Enjoy! Release date for the full novel is Friday, March 30, 2012!
The house was quiet but for the soft popping of the burning wood in the fireplace. It shed enough light to keep him calm, but the storm outside raged off and on for some time.
After Kathy left, Gabriel retreated back to the living room with a book. He often liked to read, but because he also enjoyed watching his wife’s favorite show “Criminal Minds” with her and because he was currently trying to catch up to her, he didn’t often find time to read.
When he turned the page, a sound clattered from somewhere. If it were in the house, it probably would’ve echoed off the walls. No, this sounded as if it were done outside. Maybe by the same creature he saw out there earlier in the evening.
He looked up and outside through the large sliding glass door. The rain was pouring, but there was no wind. He thought it might have been a branch crashing to the Earth, but the weather was not violent enough to cause such a thing to happen. Maybe it was just a noise from the house settling. Though it wasn’t old, it was certainly starting age, and that would be enough to make random sounds creak and crack from the walls.
Still unconvinced that something wasn’t outside, he kept an eye on the wet terrain. Occasionally, he was startled with flashes of lightning, other times thunder sent tremors through his body. Other than that, however, all was calm.
As he was about to return to his book, another sound overpowered the heavy ticks of the rain. What followed it was even more startling because it crashed as if someone had broken a dish. This time, he was sure it was coming from the house.
Gabriel set his book aside and took up the flashlight from the coffee table. He switched it on and listened for a moment, hoping to figure out where exactly the sound had originated. Unfortunately, the noises had ceased, forcing him to search the dark house alone.
He moved from the living room, passed the stairs, and cautiously made his way to the back of the house. He knew there wouldn’t be anything in this room, but he decided to check it anyway. The noise had clearly come from the second floor, but it was darkest up there. After Kathy left, he doused all the candles and high-tailed it to the first floor.
It had to be impossible, though. The second floor had zero access to intruders. The rain had obviously slicked the roof, and even if it wasn’t too slippery, there was nothing outside that could be used to get up there in the first place.
When he returned to the stairway, he pointed the light to the second floor. The walls soaked most of the light up, and when the beam reached the top landing, a thick layer of darkness waited for him.
Up there was something unknown, and his imagination didn’t do much to help his situation. He imagined the same dark shadowy creatures from earlier stalking the blackness up there, waiting for him to make his way into their bloodthirsty jaws. What if it wasn’t that? What if it was some kind of ethereal monster skulking around, looking for its next victim. He chuckled nervously, knowing that whatever it was, he needed to make sure the house was clear before Kathy got home. Protecting her, regardless of how terrified he might be, was his number-one priority.
The first step up was the hardest, but he kept steadily creeping up the stairs. The closer he got to the top, the more apprehensive he became about his nobility to protect his wife. This, of course, was made worse when he heard another crash. It was coming from the master bedroom.
He made one quick sweep with the light to make sure nothing was up there, but mostly because he was hesitating. Going in there meant to face his fear, and doing that would probably mean that his fear would soon dissipate. This is not something he wanted to happen, but he had no choice.
The doorknob felt cold in his hand as he slowly turned it. The spring clicked and moaned, and the door finally cracked open. He half-expected the dark void inside to slip through the opening and swallow the flashlight’s beam thrusting him into complete darkness. Fortunately, the light cut into the room instead as he fully opened the door.
Inside the room, nothing was disturbed. The window wasn’t damaged, and from where he was standing, the lock seemed to be engaged. Kathy’s jewelry box was unmolested, and his guitars were still caked with dust.
As he stepped into the room to double check the darker areas, another loud crash—this time glass breaking—shattered the silence. Someone was definitely in the house, but they were on the first floor.
Gabriel hurried to the nightstand and picked up the landline. He clicked the call button, and dialed the police emergency line. When he put the cold phone to his ear, he waited a few seconds, but there was no ring. He hung up and retried, but there was no dial tone. Someone had cut the line.
He quickly opened the closet door, reached in, and retrieved a wooden bat. He hoped he wouldn’t have to use the weapon on anybody or anything, but he felt safer having it. He took a deep breath, and stepped out of the room. Down the stairs the darkness warned him of the dangers he would encounter, but he took the first step towards certain danger regardless.
Grace’s heart slammed in her chest as she closed her bedroom door. It wasn’t possible for him to hurt her mother. It just wasn’t his nature to hurt anyone, let alone his own wife. Still, the soft thud and blood splatter on the wall was all too real for it to be her imagination.
She reached for the knob to lock it, but found no latch. Her parents wanted to make sure that they had easy access to the room when her brother was still living with them. She could’ve asked for a lock at some point, but she never felt the need for one, not until now anyway.
Her father’s footsteps echoed from the stairs and slipped under the door. Deep roars of her name called forth from her father’s tortured voice.
His voice reverberated in her mind. For so long she’d known a voice that was caring and loving; a voice that showed her the way of the world in the sweetest possible way. On the other side of the door was her father, but it was not the man that raised her. He was the determined man she knew, but the dangerous monster she wouldn’t have even dreamed in her most malevolent nightmares. This man wanted to hurt her, maybe even kill her.
After grabbing a nearby chair and wedging it under the knob, she backed up to the window. Within a moment, she saw his shadow appear in the light beneath it. For a moment, all was still as though time had ceased to tick. Anxiety ran through her veins furiously, waves of blood crashed in her ear and drummed her drum a beat of terrible fright.
“Gracie, open the door for daddy.” He with a sincere voice.
The caring tone made her twitch. She wanted to run for the door and let him in, hoping that the creature that took over her father was no longer in control. She wanted him to be okay so she could hug him and love him as she always had.
“Yes, honey, it’s me. Come open the door.”
She took a hesitant step towards him, but stopped herself. The great debate was whether that man was her father and was no longer axe-wielding murderer. She had no way of knowing, but he was sounding more and more like him every second he was out there.
“Honey, someone is out here, and they hurt your mother. They’re gonna come for me any second. Please open the door.” He said, “All I want to do is protect you. I couldn’t protect your brother, and it was all my fault. I can’t lose you, too.”
Grace’s eyes stung with sadness. She’d never heard him admit not being able to help her brother. Worse, it wasn’t even his fault. The whole blame game between her parents was as stupid as it was pointless. It was no one’s fault but the drunk’s for crashing into them. They were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, and deep down inside they all knew it. It just seemed easier to turn in and blame someone than to face the fact her brother died for no reason.
She started to walk slowly towards the chair, and as she grasped upon the leg to pull it free from the door, her father banged on the wood. It was loud, hard, and enough to cause the chair to vibrate somewhat loose. She wedged it even harder under the knob and backed away.
After banging on the door twice more he said, “Open this fuckin’ door, you little bitch.”
He continued to bang, incoherently screaming at the top of his lungs. She wondered if she could run passed him. She knew doing so would bring her closer than she wanted to him, ultimately leaving her open to attack. However, cornering herself in the room would probably get her killed.
The more she considered her possibilities, the less likely she felt she was going to live. Even in his state of rage, he was probably quick. He would see her coming towards him and swing the axe. Either that or he would grab her. In any case, getting around him no longer seemed like a viable solution.
The sound at the door was muffled at first as if he were using his fist or foot to bang on it. Now, it clattered with heavy force. He was finally putting the axe to use.
As the door began to splinter and give way, she looked around the room. Near her bed, she saw her bear. The small brown doll coaxed her to grab it and feel comforted by its plushy exterior. She walked to it and picked it up, holding it tight to her chest. Soon, he would be through the door, and she would meet her mother in heaven.
Grace watched the door vibrate and crack, and finally the axe poked its vicious head through. He twisted and pulled and slammed it against the door harder.
“Grace! Open the god damn door!”
There was a rush of energy in her as her defiant words crossed her lips. Never once had she disobeyed him. Always she was the good girl who did everything he asked no matter how badly she wanted do something else.
This newfound strength made her want to get away. She didn’t want to let him take her like he took her mother. She would find a way or die trying.
When she looked around the room, the only escape available to her was the window. She dropped the bear, limped over to the window, and poked her head through the frame.
The rain had stopped moments ago and the roof looked slick with oily water. The only time she was ever out there was during dry weather. She wasn’t sure how slick it could be, but she also knew she needed to take the chance. If she died falling off the roof, it was a better than doing nothing and accepting her fate at the hands of the monster behind the door.
Grace looked back and saw a board explode from it. Her dad peeked through and called her name again. His face was twisted with rage. Red rings encircled his eyes, his skin was pale, his pupils were dilated, and sweat dripped heavily from his brow.
Still, the sight of her father’s face compelled her to stay in the room. She wanted him to hold her and tell her it is only just a bad dream. Soon, she would wake and her mother and brother would still be alive. He would tell her they were going to a movie like they always did on rainy nights. However, she couldn’t get passed his evil face. She reminded herself that the man behind her door was no longer her father.
She turned towards the window and the rain began to fall again. This time, it fell harder than before. The possibility of slipping had increased, but she lifted herself onto the window seal anyway.
Her leg didn’t bend too well, but she was still able to twist in such a way that she was able to bring both of her legs outside.
As she sat there, building the courage to drop onto the shingles below, her father broke down the last of the door. When he stepped inside the room he said, “Get back in here.”
Grace took one last look at her father and pushed herself off the ledge. It was only a foot drop to the roof, but when she landed, most of her weight was on her damaged leg. Pain shot from her ankle and through to her waist, which caused her to fall on her side.
The slick rain and her weight worked against her and she began to slide towards the ledge. She frantically grabbed for anything she could use to stop herself from going over the side, from becoming a meaty mess on the concrete below.
Shingles slipped effortlessly from her grasp, and when she reached the edge her good foot caught the storm drain. Relief calmed her body, and tears of joy nearly burst from her with a wailing cry.
After looking up and seeing her father’s shadow appear at the window, she carefully stood and steadied herself. She made her way across the roof, stepping lightly and then firmly to keep from slipping again.
The rain drenched Grace and hindered her sight, but she was still able to see her father climb out the window after her. As he stepped onto the roof, he slipped as well and dropped the axe. It slid off the edge, but he maintained his balance.
She continued across the slick roof. When she reached the back of the house, she followed it right. Down below she could see pools of water forming and reflecting the darkened sky. Scattered around were toys she and her brother had left there some time ago. Though the rain washed them clean, they still felt desolate, as if they were a graveyard of rusted tools and car parts.
When she reached the end, the upper roof was now only a foot above her head. She was wary of climbing up there, but she knew she had little time to spare before her father caught up with her.
Grace reached her hands up and the tips of her fingers barely touched the drain. She would have to jump the rest of the way, and hook her fingers onto it. She had only one shot to get it right, otherwise she would likely slip and find herself face down in one of those shallow puddles below.
After taking a deep breath, she glanced at the other end of the roof. Her father clumsily turned the corner and stopped. He watched her as an animal might watch its prey. It was a dark look that forced her to quickly make her move.
She bent her good leg and kept her arms high. She kept an eye on the white drain above, and then pushed off. At the penultimate moment when her foot was to lift off, it slipped first. Thankfully, the extra three inches she needed was satisfied, and she grabbed onto the ledge.
Though her name implied that she moved with considerable agility, she actually clamored up with effort and nearly slipped off twice. Still, she managed to make her way up just as her father neared. He tried to reach for the metal brace, but she pulled it up and away from him.
The upper roof seemed slicker than the other, but because she was now favoring her leg, she wasn’t moving fast enough to slip.
When she looked back, her father was climbing the edge. Because he was taller, he managed it faster and safer than she did. He was closing the gap between them, and she was running out of roof.
From behind, she heard him continue to scream, but now he wasn’t saying anything. They were just sounds of rage and anger splintered by the coarse rain.
She hurried as fast as her legs would take her, and finally, she came to the end. She peered over the edge at the ground below. She considered jumping, but the drop didn’t look safe. It was too far.
Grace turned around and looked at her dad. When he was just five feet away, he slowed to a stop. His labored breathing kicked water from his nose and saliva from his open lips. His teeth were clenched.
“Daddy, leave me alone!”
He only continued to breathe hard, ignoring her request. He knew he had her. She had nowhere else to go.
“I love you, Daddy. Please, don’t hurt me.” She said as hot tears began to stream down her face.
He took a step toward her and she looked over the edge. She wished she could talk some sense into him, but he was too far gone into whatever inner world that led him astray. Something else controlled him now. Perhaps a deep desire to kill everything and everyone, or maybe he just wanted to hurt the ones he loved.
She didn’t want to turn her back to him, but did. She peered over the edge again, and looked at the scintillating leaves of the bushes below. All she needed to do was aim for those and everything would be all right. Right?
When she put the tips of her feet bare feet at the edge, the street lights and neighboring houses went dark. The possible safe landing was now gone. Had there been a moon, she might’ve been able to gauge where to fall, but now it was just inky blackness, as if below her was nothing more than a black hole waiting to swallow her.
Down there she knew one of three things would happen. She would escape unharmed and be free to find help, break something and wait there until her father made his way through the house, or she would hit the concrete too hard and kill herself.
With only one-third chance of survival, which was probably far less than that, she took a deep breath and jumped.
Gabriel opened his eyes expecting to feel the sting of the afternoon sun, but instead he was welcomed with the soft buttery light of flickering candles. For years he’d been troubled into insomnia, so whenever he slept longer than an hour it was a blessing.
As he sat up on the couch, the old springs creaked and moaned. He rubbed the blur from his eyes, and wondered why there were candles placed about the room. He certainly hadn’t done it, and couldn’t remember if he’d come home to some romantic settings devised by his wife. Perhaps he did, and things were becoming far worse than he thought.
For as long as he could remember, he’d been plagued with insomnia. Sleepless nights weren’t always something he had to deal with, only since he was eleven. Since that day, tossing, turning, and infomercial marathons occupied his nights. It was only a matter of time before blacking out would become a routine with his sleeplessness, and the memory loss accompanying it would be no less common than air.
When he met Kathy, it didn’t take her long to figure out that he was incapable of sleep. She told him it would never be a problem, but that never stopped him from feeling like he was keeping her from living a normal life. Though she stubbornly disagreed with him, he knew that every time he fell asleep when she wanted or needed him the most it had to be getting to her.
If she had planned a romantic night, then it was getting worse. Not only had he forgotten that he came home to a wonderful display of her love for him but he’d fallen asleep on the couch, which means they were probably in the middle of something intimate. Perhaps they were talking, cuddling, or even kissing. Whatever the case, he’d once again fallen victim to his lack of sleep and had probably made her feel as though she weren’t getting the things she needed as a wife.
Gabriel stood from the couch and threw his arms into the air. He reached for the ceiling, further and further still until his back cracked and his muscles ached from the stretch. Before continuing through the house, he listened for a moment. From the direction of the master bedroom, he heard the soft sounds of the shower running.
The house had a contemporary open design, so as he walked around the couch he could clearly see into the kitchen. He glanced at the clock on the microwave, but all he saw was a blank screen. He stopped and shifted his gaze to the clock below on the range, but it was out too.
He felt a little better that the candles were probably there as a result of the power outage. However, he wished he hadn’t fallen asleep because he knew she was probably terrified at first when everything powered down. It wasn’t that he thought her weak, but he was her support system, and when things happened, no matter how small they were, it was good to have him to talk to and to walk her through those moments.
He walked back to the table standing to the left of the couch and opened a wooden drawer. After retrieving a small high-powered flashlight, he flicked the switch and watched the cold white light permeate the room. As he walked towards the stairway, he watched shadows dance along the walls like dark wraiths waiting to strike him at any moment.
The shadows were an irrational fear, and he knew it. All the things he’d come to know as a child spawned a deeply rooter fear of so many things. It wasn’t just the shadows, but it extended to people. Even those that he’d known for the longest of time—excluding Kathy—were subject to his fear. Hell, a cat jumped on his lap once and he made the most horrifically comedic shriek anyone had heard, and everyone heard it that day.
As Gabriel climbed the stairs, the wooden planks under the carpet weakly creaked, and the shadows packed in behind him. Thankfully, when he reached the top, the room was the first door on the left. Inside, there was considerable more light and far more candles than there was on the first floor.
Though there was plenty of light, he was hesitant to turn the flashlight off. He did it anyway, because he knew if there was a severe problem with power grid, the candles would only last so long. As he set it on the dresser next to a crystal hummingbird collection, the water in the bathroom turned off.
“Babe.” He called.
“Yeah sweetie, I’m in here.”
Gabriel walked among the specters that danced languidly to the fine light of the candles, and when he reached the bathroom, he opened the already cracked door.
Kathy was just stepping out of the shower with a towel wrapped around her body. She hadn’t dried yet, for her hair was still dripping and her skin looked as though she was as sweaty as a day worker under a hot sun.
She smiled at him for a moment, and he walked to her. He pulled her close, wrapping his arms around her waist. The cool blue towel unraveled, fell, and hung off his arms.
He smiled. “Looks like I woke up at a good time.”
“Oh, yeah?” She said, and kissed him with her soft lips.
He let the towel drop to the floor. She looked at him dubiously, “I have to work soon.”
“Do you, now?”
He kissed her again, and ran his hands down the soft curves of her back. Though fear seemed to run his life, he was a lion at heart. She cuddled into him because she felt safe in his arms. He held her close.
Gabriel took a deep breath and let her go, “Okay, I’ll let you finish getting ready.”
He watched her grab the towel from the floor, and as she began to dry her wet stringy hair, Gabriel walked back into the bedroom. He stopped at the window and glanced at the neighborhood. The street lamps, neighboring homes, and other sources of light were all doused.
“When did the power go out?”
“Probably about a half hour after you got home.”
He looked up at the sky and said almost inaudibly, “Great.”
Outside, the clouds had pulled together and formed a thick layer of nimbus that seemed prepared to shower the Earth. This was strange since only a day ago he’d seen on the news that the rest of the week was supposed to be sunny days and clear nights.
He looked further into the horizon to see if perhaps it was just a small storm that might’ve not shown up on the radar, but the clouds seemed to stretch as far as his eyes could see, which granted wasn’t so far on such a black night.
In the distance, probably no more than two or three miles away, lighting lit the clouds and cracked their soft nature. They snaked across the surface of the nimbus, while others touched down near house and trees. Soon the loud crash of thunder boomed, and then the rain began to fall steadily and heavy to the ground.
“Kathy, did you hear anything about rain?”
She exited the bathroom, stood behind him, and peered through the window. “No, Mr. Smile said it was supposed to be sunny and clear for the next ten days.”
Gabriel chuckled. “Mr. Smile?”
“Oh, you know. He has that fake white smile that seems so plastic that it’s all you can see when he talks.”
“It can’t be that bad.”
“You tell me, you’ve seen that awful thing.” She said, and then laughed.
Gabriel chuckled, but nervously. As he watched out the window, he couldn’t help but feel as if the rain was dangerous, that perhaps the storm was bringing with it a lot of pain, fear, and suffering.
This wasn’t the same nervousness he felt when he normally felt fear of something. The anxiety tightening his chest and shaking his core was something far more fearsome than just petty irrational distress. This was a deep terror that something was coming.
He turned from the window to get his mind off the storm and saw his wife finish putting on the last of her scrubs over her torso. He smiled and said, “Hello, nurse!”
“Is that right? This is far from sexy.”
“You’re sexy to me.”
“Even in these filthy clothes? I don’t know about all that.”
“Well, I know, and that’s all that matters.” He said and turned back to the window.
“I see. Maybe I can pilfer a sexy nurse uniform from the old storage area. I’m sure we still have some candy striper uniforms from the early days.”
“That would be—” He started to say, but got lost in something he saw on the first floor.
Near a bush at the far end of the backyard, there was a black creature skulking in the shadows, or at least it looked like it. The movement could have been an illusion made by the rain, but that coupled with his fear that something was coming made it all the more real to him. In fact, he thought for a moment that he might have seen eyes.
Surely it was just a coyote. Yes, that would explain the skulking. It was probably just down there trying to find shelter from the rain underneath one of the bushes.
He stared deep and harder, hoping to catch another glimpse of the backyard intruder, but all seemed lost. Nothing moved other than the soft sway of the leaves and the pouring rain.
Gabriel felt something grab his arm, and terror shot through his body. He turned and let out a deafening scream that was muffled by his own tongue. When he realized that it was just Kathy, he calmed his demeanor, but inside he felt the weight of something evil crushing down on his soul.
“Gabriel, are you all right?”
He shook his head no, “Yeah, I’m fine. Just a little jumpy.”
“Babe, it’s fine. I’m sure it’ll pass soon enough.” She said, and cuddled into him.
“I know. It’s just—I don’t know. The rain just has me a little frazzled I guess.”
“Well, don’t you worry about it. Eventually it will all be gone, and the sun will be back in just a few hours.”
Gabriel took a deep breath, and kissed his wife. Her words were as soothing as her touch, but nothing was as reassuring as the feeling of her lips against his. All seemed forgotten when they shared a moment of intimacy, and he was thankful she could do that for him. In fact, she was the only one he’d ever known that could pull him clear of his funk.
When the kiss ended, she looked up at him. Her hazel eyes seemed to glow gold in the candlelight, and she smiled, “There, all better.”
He smiled with her. “Yeah, I guess so.”
Kathy turned and grabbed her keys out of a small crystal bowl adorned with hummingbirds. Their midflight sculpture seemed less beautiful and more frantic. It was as if they were trying to escape whatever was coming, but the dark evil was holding them back, keeping them locked in time.
“Okay, I’m out of here. Do you need anything while I’m gone?”
He shrugged. He wanted her to stay, and keep him company through the stormy night. “No, just drive safely and don’t get into too much trouble with Birtha.”
She laughed. Birtha was the oversized and iron-fisted nurse that commanded the twelve other rooms adjacent to Kathy’s. She wasn’t really all that mean once you got to know her, but one look from the woman and you’d expect to jump right out of your skin and hang from the ceiling.
She said, “See you soon.”
He watched Kathy leave the room. He was glad the fear remained with him, because it was the one thing that kept him the person whom she had always known him to be. Without the fear, he was a different kind of person, and he wasn’t sure she would be able to accept that part of him. The fear is what she always knew, and the fear is what she loved about him.
He looked out the window, and let the fear wash through his body once again.
Starting November 1st, 2011 through December 31st, 2011, 70% of all proceeds from all book sales will be donated to Children’s Hospital of Orange County to help support health care, education, and most importantly research to find cures!
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“The cold hand of terror seemed to grasp inexorably at his soul as if it were trying to pry it free of his earthly body. Even as Dean set down Rose’s final drink, he could neither blink nor acknowledge the man had brought it to him.
Dean said something, but he remained entranced by the woman. Though she had gone, her bloody visage remained burned in his memory as though she were still standing behind him. He knew the world around him was there, and for a moment he thought he wouldn’t be able to break free. It wasn’t until he felt someone’s hand lay upon his arm that he was able to blink the image away. Once again he was sitting at the bar with Dean, who now watched him worriedly.”
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“Where do you get your ideas for your books?” – Melissa D., Arizona
I get this question often, and I’m sorry to say that I don’t have a small machine tucked away in the deepest darkest part of my closet that when I push a button, a random idea comes rolling out of it. However, I do have several marbles in my head, and sometimes if I shake hard enough, they will smack together and give me inspiration for a new novel.
I heard James Patterson has an old magical fortune-telling machine. When he puts in a quarter, it spits out a small piece of paper-about the size of a business card-that has an entire novel micro-printed on it. Should you get your hands on those, you probably won’t need to loosen any screws or bolts or marbles in your head to get ideas.
“Did you always want to be a writer?” Debrah L., Mass.
At some point I’m sure that I wanted to be an astronaut, fire fighter, police officer, circus clown named Honky the Great, but for the most part, my first love has always been reading and writing.
Growing up I read everything I could get my hands on, and was even subscribed to a book club that sent me 4 books a month. I loved reading so much that I wanted to be a creator of these worlds, and set off to write my first story.
After that, I couldn’t get enough writing. I would write in class, after class, during lunch, at home, after bed time, and perhaps even while meditating on the throne. More than two decades later I’m still writing.