Book Two, Episode One


Episode One:

Six Months Later

 

LILLIA CROUCHED below the short wall of the roof.  She sat atop a dark grey building, three stories high, listening to the man down on the street as he rapped and shouted to himself while pacing in circles at the intersection of Baxter Avenue and Hull Street.

They’d been following him off and on for the past week.  Ayo, he called himself, as in, “Ayo, I need a dub.”  A newly aspiring drug dealer who’d tried to work his way into the area surrounding Phoenix Hill Tavern–or Barrytown, as Hayden had coined it–but had quickly been kicked out, for reasons unknown.

After the nuclear bomb incident, Barry disappeared.  That was nearly six months ago and so far he hadn’t shown his face.  For a long time Lillia assumed he was dead, but then the CNG boys suddenly took over a long stretch of Baxter Avenue, guarding it the way the military guarded the city.  In the center of this quarantined area stood the tavern, where even four blocks away Lillia could hear music blaring.

“Dad loves music,” Hayden had said when they first discovered this development.

Louisville had turned into a ghost town.  No traffic, few pedestrians, no planes flying overhead, no barges on the river, no trains.  Silence, except for the tavern and the area surrounding it.

Was he building an army?  Playing king?  Why wasn’t he coming after them?

Kidnapping Ayo was Lillia’s idea.  While Hayden insisted on keeping quiet as long as Barry did the same, she couldn’t ignore the feeling that something terrible was happening in that tavern.

Lillia peaked over the wall, first checking on Ayo, who seemed too focused on finding customers to look up, and then searching out Hayden, who studied Ayo from around the corner of a building across the street.

Fallen leaves and dead tree limbs crunched under Ayo’s feet as he strolled.  It was late April and so far Lillia hadn’t seen a single bloom, a single leaf.  Even the grass was dead.  The object blocked all but the weak sunlight of dawn and dusk, and the metro area hadn’t felt a drop of rain since October, leaving the ground to dry up and crack open and the air thick with dust.

Lillia made eye contact with Hayden.  He shaped a pair of binoculars with his hands and then pointed down the street toward Barrytown.  Up on the roof, Lillia had the better vantage.  She stayed low as she moved to the south side of the building, then scanned the wall of crushed cars no doubt erected by Barry himself.  Sometimes gang members with hunting rifles sat atop the adjoining roofs above this makeshift wall.  Terrible shots, most likely, but Lillia didn’t want to find out.

Right now the coast was clear.  She returned to the east-facing wall and gave Hayden a quick thumbs up.  He stepped out from behind the building and began to approach Ayo.

Lillia waited until he was within ten feet.  Then she hiked her leg up, planted her sneaker on the wall, and stood up on the ledge.

“Hey!” she shouted.

Ayo spun around and looked up at her.  “Yo girl, whatcha doin’ up there?”

She jumped, sailing down the side of the building with her hands pressed against her hips to hold her skirt in place.  Hayden stopped to watch her.  She smiled at him just before her feet connected with the sidewalk.  As before, she hit the ground with no more force than if she’d simply hopped in place.

Ayo had turned and covered his face, still spouting a string of curse words.

They were upon him quickly, and when he turned back to Lillia, his eyes widened in disbelief.

“But you jumped,” he said, pointing up at the roof.  He heard Hayden’s footsteps and spun around again.  “Who they hell are you people?”

“We’d like you to come with us,” Hayden said.

Ayo shook his head and began to back away, reaching into his pocket.

Hayden’s swiftness was amazing.  He put Ayo to the ground and somehow took the gun from his pocket all at once and now stood over him, pointing the .38 at Ayo’s face.

Years of Tae Kwon Do gave him an advantage.  So far he was developing the skills afforded him by the little squid on his head faster than Lillia.  She was worried about that, but at least Hayden made her feel safe, something she hadn’t experienced since she lived with Ms. Jenny–a life she barely remembered anymore.

No matter how he made her feel, she knew she couldn’t get too comfortable.  Barry’s absence frightened her, but not as much as the silence of the object.

She dreamed of the nuclear bomb every night.  Glowing, translucent creatures of every color pouring out of the object by the hundreds and coalescing into a single pinpoint of blinding white light moments before connecting with the warhead.

Nothing happened.  The bomb simply disappeared, and the white dot of light drifted back into the object.

That’s when the object responded for the first–and so far only–time.  The giant ring hovering around it suddenly began to move, blasting the city with wind gusts that knocked everyone off their feet and generating a deafening rumble, like thunder without end.

The ring stopped in a vertical, north-facing position, and that’s where it currently remained, its lowest point maybe twice as high as the tallest building in Louisville.  Staring at it too long gave Lillia vertigo, even though she had shed her fear of heights by spending the past six months learning to jump from roof to roof.

The sun was coming up over the trees now at its peak brightness.  Before long it would touch the object’s horizon and disappear again.

“Don’t kill me, man,” Ayo kept repeating.  “I ain’t done nobody wrong.  Come on, man.”

“I’m not going to kill you,” Hayden said, “as long as you do exactly as I say.”

“Aight, aight, no prob.”

“Get up.”

Ayo stood, slowly, suspiciously.  He looked from Hayden to Lillia, then back again.  Then he bolted up the street.

Hayden laughed and Lillia stepped up next to him.  Together they watched Ayo turn a corner and disappear.

“You want to get him?” Hayden asked.

Lillia shrugged.  “Sure.”

In a matter of seconds, she’d leapt back onto the building and off the other side, landing directly in Ayo’s path.

 

The biggest challenge they’d faced since things had gone quiet was finding a place to live.  Roger thought it best to take over Mall St. Matthews, citing the availability of food and supplies, and in the end he won the debate in the eyes of Meredith and Sherman, so the group had split up, with Lillia and Hayden going it alone.  They met up with the other group once a week to restock, share information, and report any important activity, but Lillia firmly believed it was only a matter of time before Barry would send his gang to raid the place, once other malls and grocery stores ran out of stock.

At first they stayed in a large suite on the top floor of a hotel near the airport, but that was when the city experienced a month-long power outage.  Climbing the stairs became tedious, and finally they discovered the hotel was infested with junkies holing up in rooms to party.

During the power outage, they jumped from house to house in Old Louisville, then the Highlands, then the St. Matthews area, moving only when an unfriendly party discovered them or they stumbled upon a better place to live.

Then one day they awoke to an alarm clock blaring.  The power had somehow been restored.  That day, they drove up to River Road and walked around one of the parks for hours, waiting for a coal barge to pass.  None did.

They were headed back to the car when another car whipped into the parking lot and stopped with its headlights blinding them.  They both braced for attack, but the voice of an old man said, “Hayden, is that you?”

He was a family friend, Hayden later explained.  Samuel Smith, a retired meteorologist who used to do the weather reports on one of the local stations back in the eighties.  Lillia watched Hayden help the feeble old man out of the car and wondered how he managed to climb in by himself.  They spoke for a while about people she didn’t know, Sam recounting every mutual acquaintance who skipped town when the object appeared.

“I’m too old for all this running around,” he explained, turning his face up to the sky and exhaling.  “What a sight, eh?  Who could walk away from this?  Even if we all die, at least we got to see it.”  After a moment’s pause, he said, “How’s your dad?”

“I haven’t seen him,” Hayden said.  “Don’t know where he is.”

“Probably looking for you.  What about your mom?”

Hayden shook his head.  “The same.”  He changed the subject quickly, asking how Sam was getting along and offering for him to join their group, but Sam was unperturbed.  “Lex is staying with me.  I’ll be just fine.”

“Who’s Lex?” Lillia asked, her first contribution to the discussion.

Hayden and Sam took turns explaining that Sam broke his leg and cracked a few ribs in a car accident ten years ago.  He hired an in-home physical therapist, Lex, and when he was back to normal he kept her on as a personal assistant.

“I just like her, you know.  She’s a good girl.  It gets lonely being a widower.”  He chuckled.  “I feel sorry for anyone who trespasses on my property.”

“She’s big into kickboxing,” Hayden said.  “I sparred with her once.  Big mistake.”

“Where is she now?”

“Skinning a deer in the backyard,” said Sam.  Hayden smiled and cocked his head curiously.  Sam shrugged.  “Well, you know how these deer are around here.  They’ve been tearing up my garden for years.  It’s not like anyone’s around to enforce the no-gunshot-within-city-limits law.  Food’s getting harder to come by.”

Sam went on to offer them a place to stay, but Hayden declined, and Lillia knew why.  He didn’t want to endanger the old man.  Sooner or later, Barry would be coming for them.

As he helped the old man back into his Bentley, Lillia overheard him whispering, “You kids need a place to stay, I can give you Jim Baker’s security code.  It’s the same for the gate and the house.  Now that’s a place to wait it out, and you know Jim won’t be coming back until that thing’s gone–if ever.  He’s probably down in the Bahamas right now.”

“I’ve never met Jim Baker,” Hayden said.

“Oh, so do you know which house I’m talking about?”

“Nope.”

Sam grinned.  “It’s on the way home.  You might want to follow me.”

When they came to the big iron gate, Sam honked, pointed out the window, and drove on.  Hayden pulled up to the security panel and input the code.

“Are you sure no one’s home?”

“According to him,” Hayden said.

The driveway snaked up the side of a hill.  Hayden had to maneuver around the fallen branches of enormous and ancient maple and oak trees.  Finally they reached the top and stopped.

This wasn’t a house.  It was a mansion.

 

They’d been living here almost a month and Lillia still got lost on a daily basis.  Why would anyone ever need a house the size of a hospital?  Hayden left her with the task of locking Ayo away in the kitchen walk-in down in the basement while he made a sweep around the house to check for intruders.

Yesterday they’d cut the refrigerant, removed all the food, and put a bed in the walk-in.  Lillia thought it inhumane, but there were no other rooms in the house from which Ayo couldn’t escape.

The only problem was she couldn’t find the elevator.

“Dis a big house.  Where’s my room?”

“That’s a good question.”

“This your place?”

“Sort of.”

“Ah, I see.  You just moved right in after the owners left.  Smart.  I didn’t think about the rich folks leaving.  I’m a have to find me a mansion after I’m done with y’all.”  They reached the end of the hall, Lillia walking behind Ayo, gun pointed at his back.  Ayo turned.  “You know where we’re going?”

“I can’t remember.”

She stood against the wall and motioned for Ayo to head back the way they came.

Her memory was getting worse.  Not only that but her problem-solving abilities as well.  She’d always been a great student, able to ace tests and contribute to book discussions on a level above her classmates.  But now even her memories of Drake and Kate were growing cloudy in her mind.  She thought of them often but only because she knew she had to, lest she forget them altogether.

It didn’t make any sense.  While her physical prowess continued to grow, her mind was slipping.  The only explanation was the thing on her head.

And yet Hayden was thriving in all aspects.

When they reached the foyer, she instructed Ayo to sit on one of the sofas lining the walls.  She sat across the room from him.

“What now?” he asked.

“We’re waiting for Hayden.”

“What’s he doin’?”

She glanced around, frowning.  “I don’t know.  Oh, he’s securing the house.”

“Man, y’all jokers are trippy,” Ayo said, pulling a pack of cigarettes from his pocket.  “This a non-smokin’ establishment?”

Lillia shrugged.  Watching Ayo light a cigarette made her think of Sherman, who’d only sided with Roger and gone to Mall St. Matthews because he couldn’t live with the guilt of failing to protect Drake and Kate.  She wanted him to be here if only to serve as a reminder of them.

“How old are y’all?” Ayo asked.

“I just turned seventeen.”

“What about him?”

“He’s twenty.”

“Me too.  Doubt we went to school together.  Hey, y’all got any liquor in this place?”

“I think so.”

“You gonna offer me a drink?”

“That’s up to Hayden.”

“He’s the man of the house.”

“I guess.”

“You his girlfriend?”

“No.”

“You single?”

“Yeah.”

Ayo sat forward.  “I see, I see.  You and me should both have a drink.”

“No thanks.”

“Aight, I see.  So what do y’all want from Ayo?”

“It’s complicated.”

“Well, you got to tell me or I can’t do it.”

“Hayden will tell you.”

Ayo curled his brow and took a long drag from his cigarette.  He blew smoke in her direction and said, “You don’t like me very much.”

“I don’t know you.”

“But you think you do.  You think you know what I’m about.  You think I’d hurt you if I got the chance.”

“You tried to pull a gun on us, didn’t you?”

“Baby doll, you got super powers.  Jumpin’ off roofs and shit.  And you’re scared of me?  Damn.  The hell you thinkin’, girl?”

“Are you in a gang?”

Ayo burst out laughing.  “Nah, nah, no gangs for me.”

“What do you do?  Besides selling drugs?”

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

“Are you going to?”

“What?”

“Tell me.”

He sighed.  “Aight, but don’t laugh.”

“Okay.”

“Theater.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, that was my thang.  Went to school for it and all that.  You ever seen a black Romeo?  Got the lead right before all this happened.  Now I’ll never get to do it.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“Which part?”

“I’ve never heard of a theater actor selling drugs.”

Ayo smiled.  “You want to hear a story?”

“Okay.”

When he spoke next, his voice changed completely.  He enunciated properly, ruminative.  “My real name is Damitri.  Ayo is a character I created.  I’m not a drug dealer.  Well, I wasn’t.  It’s hard to play the roll of a drug dealer if you don’t have drugs in your pocket.  Where you found me, down on Baxter, I’m sure you saw they’ve walled off several blocks, right?”

Lillia was so stunned she couldn’t respond.

Damitri continued, “Long story short, a few weeks ago a bunch of guys broke into the house and took my sister.  It was weird.  When it happened, I thought what you’re probably thinking, but they didn’t touch her.  They just waved their guns around and made her go with them.  They kept saying Mr. Schafer wants a word with her.  Who the hell Mr. Schafer is, I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure he’s behind that wall.”

“But you were in there for a few days,” Lillia said.

“How the hell do you know that?”

“We’ve been following you.”

“Why?”

“Because we’re all looking for the same person.”

“You know him?”

“Yes.”

Hayden appeared from around the corner and said, “He’s my dad.”

Damitri shot up like a weed.  “Your dad?  What the hell, man?  Why’d he take my sister?”

“We don’t know,” Lillia said.

“Why’d you get kicked out of there?” Hayden asked.

“I got in a fight with the wrong dude, that’s all.  Nothing that can’t be fixed.  I never even saw your father.  What do you guys want with him?”

“He killed my mother.”

“And he wants to kill us,” Lillia added.

“This is crazy,” Damitri said.  “Did you know he took my sister?”

The coincidence was quite striking.  Now Lillia wasn’t sure what to do with him.  She thought they were dealing with a criminal type.

“We just picked you at random,” she said.  “We were going to use you as a spy.”

“You’re trying to get at Mr. Schafer.”

“Yes.  We need to learn whatever we can about him.”

“All right, I’ll do it.”

“You will?”

He shot Lillia a glance that was almost flirtatious.  “You gonna give me a choice?”

Hayden stepped forward.  “Yes, actually.  If you want to go, then go.”

Lillia couldn’t tell if he spoke with sincerity or jealousy.  Damitri nodded and started wandering around the room, looking closely at the paintings on the walls and the statues and the ceramic art, then up at the dome ceiling from which a chandelier hung two stories high.

“Like I said before, I’m trying to get my sister back, and if you want to kill your pops, I guess that means we’ve got a common interest.  But I’ve got my own place, and my dog’s waiting on me there.”  He stopped in front of a mirror and combed his hair with his fingers.  “Probably needs food.  Probably gotta take a piss.”  His voice changed back.  He was becoming Ayo again.  “My shit is all carpet,” he said.  “I’m a need to get back home tonight, know what I’m sayin’?”

“That’s fine,” Hayden said.  “How will we get in touch?”

“I know where you live now.”

“We know where you live, too,” Lillia said.

Ayo gave her another amatory look.  “You should come by sometime.”

“We’ll come see you tomorrow,” she said immediately, throwing him off balance.  “To discuss specifics.  We’ve already formulated a plan, but since you’ll be involved and you’ve been over the wall, we’ll need your input.”

“Damn, girl, you get down to business.”  Ayo smoothed out his thin goatee and said, “While we’re on the subject of business, I’ve got one more condition for y’all.”

“What is it?” Hayden asked.

“Well, my ride is all the way on Baxter.”

“I’ll take you back.”

“Hold on, don’t be interruptin’ me now.  I’m tryin’ to tell you my condition.”  He peered around the room, raising his arms palms up and nodding.  “Now judging from the size of this place, I’d say the folks who live here are pretty damn rich.  Rich folks tend to have quite a few luxury automobiles, am I right?  And I bet you all the dope in my pocket they only took one of those cars with them when they lit on outta here.”

“How about I just take you back?”

“How about no?”

Hayden stepped up to Ayo.  “You don’t have a choice, dude.”

“I thought you said I did?”

“I said you can go home.  I didn’t say you get to pick how.”

Ayo sighed–or rather Damitri.  “You’re worried that thing in the sky is just going to disappear and the Rockefellers are gonna come home and hold you responsible for their missing car.  That’s dumb, yo.”

“Their name is Baker.”

“Well the Bakers probably have full coverage, no?  You can give me a car and we’re cool, or you can play it how your daddy would.  Up to you.”

 

Two in the afternoon looked like midnight.  In some parts of the city you could see the lower sky, but this property was full of trees.  After Damitri left in a white BMW, Lillia took a walk around the place.  All she could see above her were tiny golden dots drifting in the blackness.  The giant squids hadn’t drifted down to the city in quite some time, but they were still there, weaving in and out of the jagged outer structure of the object, lighting up the night like giant fireflies, gliding in orbit without aim or intent.

Except to steal children.

Drake and Kate weren’t the only victims of those plasmatic beasts.  The first Lillia had heard of but most certainly not the last.  The night after Hayden and Sherman killed Ted, after the creatures stopped the bomb, one of those things came crawling down the side of a building and cornered the two boys Roger had with him.  Lillia watched it open two tentacles like the mouths of snakes and shrink wrap themselves around the kids, liquefying them instantly and sucking their cloudy red remains up through the tentacles and into its bulbous head.  That’s what Drake and Kate experienced.  A painless but most violent death.

And she couldn’t cry about it.  She didn’t even feel upset.  Only the knowledge that she should be upset plagued her.  She felt no emotion, only a psychological itch comparable to trying to think of a word or name that’s on the tip of your tongue.

If a giant squid could pick off children like a bird eating worms, then the little squid attached to her head might well be stifling her emotional response.

All the more reason to rip it off.

She passed by a fountain clogged with leaves and followed the peat gravel path through a gate and out to the rim of the property, where a stone wall well over a hundred years old looked out over the Ohio river.

Here she could see some of the Indiana sky.  She sat on the wall with her legs dangling over the edge.  Below the wall, the hill’s steep gradient ended at a cliff, and below that were small dilapidated houses bunched up together.

The Louisville skyline was just a black silhouette against the orange backdrop of the sky, though one of the taller buildings had some lights on in the upper floors.

 Don’t forget to tell Hayden about that.

As she scanned the river, she noticed something else peculiar.  Just to the east was the edge of Six Mile Island, a long stretch of land like a median between interstate lanes.  When Hayden first brought her out here, he had to explain that Sjx Mile Island wasn’t six miles long.  “It’s called that because it’s six miles from Falls of the Ohio,” he told her.

She’d never actually seen the island before and was surprised to find it was a wildlife reserve.  No houses, no buildings, no bridge leading to it.  Just forest.

And a campfire.  Someone made a smart move.  The Navy had boats on the river a mile or so past the island.  Whoever was sitting around that fire probably tried to escape the city, came to the blockade, and settled for the island, an underdeveloped plot of land no one would bother, unless they liked water birds.

That might be a person to visit.  Then again, they might want to be left alone.

She heard dead grass crunching behind her and glanced back.  Hayden came strolling out of the darkness in his usual khaki shorts and plain white t-shirt marked with a single mysterious stain somewhere around the neck.  Whenever he appeared, reality sort of slipped away and she returned to a time when falling in love was her primary concern.  She could hop rooftops like a frog on lily pads and toss cars around like baseballs but she didn’t know how to let Hayden know how she felt about him.  They’d spent every waking moment together since the day they met, and still he hadn’t touched her, aside from when they trained out in the yard.  Kicks to the face don’t count as affection.

Without speaking, he hopped onto the wall and plopped down next to her.

Lillia pointed out the campfire out on the edge of the island.

“I saw that last week,” he said.

“You didn’t tell me?”

“I did tell you.  Remember, we were sitting down for dinner.  We had lemon pepper chicken.”

“We have chicken almost every night.”

It was true.  When they first came here, Lillia found the chicken coup in the back yard and all the dead chickens and rotten eggs inside.  Hayden cleaned it out and they spent the entire day scouring the city for living chickens.  Now they had dozens of them and their daily meals consisted of mostly eggs and poultry.

“You were pretty tired,” Hayden said.

“That’s not it.  I can’t remember anything.  The other day I couldn’t even think of my last name.”

“I think it’s all in your mind.  If it’s affecting your memory, why wouldn’t it affect mine?”

Lillia shook her head timidly and beat her heels against the wall.  “Did you see the lights in that building downtown?”

Hayden leaned out so he could see around her.  “Hadn’t seen that yet.”

“Should we check it out?”

“If you want.  Maybe tomorrow.  We still have to pay a visit to Private Duncan.”

“Oh . . . I forgot about that.”

Private Duncan was a soldier manning a watchtower the military had constructed in the southbound lane of I-65, just past the pile of rubble that used to be the Gene Snyder overpass.  Months ago, when all the barricades were reduced to one-man posts, they’d ambushed Private Duncan and scared him into an agreement.  If he let people leave the city if they so desired, and he was generous with classified information coming in from his superiors, then he would get to live the rest of his life.  Lillia had no real intention of killing anyone, but she wasn’t sure about Hayden yet.  When they accosted criminals on the street in their general effort to restore order and keep the peace, he was always more violent with his scare tactics.  He even broke the arm of a drunken idiot who was slapping his wife around in a liquor store parking lot because she didn’t want him to break in and restock.

“We should probably eat before we go,” Hayden said.

“What are we having?”

“Take a wild guess.”

 

Before meeting with Private Duncan, they decided to pay a visit to Sherman and the others at Mall St. Matthews.  The only way in was to climb up on the roof and enter through a service hatch, which led to a utility room on the second floor.  Without cell phone service, they had no way of reaching the others, so once they were inside they had to browse around the mall like the world’s last shoppers.

Everyone slept in a furniture store on the first floor, so they looked there first.  Lillia plopped down on one of the mattresses and hugged a pillow.

“Sleepy?”

“A little.”

“You could have stayed home.”

“I don’t like to be by myself.”

“Me neither.  I can see your underwear, by the way.”

“Why are you looking?”

“I’m not.  I just noticed is all.  You know, a skirt isn’t really the right wardrobe for a superhero.”

She sat up, sighing.  Why did he always have to point that out?  It was annoying.  Was he really that offended?  Mrs. Wilkins used to torment her with lectures on how to be proper, how to dress, how to behave.  If she ever decided to put on a bathing suit and test out the pool back at the mansion, Hayden might have an aneurysm.

“I’ve never heard of a superhero in khakis either.”

“We need some spandex.”

“Have fun with that.”

“You okay?  You sound a little on edge.”

He was right.  She felt restless and wasn’t sure why.  Maybe she did know but it slipped away along with the rest of her memories.  “I’m fine,” she said, standing and brushing her skirt down.  “Let’s just find everybody and get this day over with.”

“Want to split up to speed things along?”

“Fine.”

Lillia stormed away, still not sure why her emotions were so high.  She found Meredith and Roger sitting at a table in the food court.  They must have heard her coming because Roger had his gun drawn when she came around the corner and spotted them.

“Hey, Lillia!” he said, setting his gun on the table.  “Sorry about that.  We weren’t expecting you guys today.  Where’s Hayden?”

Lillia jogged up to them and sat down next to Meredith.  “We split up.”

“What?” Meredith exclaimed.  “I didn’t know you were dating.  What happened?”

Roger burst out laughing, shooting flakes of food all over the table.

“I meant we split up to look for you guys,” Lillia explained.  “We’re not dating.”

Meredith giggled with Roger for a moment, and Lillia tried but she couldn’t even muster a smile.

“What’s wrong?” Roger asked.

She shrugged.  “I just don’t feel too hot today.”

“Everything good with Hayden?”

“I guess.  Where’s Sherman?”

She noticed a somber look between Roger and Meredith.

Roger sighed.  “Probably passed out somewhere.  He’s been on a bender.”

“He’s drinking again?”

“A lot,” Meredith said.

“I’ve tried to talk to him,” Roger said.  “He just apologizes and thanks me for worrying about him and goes right back to it.”

Lillia stood. “Where’s the liquor store?”

“You’ve been to it, remember?”

“No, I don’t.  Where is it?”

He pointed.  “Down at the end.  You want something to eat?”

Lillia took off running.  As she rounded the corner she almost collided with Hayden, who jumped back and said, “Whoa!  Where are you off to in such a hurry?”

She didn’t stop or respond.  The liquor store was just up ahead and the lights were on.  When she reached the entrance, she saw him immediately.  Unconscious on the floor.  He was dressed in a brand new black suit and, despite the heavy drinking, looked cleaner and healthier than he ever had before.  Too bad it was just an illusion caused by the clothes.

Something lay across his chest and he had his arms around it, but she didn’t pay it much attention.  Instead, she started knocking over stands of wine and liquor, taking bottles and pitching them at others.  She ripped the register off the counter and heaved it so hard that it knocked over an entire row of shelving.  Before long she was wading in alcohol and broken glass, but she didn’t stop until nearly every bottle was broken.

She didn’t even notice when she started crying, nor did she notice that Hayden, Roger, and Meredith had come to the entrance to watch her throw her fit.

When she was finished, she weaved through the mess she’d made and approached Sherman.

“I guess that’s one way to do it,” Roger said.

“Honey, did you hurt yourself?” Meredith asked.

Hayden said nothing.  He had his arms crossed and was staring at her as she knelt before Sherman, who hadn’t stirred even after all the racket she’d made, and inspected what he was holding.

It was a long box, gift wrapped with a bow and a little To and From card taped to it.  On the card, barely legible, was her name.

 

“You gonna open it?”

“Not right now.”

They were parked on the north side of Gene Snyder where the rubble blocked off all lanes.  Sometimes they took the entrance ramp up to the freeway and back down the other side, but here on the outskirts of the object it actually rained.  Last time they tried it the median was soupy and the almost got stuck.

“Let’s go.  His relief will be coming in soon.”  Lillia stepped out and met Hayden at the hood.  “Ready?” he asked.

She nodded.

As always, they counted to three, took off running toward the pile of rubble, and hurtled it in a single leap.

Hayden always landed first, but Lillia always won the race to the fence, where Private Duncan, an admirably alert and watchful young man, would be unlocking the narrow gate to let them through.

Lillia didn’t slow down until she slipped through the gate, just to make sure Hayden didn’t catch up to her.  As she slid to a stop, he came down from the sky and landed in front of her.

“Looks like I beat you,” he said.

“The gate is the finish line.  You weren’t supposed to jump.”

“Whatever you say, slick.”

She shot him a cold glare.  He was pushing all the wrong buttons today.  She hated being called “slick.”  Someone from her past used to use that word all the time, though she couldn’t remember who it was or why she despised the person.

“Private Duncan,” Hayden said, turning away from Lillia and extending a hand to the nervous soldier.  “Anyone come through today?”

“Nobody in the past week,” Duncan said.  “It’s been dead around here.  But look . . . there’s something you probably want to know about.”

For a moment Lillia’s anger abated.  Private Duncan never volunteered information.  Despite the agreement, Hayden usually had to pry it out of him.  This must be important.

“Let’s hear it,” Hayden said.

“They’re coming in two weeks.”

“Who?”

“The army.  I’m not even supposed to know this, but Dickie, you know, my relief, he’s the nephew of someone pretty high up in the ranks.  He said the president and the Secretary of Defense decided enough is enough.  They’re making a full sweep.  They’re going to take back the city.”

“They can’t do that,” Lillia said.  “It’ll be a slaughter.”

Duncan shook his head.  “I highly doubt the U.S. Army is going to start mowing down citizens.”

“I’m not talking about citizens, you idiot.”  She turned to Hayden.  “He’ll kill them all.  We can’t let that happen.  We have to do something.”

“Like what?” Hayden asked.

“Who are you guys talking about?” Duncan asked.

Lillia ignored him.  “We have to get to him first.  Before they get here.”

“Are you saying there are more people like you in there?” Duncan asked.

“Yes,” Hayden said sternly.  Then to Lillia, “So now we have a deadline, and we haven’t even seen him in action.  This sucks.”

“I have to report this,” Duncan said.  “I have friends stationed at Fort Knox and Fort Campbell.  That’s where they’ll be coming from.  They need to know what to expect.”

“No one’s going to believe you,” Hayden said.

“I have to try.”

“You keep your mouth shut, Duncan.  If it comes down to it, I’ll let your army know myself.  They won’t believe it till they see it, anyway.”

 

When they arrived home, a car sat idling in front of the gate.  Hayden stopped as soon as he saw it and opened the door.

“Stay here.”

“Who is it?”

“I don’t know.”

It was full dark now, but the car was lit up by a security light.

Lillia waited until Hayden was several paces away and quietly opened her door and stepped out.  Hayden approached the car on the driver’s side, calling out to the driver to identify him- or herself.

The door opened slowly and a woman stepped out, calling his name with a big grin.  She had freshly curled black hair and light brown skin.  The same height as Hayden, probably in her late twenties.  She looked like a professional athlete.  It was Lex.

Lillia cringed as Lex threw her arms around Hayden.  When she pulled away, her hands remained on his shoulders while they spoke.  At length.  No wave in Lillia’s direction.  No acknowledgement whatsoever.  Finally she returned to the car and cranked up the CD player, blasting music from a local band Hayden had been following before the object appeared.  It worked in drawing his attention, but he returned to the car with a big grin on his face.

Hear the song.  “Willar D. Bee” by Aby Laby Land

“What did she want?” Lillia asked as he climbed in.  Instead of pulling forward, he started backing into a driveway and turning around.  “Where are we going?”

“The riverfront.”

“Why?”

“That was Lex,” he said.  “Sh–“

“I’m not stupid.”

Hayden looked at her with the standard wounded puppy expression guys always put on when they know they’ve screwed up.  “She came by to tell us they’re about to launch the fireworks.”

“What fireworks?”

“Thunder Over Louisville.  It was supposed to be today, and apparently they’re going through with it.  No air show, obviously.  Have you ever been?”

“No.”

“Haven’t you lived here your whole life?”

“Yes.”

“This is unacceptable.”

He pulled out onto River Road and drove double the speed limit all the way to downtown.  On the way he explained that Sam Smith got the information from one of his friends who worked for Louisville Gas & Electric, one of the title sponsors for this year’s event.

They parked close to the river west of the Second Street Bridge and walked down to the rail just as the first shells launched from the barges, soaring up into the night and exploding, lighting up the bottom of the object’s ring, a structure so massive that all the buildings in Louisville could probably fit inside.

Lillia became entranced.

“Usually they have music,” Hayden said.

“That would ruin it.”  So would the crowds.  Hayden had told her over six-hundred thousand people attended last year.

“Bad music to boot,” he said.  “They should play some Aby Laby Land.  Keep it local.”

“Drake and Kate would love this,” she said, and just then a swarm of creatures once again poured out of the object.

Hayden pointed.  “Look!”

They came down in a massive flock, hundreds of them, and as they drew closer their shapes began to take form.  Some were the giant squids, others amorphous shapes constantly in flux, like oil floating in water.  Some looked like snakes or eels.  Others were perfectly round orbs of light.

Lillia feared they would consume the fireworks as they’d done the nuclear bomb, but instead they became part of the show, dancing and weaving in and out of the explosions in a celebratory fashion.

“That’s awesome!” Hayden shouted, and suddenly he threw his arm around her.

She tensed, but he didn’t let go, so she leaned into him a little and for the first time all day felt the slightest relief.  She even managed to smile.

But it quickly faded.

“Hayden?”

“Yeah,” he said distantly, staring up at the sky with his mouth hanging open.

“Hayden, look!”

About a hundred yards to their left, the Belle of Louisville Steamboat was rising out of the water, standing vertically and groaning from the strain.

“Holy shit,” Hayden said, and they watched as the enormous boat shot out into the river in a high arc and landed on one of the barges.

The explosion was enormous.  Fireworks shot out in every direction, and Hayden pushed Lillia to the ground just as a shell connected with the I-64 overpass behind them, deafening them with its concussion and raining down a shower of hot sparks.

They stayed low until the flames on the barge stopped shooting missiles in their direction, and then they slowly climbed to their feet.  Fireworks still launched from the other seven barges and the bridge.

Lillia peered down at the docks, where moments before the Belle of Louisville had sat undisturbed.

Barry smiled and waved at her.  Then he turned back to watch the rest of the show.

To be continued . . .

Well, Where Is It?


I noticed we’re getting quite a bit of search traffic for Book Two, so I thought I’d let everyone know that Sunday won the vote for preferred episode release day.  Therefore, Episode One of Book Two will go live this Sunday, May 5th, at 6p.m.

Any last-minute predictions?

New People, Hello!


I thought I’d drop a quick note to say hello to the new subscribers coming in after last week’s free promotion that brought in 10,000 downloads of The Object: Book One.  Hello and welcome.  We’d love to hear what you think of the story, which characters you like or dislike, where you think the story is headed, etc.  We do take recommendations for murder, if you want anyone dead.  (This offer is limited to characters in the book and does not extend to real people.)

As you can see, things are a little slow right now.  I’m finishing up a side project and then plan to use the rest of March and all of April to write most (or all) of Book Two.

In the first week of May, Book Two‘s episode’s will begin to post weekly with illustrations and original music.  At that time we’ll be posting more regularly.

For those of you still waiting for your Kickstarter rewards, I’ll have your books out in the mail by the end of this month.

Chad

Matt’s Music Monday: A Song Called “Version”


Hello.  My name is Matthew Wayne Stillwell, but feel free to call me Matt, if you’d like.  It’s Monday, and that means to I get to snatch up The Object’s blog from Winston for a moment.

Just in case you don’t know, I record sounds.  Some of those sounds make the score for The Object.  Some are for projects with other people I collaborate with.  Some are used for personal ideas I have, such as albums.  And several are so off-the-wall or impractical that they never really see the light of day.

Each Monday, I’m going to share a recording that could have originated from any of these sources.  And, this Monday in particular, I’d like to share one called “Version”.

The idea for this piece of music was not originally mine.  A fellow musician presented the recording and idea to me.  The concept was intriguing:  He had created a piece of music with the intention of it being passed around, downloaded, and manipulated freely.  The goal was to allow people to take his version, and make their own version from it, essentially creating what would hopefully be an “evolving” recording.

And since I’m now sharing it here, feel free to download it, chop it up, record over it, mangle it, or whatever.  Anything goes.  Just be sure to pass it along somehow when you’re finished, so other people can work on their “version”.  Perhaps one day you’ll hear it somewhere, and it will be almost unrecognizable.

If you decide to make a “Version”, I’d love to hear it!

 

-Matthew

 

 

 

Episode Thirteen, The Object: Book One

Episode Thirteen


The Object: a free serial novel

Episode Thirteen: “Time to Tell the Truth”

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

Time to Tell the Truth

Lillia awoke to find herself lying nearly on top of Hayden, who had one arm wrapped around her back.  For a moment she didn’t remember where she was, nor anything that existed beyond what she could see, the only sound that of the air conditioner’s soft rattle.

A car honked outside and suddenly the world outside flooded back into her mind: Drake and Kate, the police killings, the seedy hotel, the object.

Lillia sat up carefully so as not to wake Hayden and slid out of bed.  She sorted through the pile of clothes until she came up with a pair of jeans, a fitted gray long-sleeve shirt, socks, and a bra.  He’d asked for her bra size yesterday, right before he got out of the car and shot out the department store’s glass door.  Embarrassed enough with the question to only ask at the last minute but in no way shy about robbing a store.

She’d expected him to bring her a bunch of clothes she couldn’t wear, but he even got the bra exactly right.  Lillia pulled the baggy shirt over her head and then quickly covered her chest with it and turned to make sure Hayden was still asleep.  A hitch in thought and she’d forgotten he was there, forgotten what she was doing.

She quickly dropped the shirt and put on the bra.  Then she pulled the shirt over her head.  Mrs. Wilkins had always made her change clothes this way, starting with her shirt and moving downward.  The longer Lillia was away from that woman, the crazier she remembered her to be.  Mrs. Wilkins believed if you put your pants on first, then tried to change your shirt, the shirt’s filth would rain down upon the pants.  Ridiculous, but here stood Lillia in a shirt and underwear, shoving her right leg into a pair of jeans.

She lost her balance on the second leg and fell back against the bed.  Hayden began to move and she hurried to pull up the pants and button them.  She yanked the zipper up and, still lying there, looked over at Hayden.  He was smiling.  “Having trouble?”

Lillia sat up, spun around, and sat cross-legged with her elbows on her knees.  She brushed the hair out of her face and then folded her arms over her stomach, trying to warm herself.

“I didn’t mean to wake you up,” she said.

“I could tell.  Everything fit okay?”

“Yep.  I’m glad to be out of that skirt.”

“I bet.  How’d you sleep?”

She smiled and shrugged.  “I zonked out fast, I know that.”

“The explosion didn’t wake you up?”

“What explosion?”

“I don’t know,” he said.  “It was pretty far off, though.”

“How late were you up?”

“For a while after you fell asleep, I guess.  Man, I had some crazy dreams last night.  You were in them.  Well, sort of.”

Lillia laughed.  “Sort of?  How sort of?”

Hayden sat up in bed and wrapped his arms around his legs.  “Well, I dreamed I was a cat,” he said.  “And I was fighting this guy.  And then I was . . . looking for you.”  He stopped there and his eyes trailed away.  For a moment he looked deeply disturbed.  Then he blinked and returned his gaze to Lillia.  “How is that possible?”

Lillia flinched.  “What?”

“Something happened,” Hayden said.  “Do you feel that?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Lillia said.  The look on his face made her a little uneasy.  The look a person gets when processing a lot of information in the mind all at once.  The look Mrs. Wilkins would develop sometimes while on the phone with a friend or co-worker, the look that always led to shouting and things being thrown.

But Hayden smiled.  “So that’s how.”  He suddenly reached out to Lillia and leaned forward.  She recoiled and he drew his hand back.  “You’ve got one on your head, too, don’t you?  That’s how you can float.”

Lillia realized the feeling he’d inquired if she felt.  It was like the heat from a shaft of sunlight on a winter morning.  A calming, reassuring feeling, and it seemed, strangely enough, to have a shape.  An umbrella of energy under which the two of them huddled.

“Check it out,” Hayden said, dropping his gaze so the top of his head faced her.  “I’ll show you my alien if you show me yours.”

Lillia laughed.  She reached out and touched the invisible squid on his head, her fingertips producing tiny ripples of light that revealed its dimensions.  Then she ducked her head for Hayden.

~ ~ ~ ~

They ate breakfast at a diner up the street.  Hayden was surprised to find it not only open but completely slammed with business.  This was a poorer neighborhood than his own.  Fewer people with the means to flee the city, which meant more people lingering, food growing more and more scarce as businesses shut down and grocery stores with no resupply on the way emptied of their shelves, either by shoppers or, near the end, thieves, some of whom were simply hungry, others who stole to mark up and sell when famine set in.

For now, people still dined here–at least those who had money yet to spend.

Hayden and Lillia got a table immediately, but it might well have been the last one.  The diner bustled with loud conversation over the tinker of silverware on plates.  People either shouted or didn’t speak at all.  Somewhere a man berated a waitress for not being prompt.  “The service here is an absurdity,” he said, with emphasis on the last word.  “I never come to places like this.  You see why?”  He was looking at his wife.  “They don’t care.  They just don’t give a flying shit.”

The hostess led them into another room and he saw the complaining customer sitting with his frightened upper middle class family.  They were dressed for church, the man, his wife, and their two daughters.  This was a person with the means to leave the city but not the will.  His family now clung to him in fear.

As they approached the family’s booth, the waitress stepped back between two tables to let them pass.  She was close to tears.  Hayden stopped and turn to the man, the hostess going on ahead, unaware.  Lillia stopped behind him.

He didn’t know what he was going to say, but looking at the man he suddenly realized he’d seen him before, push mowing his small front lawn.  He even remembered what the house looked like: three stories, blue siding, white pillars at the top of the porch steps.  Even the date.  How could he remember something so insignificant?

Hayden put the question aside and smiled.  “Hey, you’re my neighbor, right?”

The man scowled at him.  “What?  I don’t know you.”

“You live on Willow Avenue.  The blue house.  I live across the street, a few houses down.”

This last part was a lie, but the man flashed a look of false recognition and, smiling, extended a hand.  Hayden took it and the man’s demeanor instantly changed.  He said, “Yes, that’s the house all right.  I didn’t know I’d see anyone from my neck of the woods down here.  You can’t get a damn meal in this city anymore.”

“We’re facing quite a struggle,” Hayden said, nodding.  “That thing up there hovers over all our heads, and who knows what it’s up to, right?”  He turned to the waitress, noticing too that the hostess had turned around and was coming back.  “How are you holding up, ma’am?  With all this.”

The waitress struggled to speak.  Her voice quivered.  “I don’t know,” she said.

“How about your family?”

She looked up at him, paused, then said, “I had to leave my kids at home alone.  I don’t want to be here, but my landlord put a note under everyone’s door saying if we stop paying rent we’re getting kicked out, even with that thing above us.  So I didn’t know what to do.”

The hostess was here now, hands on her sides, eyeballing the waitress.

The man’s wife spoke so timidly Hayden barely heard her.  “Harper always says children should not be left alone, don’t you honey?”

“I do indeed,” Harper said, crumpling a napkin in his fist.  He looked up at the waitress and shifted his body towards her.  “You don’t have a husband?”

“He died,” she said.  “In Iraq.”

“Well surely you draw some sort of check.”

The waitress spoke faster now.  “I do.  I have plenty of money.  But all the branches of my bank are closed, and when I try to take money out of the ATM it won’t let me.  I don’t even know if I can cash my check here.  I have to make tips to pay my rent.  I’m trying but we have a limited menu and I have to explain that to everyone and it’s taking longer and people aren’t giving tips because they can’t get to their money either.”

“Your table is this way,” the hostess said to Hayden.

“That’s what I always say, isn’t it, babe?” the man said to his wife.

“Yes,” she replied.

The man poked the tabletop as he spoke.  “You always keep a cash savings, just in case.  Don’t I say that, babe?  Just in case?  You always keep cash on hand.  Isn’t that right, um . . . what’s your name, by the way?”

“Hayden,” Hayden said.  “You’re right.  I have a stash at home.”  He looked at the waitress.  “If I had it on me, I’d help you out.  I only brought enough to eat with.”

“Hell,” the man said, grunting and standing.  He stuck his hand in his front pocket and pulled out a money clip thick with one-hundred dollar bills.  “How much is the rent, honey?”

The waitress looked stunned.  “Um.  No, it’s five-hundred dollars.  I’m fine, thank you.”

“You probably have bills coming up, too, right?” Hayden said.

The man looked up from counting out money.  “You have bills too?  Do you have food?”

“Yes,” she said quickly.  “We’re fine, really.”

“I’ll tell you what, Harper,” Hayden said.  “Throw her twelve-hundred and I’ll run half of it over to you when I get home this afternoon.

The man studied him for a moment, brow curled.  Then he swatted at the air and said, “Just stick it in the mail slot on the front door.  Which house do you live in again?”

Hayden pictured the street in his mind.  “Two houses to the left of the one across the street from you.  The maroon one.  There’s a pink flamingo in the yard.”

“You’re the one with the flamingo?” Harper asked, disgusted.

Hayden laughed.  “Yeah, we all hate it, too.  It was a gift from my grandmother.  She’s not doing so well and we’re just keeping it up until, you know.”

This lie seemed to seal the deal.  Harper counted out twelve bills and handed them to the waitress.

“Go on home,” Lillia said to the waitress.  Hayden turned to her and found her smiling and staring at him.

“I’ll go talk to my manager,” the waitress said.

“If he gives you any trouble,” Harper said, sitting back down, “you just come tell me.  Good luck, honey.”

Hayden offered his hand to the man, whose wife was rubbing his forearm.

“I’ll see you this afternoon,” Hayden said.

Harper nodded.  “If we get some service sometime today, that is.”

The hostess led them to their table and took their drink orders.  When she left, Lillia leaned forward and whispered, “That was brilliant.  You played that guy like a fiddle.”

He smiled.  “Oh, did I?”

“You were lying,” Lillia said.  “You don’t live on Willow Avenue.”

“How do you know where I live?”

“Save it.  I can tell when you’re lying.  Are you going to give him half the money?”

“Well yeah,” Hayden said.  “I don’t want him terrorizing whoever does live in that house.”

“See!  I knew it.  I can tell when you’re lying.”

Hayden smiled and looked down at the table.  He felt her staring at him.  He’d been dreading this moment since last night, but he might as well get it over with.  Or should he wait until they’d eaten, so at least she wouldn’t leave him hungry.

A group of people passed by, being led by the hostess to a table still piled with the dishes and soiled napkins of previous customers.

“I’ve been lying about something else,” he blurted out.

Lillia nodded.  “It has something to do with the library, doesn’t it?  I knew it.”

“I saw Sherman.”

“You what?” she said loud enough to draw attention.  “At the library?  Why didn’t you tell me?  Where are Drake and Kate?”

“They’re dead, Lillia.  One of those things, those–” He pointed at his head.  “Those big things, it came down and took them.”

She was shaking her head and saying, “No, that’s not true.”

Hayden leaned forward.  “Some people broke in, and Drake got shot, but they got away.  Sherman was trying to take him to the hospital.  Then everything went crazy.  There’s a man somewhere in this city who has one of these things on his head.  He’s killing people, burning down buildings.  We might be the only ones who can stop him.”

“I have to find Drake and Kate.”

“Lillia, Sherman saw him.  The same guy I dreamed about last night.  I dreamed about Drake and Kate, too.  I saw one of those things come down and take them.”

“What do you mean take them?” she yelled.  “How did it take them?”

He sighed, struggled to think of what to say.  “Lillia, it sucked them up in one of its tentacles.  It ate them.”

He tried to stop her but she yanked her arm from his grip and screamed, “Stay away from me!”

Then she left.

~ ~ ~ ~

“I know those two,” Meredith said.  “They were at the hospital.  She had these things in her hair.”

“Dreadlocks?” Trey asked.

Meredith looked at him strangely.  “How did you know that?”

Trey shrugged.  “Hey, can I have fifty cents for the jukebox?”

“The jukebox is fifty cents?” Roger asked.

“Yeah, I checked on the way in.”

Roger fished some change out of his pocket and gave it to Trey.  When Trey stood, Pete tried to go with him, but Trey whispered, “Stay here, Pete.  I’ll be right back.”

Roger watched him go and his eyes returned to the boy whose girlfriend had just screamed at him before running out of the restaurant.  The boy was staring back.  Not at him but at Meredith.

“Is everything okay?” Roger asked.

“Not even close,” the boy said.

Roger couldn’t help but think he looked familiar.  Something about his eyes.

“You gonna chase after her?”

The boy shook his head.  “Don’t know there’s a point.  I know where she’s going anyway.”

“The library,” Roger said.

“Yeah, I guess you heard that.”

“Everybody did.  Maybe you should go after her.  She shouldn’t be by herself.”

“It’s useless,” he said.  “If you knew the whole story . . .”

“I think I might,” Roger said.  “I was there.  What you were talking about.  The man who looked like he’d been barbequed.  And the cat.”

“The cat?” the boy said.  “What cat?”

“I was taking care of this girl’s cat.  He was like a human.  I know that sounds crazy.  He understood what I was saying.  We had this whole system–” He stopped.  “Anyway, I was there.  I watched all that stuff go down.”

“Maybe you should go tell her that,” he said, standing.  He stepped up to Roger’s table and spoke in a lower voice.  “I’m going to go find that man and kill him.  I think he’s looking for her.”

Roger leaned forward.  “Do you think you can take him on?  He’s more than human, you know.  If you really saw what he can do.  How about you just come with us?”

“I don’t have time,” he said.

A spoon lifted from the table and melted in front of Roger’s face.  Then the cold yet molten material, drifting like water in zero gravity, collapsed on itself to form a perfectly round ball no wider than a quarter.  It solidified, generating a rough surface with edges and depressions.  A model of the object or the Earth, something for debate.

The boy plucked the little memento out of the air.  Then he handed it to Roger.  “Give her that.”

Roger took the thing and studied it.  “What is it?”

“I don’t know,” the boy said.  “But if she hates me, she’ll toss it, and if she doesn’t hate me, she’ll keep it.  We have a room at the hotel down the street.  Bring her back if you can.”

“We’re staying there too,” Roger said, but the boy turned and headed out of the restaurant.

Trey passed by him and returned to the table.

“Jukebox is broke.”

~ ~ ~ ~

Barry pulled the metal door open and stepped out onto the roof of the National City Tower, the second tallest building in the city.  Derek waited for him at the north ledge, suit jacket and tie flapping behind him in the wind.  From up here, the belly of the object looked significantly closer, more discernable.  It looked to have metallic caves and mountains, perhaps entry points and navigation systems.  A marvel to look upon.  One might be capable of exploring its terrain, if properly equipped.

Derek looked back and saw him coming.  He was leaning on the ledge but now he stood straight, hands in his pockets.

“Did you hear about the news chopper going down?” he shouted as Barry approached.

Barry waited until he was close to answer.  “No,” he said.

“The marines did it.  After they shot out that overpass.  Something happened, Barry.  Orders were changed.  I’ve had surveillance units on these rooftops since yesterday morning.  They’ve got demolition crews rigging up the bridges, Spaghetti Junction, and I bet they’re gonna blast craters in the roads, too.  They’re sealing us off, man.  I wanted you to come up here and watch.  My boys think it’s happening soon.  Like within the next few minutes.”

“How the hell would they know that?”

“Sound amplifiers.”  Derek turned to face the Ohio River.  “Just watch and see.  I bet we get nuked by the end of the day.  I’m getting out of here.”

“You’ve got to be crazy to want to leave this.”

“Leave what?”

Barry raised his arms out.  “All of it.  Everything.  I feel something, Derek.  An energy in the air.  It’s coming from that.  Don’t you feel it?”

“No,” Derek said.  “You’re crazy.  You’ve got to be crazy to want to stay here.”

Barry felt his cell phone vibrating and pulled it out of his pocket.

“Hello?”

“Yo, one of my boys found your girl.  She’s at the library.”

“University?”

“Nah, Fourth Street.  Public library.”

Ray hung up, and Barry smiled as he returned the phone to his pocket.

The explosions rocked the building and sent such tremendous thunder across the city that many probably thought this their final moment.  The skyline lit up with fire and debris and the two visible bridges collapsed in sections into the river, the water surface treacherous with choppy waves and debris.

On land, the interweaving highways and entrance ramps known as Spaghetti Junction went up in one simultaneous explosion, generating a dark gray cloud of dust and smoke that grew so rapidly it might well reach the object.

“You believe me now?” Derek shouted into the wind and lingering thunder.  He was terrified.  Pitiful.  He’d always been such a baby.

“I had sex with your wife,” Barry said.  He laughed.  “Five times.”

“What?”  Derek took a step forward.

“She’s got that little four-leaf clover tattoo on her inner thigh, you know what I’m talking about?  She showed it to me at your birthday party, after you’d passed out in a lawn chair.  Said she was hoping to get lucky.  We did it on your bed.  Then four more times before I got bored with her.”

Derek reached for his gun but Barry fell upon him, yanking his wrist with a twisting motion and easily taking the gun from his limp fingers.  He pushed Derek to the ground and heaved the gun over the side of the building.

“People who fear for their lives on a daily basis are the ones who have no life worth preserving.  They mask that truth with their fear.  You’re pathetic.  You think you’re going to escape this city?  No, that would be a bold move, something you’re not capable of.  The only way you’d leave this city is if I led you by the hand.  But I’m not going to, Derek.  In fact, I’d kill you right now if I had time.  As it happens, I have to be somewhere more important right now.  So you just carry on.”

Barry turned toward the door to the stairwell.

Derek shouted, “How can you talk to me this way?  As much as I’ve done for you?  As much money as I helped you steal?  I’m your brother, damn you.”

“You’re not even my sister,” Barry said, laughing hysterically as he left Derek calling out to him on the roof.

When he stepped out the lobby doors to the street, he stopped to inspect Derek’s splattered body on the sidewalk, only to confirm the body’s identity, before jogging to his car.

~ ~ ~ ~

The only way Hayden could think to start was just driving around the major roads all throughout the city, hoping he would sense Ted the way he sensed Lillia, her signal growing fainter as she ran farther away.

He got a whiff of a feeling coming up Fourth Street, lost it, then picked it up again as he drew closer to the downtown area.

At Broadway he took a left and then an immediate right onto Fifth Street, continuing north.  He knew it ended at West Main Street.

He felt a left turn coming.  Then Ted would be close.

~ ~ ~ ~

Sherman awoke on the bench where he’d sat drinking and talking to himself half the night, then finally passing out with an empty bottle in his hand.  He was close to the road, his back to the iron fence in front of the Louisville Slugger Museum.

It was morning.  He peered behind him in both directions, instinctively looking for cops.  He didn’t see a soul.

Except for one.  Sherman caught him out of the corner of his eye.  Down the street stood a four-story building with gothic arches in its windows and features of a castle, including in the right corner a cone-roofed bell tower.  On the tip of the roof was perched a dark figure, a silhouette barely visible against the brownish backdrop of the object.

It was watching him.

When he tried to stand, it came bounding through the air like a hawk and landed right in front of him.  It was Ted.  His skin charred and hanging off, part of his jawbone exposed, several ribs showing where a section of his side had burned off completely.  His clothes were mere rags still clinging to their stitching.  He had no lips or eyelids.

Sherman tried to back away and fell onto the bench.  The smell of Ted brought him close to vomiting.  Then he did.

“Where is she?” Ted hissed.

Sherman shook his head, spitting bile onto the sidewalk.

“Tell me,” Ted said.

“I don’t know where she’s at, man.  Ain’t nothin’ I can do for you.”

Ted grabbed him by the shirt and leaned into him, pressing him into the bench and sending an agony through his body that made him believe he was burning alive.  Ted screamed into his face and the spray of saliva from his mouth felt like steam from boiling water.  “Where is she?”

Sherman couldn’t speak until Ted let go of him.  Then he shouted, “The library!  That’s the last I saw her!  The library!”

He fell over on his side, crying and cringing with pain.  He’d betrayed her once again, and now he could feel the heat of Ted leaning closer and closer.  This was the end, and it was one he deserved.  He should have killed Ted when he had the chance.  None of this would have happened.  Lillia and the children would still have a home, and they wouldn’t have left to be separated from each other, the children killed, and for all he knew, Lillia killed, too.

A squealing noise suddenly rose directly behind him to near deafening volume.  He felt Ted back away and turned just in time to see the driver’s side door of a red sports car fly off its hinges and go bouncing down the street like a flat rock across the river’s surface.

Out of the car stepped Hayden, the boy from the library.

Immediately, he and Ted collided in midair, their feet just above Sherman’s head.  He dove out of the way as they came down, then scrambled to his feet and took off down the street.  Half a block away, he stopped and turned around to see Hayden being slung into the side of the museum.  Ted charged him but Hayden jumped high in the air and landed halfway up the big steel bat structure that lay against the side of the building.

In two more leaps Hayden was on top of the building.  Ted jumped up onto the bottom and thickest part of the bat.

Sherman hid in an alley when he saw what was happening next.

Hayden got up under the handle of the bat and tore it from its bolts in the ground.  He raised the bat up, something that had to weigh several thousand pounds, Ted astride it as if riding some strange sports-oriented theme park attraction.

Then Hayden flicked the bat upward, shooting Ted into the air.  Hayden reared the bat back, both arms wrapped around it as far as they would go, and swung, connecting with Ted as he freefell and sending his body in an arch at least five blocks away.

He dropped the bat.  It hit the roof ledge, tearing out a chunk of bricks, and crashed down on the street, splintering in several places and partially collapsing, pieces of the building raining down after it.

Sherman saw Hayden standing there at the broken section of the roof, looking off to the east, where Ted had crash landed.

“Hey!” he called up to the roof.  “The library!”

“What?” Hayden called down, his voice faint.

Sherman cupped his hands around his mouth.  “If he ain’t dead, he’s going to the library!  Where’s Lillia?”

But Hayden was already gone, leaping rooftops like a frog on lily pads, leaving his car idling in the street with no driver’s side door.

~ ~ ~ ~

Lillia searched the reception area and the office where they’d found the baby.  She checked the tables with computers, the downstairs lounge area.  Nothing.  Then she climbed the steps and went to the couch where Kate and Drake had been sitting when she’d left.  She saw the blood and collapsed on the floor sobbing.

She didn’t understand.  The thing on her head, it made her feel smarter and faster.  Better.  Happier.  Those big monsters swimming in the sky had to be the parents of the little ones.  But it wasn’t feeding off of her.  If anything, she was feeding off of it.  It was like a battery, pumping energy into her body and making her more capable.

Why would its mother eat her brother and sister?

Lillia crawled over to the couch and lay curled up on it, crying until her body ached.  She didn’t know what to do.  She had no one.  Sooner or later she would be up next to die.

Downstairs, the door handle clicked and the door squealed open.  Lillia climbed to her feet and slowly approached the rail.  A dark figure stepped into the doorway.

“Hello, Lillia.”

Lillia studied the figure closely.  It wasn’t Ted.  Ted was short.

“Who are you?” she asked.

“I’m Barry,” the voice said.  “I’m Hayden’s father.  I’d like to talk to you for just a moment.  Can you come down?”

“What do you want?”

“Just a conversation,” Barry said.  “I can help you.  But I need you to help me find my son.  He’s gone crazy.  He’s been going around saying terrible things about his mother.  She’s worried sick about him.  Can you help me?”

“Sure,” Lillia said.

She walked the rail until she came to the staircase.  She descended slowly, keeping her eye on him.  He was far enough inside now that his face caught the lamplight.  He was big, meaty, and he looked mean.  Just as Hayden had described him.

She stopped at the landing halfway down and thought about Hayden, what he’d said right before she left.  She’d thought him so cold for describing the kids’ deaths so bluntly, but she’d forgotten he’d just witnessed the death of his own mother, without time to deal with his own loss, much less hers.  He was only trying to communicate to her what she refused to believe.

“Come on down,” Barry said.  “That’s it.  Good girl.”

Her shoes clopped on the marble steps, one after the other.

“Did you kill Hayden’s mom?” she asked.

Barry tilted his head and grinned, feigning confusion.  “His mother is fine.  I can get her on the phone right now.”

“No you can’t,” Lillia said.  “You’re lying.  You killed her.”

Barry began to walk quickly towards her, saying, “And you’re next, you little bitch.”

Lillia ripped the marble knob off one of the newel posts at the bottom of the staircase and threw it at Barry, striking him in the chest and setting him flat on his back.

She stepped down off the last step and stood over him.  He clutched his chest, wheezing and coughing, gasping for air.

“Why did you kill her?  What did she do to you?”

He couldn’t speak.

“Why does everyone have to be so mean?”  She reached down, grabbed his lapels, and pulled him to his feet effortlessly.  She stared into his black pupils, at his big toothy grin.  “It’s not necessary, you know,” she said.  “You can be nice sometimes.”

Barry tried to grab her, but she made a choking gesture with her hand and he froze in place, wrapping his hands around his neck, mouth open, tongue sticking out.

Lillia walked towards the door, pushing Barry backwards though she stood six feet removed from him.  His shoes scraped the floor when he wasn’t kicking outward.

When his back hit the door, she used his body to push it open, forcing him outside.  She followed him quickly into the morning breeze, where she dangled him over the staircase, kicking his feet, choking.

“You choked your wife, didn’t you?”  She looked across the street at the statue of a man seated.  “I don’t even know how I know that.”

Then she dropped him.  Coming upon her fast was the most frightening thing she’d ever seen.  A ghoulish man with blackened skin and bones showing all over his body, running full speed in her direction, his eyes squinted with determination.  It was Ted.  He shouldn’t be alive.  No one could burn like that and still be breathing, much less sprinting for her.

He must have one on his head, too.

Suddenly Ted was tumbling across the sidewalk fighting with someone.  It wasn’t until they stopped rolling that she could make out her attacker’s subjugator as Hayden.  He’d wound up on top, pounding Ted’s head so hard with his fist the impact made popping sounds.

Ted reached up and grabbed Hayden’s arm, and suddenly Hayden screamed in pain.  Ted jumped to his feet and flung Hayden through the stone wall of the library.  Then he plowed through the door, shattering what remained of the glass and cutting himself open in several places.  He leapt great distances, great heights.

Lillia watched as chunks of the walls and roof blew out, as the entire structure eventually shifted, then as Hayden and Ted came bursting out of the roof and into the sky, leaving the library toppling over and disintegrating.

Hayden and Ted flew so high in the air, Lillia lost sight of them.  They might well have disappeared into the dark bowels of the object.  She suddenly recalled how she’d always felt a twinge of fear and panic when letting go of a balloon, watching it rise higher and higher into the sky, becoming a pinpoint, then nothing.

She thought about everyone at school.  Chase Kolton, the boy she’d been infatuated with since freshman year.  Was he still in the city?  Probably not.  From what she understood, his family had a cabin on a lake somewhere.  They most likely skipped town.  As did Sophie and Autumn Payton, most likely.  Their parents had a lot of money.

For the first time ever, Lillia was glad she didn’t have any friends.  The only person she had left to fear losing was Hayden, and he was falling out of the sky, grappling an undead monster.

When they were level with the tree tops, Lillia reached out for Ted, gripped her hand into a fist, and swung it down towards the ground.  Ted’s body changed course in a violent jerk and slammed like a rock onto the head of the steps, right at Lillia’s feet.

She took several steps back and used both hands to wring his neck.  She could feel his telekinetic defenses trying to pry at her phantom fingertips.  She squeezed as tight as she could, gritting her teeth, her shoulders raised to the sides of her head.

Hayden appeared beside her, his shirt ripped down the front and spattered with blood.  “Hold him,” he said.  Then Ted began to drift out over the road.

“What are you doing?” Lillia asked.

“Just trust me.”

Lillia walked forward with Hayden, holding her grip around Ted’s neck as Hayden positioned Ted just over the yellow line.

A car came sliding around the corner, squealing tires and accelerating fast.  It was Hayden’s car, and whoever was driving was in quite a hurry.

She looked over at Hayden and realized the extent of his plan.  He must have heard the car coming and thought that enough momentum, with the right timing . . .

When the car’s brakes began to squeal, Hayden made a flipping motion with his hands, spinning Ted’s body like a Roulette wheel.  His head connected perfectly with the grill of the car and popped off his neck like a tee ball.  The head spun in the air for a moment and then bounced into the grass across the street.

The driver fought to keep the car straight as he came to a screeching halt but wound up sideways with one tire up on the sidewalk.

“Who is that?” Lillia asked, but before Hayden could answer, Sherman jumped out of the doorless driver’s side.

“Sherman!”

Lillia ran to him and threw her arms around his waist.  She smelled the alcohol on him and began to cry.  Sherman was already crying and mumbling apologies, his body stiff and trembling.

“It’s my fault,” he said.

Hayden appeared next to them.  “Where’s the head?” he asked.

Lillia pulled away from Sherman and pointed at the patch of grass where the head had landed.

It wasn’t there.

“Roger!” Hayden called.

Lillia turned to see a group of people coming up the street: a man carrying several guns, the cop Meredith, and two young boys.

“Everybody okay?” Roger asked, looking at her.

“I think so,” Lillia said, making eye contact with Hayden.  She sniffled, tried to smile.  Hayden stood at a distance.  He returned the smile but stayed his position.

That was when all the city’s tornado sirens went off at once, and everyone’s eyes were drawn up to the sparkle of lights in the sky.

~ ~ ~ ~

The little creature began to glow, dimly at first but brightening fast.  Ted’s brain activity was diminishing, and the alien’s tentacles began to loosen around his head, rippling.

The thing’s head felt like a small water balloon in his hand.  He pulled on it, but the tentacles clung to Ted’s hair like two root systems grown together.  He waited a moment, tried again using all the force he could muster.  The tips of the creature’s tentacles clung to Ted’s skull as if magnetized.

When the sirens went off, he finished yanking the tiny squid thing from the severed and bashed head, then quickly fitted it to his own head like a toboggan.

It took hold of him instantly and he trembled as a surge of electricity, adrenaline . . . something raced through him, like a warm jolt of lightning, refreshing, revitalizing.  He felt immortal.

Barry jumped to his feet and bounced off the ground as though it were a trampoline.  He flew up into the air, arced, and landed on the roof of a building.

In the sky above him, creatures and blobs of light varying in color and size began to pour out of the object’s deep black caverns, scattering into the morning sky, abandoning ship.

The tornado sirens blared all across the city.  As Barry surveyed the cityscape, he began to laugh maniacally at the western horizon.

“Looks like you were right Derek!” he screamed.  “Here comes annihilation!”

He reeled with excitement at the eyesight this thing had given him.  Indeed, when he looked off to the west, where the sky was still dark and the Ohio River poured across the landscape like black ink, he could see the distant sparkle of a nuclear missile’s rocket boosters.

It was headed straight for Louisville.

TO BE CONTINUED

(end of Book One)

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Episode Twelve, The Object: Book One

Episode Twelve


The Object: a free serial novel

Episode Twelve: “Cockroaches”

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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.

The Artist Speaks – Part 1


Hello readers. It is I, the artist for The Object.

A metal cast block showing a Cthulhu like squid figure.

In late June 2012, a relic was found in modern-day Iraq, dated to roughly 20,000 BC, depicting a strange, squid-like creature. Tests are being conducted at Boston University to ascertain the origin of this artifact.

I’ve remained voiceless for the entirety of the Object’s youth. Why?

Because I’m the art guy, not the writer.

But now that The Object has matured and blossomed from its humble beginnings, it may be time for my presence to be known.

And after all, haven’t we all got a story to tell?

What I’d like to share in this first part of my introduction is just a foray into my process and patterns of thought when making art.

On an average day, it goes a little something like this:

Text Message Received.

Winston: Hey I’d really like to see a picture of the small squid creature.

Justin: Ok, what’s it doing?

Winston: It’s outside the window of Lillia’s house, on the roof.

Justin: Neat. Ok, let me see what I can come up with.

And that’s basically it. Winston takes his thoughts, loads them into the double-barreled shotgun and fires them in my direction. I must then catch each of the mind-bullets and translate the world that Winston sees into a visual language.

Take the picture below for instance.

A small glowing squid Cthulhu type creature floats.

Cute little thing, right?

The difficulty with creating the above image was this: How can I portray that this creature is on a roof, outside a window, and still get a detailed close-up? The only way to show the window on the roof is to be far away; if I only made a close-up of the squiddy, the window might not be noticeable as that particular window.

So I split the middle, and drew both. The top panel gives the necessary sense of scale and luminosity for the little guy, and the bottom panel gets you up close and personal with our orange cutie.

We hope to one day see plushies of our glowing little guy in Barnes and Noble.

The giant object over Louisville hides the sun.

Half the time painting this, the piece was upside down.

Speaking of colors, that tends to be another theme in The Object; the deep oranges and reds, colors of rust and dirt and fire, colors of sand and lonely sunsets.

I envision Louisville under the Object as a land of perpetual dusk, where the sun’s light struggles to edge around the massive sphere and climb through alleyways and abandoned roads until the once radiant sunlight crawls as a mere cinderous glow.

The image to the left is one of my personal favorites. It is also the longest, top to bottom, of any image I’ve made so far. This encourages the viewer to “read” the image.

You start at the top, noticing details of some unusual landscape. You continue, slowly realizing that you are looking at the bottom of something, and that the bottom of the image is actually a skyline.

Beyond the flat facts of a picture, though, is something much more important. It’s my opinion that a piece of art should try to evoke some emotion or mood. The best kind of artworks tell a story, raise some questions, and most of all, make you feel something.

A blind homeless man holds a sign that reads The End is Nigh.

This originally began as a quick portrait to test a few new painting techniques, but I got carried away.

The above painting is one of my favorites, for two reasons.

1. It is one of my best works, in terms of technical ability, message and mood.

2. I really love the television trope of “the blind homeless man that somehow knows too much“.

With this piece, I really stressed the feeling of desolation. When looking at this image, I want the viewer to be uneasy. I want them to feel the stillness of mad certainty. I want them to be haunted.

What originally started as a way to play around with some new Photoshop brushes turned into a fully fledged painting, and Winston liked it enough to include it in the story.

When your art can inspire the writing, you know it’s damn good.

That, or you’re working with a truly great writer.

Stay tuned for more awesome posts, and the second part to my introduction, which will show you, step by step, how I create a piece of art for The Object.

If you’d like to see more of my work, click here.

Take care, my friends.

~ Justin ~

Want to Promote Your Book?


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

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

skull and crawdad, book photo for A Circle in the Woods, Justin Comley

Ten-Thousand Views Giveaway Winners


Download A Circle in the Woods on Amazon

Time to knock the dust off a few copies of A Circle in the Woods for three lucky winners.  If you’re a winner, and you’ve come here for The Object, bear in mind that the book you will soon receive in the mail is much more violent, much darker, and unconventional in many ways.  You may love it or you may hate it, but if you can’t stomach realistic violence and cruelty, don’t read this book.

With that said, congrats to the following people, who will be receiving an email shortly:

Barbara Pohle-Schulze

Laura S.

Thom Millman

Kyle B. Stiff

Shelby Haun

Before you go, I’d like to announce a second round to this contest!  I’m holding a vote for one of you to win a free paperback of The Object: Book One as well as the other two books in the series, upon release.  So get as many people as possible to vote for you in the poll below!  Voting will close Wednesday evening at 11:59pm Central Standard Time.

Good luck!

P.S.–Don’t forget about the contest for A Circle in the Woods!  You can enter after reading.

Christmas Recommendations–Music


English: This is a photograph of rapper Hopsin...

English: This is a photograph of rapper Hopsin in his basement recording studio. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Kylie and I put up a single run of Christmas lights across the front wall of our apartment.  We also bought and wrapped our first presents.  The holiday spirit haunts us early this year.  We even have a gingerbread candle burning on the table.

Thanksgiving is coming up in two days, and I don’t know if you participate in the Black Friday riots to kick off the nationwide pre-Christmas shopping spree, but we’re doing another free promotion for Book One on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week.  If you know anyone with a Kindle, feel free to recommend it to them.

I’ve been drinking strawberry wine from the farmer’s market tonight, so I thought this would be a good time to give some recommendations for Christmas gifts.  I’m going to do this as much as possible until the year is over, with emphasis on things I’ve discovered this year.  Let’s start with music . . .

Two Recommended Albums

Up From Below by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros

Raw by Hopsin (WARNING: EXPLICIT CONTENT)

I’ve discovered two new and exciting musicians this year, both up-and-comers, largely (or completely) independent, and completely different from one another.

The first is Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, a folk, blues, rock, hippie band in no way represented by these genre tags.  Kylie and I saw them live with two friends at Iroquois Amphitheater in Louisville a few months ago.  The only other band I’ve ever seen who delivers such a crisp performance while seamlessly changing tempo, improvising, jamming, etc., is the Dave Matthews Band.

The front man of the group, Alex Ebert, shares the stage with his wife, Jade Castrinos.  Wait, this is the internet.  I can just embed a YouTube video.  And I know what I’m going to pick.  Their David Letterman performance of “Man on Fire” from their newest album Here:

My other recommendation is Hopsin, a completely self-produced rapper who even makes his own music videos.  Hopsin raps in a way that makes you feel like he’s speaking to you directly.  He raps in conversation, in speeches.  It’s quite unique.  He also acknowledges what the music industry has done to rap music and seeks to have a positive influence on others through poignant and revealing parody.

Here is an example of what Hopsin is all about.  It’s called “The Ill Mind of Hopsin 5” and again, I warn you, this music contains explicit language and adult themes.  Please do not click play if you are one who is easily offended:

What do you think of these guys?

Thoughts on The Walking Dead


English: Intertitle from the AMC television pr...

English: Intertitle from the AMC television program The Walking Dead (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

ATTN: SPOILER ALERT!

Sunday night, we all saw the aftermath of Lori’s death by Cesarian section: Rick is turning into Captain Kurtz from Heart of Darkness.  Or the Anton Chigurh of zombie-killers.  I find myself holding strong to my feeling that if the camera would simply pan away from this terrible character, the show would be a lot more interesting.  Shane and Lori are dead.  That’s two out of three.  Now someone needs to off Rick.

Another problem I have with this show is that it has a lead character at all.  Really?  In the zombie apocalypse, where survivors are of random selection based upon skill, timing, and luck, why does anyone deserve to be the front man?  Why not give the characters more equal time like HBO’s The Wire?

I don’t mean to dishearten fans of the show.  I do enjoy the atmosphere, some of the plot, and some of the characterizations, but The Walking Dead succeeds in pissing me off more than anything else.

Why did T-Dog have to die?  You introduce a new black guy into the story and you have to kill the old one off?  The American public won’t tune in otherwise?  You’re telling me that in the deep south, a group of survivors who band together during a zombie apocalypse will be a near all-white crowd?  Seriously?

T-Dog was a sturdy character who never got his due share of camera time.  He was one person the group really needs–just as I thought the group really needed Dale.

But no, they die, and we get to focus on Rick turning a world of zombies into his own persona soap opera.

Now the Governor is a character I can get into . . .

Bittersweet Comics by Justin Comley

Bittersweet Comics Volume 1


Bittersweet Comics

by

Justin Comley

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man beating wife comic, art by justin comley

Copyright Justin Comley, 2012.

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depressed man driving off cliff comic, art by Justin Comley

Copyright Justin Comley, 2012.

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cat and buttered toast challenge comic, art by Justin Comley

Copyright Justin Comley, 2012.

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brick wall around my heart comic, art by Justin Comley

Copyright Justin Comley, 2012.

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jerk spoiling movie endings comic, art by Justin Comley

Copyright Justin Comley, 2012.

Pieces of Barry on a Coathanger


Contrary to what the title might imply, our beloved attorney Barry Schafer is not dead.  Strips of his flesh do not currently dangle from a coat hanger.  He’s alive and well and, as you know, about to unleash Hell upon the city of Louisville, if anyone is left alive for Book Two at all.  No, “Pieces of Barry” is an old short story.  Today I’m experiencing a little nostalgia after receiving a message from Matt saying he’d dug up some of the old recordings from the band we formed in high school and

uploaded one to Soundcloud.  That got me thinking about all the time I used to spend holed up in my attic-space bedroom cranking out short story after short story, only breaking to strap on a bass guitar and go make terrible noises with my friends, who were much better musicians than me.

Ceramic gun art by David Hellman

Recent work by David Hellman. Photo Copyright David Hellman, 2012.

Matt and I started a band in high school with our friend David Hellman, an amazing drummer who now has a master’s degree in ceramic arts.  We’ve all been friends for years.  In the summer of 2009, I rented a room from David for three weeks while I attended an advanced writing workshop at Western Kentucky University under the instruction of Pulitzer Prize-finalist Lee Martin.  A lot of Sailor Jerry’s rum bottles turned up empty during that time.

David and Matt were and still are serious musicians.  I was only in the band to pluck away a simple bass line.  I was writing my first novel at the time and wasn’t serious about playing music.  Still, we had a lot of fun.

This is the song Matt uploaded to Soundcloud.  It’s called “A Crash Downstairs” and is purely instrumental.  Remember, we were just kids.  Haha.

But our collaborative efforts didn’t stop with tape-recording our underdeveloped songs on my back deck or at night in the daycare David’s mom owned and operated.

Matt and I also wrote a short story together in high school, taking turns writing exactly one page apiece, sometimes leaving a sentence unfinished, until one of us brought it to conclusion.

stack of short stories by Winston Emerson

Stack of old stories.

“Pieces of Barry” told the tale of a man whose wife cheated on him with an attorney named Barry, who also turned out to be an alien.

When we started to develop the idea for The Object, I had no recollection of this link: that two projects Matt and I worked on together, ten years apart from one another, share a character named Barry, an attorney.

Now I’m sitting here in front of a stack of short stories six inches thick.  It’s been quite a while since I looked through them all.  Maybe I should go through them, find one I’m not ashamed to let people read, and post it on here by taking photos of every page.

Want to read a story I wrote in high school?  Let me know and I’ll start rooting through them.  I may even pick a few, give you a synopsis, and let you vote on which one you want to see.