Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Too Wyrd, Excerpt, Part 20

Part 1 is here.  Part 2 is here.  Part 3 is here.  Part 4 is here.  Part 5 is here.  Part 6 is here. Part 7 is here. Part 8 is here. Part 9 is here. Part 10 is here. Part 11 is here. Part 12 is here. Part 13 is here. Part 14 is here. Part 15 is here. Part 16 is here. Part 17 is here. Part 18 is here. Part 19 is here.

We abandoned the idea of going back to the hotel we'd been staying at. As much as I despised spending so much money on getting a different hotel, I couldn't argue that we were currently in danger from all sides.
We found a cheap but clean motel with stark white, bleach-scented sheets and peeling paint on the edges of the walls. The two full-sized beds were a little too firm and slightly lumpy, but I was pretty sure that wasn't going to matter any more than the sharp smell on the pillowcases would.
I sat on one of the beds and watched Joseph take off his shoes and climb up on the other. I turned back to Mercy and stared at her as she moved around the room, checking out the little coffee maker, looking out the window, and locking the door.
She was trying to ignore my look, but my current state had given me a kind of emotionless detachment and focus that a small part of me realized had to be a bit uncomfortable. But, being detached, I just kept staring.
Finally, she pulled one of the uncomfortable looking chairs away from the tiny table and set it in front of the dresser, facing the beds.
“Alright,” she said with a sigh. “You want some answers.”
I nodded. “But first, we need to catch Joseph up to speed.”
Mercy nodded.
I turned to my friend and explained what had happened after we had split up. I was still feeling numb, but my voice cracked when I described the creatures attack on the police officer.
Joseph listened, eyes slightly widened. When I got to the part about Mercy showing up and fighting off the demons, his eyes darted over to the blonde and he shifted nervously on the bed as I finished the story.
Suddenly, I couldn't take the fear energy in the room. I stood up and pulled Joseph off the bed.
“We need a smoke,” I said as I hauled him towards the door.
Mercy stood up as if to block us, but I shook my head in warning. She seemed to get the message and instead led us to the door and checked the dark hallway outside before waving us out.
After a few deep inhales of the cigarette, I took a moment to appreciate the wisdom of so many Native American tribes in using tobacco as a spiritual cleanser. By Joseph's expression, he was feeling much the same.
I focused the energy swirling around my gut and in my head. The sickly yellow feel of it saddened me, both that it was from and in me, and that what we'd experienced completely justified having such a strong energetic reaction.
I gathered the energy together and pushed it down my body, feeling a tingling, like pins and needles, as it went through my feet and into the cement below.
I eyed Joseph and noticed his energy draining away as he grounded himself as well. I smiled at him, trying to convey the friendship and sympathy that I felt for him, especially now, in our unusual circumstance.
We finished our smokes in silence, both of us sensing that the things we would talk about were not appropriate in such a public space, even deserted as it was. When we finished, we silently stubbed out the cigarettes and turned to go back into the hotel room.
Mercy was watching us with a tension that seemed to say she didn't trust us to remain calm. The idea of her being so worried about Joseph and me getting violent struck me as really funny, and I started giggling. We went back to our previous seats, Mercy stopping to throw the deadbolt and chain, while I threw my head back and let the humor drain the rest of the tension from my gut.
I noticed Joseph looking at me with a concerned expression, but I just waved him off and turned to Mercy. “Okay, now spill.”
She took a deep breath and began. “I am not human.”
Joseph snorted.
Mercy rolled her eyes. “I realize this is a bit obvious now, but I want to be absolutely clear in what I'm telling you.”
I exchanged a glance with Joseph. By his expression, he was wondering the same thing I was: alien or paranormal creature? And did we need to invest in silver or wooden stakes?
We turned back to Mercy.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Too Wyrd, Excerpt, Part 19

Part 1 is here.  Part 2 is here.  Part 3 is here.  Part 4 is here.  Part 5 is here.  Part 6 is here. Part 7 is here. Part 8 is here. Part 9 is here. Part 10 is here. Part 11 is here. Part 12 is here. Part 13 is here. Part 14 is here. Part 15 is here. Part 16 is here. Part 17 is here. Part 18 is here.

I nearly ran past the dead-end alley before it clicked. I stopped dead and ducked into the dark passage, stumbling as the sweet-acrid smell of rot and piss hit my nose.
There was a dumpster sitting a little skewed at the end of the alley and I slipped behind it and squatted down, huddling in the shadows. I hoped that the dark, smelly surroundings would throw off my tails.
I closed my eyes and concentrated on slowing my breathing. I ignored the drip-drip to the left of me, just missing my shoulder, and the cool spread of dampness on my right hip. The distinctly moldy scent teased my nose with a sneeze.
It was just like meditation; in – mind goes blank, out – I'm not here. Over and over; in – mind goes blank, out – I'm not here. Mind blank, not here. Mind blank, not here. Mind blank, not here.
I felt my consciousness go to the other, the place of visions and mindfulness. My awareness slipped into that place of there/not-there, where I could hear and see and smell, but as if watching a movie.
I felt a shadow of gratitude that I'd practiced this until it was second nature. It wasn't me present in that stinky darkness; my knowing was completely objective. I held the distant feeling like a shield. My breathing changed from the panting gasps of an out-of-shape runner to the deep, controlled breaths of one just this side of asleep.
I heard my hunters approach the alley with a sound of scraping claws and wet, snuffling growls. Terror played with the edges of my mind.
They went past the mouth of the alley, and a sliver of relief pierced my objectivity. I heard the noises stop just past the alley and my heart tripped over itself. A light pad-click of clawed feet came closer. I could hear the sniffing of creatures searching for me.
I clung to my detached state, willing the darkness around me to cover me like a cloak. Not here, not here, not here. My mind cycled through the mantra, projecting the image of my physical form transforming into just another shadow behind the trash bin.
The padding footsteps stopped in front of me. My eyes opened, slowly. I kept my mind distant, and my feeling was of curiosity and the small anxiety one feels for a beloved fictional character in trouble.
I could see a sliver of the creatures, mostly still hidden by the dumpster. They had oddly colored skin of gray and blue and purple that faded into the shadows of the alley. Their eyes glinted red and yellow when they caught the faint light. Their teeth stuck out prominently, shining with spit.
They were tall, nearly 8 feet, I would guess. And the first thing that came to mind when searching for a label for the creatures was... demon. These were creatures of fire and torture, taken from the imaginings of hundreds of Christian painters and writers.
One of the creatures stepped forward, bringing its head fully into view. Its jutting lower jaw dripped thick saliva and the deep red of blood.
Terror clawed at the edges of my mind, a gibbering panic that tried to take control. I firmly layered more darkness around me, burying my consciousness beneath the shadows of my own mind.
The creature turned its head to look at me, craning its too-long neck to peer around the dumpster. It stared into the corner where I was crouched, sniffing wetly. The sulfuric smell of its breath hit my face as I forced my lungs to breathe, slow and even.
An eternity passed while it searched my hiding spot, as if it sensed that I was really there. I clung to my mental cloak, fighting the horror each time it’s mouth passed within inches of my nose.
Tires screeched on the road at the mouth of the alley. The creature jerked its head around and snarled.
“Creatures of the desert god, I challenge you to battle!” a female voice cried out, fearless and powerful.
One by one, they vanished from my field of vision, claws scraping on the filth covered cement.
I sat, frozen with the shock of how close I'd come to being caught, listening to the sounds of fighting. I struggled to bring my mind back from the shadows. Not the terror and fear, but the part of me that could think and function.
I heard the dull clink of metal striking flesh and bone, and the curiosity of who my savior was finally dragged my consciousness fully back into my body. I blinked a few times and struggled in the muck to stand up. Clinging to the side of the dumpster, I stared at the sight at the mouth of the alley.
A blonde woman in hiking boots and a red flannel shirt held a huge sword in front of her. Two of the three creatures were still standing, bleeding a black bile from cuts on their arms and chests. One creature lay to the side of the battle, the reddish light gone from its eyes.
I tore my gaze from the fallen monster as one of the creatures lunged at the woman. In a blur that told me she wasn't quite human, she parried the creature's attack with her blade and followed with several slashes, drawing blood again and again.
The other creature attacked while the woman was still slicing at the shoulder of the first, and I swallowed a gasp as the woman pivoted mid-stroke to drag the heavy blade across the second creature's throat. It fell to the ground, twitching as its life drained away. The first creature glanced at its fallen comrades before it bolted away down the street.
I staggered out from behind the dumpster and headed towards the woman. As I came near, she shook the sword in her hands and I watched in awe as it shrunk down into a large bowie knife. The blonde woman sheathed the knife at the small of her back and chuckled.
“I guess he didn't like the odds, huh?” she said, turning to face me.
“Mercy.” I said, looking her up and down. She nodded. “What the hell.”
“Get in the car,” she said. I glanced at the tire, which had the too-small look of a donut. “I doubled back and got the tire changed. I'll explain the rest while we get out of here.”
I hesitated a moment. “There was a cop...” She shot a questioning look at me. “He was in the street. I ran past him.”
She sighed. “He's dead, then.”
I nodded.
 “There's nothing we can do for him,” Mercy pointed out.
I nodded again, reaching for the passenger door handle.
Mercy grabbed my arm and turned me to face her. “Nicola, it wasn't your fault. Those creatures kill and that cop was just in the wrong place. It isn't because of you. It's just a shitty thing that happened.”
I pulled away from her grasp and mumbled, “I know. Doesn't make it better, though.” I opened the door and got into the car.
Mercy hesitated a moment, like she was going to try to talk to me again, but she just walked around to the driver's side.
We pulled away from the alley, and I stared out the window, not paying attention to where we were going. I wondered what would happen when someone found the creatures' bodies. I wondered how we would find Joseph and if he was alive. I wondered what the police would believe when they found the cop torn apart.
The flashing red and blue lights caught my attention, and I focused on the scene down the street as we rolled past. Mercy was keeping the speed well below the limit, so I had plenty of time to see the medical examiner bent over the dead officer's body and a detective pulling something out of the dead officer's car.
I also saw Ames standing with his arms crossed over his chest, watching the others work with a critical look on his chubby face. And I saw his face turn towards us. His eyes landed on our car and his arms dropped as he stepped towards us. And a building cut off my view of him as we moved past the intersection.
I turned to Mercy. “Ames saw us.”
She shot me a worried look.
“I don't know if he could see us,” I clarified. “But I'm sure he recognized the car.” I turned my head back to the window. “He probably can't prove it was us, but he'll suspect.”
Mercy turned back to face the road, nodded once and slowly accelerated. She turned left at the next major intersection and drove several blocks before turning back in the direction that Joseph had headed.
I noted in the back of my mind that she was making a wide arc around back towards Keith's place. I remembered vaguely that I'd said to head back to the building after losing the men… no, monsters.
An image of the dead creatures flashed in my mind and I choked back a laugh. It was probably hysteria after the shock. A part of my brain kept the running commentary of objective observations about the evening’s events. Another part wept and laughed in equal measure.
A third part of my mind noted that the others were pretty standard symptoms of psychological shock. And I stared wide-eyed out of the window, counting doorways and tracing neon signs with my eyes.
We came to a stop at the side of the road and I blinked away the blank expression. I focused on the building we'd pulled up to for a long moment before I recognized it as the apartment building we'd left only an hour earlier. Of course, with weird creatures on our tails, I hadn't really paid much attention to the surroundings.
I did recognize the creepy, broken-winged angel statue in the front yard. And, next to the pathetic heavenly host, Joseph sat perched on the edge of a giant, cement planter.
I rolled down the window and called him over. He seemed as shell-shocked as I was, walking towards us in a dazed, almost drunken way. He climbed into the back seat and Mercy drove away. I'd never been so relieved to leave a place in my life.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Too Wyrd, Excerpt, Part 18

Part 1 is here.  Part 2 is here.  Part 3 is here.  Part 4 is here.  Part 5 is here.  Part 6 is here. Part 7 is here. Part 8 is here. Part 9 is here. Part 10 is here. Part 11 is here. Part 12 is here. Part 13 is here. Part 14 is here. Part 15 is here. Part 16 is here. Part 17 is here.

Mercy appeared at my side as I struggled to get up. I could hear the men in the building behind us, arguing. Mercy grabbed my arm and pulled me to my feet. We stumbled towards the car, crossing the street as Joseph raced to the passenger side.
“Oh, shit,” he said. “The tire. It's gone.”
I ran around the car, Mercy on my heels. The car now rested on three rubber tires and one bare rim.
I kicked at the empty tire rim, hitting it at an odd angle and stubbing my toe. This was not the kind of neighborhood where the tires just came up missing. I flashed a memory of a man walking past the car. Or away from the car.
A burst of shouts and curses told me that the men had come out of the building.
Mercy looked over her shoulder at me. “They’re coming.”
“Well, it's not like we can outrun them,” I snapped. “Can we?”
Mercy shrugged. “Maybe.”
“Better than nothing, which is what else we got,” I said.
I pointed at Joseph, then down the street to the left. “Run. That way, half an hour then back this way.” A shudder rolled down my spine as the thought crossed my mind that one of us could die tonight. “Good luck.”
Joseph nodded and took off.
I pointed at Mercy, then across the street. “You. That way, same thing.” Mercy took off the direction I pointed, and I ran to the right, refusing to give in to the urge to check behind me.
It'd been a while since high school track. A long, long while. And I wasn't into running for fun. It's not my idea of it. I set myself an easy pace, then upped the speed a little. I was hoping I could sustain it for more than just a few minutes.
In between the slap-slap of my sneakers on the sidewalk and the la-lump-la-lump of my heartbeat in my ears, I strained to catch any sounds from the men behind me.
The lull made me think they were trying to figure out which way to go. Hope sprung up that they would get lost or give up. Practicality kept my feet slapping the cement.
I threw a glance back at the apartment building. I only caught a glimpse, but it took me several seconds to process it, and all my will to keep running when I did.
I saw the men. But they were changing. The shouts and curses turned into screeches and growls. They grew taller and more... demonic?
I wanted to go back and look again, to prove to myself that what I'd seen wasn't real. But I knew it was real. Whether what I'd seen was physically real or simply a look at the men's true natures, it was real. And I certainly didn't want to go back.
I angled my way down the street, taking my path off of the direct line of sight from Keith's apartment building. I dodged down an alleyway. I picked up my pace when the noises got louder, closer.
Gods, I would kill for a car.
I dodged around a sharp corner and spotted a police car. I stumbled a second, not sure if the men would attack a cop. The growling got closer and I raced towards the officer.
“Help!” I yelled, trying to get his attention, gasp for breath and be quiet about it all at the same time. “They are right behind me! Get your gun out!”
He looked at me like I was nuts, and placed his hands on his hips while standing with his feet slightly apart.
I swear, they teach all cops that stance. It means, “I got this; you are over-reacting.” I changed direction to avoid him and his car, and I just kept running. He dropped his arms and took one step towards me, then his gaze shot to a point over my shoulder and his eyes and mouth formed the exact same “O” shape.
That couldn’t be a good sign. Crap.
As I passed by the police car, the cop drew his weapon. “S-stop! Hold it right there! Stop or I'll shoot!”
I counted the shots: one, two, three-four, five. Then the cop screamed, high and terrified. The scream cut off, so I hope he didn't suffer too much.
I slid on some gravel as I rounded the next corner. It hit me that the buildings were getting taller. I must be heading downtown. That meant lots of people. Dammit.
I wasn't familiar enough with my surroundings to be able to figure out where to go to avoid high-traffic areas. Funny thing about running for your life. No time to really plan things out.
My lungs started burning and my muscles were getting that not-quite-there, mushy feeling. I was headed a little bit right, overall, so the next corner I went left.
Apparently, the cop's sacrifice had slowed my pursuers down quite a bit. The sound of their chase was much farther back now.
My body was shooting pains in my side and down one leg. I needed to stop, soon. I needed a place to hide.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Too Wyrd, Excerpt, Part 17

Part 1 is here.  Part 2 is here.  Part 3 is here.  Part 4 is here.  Part 5 is here.  Part 6 is here. Part 7 is here. Part 8 is here. Part 9 is here. Part 10 is here. Part 11 is here. Part 12 is here. Part 13 is here. Part 14 is here. Part 15 is here. Part 16 is here.

Mercy gave me directions to be dropped off at an apartment where a friend was letting her couch surf. We drove silently through the dark streets, each lost in our own thoughts. So much so, I made three wrong turns when Mercy’s instructions came a little to late.
I was finally feeling the stress of the confrontations with Detective Ames and with Keith. It bugged me that Keith would be so easily motivated by outright greed. He had never been like that before. Even rejecting his responsibilities with Ella had been more about his insecurities and fears than outright selfishness.
I tried to shrug it off. Obviously, the man had changed. More than I would have thought possible. But my mind kept going back to the holes in his narrative. Keith wasn’t telling me everything. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was missing something important about the change from the man I’d loved to the man I’d confronted today.
Mercy leaned over my shoulder from the back seat and pointed to a building. “That's it, Nicola.”
I pulled over and she got out. She leaned in through the door to talk. “I appreciate the lift. And I'm sorry it didn't go as well as you hoped.”
I shrugged. “Yeah, well, maybe we just need to sleep on it or something. We can talk to Muriel again tomorrow and see if she is leaving Keith's legionnaires. If so, we have a mission accomplished, and that’s that.”
Mercy paused and rolled her shoulders. I got the feeling she was unhappy with what I'd said, but I couldn't figure out why that would be.
She raised her head and peered over the car at the apartment building across the street. “Speaking of Keith...” She jerked her chin towards the entryway. Keith was just walking into the building.
Joseph raised his eyebrows. “Well, well, well. Just like a bad penny, he turns up. What are the chances?”
I shut off the ignition and opened the door.
“Hey!” Joseph called. “What are you doing?”
I leaned down to talk. “I want to clarify something that’s been bugging me with Keith. You can stay here, if you don't want to come.”
I trotted over to the sidewalk, smacking the head of a statue of an angel with one wing broken off. Joseph caught up just as I reached the door. I noticed Mercy trailing behind him.
I frowned when I realized that the door was the kind that you needed a code for or to be buzzed in. That could be a problem.
I pulled on the door anyways, choosing the obvious but futile attempt first. The door unlatched and opened easily. A quick glance showed us that someone had abused the latch until it had broken.
We walked inside and stopped. None of us knew which of the dozens of apartments on three stories was Keith's. I looked around the tiny entryway, feeling stupid, until Joseph spotted a list of names on the buzzers outside. I crossed my fingers, since a lot of apartments didn't bother keeping up with the high turnover of tenants. But, there it was, “Ludlow, K” on the tag for apartment 3F.
“Well, aren't we all double-O seven?” Joseph laughed as we walked to the stairs. “Finding the evil mastermind behind the plot to destroy the world.”
I snorted. “So now Keith is Dr. No?” I asked as I started up the darkened steps.
I glanced out of the huge window that served as the outer wall of the stairwell. With the lighting in the stairwell out, I could easily make out our car across the street, and a man walking along the sidewalk next to it. I frowned, thinking the way the man walked was somehow familiar.
“Naturally,” he said, drawing my attention back with a Sean Connery-esque accent. “And you, my dear, are shaken, not stirred.”
Our laughter echoed in the dark stairwell, as I huffed my way up the stairs. In the dim light of the street lamps filtering in through the huge window that served as the outer wall of the stairwell, I saw Joseph breathing heavily. I noticed that Mercy didn't get winded at all. Bitch. The jealous thought that I sent her way had no real animosity to it.
We reached the third floor and began walking down the hallway. I noted the door that was probably 3F and kept my eyes on it, locking on to our goal.
The door burst open, making us jump, and several tough looking men walked out. Their body language screamed aggression and I stopped in my tracks before I even noticed the guns and knives they had in their hands and strapped to their legs.
I grabbed Joseph's arm, pulling him behind me as my mind raced through scenarios. We were only a few feet from the stairwell. The hallway was straight with no corners or side halls. The stairwell had a fire door. The men hadn't turned towards us yet. There was no way to know for sure that they would attack us.
I pulled at my memories for an emotion that I didn't feel often: paranoid alertness. I found it buried in my childhood when I used to go walking in the sparse forests of my grandparent's house in the country. I'd just seen a large paw print and convinced myself that a mountain lion could be in the area. A snapped twig had set my nerves on edge instantly.
I used the emotional energy to see the men’s auras. An overlay of colors and vague shapes showed me what kind of people they were. Horns, claws, fangs, rage, blood.
Pushing Joseph towards the stairs and hissing at Mercy, I turned and ran for it. A shout behind me told me they'd spotted us, and I cringed when a loud, sharp cracking noise sounded.
We ran through the door, and Mercy and I turned in perfect synchronicity to shut it behind us. Our eyes met and I saw surprised approval in hers.
I filed that away as we turned and stumbled down the stairs as fast as our feet would move. I clutched the banister to keep my balance as we swung around each corner on the stairwell.
The door above us crashed open and the uppermost pane of the huge window shattered as the fire door flew through the glass. I barely noticed the bits of glass falling around us as we hit the front door as fast as we could move.
We burst out of the apartment building and ran for the car. I threw a glance over my shoulder just as we hit the street. I could see the shadows of the men moving in the stairwell.
A loud crack rang out in the night and another pane of glass shattered. I stumbled over the fire door, now laying across the sidewalk, and lost my balance.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Too Wyrd, Excerpt, Part 16

We returned to the mall, this time scoring a spot in the underground parking garage. Hopefully, we wouldn't find a SWAT team when we left this time.
We walked with silent determination to the storefront that Joseph and I had visited just this morning. The doors were locked and the windows were still covered. Mercy put her ear to the door and Joseph and I held our breaths while she listened.
“I hear voices,” she whispered. “It sounds really muffled though. They are probably in the back.”
“So how do we get to them?” Joseph asked.
Mercy and Joseph both turned to me. That's what I get for being the idea person.
I rocked back on my heels and considered the situation. We couldn't just knock and expect to be let in, or even answered. There was no telling who was there or what kind of secret meeting they might be having.
My gaze wondered around, landing briefly on the woman and little boy getting a giant hot pretzel from the soft pretzel place. I mentally licked my lips. I love pretzels.
My eyes flicked to one side as an employee for the shoe store next door began pulling displays inside in preparation of closing time. I pulled out my phone to check the time. The mall would shut down in ten minutes.
I glanced to the other side and saw another mall employee, a big guy in a referee shirt, coming out of a tiny hallway next to Keith's storefront. My eyes flicked over to the next store, a women's lingerie shop. I wondered if the employee worked there. Not likely.
He probably worked at the sporting goods store several storefronts down. But then, why was he coming from that hallway? The hallway must lead to a back area with storage and employee areas and access to several storefronts and...
“Ha!” I barked out a laugh as I turned my attention to the little hallway.
I glanced around and gestured Joseph and Mercy to follow me. I quickly walked into the long, dark hallway and jogged to the door at the end. I sent out a plea and a push of energy and tried the door. It opened. I could tell by the way it pushed open that the latching mechanism hadn't caught completely.
We moved through the door and looked around. It was a hallway going left and right with doors along on both sides. The doors were all labeled with a letter-number designation.
I caught Joseph and Mercy's attention. “Move like we belong and know where we are going. If we do something wrong, just keep going like it ain't no thing.”
They nodded and I took a deep breath. I turned down the hallway in the direction of Keith's storefront and stopped in front of the first door. It was most likely the back door into the space. I reached for the handle and tried the latch.
It rattled, loudly, but didn't turn.
I dropped my hand and moved on to the next door. I grabbed the handle and felt a jolt of surprise go through me as the handle turned itself in my hand.
I swallowed a scream and jerked my hand back. I stepped back in time to see the door swing in.
A young man appeared in designer jeans and a t-shirt that I recognized from the window of one of the over-priced stores we had passed on our way in. He did a double-take when he saw us, but then flashed a quick smile and stepped out into the hallway. He headed further down the hallway and turned where an exit sign hung from the ceiling.
At least a dozen other people followed the first young man. Men and women, late teens to mid-twenties, even a few I would guess at being in their 30s. Some wore business casual, some had on torn, dirty jeans. Several looked like they were modeling for college brochures, young and a little preppy.
One young man looked like a walking stereotype for Computer Science. He actually had a white plastic pocket protector. I didn't think they still made those.
Mercy, Joseph and I just watched, wide-eyed, as all these people filed out. No one said a word. They just stepped out of the door, glanced our way, and walked to the exit. It was really creepy.
Finally, the last person stepped out, glanced at us and walked away, letting the door close behind her. Mercy jumped forward and caught the door with her hand before it could latch. Joseph and I both let out huge sighs of relief, then chuckled at each other.
Mercy grabbed the door and slowly pushed it open, holding it for us. I peered into the darkness. Joseph was so close behind me, I could feel the warmth of his body on my back. I glanced back to see Mercy on Joseph's tail just as close.
We slowly walked into the dark room, letting the door close quietly behind us. We paused a moment to let our eyes adjust. I grabbed Joseph's hand to help us stay together in the dark.
We walked carefully through the room, and I hoped it was as clear a path as our brief glimpse in the light from the hallway and the dim light in the room now showed. We moved towards the source of the light - a door into what seemed to be a hallway and another door opposite the hall into what looked like a small meeting room. We could hear muffled voices drifting out of the room.
Joseph kicked something that skittered along the floor. The noise sounded obscenely loud and we all froze, waiting for the voices to come for us.
Nothing happened.
In the back of my head, a little voice popped up. Why were we sneaking around? We were here to talk to Keith, and he was very likely one of the people in the room across the hall. Why didn't we just walk in and announce ourselves?
That was a valid point, I thought, continuing my careful walk across the room. But we might stumble on some information this way.
Oh, the little voice said, starting to annoy me. It wasn't that we didn't want to get caught, it was that we wanted a chance to eavesdrop first.
I sighed silently. I hated admitting that my intentions were less than straightforward, but this opportunity was just too good to pass up.
We continued sneaking up to the room, reaching the door to the hallway without incident. I crouched down, listening carefully to the voices in the other room, two distinct voices now. One voice was high-pitched and feminine, the other lower-pitched.
Joseph crouched down beside me, and Mercy stood, guard-like, over us. I stretched tendrils of energy into the other room, tasting the mood.
I quickly recognized Keith's voice as the deeper one. I swallowed my fear when I realized that the female voice was Muriel. I could sense there was a third person in the room as well.
“If you don't believe in the cause, you don't have to stay with us,” Keith said, his voice the same smooth showman's voice that he'd used during the earlier event. There was an oily feel to his energy. “There’s nothing keeping you here but your own choice.”
“It's not that I don’t believe, Keith,” Muriel said, a pleading note to her voice. “I'm just saying that… Well, I’ve learned that some of the myths don't back up what you’ve been telling us. I just want to know why.”
There was a pause. A slight squeak of shoes on linoleum indicated that someone was walking. Maybe pacing?
“There's always going to be misinformation when you are dealing with tyrants,” Keith said. “And, don’t be fooled. We are dealing with centuries-old tyrants.”
Keith paused before continuing in a softer tone. “Do you think Odin would allow information – information that actually proves him wrong – to be passed on for centuries? No. He wouldn't. We have been given the truth that has been destroyed, truth that has been hidden, truth that most people will never know. We have been entrusted with the destiny of all mankind.”
“But how do we know that this new information, that what we've been told is the truth, really is the truth?” Muriel asked. I silently praised her clever question. “How do we know which is the real destiny? And who is the real tyrant?”
Keith laughed. “Who else would be the tyrant than Odin? Who else would be trying to control how things end?”
Muriel was silent for a long moment before she responded. “I - I don't know.”
I waited for Muriel to continue questioning, but Keith spoke instead. “Sit down, have a cup of coffee.”
The sound of a chair being dragged across linoleum echoed in the empty space. “I realize you've been struggling with these doubts,” Keith continued. “And that's a good thing. It means you are growing past the level of blind acceptance. You are nearly ready to fully embrace this destiny, and accept your part in it.”
I could feel Muriel's energy drop. Her confidence was broken down and she didn't have the energy or passion to fight Keith's spin on the situation. I realized that we should move now, or we would lose Muriel to Keith's propaganda, possibly for good this time.
I stood up and strode into the other room, Joseph and Mercy at my back. I caught the surprised look on Keith's face and bit back a smile as he struggled to hide it. I glanced around the room and noticed the older, military looking man sitting at the table and staring at us with narrowed eyes.
My eyebrows went up. I wouldn’t have guessed that the third was this guy, but I quickly understood why Jada didn’t like him. He was putting off an odd vibe, sitting calmly with his right ankle propped up on his left knee and a can of soda in his hand.
“What about telling us who's giving you this 'truth' that you’re calling destiny?” I said, pushing our advantage of having surprised him.
Keith frowned and took a step back. “I cannot reveal the name.”
“Because you don't know?” Joseph asked, pressing forward at my side. “Or because no one would believe you?”
“Or because it's just you making shit up?” I added. “Must be nice to have your life funded by the people you've conned with your line.”
I realized I'd made a mistake in my assumptions when Keith's shoulders relaxed and he smiled. He shook his head and tsked.
“Nicola,” he drawled out my name. “You've grown so bitter and cynical. It's sad that you don’t have something like what we have here, our purpose, something to live for.”
I smirked. “I have Ella,” I reminded him quietly.
He blanched and seemed to stumble for a split second. I frowned and filed that away. I hadn't expected his reaction to be so... obvious.
From the corner of my eye, I saw the older man drop his foot and shift forward in his chair.
“I'm not bitter,” I continued. “Just because I don't buy what you're selling? That's not bitter, that's having half a brain.”
Joseph jumped in. “And you didn't answer the question. Why can't you tell us the name of your source?”
Keith swallowed, his eyes flickering over to the older man for a second. “My source has worked long and hard to provide humankind with the opportunity to break free of Odin’s control. His name is... unimportant.”
“Him?” I said. “That narrows it down a bit.”
I watched Keith squirm as I took my time to consider the information. “Loki is probably bound by now, so it wouldn't be him. Besides, he starts Ragnarok after being triggered in some way, and we are talking triggers here, aren't we?”
I smiled when Keith's eyes narrowed. “I'm not telling you who it is,” he growled. “I won’t ruin more than two thousand years worth of planning.”
“Two thousand years, huh?” I narrowed my eyes while Keith swallowed nervously. “So not a mortal, then.”
The older man stood up, his movements slow and steady, and took a step forward. “You have no idea what you are getting yourself into.”
I shrugged. “It doesn't matter,” I said. “Whoever he is, he’s a coward. He won't take responsibility for what he is doing.”
Keith fumed. “He is taking responsibility for the entire world! He is gathering his flock and will save those who have followed him. Those who have helped him complete his task!”
I laughed. “And do what? Be dead somewhere?”
Keith stepped forward in a rage. The older man put a hand on Keith’s shoulder to stop him. “He will take humanity to paradise! We will live forever in his light!”
I looked at Joseph and raised my eyebrow in a silent question. He nodded.
“Alrighty then,” I said. “So you are in this for the whole life everlasting thing, then?”
Keith shook his head, shrugging off the older man’s hand. “No. I don't expect to make it that far.” He relaxed his posture and lifted his chin. “I will be part of his army, sacrificing myself for the better world.”
I cocked my eyebrow. This was starting to remind me of our talk with Muriel a few days ago.
“And that means no living forever?” Joseph asked. “Why would you choose to do that?”
Keith shrugged. “I get my payment in other ways.”
“Such as...?” Joseph pressed.
Keith clenched his jaw. “Such as...” He paused, glancing from the older man to Muriel. He seemed to be wrestling with something.
Muriel caught his look and narrowed her eyes. “Don't worry about pissing me off. We are past that already.”
She stood up. “If you can't answer questions around me because of what I might think, that means I won't like the answers. And when those answers are about whether you are a goddamn con man...”
She kicked at the chair she'd been sitting in sending it sliding across the floor. “You know, I don't think I wanna hear this shit anymore. In fact, I'm done with this. You guys fight amongst yourselves.”
Muriel strode out the door, flinging off Mercy's hand when she tried to catch Muriel's arm. I shook my head at Joseph’s questioning look. I recognized that mood from our childhood, and Muriel wasn’t in the mood to listen to anyone right now.
Keith whispered in the older man’s ear, and the older man stared at each of us for a moment before following Muriel out the door. A few seconds after they disappeared from view, we heard the door to the back hallway thud twice as it closed.
We all exchanged looks, then turned back to Keith. He crossed his arms over his chest. “Happy?” he said. “I was helping her get her life together. I was helping her find purpose.”
I snorted. “Better living through tithing? Really?”
He narrowed his eyes at me. “What do you want to hear? That I want the power? That I need the money? Is that the kind of person you want me to be? Would it help you deal if I was just a monster?”
I snarled silently. I wasn’t here for what I wanted. That ship had long since sailed. What I wanted from Keith was the space to pretend he didn’t exist anymore. But his actions were creating a chain reaction right through my life. The only thing left that he could offer me was the truth.
I pulled up the energy of dark goddesses and gave him a look of dominance and power. I felt my eyes shift, becoming ever so slightly more angled and cat-like. I could feel my throat change, too, feeling almost clogged or full. When I spoke, my voice was deeper with a slight vibrato. “I want the truth.”
Keith's eyes twitched slightly, but I knew he wouldn't fight the impulse to answer me.
“That is the truth. I need the money. I want the money. And I want what I was promised. I will gladly pay the price for it with my life.”
I released the energy and stared down my nose at him for a long moment. He shifted a little, as if he regretted admitting it. To his credit, though, he didn't try to take it back.
I finally sniffed at him in disgust. “Once a schmuck...” 
I turned on my heel and walked out the door.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Time to Celebrate!

It is time to celebrate!

I have been offered, and have accepted, a publishing contract for Too Wyrd!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Too Wyrd, Excerpt, Part 15

Part 1 is here.  Part 2 is here.  Part 3 is here.  Part 4 is here.  Part 5 is here.  Part 6 is here. Part 7 is here. Part 8 is here. Part 9 is here. Part 10 is here. Part 11 is here. Part 12 is here. Part 13 is here. Part 14 is here.

Cornering Keith sounded like an easy plan when we were talking over iced tea and french fries. Finding the man, however, proved to be more complicated. We just had no idea where he would be at the moment.
We finally decided to try finding Muriel again, this time, at her house. The small one-story home had peeling white paint and a chain-link fence keeping the weeds on the outside from invading the crabgrass on the inside.
I tried to keep in mind that this was a step up from living on the streets, but I couldn't help wincing when beer bottle glass crunched under my shoes. We walked up the broken sidewalk and knocked on the weathered door.
We glanced at each other and knocked again. Surely with four people living here, someone was home.
This time we heard some muffled bumps and bangs as someone made their way through the house, either drunk or half-asleep. The door cracked open and a dark eye peered out.
I smiled. “Hi, Jada. Remember me?”
The door opened wider to show the young woman in an oversized night shirt and loose-leg pajama pants. “Yeah. Whaddaya want?”
“Is Muriel home?”
Jada yawned and scrunched her face as she peered at me. “Ain't you found her yet?”
I shrugged. “We found her. It’s just, we need to talk to her again. Do you know where she’s at now?”
Jada rolled her shoulders, working out kinks in her muscles. “Um, well... she ain't at work. It's her day off.” She scratched at the side of her nose. “She sometimes hangs out with Keith's group downtown. Circle Centre Mall. You know where that is?”
I shot a look at Joseph. “Yeah, we know where it is.” I turned to leave. “Thanks, Jada. You've been a big hel...” The door closed on my words.
Mercy cocked her head to the side. “We should have considered looking for Keith where he holds his events.”
I shrugged. “I'm entitled to a duh moment once a year.”
Mercy laughed. “So, off to the mall?”
Joseph snorted. “More like back to the mall. I haven't been to that center of mass consumerism so much since I was a teenager.”
I nodded wry agreement as we all piled back into the car.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Too Wyrd, Excerpt, Part 14

Part 1 is here.  Part 2 is here.  Part 3 is here.  Part 4 is here.  Part 5 is here.  Part 6 is here. Part 7 is here. Part 8 is here. Part 9 is here. Part 10 is here. Part 11 is here. Part 12 is here. Part 13 is here.

We settled into the corner booth of a local diner, sliding in along the torn vinyl seat and propping elbows on the worn table. Mercy ended up in the middle.
The server, an older woman, juggled our three iced teas, a Cobb salad, a double bacon cheeseburger, and a breakfast platter. Once all the food was delivered safely and we started digging in, Mercy brought up Keith's show, talking around the sausage link she popped into her mouth whole.
“So, what did you guys get from Keith's display?” She paused. “You ain't gonna be joining his little coalition, are you?”
I laughed. “Not today.” I chewed on a french fry. “But he's got a very dramatic display going on. I can see why he's got a following. I wonder how many are actually in his... coalition, as you called it.”
Mercy nodded. “From what I've seen and heard, he's got a couple hundred general followers. Maybe two or three dozen hard core.” She gulped her tea. “The hard-core ones are the ones who give him the real money.”
Joseph crunched down on a crouton. “Yeah, the tithing. How much does he ask them for?”
Mercy shrugged. “Don't know for sure. He asks for 10%, so about seventy, eighty bucks a month, I'd say. I heard one guy gives over a thousand a month.”
I choked on a piece of bun. “Wow! Estimating an average of a hundred bucks a month, times thirty-some people? That's around three or four K a month!”
Joseph rubbed the bridge of his nose. “There's something off about the whole thing, though. He knows how to get people's attention, and bring them into his game, but he doesn't seem to really know where to go with them.”
I nodded. “His goals are all very vague and he never gives any firm plans.”
“Like he doesn’t know the endgame,” Joseph said.
I considered this for a moment, chewing my last bite of burger. “Maybe he doesn't. Myabe he doesn’t have the plans. Maybe he just plain doesn't know what comes next.”
Joseph frowned, thinking about this. “But, then... that means he isn't the head honcho of this little horde.”
“Then who is?” Mercy asked.
Joseph sipped on his tea. “That, my dear, is an excellent question.”
“How do we find out?” I asked, leaning back in my seat. “We can't just corner Keith and make him talk.” I paused and sat up.
Joseph must have read my mind, because he started smiling and it was an evil smile. “Well, maybe we could do just that.”
I grinned back at him. “Or something close to it.”
Mercy rolled her eyes and stuffed the last half of a pancake into her mouth. Her words were muffled as she talked around the syrupy glob. “You'alls crazy.” Joseph and I nodded. “And what was this about getting shot?”
I snorted and flagged down the server for refills of our drinks while Joseph told Mercy what had happened in the parking lot. Then I sighed and told them both about the interrogation.
Joseph shook his head. “Damn! He seriously thought you were involved in that stupid Thor's Hammer gang? What was he thinking?”
I frowned. “He was doing the ignorant, all Pagans are the same thing crap. You know how that goes.” I slouched in the booth. “What bugs me, though, is that he said they got a tip that I was involved. There is no way I had anything to do with this.”
Joseph sucked down half his tea. “We know this...”
I sat forward. “So where'd he get a tip about me from?”
Mercy frowned. “What about that guy from the park?”
“He wouldn't,” Joseph said. “Not without Rowan’s say-so… Holy crap!’
I growled. “That bitter, whiney, butthurt little... Grrr! She totally would do that kind of underhanded BS move.” I grabbed the bill and scooted out of the booth. “I should hex her with so many boils on her ass that she can't sit down without thinking of me!”

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Too Wyrd, Excerpt, Part 13

Part 1 is here.  Part 2 is here.  Part 3 is here.  Part 4 is here.  Part 5 is here.  Part 6 is here. Part 7 is here. Part 8 is here. Part 9 is here. Part 10 is here. Part 11 is here. Part 12 is here.

A few hours later, after taking the time to calm down from the morning’s events, we pulled into the police station indicated on Detective Ames’ business card. I was still worried about why I was being called in for questioning, but at least at the station it was unlikely I would get shot at by a detective with an itchy trigger finger who was bitter about his dead-end career.
I had told Joseph that he didn't have to come with me, but I think he felt that his local reputation might protect me a little. It was a nice thought.
We walked into the station and asked for Detective Ames. The woman at the front desk shot me a look that I could swear was sympathetic before she pointed us in the right direction.
The bullpen was a decent sized, open room that seemed much smaller than it really was since it was crammed full of desks. We stopped an asked a young deputy where Ames' desk was at. He pointed at a desk across the room unsurprisingly piled with papers.
Detective Ames was sitting in a chair that was probably older than he was, leaning back with his feet on a tiny spot on the desk that wasn't piled high with manila folders and dot-matrix printouts. When he saw us walking towards him, he quickly dropped his feet down and stood up, straightening his unbuttoned jacket.
“You came,” he accused me.
I raised my eyebrows. “I said I would. Now, can we get this over with? I have places to be and things to check out.”
Detective Ames looked at Joseph and pointed to the hard, wooden benches outside the bullpen. “You can wait there. Ms. Crandall, come with me.”
We went to an interview room, a tiny dark space with a large table, three chairs and a full-wall mirror. I primped my long dark hair with a smirk before sitting down. I wondered what the people on the other side of the mirror were thinking.
Detective Ames brought in a digital recorder and a legal pad, and dropped them on the table in front of me. A younger officer followed him in with a banker box marked with several letters and numbers. The officer dropped the box on the table and left.
Detective Ames opened the lid with a flourish and pulled out the manila folder on top. He sat down, flipped open the folder and scanned through the top page before pinning me with his eyes. “Where were you around 1 am on April 8th, 2010?”
“What?” I gave him the are-you-crazy look.
“Where were you on the morning of April 8th, 2010, at approximately 1 am?” Detective Ames repeated, leaning forward.
I stared at him in shock for several minutes. That was more than five years ago. Why would I remember that? I realized he was serious and I began searching my memory for any information to give him. “Well, I would have been around 6 months pregnant with Ella. So, home, alone, in bed, asleep.”
Detective Ames sat back and stared down his nose at me. “Are you certain of that?”
I snorted. “More or less. I mean, I don't specifically remember, but I don't recall ever going out that late during my pregnancy. I kinda became a hermit.”
“How so?”
I shrugged. “I went to work. I went to doctor's appointments. I went to the grocery store. Sometimes picked up some drive-through.” I leaned forward on my elbows. “Most of my socialization was by phone, text or internet, if I bothered to do that much. And I was pretty tired throughout my pregnancy, so I got in the habit of going to bed early. Since I don't recall any specific event that would have changed that pattern for that specific day, it's a pretty good guess that that's where I was.”
Detective Ames huffed and flipped to another page in the folder. “So, you were alone. And no one can verify that you were home all night?”
I pressed my lips together. “I was alone, so... no, no one can verify my whereabouts.”
“And how did you know Jim Addison?” Detective Ames asked.
I frowned. “I don't recognize that name.”
“Jim Addison. A security installer. Engaged to Erica Dansby. Lived in the neighborhood of Glendale.” Detective Ames bit off the words, raising his voice.
I sat back and folded my arms over my chest. “I don't know him. I don't recognize those names. I didn't hang out much in Glendale.”
The detective watched my face for several moments before he turned his attention back to the folder. He flipped to another page. “Tell me about your involvement in the group known as Thor's Hammer.”
I blinked. “I've never been involved in Thor's Hammer. Aren't they a white pride type of gang?”
“You know what kind of gang they are but you've never been involved with them?” Detective Ames smirked at me, with a disbelieving expression.
I cocked my eyebrow and stared at him for a moment. I caught my reflection in the mirror behind him and I nearly laughed aloud at the idea of being in an Aryan gang, with my dark complexion and curly black hair.
It wasn't uncommon for people to think I had some African in my ancestry, and that wasn't wrong, though my roots were more Italian and Romani thanks to my father's lineage. I would stick out in a white-pride group like a wolf among sheep.
“I've heard of Thor's Hammer,” I admitted. “Just enough to know to stay away from them. That's it.”
“But you are Heathen, aren't you?” Detective Ames asked with a sneer. “You are all over these Heathen chat groups online.”
I sighed. “Yes, but...”
“And this Thor's Hammer gang is a Heathen gang. But you are claiming you aren't associated with them at all?”
I leaned forward, glaring. “Are all Baptists the funeral protesting fanatics, Detective? Are all Seventh-Day Adventists part of the Branch Davidians?” I gave him a brief moment to process that, then sat back. “No, I'm not associated in any way with Thor's Hammer. Yes, I am Heathen. The connection between the two is circumstantial at best.”
“So you say.” The detective muttered before he looked down at the folder again, reading through several pages. I watched the bulge of his double chin change size as his head moved while he read down the pages.
After several minutes, he looked up. “And how often did you visit the Zoot Suit during that time?”
I jerked my eyes from his wobbling neck. “The what?”
“The Zoot Suit.”
“I'm not familiar with that name,” I said. I barely kept from rolling my eyes at his attempts to “catch me” by phrasing his questions as if he expected me to know these people and places.
Detective Ames poked his finger into the table between us. “It's a jazz bar. In Broad Ripple.”
This time I rolled my eyes. “I never really went to any jazz bars. Unless there was karaoke. I’m a bit of an introvert that way.” I pulled my phone out of my pocket and checked the time.
Detective Ames reached across the table as if to grab the phone. “Hey! You can't use that in here.”
I glared at him, holding the phone out of his reach. “I'm checking the time.”
I put it back in my pocket, taking my time just to annoy him. “Speaking of which, I've given you enough of my time. If you don't have any important questions,” I put a lot of emphasis on “important”, “I am in town for a reason, and I’d like to get back to that now.”
The detective stood up and leaned forward on his hands. His face was close enough that I caught a whiff of garlic and pickles from his breath. “I'm not entirely satisfied with the answers you've given me, Ms. Crandall. We received a tip that you are involved in this case, and I intend to find out how.”
I stood up calmly, reaching for my power to give me presence and a tiny bit of intimidation. I was sick of this treatment.
“I am NOT involved in this case,” I said. “I never have been. Unless you have decided to arrest me - and you'd better have good evidence to do so - I am leaving.” I walked around the table and opened the door.
“You have my number if you decide you need to ask me about any other neighborhoods in Indy.” I stepped out the door, but I couldn't resist calling over my shoulder, “Or just buy an atlas.”
I picked up Joseph on my way out of the station. He seemed to sense that I wasn't up to talking about what had happened yet and kept quiet as we headed to the parking lot. As we approached the car, a tall woman stepped out of the shadows of the tree we'd parked under.
I froze a moment, then relaxed and sighed. “Mercy. What are you doing here?”
“Following you,” she folded her arms across her chest. “Find anything interesting?”
I exchanged a look with Joseph and he shrugged. I looked back to Mercy and nodded. “We checked out Keith's little show. It was impressive.”
“And Nicola nearly got herself shot and arrested due to excessive snark in the presence of an officer of the law,” Joseph said, opening the passenger door. “Let's go grab some food. I think better when I'm chewing.”
Mercy headed for the back seat. “Sounds good.”