The Object: Book Two is Underway


It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything, and with April being Write Book Two Month, I thought I’d toss some updates your way and wipe the dust off this blog.

The serialization of Book Two is slated to begin Thursday, May 2nd, though I’m considering changing to Sunday postings.  I’m embedding a poll at the bottom of this post for you to tell me what day of the week you’d prefer them.  I have no idea when people read or spend time on the internet.

If all goes according to plan, I’ll be releasing Book Two along with the posting of Episode One, so those of you who don’t want to wait can go ahead and grab a copy.  BUT there’s a catch.  In this season of The Object, we have a side episode that will post on the blog but won’t be in the book.  I can’t share the details just yet, but let’s just say this place is about to get a lot more interactive.  (Hope you like music!)

In other news, I’m going to be publishing a few novels and short story collections written by a local winemaker who’d heard about my minor success and wanted me to take a look at his writing.  I was blown away, and now I’ve taken on the duties of an editor and marketer for these manuscripts, some of which are close to 30 years old.  I’ll have more details on Nick and his books when it gets closer to the publication date.

For now, I’m shuffling between Book Two of The Object and finishing up a secret writing project I can’t tell you about.  I’ll try to post more often from here on out, but if I disappear again, know it’s because I’m writing.

While you’re waiting for Book Two, I’d appreciate if you would share your thoughts on Book One.  The more Amazon reviews it gets, the higher it will climb in popularity lists, which means more readers and more revenue to make this place more dynamic and interesting.

Post a review on Amazon

I’d also love to hear from those of you who’ve yet to post a comment here, on the Facebook page, etc.  Helps keep me from thinking I’m talking to myself.  Haha.  Feel free to share any thoughts you have on the story, predictions, questions, etc.

Later.

Oh, the poll:

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Episode Twelve, The Object: Book One

Episode Twelve


The Object: a free serial novel

Episode Twelve: “Cockroaches”

Want to comment as you read?  Open this episode’s discussion thread.

Cockroaches

 

Danny crouched by the wall on the Exit 125 overpass of I-65, just south of Gene Snyder Freeway.  In the orange sunlight, he smoked a cigarette and watched the object, a thing so large and heavy that if it were to fall it might open a fissure in the ground deep enough to vomit up lava.

From here the view was breathtaking.  Danny was far enough away as to not be directly under the thing and could see its upper hemisphere.  The ring encircling the object was completely detached and turning slowly, like the hour hand of a clock, casting so dark a shadow diagonally along the middle of the object that it gave the illusion of a deep, metallic cavern where flying creatures beyond fathom slept hanging from the walls.  As a backdrop to the view, a canopy of deep red and purple clouds streaked across the horizon.

Danny only noticed the ring’s movement because he’d been sitting here so long.  Getting to this overpass unseen had proved quite a task, hiking up Exit 125’s long ramp the least of his journey, and for an hour he lay on his back in the gravelly emergency lane, smoking and decided how best to proceed.

But the time for rest was over.  As soon as he finished his last cigarette, he was going to break through the barricade and get the hell away from that thing in the sky before some hatch opened up at the bottom and shot down a laser to vaporize the city.  Danny at the right distance to hear the faraway screams and know, for a moment, what colossal agony raced towards him.

A quarter mile to the south, soldiers stood guard in a line that stretched from emergency lane to emergency lane across the interstate, all of them posted behind a thick run of tangled razor wire.  Parked at random behind the men were two tanks, one for northbound, one for southbound, and enough military jeeps, hummers, and trucks to host a parade.

Danny peaked up over the concrete wall, scanned the row of soldiers, and dropped.  He guessed thirty and maybe twenty more mingling in the back.

A few more, for certain, in the tanks.

He was ready.  He rose slowly, snuck his rifle onto the ledge.  Through the scope he studied the soldiers’ faces.  Despite their stiff, unflinching posture, the men were talking to each other.  Some of them were laughing.

Kill a few to rile them up.  Kill a few more and force them to use heavy artillery.  Run back to the Exit 10 overpass.  Climb the embankment.  Get into the woods.  Any soldiers posted there would have headed down to the interstate to see the action.  Slip right past.

Danny pulled the trigger and a soldier’s face exploded.

He watched the body drop, relished the stunned expressions on his comrades’ faces.

Then he was being shot at, first by M-16 rifle fire, then by M-60s, what sounded like dozens of them.  He could feel the bullets eating away at the other side of the wall as the machine guns ate up bandoliers.

He began to laugh.  It had only taken one shot.  Behind the thunder of gunfire, he could hear the whine of the tank’s cannon turning.

~ ~ ~ ~

Roger sprinted across the street, figuring with the noise no one would hear him, and his chances of being seen increased the longer he stayed out in the open.  When he dove around the corner of the house, he was sure the gunfire would turn on him.

But it didn’t.

He scrambled to his feet and crab-walked to the corner, where he peeked out at the firing squad.  Several of them had stopped shooting, but the youngest of them still grinned and fired away, as if today were Christmas and they’d just turned on the most anticipated video game of the year.

Roger knew the feeling, but this was nothing like a first-person shooter.  No surround sound system in the world could duplicate the real sound of gunshots, the thud of them, the terror that sound evoked right out of the air.

He took aim on the kid farthest from him and fired.  Blood burst from the kid’s neck and he collapsed into the kid next to him, who had stopped shooting moments before.

Roger shot that one in the head and he fell on top the other.

He took out two more before the rest noticed and started looking his way.  He darted down the side of the house and around back.

The kids were shooting at the house now.  Roger peeked around the back corner, up the alley between the two houses.  He could see two of the remaining five kids from here, and their attention was focused on the corner he’d just fled.

He jumped across the opening and ran around the left side of the adjacent house, up to the corner.  He had a good angle on them here.  He could see their backs.

This time he didn’t pause.  Three fell almost instantly and the street fell silent.  He missed the fourth, a short kid with bushy hair.  The kid spotted him and fired a shot that splintered the trim next to Roger’s face.  He felt the bullet graze the sleeve on his left shoulder, a few inches from tearing his throat open, like he’d done to that first kid.  Then to two more.

Another shot rang out, thudding into the wall around the corner.  About five seconds later, another.

Roger readied himself to pop around the corner right after the kid’s next shot, but right before it came he felt something hard press into his lower spine.

When the shot came, his body stiffened so tight it sent pain all through him.  It took him a moment to realize he hadn’t been shot, that the kid out on the street was still plugging the house with rounds.

“Hey yo man, drop the gun.”

A young voice, right behind him, sniffling.

Roger dropped his gun.  “Wait.  Kid.  Let me turn around.”

He tried but the kid started screaming to his friend.  “Trey I got him, come here!  Don’t move, man!  Come on, Trey!”

Trey came running wide open around the corner, gun out, and passed them.  He skidded to a stop and came back, pointing his gun at Roger’s face.  His eyes looked like they’d been plucked out of a wild creature and inserted into his sockets.  Bloodshot and yellow.  He looked fifteen years old otherwise.

“Wait,” Roger said, followed by nothing.

Trey stood there a moment, then shrugged and looked around the area.  “Well?  What’re we waitin’ for?”  He nodded and began to shuffle his feet.  “Oh yeah, that’s right, to die.”

The last thing Roger saw before he closed his eyes was Trey raising his left hand palm up to balance his grip.

Then came a deafening blast and he felt his body sling into the side of the house and collapse loose and numb to the ground.

The first thing to return to him was his vision.  He lay with his face in the thin dead grass, staring straight ahead at a spot of bare dirt.

As he reached out for what lay there, the sound of Trey and the other kid crying on the ground nearby began to grow in his ears like a distant siren drawing closer.

He picked up the bullet and got to his knees, studying it closely and running his hand up and down his body, searching for blood.  In front of him, Trey writhed about on the ground, his gun several feet from him.

Roger crawled to the gun, picked it up, and pointed it at Trey’s head.

Another loud blast knocked him off his knees.  When he gathered himself, he looked for its source and saw Sprinkles next to the tree, staggering on wobbly legs.

“There you are,” he said in a long breath.  He climbed to his feet tucking Trey’s gun into his back pocket.  He found his own gun in the grass and returned it to its holster, then picked up the other kid’s gun, the one that had been digging into his back, and stowed it in a front pocket.

He remembered the bullet between his thumb and index finger.  In perfect condition.  It hadn’t impacted something at any real velocity.  The only explanation was that Sprinkles had knocked it right out of the air, and if Sprinkles had been but a fraction of a second late, Roger would have hit the ground with his skull cored.

Roger approached Sprinkles, the boys still curled up in the grass, crying, but Sprinkles hobbled away quick enough that Roger had to chase him out onto the street and over to the intersection, where the squad car looked like it had been hollowed out by metal-eating termites.  As he approached the car, he could hear the female cop sobbing.  He came around the trunk, carefully, in case she decided to shoot.

Peeking over the car, he noticed the woman’s gun on the ground.  The other cop was dead or unconscious, and blood still seeped out into the rough grain of the pavement in a four foot radius around him.

“Ma’am,” he said.

The woman screamed and cowered against the car.

“It’s okay, I’m not going to hurt you,” he said.  “I got all–most of them.  Is backup coming?”

She shook her head timidly.

“Can you radio for them?  I shot a lot of people.  Some could still be alive.  Two of them definitely are.  They’re over there.”  He pointed.

The woman wasn’t listening.  Roger stepped around the dead cop and knelt in front of her.  This was the first time he got a close look at her face.  She couldn’t be any older than twenty-five, probably younger.  Frail, shaking like a poodle.

“Hey, you need to radio to dispatch, okay?  You need to call this in.”

“No,” she mumbled.

Roger nodded, unsure what to do.  He reached out slowly to take the radio mike from her shoulder.  Just when he unhooked it from the strap, she lunged forward and hugged him, crying, “I don’t want to be a cop.  I can’t take it.”

“Okay,” Roger said, letting his arm settle over her back, then putting his other arm around her.  “It’s okay.  You don’t have to be a cop.”

The girl buried her face in his neck and wept.  He pressed the button on the radio mike, paused, let go.  A woman’s voice came through, crackly and distant and unclear.  He turned the knob until it clicked, then returned the mike to her shoulder.

When he finally got her to stand up, he ushered her around the front end of the squad car to avoid another breakdown at the sight of her dead partner.  Along the way he picked up her gun and returned it to its holster on her belt.

Behind him Sprinkles meowed.  He turned to find the cat lying on the pavement, struggling to keep his head up.

“What’s the matter with you?” Roger asked.

A weak hiss.

“Do you want me to carry you?”

Meow.

Roger thought a moment.  “Are we doing the one meow, two meows thing again?”

Meow.

The girl was staring at him now, her face a mess of confusion and fear.  He opened his mouth to say something but stumbled for words.  How would he explain Sprinkles?  Should he bother?

He picked up Sprinkles, held him against his chest, and came back to the driver’s side of the mangled squad car, where the woman stood hugging herself and staring at her feet.

When he saw the boys coming, he reached for one of the guns stuffed into his pants.  Sprinkles made a breathy attempt at a hiss.  Roger paused, and when he saw the kids’ faces, both soaked in tears and snot, he let go of the grip.

The boys stopped six feet shy of Roger and the woman and stood there, arms dangling by their sides, staring Roger directly in the eyes, as if waiting for permission to speak.

“What do you want?” Roger said.

Trey spoke first.  “I’m sorry.  Ray said we had to.  You gotta do what Ray says.  We didn’t shoot nobody.  We just shot the car, both of us.  I promise.  I’m sorry.”

“You tried to shoot me, remember?”

“But you was shootin’ at us,” Trey said.  “I had to by then.  For real, man.  I’m sorry.  We didn’t mean it.”

Roger turned to the smaller boy, the one who had put the gun to his back.  “What about you?”

The smaller boy couldn’t break from his sobbing to speak.  From the look of him, he seemed certain he was about to die.

“Pete don’t talk much,” Trey said, any hint of crying gone from his voice.

“Look,” Roger said.  “I’m not sure what you want, but I’m not gonna report you.  Just get out of here.  And stop shooting at people.”

“We don’t want to go back,” Trey said.  “We want to go with you.”

~ ~ ~ ~

Barry led Sheila around the side of the building and out across the yard.  The sun had set minutes before and darkness enveloped the golf course.  Sheila wore nothing but a matching bra and panties.  He’d had no trouble talking her and Hailey into stripping, stopping them before they got completely naked.  No reason to rush things.  He could charm cobras if he wished.

Derek and Hailey chatted away on the balcony, almost shouting at one another, Derek bragging about cases he’d recently put down.  It wouldn’t be long before he showed her his gun.  What a loser.

Barry and Sheila stumbled out to the seventh green, closest to the building.  Sheila tripped on the thick grass of the fringe and fell next to the cup, laughing and wincing.  She’d scraped her forearm and both knees, now streaked with green stains.

Barry laughed at her.  Hair tousled, underwear hiked up on her butt cheek.  He kept walking until he reached the center of the green and stood there drinking from a bourbon glass that was two-thirds full with no ice.

Sheila peeked inside the cup and pulled out a golf ball.  She turned over and lay flat on her back with her knees pulled up and swaying from side to side.  Barry turned and watched her try to balance the golf ball on the tip of her nose.  It rolled down her forehead and bounced across the green and into the cup.  Sheila shrieked with excitement.

“You’re lucky,” Barry said, looking over her pale flesh in the haze of strange darkness.  “It feeds into the environment, you know.”

“Huh?”

“Luck,” Barry said.  “Positive energy.”

In the distance, Hailey was laughing and repeatedly saying, “No way.”

Barry looked up at the jagged underbelly of the object.  He raised his glass.  “If you’re going to do something, do it already.”

Sheila giggled and whispered, “That’s what she said.”

Barry turned and found her stretching and yawning.  A challenge, naked and writhing in the grass?

He knelt before her, put a hand on her knee, and then fell backwards as a gunshot rang out in the night, followed by hooping and howling from the balcony.

Derek had shown her his gun.  And now she was shooting at them.

Sheila sat up, wide-eyed.  Another shot rang out and a tuft of grass exploded ten feet away.

“Oh my God,” Sheila said.

Barry pulled his gun out from its ankle holster.

“It’s your friend,” he said.  “She can’t hit anything.  Here.”

He put the gun in Sheila’s hand.

“No way,” Sheila said, trying to give it back.

Barry pushed her hand away.  “Go ahead.  The safety’s off.  Just aim and pull the trigger.”

“What if I kill someone?”

“You can’t hit anything either,” he said.

Another shot, and Sheila’s shoulders tensed.  She raised the gun, pointed it at the building, and fired.  A window exploded.  She and Hailey took turns firing until they’d emptied their clips, Barry and Derek laughing and shouting threats at one another.  Sheila’s final shot sent the sliding glass door behind Derek and Hailey splashing down like a waterfall.  In the silence to follow, Hailey cursed and cried out.  She’d cut her foot on the glass.

“I didn’t get her, did I?” Sheila asked.

Barry pushed her down on the grass, saying nothing.

~ ~ ~ ~

Hayden rented a room at a weekly rate hotel down in Okolona.  After breaking into a department store and quickly filling two shopping bags with clothes, then driving around to find the only restaurant still open, a Chinese place on Preston Highway, the sun had set, ushering in an unusual dark.  The sign on the hotel flickered on the face of the building, drawing his attention to its OPEN sign and to Lillia, droopy-eyed and slumped in her seat.  She needed to rest.

According to the clerk who spoke with a mouthful of potato chips from the vending machine, he only had one room available, a double bed.  The parking lot was nearly empty, but Hayden didn’t argue.  The clerk had probably seen him pulling in and made an educated guess as to what rate he’d be willing to pay, based upon how expensive his car looked.  Lillia would want her own bed anyway, right?

The clerk was a large man with a full beard.  He spoke lazily, as if he’d just woken from a nap.  Hayden paid him for the room and sighed as the clerk recited a long spiel about the room’s amenities and the conditions under which Hayden could lose his security deposit of fifty bucks.

“I’ve stayed here before,” Hayden said when the clerk paused to stuff another handful of chips into his mouth.

The clerk nodded slowly, pushing the keycard and rental agreement across the counter, leaving greasy fingerprints on both.

When he stepped out of the office, he noticed Lillia had fallen asleep in the car.  He got in quietly and pulled around the building, parking near the staircase closest to their room on the second floor.

“Hey, we’re here.”

Lillia made a whimpering sound, sat up, and rubbed her eyes.  “What is this place?”

“A hotel,” he said.  “I don’t know how crumby it is.”

“As long as it has a shower,” Lillia said, her voice trailing off as she climbed out of the car.

He led her upstairs and opened the door for her, then said, “Be right back.  I’m gonna bring up the clothes.”

Lillia nodded, yawning and stretching.

He closed the door behind him and checked to make sure it had locked.  Then he stood guard for a moment, studying the area.  He could see people loitering in the shadows of the L-shaped building’s walkways, tips of cigarettes dancing, the murmur of drunken conversation.  He made quick work of retrieving the bags.  At the car, he noticed a uniformed security guard walking along with a clipboard and a set of master keycards.  He wasn’t armed.  Across the parking lot, two girls were climbing the ditch that separated this property from the convenience store next door, each of them carrying a grocery bag, both laughing and shrieking and gossiping about some boy.  Someone on the second floor called down to the security guard, “You keepin’ ’em in line tonight, Joey?”

“You know it,” Joey said.

“What was that explosion a little while ago?”

“I didn’t hear it.  Where’d it come from?”

“I don’t know,” the voice said.  Hayden couldn’t find its source.  “Sounded like it come from Outer Loop.  Fairdale maybe.  That direction, at least.  It was big, whatever it was.”

The conversation continued as Hayden returned to the room, walking a little slower than before.  No one else around here seemed anxious or afraid, which told him nothing terrible had happened here so far.  The two girls crossing the parking lot couldn’t be any older than twelve, though they were dressed like they were heading to a club.  He wondered what kind of parents would let their pre-teen daughters roam the streets at night, but if kidnappers lurked around every corner, he never would have seen them in the first place.

Still, he felt better back in the room with the door locked and latched.  Lillia was in the shower, her clothes bundled up outside the bathroom door.

Hayden dumped the bag of girl’s clothes on one of the beds.  Then he turned on the television and flipped through the channels until he came to a news station reporting an incident at the military barricade on I-65, south of the city.  They had a helicopter on the scene, showing an overhead view of the rubble that yesterday had been an overpass.  The reporter speculated that the military had possibly fired upon an alien.

As Hayden watched the story, he realized this hotel was less than two miles from the scene.  He crawled across the bed against the wall and looked out the window.  Sure enough, he could see the spotlight from the news helicopter to the southwest.  Down in the parking lot, he noticed two men arguing, one of them, the security guard, standing still while the other circled him.  Hopefully those girls had gone back to their room.

Hayden checked the locks on the door and windows.  He grabbed a chair from the tiny kitchen table and wedged it under the door knob.  The weather strip had rotted away, letting light, insects, and cool air creep in through the crack under the door.

As he inspected the room for dirtiness and cockroaches, he eventually came to the bathroom door.  He thought he heard Lillia crying but with the splatter of the showerhead and the high-pitched whining sound of pressurized air in the faucet, he couldn’t tell for sure.

The news coverage changed from the explosion on the interstate to a series of police slayings all across the city.  Hayden turned up the volume to learn that at least half of the LMPD’s forces were dead or in critical condition.

The shower turned off and Hayden muted the television.  He sorted through his bag of clothes and put together an outfit for when he got out of the shower.  He’d stolen some basketball shorts to sleep in, but he wanted to be ready for anything, so he decided to sleep fully dressed.

Lillia came out of the bathroom wrapped in a thin hotel towel so small that it barely covered her and she had to hold it in place at the top and bottom.  She stood there looking nervous and cold, hair soaking wet, beads of water dripping down her bare arms and legs.  This was the first time he’d seen her without those red and white dreadlocks tied into her hair.  Without them she looked even younger.

Hayden realized he was staring at her.  He grabbed his clothes and went past her to the bathroom door, saying, “Clothes are on the bed.  I hope they fit.  I’ve never shopped for a girl before.”

“Thanks,” Lillia said.  “Which bed do you want?”

He stopped.  “Um, how about I take the one closest to the door?”

She nodded.

Hayden showered quickly with the door open.  If something happened, he wanted to be able to hear.  For several minutes, he lost himself in thought as anxiety washed over him along with the erratic jets of hot water from the showerhead.  He began to imagine coming out of the bathroom this time to find Lillia with her neck broken.  Barry standing over her.

The water went cold, disrupting the scenario playing out in his mind.  He cranked the squeaky knobs and jumped out and dried himself the best he could with the tiny towel.  He dressed quickly.

Lillia was sitting on her bed with the towel wrapped around her head.  She was wearing one of the t-shirts he’d stolen for himself.  No pants or skirt.  The shirt was big enough on her to serve as a dress, but the sight of her still surprised him.  He’d grabbed five or six pairs of jeans at the department store, even choosing several different sizes to increase the odds of picking something she could wear.  He must have botched that job completely, but why wouldn’t she at least put her skirt back on?  Did she trust him this much already?

Considering the gravity-defying roundhouse kick to that doctor’s head, maybe she didn’t need to trust him.  Hayden wasn’t even sure he could stand up against her in a fight.  Who knew what she was capable of?

To look at her, she wasn’t capable of anything.  Like a puppy being berated.  Frail enough that one too many harsh words could crush her like a giant boot.

“Couldn’t find anything that fit?” he asked.

Almost startled, Lillia turned and put her hand on the pile of clothes behind her.  “No, they’re great,” she said.  “All the shirts fit and two pairs of the pants.”

“Oh good,” he said, stepping past her to his bed.  He lay back against the pillow on the side next to the door.  Here he could feel a cold draft.

They watched the news for a little while with the lights off, Lillia bathed in the glow of the screen.  He stared at her, trying to think of something to say, and as if she sensed him watching her she began to tug at the hem of the t-shirt, straightening it over her pale hips.

“Is it okay if I turn this off?” she asked on a commercial break.

“Yeah, go ahead.  They’re just saying the same things over and over anyway.”

The television cut off, and with the curtains closed the room went pitch black.

Hayden heard the creak of the other bed as Lillia stood, and then he felt the depression of the mattress as she climbed into bed with him.

Silence ensued.  He lay in the dark too nervous to even look her way.  Eventually he assumed she’d fallen asleep, until finally she said, “Are we going to look for Drake and Kate tomorrow?”

“Sure,” he said.

She nodded and her forehead brushed against his shoulder.  He hadn’t realized how close to him she was, or that she was facing him.

“I think we should go back to the library.”

He felt a twinge of panic.  The blood.  She’d see it and know he lied to her.

“I looked all through the place,” he said.  “Didn’t find anything.”

“They could have left a note.  Drake used to write me notes all the time.”  She made a sound that might have been a diffident laugh.  “One time we were playing in my room and I went downstairs to make us a snack.  When I came back, there was a note on the door that said, ‘We are hiding under the bed.’  So I got down on my knees to check, and they came jumping out of the closet and scared me to death.”  She paused.  “I bet he left one.”

“I didn’t see any.”

She nodded again but didn’t speak.

Hayden was so nervous he began to sweat.  He sat up.  “Are you hot?”

“I’m fine,” she said.  “You can change the thermostat if you want.”

“I think I might.”

He got out of bed and walked around to the air unit in the window between the two beds.  As he fiddled with the settings in the dark, he said, “Let’s find some breakfast in the morning.  Then we’ll go to the library.”

“Okay,” Lillia said.  “I just want to check.  Thanks.”

When he returned to bed, she slid her arm over his chest.  He lay flat on his back for nearly an hour, feeling her moving fingers, an invitation for him to put his arm around her, he surmised, but he couldn’t do that.  No matter what she thought of him tonight, tomorrow she would hate him.  She would leave.  He would push her arm off him right now, but that would only serve to hurt her more.  The best thing he could do was let her have a safe, comfortable night.  She likely wouldn’t have one again.

He was almost asleep when he heard the thunderous rumble of another explosion.

~ ~ ~ ~

Roger saw the fireball as he emptied the gas jug into the tank.  The van had died on Preston Highway, half a mile from the closest filling station.  He and Trey had walked to get gas, leaving Meredith with the young boy and a gun.

He was pretty sure it was a helicopter that had exploded.  He couldn’t hear it from this distance, especially since Trey never stopped talking, but several minutes before he’d seen a spotlight pointed downward in that part of the sky.

Now Trey talked about it incessantly.  “Wow, did you see that?  That was awesome!  Did you see it, Pete?  Something exploded!”

“People probably died, you know,” Roger said.

With everyone in the van, he pulled off the side of the road and continued south on Preston Highway, Meredith in the passenger seat propping Sprinkles up so he could see.  Sprinkles had meowed them all the way from 2nd and Muhammad to here, and they’d driven at least two miles down Preston without a peep.  Roger was afraid if they travelled too far south, they’d pop up over a hill and find themselves face-to-face with a shooting gallery from one of the barricades.

They were within sight of the Outer Loop intersection.  If you made a right turn there, you’d come upon I-65 in less than a half mile, and then you’d be just north of the interstate barricade, where the girl he’d met on Watterson Expressway had been torn apart by bullets, and where, he assumed, that helicopter had just been shot down.

He was about to put on his blinker and cut into a parking lot when Sprinkles meowed.  He put on his brakes and glanced over.  Sprinkles had his head tilted to the left, so Roger put on his left blinker and slowed down, waiting for the final meow to indicate which parking lot to enter.

Meow.

A hotel.  He pulled in and stopped near the entrance.  The parking lot went both ways around the building.  Sprinkles meowed and pointed right with his head.

Roger pulled around to a large parking lot half-enclosed by the L-shaped building and parked along the right edge of the lot, in front of a tall barrier fence.

When he opened the door to climb out, Sprinkles leapt over his lap and out the door, miraculously landing on his feet and darting for the building.

Roger jumped out and chased him, but as he bounded towards the breezeway and the staircase, he spotted Sprinkles on the second floor.  He ran up the stairs and around the corner, calling out quietly, only to find the walkway empty, Sprinkles nowhere to be found.

He searched for half an hour, until finally he encountered a security guard who said he hadn’t seen a cat and that if Roger wished to remain on the property, he would have to rent a room.

~ ~ ~ ~

In the dark, a sliver of warm, golden light filled the crack under the hotel room door, growing brighter and brighter, then dulling as a tiny, translucent creature manifested from the light, still carrying that golden glow in each of its countless angel hair tentacles, like pieces of fishing line bundled together, wavering as they would underwater.

The little creature floated up the side of the bed and above the place where Lillia’s arm lay draped over Hayden’s chest.

Another source of light generated nearby, a creature of equal features, clinging to Lillia’s head, its tentacles woven into her hair with such delicacy and perfection as to not disturb its natural flow.

The two creatures stared at one another with their hollow black eyes, pulsating in turns as if communicating with light itself.  Then the one on Lillia’s head disappeared, and the other turned in the air and floated up to Hayden’s pillow.

To be continued . . .

Read Episode Thirteen

Tired of reading on a computer screen?  This book is available in paperback and for Kindle.

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I mentioned this on Twitter a few days ago.  We’ve decided to open up the blog for guest posts on nearly any topic.  If you want to promote your book, submit a book or movie review, let our readers check out a sample of your writing, tell us what’s pissing you off about the publishing industry, or anything else you think we’ll find interesting, submit your post and we’ll get back to you if we like it.

In other news, submissions are officially open today for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.  I entered A Circle in the Woods last year, made it to the second round, and was then rejected because both reviewers couldn’t get past the cruelty to animals.  A sorely biased decision, but that’s what contests are all about.

I think The Object stands a much better chance, as it’s a more family-friendly story.  No dead animals, only dead humans–for the most part.  Sprinkles is nowhere to be found, after all.

The great thing about this year’s ABNA contest is that Amazon has dropped Penguin and are publishing the winners themselves.  This means two things:

  1. A grande prize of $50,000 and a publishing contract are rewarded to the winner, while five finalists receive a first prize of $15,000 and a publishing contract.
  2. Instead of languishing in the ranks with no promotion whatsoever from Penguin, you can bet your ass Amazon will be pumping the hell out of the winning books, so the winner can expect to earn much more than that sweet $50,000.

I’m pumped.  Maybe we’ll get some hellaciously good news around the time we’re posting Episode Five or Six of Book Two.  Wouldn’t that be awesome?

Any other authors out there planning to enter?

Chad

Take My Book, Any Format. It’s Yours.


Now that the new year is upon us, we plan to start promoting a lot to draw in the biggest crowd possible for the premiere of The Object: Book Two, Episode One.

In the spirit of that, we’re now offering a free digital copy of Book One in any ereader format.

(Damn!  That dude did get hit in the head!)

Wait, there’s a small catch.  Since Book One is enrolled in Amazon’s KDP Select until February 1st, we can’t give away or sell digital copies of the book until February 2nd.

So if you would like to sign up for a free copy of Book One in any format, fill out the form below, and it will be emailed to you on February 2nd.

(NOTE: For Kindle readers, Book One will go free on Amazon a few days after these copies are delivered.)

When you’re done filling out the form, feel free to tap on them there share buttons.  Thank ye.

Winston Chadwick Van Emmerstein III

I Got Knocked in the Head


Not kidding.  I walked into 2013 only to find a ten-foot cedar post swinging at my head like a baseball bat.  And it connected perfectly, almost knocking me to the ground.  I’ve never taken a blow to the head like that.  Hopefully it knocked some sense into me, in some way or another.

It happened on Wednesday at work.  One big, stumpy reminder that I’d much rather write for a living.  Have you picked up your copy of The Object: Book One?  Haha.

In other news, we’ve got the book lined up for some pretty cool promotion, which will hopefully stir some activity.  All our efforts to get it listed by the big free sites like Ereader News Today failed during this enrollment period.  We’ll get more free days at the end of this month and try again for the listing, which will bring in thousands of free downloads and hopefully generate lots of activity here.

I plan to get back to posting regularly in a week or so.  I’m in a little hiatus from The Object at the moment as I work on another project.

Anyway, stay tuned for a new feature to this blog, which we’ll be announcing in the next day or so.

When it’s no longer science fiction—A peek behind the Double Helix


The Object welcomes author Jade Kerrion with her guest post: “When it’s no longer science fiction–A peek behind the Double Helix”

JadeKerrion

For the past several years, our attention has been consumed by faltering economies, unstable governments, an epidemic of bullying, and an explosion of social media. In the meantime, largely ignored by mainstream media, the genetic revolution marches on quietly and inexorably.

 

Let’s test your knowledge of bioengineering. Which of the following is true?

 

  1. We used genetic engineering to create hybrid creatures, like the goat-sheep, and the camel-llama
  2. We used genetic engineering to transfer bioluminescent genes from coral and deep-sea jellyfish to create glow-in-the-dark mice, cats, dogs, pigs, and monkeys
  3. We cloned animals, including sheep, dogs, and horses
  4. We used genetic engineering to create animals that excrete pharmaceutical products in their milk and other bodily fluids
  5. We used genetic engineering to preserve endangered species, creating animals that possess the nuclear DNA of the endangered species, and the mitochondrial DNA of the host species…in effect, a genetic hybrid
  6. We created bug-bots by implanting wires in the central nervous system of insects, and we can now control their movements, including flight
  7. We created organic robots by implanting wires in the central nervous system of rats, and we can now control what they do
  8. We wired a monkey to control a third artificial arm entirely through its brain waves
  9. We genetically engineered rats with pliable skin in order to grow human organs (e.g., ear) under their skin for eventual transplant to a human
  10. We used organic computer chips made out of rat neurons to control a flight simulator
  11. We isolated a brain of a lamprey eel and placed it in a nutrient medium, surrounded by electrodes. The living, intact brain controls a machine that moves toward the light (in much the same way a lamprey eel moves toward the light)
  12. We used a DNA synthesizer to create an artificial organic cell. (Isn’t that an oxymoron?) The computer is its parent

 

If you answered “Yes” to all of these, you are right. All of these are true. Science fiction is now science fact. Today, we possess an unprecedented control over bioengineering, an area that remains largely unregulated by governments.  Our scientific advances raise many ethical questions, such as “Is it right to control the autonomy of another creature, even if it’s just a rat?” Other more pragmatic questions focus on timing, “When will we start applying directed evolution (i.e. design) to humans?”

 

I majored in Biology and Philosophy at the Johns Hopkins University, and the philosophical implications of genetic engineering naturally combined my two interests. I started by asking myself, “What would the world look like to the perfect, lab-created human being?” And then, I wondered, “How would the world change for the people whose genetic templates were used to create the perfect human being?” The Double Helix series sets out to answer both those questions from the point-of-view of Danyael Sabre, an alpha empath whose genetic code was used as the physical template for the perfect human being.

DoubleHelixCovers

In the world of the Double Helix, directed evolution has become the norm, but is accessible only to those with financial resources. Historical personalities are reincarnated as clones. Genetically optimized in vitros abound, and they tend to succeed at the expense of normal humans who struggle to keep up. Nevertheless, normal humans still form the political majority, and thus, the world of the Double Helix is deeply stratified by genetics, wealth, and politics. Into this already chaotic mix, I added mutants and their dangerous variants of psychic powers, and finally Galahad, the lab-created, perfect human being.

 

The story explodes into a “highly-enjoyable, brainy guilty pleasure of a novel: a perfect mixture of non-stop action, gripping plot, thought-provoking philosophy, and beautiful visuals.” Set in Earth’s near-contemporary future and frequently compared to X-Men, Heroes, and Alphas, the Double Helix series is highly accessible, even for non-science fiction readers.

 

I invite you to check out a world that is closer to science fact than science fiction. Welcome to the Double Helix.

 

Author Bio:

 

Jade Kerrion unites cutting-edge science and bioethics with fast-paced action in her award-winning Double Helix series. Drawing rave reviews for its originality and vision, and described as “a breakout piece of science fiction,” Perfection Unleashed, and its sequels, Perfect Betrayal and Perfect Weapon, are available in print and e-book through Amazon and other major retailers.

 

About The Double Helix series: 

 

His genetic code sourced from the best that humanity offers, Galahad embodies the pinnacle of perfection. When Zara Itani, a mercenary whose abrasive arrogance exceeds her beauty, frees him from his laboratory prison, she offers him the chance to claim everything that had ever been denied him, beginning with his humanity.

 

Perfection cannot be unleashed without repercussions, and Galahad’s freedom shatters Danyael Sabre’s life.

 

An alpha empath, Danyael is rare and coveted, even among the alpha mutants who dominate the Genetic Revolution. He wields the power to heal or kill with a touch, but craves only privacy and solitude—both impossible dreams for the man who was used as Galahad’s physical template.

 

Galahad and Danyael, two men, one face. One man seeks to embrace destiny, and the other to escape it.

 

The award-winning Double Helix series, consisting of Perfection Unleashed, Perfect Betrayal, and Perfect Weapon, will challenge your notions of perfection and humanity, and lead you in a celebration of courage and compassion. Science fiction, urban fantasy, and action-adventure readers will enjoy this thrilling roller-coaster ride as it twists and turns through a world transformed by the Genetic Revolution.

 

Social media and buy links:

 

Connect with Jade Kerrion: Blog / Facebook / Twitter

Perfection Unleashed: Amazon / Amazon UK / Smashwords

Perfect Betrayal: Amazon / Amazon UK / Smashwords

Perfect Weapon: Amazon / Amazon UK / Smashwords

 

~*~*~

 

BACKUP LINKS (if, for some reason, the links above do not transfer through a simple cut and paste)

 

Social Media Links

Blog: http://www.jadekerrion.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JadeKerrion

Twitter: https://twitter.com/JadeKerrion

 

Perfection Unleashed

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008E98YFM

Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B008E98YFM

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/175081

 

Perfect Betrayal

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009YLG59Q

Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B009YLG59Q/

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/249761

 

Perfect Weapon

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009YMFSE8

Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B009YMFSE8

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/249762

Beware of Santa


Santa Claus

Santa Claus (Photo credit: Christopher S. Penn)

Christmas is almost here and once again we’re all faced with the terrors of St. Nicholas, the supernatural interloper who demands entry into our homes once a year to eat our food and, if we’re lucky, leave us gifts under the evergreen we sacrificed for his pleasure.

If you don’t have a chimney, you have to leave your door unlocked on Christmas Eve.  Otherwise, if Santa is hungry, he’ll break in, and if he’s not hungry, he’ll move on to the next house, leaving no presents.

And where does Santa get his elves?  Those are children he stole from their beds, enslaved in the eternal winter of the North Pole as punishment for being awake when he peeked into their rooms.  Like Francis Wolcott, the serial killer of prostitutes in Deadwood, Santa doesn’t like to have been seen.  Wake early on Christmas Eve, my friends, and spike your eggnog in the early evening.

You may want to distract yourself from the whisper of the wind and the clomp of Santa’s boots on the roof.  If so, I recommend getting lost in a good book.

Merry Christmas!  Now do this:

Freebies Galore Over Here


I’m in a rush but I wanted to let everyone know that some of my books are free today. Just click on the Books tab for links. A Circle in the Wooda, The Drought, and The End of the Party. Get ’em while you can!

A Free, Funny Book for Indie Authors and Readers


I ran into this book on the Amazon forums last week.  Written by author and forum frequenter Stella Deleuze, Rage Against the Indie is a sort of How-To book in two parts:

First, the rant.  Stella goes on at length in a humorous but meaningful way about the horribly annoying mistakes self-published authors make while trying to promote themselves.  I admit I blushed as I read it, finding several mistakes I’ve made, time and time again.

Next, suggestions for improvement.  For a beginning self-publisher, the second half of this book serves as a great reference guide or checklist when editing and uploading your next big release.

Best .99c I’ve sent in a long time.

Rage Against the Indie is FREE for Kindle today.

Rage Against the Indie, FREE on Amazon Today Only

Rage Against the Indie, FREE on Amazon Today Only

the object hovering over the louisville kentucky skyline

Get Your Copy of The Object: Book One


We begin the serialization of Book Two in May 2013.  Check back for some exciting announcements about a new dynamic we’ll be introducing to the reading experience.

In the meantime, download the book!

the object hovering over the louisville kentucky skyline

The Object: Book One, Kindle Edition

For Paperback

Please share this post and tell everyone you know about The Object!

the object book one by louisville author winston emerson

Some Sleep This Month? No?


The past three weeks have been insane.  I set myself a tough deadline for finishing and publishing The Object: Book One along with scheduling guest posts and interviews to help promote it.  Now that I’m done with everything, it’s time to kick back and relax for a while before undertaking my next project, right?

Wrong.  I’ve decided to participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).  I tried last year and failed, but with the writing marathon I endured in October, I think it’ll be pretty easy to keep up the momentum.  (Though I am three days and 5000 words behind already.  Hoping to catch up today.)

A while back, I asked you guys which book you think I should write next.  You can see the results here.  If you haven’t voted on this poll yet, please do.  While I’ve already decided what I’m going to write this month, your vote will help me decide what to begin working on in December.  (In January, I’ll be committing myself to Book Two of The Object.  I plan to have the entire novel done before the first episode posts this time.)

I’ll be posting updates on my word count and maybe some sneak peeks at the story.  I won’t tell you which book I’m writing yet.  The voting I mentioned above is pretty close, and I’d like to see some more opinions weigh in first.

Check out my interviews at LouisvilleKY.com and Tales of the Wolf Queen and also my guest post at JadeKerrion.com.

Today is the Day!


That’s right.  The Object: Book One will be available in a matter of hours.  We’re just waiting on it to finish processing with Amazon.  I’ll have more on that later (along with a link to the book).  Right now I have to go to work, which sucks because I haven’t slept since the night before last.  I’m just excited and wanted to post something quickly.  I’m going to need a long nap later.

Woohoo!

53 Hours Until It’s Over


The good news is in 53 hours I can stop talking about it.  I just hope we cross the finish line.  The Kickstarter campaign has racked up $715 of our $1,000 goal.  We need $285 more in the next 53 hours.  With a few promised pledges on the way, we still have a chance to make it, but these won’t get us all the way there.

If you haven’t pledged but think you might be willing, take a look at the rewards we’re giving.  This is our final plea.  The next post you’ll read concerning this campaign will be the results, and then we’ll move on to more interesting things.

Fingers crossed.

Winston

Free Book Alert–The Night Watch by J. Eric Laing


Remember Cicada author Eric Laing whom I interviewed several months back?  Well, he’s offering his new title The Night Watch free on Amazon, today through Tuesday (10/19/2012 to 10/23/2012).

I haven’t read it yet, but as I’m a fan of Cicada, I have no qualms with recommending anything else Mr. Laing pens to you guys.  Grab a copy while you can!

Download The Night Watch

The Night Watch, free today on Amazon

Book Description:

Murder, sex, magic, and ancient Rome.

A serial killer preys upon those who are truly the most dangerous game…the gladiators. As the killer collects macabre trophies, it falls to the Prefect of the Night Watch to end the madness.

But this is Rome, where blood spills like wine, and dreams…they are all too often nightmares.

Episode Eleven, The Object: Book One

Episode Eleven


The Object: a free serial novel

Episode Eleven: “Is That You, Sprinkles?”

Want to comment as you read?  Open this episode’s discussion thread.

~ ~ ~ ~

            This was pointless.  Why didn’t he just go back to the van and drive around to look for the cat?  He was easily a mile from where he’d parked with no clue how to get back.  He’d made so many turns, ducking through alleyways and the back yards of dilapidated houses and duplexes, chasing shadows and investigating sounds that might have been meows.

Where was he now?  Fifteen Street?  Sixteenth?  Even with two handguns stuffed into his pants and a shotgun resting on his shoulder, he didn’t feel safe.

The alien that had eaten those children was gone for now.  He’d watched it swim back up to the bowels of the mother ship.  But the thing Sprinkles had fought, that slow-roasted zombie with superpowers, he could be anywhere.  Crouched on a rooftop, peeking through a dark window, hiding up in the tree where Roger now stopped to take a leak, right in front of a tiny blue house.

At least some light was returning.  An upside-down dawn, the orange sun falling below the object’s horizon and sinking fast to the rim of the Earth.  Then real night would fall, and Roger didn’t want to be in an unfamiliar neighborhood.

He didn’t want to be in this city at all.  The military had blocked off all the roads, but there were still plenty of ways to escape.  He could swim across the Ohio River into Indiana.  Or maybe head west.  Follow Muhammad Ali Boulevard all the way out to Shawnee park and then follow the riverbank all the way down to where it bumped up against Dixie Highway.  He could bypass any military barricade, maybe stop off at one of the strip clubs in the area, then head down to Highway 44 and follow it back to Mount Washington.  It would only be about a fifty mile walk.  Why not?

He didn’t want to call out to Sprinkles, as much trouble as that had caused him earlier.  This time Sprinkles might not be around to blast the area with his supersonic meow.

Maybe with Sprinkles, he could just stroll right through the barricades.  Maybe Sprinkles could sweep tanks off the interstate like a leaf blower clearing a sidewalk.

Of course, he had to find the cat first.

Every instinct he possessed told him to turn around and bolt for the van, but he kept walking deeper into the bad part of town, farther and farther from safety, if safety were more than a fairytale told to keep children from wetting the bed at night.

Maybe that’s what kept him searching.  Under the object, no place proffered any greater comfort than another.  The only thing that kept his blood pressure down and his fear in check was that damned cat, who couldn’t sit still if all the mice in the world were his reward.

Roger zipped his pants and stepped down to the sidewalk.  Whatever road he was one stretched as far as he could see in either direction, lined with houses on both sides.  Not much tree coverage.  There were quite a few cars parked on the curbs, which meant a lot of people hadn’t fled the city in this area.

He heard a cough across the street and noticed someone was sitting in a small porch enclosure in the house opposite where he’d just peed.  A red ember from a cigarette flitted in the dark like a lightning bug.

“You lookin’ for somethin’, buddy?”  The voice of an old black man.

“My cat,” Roger said.

“What you got in your hand there?”

“A shotgun.”

“Prob’ly need one ’round here,” the old man said.  “You don’t need nothin’?  I got anything you’re lookin’ for.”

“No thanks,” Roger said.  In truth, the offer was enticing.  Roger had quite a history with cocaine.  That’s why he didn’t have a wife to go home to.  He could even go for a joint right now, but alien invasions and paranoia don’t mix well.  He came across the street, closer to the old man.  “You haven’t seen a white cat around here, have you?”

“No suh,” the old man said.  “Seen a raccoon little bit ago.  Knocked over that trashcan there behind you.  I seen somethin’ else, too.”

“What was it?”

The old man laughed.  “Ain’t confident I can describe it.  It was pink, I think.  Looked kinda like a jellyfish, floatin’ through the air, ‘cept it changed shapes.  You know like a jelly fish does, fans its body out to push itself along.  Looked like a jellyfish one minute, then it looked like a blanket, then it rolled itself up and looked like a bolt of lightning, just sittin’ there.  It come as close as where you’re standin’.”

Roger looked about himself, up at the sky, all around the neighborhood.  Then he turned back to the old man.  “What did it do?”

“Oh not a thang, son” he said.  “I’d venture it was friendly enough a spirit.  I said hello.  Then it went on about its way.”

“A spirit?”

“Yes suh, couldn’t be nothin’ else.  You could see right through it.  Looked like it wasn’t made of nothin’ but light.  Now you tell me if somethin’ like that ain’t a spirit.”

Roger wanted to leave, not because of the old man but because he could hear people shouting in the distance.  Maybe they’d encountered the pink jellyfish spirit, and maybe it turned out not to be so friendly.

“Can you tell me what street this is?”

“Hale Avenue.  I’ve lived here 47 years.”

“How would I go about getting to Muhammad Ali Boulevard?”

“Well now,” the old man said, standing up slowly.  He came down off the porch putting his hand in his pocket and producing a soft pack of cigarettes.  He lit one and pointed to the right.  “You wanna go all the way down to the end.  That’s 15th Street.  You wanna go left and go–oh, I don’t know how far.  It’ll take you to Muhammad.  You ain’t from around here?”

“Mount Washington.”

“Country boy,” the old man said.  “I hear you Bullitt County folk don’t like black people.”

Roger smiled nervously, embarrassed.  “Hey, we’re not all the same,” he said.

The old man chuckled.

Then the gunshots started.

~ ~ ~ ~

Sprinkles watched the shootout from under a hedge bush.  Ten humans shooting at two other humans.  Police.  Staci had watched police on the television every night, though they had just been moving shapes to Sprinkles then.  Now Sprinkles understood things better.  He understood humans when they spoke.

He understood that he was dying, and there wasn’t much time.

One of the police fell down and was bleeding.  He wanted to help them like he’d helped the man Roger.  His intention had only been to hiss, but something else had happened.  A great wind had come out of his mouth to knock the humans over.  Then he’d found the other man.  Ted, whom he needed to kill.  He didn’t know why.  He only knew Ted was bad, and his need to kill Ted allowed him to move big things with his thoughts.

But doing so had made him sick.  His body wasn’t strong enough for what now lived inside him.  He had to find her.  The girl.  He could see her in the back of his mind.  He could feel her.  She would know what to do.

Sprinkles crawled out from under the bush and ran up the street.  As much as he wanted to, he couldn’t help the police.  It might kill him.

And he had to find her.

~ ~ ~ ~

The phone rang while Barry was in the shower.  It rang again when he came out in nothing but a towel.  He knew it was his brother before he even answered.  Barry had invited him over for drinks, and Derek was the type of person to call ten times before arriving.  For the sake of preparedness, for the sake of pissing Barry off.

He picked it up and said, “Damn it, Derek, what?”

“Just thought I’d let you know there’s a warrant out for Hayden,” Derek said.

“For what?”

“Assault.  He beat the shit out of Louis.”

“Louis who?”

“Wesley.  The doctor.  Remember?  You played golf with him last month.”

Barry sighed and pulled the towel off his waist to dry his bald head.  “Tell me something, Derek, do I give a shit about anything you’re saying?”

“Just thought I’d let you know,” Derek said.  “I’m on my–”

Barry hung up and went to the bedroom to get dressed.  He had his pants on when the doorbell rang.  The girls he’d ordered from the escort service, unless Derek had called from the parking lot.  He came out and answered the door.  A tall blonde and a shorter brunette, both in tight white mini dresses.

“You’re Barry?” the brunette asked.

Barry smiled and nodded.  He put his hand on the door frame and leaned forward, studying both their bodies.  “Either of you girls know how to cook?”

The brunette curled her brow, but the blonde kept smiling and nodded emphatically.

“Good,” Barry said.  “I’ll be right back.”

He closed the door on them, relishing the confused and angry expression on the brunette’s face as he jogged to the kitchen.

He reached down, hooked his hands under his dead wife’s arms, and dragged her stiffening body into the bedroom, where he deposited her in the walk-in closet and closed the door.  Then he returned to the living room, opened the door, and invited the girls in.

“That was rude,” the brunette said.

“Apologies, ladies, I’m a little scattered today,” Barry said.  “What are your names?”

“Sheila,” the blonde quickly responded.  “This is Hailey.”

“You look lovely, both of you,” Barry said.  He clapped his hands together.  “Okay, first order of business.  I’ve got four t-bone steaks in the fridge.  I like mine rare and so does my brother.”

“Your brother’s coming?” Sheila asked.

“Yes, and I’ll warn you right now, he’s an asshole.”

“Must run in the family,” Hailey said.  She stepped past him to the kitchen.  Barry watched her walk, her dress clinging tight to her thighs, so high up a shorter person could probably see her ass.

He turned back to Sheila and said, “Gotta grab my shirt.”

When he went to the bedroom, she followed him.

“Sorry about that,” she whispered.  “Hailey’s been in a bad mood all day.  I think she’s having boyfriend troubles.”

“In your line of work, I imagine so.”

“Huh?”

“Nothing.”  He put his shirt on and when he started buttoning it Sheila stepped up and took over.

“You can report her if you want,” Sheila said.  “They’ll send another girl.”

“Not necessary,” Barry said.  “I like a girl with an attitude.”

Sheila frowned deliberately.  “I can be mean, too.”

He smiled.  “I’m sure you can.”

“No, really.  I can be way more mean than Hailey.”

With the shirt buttoned, Barry headed out of the room and Sheila trailed him so close he could feel her behind him.

“I can be whatever you want,” she said.

He was getting annoyed.  “I like you just the way you are,” he said, half distracted.  “There’s nothing wrong with being nice.”

“You should try it sometime, then,” Hailey said.  She had emerged from the kitchen carrying a glass of bourbon on the rocks.

When she put it to her lips, Barry said, “Is that for me?”

She stopped, lowered the glass, and then thrust it out at him.  He stepped up to her, smiling.

“You’re feisty, aren’t you?”

“Only when I’m around rude assholes who think I’m a cook,” she said.

“Is a cook a step down from a hooker?”

“I’m not a damn hooker.”

“What?” Sheila said.  “Yes you are!”

“Well so are you,” Hailey said.

“I know!”

Barry laughed for a moment but when the girls started raising their voices he said, “Hey, hey, shut up, both of you.  Are those steaks done yet?  What the hell am I paying you for?”

“Not to cook,” Hailey said.

“Well then make yourself a drink, sit down, and shut up.  Sheila, get to cooking.”

“No problem, I’m on it,” Sheila said, giving Hailey a mean face as she passed by.

Hailey’s mood had improved drastically by the time Derek arrived.  She downed five glasses of bourbon, becoming less and less testy with each gulp.  Barry sat with her for a time, listening to her whine about her loser boyfriend, some kid who worked in the office of the escort service.  She had him convinced she didn’t sleep with her clients, but apparently someone had spilled the beans.

“I’m pretty sure it was her,” Hailey whispered, pointing in the direction of the kitchen, from which came the sounds of sizzling meat and Sheila’s rather impressive singing.  She must have wanted to become a vocalist but let the wrong guy lead her down the wrong path.  Barry had seen it before.  A singer is told she should be a model.  A model is told she should pose nude, that it will help her career.  Next up is stripping.  Then this, if you’re lucky enough to land an escort gig in lieu of standing on a corner.

A pity for Sheila in particular, as she had real, raw talent.  Barry had planned to kill both these girls tonight, but he decided he would keep Sheila around for a while.

He looked at Hailey, who was still rambling about Sheila’s betrayal, and began to snicker.  Hailey didn’t know it, but Sheila just saved her life.

“What’s so funny?” Hailey asked.

“Nothing,” Barry said.  The doorbell rang and he stood.  “Sorry.  I was just remembering something funny that happened yesterday.”

“So you weren’t listening to me?”

“I was, I promise.”

He opened the door.  Derek pushed his way in quickly, a disgruntled expression on his face, but stopped when he saw Hailey.  He looked at Barry, smiled, and slapped him on the arm.  “Didn’t know we had company,” he said.  “Is that steak cooking?”

“T-bones,” Hailey said.  She stood, wobbling, and came up to Derek to introduce herself.

Barry left them and went to the kitchen.  Now he definitely wasn’t going to kill them.  Sheila had set the table and was preparing a full dinner.  Salad, asparagus, twice-baked potatoes with bacon and sour cream, stuffed Portobello mushrooms, and a cheese cake.

“How the hell did you manage all this so quickly?”

“I went to culinary school for a year and a half,” she said.  “I dropped out when my mom died.”

“Sullivan?”

“Yep.”

“You have an amazing voice,” he said.  “You could have had a career in music.”

Sheila smiled, but she had sadness in her eyes.  “Thank you.”

“Why didn’t you pursue it?”

She shrugged and returned to cooking.  Barry refilled his glass with bourbon and made a drink for Derek.  Then he called him out to the balcony so they could speak in private.

“Where’s Whitney?” Derek asked when he stepped out into the cool evening air.

“She went to her sister’s,” Barry said.

They sat in the patio chairs.

“Probably a good thing.  You hear what’s been happening today?”

“Aside from that?” Barry said, pointing up at the object.

“The shootings,” Derek said.  “Bunch of west end gangs are crawling through the city like cockroaches killing every cop they can find.  Now they’re hitting fire departments, too.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Engines 16, 17, and 18 so far.”

Barry was surprised.  It’s not often you get more than you pay for.  “Who’s behind it?”

“Hell if I know,” Derek said.  “We sent out a 10-19 to all units, brought them in, gave out every unmarked we have available.  But we’ve still got dozens of cruisers on patrol, and the state boys think they can handle themselves.  They’re all sitting ducks.”

“Maybe you should go on vacation.”

“Wish I could.  That’s how I came to find out about Hayden.  Went to the hospital to see a couple of our boys and saw Louis beat all to hell.  He was mad, too.”  Derek began to laugh.  “Hayden must have jarred his brain loose ’cause he was talking about this girl who came in earlier.  Teenage girl, real cute he said.  Claims she was floating in midair.”  Now he was laughing to the point of hysterics.  “So serious, too.  I mean, Louis is a prankster from way back, but I swear he actually believed what he was saying.”

Barry sat forward.  “He said a girl was floating?  In the hospital?”

“In the ER waiting room.  You should see his face, Barry.  Looks like a damn eggplant!  He probably has a skull fracture, loopy bastard.  Thinks the girl has an alien inside her.”

“Who was this girl?  What was her name?”

“I don’t know.”

“Was she admitted?”

“Don’t know that either.  Why don’t you ask Hayden?  Louis said they left together.  Maybe she’s his girlfriend.  He’s got a girlfriend, don’t he?”

“I don’t keep up with my son’s love life.”

“I thought Whitney told me he did.  Or maybe that was Johnny’s kid.”  Derek sighed.  “Johnny’s dead, by the way.  Him and half my other guys.  This thing’s big enough to call in the national guard, but you can’t get in touch with anybody right now.  Federal government’s shutting us down, Barry, sealing us off.  Doesn’t look good.”

“What do you think they’re planning?”

Derek stood and approached the rail.  He craned his neck upward and studied the object.  “To be honest, I think they’re scared shitless.  I think they’re scrambling to figure out a way to communicate with that thing, and if it doesn’t happen in the next day or two, they’re going to launch a nuke at us.”

“Bullshit,” Barry said, standing.  “That won’t happen.  They’ve seen enough movies to know that thing’s technology has to be light years ahead of ours–or else it wouldn’t be here.  They detonate a nuke, we’ll all be fried and that thing will still be sitting there.”

“They’re gonna do it, Barry.  Mark my word.”

“Not in this day and age.”

“Day and age?  What the hell are you talking about, man?  It’s a new day, a new age.  We’re not dealing with domestic terrorists here.  Have you even put any thought into what that thing is?”

Sheila appeared at the door and said, “Dinner’s ready.”

“Okay, babe,” Barry said.  He stepped up next to Derek and Derek looked at him.

“Well?  Have you?”

“It’s a spaceship,” Barry said.  “So what?  It’s not the freakin’ Death Star.  If it was here to blow shit up, it wouldn’t have picked Louisville.  It would have picked New York or LA or Tokyo.  And there’d be more of them.  Unless it has a one-punch super-weapon that’ll blow up the entire planet, in which case there’s nowhere to go, so why plan for it?  Why not live today like you’re going to see tomorrow?  Whatever that thing is, it’s given us the opportunity of a lifetime.  We can rob this city until it’s naked wearing a whiskey barrel.  No one’s here to stop us, and no one’s here to see it go down.  Open your eyes, Derek.”

“My eyes are open,” Derek said, “and you know what I see?  ICBMs.  They’ve already got them pointed at us.  Right now there’s some young military tech. kid sitting in a little room waiting for the go code.  And that little shit’s eager to push the button.  It’s the American way, Barry.  You don’t understand something so you drop a bomb on it.  Lady Liberty’s got crosshairs in her eyeballs and today she’s looking at us.  You bet your ass.  We need to get out of this city pronto.”

Barry laughed deliberately, though in truth he believed Derek might be right.  The sky could light up at any moment and reduce him to vapor.  But if he could get his hands on whatever was attached to that man’s head he saw today, the military blockades wouldn’t be able to hold him.  That man had flung cars around like Hot Wheels, and from the looks of him he was half dead.

But Barry was strong, in mind and in body.  If he had that kind of power, maybe he could leap from Main Street to Evansville in a single leap.  Maybe he could stop a nuke in midair and send it straight to D.C.

He just had to find the guy and figure out a way to kill him.

Or he could find the girl.

Derek had gone silent.  Still staring up at the object.

It was everything Barry could do not to push him over the balcony right now.  Derek always had been a scared, paranoid freak.  In college he’d spent most of his time developing conspiracy theories and losing girlfriends because he couldn’t shut up about the ruling class and their plots of mass genocide.

When they were kids, Barry used to sneak over to the high school gym and shut himself in one of the unused lockers in the girls’ locker room.  Not only did he get to see all the girls naked, but he also learned all kinds of scandalous information from their gossiping.  One girl, Lindsey Strange, was cheating on her boyfriend with her math teacher, Mr. Parker.  She read a note he’d written her to all the other girls, and when they all left the locker room for gym class, he stole the note and used it to blackmail Mr. Parker repeatedly.  He got a new bike out of the deal, then money.  Next he approached Lindsey and made her strip naked in front of him.  He made her get a really short haircut, which earned her so much ridicule at school that she quit the cheerleading team.  Mr. Parker found another job and moved away, and Barry spent two years wearing Lindsey down to the point that she fell in love with him.  She sat with him on the school bus.  She started coming to his house under the pretense of tutoring him in advanced mathematics.  She went from being his own personal slave to being his girlfriend.

It was all culminating to Barry’s ultimate plan, losing his virginity to her, but Derek ruined everything.  He’d always suspected something was wrong with Barry’s and Lindsey’s relationship.  The first of his conspiracy theories, as it were.  Sure enough, one day when Derek stayed home sick from school he went snooping in Barry’s room and found the note.  Then he slowly began to piece everything together.  He found out where Mr. Parker had moved to and called him.  Mr. Parker explained everything, and then Derek ratted Barry out to their parents, Lindsey’s parents, and the school principal.  Barry was admitted to a psychiatric hospital for thirty days and when he returned Lindsey was gone, having been yanked out of school by her parents and sent to an all-girls catholic school for her junior and senior year.

Barry had hated his brother ever since, and on top of aspiring to one day kill him, he’d also set the goal to sleep with every one of Derek’s girlfriends and as of now had an eighty percent success rate, including Derek’s wife.

“Let’s eat,” Barry said, turning toward the balcony door.

Derek didn’t respond.  He was still staring at the object.

Barry snapped his fingers.  “Hey, Dr. Strangelove, we eating or what?”

“Yeah,” Derek said, distantly.  “Whatever you say, boss.”

~ ~ ~ ~

Roger spotted Sprinkles coming out from under a bush and as the cat scampered up 15th Street, he was left with two choices: stay and help the woman cop whose partner lay on the ground bleeding profusely and screaming, or slip away unnoticed and chase after Sprinkles.

Neither option sounded appealing.  If he ran away, he would carry more guilt than he thought he could live with.  If he stayed, he might never see the cat again.

It’s just a stupid cat, his ex-wife would say right now.  Nina hated cats.  She hated all animals.  That was her term of endearment for Roger on his worse days–the days of fighting, late nights, her discovery of drug paraphernalia above the bathroom medicine cabinet, the time he brought home a girl from a bar when Nina was supposed to be pulling a double at the hospital, the day he punched his supervisor at the warehouse and got fired.  You’re an animal, Roger!  You behave like an animal!

He didn’t argue.  She was right.  That’s why he didn’t fight her when she hired that big bald-headed attorney and took everything except the ’93 Taurus that hadn’t been driven in two years.  He could have had his half, or more, after discovering she’d been sleeping with the guy throughout the divorce proceedings, but he blamed himself for that.  It was over.  There was nothing he could do.

Kind of like this situation.  Sprinkles was already out of sight and he didn’t see which way he went.  He only had one option left: save the lady cop.

The gang members stood like a firing squad in the street from one curb to the other, unloading clip after clip into the squad car, shooting wildly.  They looked like they had plenty of experience holding their guns in cool and intimidating ways but little experience actually target shooting.

Behind the car, the lady cop crouched next to the back wheel, covering her head and crying out, “Please!  Pleeease!

The other officer, a young light-skinned black man with corn-rolled hair, lay flat on his back, his chest spurting blood.  His right hand reached upward and swatted repeatedly, as though a fly were pestering him.

Roger surveyed the scene, the houses and buildings in the area.  The squad car sat diagonally in the intersection of 15th and Hale Avenue.  Roger was hiding behind the house at the corner, on the right side of Hale, facing 15th.  Far down the street behind him, the old man stood out in his yard, probably smoking another cigarette, watching the events unfold.  The gang members stood on 15th Street up ahead and to the left.  On the other side of the street where they stood were two houses not ten feet apart.  That was the spot.  That’s where he needed to be.  He had a plan.

In order to get there unnoticed, he ran across Hale Avenue, jumped the short, rusty cyclone fence, crossed the back yard of the house opposite the ones where he was headed, between which ten men with guns continued to pierce the squad car with .9mm rounds, and came around the side, staying low, until he reached the front.

He peeked around the corner.  Luckily no one had spotted him.  He was very close to the men now and realized some of them were just boys, the youngest of them not even in high school yet.  Most of them held their guns sideways with one hand.  Several stabbed their guns at the air as they fired.  Terrible shooting.  At least Roger had one advantage.

Now came the scary part.  He had to get across the street, and short of circumventing a block’s worth of houses and running the risk of them deciding to advance on the car, his only choice was to stay low and cross the street directly behind them.  This was nothing like the shooter games he spent so much time playing.  The gunfire was deafening, the clank of bullets on metal so impactful the fear of being shot consumed him.  If just one of those boys so much as detected movement in his periphery . . . game over.

Roger rose from his crouched position, readied his gun, and stepped out into the open.

To be continued . . .

Read Episode Twelve

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