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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 13

 

“You still have that vial I gave you, right?” I asked.

“Of course I do Wes, it’s underneath the counter,” he answered sternly. “I have it rigged on a string so anywhere from behind here I can let it loose and it will drop straight to the ground. I would never forget something like that—ever.”

“I know old man; I had to double check. Something doesn’t feel right in the valley. Something big is in the works and I think I’m a little late for the party. I can feel it growing by the minute.”

“I’ll be cautious Wes, and you do the same.”

“Aren’t I always?” I said grinning. “Caution’s my middle name.”

I paid for the treats and said my goodbyes to Charles and his bear, Charge. Gizmo gave a quick swat to the half-asleep dog and scurried on after me out the door. We took our time, enjoying the suspiciously nice weather; it was still grey but nice.

We arrived home and I flipped some of the new treats to Gizmo. I went to my closet and changed shirts. Instead of the plain one from last night, I put on something a little more me. A deep red t-shirt with black lettering, ‘Bruce Campbell is God’, on the front and on the back, ‘Gimme’ some suga baby’ was written. It was a personal design of mine. If this saving the valley thing didn’t pan out, it’s nice to know I had a career in clothing design to fall back on.

As I shoved a handful of skittles in my mouth, I left through the back door towards the cemetery to retrieve my bike from its grave. I was headed to Heretic General Hospital. I was going to do what I could to get in the room of Mr. Williams, that’s assuming of course he was still there.

I lived in an abandoned church with its own cemetery in back, yet hospitals weird me out, not the skeletons I have as lawn ornaments. The not quite deceased have more of an effect on me than the already dead. It was weird.

When I first stepped in, the smell of decay, blood, and pain attacked me. Anguish ran rampant through these halls and it stopped me in my tracks. Heretic General was a monstrous building. It was odd for me to describe a building that saved lives as monstrous, but that’s what it was. The building had finished with a remodel recently. New equipment, waiting areas, desks, work stations, bathrooms, and everything else that could be nailed down or screwed in. It made this place look deceptively clean, even the workers seemed a little too joyous about their jobs. They must make a mean cup of coffee. I hate it there; no matter what the coffee tasted like.

Security was tight in most hospitals these days. Getting to Matt’s room could be a challenge. I might have to rely on my charm or wit and that’s never a good thing. It never ends up well.

I found the receptions desk and waited for her to acknowledge me. The middle-aged woman had curly hair, light skin and her nameplate on the top of the desk read Mary. She was on the phone with someone explaining she couldn’t give out information like that unless they came down and had the right identification. I was here, now all I need was the right I.D..

She finally got off of the phone with her head hung low. She let out a quick sigh to gather herself before finally looking up to me. She even managed to have that fake-work smile.

“May I help you sir?” She asked.

“Hello Mary,” I replied with a fake smile of my own. “Long day?”

“You could say that. What can I help you with?”

“I’m hoping to visit my friend, Matt Williams. I wanted a chance to pay my respects. Is he still here?”

“Let me check,” she said as she started typing on her computer, most likely looking for the correct room. “Here he is–room 307, on the third floor.”

“I can go see him?” I asked hesitantly.

“Yes,” she answered looking slightly confused. “The elevators are straight passed me. I just need you to sign this visitor’s form. Print here and sign her,” she asked pointing to the correct line each time.

I did as she asked. I printed my name there and I signed my name here. Rick Deckard. I liked it when things came together like that, it makes me smile.

With an optimistic pep in my step, I made it to the elevators hitting the 3rd floor button upon entry. There was a lady in the elevator with me holding a coffee and the day’s newspaper. She was good looking, even in simple jeans, a light blue sweatshirt, and her soft face free of makeup. Her dark brown hair looked a little unkempt and the bags she carried under her doe green eyes wouldn’t have been considered carry-on. She’s had to have been at the hospital for a while looking like that. I gave a polite smile, but not too big of one. I didn’t want to make the wrong impression. I was a gentleman, not a soon-to-be stalker.

The elevator came to a firm stop at the 3rd floor. We both stepped off and she went left but I stayed standing outside of the elevator. I was looking for the directions; which way was the correct way? Ah there it was, to the left as well. I’m half-way to being a stalker. Chalk it up as a productive day for me.

I’m not going to say I didn’t enjoy walking behind this lady; it was worth being thought of as a pervert. She peeled off to the restrooms and I continued to room 307. She probably didn’t even need to pee. She was probably trying to get away from me. I have that effect on women.

The single patient room looked standard for the most part. A couple chairs off to the side and a little table next to them. There wasn’t an armed guard so good news for me. I wasn’t sure if there would’ve been, but I guess since they figured he would never recover they didn’t see the point in protecting him…way to stay vigilante H.V.P.D.

Tubes and lines were everywhere. They went in and out and every which way. Matt looked like a sci-fi’s mad scientists experiment. The machines hummed, banged, and beeped. Life support is such an un-natural visual. It physically hurt me to see it.

Death is a reality everyone must face at one point or another– even me. When the mind is gone but the body remains behind, an unseen battle takes place. He’s trapped between the world he knew and the fate that awaited him. No one knows for sure what happens when you die. There are many gods. There are many immortal beings. They live because people still believe in them. They can’t grant you any wishes, or answer your prayers. They only exist. They’re like tinker bell; if you don’t believe they will eventually die. Instead of clapping hands though, these beings feed off of the sacrifices that each person made in the name of that god’s righteousness.

I ran my hand six inches or so above his body. I was looking for any magical trace left from the attack, but there was nothing magical about what had happened to him. He was shot, plain and simple.

Matt was younger than I had expected, even with the Grizzly Addams facial hair. He had an exhausted expression frozen on his face. Was it because he was ready to leave?

I couldn’t find his personal effects. Perhaps the police were rummaging through them, or maybe he didn’t have much on him when he was shot.

He smelled nice, too nice actually. Generally I don’t go around smelling other men, but this was hard to miss. Plus, this was special circumstances. He smelled like a lilacs first bloom; bringing the fresh aroma of spring. Not your typical manly cologne. Perhaps he left the club with a lady, or maybe it was nothing. But it smelled like something. I’m not sure what good that little tidbit of knowledge would do for me now. But, it did bring such a sweet smell to a place like this.

With nothing else for me to do I left the hospital room. I passed the pretty gal from the elevator earlier. I gave her a small nod and a smile as she went by, unsure how she would take it. I tried my best to keep all creepiness out of it.

I glided home on my bike, hitting all green lights. What can I say, I have a gift. A dark green sedan was having the same fortune as me. It’s not every day I had the feeling of being followed. And it’s not every day that a follower’s actually following me. No one came down my street without an agenda.

I put my bike back in the dirt. I decided to continue on foot to the other side of the building and make my way to the front. The car I had seen following me parked on the other side of the street, a half block down. Someone got out of the car and pulled a hood over their head. He or she was sneaking their way closer to my cave of solace.

The follower went down the other side of the house, the same side I entered with my bike. I continued making a circle to get the beat on the intruder, in the middle of the day mind you, the nerve of some people. The follower rounded the back of the church and I rounded the front corner. I reached the back in time to see a woman, and she was reaching for the doorknob.

 

 

 

Chapter 14

 

“That’s a good way to get yourself killed.”

As I finished my sentence, out of fear, instinct or perhaps both, the lady whirled on her heels, cocked her right hand, and punched me straight in the nose. My eyes immediately started to water. I could feel blood beginning to drip down my nostril as I covered my nose with my hands.

“What the hell!” I screamed at her. “Why did you punch me?”

“I’m so sorry, it was a reflex. I didn’t mean to hit you,” she answered, “but you startled me.”

She seemed genuinely remorseful, but she most definitely meant to hit me.

I should’ve been ashamed of myself, getting punched in the face on my own stoop. Why are there so many awesome things I can do, but stopping a punch wasn’t one of them, but a bullet, a knife, or a trident? Sure, no problem, but a punch to the face, oh no I’m sorry Wes you’re going to bleed (not to mention look like you’re crying).

The lady with a wicked straight right was in fact the good looking woman from the hospital earlier.

“Is this because it looked like I was following you at the hospital?” I asked. “I was being friendly, nothing more to it than that.” I said trying to defend myself.

“No, it’s not because of that,” she answered. “What were you doing in my brother’s hospital room?”

“Your brother,” I asked confused, still holding my bloody nose. “Your brother is Matt?”

“Yes, he’s my younger brother, was my younger brother I guess. They said he’s only alive because of the machines. I want those sons of bitches that did this to him to pay before they take him off of those machines,” she said balling her fists, unable to hold the anger below the surface.

Her defensive walls were down and her emotions were out, the tears rolling down her cheeks were a big giveaway. I never knew what to say in these types of situations. Not what I would call one of my strong areas.

“Would you like to come in? I can put on a pot of coffee and we could talk about your brother. Please?” I asked as I opened the door, motioning for her to come in.

She only hesitated for a moment. What normally would be a risk entering a stranger’s home, was a necessary thing if she wanted to find the answers she had been searching for. She knew the consequences. She had made up her mind that finding her brothers killer would be more important than her own safety. I wasn’t someone who had intention of doing her harm, but it was still a risk for her. She was a good person caught in the crossfire. A family member had been taken from her, more or less anyway. I’ve been going through this town doing what I could but never received a chance to something great. Maybe this was my chance.

I gave her a tour through the back of the church, the old kitchen, and the main floor. She looked transfixed with the beauty of this old place: the detailed wood, the aged pews, the altar, and of course the stained glass window. It’s one thing if you had seen it from the outside but it’s completely different when seeing it from the inside. Being in the presence of the church alone adds to the magnitude of what you are witnessing.

We made our way to the opposite end of the cathedral and headed up the stairs. She was reluctant with every new turn and every step, but she made them none the less.

Gizmo met us at the top of the stairs. He sniffed and nuzzled the lady at once. He had a new friend. She bent down, gave him some pets and attention; his stump wagged wildly. I didn’t know if my room was clean enough for company and I didn’t know if my modified kitchen was either. I peered into my room and…yep it was as bad as I had thought it would be. The kitchen won by default, plus the coffee was in there.

I brewed a fresh pot and grabbed a fold-up chair and placed it by the small table I had off to the side. The room wasn’t small but I didn’t see the point in decorating it. There was the microwave, the fridge, the toaster oven, and a sink. I put in countertops I had found in one of the vacant apartment buildings. I didn’t want to see them go to waste. Same with a couple blocks of cabinets. It wasn’t pretty but it worked for me.

The coffee finished brewing, making the room smell like a fresh start.

“Do you take cream in your coffee…?” I asked, stopping in mid-sentence. I still didn’t know her name. How rude of me to not introduce myself. Did I introduce Gizmo at least?

“I’m sorry, how rude of me. My name is Wes Andersen, and you are…?”

“Drucilla…Drucilla Williams, but please call me Dru.”

“It’s very nice to meet you Dru,” I said. “My nose, however, may disagree but that’s why it’s the nose and not the mouth. My little pooch there is Gizmo. You’ve already won him over. He’s yours for life now.”

We sipped the coffee and smelled the delicious aroma; two of our senses being satisfied at once.

“Why were you at the hospital in my brother’s room?” She asked breaking the silence.

“Well, that’s a good question,” I started. “I will try and explain it to you the best I can. Where do I start? I don’t work for the police; I’m not a private investigator; I’m not even a bounty hunter.” I took another sip of my heavily creamed coffee. What I am is more complicated but not so complicated that I can’t explain it. I used to live here a long time ago. I ended up living in a rather furious way and never thought I would be back here.”

“Why did you come back?” She asked.

“I came back unknowing this was where I was coming to.”

“You didn’t know where you were going?”

“No, not really. For ten years I wandered, and for ten years this place was the furthest thing from my mind. In the end there was nothing I could’ve done anyway. If this place wanted me, it was going to have me. So here I am.”

“That explains why you’re here, but not what you do,” she said a tad annoyed. And the only reason I knew she was annoyed was the slight head tilt she did when she said it. That always meant bad,

“True. I do what most kids dream of when their young. I fight crime.”

“You fight crime? Like with a mask and cape?”

“Uh, no. Usually I walk the streets and help where I can find those who need it. Slowly but surely I’m carving a wake of criminals and their crime in my path. When I found out about the shooting I figured I could do my thing and try and help. That should explain why I was at his room and what I do.”

“What makes you so special?” She asked.

“A lot of things I suppose. My excellent hand-eye coordination, my violet eyes, but most importantly this…” I pulled the sleeve of my jacket on my left arm up, revealing my uniqueness.

“Your tattoo’s…that’s what makes you so special?” She lifted her sweatshirts right sleeve and showed me a four-leaf clover on her wrist. “See, I’m special too.”

 

 

 

Chapter 15

I was staring at her. I didn’t know how to reply to what she had said.

“I can’t fathom the situation you’re going through right now,” I said trying the reasonable route. “I’ve never lost anyone I’d ever cared about before. All I can tell you is that I’m on your side. I want to hold the people who did this to your brother accountable. You must believe me.”

She still looked rattled, frustrated, and the bags under her eyes suggested she hadn’t been able to get much sleep. She only wanted what anyone would want in her position–answers.

“Have you gone to the police?” I asked. “I was under the impression they still hadn’t located anybody in Matt’s family.”

She took a moment to respond. I couldn’t have her freeze up on me now. If we could share any info, hopefully something would make sense.

“I told them I was his friend,” she said. “I told them I would wait with him until they could find his family.”

“Why would you do that? Why hold that information to yourself?”

She stared at the tabletop with a blank expression.

“I want him to still be here when the answers are found. He deserves that much.”

“That’s a good enough reason for me.”

I may not have any experience with what she was going through but my instinct was to help her. There was nothing to it but to do it.

“I know who might have been behind the shooting of your brother. You have to understand though that the man is almost untouchable, or at least to this point in time he has been above the law.” She gave me those wide eyes again and flattened all of my male defenses. She might not have been doing it on purpose, but through the years I’ve learned that most women do in fact know what they were doing. Regardless, I was hooked. I now had someone to let down–a motivational tool if I’d ever needed one.

We finished our coffee. I still wanted to ask her more questions about her brother but I didn’t want to overload her. She was vulnerable and scared. I didn’t want to put any more stress on her than was necessary.

“I didn’t find anything useful in your brother’s hospital room. Did he go to the Neon district often? The newspaper said he was a jack-of-all-trades so to speak, that he was involved in illegal activities. Was that true?” She rubbed her arms together hesitating. Did I push my luck? Did I step over the line?

“Yes, he was involved with some illegal work. He was only doing what was available for him. He tried to get a regular job, I swear. Our mom had a stroke a year ago and the hospital bills started to pile up. I work for the Valley, pushing paperwork. It pays ok but not enough to cover the hospital payments. I don’t know what happened but one thing lead to another and Matt started doing anything he could to make money.”

Dru’s eyes swelled with water from the mention of her mother’s health issues. She was trying to keep it together, keep it all inside, but some things will make their way through no matter what. That concept I did understand.

“Matt began running drugs all over town. There wasn’t too much risk he thought. All he did was pick it up and drop it off and he would get paid,” she said as she again wiped tears from her face. “But he fell in love with the lifestyle, the money, the glamour, the lifestyle that came with the business. He paid the hospital bills every month, but it was never enough. By then he could only see the money piling up, the dollar signs hanging in the air. They were in his reach. He needed to have them. He kept doing what he was doing because he needed to, but in the end it was because he wanted to.”

“I understand, Dru. He was helping the family out at any cost. It’s a hard lifestyle to get out of once you are in. The easy money’s not so easy in the end.” I poured more coffee into each of our cups. It’s funny how something so simple like a cup of java could soothe you—an adult version of a pacifier. “Do you know who he was around the most? Anybody he was close to in the business? If we had someone we could talk to, hopefully they could point us in the right direction.” She took a sip of her coffee and closed her eyes.

“No,” she answered. “I wasn’t a very good sister was I? How do I not know who he was with? I should have done something a long time ago. This is my fault.”

Tears continued to roll down her face as she tried to bury her head into her arms. I knew this wasn’t her fault, and deep down she knew it to. Guilt would block the common sense right out of you sometimes. Her brother was a noble man to her. He ended up sacrificing his life for the family. It didn’t matter that he stayed because he liked it. That was his choice. He was family.

A woman I’d just met sobbing on my little table would be the definition of awkward for me. I’m not trained for that, nor would I ever be. Luckily for me Gizmo stepped up and took one for the team. He stood on his back legs and pawed at her until she picked him up. His slobbery tongue was the cure for her breakdown. He licked the side of Dru’s face and she couldn’t hold back the smile. I even smiled at the magic that he possessed. I hoped someday I could be half as powerful as Gizmo.

“Do you like video games?” I asked wanting the answer was yes. It would be a good distraction for her. “I just bought a Nintendo 64, if you like Bond or Mario Kart.”

“Ummm…I don’t think I have played that before. Is it easy? I wouldn’t mind something right now to take my mind off of my brother,” she replied.

I handed her some tissues and gave her the directions to the bathroom. She wasn’t wearing tear proof make-up. She looked like an extra for an Alice Cooper music video, all that was missing was a snake wrapped around her neck.

I went to the bedroom and set up Mario Kart for her. I only have the one controller. I didn’t think I would ever need a second one. It’s always been just the pup and I. It’s not like Gizmo would be able to play games with me, it would be awesome if he could, but paws and controllers don’t mix.

I quickly made the bed and threw some dirty clothes into the closet and shut the door; out of sight, out of mind.

She came into the room. I stood staring not knowing what to do. I felt wrong for feeling attracted to her, but it had been quite a while since a lady had brought out my google eyes. It was pathetic, I know, but it was nice to feel like that.

“Alright, here is the controller. I think we’ll start off with Mario Kart. It’s a racing game built on chaos. You can throw bananas, red shells, green shells, and you can even zap the other racers so they are tiny. Then you get to run them over. If Nascar was like this I would watch it.” She gave me a forced smile looking only slightly confused. She’ll enjoy it, everyone does.

“The analog stick is used for turning, the ‘A’ button for the gas, and the ‘B’ button for the brakes. Don’t worry about the ‘B’ button though, slowing down’s for suckers.”

The race started and Yoshi (the character she had picked) darted forward, zigzagging from one side of the screen to the other. At least she was going in the right direction. The race went on and the more time that past she loosened up. She started to enjoy it and that was the whole point of the game…to have fun.

We played for an hour and every race she improved. If things kept going this well I would have to find myself another controller. For now, at least, it was good to see her smiling. Look at me go, two good deeds in one day.

“Shoot the red shell, shoot it.” I yelled at Dru. Boom, she nailed that spiky Bowser, 1st place would be hers. In under an hour she was already taking 1st place. She was my kind of lady.

“Nicely done,” I said. “It’s getting dark out; you want to join me on my adventure tonight?” She had as much right as I did to try and find out who murdered her brother.

“What kind of an adventure?” She asked.

“I was thinking about going to the club where Matt was last seen. I think we could find some answers there. This should be relatively low-risk, just poke our nose around and see if anyone recognizes him. What do you say?”

“Of course, anything I can do to help. I can’t sit by his bedside waiting anymore. I’m his big sister, his protector. Let’s get going,” she said throwing the controller to the floor. That was a big gaming faux pa but I let it slide, only once though, only once.

I turned the TV and the N64 off and raced out the bedroom to catch up to Dru. She was already on the ground floor making a b-line for the back door. She was a fiery one and even through the tears she still remained positive, remained even-headed. The people responsible needed to be held responsible. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

She was a guest in my house, she played games with me, she laughed, she cried and now I couldn’t let her down. I may not have had any female influences in my life but my protective nature started taking over.

She stopped before the back entrance to wait for me. Did I mention she was smart?

We stepped out of the back. “What ride do you want to take, Dru?”

“Is it alright if we take yours? I don’t know where we are going.”

“That sounds fine by me,” I replied. She should’ve asked what kind of ride I had first, but she didn’t.

 

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 7

The walk home had been a blur. I could only remember parts of it. I’ve known this day would eventually come, but I suppose I could’ve never fully prepared for it. There’s only one thing I knew for certain…I needed some mouth wash.

I shuffled around the outside of the church and made it to the back door. Using the front door attracted unwanted attention and if anyone was on my street they wouldn’t be around for long.  A little discretion never hurt anyone. Plus, the front door was locked from the inside with an eight foot piece of solid oak. If I was ever in a hurry I might be able to blast it open, but I doubt it would ever come to that. The rear door was far more secure than the front door could ever be.

The back door had a key that only I possessed. Everyone in the world has an energy that they emit; some people refer to them as auras. I have an unnatural amount of energy and can control it, manipulating the elements. That’s what makes me special.  My energy acts like a fingerprint, unique to my body and my body alone. I infused the door with my power, my DNA so only I would be allowed to enter. I’m able to turn off my defenses with a simple thought, unlocking the bond that the door and I have, allowing other people to enter unharmed.

Somebody could physically open the door, but they wouldn’t like what would happen when they tried to cross the threshold–a little hint– their heart would explode. That was actually a big hint. They would be dead instantly. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make a half-assed booby trap when using my own energy. It’s all or nothing. With the additional power that flowed through the church, it took a minimal amount of my own power to complete the process. Moral of the story would be not to enter, pretend you’re a vampire, and make sure that you’re invited in.

I had a scare once. An alarm had been triggered in my head; I raced down the stairs and through the kitchen. I went to the back door to find it painted with a fresh coat of crimson blood, hair, and guts splattered on the walls, floor, and ceiling. It turned out I hadn’t latched the door securely and the wind had convinced it open. A poor raccoon, looking for fresh food instead of the spoiled in the dumpster, unknowingly walked through the wrong doorway.

The lower half of his body remained outside. The upper half had been sprayed about. It had looked like a giant, red ink blot. I wonder if I’d looked hard enough I would’ve been able to see a butterfly. A faint, pink hue still remained as a constant reminder of the power–the death, I controlled. And to always make sure the door has been closed securely and dead bolted properly.

I’d infused the door with my power so only I would be allowed to enter it. I was happy that my defenses worked, I just wished I had someone to clean it up for me. If something larger had come through I don’t think the result would’ve been the same, or at least I hoped not. I wanted security, not someone’s insides all over my entry way.

I lugged myself up the three flights of stairs and threw myself on the bed, exhausted and frustrated. It was only a little after 10pm, but I was beat. I was in need of a cat nap. I wouldn’t have been able to go to bed this early, plus there’s a lot more I still needed to do tonight. Gizmo tried to persuade me out of bed to walk him, but it fell on deaf ears. I told him, “Not now, daddy…needs…his…re…”

I woke up to a whimper and a lick over the scar on the side of my head. I slept for an hour or so and arose feeling a little better. The first thing I needed to do was take the poor puppy dog outside, so he could handle his business. When we were finished, we went back inside and to the room next to ours. The fridge and microwave were both there, in my make shift kitchen. There was a real kitchen on the ground floor, but it was too big and it was all the way downstairs. Throwing up really emptied me out, I was in desperate need to be refilled. I’m a vegetarian, that’s right; I carry a taser and I don’t eat meat. I love animals, why would I want to eat them? It could have been the orphanage meat that really turned me off from it. They plopped some pretty gross stuff on the plates at meal time.

I placed a fake burger in the toaster oven along with the bun. I added pepper-jack cheese, mayo, and ketchup when the oven dinged. That was all, no lettuce or tomatoes or onions. I’m a pretty lousy veg-head. I grabbed a Pepsi and some potato chips to complete the meal. Gizmo was a veggie lover also. He received a cup of food and two protein based snausages, meat-free of course. The pet shop carried a full line of meat-free treats for him. Like I said before, they love us.

We made our way back to the room food in hand. The whole time the only thing I could think about was what was to be done next. There had to be someone, somewhere I could talk to or intimidate for some answers. I understood Pirelli was behind the hit, but he was behind everything criminal. There’s an endless list of questions that needed to be answered. I fear there’s a lot more to this than I anticipated.

I inhaled my food; I think I chewed some of it. I decided to go where I always went when I needed to think…online gaming. I chose to play Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 on the PS3. Nothing cleared my head better than tactical war games. An hour of kicking ass and still I was lost. I suppose I have no other choice. It was time to wake the beast. I grabbed a few things: CD player, a CD; Mozart’s classic masterpieces, and Gizmos ball. Then, both of us headed to the roof.

Gizmo decided he wanted to race me up the stairs. And yes he won. He has four legs, I only have two, and my center of gravity is horrible compared to his. Plus he tripped me half way up here, so I think I will have to disqualify him and name the runner up the winner, (is that me?).

Before we went through the door I put my game face on. We stepped through the steel door and made our way across the roof to Harry. I threw the ball for the pooch and he went running after it. It was better to have him somewhere else instead of annoying the already grumpy gargoyle.

“So, I threw up this evening.” I said, started the conversation on an interesting note. I thought it might grab his attention. “It was as gross as I remembered it being; it was relieving, but gross.”

“Ha. Did you walk by a mirror or something?” Harry, all too cheerfully, replied.

He seemed to be in a pleasant mood and that was never a good thing. Usually, it meant something bad was in my near future. “Ahhh, good one,” I said with a horrible feeling rising in my gut. “Why are you in a good mood?”

“No reason Wes. I’m just enjoying this breezy night.”

“Can you even feel the breeze?” I asked.

“In some form, yes; here comes the mutt.”

Gizmo ran up to me, the big ball in his mouth, but covering his eyes. He didn’t seem too bothered by it. I retrieved the ball from the dog’s mouth and threw it again. He happily chased after it once again.

“Harry, why do I feel like I’m going to throw up again?”

As soon as I finished my sentence, the temperature that surrounded me had plummeted. It had been cool outside, but in a nice way, now with every breath I exhaled a white mist would appear. Before I could react to the changed around me, it was already too late. Whatever weird sensation I had been feeling before intensified in seconds. Harry, in a way I still don’t know how, struck at me with a furious vengeance. He had to have been storing his remaining energy, bit by tiny bit, waiting for the most opportune time, and that time had come. I had been under the impression that it wasn’t possible to do such a thing. I had been wrong.

His raw power surpassed anything I’d ever thought he would’ve been capable of. It was crippling. Through the tiniest crack in my defense he was able to plan an escape. He was trying to break through the front gate and I the gatekeeper. In moments I was frozen. My body stuck, unable to move, my eyes wide open unable to blink. My mouth, mid-open, awaited its next breath.

My heart stopped. The familiar beat to which my body lived to was no longer there. Through my chest cavity an invisible hand had cut through my defenses, through my skin, and gripped my heart, as easily as grasping an apple out of a tree. Harry pressed his thoughts into my own.

His voice was in my head now. There wasn’t an audible sound. There was no noise to be heard and yet I heard. It felt like we were becoming one being, he was after all a body snatcher. Harry and I had always communicated verbally. I could always hear his voice. Maybe I could never hear it; maybe it was only the projection of his voice, just like at this moment.

“I’m sorry it came to this Wes.” His words rolled through my mind, my body trembled without physically trembling; a ripple through my soul. “If only we had met in a different world, perhaps our story together could have been different. I wish there was some other way than destroying you to save me, but I’ve survived this long because I’ve always been able to make these tough decisions. Good bye Wes. I hope your next life treats you better than this one did.”

He cut his voice from my mind and the silence consumed me. The grip around my heart had never faltered. My time was running out. I shoved my thoughts, my will, to the soles of my shoes. If I had any chance of surviving, I would need the buildings help. If I could connect to the church, its power could possibly save me.  I couldn’t even take a breath to focus my mind; I was flailing and soon I would be dead–a frozen time capsule, half-crouched with a crazed look on my face right next to the gargoyle. They would put me with the likes of Ted Williams and some even say Walt Disney, if you want to believe the rumors. Even though it’s documented that Disney was cremated, for fear he would come back as a zombie. It’s ironic considering I could live to be over 200 years old if I could prevent things like these from happening. I wonder if I could come back after being frozen for 100 years; my body is far more complicated than the typical human. Maybe I hold the key to what all those frozen heads have been looking for.

Focus, that’s the big trick to wizardry…always, be focused. As tough as it was to empty my mind, there’s something about being on the edge of death that stretched your capabilities. I reached down, deep down, and tapped into anything and everything I could. I pushed all the energy I had to the roof below. “Breathe Wes, breathe,” I said to myself without moving my tongue or lips. It sounded like the monster that Dr. Frankenstein gave birth to, but it was the only encouragement I could muster for myself.

I gasped. I inhaled the most refreshing breath I’d ever sucked in before. In an instant my body felt warmer and I could move—albeit mostly stumbling. The buildings power had surged through me and sliced through Harry’s attack with deadly proficiency. I took in two more deep breaths of life before I recovered enough to think straight. I rushed over to the demon-within-the-stone and placed my hand on the slate. I needed to act fast while he was still weakened. My magic mixed with the buildings power made it possible for me to rebuild my defenses that Harry had worked so hard to bring down. He was strong, smart, and I hadn’t realized his full power until tonight. I was able to fix the walls and build them taller and stronger while the extra power was available to me.  I added anything and everything magically available to me to lock him down once again.

When it was over, I let out a sigh of relief as I fell on my ass: exhausted…again…already. It felt like my whole body ate ice cream way too fast; brain freeze was annoying, but whole body freeze was completely numbing. My eyes burned with every blink, my skin itched everywhere, and a chunk of my hair had fallen off like an icicle breaking off of a front porch when hit with a December’s afternoon sun.

When the coast was clear Gizmo jumped from his hiding place behind the AC unit and ran over to nuzzle me. I had been careless for far too long with Harry and it had almost cost me my life. I didn’t get a chance to aske him any of my questions before he had attacked. He was of no use to me now. I wasn’t as angry as I probably should’ve been but being alive had something to do with that. Focus on the positives. I set the CD player down on the ledge by Harry and put in a CD. “Mozart’s classics,” I said, “if you want to listen to it, all you have to do is press play.”

Harry would recover in time, but hopefully not too soon. This turned out to be a very un-fun day. Even though I’ve cheated death, today had too many bad with not enough good: knives, guns, and powerful beings…plus, my mouth still tasted like throw-up.

 

 

 

Chapter 8

I zombie-walked back to my room and turned in for the night. Even with the buildings enormous help I was gassed. I was both physically and mentally fatigued. It was time for a deep, deep sleep…or so I thought. I had a dream this night.

I was standing in the computer lab of my old school, all those years ago. I was as I looked in the present day, same jeans and shirt I wore to bed. At first I was alone, and then, one by one, students came in that I had once known. They were the same age as they had been in high school. Single file they entered, walking silently across the lab, and then stood in a line. They all came: every bully, every athlete, and everyone else who treated me like I was an abomination. They never spoke, never coughed, or made a noise of any kind. I was ready to speak but the students turned towards the door and went down to one knee. In walked the man, Mr. Pirelli. He was unlike the other students; he was like me, he was in his adult body.

I’ve seen pictures of him before in the newspaper and he looked just like he had then: tall, tan, and deceptive. He was wearing a fine Italian suit, black with silver pin stripes, and a deep forest green collared shirt with a matching pocket square. Everything had been tailored to fit his athletic frame and he wore it well. A shimmer of light caught my eye. It led me to one of the most interesting watches I had ever seen. I don’t how, but I knew right away that it was an Ulysse Nardin, Genghis Khan Watch. Genghis Khan was the Mongolian leader. He was remembered for a lot of things but perhaps the most important mark he left on society was the empire he had built. It was the largest empire in the history of mankind.

On the face of the watch there were four figures made from gold. Each hour, on the hour, the figures would move and fight one another. What a man wears can say a lot about them and this watch could be Jace’s biography–it also cost a half million dollars.

Jace walked to the center of the room with perfect posture and an ostentatious glow. He turned and faced me. His cold eyes locked with mine and it sent a shiver down my spine. The corner of his upper lip rose as he pulled an evil grin before he spoke.

“I have not forgotten you, Wesley”

My eyes shot open and a bead of sweat trickled down my forehead. My right leg kicked without my permission, sending Gizmo flying off the bed and landing with a thud and a yelp on the floor. That’s a hell of a way to wake up for the both of us. I’d rather be the one kicked off the bed. For a wizard, dreams are not merely a form of entertainment for our minds. Dreams are premonitions…parts of the dreams are anyway. I highly doubt that the students I went to school with have not aged one day. Unfortunately, I believe that Jace remembered me and knew I was back.

And the hits just keep on coming. 

 

 

 

Chapter 9

It was only 3:37 in the morning, so much for that deep sleep. I picked up Gizmo and carried him with me to the kitchen. He received a couple of treats and I received a treat as well. A cold shot of Vodka. My hands ceased shaking and my body started to calm down. I guess I could go to the online world of gaming now, sleep would just have to wait.

I was really hoping for the element of surprise when it came to Pirelli. Without it I felt vulnerable and weak. I felt like I did throughout my high school days, alone and powerless; even though that’s not who or what I was anymore. I’ve evolved into something far more superior than some criminal in an Italian suit and fancy watch. I was drawn back to reset the balance in my city. It was time for me to get some answers. My way.

I turned off the game and threw on some clothes. I threw on some blue jeans, black cons, black pea coat, and a plain black t-shirt. It was 4:15am now and the dives in the Neon District should be getting ready to close up shop. The corporation, known to the public as J.P. Inc, owns a restaurant and bar in the middle of the District called, Eternal Night. I had been there once before following a lead on a different investigation. The club looked standard when you first walked in. A lounge area led you inside, a full bar lined the entire right side, hot new music bounced through the air, and a large dance floor was in the center of everything. There was a back room where dancers occupied individual areas, and many other doors would’ve been occupied within complete secrecy. It was all supposedly legal, but it was foul. This time I was going there with intent; the intent to piss a lot of people off. I’ve been passive enough for one 24 hour period. It’s time for me to make some noise; a lot of noise that would hopefully lead to a lot of answers.

I walked down the stairs, through the back door, making sure I locked it behind me. I crossed the short distance from the church to the entrance of the cemetery. I stepped to the first line of graves and found the headstone marked, ‘For Sale’…it never sold. I bent over and placed my hand on the soil. I only had to think about my bike and the mere thought was good enough to spring it from its resting place.

In an instant the brown grass and dirt parted, raising my street bike from the grave below. My bike repelled the dirt and came out looking brand new.

My motorcycle a 2006 MV Agusta F4 CC, will always be very special to me. There were only 100 made in the entire world. The platinum plate says #21 out of 100. All black with carbon fiber in-lays with red pin stripping and lettering. With a top speed of nearly 200mph meant I could get from one end of the city to the other in a very timely manner. I’d never pushed my bike that hard, I guess I’d never had the need to do so. My bike cost more than I could ever make or ever see in my life. It was a gift from Marcus. I came back to the lair late one night and there it was, with a note attached:

Welcome home and good luck.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

I have never enjoyed moving nor do I enjoy staying in the same place for too long. It’s quite the conundrum for me as my family and I are in the middle of a move and for the first time going through the process of selling a house. I would not recommend this process for those weak of heart. It’s eating away at my soul. I feel like our lives are put in a little glass box for anyone with a notion and 15 minutes free to come and pick apart everything that we are. Now I know I shouldn’t feel this way. I understand that its business but it’s not merely business for me. It’s my life and it’s very personal to me. And because of that it hurts.

For 5yrs I have put my heart, blood, and sweat making a house into a home.  And now we must leave it. I am forced to watch as inspectors come and say this is wrong or that is wrong and all the while the anxiety builds and builds. For some time now I haven’t been able to have a break or a time to balance out. It’s never ending. Sure there’s a closing date but only if something doesn’t go wrong. I’m not even counting the actual packing or moving of stuff into a storage container that doesn’t exist as a part of my meltdown. For example: The summer time started and we were hot. So I packed the cold clothes into boxes and sent them to the garage with all the other stuff. A week later it’s raining and it’s 65degrees in my house. I know the sun is coming out already but it’s those things that start to add up and little by little the accruing weight starts to get heavier and heavier. I didn’t know it would be like this. I might have assumed it would be a bit of a shock but it feels more like being struck by lightning, repeatedly.

I love my family very much and for them I would do anything. I would endure anything. I started reading a book, one that I would hope help my deal with this journey, “Lord of the Rings”. Sure my journey is not quite at the level of Frodo’s and his Fellowship but the lessons are parallel. Although things may seem Dark and without hope, if you stay true to yourself and your family your task and journey can and will be completed.

One does not merely walk into Mordor and sell a house.

No matter who says it or where I hear it, if I hear the phrase, “It’s Summer time”, I immediately think of DJ Jazzy Jeff and & The Fresh Prince. It’s one of those classic songs that brings me back to a time where every little thing in my life didn’t give me stress or a in the least a certain amount of uneasiness. The song came out in 1991 and I was turning nine at the time. So for 25 years that song has stuck to me and has made a permanent home in my brain where there’s not much room to begin with. I’m sure there’s a scientific explanation how the melody of something can bring up the emotions you were feeling at the same time of first hearing it or maybe I’m just a huge pre-2000 Will Smith fan.

Listening to music has always helped me whenever I needed it. I can’t carry a tune in a bucket with a magnet but I can always count on the beat of a song to breath life into my day. I watched my 6yr old put on headphones and listen to music the other day and wondered what his song would be. He still has plenty of time of course and he’s six but as the Summer time starts and he continues to grow I might not have as much time to wonder as I thought.

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.

About this time Santa Claus is putting the finishing touches on his route around the world, elves are shining up that beautiful red sleigh, and the reindeer’s coats are thick and ready for the frosty night ahead of them. Hopefully all of those kiddies who wrote to the Jolly Man have been good all year long and not just a month before, because we all know from experience that there’s no fooling the Bearded Wonder.

That unbridled enthusiasm for Christmas that children have had been lost on me for a long time. It wasn’t until I had a child of my own that the joy came back to me. I’ve always secretly hated opening gifts from people that don’t know me as well as they would like. It scares me. Luckily for me I met a woman who took the time to get to know me better than anyone else in the world and now gets me the perfect gift every time. And in turn we make Christmas a special day filled with awesome presents and quality family fun with our son.

I love giving gifts. I do. I do. I enjoy shopping: online and in person. It’s one of those signs that I’m getting old or that I am old and I’m having a hard time believing it. There are those who think “the Holidays” shouldn’t be about gifts and what not and they’re right but I want to give those that make my year an enjoyable one something to say thank you and I know you well enough to give you something other than an iTunes card. It’s a part of the process for me. I can only enjoy this month with the loved ones by my side and the wrapping paper flying all around.

The only tradition we really have is on Christmas Eve. We invite all of the family over to enjoy in making cookies for Santa, hot cocoa, a set of new pajamas, and watching “A Nightmare Before Christmas”. I look forward to this every year. It was my family’s first tradition and hopefully when my son is older and changing what he considers fun I hope this day is still something he enjoys. And I hope you and yours enjoy the things that bring your families together and enjoy the fun that the Holidays should bring.

Celebrate the conclusion of another year but look forward to the New Year.

B.McGee

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