FRESH STORY CONTENT!! 6/19/2022 — Derek Barton

Chapter Three

The crowd was deafening, roaring as the baseball flew high over their heads and into the rows of “cheap seats”.

“It was a homerun. Vasquez did it!” Stephanie squealed in high-pitch delight and clapped her hands.

“STEPH! DIDJA SEE DAT?” Uncle Max shouted, slurring from the effects of the large amount of alcohol consumed already.

Not waiting for her reply, Uncle Max was laughing and hooting cheers again with his two buddies. The baseball game had been as Rylund feared only an easy excuse for the adults to get drunk. Stephanie wisely made a pre-emptive strike and asked for their uncle’s debit card to pay for a Uber ride home after the third inning.

“Vasquez is the best and the cutest player on the Phillies!” She squealed again.

Rylund shook his head. “Velasquez. His name’s Vince Velasquez.”

“Oh,” she giggled. “Whoever! We’re tied at least.”

He sighed in boredom. Even before his accident, baseball was too long for him to watch, let alone now listen to his sister’s poor play-by-play.

A breeze scented with butter floated over them, his stomach growled in response. He reached out and patted her shoulder. “Let’s hit the restroom then make a run for some food. Okay?”

Stephanie’s sudden silence wasn’t surprising, and he didn’t need to see her face to know what she was thinking. Her shoulder had tightened in reflex under his fingers. To be truthful, he didn’t relish the idea of meandering among the Spectators either. Spectators was the name he gave the unseen members of the crowds that watched and sent him looks of pity. Spectators that meant well but mostly watched him struggle and were secretly grateful they weren’t him. Spectators were his version of roadside rubberneckers.

“I brought my cane, I’ll be alright – just find the first stall, I’m in an out. Simple.”

“Yeah, cuz I’m not going in! It’s—”

“You don’t need to. That’s what I’m tellin’ you. I’ll go in on my own. Stay by the doorway so we can go together to the food kiosks.”

Minutes later, he trailed behind her as she wove them skillfully through the throng of fans that milled about the stadium. Rylund heard lots of noise, most of it he tuned out as “crowd white noise”. While some people liked to “people watch” crowds, Rylund liked to eavesdrop and guess their stories. 

A cranky toddler somewhere behind them was fussing and whining about a lost toy. The mother was refusing to go back for the white wabbit. Children’s voices tended to catch his attention first – the higher pitch the voice the more they impacted his senses.

A woman to the left of them was laughing, maybe even flirting with someone as her laughter seemed too long and forced. Another younger voice interrupted hers and her words also came out sounding forced, bordering on obnoxious. A male’s lower, gruff voice interrupted now and then.

She’s drunk. Goin’ to be a cat-fight soon, he mused.

Stephanie squeezed his hand. It was their agreed upon signal for stopping. He sensed her leaning in close to him. “I will be on the left. There’s a long line for the kettlekorn. Once you get past the line, on the right is the Men’s Room. Got it?”

“Yep,” he answered and tapped out a quick series of staccato notes on the stadium floor with his cane.

The faint, tainted air of urine and bleach marked the restroom’s unpleasant location. As he neared the open archway, a silvery flash flickered in the corner of one eye.

What the—

Someone collided with his shoulder. The strike spun him to the side where he bounced off some lady’s large backside. She cursed loudly while he wobbled unsteady trying to regain his footing.

She must’ve turned to face him, noticed the cane, and her mouth audibly snapped close. He shrugged as his poor apology, headed again toward the restroom. His cheeks burned red in embarrassment.

Yet, his mind reeled, his thoughts mixed and tumbled over each other. His sight had been completely cut off ever since the night of the fire. The explosion of aquarium glass and scalding water had been the last thing he saw, and they had done irreparable damage. Thus, it had been nearly a year in “darkness”.

The term darkness doesn’t aptly describe blindness – being blind isn’t like keeping your eyes closed. It’s more akin to trying to see the room about you with your elbow. It simply doesn’t happen. Nothingness is a closer definition for being blind.

That flash… That flash! Is that a sign of…healing? He wondered, the thought nearly tripping him up again. Could he dare to have hope?

The metallic clink of a bathroom stall door signaled his quest’s end. His hands groped and found the handle. The metal was cold and sticky to his fingers. It was unlocked and he entered.

After months of healing, his body had made astounding changes to accommodate for his blindness which he hadn’t fully expected or anticipated. Of course, his sense of hearing became sharper which is often reported by the blind. However, it was also changes to his fingers. They became extra sensitive to temperatures and textures. Also, his sense of smell deepened, and he found he could discern various smells easier than before the fire. All of it was like going from a broad, wide paint brush to a fine detail brush. It was as if his brain flicked off switches to burned-out light bulbs then flicked other switches on for replacement lights.

At that moment, as he sat down upon the cold seat of the toilet, his heightened sense of smell was not a blessing. He held his breath, blocked out the various noises and echoes, and tried to not gag.

Maybe it was all my imagination. Nothing. Don’t get so excited over this.

He left the stall and worked his way to the sinks universally placed across from the row of stalls. Running water and splashing to the left and even more, maybe two more sinks going on his right. The bathroom had gotten crowded.

The fifth inning must’ve ended, and everyone made a mad dash to relieve themselves. I’m lucky the stampede hadn’t—

Another silvery wave of light floated in front of him, it expanded like a circular tear, like a blooming portal. Its edges were ragged, expanding and contracting. Through this portal, he saw a partial profile of a man as he passed by Rylund and left the restroom. He was much taller than him, a black elderly man with a graying afro. His eyes burned red and there were trailing wisps of smoke in the air. A faint, red aura encompassed him.

When the man slipped out of the Men’s Room entrance, the portal snapped close and the nothingness, the blindness returned like a cold, backhand slap to the face.

Gasping for breath, Rylund gripped the sides of the sink, his cane falling loudly at his feet.

“Kid? You okay?” a voice behind him spoke out. It had a deep bass, authoritative timbre.

He couldn’t speak yet, his legs were shaking, but he nodded he was alright, hoping to be left alone.

“You sure? You’re pale and sweatin’. Do you need help to the toilet to throw up?” Another male voice asked.

“No, no. Thanks. My-my sister is outside, she’ll help me,” he mumbled weakly.

Footsteps scampered away from him. Others came closer, crowding him. Spectators! All with good intentions, but it only magnified his state of confusion, his sense of panic building.

Rylund forced his hands free of the wet porcelain and knelt for his cane. Someone put it into his grip. He rushed through the gathered Spectators and fled to the fresh air of the stadium landing. Hugging the wall, he worked his way to the right then pressed up against the grimy wall. He gulped the air and nearly sobbed with emotion. His mind raced from a whirlwind to now a full Level Five Tempest.

He had seen someone!  His eyes had worked for a brief second. Nothing or no one would convince him otherwise. The man had been so clear and so close, Rylund could have picked him out of a police line-up.

Giggles burst from his lips, garnering him probably even more stares. Your Honor, the Defense would like to call its next eyewitness, Rylund David Faraday the Blind Boy From Southside!

A hand slipped into his. “Come on. It’s going to be alright. I’m here.”

Stephanie!

He didn’t pull away, let her take him calmly away from the stadium fans all ogling the poor blind kid. Spectators!

He knew there were looks of pity and the mournful faces of sadness. Normally, it would have devastated him. He had had bad times in the rehab center – throwing temper tantrums and ‘why me’ cussing sessions. When he felt the waves of “so-sorry-kid” thoughts overwhelm him. Made him feel helpless, tiny…disabled.

Or like the time at the mall, he tripped on an extension cord and fell headlong into a comic book display, spraining his ankle badly. He was mortified not being able to stand. His embarrassment rocketed to new levels as several strangers lifted him without asking and carried him to an ambulance. Stephanie was there at his side the whole time, but too small to really help. She later told him how embarrassed she had been as well. Her new role in their relationship hadn’t always been easy.

He knew what the Spectators were thinking, saying in their heads, the looks they were giving him and his small sister. This time, however, he was numb to it. None of it mattered. They didn’t know. Stephanie didn’t even know!

Book Review of Stephen King’s “Billy Summers” — Derek Barton 2022

Billy Summers

by Stephen King — a Contemporary Fiction Novel

Released on August 3, 2021 — 528 pages

It’s been some time since I’ve done a book review, for that matter it’s been quite some time since I’ve read or listened to one on Audible! Anyway, I picked this up a few weeks ago, intrigued by the synopsis. See what you think…

The Synopsis:

From legendary storyteller Stephen King, whose “restless imagination is a power that cannot be contained” (The New York Times Book Review), comes a thrilling new novel about a good guy in a bad job.

Billy Summers is a man in a room with a gun. He’s a killer for hire and the best in the business. But he’ll do the job only if the target is a truly bad guy. And now Billy wants out. But first there is one last hit. Billy is among the best snipers in the world, a decorated Iraq war vet, a Houdini when it comes to vanishing after the job is done. So what could possibly go wrong?

How about everything.

This spectacular can’t-put-it-down novel is part war story, part love letter to small town America and the people who live there, and it features one of the most compelling and surprising duos in King fiction, who set out to avenge the crimes of an extraordinarily evil man. It’s about love, luck, fate, and a complex hero with one last shot at redemption.

You won’t put this story down, and you won’t forget Billy.

The Review:

Now for anyone who has read a few of my other book reviews, you know I hold Stephen King as one of the top echelon of modern day writers. He has been an inspiration to me ever since my teen years. Even up through today, he wows me with original stories like The Outsider and Mr. Mercedes (which inspired my own Elude Novel Series. That being said, I have to say I was underwhelmed with this novel.

I love the characters in it, the main ones Billy and Alice are a great pair and instantly feel like old friends to the reader. However, the story is all over the map, literally, and King seems to struggle with what to do with the main character. The first 240 pages could have been easily reduced or structured better to accomplish what he set out to do which was build up the main anti-hero Billy Summers and show you his vulnerability and his strengths. The book seems to really meander especially when Billy himself decides to fill up his days writing an autobiography of his own past while waiting for his target to come to town.

Don’t get me wrong — the autobiography is well done and even heartbreaking in places — but it doesn’t move the story along. I won’t spoil it for you, but there is a nice little tie-in to his The Shining novel storyline that is a special treat for diehard fans (us “nerds” in other words, LOL!).

The Rating:

I found this more like a great example of a character study (at least until Alice comes into the story exactly on page 240!). The pairing of Billy and Alice is the highlight of the novel and the true heart of this tale. I give it an overall B or 3.5 out of 5 stars. I would recommend it, but I would not say it’s a priority read for your reading list. If you have other “must reads”, put them first.

By DEREK BARTON — Author of the ELUDE series (Parts I, II & III — a Horror/crime thriller), EVADE Series (Parts I, II & III)  & IN FOUR DAYS: a Horror-Suspense Novella (available on Audible.com!).  Also the Dark Fantasy novel series CONSEQUENCES WITHIN CHAOS and THE BLEEDING CROWN (both available on Audible.com!).

FRESH STORY CONTENT!! 6/5/2022 — Derek Barton

THE DAYS OF RENDING

Chapter Two

Rylund Faraday’s life had ended at that very moment, that very spot. At least, life as he knew it.

Once again, he was locked, frozen in fear on the third step from the bedroom landing. Stephanie Faraday, clad only in her Elephant Andie pajama top and matching polka dotted socks, also stood motionless, standing before a massive 100-gallon saltwater aquarium. Her eyes mesmerized by its dancing water which churned with large, frothy bubbles. Flames wavered in long rows along the wooden kitchen island and along the open archway behind the fish tank. The whole house had become an inferno. Heat rolled out over both of them, baking their skin and reddening his sister’s pale cheeks. Heavy clouds of smoke clustered along the ceiling as light ash flurried about them. Rylund’s view of the rest of the house was shielded by towering columns of flame, walls of fire and falling debris.

He knew what was coming next but unlike in reality, he couldn’t move, couldn’t jump and scoop her up into his protection. The heated water reached its boil and the glass shattered out in a brilliant, white flash. A blanket of fire, smothering steam and scalding water washed over her body. She fell instinctively to the floor, curling into a fetal position and hugged her limbs tight to her as death consumed her.

His screams filled the night, and his sightless eyes were wide when Stephanie rushed in and went to Rylund’s side. The sheets were soaked and his face glistened with beads. 

“It’s okay now. It’s all over,” she cooed as she swept back his hair from his brow, trying to calm him from his nightmare.

He nodded but could not respond as he choked down large gulps of air, hyperventilating. He trembled as a light breeze blew in from a partially open window on the left of his bed. With a corner of his sheet he moped his brow and sat up on his elbows.

“Sorry. Did I wake you again?” His voice was gravely and horse.

“Well, yeah. At first, I thought it was the TV, a horror movie or something. Uncle Max is passed out in front of it again.” She shrugged then fell into an awkward silence. They held hands in the dark and his breathing returned to a normal rhythm.

Stephanie was tall for her age at 9, but her curly brown hair hung down passed her shoulders to the middle of her back. She always seemed to have a mischievous smile in her eyes and on her thin red lips. Rylund was lanky at 13, with a shock of black hair and a spatter of freckles on his cheeks. Some burn scars were mixed in with his adolescent acne pockmarks.  

Although they lived with their uncle, since the fire, she was his main caregiver. Their love and sibling connection can only be described as a fierce bond.

“Same nightmare?” she finally asked aloud.

“Yes. I always have to relive it. Every night. Like a penance or something.”

“Did you tell Doctor Bradwell?”

He answered in a falsetto voice, “’Your subconscious is holding onto it as you are. It’s only reflecting what your mind is keeping as unfinished business. Until you and your mind move on, your dreams may not as well. Only time will tell.’” Rylund finished the mocking impression by patting the top of his head. “Time’s up! Next patient please, Nurse Cora.”

They giggled together.

“He’s not that bad,” she said.

“No, he’s not. He really did help with accepting that mom and dad are gone.”

More awkward silence with a couple of sniffles.

“It’s weird you can still see in your dreams. What do you think you are holding on to?”

“The dream is always the same but it’s also different from what happened.” He paused and sat up fully and crossed his legs Indian style. They continued to hold hands to support each other. “I remember waking up that night to ashes falling on me. When I opened my eyes, at first, I thought at first it was snowing in my room! Only then I could hear the muffled smoke alarm chirps coming from down the hall. I heard shouting above me. I think it was Dad. I jumped up and ran out. Smoke had just started flowing down the stairs. When I got to the top though, everything was covered in flames.”

His voice hitched and caught in his throat as his emotions got the best of him. “It was Granddad Chester’s grandfather clock that had fallen onto the hall desk and blocked their doorway.”

“Really? You never told me that before.”

“Yes. I could only see a few feet into the room, most of the ceiling had caved in by that time I think.” Tears welled and leaked down his cheeks. The fire had begun in the house’s attic somehow. It took the upper portion of the house easily and without warning.

In a whisper he said, “I heard their screams, Steph. How does anyone forget that? How can you ‘let go’ of or ‘unhear’ the sound of your parents’ screams?”

She squeezed his hand tighter. Tears welled in her eyes as well.

“When they stopped, I realized I had been standing there far too long. One of my sleeves had even caught fire. My mind was roaring around one thought: I wanted to get to you and had to get you out! But when I found you, you were standing at mom’s tank. The fish had all floated to the top, the boiling water was filled with bubbles.”

“Yes. I’d never seen anything like that. It was almost beautiful.”

 “I knew it was going to explode! I leaped right off the third step. That is where my dream is different.”

“What happens?”

“I didn’t do it. I can’t. I was paralyzed in terror. I didn’t reach you. You… die in the fire too.”

“Why? You saved me in real life.”

“I know!” he said breathless. “It makes no sense, and it fills me with such pain, and being so helpless! It’s so horrible.”

“You don’t regret it, do you? Is that why you dream it differently? So, you wouldn’t have had to lose…”   

“NO! NEVER! Sure. Of course, I hate losing my sight but losing you would’ve been so much worse. Stephanie, I will never wish anything different. I’d do it the same way every time. I love—”

“But you lost so much,” her voice now low in whisper. “Losing Mommy and Dad was so hard, but if I had to handle the surgeries and blindness on top of it – I know I am not strong enough.” She shook her head and sobbed softly.

“Yes, you are. Look how you’ve done so much for me. Grown up so fast to help me. You are my rock.”

He stopped and poked his chin at where they had the set the clock on his nightstand. “What time is it?”

“2:48.”

“The dream always comes at this time of night. How weird is that?”

“Is that the time the fire had started in the attic? Or maybe when the lightning had hit?” her voice tightened by the scary idea.

“Okay, now you are just being weird, Stephanie! I think Uncle Max has let you watch too many of those paranormal shows. Time to go back to sleep!” He chided and teased her.

“You’re good then?”

He made a shooing wave. “Maybe go check on Uncle Max. Move any open bottles away. Oh, and clear out any ash trays.”

“Good night, Rylund. Try to sleep, we have a big day, remember?”

“Hmmm, right. Baseball game,” he answered and shrugged non-committed to the idea. “Fun.”

As she closed his bedroom door, he stretched and made a silent prayer for the rest of the night to be dreamless and peaceful for both of their sakes.