The Object: Book Two is Underway


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

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

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

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

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

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

Post a review on Amazon

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

Later.

Oh, the poll:

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

 

 

 

What’s Your Favorite TV Show?


This month, The Walking Dead returns to AMC, and next month, Game of Thrones returns to HBO.  I’m thinking about reviewing the episodes every week with the hope that they’ll generate discussion of the shows.

However, I’m familiar with several TV series, and I’d like to get an idea of what you guys watch so maybe I can add another show or two to the list.  Check all that apply.  Thanks.

By the way, I put all the episodes (including the two never-before-posted final episodes) back on the blog, conveniently scrolling across the top of the page.  Hope some new readers will pop up.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on Book One.

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.

A Funny Letter From My Wife


Kylie and her mom went to Alabama yesterday morning to visit her grandmother who was hospitalized due to flu-related complications.  She left while I was at work, and when I came home, I found this note on the fridge (transcribed below):

survival guide, courtesy of my wife

My survival guide for the week, courtesy of my wife.

Hey boyfriend husband!

Please don’t forget to feed the fish at least three times a day or he hides in the corner and looks dead.

Check Django’s food and water once or twice a day.  He drinks a lot.  Don’t forget to take him out before work!  (Also, he needs treats.)

If you remember, please pick up some grits and cornmeal for Granny! =)

I love you bunches and miss you already!

Hope you get lots of writing done and have fun while I’m gone!

❤ Kylie

[P.S.–] Rick and Abby are coming on the 19th.  They will be here around 4 or 5.  Ichiban at 6:00.

[Side note] Don’t forget to set your alarm!  It’s on top of the microwave.

My response:

Dear Kylie,

I’m happy to report that Lester Freamon [our fish] is alive and well.  I’m only feeding him twice a day because he’s starting to look like a blow fish.

Django is full and hydrated and now has a bag of treats.  He messed up the mini-blinds in the bedroom, and this morning he tore up a full roll of toilet paper.  I took him on a walk a little while ago, and he claimed us a lot of new territory by peeing on every bush and tree he could find.  We now own most of the neighborhood (until another dog pees on Django’s pee, I guess).

django reading blood meridian, cormac mccarthy

Django reading Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. Big fan.

I’ll be picking up organic grits and corn meal for Gloria at the farmer’s market on Saturday.  I’m also going to pick up some more of those Filet Mignon steaks.  If you’re not home by Sunday, I’ve promised yours to Wes Manakee.  I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me.

I love and miss you too, Kylie, and I’ve written several thousand words since you’ve been gone.  As far as fun, this experience has been less Tom Cruise in Risky Business and more Alan Ruck in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.  (“Let my . . . Cameron . . . go!”)

Tell your family I said hi and I hope your grandmother gets better.

Love,

Chad

P.S.–I’m definitely down for some sushi but not so much for looking like a chump who couldn’t find a date.  (I’ll just bring Django with me.  Haha.)  Kidding on all accounts, except for the sushi part.

P.S.S.–The alarm on the phone worked just fine this morning.  Turns out you don’t have to kick me to wake me up.  (The cracked ribs are finally starting to heal, by the way!)  I’ll forewarn you, I’m getting accustomed to hitting the snooze button ten times without reprimand.  You better hurry back! =)

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

Copyright Justin Comley, 2012

Take My Book, Any Format. It’s Yours.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winston Chadwick Van Emmerstein III

I Got Knocked in the Head


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

JadeKerrion

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

DoubleHelixCovers

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

 

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

 

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

 

Author Bio:

 

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

 

About The Double Helix series: 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Social media and buy links:

 

Connect with Jade Kerrion: Blog / Facebook / Twitter

Perfection Unleashed: Amazon / Amazon UK / Smashwords

Perfect Betrayal: Amazon / Amazon UK / Smashwords

Perfect Weapon: Amazon / Amazon UK / Smashwords

 

~*~*~

 

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

 

Social Media Links

Blog: http://www.jadekerrion.com

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/JadeKerrion

 

Perfection Unleashed

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

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

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

 

Perfect Betrayal

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

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

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

 

Perfect Weapon

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

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

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

Beware of Santa


Santa Claus

Santa Claus (Photo credit: Christopher S. Penn)

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas!  Now do this:

Freebies Galore Over Here


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

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.

What Are You Reading?


I’m reading three books right now: Slammed by Colleen Hoover, The World According to Monsanto by Marie-Monique Robin, and my unfinished manuscript Prettiest When It’s Dying, which I hope to release in the coming weeks.  The other two I plan to review when finished.

What books have you read this year?  Anything you’d recommend as a Christmas gift?  I’d love it if you’d give the genre and a “People who liked _______ would like this book” descriptor.