The Hidden — Chapter 15: CHIRKAH! — T.D. Barton & Derek Barton

TH chap 15

 

CHAPTER FIFTEEN:   CHIRKAH!

 

An ice-cold dagger of steel ripped a jagged course through Nate’s guts. His eyes spread wide as he struggled to deal with the roiling of his insides.  He felt his hands shaking and the trembling seemed to travel from the tips his fingers, coursing up his veins and through his veins until it burst out onto the surface of his skin.  Slowly he sank back against the trunk of the tree. Knitting his brows, he looked back at the beast and tried to comprehend what it had just told him.

“What in the hell do you mean by ‘breeding stock’? If one of you hairy bastards has hurt her –” His voice choked with emotion and he fell silent. His loathing of the creatures had just reached a new level, far surpassing anything he’d ever thought himself capable. The hatred threatened to overtake him completely and he felt his face warming from its effect. Just what he planned to do in retaliation, he hadn’t the vaguest notion, but the thought of one of these things touching her –that way– made him furious. So angry was he, if pressed, he would probably attempt taking on the whole pack bare-handed, despite the overwhelming odds. His eyes blazed back into Chirkah’s red glare.

“Just tell me where she is”, he demanded.

It would do you no good to know her whereabouts, Nate Malone. The voice insinuated itself inside his head, and Chirkah’s eyes narrowed perceptibly as he “spoke”.  I assure you there would be no chance of succor. Should you come down from your haven among the branches, you would be overpowered in seconds. But perhaps this would be for the better. After all, you can’t remain up there indefinitely. You must come down sometime, so why not do it now and avoid all the suffering? Before long, thirst will set your tongue ablaze and then, together with hunger, it will drive you down to us. When this happens, we will NOT be kind. The Kophet-kut are nothing if not patient. We will wait. However, we do not enjoy being toyed with; nor do we take kindly to anyone reducing our ranks by three of our fellows.

He gazed slowly about at the grisly-looking group.  There are many of my followers who would gladly exact vengeance upon you, and believe me, we know ways of inflicting injuries that kill slowly and with great pain.

Nate looked too. The horrid creatures sat around in various positions of repose. He shivered at the thought of those cruel mouths stripping his flesh from his bones. He had witnessed first-hand their capacity for ferocity as they mercilessly punished one of their own for a minor infraction of the pecking order. He could only imagine how they would deal with someone they hated.

On the other hand, should you come down now, I promise to do my best to see that your death is a quick and –relatively– painless one. Chirkah grinned again, showing teeth. The uniquely human gesture looked oddly out of place upon his savage countenance.

Nate shook his head and passed his hand over his tired eyes. His head felt stuffed with cotton, and he wanted to vomit. Listening to Chirkah’s insolent voice droning on was somehow repugnant to his very core. It gave him an odd, repulsive feeling that was the mental equivalent of having a dry wooden tongue depressor shoved to the back of your mouth, or maybe, to chewing tinfoil. He shuddered and looked back down.

“Explain to me what you mean when you say Zelda’s being held as breeding stock.” he said, striving to make his voice sound calm.”

That bothers you, does it Nate Malone? Chirkah’s tongue reached out casually and gathered in a lady-bug beetle which was trundling slowly across his cheek. Munching thoughtfully, he let his gaze meander, in a lazy arc, across the bean field beyond the edge of the woods.

Out there, the sun was blazing down, drying the plants and hurrying them along toward harvest.  Here, beneath a canopy of leaves, the shade was cool and, under different circumstances, Nate would have found it soothing. He settled back down on the tree branch, waiting impatiently for Chirkah to resume.

At last, the chieftain of the Kophet-kur looked back up at him.

In your human folk-lore, there are many things which you fear. Each generation passes along stories of beasts and goblins which await the unsuspecting victim somewhere… out there. Even you, Nate Malone must be intelligent enough to realize that these legends must have some basis in fact. Somewhere along the line, someone saw SOMETHING that inspired the telling of the tale. That tale is, in turn, twisted and exaggerated a bit more by each teller until it reaches mythic proportions. Is this not true?

“Make your point, dog breath.” Nate snarled.

Chirkah paused, glaring maliciously. When this failed to have an effect, however, he continued. My… POINT, as you put it, is simply this: Have you ever heard of werewolves, Nate Malone? Shapeshifters? Lycanthropes? Of course, you have, and you’ve always considered them to be fiction — fabrications of active imaginations, is this so?

Nate refused to answer, staring icily into the deep caverns that were Chirkah’s eyes.

Well, as I’ve said, there is some basis for truth in these stories, which have been handed down for centuries. Yes, Nate, there ARE werewolves living among you. They are the spies for the Kophet-kur. They circulate among the humans, leading outwardly normal little human lives, working and playing along with the rest of the stupid, unsuspecting creatures. They hold respectable positions in your society, working as bankers and doctors and lawyers and so forth, and never once do they give any sign of being anything other than typical human trash… Except during the full of the moon.

Chirkah turned his muzzle to the sky, his eyes clamped shut, and, after a short time, Nate began to feel dizzy. It came upon him gradually, as a ship, slowly gliding into a dock to tie up. He sandwiched his head in his hands, pressing so hard his face began to distort. Chirkah’s telepathic hold was increasing. Nate felt his own will fall away, and he had the disquieting feeling that something huge and filthy was peering into the farther-most intimate corners of his mind. The voice inside Nate’s head rang like a bell, resounding in echoes that grew and grew, threatening to split his skull, as Chirkah launched into a singsong chant. The sound rose and fell like waves thundering on a desolate, rock-strewn shore.

 

“THE MOON IS OUR BEACON,

IT GUIDES THE KOPHET-KUR.

(We sing, for the moon is our pilot.)

SING US HOME, OUR FATHERS!

WE AWAIT YOUR COMING

(We sing, for the moon is the way.)

THE FATHERS GAVE US LIFE

AND NOW THEY GIVE US HOPE

(We sing, for the moon is our comfort.)

YOU COME, OH BELOVED!

WE WAIT… WE HEAR… WE FOLLOW.”

(We sing.)

 

Along with the ringing voice of Chirkah, Nate could discern a chorus of other voices overlapping each other in a hideous chaotic, mélange of sound, layered one atop another, in similar repetitive chants. The chorus built inside him, reverberating from the sides of his skull until it spilled out in an incredible crescendo of sound. It seemed to surround him, carrying him aloft and hurling him among the uppermost branches of the trees. In his mind, he looked down from a great height and all he could see was forest below. Frantically searching for some kind of stability, he looked to the horizon where sat an enormous glowing ball of fire. At first Nate’s bewildered mind associated it with the sunset, but in a second he could see that it was something entirely different.

The vocal chorus became a drumming, low pitched buzz which emanated from the glowing orb, and it began to rotate slowly, casting brilliant white-hot shafts of light haphazardly around it. These beams of light reflected off of everything they touched, doubling and trebling in quantity and intensity as they bounced and played across the scenery. Suddenly the ball of light rose into the air and shot off into the sky. Nate could feel the heat from it baking his face, singeing the hair of his brows. As it hurtled past him, he thought he could see faces – smooth, lightly glowing faces with barely discernible features – staring out at him from various places about the sphere. The faces left him cold and empty inside, and he felt a longing to cry out to them to come back. His hands reached out involuntarily, and his mind screamed “We need you! Don’t leave!” In that instant, he felt an intense, aching loneliness that threatened to consume him from the inside, leaving nothing but a dried husk to blow lightly before the wind. The sense of loss was overwhelming.

As he stared after the departing sphere, the sky became darker and darker, until it reached the ebony blackness of midnight. The sphere continued to recede into this blackness until he became aware that he was looking at the moon, shining at him from a blank, starless nigh-time sky. The moon was comforting to him, easing the hollow void within, and he found he couldn’t pull his eyes away. He needed — was absolutely compelled to keep his mind trained upon it, because it was sending him signals — some kind of message. He couldn’t make out what the message was. It didn’t seem to be coming at him in the form of words, but rather in feelings — emotions. It was telling him something he absolutely needed to know to survive, and it was oh, so soothing! The message was filled with hope and promise and triumphant, exhilarating, lustful faith. He wanted to slobber at the mouth. He wanted to strip off all his clothing and go running naked through the woods. He wanted to howl. His throat fairly burst with the desire to open up and let all of his exuberance come rushing out in a long, loud, soul-quenching bellow of lusty defiance. Laughing out loud, he opened his mouth and howled. Again he let the sound rush from his gaping throat. And then again. Each howl was louder than the one preceding it and it felt wonderful. It was a totally liberating rush of confidence and a sense of well-being he had never before experienced. He continued to wail, letting the sound of his own voice buoy him up and cleanse his spirit.

When he opened his eyes, the sun was shining and the branch was again beneath him. Looking below, he saw that all the creatures were gathered around the base of the tree, and, like Chirkah, they were watching him closely.

The moon is our pilot, Chirkah was softly saying. He sounded tired, like someone who had just quit a trance state and was not yet in full possession of his faculties. It guides us through the night. When we hunt, the moon is by our side, helping us to keep our feet on the track. When we kill, it gives us strength, and when we hide, the moon tells us where to go and what to do.

Suddenly he snapped out of it and became focused once again.

The Fathers, when they left, gave us the moon as a guidepost, it is their means of staying in touch. The telepathic ability exists in all species bearing their seed, which includes most of the remaining creatures on this earth. There had to be a way to monitor their progress here, and so, from somewhere… out there, they send a constant signal, guiding us in all that we do. The Kophet-kur retain the greatest capacity to perceive these signals, and in turn, we attempt to return our thoughts to them. The moon is the ‘transmitter’ — the mirror upon whose reflective surface the signals are bounced and magnified. And these signals have a profound effect over all the earth: birds migrate from one pole to another, navigating in blind ignorance, in response to the effect of the moon’s influence. Dogs howl, insects, responding to the call of instinct, hurl themselves into any light that resembles the moon. The animals of the sea are drawn to the surface when the moon casts its illumination upon the waters. Indeed the very tides of the ocean are influenced by the pull of the moon. Even your own human race exhibits very erratic behavior during the times of its fullness when its power is greatest. All of these things, your scientists have searched for explanations to, but the secret is there — shining in the night sky!

Nate sensed an amount of sincerity in what Chirkah was telling him. For the first time since he’d begun this conference with the devil, Nate began to believe what he was being told. It was incredible and more than a little unsettling to think that the human race, indeed, nearly every manner of creature on earth was the product of some bizarre genetic experiment by alien creatures from another planet. It undermined all that he had ever believed in and left him feeling unstable and somehow up-rooted. His mind seemed to be floating in a deep void where everything was backward and opposite. He struggled to gain control — to shrug it off as impossible. However, the evidence that something highly unusual had occurred sat below him staring hungrily up into the tree. And, what Chirkah was saying explained many things, among them the strange effect the moon had upon the earth and its inhabitants. Here also was a possible explanation for the reports of such strange creatures as Bigfoot and the Yeti of the Himalayas; perhaps even the Loch-Ness monster sightings.

And now, Chirkah was offering an explanation to the centuries-old myths about werewolves. Could there be actual creatures who were able to assume human form part of the time, and then become something similar to these misshapen horrors when the moon was exerting its mysterious influence upon them? How could he exercise logic and reason when for the past few hours he’d been having a conversation with a monster? Everything he’d ever believed to be true in a rational, sane world was now put to question. WERE there such things as monsters? Did humans evolve naturally from apes — or were we the product of creation by a divine being? Perhaps all the stories of creation in the Bible were the result of simple, uncivilized minds attempting to explain the unexplainable. Is there a God in heaven, or does our creator traverse the skies in a miraculous ship built of strange, alien metals from another planet — another galaxy, far from our own?

Below him, Chirkah, savage, brutal king of the monsters, sat staring up at Nate as though he were aware of the conflict troubling his mind, and was waiting to regain his attention. Nate swallowed hard and felt something click in his throat. Dimly, he became aware of the first stirrings of thirst. Chirkah had been right about this, he COULD use something to drink. But more importantly, at this point, he still wanted to know about Zelda.

“So what has all this got to do with my wife?” he asked, cautiously. Slowly, Chirkah nodded, in a sage-like manner.

When the fathers left us, they made a promise to return someday; and when they do, they will select the most successful of their progeny to continue the experiments. They will teach the winning species the ways of their planet and give them absolute domain over all the remaining creatures on this one. Eventually, the chosen species will evolve into beings closely approximating the fathers. This is the way their genetic code works. After millennia, the Kophet-kur are beginning to look less like our lupine ancestors, and more like the fathers — just as humans are distancing themselves more and more from the apes which bore them. At the time of their return, the fathers will further advance this process, so that their favorites can only be guessed at, but one thing is certain: the Kophet-kur do not wish to come in second. For you see, it is a race — the Kophet-kur MUST gain the technology which has so advanced your species, thus making us the most successful. At the same time, humans are beginning to become aware of their own latent telepathic abilities, and may someday soon stumble over the secrets which, until now, are possessed only by the Kophet-kur. We CANNOT allow this to happen. To do so would be to lose all that we have dreamed of and waited so patiently for since the dark beginnings of time.

 Chirkah paused for a moment, seemingly gathering his thoughts before continuing.

This is why we take prisoners. The women of your species carry the recessive gene needed to serve our purposes. Therefore, we capture only females. Besides, the male of your species could not be forced to copulate. The bitches, however… his narrative trailed off and he nodded to one of his rank and file — an apparently pre-arranged gesture that sent this lieutenant bounding off into the brush. In a moment, however, he returned to the clearing with something that made Nate’s hair rise on his scalp and he snapped to attention, every nerve twitching.

Walking docilely before the beast, head hanging and shoulders sagging, was a human female — at least what was left of one. The woman was of indeterminate age — she could have been fourteen of forty – with matted, bedraggled brown hair hanging in her face. Mud and blood smeared every square inch of skin that was exposed, and the ragged shift she wore was so filthy he could not make out the color, even on a sunny day such as this. The woman walked, barefoot, with the air of someone who had grown accustomed to constant torture and abuse, long since abandoning all attempts at escape or hope of rescue.

She stumbled once, and the creature escorting her nipped savagely at her heel, opening up yet another wound, and bringing Nate to his feet on the branch once more. His heart went out to the poor wretch and he called to her.

“Hey!” he cried. “Hey, you! Up here… in the tree. I’m up here!” But the prisoner paid him no attention. Nate couldn’t tell whether it was because she was in a state of shock and simply beyond hearing or because she was afraid of the retribution such insolent behavior might bring from her captors. Still, he felt he should try to offer some comfort. “Don’t worry, I’ll find a way to get you out of here!” This sounded silly, considering the circumstances, even to him. Apparently, his audience agreed; for suddenly, in his mind, he heard gales of malicious laughter and, looking at the creatures sprawled about the clearing, he saw several with their tongues hanging out and their black mouths split in wide canine grins. Even Chirkah guffawed heartily at this, before giving another telepathic signal to the creature acting as guard to the helpless prisoner.

Without warning, the beast raised up and slapped the woman brutally on the side of the head, sending her sprawling. She lay on the ground, obviously stunned for a moment and then staggered to her hands and knees, where she did a most peculiar thing. Reaching stiffly around behind, she gathered up the hem of her skirt and pulled it up, exposing her bruised and battered buttocks to the air. There she waited patiently while the brute came up behind her and slowly sniffed. Nate felt his gorge rising and tried, unsuccessfully, to pull his eyes away.

The creature rose and placed his forepaws on the back of the poor wretch, digging his claws in carelessly as he went, apparently unconcerned about what damage they may do to her. From his belly protruded an enormous, pink-tipped erection which dipped and swayed as he shifted from foot to foot. The monster absolutely dwarfed the poor woman, and Nate was sure she would die should the beast carry out its obvious intentions.

As the huge, hairy creature entered her, she turned her head slowly around to look at Nate, and her hair fell from her eyes. There was horror in those eyes — a livid, unspeakable, screaming horror that would haunt Nate’s dreams forever. She made not a sound, and her face remained a stone mask of expressionless sorrow. But there was one thing more in her eyes, and when Nate saw it he wished her dead. At that moment he knew that, if he had his gun back, he would spend his last bullet not in defense of his own life, but in the merciful cessation of hers. For glistening in her eyes he saw tears — silent tears — which spilled over and coursed down her grimy cheeks and told him that she was not in shock, but rather in full possession of her senses. She was experiencing the dreadful pain and humiliating degradation of this rape by a beast so despicably evil as to defy logic.

With her gaze, she begged him to end her suffering. Her eyes pleaded with him to put an end to this nightmare — if rescue were impossible, then killing her would suffice to remove the agony she was enduring. His hand came to his mouth and he gnawed helplessly on one knuckle as he watched the monster ruthlessly battering the woman and occasionally reaching down with its dripping snout and nipping her cruelly on the neck and shoulders, sending rivulets of blood coursing down her back.

A trickle of drool inched its way down Nate’s wrist and his eyes bulged in desperation. There was nothing he could do. Obviously, this was not the first time the woman had been so used, and should he try to affect her rescue, he would be torn to shreds before he ever reached her side. There would be no point in trying, of that he was as certain as he was of his own name. He must think of Zelda. Perhaps there was still a chance to rescue her, although his hopes were rapidly fading. Still, as long as there was breath left in his body, there was always hope for a miracle. There may yet be some way of reaching her — some chance, some avenue of escape that had not yet presented itself. He could not afford to throw away her only hope by wasting his life in a useless act of kamikaze-like suicide.

And yet it clawed relentlessly into his guts that he was standing here, letting this pitiful woman be victimized sadistically and was doing absolutely nothing. The wretched creature was communicating as well telepathically as Chirkah had ever done. Nate could hear her screaming in his own mind, beseeching him to act — to do something to end this nightmare. He felt his face blush beneath her imploring eyes, and at last, he averted his gaze. Live or die, he didn’t think he would ever be able to forgive himself for his own inadequacy in this situation.

You should be watching this, Nate Malone. The insidious voice of Chirkah cut into his thoughts. You see, THIS is what we capture female humans for. The bitch you see here has born many of our children. Some remain here with us, and some have been sent out into your society, to retrieve the knowledge we so desperately require. We hope to someday have enough slaves to begin building — forges to produce metal, mills to refine and shape it. We will have mining operations, staffed by our slave-children assistants to stock us with the materials we need to make gunpowder and other weapons which we may use to overthrow the humans from their oh-so-precarious perch of power.

The woman cried out softly and Nate looked back just long enough to see fresh blood speckling the insides of her thighs.

I’m sure you have wondered, Nate Malone, how we have come to know so much about you and your civilization. The answer is simple: our spies bring us the information. In our lairs, deep beneath the ground, we have set up schools where the Kophet-kur and their half-breed ‘werewolf’ children are taught what we will need to know to conquer the world and make it our own.

Chirkah turned to look over his shoulder at the rapist. At long last, he had become still, but he remained mounted above the woman and Nate was forced to recall seeing dogs that became stuck together after mating, due to a swelling that occurs in the male’s organ. As children, this had been the source of many humorous stories and jokes. Now, however, there was nothing funny about it at all.

This is why human females are so important to us, Chirkah continued. And so valuable. It is not that we ENJOY mating with humans more than our own kind – well, perhaps there are SOME of us who do… Chirkah indicated with a nod the creature who had just performed the exhibition, and his little jibe was greeted with more cruel laughter from his constituents. They sounded to Nate like a bunch of dirty old men at a club smoker where strippers had been brought in to perform. Only these dirty old men had fangs. The rapist now sat beside the prostrate body of the woman, one leg in the air, grooming himself. The woman’s dress was still hiked up around her waist and she made no effort to correct this immodesty.

For most of us, it is a means toward an end — an end to your domination of the earth and a beginning of ours.

Nate refused to acknowledge his little play on words.

Occasionally, we capture female children and we raise them and nourish them carefully, taking as many children as possible from them until they are used-up and worthless to us.  He nodded to the woman again. This one is old and will probably bear no more children. Therefore, she is no longer of any value.

He paused long enough to pass a silent command to the rapist who reached out with a stiffened paw and flipped the exhausted woman over on her back. With one of its hooked talons it opened her abdomen from breastbone to pubic mound in a movement so swift and yet so casual as to take Nate quite by surprise. The woman was surprised too as she jerked to a sitting position and looked down to see her entrails spilling out onto the ground between her legs. She looked up, startled, and found Nate’s eyes. Just before she died, he saw a flicker of relief sweep across her face and then she collapsed, with a thud, to the trampled grass on the forest floor.

“You son-of-a—-” Nate’s curse was drowned out by the sound of trampling feet as the entire pack jumped up and rushed to throw themselves on the woman’s body. Snarling and quarreling viciously, they tore off great chunks of flesh while each vied for the best positions around the feast. Here and there, one would try to sneak off with an entire limb, but this would only result in attracting the attention of others who would then break off from the main group to investigate. Soon, there were three or four small groups of grunting, choking, slobbering beasts gorging themselves on the fresh bloody remains.

Chirkah sat, observing these proceedings, and then, almost as an afterthought, rose and slowly walked over to the scene of the carnage. As he approached, his stance became stiff-legged, and the hair on his back and shoulders stood up straight. The others made way whenever he came near, and a little path was opened for him as he neared the body. Straddling the bloody mass, he glared back at Nate, and his red-rimmed little pig eyes blazed with malevolence. With haughty grandeur, he claimed the prize as his own, and none dared defy his authority. His lips curled back to expose yellow, crooked teeth. Three-inch-long fangs flanked his chin. Each was as sharp as a dagger and curved slightly between the tip and the brown-stained base. His gums flashed a brilliant pink as he opened wide his mouth and plunged it into the corpse. With a deep, satisfied grunt he buried his muzzle and began to feed slowly and deliberately. Chirkah’s crooked spine bent and the muscles in his back bunched as he hunkered down over his royal dinner. The others either stood or squatted near-by, licking their paws, or moved over to join one of the other groups. Chirkah was left to his own.

Nate didn’t observe much of this. From the time Chirkah put his head down to feed, he averted his eyes. The woman had died bravely, and with as much dignity as her situation would allow, and Nate was determined to exact revenge upon her persecutors. Chirkah had been wrong about one thing, of that Nate was certain. This was not a race, it was a war. There wasn’t room on this planet for both human beings and Kophet-kur — one of them must go.

Nate was emotionally exhausted. His mind reeled with conflicting passions. Fear, revulsion, hatred, worry, his thoughts ran the gamut, and he was certain he couldn’t take much more. Soon the excitement swirling around inside him would overwhelm him completely and he would fly into a fit of hysteria. Or, perhaps he would just swell up and burst, exploding in a dozen different directions. He would splatter the foliage about with himself, leaving a bloody lump on the branch to mark his passing. He struggled to regain control, concentrating upon his breathing, willing it to slow down. At last his frazzled nerves began to calm, and he was able to think again. It scared him, though to think how close he had been to total collapse — shut down all systems and say good-night, Natey Boy’s had enough. With a trembling sigh, he shook these thoughts aside and began looking about the branches, searching for a way out.

His escape had now become a more important issue than just his own survival. The survival of the entire human race might well depend on his returning to tell the authorities what he’d seen here. He couldn’t be certain that Zelda was still alive. Chirkah could just be leading him to attempt a rescue. But, until he had proof to the contrary, he was going to have to play along. He had to assume she was being held somewhere near here — probably in one of the underground lairs, Chirkah had spoken of. His eyes searched for a branch near enough to allow him to move to another tree. If he could work his way from tree to tree, he might be able to search the woods for an entrance to this lair. He couldn’t imagine how he was to affect a rescue once he’d found it, but at least searching was better than just sitting here watching these bastards enjoying their blood-bath. Perhaps, after gorging themselves, the creatures would become sleepy and he could slip away into the forest. Or maybe he could come down from the tree and make his way back home for help. The only trouble with this second plan was that he knew he could never leave without taking Zelda with him.

“Well,” he muttered aloud, his eyes searching the foliage around him. “We’ll just have to come up with a plan when the time comes. One step at a time, Natey Boy, one step at a time.”

A branch the size of his forearm passed within a yard or so from the one just above his head. It appeared to be just what he was looking for, an avenue into the neighboring tree. It would be a bit dicey, but he had to try for it. He cast an apprehensive glance back at the creatures. They were too caught up in their grisly repast to notice his absence. Slowly he inched farther out on his supporting branch, easing his way along while clinging to the branch over his head. As he moved away from the trunk, the limb below his feet began to grow smaller and to sag a bit with his weight. This was not going to be easy. Nate silently wished he’d spent more time in the park as a child, climbing trees.

Now both branches were sagging and swaying in the breeze and sweat stood out on his brow. His intended, however, was growing nearer and soon he would reach a place where he might feasibly make an attempt. As he gazed longingly at the branch, trying to gauge its size and how much weight it might support, a white hot pain shot up from his right hand. Looking up, he saw a large black ant, nearly an inch long clinging to the knuckle of his index finger. The thing thrashed and wiggled as it buried its needle-like pincers in his tender flesh. With a sharp exclamation, he drew his hand from the branch and smashed it against his side, simultaneously obliterating his attacker and sending the branches providing his precarious support pitching wildly in opposite directions. In seconds he lost his footing entirely and was left hanging breathlessly by one hand, from the overhead branch. The branch yawed and swayed, sending a loud cra-a-ack! reverberating through the woods. Smaller, dead branches around him were shaken loose and fell noisily to the ground below.

Nate breathed a silent prayer that the branch wouldn’t break, as he swung there, scrabbling frantically to regain his hold with the other hand. He caught on just as another, somewhat louder crack tingled its way along the branch. Looking down, he found himself staring directly into the blood-splattered face of Chirkah, chief of the Kophet-kur, who was licking his lips and grinning broadly. Nate gasped great gulps of air as his fingers burrowed into the bark, and his legs kicked wildly in mid-air. Again Chirkah’s Machiavellian voice rang in Nate’s mind: Why don’t you just let go and COME DOWN, NATE MALONE, COME ON DOWN!

Once more, Chirkah was trying to use his telepathic powers to shock Nate into letting go. Nate closed his eyes and held on, trying to concentrate on how stupid Chirkah sounded. Like Bob Barker on ‘The Price is Right’, he thought. He smiled at this and felt himself relax a little. If the limb in his hands would hold on for just a little longer, he would be able to regain his footing and move back to safety. But his thoughts were cut short as another resounding crack rent the air and he felt the branch he was clutching let go.

 

 

The Essential Elements of Book Covers — Derek Barton

Book Covers Blog

When there are hundreds of new books traditionally published or self-published on a daily basis, how will your work stand out?

When a reader scans through the Amazon or Kindle online sites and spends one to two seconds on your novel’s image, how will you keep their attention?

These are just two of the critical questions you should ask yourself and give serious thought to when it comes to your book’s cover.  The easiest way to make or lose sales depends on how you present your novel.

It is just that simple, and yet, IMPORTANT.

I have possibly two or three of my own works coming out this year so I wanted to be sure I had all the available tools and weapons from the industry at my disposal.  Thus, for the last month, I have been reading articles, documenting notes and discovering just what the professionals consider a “professional book cover”.  What were the keys to the “best” covers and what are the strikes that torpedo cover art?

Here are some of the laws or elements that the professionals have suggested and I have outlined here for you!  They are broken down into three subjects:  Overall Principles, Style and Typesetting.

Overall Principles:

  • Keep it simple!
  • Let the cover “breathe” —  keep the cover open and not crowded.   If they don’t know what to focus on, they are just going to skip past it.
  • Use no more than three different colors and include black, white, or grey.  
  • Focus on a theme or emotion.  Relate it to what your story is about.  This is your novel’s billboard after all!
  • Find good imagery.  Don’t use anything blurry or cluttered which can confuse the reader and make them move on.

 

Style:

  • Place a darkened border around the edges to make the cover POP or stand out.
  • Beware using centered text as it creates a “wineglass effect”.  This effect has become cliché and earmarked as amateurish.
  • Create an imaginary box for implied margins.  All your words, titles and names should stay within the box and not go to the edge of your page.
  • Consider “ghosted boxes” or page divisions for text.  This can help keep fonts colors from blending or contrasting with your image colors.
  • Composition – make a grid of your cover and keep in mind the placement of each itemThis will prevent clusters or odd centering issues.

 

Typesetting:

  • Limit your cover to as few typefaces as you can.  The fewer fonts you have the more simplistic, cleaner look.
  • Avoid script and calligraphy typefaces!  If the title or YOUR NAME is hard to read, then what is the point?  I broke this one myself on my first book cover version — It may look awesome to you, but if the reader cannot tell what it says, then no one will care what it says.
  • Distressed text should not have uniform letters.  If your font looks like it has marbling, be sure that there isn’t consistent marbling in each letter or it will not look natural.
  • Don’t stretch or condense words!
  • Kern your text – letter spacing.  Kerning is the process of adjusting the spacing between characters in a proportional font, usually to achieve a visually pleasing result.  It will also prevent your words from being misinterpreted.

As I stated above, these are just the most consistent laws or elements discussed when describing the fundamentals to book cover art that I have found.  There are other factors that can produce or reduce sales.  And sometimes there are “break out” covers that will not adhere to these rules and are very successful.  It all comes down to fan judgment and book sales success to really know if you scored well on your book cover design.

I truly hope that this is beneficial to your own book cover creations and if you have a suggestion or an element that you would suggest, feel free to comment.

 

2018 Jan & Feb Bi-Monthly Goals — Derek Barton

Goal #1

THIS IS MY YEAR!!  (My new mantra!)

 

It is a brand new year with a whole year of opportunity!  I am super excited by what I have planned in store for 2018.  With these bi-monthly goal blogs that I started using this last July, I have really put in a lot of work and accomplished a lot which I will now be able to share with you guys this year.

A quick recap of the year and what I finished up in December:

From July through November —

** Finalize my Chapter Outlines for Bleeding Crown
** Completed my first draft of Bleeding Crown
** Wrote 43,000 words in July
** Completed two large book giveaways (one being my Indie Book Giveaway)
** Obtained over 1500 email subscribers
** Completed a monthly newsletter every month
** Outlined the first three books of the Elude Series
** Created a NaNoWriMo Outline Prep folder
** Completed the first wave of editing for The Bleeding Crown
** Started a 2nd job for extra money for Book Project Saving and monthly income
** Posted 6 chapters of The Hidden, the collaboration I am working with my father

Completed For November & December:

**Complete NaNoWriMo Challenge: 50,000 words — HUGE WIN FOR ME!  This was a fantastic experience and I highly recommend the challenge for any writer out there.  It motivates you and their site provides a ton of information, networking and forums.  Here is their site:  National Novel Writing Month
** Start Round #2 of Editing for The Bleeding Crown
** Create marketing campaign for CWC Audio Book
** Research Arizona Book and Comic cons.
** Send out Monthly Newsletters by 15th of month
** Keep up The Hidden saga on website every 2 weeks

Now for 2018, I have also decided to not only break down my goals every 2 months, but I am also determining when those goals should be accomplished within the two month period.  This will help me be even more successful and organized, but it will also keep me on track.  I am using an Excel Chart Setup for this and have already broken down goals for the first half of the year on there.

For January & February:

** Complete the 2nd wave of edits for The Bleeding Crown — Finish by 3rd Week of Jan
** Start 1st wave of edits for Elude #1 — Begin by 4th week of Jan
** Work of Cover for The Bleeding Crown — Begin by 2nd week of Jan
** Complete Marketing Campaign for The Bleeding Crown — Finish by 4th week of Jan
** Complete story subplot and finalize The Bleeding Crown (25,000+ words) — Begin by 2nd Week of Jan
** Finalize work on Marketing Campaign for Consequences Within Chaos Audiobook — Begin by 2nd week of Jan
** Write a separate blog entry outside of goals and The Hidden Saga — Finish by 2nd Week of Feb
** Lose 15 pounds by end of February — Lose 2 pounds a week
** Send out Monthly Newsletters by 15th of month — Completed by Feb 15th
** Keep up The Hidden saga on website every 2 weeks — Finished by 4th Week of Feb

By the end of this year, my hope is to be able to produce for you The Bleeding Crown (sequel to Consequences Within Chaos) by mid-2018, Consequences Within Chaos Audiobook on Audible.com by mid-2018, the first two books of the Elude (horror/action story) by the end of 2018 and the complete work of The Hidden online (and subsequently published in 2019!).

As I said, it is going to be an intense and productive year ahead, but I am so excited to share my worlds and my writing with each of you!  My wish is that for all of you as well to have a great, productive and wonderful new year!

 

Goal #2

 

 

The Hidden — Chapter 4: ZELDA — T.D. Barton & Derek Barton

TH 4

CHAPTER FOUR – ZELDA:

Zelda awoke with a terrible headache.  This “fresh country air” had done nothing for her allergies.  Nate was crazy about the idea of living out here in the sticks, though and he was so cute about it that she just had to go along.  He had insisted they leave the city and build an entirely new life.  

“It’ll be a fresh new start,” he’d told her.  “The money is one thing, but we need more than money – we need each other.”  Nate had been nearly fanatical about the idea.  Frankly, it didn’t make that much difference to her where they lived, as long as they had a chance for happiness.  But she had to admit things were much better between them since they’d left the city.  Here their life seemed simpler, less complicated.  Nate laughed more and Zelda found herself taking time to look about and appreciate her life.  She had actually planted a flower garden!

In the city, they had dreamed of a time when they could lay back and spend time together doing the things they’d always wanted.  Now, suddenly that time had come and best of all they were still young enough to enjoy it.

Throwing on a light robe, she shuffled to the kitchen to put the coffee on.  Country living was nothing new to Zelda since she had grown up on a small farm in southern Illinois.  But her ambition to be on the stage had made her quit those rural climes and move to Chicago, where she met, fell in love with and married Nate.

Back home her friends had teased her about becoming a famous movie star, but that had not been her true dream.  Ever since her first appearance in her ninth-grade production of “Oklahoma!” she’d been fascinated with the idea of being in live productions.  Acting out the lives and loves of fictitious characters who were nothing like her gave her a marvelous feeling which she was unable to achieve in real life.  

In the theater, she could live an exciting life with virtually no risk.  It wasn’t Zelda Miller out there on stage, it was a charmer in a play.  If the audience booed, it was the character they disapproved of and not her.  But she need not worry about the audience disapproving because Zelda was a natural.  She was almost always chosen for the lead role in whatever production she tried out for.  Acting came easily to her as natural as breathing or walking down the street.  

Zelda sometimes thought it was easy for her to assume the role of someone else because she had no personality of her own.  She’d never told anyone this of course — not even her parents who were so proud of her.  In fact, everyone was proud of her when she put on a good performance in the various school plays and civic productions.  They would applaud thunderously while she took her bows, and she was the center of attention for days afterward whenever she came to town for shopping with her mother.

She received lots of attention from her peers.  The girls all wanted to be her friend and the boys paid extra close attention while she spoke.  

The adults of the town were quick to voice their approval as well.  The men would exclaim, “You sure were good the other night!”  And the women would hug her and congratulate her mother saying, “You must be so-o-o proud of little Zelda! Why I wouldn’t be surprised to see her on the silver screen someday.  Maybe put this little town on the map, eh?  She certainly has the looks… and the talent!”

Of course, her mother was proud of her Zelda and she encouraged her to do all she could to get into Northwestern University.  She helped her fill out the applications and she made sure Zelda spent lots of time with the Northwestern representative during “College Night” at school.  She bragged to all her friends and relatives about Zelda’s acting prowess and her prospects for a glamorous career – the kind Zelda’s mother never had.

But looking back, Zelda wished everyone could have been proud of her and given her such attention just for being Zelda – plain old Zelda Miller from southern Illinois.  What was so wrong with that?  Did she have to become somebody famous to get their attention?  

Maybe the reason she’d moved to Chicago and pursued a career in acting was not that she wanted it so much but because it was expected of her.  She couldn’t let her parents down or disappoint her teachers.  Hell, the whole damned town depended on “Little Zelda” to become the next Marilyn Monroe and give them all something to be proud of.  Well, it wasn’t fair to put that kind of pressure on a person – to make her responsible for the justification of their own existence.  

Small wonder that when the time came to prove herself in the big city, Zelda’s accomplishments fell somewhat shy of everyone’s expectations.  It was one thing to be a celebrity in a small town production, but it was something else entirely to be just one of many faces in an acting class — all talented, all sharing the same ambitions and aspirations, all competing for the lead roles.  

It was worse yet to be number thirty-seven in a cattle call with the lights glaring in your eyes and three people sitting way back in a darkened theatre passing judgment on every move you made, every note you sang.

Miss… Miller?  Is that a natural tremolo in your voice or are you simply scared to death?

Perhaps that was why when she’d met Nate, working in a local supermarket it had been so easy for her to fall in love with him and his dreams of the future.  Marrying Nate was a way of saving face, both within herself and with the folks back home.  After all, no one could blame her for abandoning her career to marry the man she loved.  

In fact, it was kind of romantic and rather noble.  She was like the heroine in the romance novels her mother was so fond of.  Poor Zelda Miller had so much potential and could have been a star, but she gave up all that glamour and fame to be Mrs. Nathaniel Malone… almost poetic really.  Too bad it was a lie.  The truth was, she’d lost faith in her dreams and herself.  Marrying Nate was the smartest thing she could have done.  

There was no use pretending she was going to make a big splash on the stage either here in Chicago or anywhere else.  The one thing her mother and all that attention back home had not prepared her for was competition – stiff competition with hundreds of other would-be Marilyns who were quite willing to do literally anything to get what they wanted.  Zelda was just not that aggressive or driven.  It was easier to change her goals than to see them through to fruition.

And she’d been happy actually.  She really did love Nate.  He was kind, gentle and so intense in his quest for a better life for each of them.  Until recently, his dreams had been enough to sustain them both.  He was full of energy and eagerness, and he had vision.   The kind of vision that you could hitch onto and let yourself be gladly pulled along.  Nate promised her the kind of life any girl would hope for:  a home and family and the kind of security that sounded so attractive to a young girl who had been thrust out into the vast, hard world alone.  

Zelda had been feeling overwhelmed and out of her element.  What Nate had offered her sounded so warm, safe and comfortable when compared to the cold cruel arena of the performing arts.  She rationalized that, even if she were to become a big star someday, everyone knows that its lonely at the top.  And loneliness was something she was too familiar with and could most definitely do without.  

So She had married Nate, and shared his vision… for a while.

One day however she had glimpsed sadness in his dreamy blue eyes.  Nate, just like her, was starting to lose faith in himself.  His confidence was slowly running down.  He was like a radio-controlled toy with a failing battery; sometimes the current would flow and he would charge ahead as though nothing was wrong while other times he would wake in the morning with no juice at all.  He was pressing all the right buttons, but nothing was happening.  The signal was dead.  That was before the lottery came along and changed their lives entirely.

After dressing, Zelda prepared a simple breakfast of poached eggs and toast.  They may be living like country folks, but she wasn’t about to start cooking like some country farm-frau, serving stacks of pancakes and such.  She called Nate in from the yard.  

Shutting the lawnmower off, he tramped through the front door looking so damn pleased with himself she had to smile.  Nate looked healthier these days and more handsome than she could ever remember.  He was spending a lot more time in the sun and it had streaked his light brown hair with flashes of golden blonde.  It fell stubbornly across his forehead, despite his constant attempts to swipe it back out of his eyes.  This habit, combined with the freckles splattered about this lightly tanned cheeks gave him a boyish charm which she found quite appealing.

“That’s it?” he asked seating himself.  “How’s a hard-working, grown man supposed to survive on a breakfast like this?”  His words were harsh, but she knew he was teasing.  Both of them had been working on trimming back their diet – low fat-this and diet-that.

“You are not a hard-working man anymore, Mister Malone,”  She ran her hand lovingly across the back of his neck as she joined him at the table.  “You’re a man of leisure… with LOTS OF MONEY!  And that’s why I love you so much.”

He took her hand and kissed it, his mouth full of breakfast.  “Well, who cares why just as long as you stay!  What’ve you got planned for today, Hon?  Just what does the wife of an independently wealthy land baron do in her spare time?”

Zelda smiled and then looked at him seriously.  “She goes shopping of course!  What good is all that money if you can’t spend it like it was going out of style?”

His laugh made her feel warm inside and she leaned across the table and kissed him.

“Good, good!  Go on into town and buy yourself something extravagant.  I’m sure you’ll look radiant in it.  Just don’t run off to Paris without me,” he warned her.

“Actually I had in mind something like groceries. We’re low on a few things.  But I might take some time to poke around some shops while I’m in town.”

“Okay, sweetie.  I’ll be working in the yard all day anyway.  So, have a good time. But first, I’ve something to show you in the bedroom…”  His leer made her feel even warmer inside.  

The town of Snyder reminded her very much of her own small hometown in Illinois, only it was not quite the mirror image of what she remembered. The bank was on the south side of the street instead of the north.  However, it was still directly across from the post office.  And the curve in Main Street was on the wrong end of town. But there was the Amoco station, right where it should be on the corner.  The Lutheran church, the one she and Nate kept saying they were going to check out one of these days was on the east side, by the highway.

Looming large over everything, its rusty tin siding providing an ominous backdrop for the rest of the buildings was the ancient feed mill. As Zelda drove past, she considered it. Surely, it must have been one of the first buildings erected in Snyder. Its pointed roof stretched high into the air, providing home and aerial playground to hundreds of swooping, careening pigeons. Driving beneath them with the sunroof down, Zelda prayed silently that none of them held a grudge against transplanted city types, moving into their little town.

Zelda decided at that moment, she didn’t like the mill. If there was one thing she could change about Snyder, it would be the presence of this hulking giant with the dark windows, looking upon the world with vacant eye sockets, staring gloomily from an enormous rusty skull.

Still, it was somewhat similar to the one in her hometown, right down to the huge, antiquated “Supersweet Seeds” sign clinging tenaciously to the side. She supposed these archaic, malevolent-looking monstrosities were a necessary evil that all small midwestern towns must endure, but it brought back memories that were not all good ones.

There were times in her past that she would rather not remember. When she left for the big city, she thought she was leaving behind all those bad times — the bad things her subconscious strived so hard to blot out. But occasionally and with increasing frequency, she found those memories coming back now that she had returned to small-town life.

One thing that was different was the new shopping center on the west edge of town where Zelda parked in front of the grocery store. She’d already browsed through the antique shops downtown and the ladies apparel shop here in the center. Now it was time to get down to business with some groceries.

As she walked up and down the aisles, examining the labels and comparing package sizes, she thought about her life with Nate. She marveled at how different things were going to be now that they had money. They would be able to travel — she’d always wanted to see Europe! Or maybe they’d spend time on cruises. But, best of all, they would have time for each other and, maybe now, they could think of having children and building a family. This was something they had been putting off until they were financially secure.

Well, you don’t get much more secure than seven million dollars, thank God, thought Zelda, whose biological clock had been ticking for some time now. Her life with Nate was becoming idyllic, but she needed to be a mother to make it complete. No matter how rosy their financial future, it was the one thing their money couldn’t buy. It was the one thing she needed above all else.

These thoughts were running through her mind as she approached the checkout-counter with her cart full of groceries. While standing in line, she spotted a poster, obviously home-made, asking the whereabouts of this child:

Susie Dawn Chamness

Age 11

Last Seen: Aug 3, 1993

Below the picture was printed instructions on who to contact with any information and a reward was offered. The picture was black-and-white, but the spirit of the little girl shone from it all the same. Her face was beaming with eagerness, and her long golden curls fairly glowed. But something deep within her pale eyes showed a hidden sadness, perhaps a longing, as though she had knowledge beyond her years — knowledge of something she would rather forget.

As Zelda stood looking at the angelic face of this child she tried to put herself in the place of her poor mother. How tragic it would be to give life to a beautiful child like this only to have her snatched away when you’d learned to love her with all your heart, as surely her mother must. This sort of thing was all too common in the city, but here in this rural community, it seemed out of place.  Zelda wondered…What could have happened to her way out here?

Elude Part One – Excerpt #3… — Derek Barton

Blog pic 21

3 – COLLIDING WORLDS


Vic felt the stiff metal of the chair pressing against his back. The sweatshirt stuck to his skin and chafed around his neck. Inside the interrogation room, it was dead still with no AC blowing through the vents.

Just another old trick they play. Keep the suspect in the room, make him sit there worrying about what he’d been brought in for, what the police know… Literally to make him squirm and sweat. They were his thoughts, but the voice in his head mimicked Rory again.

Then they’ll enter all smooth and nonchalant, offer up a cold soda to get me to relax a bit. One of the cops, the Good Cop, will offer to take the can to throw it away. Secretly, they’re gathering evidence for fingerprinting and DNA for testing.

He frowned and adjusted his chair.

Stop that! They’re watching you right now. Remain cold, emotionless. Don’t give them anything to work with. When they come in, you have to be the investigator. You’ve gotta learn what they know.

His skin crawled, the feeling of their eyes on him, observing him through the two-way mirror. Judging him not only on his history, but on his race as well. He understood the reality of things. He hated it, but he wasn’t going to fool himself into thinking he wouldn’t be held accountable to a social stereotype either.

The last day and night were surreal. It was as if he drove to that wealthy neighborhood and parked his car in another parallel reality. Nothing had made sense since he stepped into Shari’s house.

If he was going to get through this and out of the elaborate steel trap he was in, he had to find answers

A soft knuckle rap at the door announced the entrance of the case detectives. The first was an older white cop with a scruffy, grey goatee, brown, unkempt hair above a set of sharp blue eyes. The detective following him stood a good five inches taller, a black, athletic man, close-cropped hair and a strong jawline. Although he seemed younger, more of a model-type, there was a sense of confidence surrounding him.

Each had a drink in one hand and several manila folders tucked under the other arm. They sat across Vic at the table and opened their file folders without a word.

I am this week’s guest star on Law & Order. Madre! Vic joked to himself.  His nerves were ragged, but on the outside, he remained stone and stoic.

“Vicente Vargas, age 23,” said the black detective in a monotone announcer voice.

“Before we start, Champ, you want a drink or something?” the “Good Cop” offered with a shark grin.

There it is… And so we begin.

He shook his head with a tiny movement.

“You sure? Kind of hot in here, no?”

Vic averted his gaze, staring at a corner of the room above the “Good Cop’s head.  He fixated on a gray-dusted cobweb that swung back and forth next to a ceiling vent.   It helped him to focus on it and not acknowledge their presence. The longer he could drag this out, the better his chances were of getting the information he needed.

Good Cop stepped up. “I’m Detective Ellis. This is my partner on this case, Detective Kemp.”

He still gave them nothing, but he eventually dropped his gaze to meet theirs.

Detective Ellis continued to lead the conversation. “I see you’re a gentleman of few words. Okay… Well, let’s not start that way. The more open you are with us, the more we’ll be able to help you, Vincent.”

“No.  It’s Vicente. Vee-sent-teh,” Detective Kemp corrected him.

“Uh, yeah, sorry.” Ellis coughed into his hand. “Why don’t we go over the facts, then you can fill in some details for us?”

His eyes remained locked on Vic’s, looking for any signs of cracks in the foundation. The stare was penetrating and precise. Those eyes were focused, experienced, yet somehow haunted.

Like Cory Tames, Vic mused. The kid had been a meth junkie since he was eleven years old and was serving his sixth drug sentence when Vic met him.

Cory’s mouth would say one thing, but his eyes told a different story.  They were haunted; you could almost see the ghosts running around in his head.

The heavy-set detective had a similar look in his eyes. Something still hovered over him. Ellis hadn’t let go of it and as a result, it stained his soul.

Vic made a mental note – Could I use that somehow?

“Yesterday evening between 4:30 and 5:30 PM, at the residence of 1718 Lioness Estates Drive, Shari Renee Thomas was stabbed to death. She’d been butchered inside her parent’s house. At 6:40 PM, Vicente Anthony Vargas parked his 2007 Nissan Altima outside 2828 S Margo Drive. Inside the trunk, Officer Dan Reccard discovered Ms. Thomas’ body,” Kemp read aloud to the room, then sat back in his own steel chair.  Both detectives waited, watching him intently.

Don’t give them anything. Shari Thomas, remember that name. Wait… They said she was killed between 4:30 and 5:30. I wasn’t there until after 6! I can use — No!  They may be baiting me. Giving me invisible rope to hang myself. Dammit!

“Vicente, listen. You’re in a world of hurt here. I want to understand what happened. Help yourself and take my advice. Now is the time to tell us your side of things. Tell us what she did.”

Their game of pleading, threatening, bribing and pretending went on for another half hour. They kept at him like a stubborn dog with a bone.

He didn’t give them anything.

A knock at the door interrupted their little performance. Kemp answered it then rushed out of the room holding another manila folder. Five minutes later, he returned and whispered into his partner’s ear.

“Yeah? No shit?” He seemed genuinely surprised.

They both turned to Vicente.

Bullshit. All bullshit games, my main man, whispered Rory again in the dark recesses of his head.

Kemp sat again across from the young Hispanic.

“You aren’t giving us much choice here, bud. I know we asked you earlier if you wanted your lawyer and you refused, but maybe this is your ploy. Are you a gamer, Vicente?”  Ellis asked.

Vic felt fresh sweat gather at the back of his neck. He averted his eyes, staring at the back of his hands in front of him. Something had changed and shifted in their favor.

Kemp jumped in with a mocking taunt.  “I know you’re smart. You know a lot of the system from your juvie stint. Did you learn some legal magic in jail? A few good tricks that’ll work this all out?”

“Thinking if there’s no lawyer, maybe you can say we didn’t allow you counsel or didn’t advise you to get one?” Ellis pointed at a camera in the corner, a tiny red light blinking at them.

“It’s all on tape. Just like the recording of you leaving the Thomas residence. “He paused again, letting his words sink in.

“You need to start working this out with us, Vicente.”

Stone cold silence. No show of emotions.

Kemp turned in his chair and looked at Ellis. “Do you think… Samantha Troy is connected at all to this?

Ellis scrunched his face and shook his head slowly. “I hadn’t thought of that, but why?” Then, as if the question hadn’t been proposed, he shifted his attention back to Vic. He leaned away from the table and clasped his hands in front of him. “We have the body. Are you ready to admit to this? Perps like you have avoided the death penalty by being cooperative and leading us to the other bodies.” His tone was flat and matter-of-fact.

Yet, when he said “Perps like you,” an expression flickered across his face. A crack in his practiced foundation, a glimpse behind the detective mask to the disgusted and angry hero wanting justice. That look scared Vicente. It was an honest and deep emotion — brief but revealing. He exposed a truth.  They have actual hard evidence.

Oh god, I’m in so deep!

Vic met the detective’s gaze for the first time. His top lip involuntarily trembled. “I didn’t hurt that girl. I didn’t know her.”

“Who is this then?” Kemp slid a headshot of a dead woman at him. A pretty, redhead with cloudy white eyes stared at the photographer, but Vic felt those dead eyes pierce into him.

I don’t know you!

“Whose hands are these?” Kemp slid another photo of the hands from the backpack.

The older detective slapped his hand down on the pair of pictures, startling Vicente. “Why do you have them if you had nothing to do with their murders?”

“WHAT?” Vic blurted. “MURDERS?”

“I’m going to run her DNA and find out her name soon enough. You’d save us all a lot of time, give her family closure and it’d go a long way to bettering your situation, IF YOU TELL ME WHO THIS WOMAN IS!” Ellis pointed at the cut hands.

Two dead girls. And they think there’s more.

“Is this Samantha? Did you kill Samantha Troy?” Kemp asked in a more even tone.

It was like a one-two punch followed up with an uppercut to his jaw. The detectives had him boxed in and on the ropes. He felt the room was spinning.

“I want a lawyer,” he rasped.

The detectives sighed in unison. A confession, a rant, a breakdown, something…had been close at hand. Whatever it was, it didn’t happen, and their window had passed.

Kemp spoke loud enough for Ellis and their prisoner to hear, “He’s scheduled to be brought downtown on the bus transfer at 9 AM. We can speak with him and his lawyer then after he’s been processed at Phoenix Jail. Give him time to rethink his story and be more willing to save himself from the needle!”

Vic lowered his face into his hands.

***

Bernice Baxter was a bitch.

She knew it.  She embraced it. It normally made her job and her life simpler. Or at least, easier to get her way. People didn’t like conflict, and many would give way rather than stand up to you.

Once more and for the umpteenth time that morning, she looked at her watch. It was 8:12 AM.

From behind her, she heard the familiar jingle of The Price Is Right playing on the television in the front room. With her hands on her hips, she glanced over her shoulder. Anna Witherspoon, Bernice’s shut-in patient, sat on the couch with three pillows propping her up. She giggled and smiled through her oxygen mask at the TV as the show began.

The rotation of “Idiot TV” was starting — first The Price Is Right, then The Jerry Springer Show, then Judge Judy all before the lunch hour. In her opinion, not only were these shows dumbing down America, they were exactly what was wrong with this country.

Don Witherspoon, Anna’s oldest son, was overdue from his work shift.  He should have been there by 7:30 AM.

On days like this, she wondered again how she’d fallen into this line of work and how she managed to stay trapped in it. Her late husband had kept them afloat with his antique shop and she’d become complacent.  Any ambitions she had stalled early in her twenties. Now a widow and making do with her low wages, bitterness was her true obsession in life.

Bernice hated taking care of the elderly.  The deterioration of the body at the end of life disgusted her.  It required a lot of care and support which didn’t pair well with her lack of bedside manner.  But desperate people would hire anyone in desperate times and it helped pay the bills.

“Can I have some cereal at least?” a petite, brunette girl whined from the upstairs hallway.

“Shut it!”

“But—”

“Shellie, I don’t get paid any extra for you to eat. I am not here to take care of you,” Bernice berated her in icy tones.

Don’s only child was a twelve-year-old oddball. Currently, she had the girl sequestered to her room.

Bernice hadn’t liked her from the start. If she were twelve years old, too she’d have gathered a group to jump the brat and beaten the snot out of her. In her day, it was what you did to the oddballs — the ones who didn’t fit in and didn’t get why.

The mousy girl’s face was always in a computer screen or her eyes glued to her smartphone. Bernice walked in on her that morning, watching YouTube videos on the basics of computer hacking. When she reached for the laptop, Shellie shouted at her and pulled away.

Bernice gave her a hard smack across the top of her thigh. The girl’s shorts would hide any resulting marks or bruises.

She smiled knowing the girl would be too modest to undress in front of her daddy so there was little chance of being discovered accidentally. Shellie was smart though. She wouldn’t say anything to Don and risk getting worse from Bernice. This wasn’t the first time one of her patients had a brat to deal with.

Bernice Baxter was a bitch.

“Next, we will have our winners Spin the Wheel after these messages from our sponsors!” Drew Carey bellowed in the background.

Don Witherspoon burst in out of breath through the kitchen door. The clock on the stove said 8:26 AM.

He was covered in sweat and his beige uniform had several patches of sweat.

“I am so so sorry, Ms. Baxter!” he apologized.

“No more.” She shook her head. “I am quitting. Not only are you late again, but your daughter kicked me this morning! And on top of that, I am going to be stuck on the 202 an extra hour due to the morning traffic! Too much. I am done!”

She’d practiced the speech in her head almost a dozen times while waiting. He had no one else to go to. Timing was critical and finally she had enough to threaten to quit… Unless he offered her more money. She had him by what her late husband, Eddie, would have called “the short hairs”.

Swiping her big green purse from the table, she brushed past him and out the door toward her rusting 2006 Chevy Impala parked on the street.

He raced after her, begging for another shot. She made him sweat until she reached for her car door handle. Finally turning to face him, she said, “The only way I can put up with Shellie and your mother will be if you pay me an extra $2 an hour. NO LESS!”

Don blanched then sagged in defeat, nodding his head in agreement. “I will have a talk with Shellie, I promise. Can you come by tomorrow? The register locked up today and I will have to go into the laundromat early tonight to balance out the drawer. Please?”

“Fine.” She didn’t care about the extra time tonight. Her victory elation overshadowed the inconvenience.

As she drove away she watched him in her rearview mirror. “Dumbass!” She laughed, heading for the freeway.

At 9:12 AM, Bernice pulled out from the onramp and merged into the rush hour crowd.

It was already hot.  The radio stated it was nearing 96 degrees. She frowned and punched the button, looking for a country music station.

At 9:16 AM, the Impala lurched forward and sputtered as if it had a gas hiccup.

“What the hell?” she shrieked. However, the car continued to race along at 58 mph. There were no red engine lights or any other dashboard signals to account for it.

“I just got this damn thing an oil ch—” The wheel yanked to the right on its own and the car brakes plunged to the floor by themselves.

Car horns blared, and deafening tire screeches surrounded her. The Impala skewed to a parked position in the fast lane. Cars whizzed by, narrowly avoiding her.

Bernice screamed and smashed her foot on the gas to try to get the car moving again.

Nothing…

“Oh, dear lord!” She mouthed the words as she tried the door handle. Intense terror stole her breath away.

The door wouldn’t open.  All the doors were locked.

The Impala growled and revved fiercely as if it had a mind of its own.

Bernice screamed again as the car ripped across the three lanes of oncoming traffic. It barreled through the cement barrier.  Flung forward, she broke her sternum on the steering wheel at the same time the air bag deployed.

At 9:17 AM Bernice Baxter’s car nosedived through the air, plunging over eighty feet onto the traffic below.

The airbag prevented her from seeing the impact of her car as it plowed through the front cab of a grey transport bus. A bus headed for the downtown Phoenix Jail.

Bernice Baxter blinked for the last time as her eyes filled with blood. She hung against the bus’s hood, partially out of her shattered driver’s side window. The back door of the bus burst open and men clad in orange jumpsuits fled down the freeway ramp.

Flames flickered and scalded her pulped legs as engine oil and fluids flooded the ground.  Her skin darkened, and her flesh sizzled like bacon.

She didn’t feel the heat or the pain.

Bernice Baxter would never see her extorted raise.

Bernice Baxter finally ceased being a bitch.

***

At 9:20 AM as Don Witherspoon scolded his daughter on how her abusive behavior had cost him, a miniature, green light on her laptop blinked three times in rapid succession.

A fire engine horn blast followed by the sounds of several wailing police cars could be heard somewhere north of their house. Neither of them noticed nor heard the emergency sirens. Nor did they notice the single bleep and soft hum of files downloading onto Shellie’s laptop.

INDIE FANTASY BOOK GIVEAWAY… –Derek Barton

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