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Chapter 16

“Upsy daisy,” I said, calling my bike to the surface. I heard a slight gasp from Dru. I turned around with a smile on my face. Dru’s eyes raced back and forth, I think she was wondering where the hidden mirrors were. I didn’t take the time to explain it to her. I gave her some partial truth. “It’s a hidden storage area; a voice activated hidden storage area.” That was believable, right?

I gave her my only helmet as she hopped on without question. I fired the bike up and streamlined our way into the grayish dusk of the late afternoon.

She instinctively gripped me around my waist and I instinctively grinned. It felt nice. We raced down to the district and parked near the same spot I had the day prior.

“Stay,” I told my bike. It listened as usual. Dru looked at me like I was crazy; I didn’t bother to explain it to her. I hoped something would come up so I could show her my capabilities, instead of telling her. It would be easier that way.

We walked to the entrance of Night Shade and stared at the line extending around the corner. We didn’t have much time to begin with, let alone waste standing in a line with a hoard of gelled haired too much cologne wearing youngsters.

The bouncer blocking the door wore a simple black shirt, stretched beyond its physical limits, with the word ‘Security’ on the front. He was tall, dark and extremely muscular. He represented the standard type of person that worked in this line. We headed to the front of the line and I pulled a $50 from my pocket, hid it in my palm, and gave the brawny man a handshake.

He pulled the rope back and let us enter, much to the distaste of the crowd. It’s amazing what a simple piece of paper could do.

The club was loud.

The club was extremely loud.

Was I too old for this scene already?

There was a bar to the right as soon as you walked in. Three bartenders hustled back and forth but there were far too many drinkers than there were people who could help them.

The wait would have been agonizing for anyone with a real need to drink. You would wait twenty minutes for a drink and pay $12 for a draft beer, it’s easier to get drunk at home and play video games online. Online the people you cuss at have no idea who you are; it’s a win, win.

The lights flashed to the beat of the music. There was an outdoor patio on the other end of the building for the smokers. They huddled together, shoulder to shoulder. Not only were they smoking their own cigarettes, but they were also second-hand smoking everyone else’s, doubling the pleasure.

Lines everywhere for everything: the bathroom, the secondary bar outside, and even the DJ’s booth–It’s hard to get your groove on if the right jam wasn’t playing through the speakers.

Dru had a picture of her brother with her and we decided that the bar would be the best place to start; bartenders are the Wikipedia of the socialite world.

The wait had to be long because there was a line about 5 deep at the bar. Oddly enough it had only felt like a minute, the combination of the lights flashing and the music thumping had put both of us in a trance. This place should come with a warning: If you have history of seizures or heart attacks please do not enter.

A male, younger than me, very tan, and sporting a million dollar smile finally came over to help us.

“Good evening you two, what can I get you to drink?” He asked a little hurried but understandably so.

Dru took the lead, pulling the picture from her sweatshirt.

“Do you remember seeing this person?” She asked thrusting the picture close to the man’s face.

“Yea, Webb, he comes here all the time.”

“You mean he came here all of the time,” she said with uncontrolled emotion.

“Right, sorry about that,” he said.

It was my turn. Dru didn’t need to get too emotional, too soon. She pulled her arm away from the bartender and put the picture back into her pocket.

“Did you know Webb personally?” I asked.

“I knew him, yea. He would come in here with Deals a couple times a week.”

The bartender started looking around, tapping his fingers on the bar like he was getting impatient. The longer we talked to him the more money he was losing.

“One last question, was there anything unusual about the night he was shot? Do you remember an argument, new people around him, or anything like that?”

His eyes were vacant for a second or two. He was trying to replay the night in his mind. They came back into focus and he answered.

“Actually, yes, there was something a little different. When he came in he was with Deals and no one else. When they left, Webb had a blonde woman underneath his arm. She wasn’t a regular, but she looked expensive. Sorry you two but if you aren’t ordering a drink I need to get going.”

The bartender left and hurried to the other end of the bar. He started waiting on a big group of college students. Each student wore something glowing around their neck, wrist, and pretty much anywhere else. I didn’t get it.

We shoved our way through the crowds and made our way out of the front entrance, back to the street. It was full dark by now and the streets were getting crowded. A group of cross dressers were getting out of a taxi across the street, three business men were walking into a strip club called Night Stories, and many other types of people were going in many other directions. There’s everything for everyone here. And then some.

We walked anonymously towards my bike, focusing on our next step. We still had no idea what our next step should or would be.

“What did he mean when he said she looked expensive?” Dru asked breaking our silence.

I cleared my throat, not because there was something in their but because of the topic at hand. I knew what the bartender meant; I had hoped she did too because I didn’t want to have to explain it to her.

“Maybe she was just very pretty. Your bro looks like he could’ve landed any girl he wanted. He had money to throw around and good looks. What else could a woman want?”

“I guess so. I don’t think that’s what the bartender was implying. Do you think he meant she was a…a hooker?” She asked me, keeping on the one topic I wanted to stop talking about.

“Umm, yea. I’m pretty sure that’s what he meant. Sorry, you had to find out like that.”

“I’m not sorry,” she said. “He’s a good guy but everyone has their faults. I’ve always known he was a bit of a whore, a womanizer if you will. I never thought he would need to pay for it. I guess having more money could change a person like that.” She spoke very easy about the subject, something I wasn’t capable of.

We continued to my bike, once again in silence.

We were in eye-shot of our way home and slowly, at the end of the block, two, dark SUV’s moved like shadows out of the corner of my eye. They looked like gleaming eyes of a two-headed monster as they approached.

“What kind of shoes do you have on?” I quickly asked Dru as I turned toward her in a panic.

“Cross-trainers, why?”

“I wanted to know how fast we would be able to move.”

I grabbed her by the arm and headed back the way we came. The SUV’s roared to life speeding after us.

“Why are we running?” Dru asked in between breaths.

Before I could answer her, gunfire erupted. Guns were extended through the rolled down windows and bright flashes burst out. I wished they were just camera flashes; the paparazzi getting a close up of yours truly, but they were not. They were flashes of death–the bright light before the end. But I wouldn’t be so willing to walk into these lights.

 

Chapter 17

Errant shots kept ringing out, whistling by us as we zigzagged through the street. One of the cross dressers with high the super high heels who I saw getting out of the cab earlier went down in a heap. The pooling blood matched his/her sequined dress as it pooled around the lifeless body.

We needed to get off of the main street. I couldn’t have any more innocent people suffer because of my unwillingness to die. Even in my time of distress I put others before me; I hoped that didn’t get me killed one day.

Still holding onto Dru’s hand I turned right, down a side street. The massive SUV’s wouldn’t be able to fit through here. I wanted it to be enough of an inconvenience that they would give their pursuit up.

I was partially right; the trucks did stop, but instead of giving up the men leapt out and continued their chase on foot.

Six men jumped out in all. They were dressed in their fanciest Kevlar vest’s and night vision scopes on their pristine assault rifles. We continued our running and dodging techniques that had worked so far to avoid the constant spray of bullets.

“Where are we going?” Dru asked hastily.

“Wherever people aren’t shooting at us.”

We turned down side streets and kept moving forward. Behind us, our pursuers did the same. They couldn’t close too much distance but our stamina was beginning to slowly fade. Dru was in remarkable shape. If we lived through this maybe we could go running together. I needed to get back into shape. I have as much stamina as what I imagine a sloth possessed.

I was done dodging bullets: mentally and physically. I was ready to do something a little more my speed; something a little more destructive. Dru and I made it to the end of a backstreet.

“Get behind that dumpster and stay there.”

“Why?” She asked.”

“Because–I’m done running.”

I don’t know if it was because I wanted to impress Dru or because if I had to run any farther my heart would burst.

I scurried up a fire escape and dashed across the roof. The men behind us hadn’t made it to the street we were on yet. They were taking their time, surveying the alley, moving forward cautiously. They moved like a well trained assault team.

I was running as fast as I could. Considering I was already fatigued, my speed was a little slower than I would’ve liked. So I wasn’t done running altogether; I was just done running away. I made it to the fire escape at the other end of the building. It would drop me directly behind the gunmen.

I quietly stepped down the metal steps, which was harder to do than I would’ve thought. The cold steel echoed with the slightest of my movements. I managed to drop down to the street, behind the team, and continued moving forward, staying in the shadows.

Every step I had taken I made good use of. I was gathered my energy as I ran. I built up a healthy amount, holding it directly under the surface, ready to break through at my command.

The alley-way wasn’t even big enough for one car. It was lined with trash of all kinds. Broken bottles, torn bags, and what looked like urine stains decorated the alley. I forced myself to ignore the smell and tried breathing through my mouth. There would be nothing good to come from me throwing up right now. I readied my strength and focused my anger. I tip-toed closer to the group. Shhh, Wes, shhh.

I formed the blast in my mind, shaping it to the alley. It was like the alley was one big giant mold, and I used that, filling it with my power. Before the last man in line turned around, I unleashed my energy in an unseen blast of power; it swept through them…all of them. They flew in every direction, landing hard on the asphalt below. I rushed over to each of them making sure they were no danger to Dru or me. One guy, looking just like all of the rest, decided he wasn’t done fighting. I grabbed his rifle and hit him in the side of his face with the butt of the gun.

“That’ll leave a wicked bruise.”

Now there were new blood stains to go with the urine and others in the surrounding area.

The point man stirred but posed no danger. I strolled over to him; he was the only conscious one left. “Who do you work for?” I asked. It was a simple question and the easiest one to come up with.

He took in a deep breath and didn’t answer me. Dru had come out of her hiding place by now, her mouth wide. She should’ve believed me. There was no magic trick to explain what had just happened. She had been by my side when I asked the man the very easy question. Yet, he didn’t answer.

“It looks like he doesn’t want to talk Dru. What do you think about that?”

She didn’t think very much of it at all. She crouched down in a judo position and squared herself to her target. She let loose with a confident and practiced strike. Simply put, she kicked the shit out of his ribs. I need to stop underestimating her. At every turn she has been more than capable of handling herself.

“Easy lady, we need him to speak. He needs to be able to breathe.” I told her. I was secretly smiling; it was fun to see a woman of such beauty kicking the crap out of her would-be-assassin. She wasn’t as vulnerable as she looked. She had punched me already and now she was stomping on some thug-for-hire. It was easy to say I liked the way she worked.

“Pi…rell..iii,” he answered before he passed out. Of course that’s what he said, why wouldn’t he. Jace was everywhere but nowhere to be found. He was a ghost in my life and haunted my dreams.

“Who’s Pirelli?” Dru asked.

“He’s the puppeteer.”

 

Chapter 18

We left the brute squad to bask in their pain, making our way back to my bike as carefully as possible. There was a trail of bullet holes and the now cooling body of that poor cross dresser that would’ve lead the police to yours truly. I could already hear the sirens in the distance. There wasn’t much time to get out of here. We kept to the back streets and in the shadows. I grabbed Dru by her hand and held it tight, not for any reason in particular, but the contact of our skin, palm in palm, erased some of the tension that had been piling on me. Everybody has their breaking point, even me.

My bike was, as we had left it, shining in its two-wheeled glory.

We rode back to my palace in silence. Only the cold breeze lashing out at us as we sliced our way through the night air. Dru gripped me even tighter than before; I liked that.

We pulled in behind the church and both hopped off. I set my bike over its resting place and murmured aloud, “Sleep”. And it did. The earth swallowed it whole.

Dru looked on, still astonished or shocked by everything she’s seen. Magic was and is very real and it’s much more than cheap card entertainment and having your mind freaked.

I made sure to walk ahead of her as we went through the back door. I let the securities down silently and Dru remained unaware of how dangerous my defenses really were.

Gizmo met us as we entered the great hall. It was the first time he had ever done that. He usually met me at the stairs, but I knew he was there for Dru. You think that I would get the extra love because I feed him and give him a whole side of a comfy bed. But no, he was a ladies dog, and I would never be able to change that.

I don’t think I’m too different than Gizmo; a lady around definitely changed the status quo.

We walked to the kitchen and Dru sat down by the table.

“If you’re hungry I have some burgers, chicken nuggets, and some corn dogs. But they’re all vegetarian.”

“Really? I would not have guessed that about you. I can’t say I’ve tried too much of that stuff. But whatever you’re having will be fine,” she replied. Her elbows rested on the table, her face resting in the palms of her hands. I set a cup of water by her before putting a pile of nuggets in the toaster oven.

I downed a glass of water myself before popping open a soda. I just wanted to get it out of the way so I could have something with sugar in it.

“I like ketchup with my nuggets, what do you like?” I asked. “I also have ranch and BBQ sauce.”

I don’t think she was paying any attention to me or to anything else for that matter. Her face was still buried in her hands.

I opened the mini-oven and retrieved our dinner. I piled them on to a single paper plate and set them in the middle of the table. I opened another bag on the counter and pulled out two treats for Gizmo.

“Here,” I said to Dru, “do you want to make Gizmo an even happier puppy?” I held my hand with the treats out to her.

She looked up at me, with her mascara running down both sides of her face. I handed her the two treats. I left the room and headed to the bathroom two doors down. I grabbed a handful of tissue and headed back to the kitchen where I found Gizmo chomping enthusiastically and Dru giving him a simple smile. I handed her the tissue and sat down at the table, ready to eat.

I had already placed two paper plates down and with them, all of the dipping sauces I could find. She never answered me.

She took a bite out of a chicken nugget and set it down, looking lost in her thoughts again.

“What’s on your mind?” I asked her in between bites.

“Everything and nothing,” she replied. “The fact that I was shot at tonight and chased down the streets; my brother is all but dead; and the only thing we learned tonight was he left with a hooker on his arm.”

“I think the call girl is a more important fact than you think. There are ways to figure out where she worked. Everyone belongs to somebody,” I told her, eager to keep hope alive in her broken heart. “We weren’t shot at for asking a bartender some questions. We were shot at because someone thinks we know something. Your brother was targeted because he might’ve actually known something.”

We wrapped up our dinner in silence. Dru ate the one nugget and sipped her water. I finished the plate and my soda. I cleaned what little mess there was and opened my freezer pulling out the bottle of vodka that I always kept in stock. I slapped two shot glasses on the table and poured each of us a shot.

I picked up my glass and raised it, Dru followed my lead.

“To finding a working girl and putting Matt at peace.”

We drank the elixir together. Dru sighed heavily afterwards. It was getting pretty late. We were both beat. Watching someone die as you run from a barrage of bullets could have that effect on you.

“It’s late, Dru. We’ve earned a good night’s sleep,” I told her. “Please, stay in my room it’s comfy, and Gizmo will be there to protect you.” He would protect her but he wouldn’t need to. The defenses of this building were more than capable of dealing with most anything anyone could throw at it.

“That’s awfully sweet of you but I’ll go home and stay in my own bed. I know in a short time that we’ve been through a lot. But I don’t think sleeping here is necessary.”

I stared at her with an even expression set on my face.

“It wasn’t a question. The people who came after us today know who you are by now. I’m not taking the risk of you going home and being ambushed,” I said firmly.

“I don’t get a say in this?” She asked with her hands on her hips.

“No, I’m afraid not.” I motioned her to my room and she gave in. I pulled out a clean fleece blanket and a clean pillow case out of my closet. I changed the case and threw the clean blanket on top of the black comforter. I couldn’t remember the last time I had it washed. It’s not cheap to get a velvet comforter dry-cleaned.

“The bathroom is the second door after the kitchen. And please, don’t go out any of the doors leading outside. I’ve set the alarm already. Very bad things would come from that.”

“So, I’m your prisoner?”

“No, you’re my pro-tec-tee, there’s a difference. Please don’t go out, it’s very important. There are a lot of awful people out there, and they don’t like me very much and because of that I take my security very serious. So…no sleep walking,” I said. “Do we understand?”

She probably wanted to put up more of a fight, on principles alone, but if she was like me she was tired. I hadn’t led her astray as of yet. There wasn’t any reason for her not to trust me

Her shoulders slumped and she shuffled into the room. In the short time we had known each other we had been through hell and trust was the only thing you can lean on in situations like these. There’s nothing like being chased and shot at to bring two people close.

I left my room with Dru and Gizmo tucked into bed. And of course Cy, the one eyed teddy bear, and the giant tennis ball were there too. I left the hall light on in case she needed to get out of bed; I didn’t want her to stumble down the stairs in the middle of the night. That was one reason, the other being if she was fumbling around in the dark it could wake me up and that wouldn’t be a good thing either.

Chapter 10

I shoved my skull key into the ignition, fired up the bike, and sped off down the street. Very few street lamps still illuminated this road. It gave the street an unnaturally dark feeling. It felt like I was in the woods or on a mountain side road that had no electricity. I felt all alone with nothing to guide me. It was spooky. The only light I could make out was coming from off in the distance, from the Neon District. They were spotlights shining from the heart of it all, the long arm of seduction.

I parked my bike on the street a few stores up from the restaurant. I pulled the key out of the ignition and murmured aloud, “Stay.” The bike had a different theft deterrent than the church’s door. It was simple really. When the key was out there was no way to start it. You couldn’t hot wire it, you couldn’t break the steering lock, and you couldn’t push it. I gave the bike a little more help when I worked up an enchantment to coincide with the anti-theft devices. It worked like the others. When the key wasn’t in place the bike couldn’t be picked up or moved in any way. It was the opposite of anti-gravity. You could have a crane intended for building bridges and sky-scrapers and you still wouldn’t be able to lift this bike. I left knowing when I returned my transportation would be waiting for me, in the same place, and exactly how I left it.

The neon lights highlighted the stragglers as they staggered out of the various places, trying to find their way home. It looked like they had made an unwise decision to have that one more round and they were paying for it. Cabbies lurked near by, coming and going with precision, darting between other cars and, on a far too often occasion, people. They staked out the hottest clubs and patiently waited for the last call; their meters were always running.

I found the entrance to Forever Dark…or Void of Light…or whatever the name was for the restaurant-bar-club-brothel-drug den I had finally arrived at. I tried the door and it was locked, the open sign had already been turned off. I started to politely knock when I remembered why I had come here to begin with…noise, and lots of it.

With my left hand balled into a fist, in my mind I imagined spikes six inches long coming from the end of it. I then pushed my will, my power down my arm and into the steel door. It was as easy as punching through a wet paper towel. The hardened door ripped from its hinges taking the coat rack with it. It slid across the tiled floor, settling 30 feet away. Now, that was more my style.

A worker came running out of the kitchen and into the waiting area to see what had made such a noise. I stood in the empty doorway marveling at the impressive work I had just done.

“What the heck happened?” The kid asked.

“I’m sorry,” as I spoke, I looked at the kids work attire and found his name tag, “Chris, but the door was sticking when I tried to open it. I thought it was a heavy door, so I gave it a little nudge.” I threw my hands in disbelief, it was my, I was just as surprised as him, look.

He looked bewildered, bright eyed and all. His mind was frantically racing, trying to come up with a logical explanation for the door being 30 feet from where it normally hung. The kid was the definition of gawky to me with his skinny body framed with his red hair, his slouched posture and his un-tucked shirt.

“How do you know my name?” He asked with a touch of squeakiness in his voice.

Ha. Poor kid was obviously tired and rightfully so; it was almost 5am. Either he was at the end of his shift or at the beginning of it; either way he seemed a little off his game. I’d better take it easy on him, he didn’t do anything wrong. He shouldn’t have been the one to deal with me.

“You’re wearing a name tag, Chris.” He looked down to confirm what I had told him. “I’m looking for the owner. I was hoping to catch him on his way out. Is he available?”

“I’ve never met the owner. I wouldn’t be able to tell you who he was if he was standing right in front of me.”

I exhaled ever so slowly, frustrated with life at the moment.

“Is there someone else here that could help us?”

The kid was thinking awfully hard for such a simple question. Maybe I gave him too much credit earlier, maybe this was him at his best.

“I dunno man, I just clean after closing.”

“Don’t worry about it, Chris. I’ll come back at a more appropriate time.”

“I can leave a note or something, you know, try to get a message to the manager,” he said, doing his all to help.

“Do you have a marker or sharpie…or perhaps a crayon?” I asked.

He dug around in his pockets, but to no avail. He spotted something near him behind the counter, grabbed it and handed it to me. It was a red sharpie…perfect.

The door, mangled on the ground looked like a pup tent. I used big, bold, block letters to write a note on the door, making sure they would know it was from me.

Wes was here

It was simple, effective, and juvenile. I liked it.

I tossed the sharpie back to Chris and with a bounce in my step I made my way to the empty doorframe. It’s the little things that kept me going.

“Lay off the drugs Chris, you’ll need all the brain cells you can muster.”

I left the restaurant, pretending to open the door as I stepped through the empty threshold. The sun had started to show itself in the east. It was still more-dark than light but then again this town had always been that way. 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 11

The ride home was cool and refreshing. It felt good to do some damage. It had been a while since the last time I was able to destruct property like that. I parked my beautiful bike in its plot, said good-bye, and it disappeared back into the earth. I lumbered up the three flights of stairs and hugged my terrier good-night. I passed out. No dreams, only the passing of time.

I woke up refreshed and strangely happy. I went to the kitchen and poured out a delicious cup of coffee–extra creamer. I always make my coffee in the evening and have it on a timer for noon the next day. Even if it wasn’t that late of a night, coffee would always be good at noon.

Gizmo received fresh water and a cup of food. We would have to go out back in a little bit but for now he looked content in our “morning” routine. I turned the TV on and flipped to the local news channel…nothing. I guess it’s a good thing that I didn’t make the news, but it would’ve been cool if one time I could be a side story or something. I should think of a pseudonym, you know a code name I could go by. Rick Deckard could work, yeah I like that one. I may need a good alias someday and that one would do fine.

I feel like I wasted a day. I’ve gone nowhere. Besides some light vandalism, I was still at the beginning with nothing to show for it. Now, my helpy-helper, Harry, has lost his cool and Eddie is–well Eddie is a dick. Speaking of Eddie I should go play my N64; Bond, James Bond–007. Top ten games of all time, all platforms included. No, no, I can’t be distracted; perseverance, dedication that’s me.

My left arm twitched. It was never a good thing.

Bang, bang, bang. The front doors of the church echoed throughout my home. Crap, I knew I was in too good of a mood.

I took my time going down the stairs, waking up, enjoying my coffee.

Bang, bang, bang. The front doors shook a second time.

I walked even slower, my guard dog at my side.

I cracked the door slowly, two police-people stood there impatiently. An annoyed look on their faces as I opened the doors fully, greeting them in my PJ’s which were the same clothes I wore earlier that morning, minus the coat and shoes. I hadn’t even had a chance to brush my fangs yet.

“Good morning Officers or should I say good afternoon,” I said greeting them with as much politeness as I could.

“Sir, we’re responding to an incident that happened earlier this morning. It took place at…” he flipped open his little notebook, “the restaurant, Eternal Night.”

“Can’t say I know what you’re talking about. I was here asleep. What happened? I hope there wasn’t another shooting. I saw that the other night on the news. It’s terrible, things like that happening in our great valley.”

The officers exchanged a glance. I don’t think they believed me.

“We have reason to think you were there…” he checked his notebook again, “around 5am. We have a witness saying a man in a black coat, that fits your description, was there. And his name is Wes.”

Before I could make up some lie, the officer’s radio went off; it sounded important. There was something about a high speed pursuit on the southern end of town; I didn’t know all the cop codes, but they looked fired up.

“Sir, we will be back at some point to finish this conversation.”

That’s all he said and both of them went to their cruiser and left, quickly and abruptly.

Well…shit. Am I the only Wes in this town or what? I closed and locked the front doors with my eight foot oak lock. It felt like I was securing a castle and that was fine by me.

The police had to be randomly going to people named Wes in a ten block radius or something. They were grasping at straws, right? Admittedly, it was a little nerve racking to think that they might come back, but my little shenanigans should fall between the cracks. No one was hurt and a door was broken; no big deal, right? Yet, I still didn’t make the news. I felt like punching myself in the face for using my real name when I ordered power and water and all that stuff for the homestead. I should have used an alias. Rick Deckard, how may I help you? The restaurant probably had to file a police report to get the insurance to cover the damages. I wish that little red-haired kid kept his mouth shut. I thought I was pretty nice to him overall. I gave him a story to tell all his ginger friends. If anything, I helped his life; a good story can do wonders for your reputation. Embellish a little here or there and say I tried to punch him, but he blocked it and threw me to the ground and I went off crying. I wouldn’t have minded if he helped himself.

I’m glad it was past noon. I needed an adult beverage.

On your mark, get set, and go.

Gizmo took the early lead up the stairs, but I was right on his stubby tail. We rounded the second floor platform neck and neck. I abruptly stopped half way up the third flight of stairs, turning to head back down. Gizmo stopped and headed back towards me–where I went he would follow. I quickly darted back up the stairs and passed him with a juvenile cry of joy. One word described how I felt…winning.

We made it back to our room; Gizmo sulking only a little bit. I collapsed in my recliner in the corner as if someone pulled all my bones out of my body at once. I had to get back to the beginning, the basics of the investigation. I started with the newspaper from the morning after the shootings. The paper, Heretic Herald, gave the shootings a front page spread. Usually you would find it on the back side of the page. It must’ve been a slow news day.

Two individuals, both men, were gunned down outside of a local nightclub. Around 2am the partiers exited the building and were waiting for a taxi. A black SUV with tinted windows pulled up. Two masked people leaned out and opened fire. The club, Night Shade, known for keeping the inside barely visible, declined to answer any of our questions. The club has resumed its normal operating hours after the police finished their investigation of the crime scene. One of the men, David “Deals” Hester, a local drug runner and dealer died on the scene. The other victim, N other information could be given at this time. The authorities are awaiting the contact of any family members before they are able do anything else. David is survived by his grandmother Pearl whom he still lived with. Anyone with any information please call the H.V.P.D. @ 1-555-276-6533.

I put the paper down. I felt a slight frown surfacing. I suppose it wouldn’t hurt anything to go by the club. Going to the scene of the crime is generally a useful tool for a private investigator. But, I’m not really a private investigator. There was a problem with that idea though. Jace’s place was only a block away from the club and though I’m not scared of him in general, I shouldn’t draw any more attention to my unforgettable face. I felt like I was in the same place as before. I was in that proverbial tar pit watching the world change as I became a skeleton of my former self. Yikes, that was a little dreary even by my standards. It must be lunch time.

My lunch: a PB & J sandwich on buttermilk bread, an apple, pretzel sticks, and a glass of water to wash it all down. It was better than it sounded. I ended up adding some peanut butter to the apples as well. Gizmo received a couple treats, but the bag was nearly empty. A trip to the pet store was due; he needed to relieve himself anyway.

The sun still tried to make itself visible through the clouds as we stepped out back, but like before the light couldn’t find its way through. It was a typical afternoon here.  The walk to the pet shop took 4 minutes on average. It’s quick and short enough that I didn’t complain. The pup produces a lot of strength within his little frame, pulling me the whole way. I’m not gonna complain about it, he saves me from using too much energy. I wouldn’t want to break a sweat.

Before us, stood a two story brick building with a small sign, handwritten with the name of the store, Pets are People Too. In between two windows, a single glass door held another sign declaring it open. Gizmo pulled us in.

There wasn’t another soul present except for the owner, Charles, a man in his late 70’s. He had thin white hair covering 60% of the area that it should’ve covered. His light brown sweater vest screamed old man and he wore it proudly. He was doing today’s crossword. He was always doing the daily crossword. His glasses rested on the tip of his nose, but not to worry, his slender, silver chain attached to each ear piece would prevent any damage being done if they were to fall. His trusty companion Charge: an enormous, massive, beast of a dog, rested by his side. The bull mastiff, one of the largest breed of dogs, looked nearly as old as Charles. Don’t let his lethargic appearance fool you, Gizmo would attest to that. He learned a very valuable lesson one day: never wake a sleeping bear or in his case a bull mastiff.

Charles greeted us with a genuine smile, few that had ever been directed towards me, (even though I knew it was mostly meant for Gizmo).

The quaint shop looked out of place in the Valley. It belonged in the country side, off of a dirt road, nestled under a sycamore tree. Charles exuded that country, grandfather appeal.

The pet store never sold any pets, it only provided you with the tools and supplies to take care of the ones you already had. Charles did have a fish tank in the middle of the shop with a school of fish in it: a white angel fish, many goldfish, guppies, and a clown fish like ‘Nemo’. These fish were not for sale, this was Charles personal tank.

An aisle on each side of the tank held the various dog and cat supplies. One of the walls was dedicated for fish and the other for rabbits and various vermin. The back aisle had been dedicated to our products. It was our very own special wall.

“Good afternoon Charles, how are you doing today?”

“Hello Gizmo. Hello Wes. I am doing as well as the last time I suppose. I’m still able to get up every morning, open the doors, and go about my business.”

“The little tyke here ran out of treats. Are they still on the back wall?” I asked knowing the answer. “His puppy chow should still have over a week left, so only the treats for today.”

“He looks a little portly, maybe you’ve been giving him too many of those treats. And yes they are on the same wall as last time,” He answered with a smirk.

Gizmo wasn’t portly. He could run circles around any person or any dog for that matter. I have to cheat just to beat him up or down the stairs. And I’m sort of fit.

“Don’t say that Charles. He already has one complex, he doesn’t need another.”

I went over to Charge and gave him some firm pets and how-do-you-do’s before finding my way to the back wall and to the pup’s veggie-friendly treats. Gizmo went to Charge tentatively, giving him a quick lick and a wag of his tail before joining me to pick out his snacks. Last time he had the fake-fish snacks, this time I picked the fake-chicken flavored snacks but the dog in command brought over the bacon flavored snacks. I couldn’t say no, they were shaped like real bacon.

We made our way back to the counter. Charles was still working on the daily crossword. Like I said, he was a typical old man.

“There you go sir, just the snacks.” I said interrupting his concentration.

“Huh? Oh, yes you’re still here. Sorry, today’s questions are harder than usual,” he said motioning to the newspaper.

“What are you stuck on? Maybe this young gun can get his good deed out of the way early today.”

“We’ll see about that, Wes. It’s 12 down. I can’t for the life of me think of the answer.”

“If you think any harder that vein in your forehead may burst, you better relax and let me have a look.”

“Fine, kid, here’s the question,” he said. “The now destroyed home planet of Princess Leia. It’s 8 letters.”

I shook my head and laughed. He pulled one over on me, there wasn’t much else I could’ve done but smiled.

“Good one old man. You got me. If you didn’t want my help you could’ve just said so. I can always help an old lady get through an intersection later or something. I don’t need your help fulfilling my self-appointed daily quota for good deeds.”

“What?” He asked abruptly. “No, that is the question. I’m not trying to trick you,” he said seriously. He looked down his wrinkled nose, “Who is Princess Leia?” He asked pronouncing her name incorrectly.

My jaw dropped. Whatever look I had on my face wouldn’t have been enough to display my shock. Even in his late 70’s he should have known the answer to that question. The original Star Wars movies are the most widely known trilogy of all-time. It hurt me to know there were still people out there that hadn’t experienced the “force”.

“If you really are being serious Charles, the answer is ‘Alderaan’. The home planet of Princess Leia is Alderaan. I would love to go into great detail about the movie but I’m afraid the information would fall on deaf ears.”

“Huh?” He asked turning an ear to me.

“I said, the answ…” he interrupted me before I could finish.

“I know what you said. I heard you loud and clear.” He said with a smile. “Please don’t go on about anything though; I’m too old to learn new things.”

I nodded in agreement. “That’s very true.”

I try to forget how this store stayed open on our desolate street, but if it wasn’t for me our favorite little pet shop would’ve been long gone by now. I only wished that we hadn’t met under such circumstances.

Shortly after I found myself with a dog, I found the store. I started going there almost every day getting something for the puppy. Gizmo was as demanding then as he is now. On one of our daily trips we came in to find Charles behind the counter, but he wasn’t doing the crossword; he was on the ground, bleeding.  It turned out he had been pistol-whipped. The butt of the gun split the middle of his forehead, causing blood to spurt out of the two inch gash. He had been going in and out of unconscious. I remember seeing the faint white coloration of his skull in between the rag changes.

I waited for the paramedics to show up, doing the best I could until they arrived. His dog, Charge, had been locked up in the back room. By the time I let him out the door had all been knocked off of its hinges. Charge had two nails ripped out of his left paw and one out of his right. He never stopped trying to get to Charles, to his family. From that day on nothing would keep Charge away from Charles. I doubt Death himself could.

When Charles returned from the hospital two days later I went over to the store to see if I could help. He gave me the same details as he did two days earlier while we were waiting for the police: two men, both wore masks, one talked with an English accent, and the gun was a revolver—a big one.

The police told him they weren’t very hopeful if no one else were to come forward. The police never particularly cared about this part of the valley; except if someone broke down a door and then left without further incident. If that sort of thing happened they would get that case solved A.S.A.P.

I asked Charles to walk me through the robbery, step by step.

It happened very quickly. They came in waiving the gun, ordering Charles to put Charge in the back room. He did. When he made it back, the one with the English accent smashed the butt of the gun straight down on his head. He fell back behind the counter in a heap on the floor. The other assailant went to the register and hit his hand on the top of it when it stuck halfway open. He snatched the $100 or so that had been in the register. The robber looked down at Charles bleeding and as if he was trying to add lemon juice to his wounds, he ripped the wedding band off of Charles finger.

Charles remembered that the bastard cut himself; an important fact that he hadn’t remembered until that moment. The thief had cut himself hitting the register. Blood…blood was good. I could do something with that.

Magic, energy, aura, or whatever you want to call it, lives inside of everyone. Small, trace amounts in most people but in cases like mine, it thrives and empowers me to be able to do extraordinary things. One of those things is being able to locate anyone, anywhere if provided with a sample of their DNA, their energies fingerprint. And there are no two alike.

I gathered the dried blood from the register and placed it in the middle of my left palm and closed it. I shut my eyes and relaxed, focusing on the energy I felt pulsing on my palm.

It hit me in the face like a freight train. I could see the path this coward had taken to get to the shop. I could’ve seen his whole life if I had wanted to but all I cared about was his location then, right then and there.

He lived close to the shop, within 2 miles. I should’ve taken a minute to think about what I was going to do, but I didn’t. Instead, I made a direct line for the apartment that he was in; the second floor of a three story complex. Shabby and run down but mostly occupied. His name was Scott Miller.

 

 

 

Chapter 12

Apartment 26.

I stared at the mustard-colored paint peeled door. I could feel him in there. I would always be able to feel his breath crawling on my skin if he was anywhere near me. It was the cost of taking his blood. I didn’t knock, I knew he was home. I kicked it in and let my rage wash over me. He sat on his torn couch eating a bowl of fruit loops. Even bad guys liked fruit loops. He was scared and I could feel it. I wasn’t in to torturing people but I knew the longer it took for me to talk it would be like pulling his finger nails off…one…by one.

I waited…and waited some more. I waited until he was prime for what I was about to say.

“You hurt a friend of mine,” I said through clenched teeth. “I don’t have many friends so when something like this happens to one of them I take it very personally.”

“Please, take anything you want, just leave me alone.” He said sinking into his couch, motioning around the apartment, spilling his milk on his already dirty t-shirt.

“Scott, it won’t be that easy. How do I know you won’t be out there tomorrow night? How do I know you will change? There’s only one way I will be sure.”

“I’ll turn myself in man. Call the cops, I’ll confess.”

“Not good enough.”

I closed in on him and grabbed him by the throat with my work hand. I squeezed and he couldn’t do anything about it. Although, it wasn’t for his lack of trying; I was abnormal. I put my mouth as close to his ear as I could and whispered. “I can always find you–remember that.” I lifted him from the floor and threw him against the wall. He landed awkwardly and I heard a snap. He screamed in agony and I didn’t care. His foot pointed in the wrong direction, a moment of satisfaction entered my mind.

“I need you to tell me your partner’s name, Scott. I need to have a conversation with him,” I said, my eyes fixed on his watery ones. “I know he was the one who hit the old man in the skull. The only reason you’re in one piece is because you weren’t.”

Through his tears he answered me.

“I don’t know who he was man. He came to me and asked if I wanted to make an easy $500. All I had to do was help him knock over a pet store. It sounded easy, so I said yes.”

“Why pay you so much? All you stole was a fifth of that and a wedding ring. Speaking of which, where is the ring?” I asked.

He pointed to the top of the T.V. where a tin container sat on top. I went over and lifted the lid. A simple gold ring, dull and dented, rested inside. It hadn’t been forged in Mt. Doom, or meant to rule them all, but it was special to the man who it was taken from. I grabbed it and stuffed it in my front pocket.

“What about the man with the English accent?”

“I don’t know where to find him, I already told you that. All I know is what he called himself.”

“And what was that?”

“King, he’s called King.”

I walked over to him. “You are leaving this valley tonight. Don’t come back. I’ll know if you do, I’ll always know. Every day you stay in my town a new bone of yours will be broken. Every day I will shatter a bone like I was snapping a pencil in two. Today it was your ankle, tomorrow who knows what I will feel like smashing.” I punched him across his temple and grabbed his cell phone. I flipped through it but nothing with the name King; I wrote a few numbers down just in case. I tossed the phone towards Scott, who was “sleeping”, and I strode away. When he woke up he could call for help. I wasn’t going to do it for him.

I returned to Charles and gave him his wedding band back. His wife passed away 8 years earlier from a heart attack. They never had any kids. All he had had in this world had been taken from him, except for his ring. His devotion to her was everlasting. When I gave him his ring back he lost control of all emotions, crying from his beloved’s memory.

I gave him my word that I would be there to protect him and to ensure that nothing like that would never happen to him again. I gave him a vial with a piece of my hair and a piece of my magic sealed inside. It was a way for him to call me if he was ever in need of my assistance again. It worked like a fire alarm: first break glass and alarm will sound. I would know immediately once the vial had been broken. So far there had been no need for such measures.

I’ve still never found who this King character is and it eats away at me every day. There will be a day where we meet and for me that day couldn’t come soon enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 4

Four blocks down and four to go.

Those two gents are exactly what’s wrong with the valley. They’re career criminals; an acceptable way of life in these streets. It was a tough situation for me to be in. I didn’t have a reason to flat out kill those two, granted it had crossed my mind, but I don’t do the cold-blood-murder-thing. If I had “detained” them, I would’ve still had to press charges, make statements, and answer questions. Considering I’m the one that assaulted Tim, proving my side of the story would be a tall order.

Talking to the police wouldn’t be an ideal scenario for me. They aren’t very fond of me at HVPD, we’ve had a few run-ins before and the fact I’m not in jail was some sort of miracle.  They considered me a nuisance and thought I was in the way of real police work; I think they’re delusional.

I really wanted my message to be well received by those two evil-doers. I really didn’t want to see them again. Promises from me are like Bruce Willis in a M. Night Shyamalan movie…Unbreakable. If they didn’t like the taser they sure as hell wouldn’t like what my left arm would’ve brought to the party.

The last leg of my journey went as smooth as the first half should have gone. The closer I came to my destination the number of people grew. Groups of friends headed into the early night laughing, eagerly awaiting for what the night held for them. Nothing in their life would compare to an adventure in the Neon district.  They were all looking for a good time, in a very bad place.

Entering the first block of the district was like stepping into a trashy amusement park. The neon signs hummed with life, calling to the patrons, acting like masked sirens, singing their sweet lullaby, luring the hopeless people, enchanting them to their demise. A blank stare or even a smile would hang on the faces of those lost souls. The lights were glowing from every window and doorway enticing any passerby in; to see what wonders would welcome them. You could find all of your favorite ways to sin and many other ways that you never knew existed. This place is a disease, an incurable cancer, and black as death itself.

I found the store I had been looking for. It was a pawn shop, Last Chance Pawn. Many shops like this occupied this condensed area. There were many customers who came here looking for that last dollar to get that last high. Like most businesses people’s addictions were their gains.

I stopped in front of the entrance, surprised there wasn’t a line around the corner. I pushed the buzzer, looked up to the security camera and gave it a one finger wave. The heavy security door buzzed and popped open. I walked in casually, as because that’s the only way I knew how.

To my left, on the other side of the bullet proof glass, he stood, Eddie Deville–a name fitting enough to call this place home. He was an average man, of average height, and average weight. His eyes are what stood him apart from anyone else, they were unmistakable. They were extremely dark, not black but midnight, and they looked hungry. Eddie thrived where others couldn’t survive. His bland look was merely a facade; he’s a survivor, a predator.

His look was completed with one of his customary silk shirts; this one was a rich burgundy to go with his black slacks. He looked up from counting his money and greeted me with a big toothy smile.

“Mr. Andersen, what brings you to the depths of human turmoil?”

The sound of his voice had always made me uneasy. He wasn’t a big time criminal, but his lack of humanity in conducting his business had always disturbed me. If I wasn’t in a bad mood already, his voice pushed me to the brink.

“First, knock that crazy grin off of your face. Second, you already know the reason why I’m here,” I answered with more of a scowl on my face than intended.

“First, you flip off my camera. Second, you come into my store and try to tell me what to do. Third, why are we counting?”

I had to keep a grin from creeping up on my face. If he knew his antics so easily amused me I would’ve lost any upper hand that I had worked so hard to establish. I needed to focus and remember why I was here. Eddie could be the only person I knew who could help me get the information I needed. If this was an organized hit, I needed to figure out who ordered it and fast. There’s enough senseless violence and killings that kept happening in my town, I’ve made a small dent where I could but if this was indeed a mob hit, I would need all of the help I could get. Right now it was entirely necessary to keep a straight face.

“Well, aren’t you quick tonight; however, I wasn’t flipping the bird. No, I was showing you the I.Q. of your average customer.”

Eddie grinned even wider. “Maybe you see my customers making stupid decisions Wes, but I see them as brave people. They’re willing to sacrifice their antiques and their family heirlooms for a chance, a hope of a better future. I am always ready, waiting to give them the fresh start, a new chance on life that everyone deserves.” As he said the last few words he gave a short bow of his head, something a man of nobility would do.

“I feel like I should be building a gold statue of your likeness right now.”

“No, that won’t be necessary. As always our arrangement is still in order. Please, feel free to look around. I’m sure you will find my prices to be quite…generous.”

“Generous for whom?” I asked.

I stepped away to browse the shop. Two workers were positioned in opposite corners of the room. They were large men; they were as wide as they were tall. They wore black t-shirts with the stores logo on the left breast, matching black slacks, and work boots. The giant in the left corner wore his blonde hair slicked back and he was clean shaven. The mammoth in the right corner was bald, Mr. Clean style, and he had a phenomenal fu-Manchu. I did the best I could to ignore them.

I looked around at all of the various things Eddie had collected through trade, barter, or some other methods that were not of the legal nature. He was as slick as they came and savvy enough to stay under most radars. He was a man who could locate certain things from time to time if need be, but there was always a price. I came through here for the first time ten months ago in search of answers. I needed information and he named the cost. Now if I ever required anything from him, I must first pay his toll.

There were three glass display cases, each roughly twenty feet long and three feet wide. They held the fancy jewelry, guns, swords, smaller trinkets, and any other tiny knick knacks. The walls were decorated in signed memorabilia, posters, paintings, and also held a wide array of guitars. There were acoustic and electric and even some banjos. There was a door at the back wall leading to his warehouse. All of the bigger stuff was stored in there: mountain bikes, Harleys, street bikes, cars, trucks, grandfather clocks and I even remember seeing a suit of armor straight out of the Middle Ages. People sell anything to feed their addictions.

The glass case furthest from Eddie had an item in it that caught my eye. I wouldn’t have expected to find it in a glass case, but there it was a Nintendo 64 game console, with controller. I haven’t had the fortune of playing one of these for many, many years.

I told Eddie of my interest in the console. The giant came over and opened the case, retrieving the item for me.  I gazed upon it with a big, goofy smile and walked over to the counter where I could set it down. The N64 was in surprisingly good condition and even the controller moved smoothly. The buttons weren’t gummed up, a very good sign considering kids would’ve owned these and kids have very sticky fingers. Now it was to the hard part…negotiating the price.

“Alright kind sir who owns this fine establishment. I have intent to purchase this old, useless, and probably broken down video gaming system. What kind of deal can you give me to take this dusty, ugly item off your hands?” I asked with a big cheesy smile plastered on my face.

“Cut the shit Wes; you pay what I ask or you get nothing. You’ll get no information and no game for the grown child,” he said motioning to the console. “I know you might give up the information out of spite but the excitement is practically oozing out of you over that gray box.”

We were face to face by now, well as close as you could be when there was a one inch sheet of bullet proof glass between the two of you. I didn’t know why I was so easily getting upset with him, but I just had a feeling that my night would never get any better. I needed to change topics quick, before one of us pushed the other over the edge. Preferably I wished that we would both settle down and stop baiting each other. The two men behind me were two of the most menacing counter people I had ever seen. I’m coming to the conclusion they weren’t hired for their knowhow in spotting the difference between a real and a fake Rolex. It would be wise of me to try and keep my temper from reaching its boiling point.

“Do you have any refill cartridges for my taser?” I asked.

“Why? You would only need more if you had used it. Did you use the taser you bought from me?”

“Indeed I did,” I said proudly. “In fact I used it right before I arrived here this evening. And might I say it worked phenomenally. I barely had to move. Those two amateurs didn’t know what hit them, well one of them didn’t. The other I think learned a valuable lesson; you’re never too old to change your life around.”

Eddie just stood there shaking his head, letting out a chuckle when he could no longer hold it back.

“You’re a sucker. Your empathy has gotten the best of you once again. Those animals would’ve taken everything from you in a heartbeat. If they could do it all over again they would, but with one difference; they wouldn’t give you a chance to talk. That was the only lesson they learned; they were animals Wes, simple as that.”

I started to feel a little warmer than I had a minute ago, my temper started to reach its point of no return. Changing topics apparently wasn’t working, but I am only a man, and having this creep mock me was something I couldn’t let slide.

“Animals? Funny, I would’ve put you in that category. The way you feast on the weak without a hint of remorse. It’s in your DNA, your instinct. It’s your own process of natural selection. You sit behind that protective wall counting your money, while confused and misguided people fall deeper into the void–lost to the world forever. You help them get closer and closer to the point where they can never return from. All they would need is a kind deed or a simple helping hand to put them on the right path.

“You couldn’t do that though, where would you be without the frail or the helpless little sheep? You may be someone I conduct business with, but don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re any better than the scum I’m trying to get rid of. One day Eddie, our time will come. Our dealings will be finished and there will be nothing left to do but see who the true survivor is.” I said the last words pressing my forehead to the glass, spitting the syllables with contempt.

Eddie arched a brow and gave a look to one of his goons. They, Eddie and the goon, communed with an exchange of a glance and quickly two guns were produced and pointed at me–one gun from each goon. And both guns were pointed at me. I usually loved it when I was right, but not this time. I knew they didn’t really work the counters. On the bright side I have graduated from knives to guns in a shade under an hour. I paid them no attention, if I didn’t want to switch my nationality from Irish to Swiss, the man in front of me would be the one to convince. Eddie regarded the situation briefly and then replied.

“One should be careful to throw such disrespect around in another man’s house, especially when they are out-manned and out-gunned. I don’t think your little electric shaver will get the best of my men.” 

 

 

 

Chapter 5

I regarded the situation briefly, and then did what I did best. I reacted.

I lifted my left hand and pressed my palm to the glass. The sleeve of my jacket slid down my arm revealing my secret. My entire left arm had been covered in deep sigils and runes that had been pain-stakingly carved into the flesh. Hours upon hours of meditation, power, and blood went into the craftsmanship of my appendage. My mentor, Marcus, had guided me through the process. He said he’d never applied the craft to an actual body part before. He’d always performed the ritual in a more traditional sense, on a staff. A staff was used as a way to harness your power and expel it in an efficient and accurate way. I asked him what if I lost my staff or it was misplaced? What would I have done then? I was devoted to my craft because of the guidance I had received from Marcus. This was my purpose I had always been looking for.  I was in it to win it, and carrying an eight foot long hunk of wood didn’t work for me. I applied the same art and ancient technique of staff carving into my left arm. If I were to ever lose the arm I wouldn’t want it to be my dominant gaming arm, so the lefty it went. I’m always thinking one step ahead.

Eddie had never seen what I was capable of; in fact most of our meetings go down as pleasant as they could. He probably didn’t think much of me considering I bought and used the taser I had purchased here. It’s not considered the manliest weapon I could’ve wielded. I must admit I was a little on edge already from my rumble in the streets. My adrenaline kicked in when I had fired the taser, and it was still in charge of my emotions. I didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize my relationship, if you would call it that, with Eddie. He was valuable to my efforts in cleansing this diseased place. If he wanted me to pay his overpriced costs it was worth. In the end it would be a small cost to the bigger payout.

I let a smirk slide up on my face as I focused on my arm. I sent energy into my extended limb and eased it forward, keeping constant eye contact with Eddie as I did so. My arm slid through the bullet proof protection like bare toes through a sandy beach. It was like the bullet proof glass was only an illusion, and in reality it was nothing more than water. Of course in reality it was glass, but I don’t live in the same world as many other people.

My arm, up to my elbow, was clean through the other side. I didn’t grab or touch Eddie; I gave him a wink and brought my hand back where it belonged—on the other side of the glass with the rest of my body. I was trying to make a point to him; nobody was out of my reach. I put my hands up in the air to make sure goon #1 and goon #2 wouldn’t get trigger happy. Eddie remained calm and stoic as usual, pondering his next words carefully.

“Wes, I must admit that I am not surprised often,” he said, “but that was most interesting.” He looked at his men and raised a brow; they lowered their hand guns and stepped back a couple paces. “The shooting that occurred was not a random act. I can tell you who was behind it, but I know you won’t like it. In fact I was partially hoping I could piss you off enough that you would leave and that would be the end of it. Are you sure you need to know who the puppeteer is?” He asked, but his tone held uneasiness in it. I really think he didn’t want to be the one to tell me.

“I came back to clean up my town, Eddie. I’m not here to sit motionless on the sidelines. I’ve dealt with that feeling of helplessness before, but never again. I have changed and with me this Valley will change too. I need to know who was behind this. I have to know.” I answered him impatiently. If I couldn’t find out who was behind all of this I wouldn’t be able to sleep or do anything until I had found out. Even if I could do nothing about it; the fact of me not knowing who or what was behind the attack would drive me insane. Gizmo would go un-walked and un-loved; I couldn’t be responsible for that…I had to know.

“Though I disagree that our town needs to change; a deal is a deal. Even I think a gentleman should always keep the promises he makes. I believe you know the man pulling the strings–Jace Pirelli.”

My vision left me, and darkness took over. I felt like I had been kicked in the balls by Bigfoot; it hurt like hell and I’m pretty sure I was going to throw up. I threw money at Eddie and grabbed my newly acquired merchandise as I stumbled through the door and back to the street. The district was spinning round and round like a rickety ride at this horror of an amusement park.  If you have never seen the delicious snack known as goldfish being thrown up, I envy you. Orange colored minced up crackers, bathed in the sewer color of my Mt. dew soda splattered to the curb. Not as refreshing as when I first had them. I gathered myself the best I could and hurried down the road, back to the safety and solitude of my home.

 

 

Chapter 6

Jace Pirelli was the catalyst to my world changing experience. He’s played the biggest role in my life, more than Marcus, Harry, or even Gizmo.

When I was young school had always been uninteresting to me. Coming from my background or the little background I had, hindered my ability to be accepted by other students or even the wanting to be accepted. Normally an orphan would go through his/her schooling inside the orphanage. But me, being the super smart person that I am, wanted to be with the “normal” kids. I told myself it would be the only way for me to find normalcy.

I started going in the 7th grade. By the 2nd week of school I realized I had made an inaccurate hypothesis of what would transpire during the course of my schooling. But, I did learn some big words. Going to school away from the orphanage proved to be more stressful than I could have ever imagined.

I was hated by most and ignored by those who remained. I couldn’t go back to the orphanage and tell them I was wrong; I was young, an orphan, but I still had my pride. I told myself I would be able to handle it, that I would eventually win them over.

I developed my game addiction through the shunning process known as junior high and the part of high school I had attended. I would spend my days in the computer lab or under a tree far away from others playing my game boy I had traded for. All it cost me was a year’s worth of homework and my chocolate pudding snack I had in my lunch every day. The kid was spoiled anyway; he didn’t care about the game boy and I didn’t care about my pudding. The extra homework was easy enough. I would just copy my homework and change some of the subtleties to make it a piece of its own. I gave the effort I thought the teacher would’ve expected from that kid.

I was teased, razzed, pushed, mocked, slapped, poked, and constantly the butt of all jokes. The joke that stuck with me for the longest came from the other boys in P.E. class, actually the entire male population at the school. When they headed to the bathroom they would say, ‘I am going to go take a Wes’.

I thought participating in sports would change their opinions of me, but no dice. I was decent at sports, but I was never accepted by the team. They had already made their collective minds up on me and to them I would always be that person. Nothing would change their opinion of me. I did my best to stay out of the way and go through each day pretending I was never there.

It was in the 10th grade when everything changed. It was then I escaped my school and my city.

The day had been shaping up to be pretty standard. I was transitioning myself from the computer lab to my first class after lunch, Biology 101. I was stopped outside of one of the class rooms by a trio of kids in my grade. Jace was in the group, he was the group.

“Look everybody, it’s Wesley. Where do you think you’re going?” Jace asked.

“Just going to my class, the bell is about to ring. You guys should get going too; you don’t want to be tardy.” I replied with a hint of sarcasm. I didn’t care if they were late and neither did they.

“Why are you still here?” Jace asked. “You have zero friends and you know nobody wants you here. Hell, even your own parents didn’t want you.”

The other kids laughed and even exchanged high fives, content in the anguish they caused on their fellow student. It was then when I felt my first trickle of energy. The hairs all over my body stood on end; they were at attention waiting for an order. The boys continued their verbal assault on me; well Jace did but the other kids eagerly listened and waited with anticipation for the next round of high fives and laughter.

“I hope you don’t think you are going to embarrass us again by playing basketball this upcoming season. Just because everyone can be on the team, doesn’t mean everyone should be on the team. You aren’t fit to hand us water bottles, let alone sit on the end of the bench with a uniform on.” Jace barked at me.

Jace was the all-American kid every parent dreamed of. Being captain of every sports team gave him the privilege to get away with anything and everything he wanted to. His parents were from wealthy backgrounds and on top of that his father was the Mayor of our illustrious city. He was tall, smart, and handsome; a walking cliché every teen movie portrayed. Years of the abuse taken by him and the others would drive a lot of kids into insanity or into a deep, dark place where they could never crawl out from. I was able to escape that fate…I was lucky.

“You know, Jace, every time you stop me, you say the same shit. If you don’t have anything new to throw at me you are wasting my time and the time of your lackeys. If you can’t summarize your deposition of my inadequate qualities in a more expediently superior fashion, I will be tardy for class,” I said with as much elegance as I could muster. That was me taking the high road.

Blank stares were glued on the other kid’s faces, but Jace understood what I had said and he didn’t like it one bit. His face contorted in a fit of rage. No one had ever dared to stand up to him in any fashion. He was Jace Pirelli. He was strong, smart, and he was the leader.

I had forced his hand and his hand struck. He punched me above the left eye, close to my temple. I went down to a knee in a reflexively submissive position. The three kids then took their turns kicking me in my ribs and stomping at my back wildly. My brain had been jarred and my sight became blurry. My arms raised themselves of their own volition. In that moment, every time I had been pushed, kicked, teased, or punished for being different came to the surface. My emotions raced with rage, envy, and hatred. I hated these kids, but I envied what they had: Families, friends, and acceptance.

I screamed a war cry worthy of William Wallace and let go of those emotions that had haunted me for so long. I released the energy through my arms and out into the world, bringing stillness to my body; for the first time in my life I was calm. It was over as swiftly as it had begun. There were many students and part of the faculty staring at me by the time I had stood up. I had a cut on my temple and my ribs hurt with every exhausted breath I took. Three bodies lay twenty five yards from where I was standing; their fingers twitched and their legs kicked sporadically. I didn’t know how they got there, but I knew I was the reason. I picked up my back pack and disappeared as fast as I could from everything and everyone I had ever known.

I still don’t know why that was the moment where my magic showed itself. There had been plenty of opportunities over the years where I felt I was at my limit for the abuse I endured. I had to grow up fast and grow up hard from day one. My life had been difficult before but I had never truly been on my own until after that day.

Our lives would forever be entangled since that fateful day. Jace brought out my true potential and he was the one who had paid the cost. His arm had been broken in three places and he had two broken ribs. He never fully recovered emotionally from what had happened and he turned from his promised life, to a life on the wrong side of the law. He built an underground empire of thieves, drugs, and murder. He wasn’t just a gangster; he was crime–everything that it entailed. I knew a face to face meeting between the two of us was inevitable. Every person I have thrown off my streets was in some way connected to his vastly growing kingdom. The question was–where do I go from here?

 

 

Chapter 1

The sign said ‘Welcome to Heretic Valley’ but it should have read ‘Welcome to Hell’. If you’ve never heard of this place and don’t know where to find it, don’t worry, there are only few who have. All it would take is one wrong turn and the town would find you. I did something that no one else had ever done before; I went looking for it.

It had been ten years since I laid my eyes on this valley. Ten very long years. I was on the outskirts of town, stepping one foot in front of the other, forcing myself to continue. This place had changed. It was different. I could see it. I could feel it.

Few who sought out the Devil lived to tell about it.

This fallen valley needed something, rather someone, to rescue it. I was called back home to be the light, to guide to the misguided. I am their hope. I will be their compass to follow. My name is Wes Andersen and this is Heretic Valley.

 

Chapter 2

The fields that were once green and rolling were now dead and rocky. The tall oaks were hollow, without leaves and rot with disease. The water had left the Valley long ago and only that which could adapt remained.

I stood on top of the oldest building in the valley.  One hundred and fifty feet of mass sprang out of the darkness like a glowing beacon for the city.  The old stone gave way in many areas, but the ancient structure’s integrity held intact.

Generations of cracks, lifelines of the stone, ran up the enormous formation. The lively green ivy was the only color showing on the building as it mirrored the cracks as they spider-webbed their way to the top.

Huge, thick, wooden doors hung upon three solid black iron hinges, two simple iron crosses displayed on each side. The buildings life began as a beautiful cathedral where thousands of patrons would flock each week to repent and worship.  A magnificent stained glass window above the altar, faded from years of neglect, depicted a child at the foot of Jesus, in awe of the calming presence of her Lord.  Forsaken for decades, the images shine and luster had been long faded, forgotten like everything else in here.

Now, people avoided being on the same street as the church, most of the time unaware of even doing so. There are certain places in the world that have been there for so long you can feel their presence. This town had changed dramatically since the church had been the center, the backbone of the area. Strangled and choked out by man’s need for cruelty and chaos, the church remained but the power it had over the masses had long been taken away. Over time it became just a building, a ghost of its former self.

I had been led here to this place knowing it still held a purpose. I don’t know how I knew, but I did. I had never been on this street before and yet here I was with my life’s new purpose laid before my feet.

I was born with a condition, a condition unseen by any doctor that had ever treated me. There’s no name for it and there’s no cure. I like to call it “Gandalphitus.” If I was in Middle Earth I would be carrying an oak staff with a very long, grey beard on my chiseled jaw.

I hadn’t discovered my “disease” until I was well into my high school years. An accidental release of built up rage and despair washed over my body and leapt through my extended left arm, and with it an invisible force of power ripped its way out. I didn’t know what happened. I turned coat and ran before I ever found out. I left my high school and everything I had ever known without hesitation.

Marcus Cristix found me during my time abroad. He took me in when I was alone and taught me how to control my power, and gave me a purpose in my empty life. For five years we lived, studied, and trained together. He was over 150 years old but you wouldn’t believe he was a day over fifty looking at him. It was one of the many side effects of a common day wizard.

He stood a shade under six feet tall, strong build, and still had his full head of hair (no, it wasn’t long white hair reaching to the floor).  He was a well kept man and always dressed according to the times. He was the only other staff carrier I’d met to this day. Marcus had informed me that there were many other individuals like us out in the world but most of them didn’t know what they were truly capable of. They had been like me, confused and scared.

I hoped someday I would be able to rescue someone like Marcus had done for me. He’s only one of two people in my life I have the pleasure of calling a friend.

 

As I stood, firmly planted on my new home, a fierce wind whipped at my face.  Through the soles of my black & white cons I felt the Relics pulse reach out to me. Centuries of life and energy flooded from the building and flowed through me, from my feet through the tips of my extended fingers in the air.  In that moment I became one with the building, entrusted with all of its secrets and its unnatural power.   

 

 

Chapter 3

The memory of my first time back into my city and my home ended. I gathered myself, all six foot three inches and walked across the rooftop to the edge of the building, resting my forearms on the rock ledge. My hair fell in my eyes and I casually swept it across the side of my face. I liked to keep my hair long, just to the edge of my shoulders, even if it tended to be a little annoying from time to time. The sweeping of my hair is now a reflex…no thinking required. My skin looked pale; some would even say it looked ghostly white. Whatever the description it was always a harsh contrast with my black pea coat.

The view was amazing from up here, it’s always nice to take a minute and just appreciate it. The low, thin clouds hovered above the tops of the buildings. The moonlight did it’s best to reach the valley floor, but only a small portion of its light could make it through. To my immediate right permanently overlooking the building was a massive stone gargoyle. It wore a sinister grin, showing its large pointed teeth. Intense, round eyes etched in the stone, carried a silent fire behind them. Relaxed wings, looked similar to a pterodactyl I’d once seen in a dinosaur encyclopedia, emerged out of the shoulder blades. The perched statue had its knees to its massive chest, and the enormous clawed feet gripped the stone mount. I had been lost in my thoughts admiring the intricate detail when I remembered why I had come up here in the first place–I needed to speak to Him.

“Hello Harry,” I started. “Sorry I haven’t been up here in a while.”

“You could have waited longer, Wes,”  a rough voice replied. “With you it’s always too soon.”

“Perhaps it is Harry, but I don’t have many people I can talk to. Sometimes, even I must do things I don’t like to do. For example: talking to someone or in your case something. Besides, my options are quite limited right now. With that said, I know deep down there’s a little part of you that enjoys our little chats. It’s not like you have anything else to do except hang around.” I said letting a low chuckle escape my throat.

I have never figured out how he can look so annoyed without being able to physically move, it had always unnerved me when he did that. In the human form he wore when we’d met, Harry had been a very powerful being. He was centuries old with wisdom and cunning that could have challenged anyone.

Roughly two years ago Harry and I met under a chance encounter. He had been looking to recover something from his past and our paths tangled in a very loud and fiery way. I’d been lucky to get the best of him. If either of us had time to prepare for one another he would have smashed my pretty little face in. The only thing I could’ve done then was run and to keep running until I hit an ocean. He had been and still is a very scary creature. I put him here, in the gargoyle, because I didn’t know how to destroy him. Also, a little part of me knew he could be very beneficial to have around. So into the statue he went.

He is my little genie in a gargoyle. He has helped immensely, but I would never let him know that. It is and always will be a poker game with Harry–or whatever his real name happens to be.

“Even my only company can be bothersome, Wes. Remember, I had family once but just because they were family didn’t mean they were always welcome. Just because you and that yapping mutt of yours are the only company I will ever have doesn’t mean I have to like the visits. Do you understand?”

“That you’re old.” I answered.

“Nice retort.”

“Nice face.” I blurted out. I enjoyed being childish, as long as I can get that last word in. “We are getting off topic sir. I came here for a reason, not to engage in our usual half-joking banter. What can you tell me?” After I asked my question I think I saw his eyes roll. Was that possible?

“If you are referring to the weapons being fired early yesterday morning, not a significant amount. It happened in the Neon district, so there could be a plethora of possibilities. I remember there were four or five bursts of an automatic weapon and simultaneously six rounds of a big revolver, not sure what caliber though. Both guns were fired from the same party and they claimed the life of one man and another in critical condition at Heretic General. It’s hard to say if they were targeted or if it was a spontaneous act, the Neon District is funny that way.”

“Good point. That was a very nice summarization, nicely done. The Neon district huh? I hate going there, but I know someone who might be able to get me on the right track. I suppose it’s time for me to go shopping.” I said turning to the east towards the district. “Keep your non-existent eyes open Harry. Let me know if anything else happens.”
“I agree with your assessment. I will do as I always have Wes, but I don’t need you to tell me anything. Am I the one who needs help all the time?”

“I don’t need help all of the time. You might need some help in a minute when I push you from your ledge though.” I answered.

“Very mature Wes.”

“That’s me, right down to the core.”

“Are we done now?” Harry asked.

“Yes, we are. Good night Harry, go back to doing whatever it is that you do and remember to keep your nose to the grind stone. Ha.” And with that sly remark I turned and started for the door..

I give that guy a hard time but he and I could have been good friends in a different life. I don’t know his whole story, I never cared to ask. We’ve shared our personal space now for a little over two years, and yes, Harry being on the roof contained in a gargoyle is most definitely an invasion of my personal space. An outside view on the situation one would think I was the bad guy, but believe me when I say I’m still the good guy…or the not-as-bad guy. He helps me because he has no other choice, but getting him to cooperate is like pulling teeth. No, pulling my own teeth out would be a welcome activity if it would get me out of talking to Harry. Before I shut the door I gave one last look over the valley: grey, eerie, and full of mystery. Just the way I liked it.

Note to self, going down the stairs far easier than going up them.

I opened the door to my bedroom and wondered why I took the time to close it; no one but me ever goes in there. It’s the principle of the thing, I told myself. There’s a door, all my worldly belongings behind it, and the door should be allowed to do the one thing it was designed for. Maybe I just like using my doorknob. It’s an original Nintendo controller that I fashioned to mount over the knob. Needless to say I was pretty happy about how it turned out. Pun intended. I know, I could have worked something up so all I would have to do was say a magic word like “Abracadabra” or maybe put the door on a “clapper”, but there’s no substitute for an original.

My oversized bed sits at the far wall under the only window in the room. My lanky frame needed as much room as I could get to sprawl out, plus I shared my bed with my ferocious guard dog, Gizmo, a brown and white Boston terrier. Gizmo in turn shared his portion of the bed with a teddy bear missing an eye and an oversized tennis ball that never quite fits into his mouth. In fact I had no idea how he ever gets the ball up on the bed, it’s a good two feet. I wonder if he could secretly fly, and if so where did he hide his cape. Curious I am.

“Gizmo,” I said with my curiosity getting the best of me, “can you fly?” He better not lie to me. The world said he’s mans best friend. I wouldn’t want that relationship tarnished. He didn’t answer me in an audible form, but he did answer me in another way. He swiveled his head and blinked. He then proceeded to hit his teddy bear, who I had named CY, right in the face. I gulped. “I will take that as a sign to not ask that question ever again. You’re right, we all need our secrets.” Gizmo is my best friend; even if the world never said so. He went back to doing his own thing with a content look on that smooshed face of his.

Gizmo and I draped our four post bed in a luxurious black velvet comforter. We added six pillows for the two of us. There’s no better feeling than throwing yourself into a soft, comfortable bed with so many luscious pillows. It felt like quick sand slowly swallowing you whole as you fell into a state of complete relaxation; all the fun without the consequence of dying.  Lying on the bed I found myself staring at the familiar sight of my high arched ceilings.  The old wood beams, bathed in the warm sunlight for many years, stared back at me. They were thick and I must admit even a little scary to look at, but at the same time their strength was reassuring. I felt safe in here. I picked my room in this giant building because of that reason.

The bed was warm and cozy. Gizmo trotted over and pawed at my chest, ruining my slight moment of pleasure, his nature had come-a-calling. We paced down the stairs and we walked to our normal spot; the alley behind our residence.

The church’s cemetery rested out here as well. It was small, and just as old as the church. There hadn’t been a burial here since the church lost its power over the congregation. A three foot tall, white picket fence squared in the area. The paint cracked, faded, and had been peeled by the weather for some time, but a few spots had made it through all of the seasons.  This abandoned, final resting spot offered little assurance that your body would remain at peace. The grass had died long ago and only brown strands swayed in the breeze against the final words for the deceased.

I have only entered as far as the first row of graves. Most of the plots were modest, but there was a mausoleum that stood out in the center of the cemetery. One day I would grow curious enough to find out who slept their final sleep in there. Today, however, would not be that day.

Gizmo never seemed to mind handling his business in the alley. I would mind, but he apparently cared less. It’s one of the few times he was able to go outside: to go potty, when we went to the roof, and daily walks up and down the street. He received most of his exercise running up and down the stairs chasing that ginormous tennis ball. I may or may not purposely throw it down the three flights of stairs, buying myself a few precious moments alone. He’s always been a crafty little guy and had never failed getting the ball back up.

One time I threw the ball and heard it reach the chapel area on the ground floor. Gizmo went chasing after it like normal. Five minutes went by and I grew worried. I reluctantly paused my video game and went to look for him. I found him on the 2nd flight of stairs. He’d made it that far before laying down with the ball underneath his chin, propping up his head. I bent down to pick up my tired little puppy and carry him back to our room. Before I could reach him three things happened: he forced himself back to his feet, gave himself a good shake, and he unhinged his jaw, securely gripped his tennis ball. He climbed the last flight of stairs with pure grit and suicidal determination. He even made it up to the bed before he plopped himself down and fell into a doggy-sleep coma. Because of witnessing that first hand, I firmly believe that the “Napoleon Complex” applied to people and small dogs alike.

It was 9pm. The Neon district would start to come alive about now, it was time for me to go to work.

I gobbled down a quick snack: a generous handful of goldfish, a Granny Smith apple, and a highly caffeinated Mountain Dew (and of course sugar, mmm…sugar). I made my way down the lair and out the back door. The evening light was fading as I turned toward the Neon district, to the starting point of my search.

My saunter was proudly on display as I chose to walk the eight blocks instead of taking my street bike. I wore my usual garb: beaten black and white converse low tops, relaxed blue jeans, and my trusty black pea coat. I wore this coat ten months out of the year, it’s an extra layer of skin for me, and I must have it on. I had a deep blue t-shirt on underneath the jacket with big, white block letters reading, ‘I am not a model; I just look like one.’ Is it true? I can only be told so many times before I started to believe it myself.

My associate was a gentleman that owned a shop on the same street as where the shootings took place. He helped me out from time to time and in turn I bought something from his store.

Most of the buildings and stores on my block were deserted and had wasted away throughout the years. Cracked sidewalks, broken hydrants, and crumbling walls were all that remained. Even those without a roof over their head wouldn’t cross-over and enter my block. I tried not taking it personally, I was sure the church had something to do with that.

The 2nd block still had an operational, low-end apartment building. I’d have to take a guess to say it’s half full, and roughly half of those tenants paid the rent. There’s also a liquor store, hence half of the people who didn’t pay the rent, and then oddly enough a pet shop. The pet store, Pets are People Too, absolutely loves Gizmo and me. We go there at least once a week to get him a special treat. It also gave us a chance to add to his outdoor time. Generally, I would bring him with me if I was walking somewhere but not tonight, not when daddy’s working, his complex can get the best of him sometimes.

Three blocks down and five to go.

The silver clouds hung lower than usual. They looked as if they were infused with a dark matter, refusing to break, choking the light from the bright moon trying to make its way down. The battle between the two had been going on for much longer than I could’ve ever known. Back and forth they fought, never gaining an inch on one another. The clouds wanted to become stronger, darker. They wanted to rule the emptiness of the sky; to become the sky. The moon wanted to wash away the shadows, the despair from the valley itself, but its efforts have been without result, but it won’t give up, it can’t.

A chilling wind picked up, slapping me in my face; I pulled my jacket tighter around me and flipped my collar up around my neck. As I continued to walk, my left arm twitched sharply, it had the sudden impulse to jump out of my pocket. From an alley, masked in the shadows, two figures emerged.

Two men, both in jeans and black work boots stepped closer to me. I was able to get a better look at them as they did so. The man in front wore an old beat up leather jacket and his associate, flanking him, wore a black and red flannel shirt. They were similar in height and build but the most important likeness was what they held in their hands. In their right hands they each held an army combat knife. Roughly eight inches long with a serrated edge on the back; each of the handles wrapped in dark green tape.

These men weren’t big by any means but I guess that’s why they felt the need to carry cutlery around with them. It wasn’t hard for me to see what they were after–anything that I had.

I had to slow them down, get them talking. I remembered that old saying; ‘when in doubt, talk it out’. Okay, so I just made that up, but nevertheless I wanted to test my groundbreaking new theory.

I stepped forward with a friendly smile, or at least I was going for a friendly smile and used a calm voice as I spoke.

“Gentlemen, how are you doing this fine evening?” I was trying to break the ice, you know, start things off in a positive way, not in a let’s-stab-this-guy-many-times kind of way.

“We are doing good, but you won’t be if you don’t hand over your wallet and jewelry,” the man in the ultra-hip leather jacket answered.

Before my brain could send the signal to keep my mouth shut, I quickly replied. “Well,” I said. “You are doing well. You don’t do good, you do well. Batman does good, but us regular folk, do well. To answer your question I don’t carry a wallet and I’m truly sorry but I have zero pieces of jewelry on. Besides that, may I help you with anything else?” This wouldn’t have been the first time that correcting someone’s grammar led to me having a bad night. I’m betting it wouldn’t be the last.

The man in the leather jacket, who I’m now calling Tim, looked to his partner in crime and then back to me; it was evident to me that he was the leader. The man in the flannel, let’s call him Al, was weary around his edges and carried a hint of uncertainty in his eyes. He seemed to automatically fall into place behind Tim. It gave me the feeling that they had been around each other for a long time and Al had learned his place the hard way. It’s tough to play second fiddle sometimes. But, I also had no doubt in my mind that if Tim gave an order, Al would follow it blindly and swiftly.

Tim’s eyes narrowed and his hand gripped tighter on the handle of his blade, showing me the whites of his knuckles. Al followed his lead and readied himself to also strike. My hands had never left my coat pockets as the muggers now, would-be-murderers, slowly crept towards me. Before they could make their move I skillfully slid my right hand from my pocket and extended it towards Tim, the leader. My taser came to life with a simple squeeze of the trigger. Two barbed ends shot towards him, slipping between the un-zipped leather-jacket piercing his flesh; 50,000 volts surged through him. He went from standing, to a fetal position before I had time to drop my arm. My attention was then turned to Al.

“Now, do you want to end up like that, flailing out of control, lying in your own piss?”
“N…N…no sir.”

“Glad to hear it.” I turned my weapon off. “Now get your pal and get off of my streets. I don’t ever want to see you again. If I do see you, you both will be lying on the ground…motionless.” My eyes narrowed, my jaw hardened, and through clenched teeth I asked, “Do you understand?”

“Yes sir,” he answered quietly.

I put Mr. Shockey away and walked past Al as he was helping Tim off the ground. I held back the urge to kick him across his face. Take out the leader and the followers have no one to follow–it’s another theory of mine. The initial test hadn’t worked out as I’d planned but all in all I think the situation went good, I mean well.

 

…….chapters 4-6 to be posted on Wednesday the 21st of September,  2016.

The saying, “One of Those Days” is something I’ve muttered a lot recently. However, this day may just take the cake. I’m not sure where that saying comes from, take’s the cake, but I imagine someone dressed like the Hamburglar stealing a crying babies first taste of sugary sweetness is where it originated from. The things I think of when I find myself hanging upside down.

As the cold grip of steel bites into my ankles and it’s evil twin does the same to my wrists I realize that it may not be day at all. It’s dark but that’s only because I’ve been blind folded. For all I know it could be very pleasant out. I’m sure it’s not. It mostly never is. It’s not for lack of trying, no, I try. I really do. But with great trying comes great capturing. Or abducting. Or murdering, although that has yet to be done successfully. So, all of my trying and where does it get me? I wake up to my hair dangling on the wrong end of up and what feels like blood getting ready to drip out of my eyes, ears, and nose.

I sniff unconsciously after imagining blood coming from my nose and get a scent of something very unpleasant. The smell snaps my head back like a Shoryuken from Ryu. I knew the smell. From the first time you smell it there’s not a day goes by that you don’t think of it. It stays with you forever. The smell of death will always haunt you.

Yep.  My name is Wes Andersen and it’s just one of those days.

The end is coming.

The Journey to Middle Earth started for most people with, The Fellowship of the Ring, in December of 2001. However, my journey began earlier than that albeit in the wrong order just like the movies. I read, The Lord of the Rings in my teenage years because that’s what typical teenagers do. The common misconception being that the Lord of the Rings was written as three separate books when we all have been slapped and sternly enlightened that it was in fact: One Book to rule them all.

I was an ignorant reader in those days. It took me some years down the road to get to the Hobbit and since then every year I will re-read both books in all of their glory. But this time I read them in the correct order and I will sing the songs that are meant to be sung and I will drink a good drink as I toast the start of the journey. Meg Ryan’s character in, You’ve Got Mail, read, Pride and Prejudice every year around Christmas. Tolkien’s epic, fantasy adventure is my Pride and Prejudice. Obscure reference? No, not if you know me. I love, You’ve Got mail. Anyway, I digress.

I will admit that I have only seen one of the six movies in the theater (yes, the sixth is not out yet but I doubt I will make it). I have a stark fear of theaters and the crowds that accompany them. The only movie I did see was, The Two Towers and it was after three weeks since the opening. Regardless, the excitement built through the months of previews and the re-watching of the other movies bring back many fond memories of my bachelor days sitting in my recliner on rainy afternoons and watching the Lord of the Rings in their entirety. Did I fall asleep sometimes? Yes. And that’s the point. I will never forget what these movies mean to me and the enjoyment I will get when I can share them with my son when he is at the age to truly appreciate them.

I  remember buying the DVD’s one at a time as they came out: choosing widescreen instead of the traditional full screen version. Then when the box sets came out I bought those and gave my other copies to those who hadn’t enjoyed the movies yet. Then when Blu-Ray came to being I bought the box set of those. Then shortly after that I sold that set and bought the Extended version blu-ray set. It’s a life long love for me.

Even though the movies will come to an end of being made they will never not be enjoyed in my household. And the books will have missing corners and worn edges. They will have tape holding the spine together and every turn of the page will draw me further in to the journey. Whether it’s Lord of the Rings or Pride and Prejudice I hope everyone has a book like that.

The awkwardness of Middle school and High school didn’t end when the final bell rang. It continued, through after school affairs such as sports and clubs that you’re pushed into by your parents. But through all that one thing in my life remained constant: video games. After a hard day of social ineptitude and sporty awkwardness I could always count on the power button to release me from my ever changing world. I was playing Super Nintendo in those days, racing around the track in Super Mario Kart, clinging to vines in Donkey Kong, and hitting home runs in Ken Griffey Jr. baseball. If I had a guilty pleasure game for the Super NES it would be The Lion King video game. I can’t explain it but I have so many fond memories of playing it that game is always the first I think of.

There were so many great two player games that you and a friend could play for hours without an inkling of boredom. As mentioned previously, Mario Kart was one of those games as was Street Fighter. You could use several different characters each with their own special abilities and you wouldn’t get tired of them. That was the beauty of games back then. They were made specifically for two players. Their levels were made to keep you on your toes and make the two players work as a team. What they lack in the graphics department compared to the new generation games they made up for in how they were played.

Yes, my nostalgia sometimes gets the best of me. I know the Super NES shouldn’t be compared to the consoles of today but I can’t help but think that somehow the new gen systems missed the mark on two player capability. And no I don’t mean online, that’s a completely different topic.

Regardless, my thumbs were sore most weekends or rainy days–Especially when the Sony Playstation came out. I was one of the idiots that traded in the Super NES to get a better deal on the PS. Maybe it was the only way I could afford it, but more likely it was the ONLY way I could afford it. Lucky for me my good friend kept his Super NES so I was able to get the best of both worlds.

The Playstation came out with a plethora of games and the game itself was on a disc just like in the music world everything changed over from tape to disc as well. With the PS came my first taste of a Naughty Dog game in, Crash Bandicoot. This system also brought us big franchises like Grand Theft Auto, Resident Evil, and Tomb Raider. I remember trying to play Resident Evil without my Mom knowing because she said it would be too scary for me and she didn’t want it in her house. And boy was she right. I freaked out. But you’re also talking to the kid who couldn’t watch Jaws because it was too scary. Obviously, I overcame my fears of the walking dead and big, man-eating sharks. My Wife and I play all of the Resident Evil games in co-op mode. In fact that’s what we did on Valentine’s Day. For us, playing video games together is one of the most romantic ways of spending an evening.

The Playstation was a beautiful beginning in Sony’s PS franchise. It further developed my video game addiction. Now, not only did I still play the Super NES, I had a second system with completely different games and construction. Further I went down the rabbit hole in a virtual world where anything was possible.

After High School: Video Game Graduation….coming soon

 

My new associate wasn’t any help. He was out of it. He looked like his head was in the clouds. Sadly though, it was on the ground, detached from the body. The same body it had been stuck to for many years. All the changes they went through together meant nothing now, the growth, the pain, and the familiarity gone in an instant. In a very violent manner.

“You wouldn’t happen to know where that thing is do you?” I asked the head, but only to hear my own voice. I’m not an animator. I’ll leave that job for the talented ladies.

I was ready to give up. I couldn’t search the valley forever. It would’ve been useless. But before I could throw in that proverbial towel, just like the head, the monster found me. What can I say, I’m a freak-occurrence magnet.

From below, black goo engulfed my feet. I couldn’t move my legs. They were trapped. I was trapped. The goo rose higher and higher, reaching the bottom of my pants and climbing steadily. My feet might have been stuck, but my mighty, Thor-like hammer of an arm was ready to pounce. I gathered my strength and cocked back my money-maker and sent it straight down to the beast below. Apparently this wasn’t a battle of strength. My hand sunk into the blackness and not a splash of tar escaped. I was in danger of my having my hand stuck as well. With every ounce of muscle I could muster, I pulled my hand free. Okay, time for a new plan.

It’s always been harder for me to draw upon elements other than fire. Fire is raw and powerful. It’s in my DNA. But water, a calm force, takes much more skill to master and for me way too much skill to master. I only dabbled in the water world. But from the ashes of desperation, men will rise.

As I calmed my breath the thick tar rose up my leg like the green ivy on the walls of my fortress. I steadied myself. I focused on the air around me. As dry as this place had become it still held H2O, and that was all I needed.

The moisture from the surrounding area came to me as I beckoned it to. As I had done before, I gathered my energy and waited for the right time to strike. With speed and force I struck again at the darkness that had ensnared me, but this time, as soon as I made contact with the beast I used the moisture and froze it. From my entry point through the whole of the being it became frozen, hardened by my magic and my basic understanding that when water gets to a certain temperature it freezes. I’m pretty smart.

It couldn’t struggle. It never had a chance. The deep freeze had spread, in moments I could’ve ice skated on the foul time capsule.  For good measure, I stomped the frozen tar until the pieces were small enough to float away in the breeze. I had only one problem left—what the hell was I going to do with the head?

 

 

In the middle of a decayed field, dry and depressing, I tried to recover. My hands rested on my knees as quick breaths attempted to keep up with my hearts increased pace. I started as the chaser but now I’ve become the chase-ee.

It started back in town.

A form that was solid but squishy, oozed out the back of a building. Its skin, always moving, floated above whatever it had on the inside. It was like looking at water through an aquarium, dancing to the movement of the light and subtle vibrations. It was a large mass, tall and wide. We locked eyes, or I should say my eyes locked its horizontal slits of light. They looked way too bright, but maybe it only appeared that way in comparison to how dark this creature was. It felt like we both stood there for an hour, measuring each other, sizing one another for the assumable fight ahead. I wasn’t a hard one to spot to most supernatural beings of this world, and neither was it. In one way, maybe we both didn’t belong to this world, but then again, I wasn’t the one with someone’s head grasped in my creepy hand.

The head looked like a horror movie prop and I intended to keep telling myself that it was indeed merely a prop. Blood dripped from the neckline, or the spot where the neck used to meet the shoulders. I don’t know what to call it now.

The head didn’t appear to be cut off; the skin wasn’t neatly sliced. No, as the shredded flesh dangled, it appeared to have been torn off. The skin moved with the beast, swaying in the wind like a maple leaf.

A high-shriek escaped the creature’s mouth, although I couldn’t see the mouth but the sound came from it nonetheless. In an instant it took off, away from me, away from the city. The beast shifted, going from standing on two, leg-shaped masses, into four legs, like a big cat or wolf. The bloody head stuck to the back of its new form. It looked like it was riding it, up and down with each bounce.

As the blob fled, I followed. With my arm illuminated, I tried to keep up. There wasn’t a chance in hell of me staying within range of whatever this thing was. I only hoped of keeping it in sight and I was doing just that. So I had that going for me.

As it led me to the outskirts of town and as my side began to cramp, all I could think about was the wasted time doing nothing instead of keeping in shape. I thought I was going to black out or get killed by a huge black blob. Whatever way, it wouldn’t have been good. Furthermore, it was daytime, why was this thing out? I didn’t get scared too often but when something like this was out in the mediocre-lighted day like today, it makes me a little nervous. The saying, freaks come out at night, is mostly true, but the freaks that come out during the day are far more terrifying.

So instead of being the usual badass, I find myself in an unfamiliar role—the hunted.

I swept my eyes from left to right, scanning the flat land. I quickly turned around and did the same thing. Nothing. If that gelatinous thing could morph into a dog like creature, could it change shape into something smaller, like a snake? My eyes darted to my feet, but saw only the dry, cracked ground. As my eyes returned to the horizon, looking for any sign of whatever it was I was chasing, a blurred object came from nowhere and hit me square in the chest. Regardless of my magical protection, a blunt force is just that and it hurts like hell. I gathered myself and looked around, as I found what had been hurled at me I immediately felt like I had been sucker punched in the gut. Staring back at me, through haunted, vacant eyes, was the head with no body. Up close, I couldn’t pretend it was fake anymore. It was real. It was grotesque.

I’ve found the head (or it found me), but where’s the beast?

…to be continued…

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