Chest of Bone
The word “former” sucks. Former friend. Former lover. Former astronaut. Former anything implies that the past was better than the now.
I don’t believe that. All you have is now, and maybe a few tomorrows… if you’re lucky.
Destined for the Feed and Seed, I turned from pondering “big thoughts” and flicked on my audiobook as my Tahoe sped down Route 202 in Midborough. Stark and lonely in its winter cloak, the road was lined with snow-dusted pines, frozen marsh, and the occasional house. As I crested the rise of the small hill, something down below prowled onto the pavement. And sat. In the middle of the road. I pressed the brake on the downslope, slowed the truck.
I squinted into the bright morning sun. What the hell?
A huge black cat sat smack on the double yellow line where the road leveled off. Black cats were bad luck.
And this black cat was the size of a Harley. It was beyond bad luck. It was scary as shit. It also made me question my sanity.
I’d been doing that a lot lately, the sanity thing, I mean.
From twenty feet away, the cat lunged, a blur, landing inches from my bumper.
I jerked the wheel, careened off the road toward the snowy pines to avoid hitting the humongous black panther that shouldn’t exist in any reality, no less New Hampshire’s. I flung my sanity worries aside. If I crashed into the fast approaching pine tree, the point would be moot.
Splatting into a tree… I’d never show Dave my pink-tipped blond spikes… never watch his new mentalism effect…never read that book he’d promised me… never again see him. My mentor was “off,” something bad going on with him. If the meeting of tree and me happened, I’d never…
My Tahoe bounced, tipped sideways, and went airborne. The landing thud shook my bones. I slammed the gas, yanked right, avoided an alder stand. And that ginormous pine, looming closer and closer and…
I white-knuckled the steering wheel and braced for impact.
Savage anguish lanced through me, a sadist rearranging my atoms. Razors slicing my skin over and over.
No. No. No. Not now… not…
Blind. Blind. Blind. Can’t see, can’t hear, can’t think.
Tried to mantra my way to sanity.
Yeah, well, that didn’t work.
Being an FBI interrogator sometimes sucked. Being an empath sometimes sucked worse.
Frost iced my skull, my face, my mind, my body.
I blacked out.
* * *
I awakened. My head rested on my hands, which curled around the steering wheel. I blinked twice. Vision, check. Fingers and toes, check. Torso and legs, check. Brain, whatever.
The world refocused, a lens iris expanding. The truck sat in the middle of a frozen marsh, banded on three sides by pine, spruce and birch. I was uninjured, the truck, pristine.
I turned the ignition, and the Tahoe purred to life.
Fucking A. What the hell had just…
Screw it. I was alive. The truck was functional.
My phone read… Damn, Dave’s store had been open for an hour. I was late.
The day had grown cloudy by the time I pulled into the Midborough Feed and Seed. In the ashen light, shadows of marsh, meadow, and pine surrounded the large blue building shaped like a U, its “Blue Seal” banner snapping in the wind. No sign of any customers. Bonus. I’d have more time with Dave—mentor, my friend, and the only father figure I’d ever had. If anyone could make sense of my latest “adventure,” Dave could.
Except a Closed sign hung inside the door. And no twin mutts’ noses pressed the glass, awaiting the next exciting arrival.
A terrible wrongness leeched across my skin, coating me like boggy sludge. I jerked the car’s door handle.
You’re too impulsive. Caution. Always. My foster mother Bernadette’s words, carved on my soul.
They’d saved me more than once.
I phoned the store. The machine picked up, called Dave’s home, hoped he hadn’t had to close because of another problem with his teenage daughter, Lulu.
No joy on the home machine, either.
I slipped my Glock from its shoulder holster, slid from the truck and padded to the door. I listened, massaged my clammy skin. Silence. I pushed down the handle—locked—thumbed through my keyring, found the right one, unlocked the door. I eased it open.
Gun in my two-handed grip, barrel pointed dead ahead, I pressed my back to the wall. Inside, that oily wrongness increased. A grim ugliness pervaded the place, tendrils of it, like dirty smoke, coming from the sales counter that divided the store, maybe thirty feet away. And that smell.
Rotted geraniums and cat urine. Vile. I swallowed, hard.
If anyone hurt Dave, they were toast. I mean, seriously charcoaled briquettes. He was fine, knew how to shoot a gun, right? But how well? How good was his aim?
Someone had moved a display, blocking the aisle. I pushed my senses to feel if anyone else was here and caught a faint echo of… pain.
Crouched low, I moved to my left, up an aisle flanked by display shelves. I heard nothing, until…
A ragged whisper. Dave.
I jerked toward the sound, needed to dash. Bernadette’s wall of caution slammed into me. I moved silent and smooth down the aisle, toward the counter, toward…
Dave. His back against the counter, legs sprawled. I ran.
Stumbled to a halt, vision blurred. What…? Red? A Rorschach of red. On Dave, the floor, the back of the counter. Legs, torso, arms, face, coated in blood. Shining. Glistening.
I strangled my scream and fell to my knees beside him.
Eyes swollen shut, breathing shallow. Somewhere under all that blood, naked but for a pair of red-soaked boxers…
“Dave,” I said, tone hushed.
Chapter Two opens with Clea's final conversation with her mentor, Dave. Bad stuff happens, but good stuff, too. And, boy, does Clea's world shift on its axis. She soon meets the mysterious James Larrimer, and she must "Acknowledge and Accept" a fierce challenge.
I hope you're as excited about reading Chest of Bone as I was when I wrote it.