereft of teeth. “And how is selling the world today, eh?”
“Oh, usual. Same as always.” I reached into my pocket, feeling around for a dollar, maybe a few quarters, whatever I had for loose change. It was mostly automatic by this point, a ritual that had become ingrained in my morning routine, as unthinking as pulling on socks before shoes. Continue reading
The corner of the office was on fire.
I blinked, turning to look at the flames as they climbed up over the vaguely orange-pink wallpaper, twisting and letting out little screams as they singed the leaves of the fake potted plant that failed to cover up the water stains behind it. I considered looking around for a fire extinguisher, but I just knew that it would be way expired, and wouldn’t make this situation any better. Might as well just let the fire burn itself out.
It did, a few seconds later – but as it retreated, it left a hulking, red-skinned form standing in the corner, horns scraping against the ceiling and glinting yellow eyes leering down at me. The humanoid figure stepped forward, its hooves leaving smoking, burned impressions in the dirty carpet.
“Peter Welch,” the figure snarled, lifting one hand to reach out towards me – but then paused, shifting its glare from me over to its own arm. “Hold on, what is this?” Continue reading
Author’s query: Is this story ever going to end? Goodness, I hope so, if only because I want to write other things!
Continued from Chapter 50, here.
I should have been paying more attention to the ground below the helicopter, before it descended to drop me off. Maybe if I’d seen more of the surrounding area, I could have a better idea of what I faced, just how many resources might be here for my disposal.
The combined militaries of the rest of the world, the parts untouched by the Event, had clearly been busy during the months that I’d been exploring Dark America. I stood at the entrance to what looked like a small village of military tents, their camouflage patterns standing out against the waving grasses of an open field.
All around me, the tents bustled with activity. Men rushed back and forth, carrying everything from papers to heavy boxes. For most people, the level of directed activity might have seemed overwhelming. Continue reading
Continued from Chapter 49, here.
Major Karla Starling might not have heard of my name, but it soon became apparent that someone, higher up on the military food chain, knew of me. As soon as Starling spoke my name into the receiver of the phone, I saw her posture shift. Her back straightened and her head rose, and she risked a quick, appraising glance back over her shoulder at me before turning away to speak.
Five minutes later, she lowered the receiver back to the desk in front of her and turned to face me. Her eyes ran over me, but she didn’t speak for a few seconds.
“Well?” I asked. Continue reading
“I’m sorry,” I said, for what had to be the tenth time since the interview started. “What am I here to do, again? Exactly?”
The manager of the IKEA, a pugnacious and pot-bellied little man settling unpleasantly into middle age, turned his head to glare back at me. “Get rid of the pests!” he repeated, clarifying absolutely nothing. The fluorescent lights glinted off his bald egg of a head, piercing through the meager hairs that attempted to cover the expanse of sweaty scalp. “You have pest experience, yes?” Continue reading
Continued from Chapter 48, here.
“Now, Captain Richards,” Starling called over her shoulder as she led me out of the interrogation room and up towards the main deck, “let me tell you about what we’ve been facing, while you’ve been vacationing in this ‘Dark America’ you’re describing.”
I had to fight to hold my tongue at that ‘vacation’ crack, but I kept my mouth shut. Major Starling hadn’t known the rest of my team, and although she likely realized what I’d lost, she perhaps thought that humor would help me move past it. She was wrong, but I wasn’t going to waste time fighting her. Not when she might prove to be my only ally.
We reached the main deck, and Starling turned to head towards the ship’s castle. The bridge, I guessed, was our destination. “I hate to burst your bubble, but your disappearance didn’t raise headlines,” she said. “I’ve heard of Nathaniel Hobbson, but I haven’t heard of you – or your team – before now.” Continue reading
“Oof!” I didn’t hesitate to swing back with an elbow as another reporter attempted to jostle into my space. Did he think that, because I was a woman, and barely over a hundred and ten pounds when soaking wet, that I wouldn’t use every inch of my five feet to keep my spot?
My elbow landed into a gut made soft by too many meals of fast food eaten in a car while on a stakeout or chasing a story, and the man staggered back. He lowered his camera just long enough to shoot me a dirty look before turning his attention back forward. His camera flashed, threatening to blind me if I let my eyes stray sideways.
I turned my attention back forward. Thanks to a combination of showing up early, knowing how to palm a twenty, and managing to catch the eye of Henry, the bailiff, I’d managed to land a prime spot near the front row of the court room’s observation bench. If I didn’t screw up, this might pay off – big time. Continue reading
Continued from Chapter 47, here.
Eventually, after much back-and-forth, we managed to work out some sort of agreement on the truth of my identity.
The woman who greeted me on board the offshore destroyer, Major Kara Starling, seemed razor sharp. From the moment that she greeted me, tired eyes still possessing the strength to bore straight through my defenses and into my head, I knew that she’d instantly skewer me on any lie that I tried.
So I told the truth.
In hindsight, that might have been the bigger mistake. Continue reading
I groaned at the man standing on my doorstep. “Come on, it’s not even eight in the morning,” I sighed, reaching up to rub at my sleep-addled eyes. “Can’t you give me a couple hours to drink my coffee, at least?”
He, of course, didn’t bother with any small talk. I guess the niceties fade after a few eons in Hell. How long is an eon, anyway? “You need to take it back. The deal is off.”
Instead of answering, I brushed past him, heading to my beat-up little car, parked down at the far end of the lot. I vaguely considered aiming a half-hearted kick at the Hummer parked crooked across two spots, but decided against it. The thumping echoing through the thin walls of my apartment last night told me that Kelsey, downstairs, had found a new boyfriend. His choice of vehicle told me that this one wasn’t likely to be any more permanent than the others that cycled through. Continue reading