NEW BOOK COVER REVEAL! — THE BLEEDING CROWN

After many trial and error sessions — many late nights designing in the wee hours of the morning…  Here, at last, is the new cover for The Bleeding Crown due out within the next couple months!!!

FRONT COVER:

 

BC V23fb

 

BACK COVER:

Back Cover v1FB

 

 

Let me know what you think?  I am super excited about this new installment!!

 

Derek

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The Hidden — Chapter 14 — T.D. Barton & Derek Barton

TH -- Chap 14

 

 

CHAPTER FOURTEEN:  THE TUNNEL

The tunnel walls were cold and slick with moisture and it was like crawling down a drain pipe. Water filtered in through the porous limestone, pooling on the floor, dripping from the ceiling and making ghostly plunking sounds which echoed through the eerie darkness. Trickling down through the soil above, the water carried acid which it had leeched from decaying organic materials.  This acid combined with limestone to form calcium carbonate which created a coating of minerals and odd formations along the rock walls.

Susie shivered with cold and fear in the murky depths of the tunnel. She kept one hand on Zelda’s back as they inched their way in silence through the dark. Every now and then, Zelda would come to an abrupt stop.  Susie would hold her breath and listen to her sliding her hands across the tunnel walls and floor before continuing. She was obviously checking for more wells or pits like the one Susie had dropped into before.

Susie was glad to have found this new friend. She had spent weeks alone here with the hideous beasts, and the closeness of an adult human was very soothing to her sensibilities. In truth, she would have liked Zelda instantly, under any circumstances. There seemed to be a bond that formed between them the minute they first embraced — Susie was in need of a mother figure to care for and nurture her, and Zelda was just as desperately in need of a child. Each filled the void so obviously present in the other.

In her heart, Susie wished her own mother could be more like Zelda. This woman actually listened and if she had been her mother, she would never have allowed Doug to abuse and humiliate her. Susie would never have been forced to do those things, and she never would’ve had to run away.  Thus, she wouldn’t have been captured, wouldn’t be here now, crawling like some kind of earth-worm through a dark hole in the ground. In the short time they’d been together, she had become Susie’s hero; and she was sure in her heart that somehow, the woman would make things all right again.

Zelda stopped once again and Susie huddled up close behind her, trying to draw strength and warmth. No matter what, she was never going to let herself be separated from this woman — of that she was certain.

“There’s another tunnel leading off from here,” Zelda whispered. Her voice, soft as a sigh, went scampering on down the branch tunnel ahead of them and was lost somewhere in the distance.

She felt the little girl clinging tightly to her and silently wished for guidance. This area was honey-combed with tunnels, each leading in different directions and each one mysterious as the next.

Here in the pitchy darkness of the cave, Zelda shut her eyes tight, trying not to recall those claustrophobic feelings, and once more, she wished she had some sort of beam to pierce this lightless world, if only for an instant.

 

***

 

Susie’s legs and arms were growing cold; her knees were bleeding from her previous fall. She had never tried to find a way out before, knowing, as she did, that the creatures could watch her — even in the dark. You could never be certain that one of the disgusting things wasn’t standing inches away in the inky blackness, its ghastly fangs dripping, as it glared hungrily your way. But now that she had placed her trust in Zelda.  She was willing to trail along behind, clutching feverishly at her clothing and occasionally casting a blind glance to the rear and listening for sounds of pursuit.

Zelda seemed to be following the main tunnel, ignoring those that connected and ran off at angles from it. They continued on, not even whispering unless they had to, for what seemed like hours.

Susie wasn’t suffering the claustrophobic effects that Zelda was, due to her smaller size. However, she wasn’t dressed as warmly, and the cool temperatures of these subterranean passages were chilling her badly. Shaking violently, she reached up and felt her matted, tangle of hair.  She remembered how her mother had kept it brushed and tied with ribbons, the golden curls cascading down in shiny layers about her shoulders.

“Rapunzel.” her mother had called her, as she sat before the big dresser in her parent’s bedroom. The beautiful brush her mother saved for just this task made soft snicking sounds as she brought it slowly through Susie’s hair and chanted “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair… that I may climb the golden stair…”

A sob forced its way into her throat, like a bubble rising in a pond, but she stifled it, not wishing to let her new friend know she was scared and homesick.

They had stopped to briefly examine the entrance to another tunnel and were moving past it when a deep, guttural sound, like the grunt of a huge boar hog, echoed down the corridor from behind them. The source was probably distant, but the magnifying effect of the stone conduit encasing them made it sound terrifyingly near. It filled the air and lay close about them, raising the hackles on their necks. Susie clung tightly to Zelda, and the woman reached around to squeeze her protectively with one arm.

Susie felt Zelda pushing her back into the mouth of the connecting tunnel and she crawled backward, still holding on to the fabric of Zelda’s shirt. When she was safely inside, the woman eased herself in beside her, clamping a hand lightly over Susie’s mouth, warning her to be still.

The warmth of Zelda’s body, wrapped defensively about her was marvelous; and Susie hoped they could stay like this for awhile. She stretched, languidly, in the dark straightening her legs out behind her. It was then that her foot struck something warm and rough… and bristly with hair! There was movement behind them. Something huge and smelly was stirring just inches away, in the cramped space of the tunnel. Judging from the sound, it must have been nearly wedged against each side, filling the tunnel complete with its grotesque body.

A scream of rage split the air, and Susie felt her bladder let go.

Zelda clamped her hands over her ears and prayed for a mercifully quick death. The creature was right up against them in the tunnel, and there would be no hope for escape.

Then, to her amazement, she heard a voice, deep and evil-sounding, splitting the darkness.

What do you want here? the voice said, and dimly she became aware that there was no accompanying echo.  The voice seemed to be inside her head, rather than penetrating her hands to ring in her ears. She grimaced at the feeling it left behind, as though she had been violated by something filthy.

SPEAK OR DIE! came the horrid sound.

Then Zelda heard another voice, softer and so much more innocent — the voice of a fairy, or perhaps an angel. It wafted sweetly in her mind, sweeping away the grime left by that other.

We mean no harm, mother, the soft voice soothed. We are just passing through on our way to do a chore.

Zelda recognized the second voice as Susie’s, but the odd, flat sound of it, when it should be reverberating in this hollow cavern, made it sound as though it were coming from inside her head rather than from outside. She guessed it was an acoustical quirk of some kind, perhaps brought on by the close proximity of the beast’s huge body, stuffed into the cramped space of this tube.

The first voice countered, LIAR! You wish to kill my babies! Do not try or I will kill YOU!

The voice had a definite female lilt to it, despite its deep baritone gruffness. Zelda could smell the heavy, unmistakable odor of animal placenta, and it became apparent what they had stumbled across. These must be the lairs, where the females crawled off to birth their young. Even as the thought filled her mind, Zelda heard soft mewling sounds coming from somewhere in the murkiness before her.

She also knew, from her experience with farm animals, just how dangerous a mother can be when protecting her young. A female hog will bite the leg off a man if he approaches her piglets at the wrong time, presenting what she perceives to be a threat to them. And hogs are domesticated animals, nothing like these horrid brutes. Who could tell what this creature might do? Desperate, she decided to try her hand at calming it.

“NO, NO! WE WILL NOT HARM YOUR YOUNG!” Her voice echoed down the corridors in both directions, and she reflexively lowered it some more. “We only wish to pass by, unharmed.”

There was a long pause in the blackness as she felt the creature sizing her up. Finally, she smelled its hot breath on her face, thick with the aroma of grooming her new-born pups, and the voice slowly and menacingly asked, Who are you… MEAT?

Zelda wasn’t thrilled with the idea of being referred to as meat, and she searched for the correct answer.

The angel-soft voice of her child companion filled the void.  She is Zelda — and she is reserved as the vessel of Chirkah. I would be careful if I were you. Chirkah would not like his plans altered by a female. There was an audible gasp in the tunnel, sounding like the sucking sound a drain makes when it clears, and the creature grunted.

Zelda could feel it backing away somewhat, and she could breathe again. Susie continued, All we wish is to continue our assigned task. We are small and weak females and mean no harm to you or your young, mother. Go back to sleep and forget this nonsense.

What is this… task you speak of? Are you certain you are not seeking to leave us? Tell me what chore you are performing, down here in the birthing chambers.

We were sent, by Dirdrah, to gather rags for the slaves. They are cold and the vessels must be kept warm. But, being stupid blind humans, we have lost our way in the dark — 

A snarl interrupted Susie’s tale and Zelda felt warm spittle fly in her face. Again the beast loomed over them and pressed close.

Dirdrah is dead! Even I know that. She was killed by the meat who hangs in the trees. What kind of lies are these?

Susie pressed closer to Zelda’s side. I’m sorry, I must have gotten mixed up, she lied. I thought it was Dirdrah who sent us, but it must’ve been another. I cannot SEE you! It is hard for me to tell which is which.

You cannot see with your eyes, perhaps… The harsh voice trailed off, leaving Zelda to guess at its meaning. GO! Continue on your way, but do not enter the birthing chambers again. They are for Kophet-kur — not for Meat like you. Be gone and let me sleep.

With a sigh of relief, Zelda grabbed Susie and made for the entrance to the chamber. But Susie pulled back, playing her advantage as only a child would have the courage to do.

Please, mother, her voice was soft, supplicating. Could you tell us the way out of here and back to the main entrance to the caves?

The creature had obviously dismissed them as any kind of threat and now when she spoke, she sounded bored and sleepy.  Return the way you came, until you reach the end of this tunnel. Be careful not to plunge into the well which lies at its mouth, though. Climb up the shaft and you will be in a small chamber which we use to house slaves. This chamber opens on the main sleeping room. Cross the floor, being careful not to awaken any of those sleeping there, and you will find an opening which then leads up to the main doorway.  A yawn escaped the beast and Zelda could hear her moving around, settling back down to her slumber.

But Mother, is there no way to get there by continuing on this way? Susie pressed.

The female snorted loudly. Of course not! This way leads deep into the forest to smaller openings. Do not continue, on for if a guard were to catch you back there, he would assume you were trying to escape and kill you immediately. Even you are intelligent enough to realize there is no escape from the Kophet-kur — and especially not that way. Now leave me. I must rest after my labors.

Susie and Zelda crawled back out into the main tunnel and held their breath, waiting. Soon they could hear her measured breathing, punctuated with light snoring sounds and they knew the beast had dropped off to sleep again. They moved on down the tunnel a few feet and then Zelda stopped.

“I don’t believe you talked us out of that mess!” she whispered. “And then you had the gall to ask the way out!”

Susie giggled, conspiratorially. “Which way should we go now?”

“Are you kidding? If you think I’m going back the way we came…” Zelda didn’t bother to finish. “We’ve got to be careful not to wake any more of these things, and we’ve got to listen very closely to avoid running into any guards. Why didn’t you tell me the damn things could talk?”

“I did.” Susie protested.

“Yeah, but I didn’t think you meant they could actually talk! That was creepy as hell! I didn’t like it one bit. Do you know what she meant by that ‘kofat… whatever’ she was talking about?”

“They call themselves the Kophet-kur. I don’t like talking to them either, but I have learned how to deal with it. Most of them are pretty stupid. Others aren’t, but all of them are sly — very sly — and dangerous. If we do meet a guard, better let me do the talking.”

“Hey that’s fine with me, honey. After the way you handled that tub of lard back there, I trust you completely. Shall we?”

“Y-you first,” Susie said, her teeth chattering in the cold.

“Aw, sweetie! You’re freezing, aren’t you?” Zelda drew her close and brushed her hair back.

“I wet my pants back there when that monster growled at us,” Susie admitted, her face burning with shame. “I was cold before, but now its even worse.”

Zelda removed her sweat-shirt, pulling it over her head and bumping her elbow on the ceiling in the process. The cold air of the cavern slapped against her, raising goosebumps on her bare skin and she felt her nipples harden beneath her flimsy bra.

“Here, baby,” she cooed. “Put this on.”

“But Zelda –”

“Don’t argue now, I’ll be all right. Put it on.”

Reluctantly, Susie slipped into the warm sweat-shirt. Instantly, her body began to feel better, and the shivering subsided. “Thanks,” she said, and she meant it. She wrapped her arms around the woman and fell in love. It seemed to her that no one had ever treated her so kindly, sacrificing their own comfort and well-being for hers. Paradoxically, here in this pitch-dark cave full of monsters, she felt safer than she had ever been in her life. Through tears, she reached up and kissed Zelda’s cheek.

“Let’s go, honey,” Zelda smiled, returning the girl’s hug. “We’re headin’ out the back door.”

The Hidden — Chapter 13 — T.D. Barton & Derek Barton

TH 13

 

CHAPTER THIRTEEN:  THE KOPHET-KUR

 

Perhaps a dozen of the creatures were arrayed around the base of the tree as Nate looked for the owner of the dream-voice.  He was struck by their resemblance to large, extremely ugly dogs.  They lounged around casually; some sitting on their haunches, others sprawled on the ground, their tongues lolling out as their sides bounced rapidly with their panting.  A couple of them even threw their legs up and bent to groom themselves with long pink tongues.  But as Nate watched, they scrambled to their feet and an air of excitement swept the pack. Nate strained to see what was stirring them up so.

A massive, sway-backed creature was making his way amongst them.  Nate couldn’t help but notice that this particular creature seemed much older than those around him.  His face was even more grotesquely wrinkled, and the bags beneath his eyes drooped low, exposing large red crescents under each. The muzzle area, ebony black in the rest of the tribe, was liberally sprinkled with bright gray and white whiskers, as was the sparse hair sprouting in patches from his scaly skin.

Each of the pack members, in turn, trotted up to him and simpered alongside, cowering and whining. The creature seemed oblivious to these acts of homage. His attention was focused on Nate as he approached the tree.

In spite of the creature’s age, Nate was forced to admire the regal bearing with which he carried himself.   The others he had seen, snarled and pranced around frothing like lunatics — this one seemed to project patience and a cool, calculated intelligence that was nonetheless laced with a dark malice. Hatred burned from the core of his eyes, and an evil seething haughtiness that made Nate realize that he had more to fear from this one than all the others combined.

As it approached the tree, the ancient one’s path was inadvertently blocked by one of the creatures.  He had been so involved with grooming himself that he apparently hadn’t noticed the other’s approach. The gray one stopped a foot or two shy of the poor fool and stood waiting, never taking his eyes from Nate. Without warning three of the big fellow’s lackeys pounced upon the unsuspecting beast and ripped at it mercilessly with their horrid fangs.

Nate had never seen such abject brutality. It was chilling to see these beasts roaring and screaming viciously as the victim tried to defend himself against their savage attacks. The here-to-fore quiet clearing erupted in a violent explosion of movement and sound.  Splashes of blood and patches of hair joined pieces of skin and tissue flying through the air and staining the ground around them. Their sharp claws tore open the earth and tossed up great clots of soil and grass.

Two of the attackers challenged the offender face to face while a third circled around to flank attack at its rear. While he was busy warding off the snapping teeth of the two in front, he was unable to avoid the assault from behind. Soon he was born to the ground by the third which clung to his back, locking its jaws on the nape of his neck and clawing savagely with his hind legs.

The other two were on him, swarming like a pride of lions at a kill. The fight was over in seconds. There was no chance of running away in defeat, the creature could only lie motionless, meekly surrendering and offering no resistance as they punished him cruelly and left him bleeding in a heap. As the big gray stood serenely taking this all in, the vanquished crawled painfully over to him and licked his muzzle before dragging himself out of the way.

After the bizarre ritual was completed, the big one crossed over to the base of the tree.  Now directly below Nate’s perch, he rested on his haunches and peered up at him, cocking his head in a quizzical sort of way.

“Come down.” He commanded — the voice was straight from Nate’s nightmare. “Come down, Nate Malone. We want to be done with this.”

Nate was thunderstruck. This… thing was speaking to him. Or was it? He couldn’t be sure — his head felt strangely light, his thoughts fuzzy, as though his brain had suddenly turned to cotton.  He focused his eyes on the creature’s yellow-fanged mouth.

“Say that again?” he asked aloud.

A sly, sinister chuckle slithered its way through his mind, like dry leaves blowing across a grave.

“I said, come DOWN!”

Nate grasped the branch on both sides of himself and prepared to leap to a clear patch of ground. Why was I in this damn tree in the first place? After all, I am not a bird?  I belong on the ground with… with…

At the last second, he stopped himself, scrambling back against the trunk in a panic. Below him, a barely audible sigh of disappointment could be heard from the pack of brutes.  Again that snide, humorless laugh echoed in his head, leaving muddy footprints across his thoughts.

“That was close, wasn’t it Nate? This shouldn’t take long after all.” The creature was definitely speaking to him, but…

“Your mouth doesn’t move,” Nate said in a daze. “You’re talking to me, I swear I can hear it but –”

The voice interrupted in a mocking tone. “But my mouth doesn’t move. That’s right! Oh, if you only knew how stupid you look saying that!”

Nate FELT stupid. In fact, he had never been so moronically ignorant in his entire life.   Blood rushed into his cheeks as he blushed over his utter stupidity.  How could he possibly have said such an asinine thing?

The beast studied him for a moment longer and then, with the tone one reserves for the slowest of learners, he said, “Telepathy. Surely you’ve at least HEARD of it. Do you even partially understand the concept? I… CAN… SPEAK… DIRECTLY… TO… YOUR… MIND… WITHOUT… MOVING… MY… LIPS… OR… MAKING… A… SOUND… Get it?”

Nate’s lower lip trembled with humiliation and fear. “Are you some kind of… of devil?” He asked quietly.

This time the laughter literally roared through his mind. Staring at the creature’s mouth, he detected a trace of a grin tugging at its corners, but it quickly faded and a hard cold light appeared within the beast’s eyes.

When he spoke again, the voice was formal and defiant. “We are the Kophet-kur!   A race as old and powerful as your own and, as you have abundantly proven, just as mortal. We have lived alongside you for lo these many ages and we will be long after your cursed kind has been wiped from the face of the earth.” This last remark brought a chorus of grunts and excited snarls from the creatures around him.

He continued, reciting his litany like a politician stumping for office.  The beast was no longer talking to him, but to the group of followers gathered round about the tree. “Many eons have passed since the seed of the sky were born, and WE have not bastardized ourselves like the tiny humans. WE have kept ourselves pure, waiting for the return, when we will shine! And no mere human will stop us. Oh, it is true that for now, we hide, but someday soon, we will return to the greatness our Fathers promised. On that day, all other seed will become MEAT! That is the promise of Chirkah! THAT is the destiny of the Kophetkur!”

Without the beast’s telepathic powers totally concentrated on him, Nate regained more of his old self — more in control. He would be more careful in the future not to let himself be mesmerized by this creature, whatever it was.

“I hate to interrupt when you’re on a roll,” he taunted, “But could you explain what all that means to me? Why that’s important?  Remember, I’m kinda slow.”

After a pause, in which the creature glared at him fiercely for his interruption and then seemed to relax somewhat, containing its rage with difficulty, it continued on in a more conversational tone. “Certainly. Ask any question, I will be glad to oblige with an answer. Since you obviously won’t be leaving here alive, I feel free to withhold nothing you might wish to know.” The voice was filled with a terrible coldness that threatened to leave Nate shivering.

“All right.” Nate leaned forward. “To begin with, what the hell are you… things? And where did you come from?”

The creature’s voice took on that air of “patient suffering while dealing with a lower intelligence” again.  “As I stated before, we are the Kophet-kur. I am the leader, the one you might call the ‘alpha male’. I am called Chirkah. We live here in the forest and in your fields. Mostly we hunt deer and other animals, but occasionally, as you have seen, our lust for the hunt becomes such that we cannot resist the sweetest meat of all.” Nate noticed a bit of drool forming on the creature’s lips.

“You sicken me.” he challenged it, only slightly aware of the temptation to fall into the odd, archaic speech patterns of his tormentor.

“Now, now! Is that any way to talk to your cousin? We are closer than you think, my dear friend. And you are not so far removed from cannibalism yourself.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You ask where we come from, the Kophet-kur. I will tell you, but you may find it hard to believe. Eons ago the world was filled with many species, but this was before the Kophet-kur and before humans… and before others, too.

“Away up in the skies… far off in the blackness that lies like an eternal night away beyond the moon, there lived a race of beings such as you or I have never seen.” His voice had become dream-like, and a certain reverence set in.

“These beings were vastly intelligent. Their intellect, in fact, knew no bounds — it was far beyond anything you could ever begin to comprehend. They were superb. Their civilization and the wonders they could perform far outstripped the puny technological advances you humans have achieved. For in addition to technology, they also possessed wisdom, the one thing your race is most noticeably lacking. Not only did The Fathers, which is the only name we know them by, control their world, they also cherished, and lovingly nurtured it.”

His voice grew harsh with scorn.

“You stupid humans take and take and take from our world, stripping away the land and the forests. You defile the water and the air without a single consideration as to what damage will be done to the hunting grounds of the animals that share this planet with you. The vast herds which flourished before you came to be, you wiped out in the space of a single day. The mighty forests, home to countless myriads of creatures, you devastated and trampled to the ground. You have RAPED and SODOMIZED our land till there is nothing left to be proud of, nothing to be inspired by.” He leveled Nate with a fiery glare, dripping with contempt. “For this we HATE you.”

Nate shifted uncomfortably beneath his condemning gaze. After what seemed minutes, Chirkah took a breath and continued his narrative.

“The Fathers, in light of their triumphs, soon began looking to spread themselves to other worlds, illuminating the darkness wherever they might find it. To that end, they built enormous ships that could carry them swiftly about the skies, and return them safely to their own world. Eventually, their quest for other worlds to conquer brought them here, where they found a world of vast beauty and unbelievable wealth. They resolved to have it and to build a utopia that would outshine even their own golden planet.”

“But when they attempted to colonize this lovely new world, they were saddened to discover it held an atmosphere that was poisonous to their kind.  Alas, they could never set foot upon it. Determined, however, to have this jewel of their own, they hit upon a plan of extended colonization. Perhaps they could never live here — but their children would. Through a means we do not yet understand, they began taking species from the earth to inseminate. These creatures were brought, in pairs to the ship, to determine their mating procedures. Then our Fathers simply substituted their own seed, creating every conceivable variety of hybrid. Their hope was that one of these species would flourish, carrying enough of their genetic material to assume a similar form to theirs. Someday then, after this species had established itself, they would return to further increase their genetic strain, thereby breeding themselves into compatibility with the hostile environment.”

Nate was, of course, skeptical but, as Chirkah spoke, he found himself remembering Sunday-school stories of Noah and his ark. “In pairs, they were brought unto the ark… and a new world was born unto the earth.” A cold, hollow feeling was growing in the pit of his stomach.

“Most of the experiments failed miserably, as was to be expected,” Chirkah’s harsh voice was saying. “But some were resounding successes. The large mammals were, of a certainty closer to the fathers in intelligence, and as you might think, it was among these that the greatest achievements were made. Today few of these hybrid lines exist. Some were lost to natural extinction, others were obliterated by the most widely flourishing of these experiments, the hybrid created from the seeding of the great apes — man.

“However, an equally intelligent, if not so prosperous race of creatures was the result of the Father’s combining with wolves. The Kophet-kur which means in our tongue, Children of the Sky, received the telepathic abilities and intelligence of The Fathers, but we were cheated of the one thing that might have assured our dominance of this world. We lacked opposable thumbs.

“Without the dexterity required, we couldn’t build things the way you humans have. We were unable to harness the power of nature or build tools and machines and vast cities, crowding out the wild places. Thus we have been forced to hide in our caves, scavenging off the land left over after you humans, in your blind ignorance have trampled over it. We have been relegated to the wild, forgotten places of the world, living on the edge of human society — hiding in your shadow.”

Chirkah took a shuddering breath and shifted positions. His black tongue dangled from his mouth as he yawned broadly. Nate noticed that many of his fellow creatures were dozing peacefully in the warm afternoon sun.

“There are others that remain, but mankind has driven them to the remotest of places where they dwell, as secretive and unobtrusive as the Kophet-kur. Trust me when I tell you that there are things hiding deep within your forests, oceans, and lakes that you would rather not know about.

Nate finally interrupted. “Do you feel better?  You had a lot to get off your chest there.  However, I’m curious. If your race is so goddammed intelligent, why haven’t any of these other beasts spoken to me? So far, all they’ve tried to do is rip me to shreds. Why not establish some lines of communication here?”

“Although we all possess the gift of telepathy, there are those, such as myself who are more proficient in its use than others, just as there are those of your kind who are more adept in the use of language. But this is not the reason for our silence up to this point. The Kophet-kur are a very secretive species. We find this necessary to ensure our survival in a world dominated by your kind. The original humans were very much aware of our presence. You will find references to our kind in the folklore of many primitive species, including the ones you refer to as ‘Indians’. Long ago, we watched your kind systematically obliterate this group of humans, and it was then we decided to withdraw even deeper into hiding. For we realized that, if you could bring this kind of mass destruction upon those of your own kind, there could be no room on this planet for the two of us. The ‘Indians’ were willing to share the forests and live peacefully alongside the Kophet-kur. We shared a mutual respect and a working understanding of each other’s ways.

But with them went the knowledge of our existence, and any attempts to co-exist with humans. We have worked very hard over the years to remain an enigma. Our most sacred of laws concern the preservation of our status as unknown entities in your world. To break the code of silence and communicate with a human being is strictly forbidden except under the most extreme of circumstances. A hunter is allowed to partake of human game only when he is certain that doing so will not endanger our continued seclusion.

When my son, Dzhankah, confronted you, he knew he was breaking our most holy of ordinances. He also knew he could not let you escape, bringing others of your kind to rain death and destruction down upon our heads. He acted bravely, if somewhat fool-heartedly, and as a result, he is dead.”

“For THAT, you will pay the ultimate price. But there will be time for that later. The reason I have broken our silence is that I wished to converse with one who has managed to cut down so many of our brothers. But now I see that you have used up all your weapons. We have pulled the teeth of the serpent, and we have him up a tree, both literally and figuratively, do we not?” He sounded very pleased with himself.

Nate ignored his jibes. “I don’t believe you could hide out all these years without being discovered.”

“How do the deer hide from the hunter? Humans are not that difficult to fool, you know. Nor are you very observant. A human, in the wild, can practically trip over a fawn, camouflaged by its dappled coat, hiding in plain sight amidst a patch of sunlight. When was the last time you saw a fox, Nate Malone?”

Nate reflected. “I guess I can’t recall ever seeing one in the wild.”

“And would you be surprised to learn there are dozens of them living and breeding in the immediate vicinity? Besides, when humans see a fox it runs. But when a human sees one of us… THEY run.  Or they at least try.” Chirkah paused to let this sink in.

“These creatures I speak of are just dumb animals, barely possessing the intelligence needed to procure food, secure housing and pro-create. The Kophet-kur, on the other hand, command an intelligence SUPERIOR to your own. Do you really think it would be that difficult to conceal ourselves from you? Our telepathic abilities allow us to sense whenever a human is near, and take evasive action. We cannot read your minds, as we do each others’, to do so requires advanced telepathic powers in both parties; and, while humans do possess small vestiges of this ability, it is poorly developed. You experience ‘deja-vu’ and ‘extra sensory perception’ and so forth. Humans have no idea of the vast power that could be theirs, if only they knew how to harness it.”

“So you’re telling me that, overall these centuries, I am the only man who has ever seen you?” Nate shook his head skeptically.

Chirkah snorted with disdain. “Of course not! MANY have seen, few have lived to tell… and none have been believed. Do not deceive yourself, Nate Malone, your fate is sealed as is that of your woman.”

Nate’s heart leaped into his throat. He jumped to his feet on the branch, nearly toppling from his perch in the process. A couple of the beasts looked up and one actually rose to all-fours.

“Zelda!” he gasped. “You know where Zelda is? She’s alive?” Nate had just about abandoned all hope of this possibility.

Chirkah stretched languidly and sprawled out in the tall grass, his right paw crossed casually over his left. For the first time since engaging in this conversation, his gaze left Nate and wandered off into the distance. “Certainly. We don’t often KILL women. Although you’re lucky to have killed Pulkah.” With a nod, he indicated the corpse lying at the base of the tree. The ax still jutted from its skull, and it swarmed with large, iridescent green flies. “He would most definitely have taken out the death of his mate, Dirdrah on your woman.”

Nate began to tremble. Anxiously, he shifted back and forth on the branch, wanting very much to take some kind of action, but uncertain just what he could do. He looked somewhat like a child, straining to control his bladder while he waited for the bell to signal recess.

Chirkah looked back up at him. “Don’t carry on so, Nate. There’s really nothing you can do to help her. Her fate is as sealed as your own. You really should learn to accept things over which you have no control.”

“What have you done with her, you son-of-a-BITCH?” Nate screamed.

“I myself have done nothing with her. But she is being kept for a purpose. You see, we, meaning the Kophet-kur, learned very well from The Fathers. Their techniques of conquering through breeding programs seemed to make sense.

“Therefore, long ago we launched a campaign to gain the technology that keeps you humans in control of this planet. Obviously, we could not develop it ourselves and were we to gain knowledge of its intricacies, we would not be able to avail ourselves of it due to our lack of manual dexterity, as I pointed out earlier. So, our only chance lies in espionage – spies, if you will. We needed someone sympathetic to our cause to steal your secrets and put them to work for us. This symbiotic relationship could only be achieved by a cross-pollenization of our two species. This hybrid would be a go-between — able to travel freely in your society, and gather the information we need, then bringing that information back to us and physically helping us implement it within our own society. Clever, don’t you think?”

Nate shook his head slowly. “I don’t understand…”

Wry amusement edged Chirkah’s voice as it echoed deep within Nate’s mind. He sounded like a teenager divulging the facts of life to a younger brother.

“You ARE thick! Don’t you see what I’m telling you? Your woman is being held as breeding stock.  She will be saved for my seed.”  That menacing, icy laughter roared and filled his mind once again.

 

 

 

The Hidden — Chapter 12 — T.D. Barton & Derek Barton

TH 12 #2

CHAPTER TWELVE:  IN THE HOLE

The limestone was cold and damp to the touch.  Zelda shivered as she groped her way around the pitch-black room. It was as if she was the subject of a sensory-deprivation experiment. Total darkness was drawn across her eyes like a thick, black curtain.  Except for the dismal, echoey plinking of water somewhere far-off in the cavern, there was no sound at all.

The one sense that was alive, brilliantly functioning and totally aware, was her sense of touch. Her fingertips traced the damp, crumbly surface of the floor around her, and the low ceiling above. In spite of the thick crust of dirt and limestone dust coating them, they sent back information about every nuance, each irregularity of the stone.  She had been hesitant, at first, tentatively sending her hand out to scout before her; but, as she progressed, she moved with ever-growing sureness, searching out the perimeters of her confinement.

She and Susie had sat and talked for hours it seemed. Susie told her about the Monsters, then about the bridge and the path in the woods. She even spoke of “The Fort”, although she hadn’t mentioned what went on there. Susie was well on the way to blotting the memories of the abuse from her mind.

Susie wouldn’t discuss her abuse with Zelda or even allow herself to think about them. For the past few weeks, she had been alone, dealing with circumstances as they arose. The limited contact she’d had with other prisoners had not been very productive. Most of them seemed under a spell of some kind. They wandered around, rather listless and slow — like zombies from one of those old horror films.

Whenever she tried speaking with one of them, they either ignored her completely or grunted out one-word answers and brushed her aside. In some ways, they had been more terrifying than the creatures.

But Zelda was different — she was alert and active.  Now that there was an adult in the picture, Susie would let her take over and she would follow. It was a great relief to her, knowing that whatever situation occurred, she could let her make the decision as to what their response was to be. It wasn’t a question of trust. Other than exhibiting sympathy for her plight, Zelda had done nothing to actually earn her trust. Susie was tired, on the verge of complete exhaustion.

Life had thrown her a lot of curves lately and her entire being had grown weary of coping. Her heart felt like an old and worn shoe. She ached to let someone else decide what to do and when to do it. In the meantime, she would drift along with the flow, content to allow events to take care of themselves.

Zelda, on the other hand, had benefited somewhat from her ordeal. For so long now she had let other people run her life. Her mother had made all the major decisions of her childhood: Which school to attend, what to pursue as a career, where to live. These and dozens of others in a long chain stretched back as far as she could remember. And then, after she married Nate, she had allowed him to take over, even going so far as to let him tell her what kind of car they should drive and where they should buy a house. All her life she had been a follower. But now, she was totally on her own with nobody to decide for her. In addition, she had little Susie depending on her. Suddenly, she was thrust into the role of leadership, and it suited her well. Having realized this, with some small feeling of satisfaction, she resolved to see them out of this conflict and to return the child to her mother safe and sound. She sat in the dark, trying to decide on a course of action.

Obviously, there was no way they could fight their way out. Susie said there were many of these brutes and they had no weapons. It was also apparent that they couldn’t sneak out past them if, as the child informed her, they could see in the dark. She turned her head, blindly scanning the darkness, and listened to the water dripping somewhere, far-off. Perhaps there was a way out of this cave that wouldn’t bring them in direct contact with their captors.

She asked herself what Nate would do in a similar situation, and she was struck by the realization of just how much she’d admired him. Why couldn’t I have told him that once when he was still alive?

Cold, heartless grief threatened to flood her mind, driving out all productive reasoning. She felt the need to break down, letting her thoughts drown in tears — to bathe in their cleansing depths like a weary traveler at a cool oasis pool. Perhaps, if she simply closed her eyes and cried herself to sleep, she might awaken to find this had all been a horrible nightmare. Bitterly, she cast these thoughts aside.

But Susie needs me… A voice inside  — that hidden voice of power which she had started taping into — spoke to her.

No time for self-pity, she admonished herself. She had to get a grip on herself and keep it together if they were ever going to escape.

“Susie, have you got any idea how big this cave is?” Her voice, although a mere whisper, echoed softly, doubling back to swirl like wraiths in the darkness about them.

“I don’t know exactly.” Susie sounded tired, sleepy. “That room out there is big… real big. That’s where they sleep. It’s kind of like the main hall or something. And there are tunnels going all over.  When they first brought me in kept me penned up in rooms all over the place. But, after a while I guess they realized I couldn’t really get away, so I’ve pretty much been able to go wherever I wanted and they more or less leave me alone.”

Zelda was hopeful. “That’s good. Maybe we can use that to our advantage.”

“Problem is, though, it’s so darn dark down here I can’t really see anything. It doesn’t much matter where I go, it all looks the same.”

“I see. Well, you and I are getting out of here, kid! To start with, let’s see if we can’t get an idea how big this room we’re in is. We know it’s not very tall…” Zelda said as she gingerly touched the knot on her head.  “Tell you what: You work THIS side of the doorway…”

Taking Susie’s hand, she guided it to the wall in front of them, groping around until she felt the opening. She slapped the crumbly limestone and positioned Susie in front of it, facing the wall. Running her own hand along the top of the doorway, she crawled on hands and knees over to the opposite side.

“And I’ll go… this way.” So saying, she began sliding her hands along the wall in front of her, advancing to the left and moving up and down the wall so as to judge its height. She felt her spirits lifting a bit.  It was good to be moving. As long as she kept doing something or taking action, she stayed ahead of those poisonous thoughts — the ones that threatened to wash over her and pull her down in a whirlpool of self-doubt and utterly black grief, much darker even than the lightless void she now explored. With every step she crawled, she made a mental note. She could hear Susie, sidling along opposite her and quietly making little slapping sounds as her tiny hands connected with the hard surface of the cave wall. Apparently, it was larger than she would have guessed as her steps added up and the sounds Susie made began retreating from her.

Suddenly, her world was illuminated in a blinding flash and she sat back hard on her haunches. Her first response was startled, unreasoning anger; and then it slowly sank into her consciousness that she had collided with another wall, running at right angles to the one she had been following. Something warm slithered down her face and she reached up to feel blood, slick and moist, between her fingers. She hissed softly through clenched teeth.

Pulling herself back up to a crawling position, she quietly called across to Susie to be careful. “Okay.” Whispered the child, her voice sounding tiny and lost in the pitch black.

Following the new wall, she continued on, noticing that the ceiling was getting a bit higher as she went. Soon she was able to rise up into a crouching position, giving her protesting knees a break. But, as she moved on, it started to go back down again and she was forced to resume crawling. To her, this indicated that the room must have a slightly domed ceiling, tapering down to the floor in the back. Her theory was soon proven by her searching hands. If she were any judge, the room seemed to be about twenty feet across, and maybe five feet high at its peak.

A sudden, cold ball of apprehension erupted in the pit of her stomach as Zelda became aware of the silence around her. Susie was no longer slapping the wall. This thought barely had time to sink in before a sharp cry, emanating from somewhere across the room let her know her little friend was in trouble. The cry was followed by a scuffling noise and what sounded like rocks sliding and falling in a well.

“Susie!” She called, afraid to raise her voice too much, lest she call attention to herself. There was no answer at first, and then the child’s quavering voice drifted eerily out of the darkness: “Uhh-Zelda!… Helllp!… UH!… Mph!… I’m gonna fall!” She sounded like she was calling from the bottom of a barrel.

Her heart hammered. “Hold on, kiddo! I’m coming. Damn!” she cursed the dark. Throwing her hands straight out before her, she waved them frantically around, feeling her way across the middle of the room. She tried to direct herself to the point where she had heard Susie’s voice, but it had been so distant — so strangely muffled. Scrambling as quickly as she could, she charged across the chamber until, unexpectedly, the floor disappeared beneath her. A startled bleat escaped her throat as she pitched headfirst into thin air. Then, with a bone-jarring force, her out-stretched arms struck another wall and stopped her fall.

Gasping and panting heavily, she took stock of her situation for a moment. Apparently, there was a hole in the floor, a sort of rock cistern into which her upper body had fallen. Undoubtedly, the rest of her would have followed, had her hands not connected with a small outcropping on the other side. So now she lay, with her hands on one side of the well and her lower thighs, right above the knees resting on the opposite rim. Her head was about a foot lower than her legs. This was an extremely uncomfortable, if not dangerous position to be in. But, at that moment, Zelda wasn’t so much worried about her own safety as that of her new friend. After a moment she took a deep breath and called.

“Susie!” she grunted into the hole below her. “Are you down there?”

The child’s voice floated up to her from somewhere below. “I — I’m here… unh… down here! I’m scared, Zelda. I think I’m gonna fall some more.”

The child sounded like she was going to cry, and right now, Zelda needed her to be brave. “Sh-h-h! Honey, don’t cry. I’m going to get you. Just hold on now.” She tried to sound calm and confident, hoping it would rub off on Susie. In truth, she hadn’t the slightest idea how she was going to reach her. Susie sounded like she was about six feet below Zelda’s current position, as she was becoming pretty good at judging distances in the dark.

Perhaps there was a way to reach her, but the first obstacle she had to overcome was her awkward position at the lip of the well. She tried to take her left hand loose to reach up and pull herself from the well, but her remaining hand couldn’t find a secure enough purchase to hold her weight.  She began to slip into the hole. Frantically she spread her legs farther apart and shoved her hand back into the rough limestone wall, cutting it a bit, but stopping her fall. So, it was painfully apparent that she couldn’t move her hands.

As if proving the point, Zelda felt a huge insect, probably a millipede, crawling endlessly up her bare leg. She didn’t dare thrash around to shake it off, for fear she would lose her grip and plummet, head-first into the chasm. All she could do was grit her teeth and wait for it to traverse her body and move on. The thing was only about four inches long, but, in her helpless position there in the depths of the darkened cave, it loomed much, much larger. She could feel its tiny legs, tickling their way with agonizing slowness across the surface of her skin.  An image of its slick, shiny, segmented body played with cruel clarity upon her mind’s eye.

She knew that there were creatures that lived in caves that, deprived of light for their entire lives developed differently from normal species. Their bodies were pale and colorless, and they grubbed around, sightless, feeling their way with long, hair-like antennae, waving in the eternal darkness. God only knew what weird variety of creepy-crawly thing had been hiding in this hole and was even now slithering its way along the length of her bare calf. Beads of sweat broke out upon her upper lip, and her muscles locked in rigid tension. Her mind reeled with revulsion, and she fought back the giddiness that threatened to overcome her.

When it and the insect had passed, she began to slowly and carefully ease her way, one inch at a time, alternating hands, up the wall. She could hear Susie sobbing beneath her; and when she could get her breath, she sent encouragement down to her. But the process was agonizingly slow, and she began to pray that her strength would hold out. The skin on the palms of her hands burned and stung from being scraped and ground into the rough stone, and her arms trembled with exertion. A warm, numbing sensation began slowly creeping up from her wrists, and Zelda was sure that when it reached her shoulders she would just buckle and plunge into the pit below. Her teeth clamped down hard on her lower lip, and small, mewling squeaks squeezed their way out of her throat.

At last, just when she felt her arms were going to break off at the elbow, she reached an angle where she was able to push herself back out of the hole and roll over onto the flat surface of the cave floor. She lay in the dark, panting for a moment and then she returned to her rescue efforts, realizing there was no time to waste. Scooting back over to the hole, she called down, “Honey, are you still with me?”

“I’m h-here.” came the tremulous voice.

“Sweetie, tell me about your position… Where are you? Can you stand up?” Blood had rushed to Zelda’s head, making her ears sing, but some feeling was rapidly returning to her arms.  Her skin prickled with pins and needles.

“I’m up against the wall, and there’s like a… a ledge, or whatever.  I’m standing on it. But Zelda, I’m scared! How’re you gonna get me?”

There was a note of quiet desperation in Susie’s small voice, and she didn’t like it. What it said was, “I’m scared, yes… but, more than that, I’m on the verge of panic. At any moment, I may try something desperate and stupid that will send me sprawling into space with a shrill cry that will haunt you until the day you die. As long as you live, you will hear it in your dreams and it will drag you screaming and sweating from your sleep to ponder why you couldn’t have done something — ANYTHING to save me!” She had time to consider this for just a moment and then she shook it off.

“Okay, now be a brave girl. Susie, don’t look up, I’m going to drop a rock into the hole so we can see how deep it is. Hang on now and flatten yourself against the wall, okay? Okay!”

She dropped a small pebble into the void and waited for the sound of its fall to come echoing up to her. After a few seconds of silence, all she heard was Susie’s voice. “I don’t think there IS any bottom. This one’s just like the one they throw the bones in, only it’s out by the entrance where there’s enough light to see it. Don’t fall, Zelda.”

The cavern room felt suddenly claustrophobic. What a horrible way that would be to die, falling endlessly until the air ran out and you suffocated, or until you picked up enough speed that a brush against the wall shattered your skull… She pictured herself tumbling over and over, plummeting toward the center of the earth. The walls were whizzing by at enormous speed and abrading pieces of her body away bit by bit as she fell until there was nothing left but an irregular-shaped bloody chunk.

Vertigo gripped her and she shook her head, trying to clear out the nightmarish images. Sucking in a deep gulp of the cool air, she called again: “Susie, are you wearing a belt?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Good. Take it off, and toss it as hard as you can straight up in the air.” She waited, listening closely to the sound of Susie’s movements in the dark.

“Here it comes.”

The belt flew through the air and hit Zelda.  The metal buckle raising a small welt where it struck the corner of her eye. She was able to snatch at it before it tumbled back into the hole.  She rolled over and worked on her back, connecting it with her own belt, which she had removed while waiting for Susie. This gave her about a six-foot extension on her arm-span. She lowered the belt into the hole and leaned in as far as she dared.

“Susie,” she whispered. “I’m lowering the belt to you, do you  feel it?” Nothing. She must be lower than Zelda had thought. Removing her sweat-shirt, she tied one sleeve through one of the belt buckles and lowered her “rope” back into the hole.  Still, it came up short.

“Sweetheart, take off your shirt.”

There was no movement below her.

“Honey, are you still there?” she asked, anxiously. Panic gripped her voice and made it squeak.

Susie didn’t answer, she was hearing voices in her head: “TAKE YOUR SHIRT OFF, SUZE… C’MON… TAKE IT OFF… WILL YOU DO ME NEXT?  WILL YA… TAKE YOUR CLOTHES OFF FIRST!” The voices swarmed around her like little demons, echoing and resounding, bouncing off the walls and piercing her skull to float achingly inside. They dug their claws into her brain and scratched at the back of her eyeballs. She felt as though she were going to vomit, and she shut her eyes tightly, forcing the demons to go away.

Snatching off her tee-shirt, she tossed it high into the air. “Here comes!”

Zelda breathed a sigh of relief and joined the shirt with the other. This time when she swung the flimsy ladder into the hole she was rewarded with an answering tug on the other end. Bracing herself, she coaxed Susie off the ledge and began slowly drawing her up to safety.

Then, just as she was about to reach down and grab the little girl’s arm, Susie stopped. “Zelda,” she whispered. “There’s a tunnel here.”

She leaned down into the hole once more, and this time she connected with Susie. Grabbing her beneath the arms, she hauled her on out, where she held the shivering child tightly in her arms. After a few moments, the trembling abated, and she could tell the child was overcoming her fright.

“Here,” Zelda said, untying the tee-shirts and belts. “Put this back on before you catch your death.”

When they were dressed again and had rested a minute, Susie showed her the tunnel, running horizontally away from the shaft of the well, which it joined at a spot about three feet beneath the floor they were lying on. The two of them were reaching into the hole, flailing their arms in the darkness.

Facing Susie, she said, “Sweetheart, this could be a way out. Are you up to risking it?”

Silently in the dark, Susie nodded, and Zelda sensed it.

“Atta girl. What’ve we got to lose? We’ve pretty much outgrown this room anyway, right?”

With a reluctant sigh, she turned to the task of lowering them both safely into the tunnel.

Above them, in the doorway to the room they were quitting, a large bristle-haired creature sat watching them with eyes that pierced the cave’s eternal night. After a moment, it grunted once, low and menacingly.  It shuffled into the room where it poked its head in the hole and stared after them down the tunnel.

 

Elude #5 — Derek Barton

EL #5

Dominic Witherspoon sat facing the television; an amber bottle of Coor’s Light in hand and a remote in the other. His eyes were glued to the set, but nothing registered in his mind. Shellie knew he was in a zone of thought — a loop of depression, anxiety and loss swirling end over end like one of the washing machines at his work. It had become an old habit and what one would call a defense mechanism.

Too many times, she had watched her father drop into that old lime green recliner and simply disappear. He had no answers for what plagued their lives. More and more he fell into this evening ritual as pieces of Dom slipped off and melted away. She was losing him.

A commercial for Red Apple Snapple broke her own reverie and she glanced at the television. She had been watching him from atop the stair steps near the second-floor landing. Her little hands gripped the stair banister bars and she put her face between the posts to watch.  Resembling a prisoner and like her father, her life had devolved into more of a life sentence.

He sipped from the bottle. Shellie understood that in all reality she was lucky that he didn’t do more than the one bottle each night. He would nurse the same bottle for two to three hours and then he’d fall asleep in the chair, often while watching Discovery or History specials. The drone of the narrating voice would lull him to sleep. On more than one occasion she had also fallen asleep only to be woken up in the late hours and carried to bed by Dom.

Floating up to her, the robotic voice of a news anchor stated, “…a task force combining local police, homicide detectives and state investigators are concentrating their search for Vicente Vargas in the Phoenix area, but there is speculation that he might be using resources to get back to Puerto Rico where he has family.”

Shellie was hungry, but she decided to hold off until he had fallen asleep to sneak into the kitchen. He was angry with her, but more than that, he was deeply disappointed in her. That hurt laid on her heart and pressed into her like a heavy boot standing on her chest. He had no real idea of what to be mad at her for — she had no real idea what she had done either — but it was there nonetheless.

The police had left only an hour and a half before. They had come back with a search warrant and had ransacked their house. The uniformed men had left with her laptop and her father’s HP Pavillion tower.

This had been their third visit in the last two days. The first visit was “routine”. They had knocked on their door about an hour or two since Ms. Baxter had left that morning.

Dom had been a little apprehensive opening the door to the uniformed police. It was a learned habit and a belief that one grew into when you lived in a rough neighborhood. He was originally from Chicago and his Irish father had worked on occasion for some known, shady associates.

From an early age, Dom had been taught that police knocking on the door was a bad omen. If you were doing anything illegal, then you had to be paranoid and guarded when you answered and spoke with them. If you weren’t doing anything illegal, it still meant bad news and that they wanted you to give them information on one of your neighbors or friends. And that actually could be even worse than the first outcome.

That morning, the two policemen had relayed the grim message that Ms. Brenda Baxter had died that morning in a traffic accident.

“We had some questions for you. Can we come in and discuss them with you, sir?”

“No. We can talk right here on the doorstep,” Dom had snapped a little too sharp. The pair of cops stared back at him with startled expressions.

“I… mean, no sorry. My ill mother is inside and she is resting right now. What do you need to ask me, officers?”

The first officer, Antony Royas, a Hispanic man with a thick mustache and short-cropped hair replied, “Well, there were some extenuating circumstances that we cannot go into, but could you state what was Ms. Baxter’s emotional state when she left this morning? Did she seem upset, depressed or stressed over anything?”

“Uh… well, no, not really. Why?”

“Like I said I cannot go into details, but I have to ask.”

“She died in a car accident you said. Why are there detectives?”

“Any fatalities have to be investigated per procedure. I’m sure you understand.”

Shellie had been at the kitchen table, listening in shock. Ms. Baxter had died! Part guilty relief and part fear washed over her. What would they do for a nurse now?

She had never liked the mean-spirited Brenda, but she knew how much her father had relied on her.

Officer Peter Gordon, Royas’ partner spoke up, “How about in the last two or three weeks? Was she having any financial problems or maybe was she suffering from any illnesses that you know of?”

It was Dom’s turn to stare at the pair, then he carefully worded his reply, “I am not on a personal level with my mother’s nurse so I do not know about her health, but as far as her finances, I did just offer to pay her more hourly while she takes care of my mother.”

The officers nodded and then jotted down the information in a hand-size notebook.

“I am sorry to cut this short, but I really do need to tend to my daughter’s and mother’s lunch. Is there anything else or are we done?”

Officer Gordon frowned. “Is there an issue or anything you want to tell us, Mr. Witherspoon? You seem a bit… nervous?”

Her father did not like being pressed.

“Okay. We’re done. Good day, officers.” He shut the door in their faces. This whole conversation would come back to haunt Dom, but at the time he wanted these “doomsayers” to leave him be. He had been rattled by the news and the sudden stress of having to find her replacement had already gripped him.

He rubbed his neck and shook his head.

“It’s okay, Dad. They will send someone out.” She was referring to the nurses service association.

“Uh… yeah. Eat your grilled cheese now.” He had passed by her and went upstairs into his room on the second floor to make calls from their only phone.

She guessed that he would be calling into work and trying to find someone to take his shift at Carmen’s All-Nighter Laundromat. Without Ms. Baxter, Dom would not be able to leave her and Grannie.

At times like this, Shellie especially missed her mother. Her father tried to be attentive and always provided what he could, but he was awkward with affection and emotional connections. She didn’t ever doubt his love, but actually feeling it was another story.

She had realized then for the first time that Ms. Baxter was the only other person she knew of that had died other than her mother. Both had died the same way too — in a car accident.

I don’t want to go to her funeral! He won’t go, will he? She worried. She didn’t even like me, Dad or even Grannie! All she ever did was yell at us and hog the TV when dad wasn’t aroun—

She gasped. Do ghosts come because you thought bad things about them after they died?

Shellie had bolted up the stairs and jumped onto her laptop to research it. However, within five minutes she had been lost in a series of animated Youtube videos and had completely forgotten about the car accident, Ms. Baxter haunting her and her father’s work woes.

At about 7:30 pm that night, when it had all returned like a curse.  The second visit this time was with Phoenix Homicide Detectives Dale Kenton and Jerry Pence.

“Look, it’s late, officers. I have already answered the questions by the first two. My mother is ill, can we do this another time?” Dom had answered the door and spewed out his excuses even before they could introduce themselves.

Pence had rebuked her father. His voice had been stern. “Actually, no, Mr. Witherspoon. This is a serious matter involving the death of your mother’s nurse. I would think you could take time out to help us with her death and help provide closure for her family. The woman, after all, donated her last year to care for your ill mother. It would be the most humane thing to do, no?”

The thin, white detective was dressed in a gray suit and black tie. It was pressed sharp and neat. He already had his hand-sized notebook out and had an impatient air about him.  His Irish partner was heavier-set with a trim red beard and graying, receding hairline.  Both veteran officers exuded professional confidence with a low tolerance for obstacles.

Dom sighed loudly but didn’t say anything else.

“May we?” Kenton had poked his hand toward their kitchen table behind Dom.

Again, her father sighed and muttered under his breath, but had opened the door to invite them inside.

“Go upstairs and check on your grandmother,” he’d ordered her as she stood next to the television.

Detectives Kenton and Pence had sat across the table from him and started going over some information. Their voices had been too low and garbled for Shellie to make out as she had checked on Grannie in her bedroom. The machines whirred and hummed like normal. Bright blue numbers had displayed her heart rate, blood pressure and temperature above her head. All had seemed normal.

Shellie had raced back quietly to the stairs and had been perched in her favorite spying spot to listen.

“…several of them have reported seeing a bit of a heated conversation between you and the late Ms. Baxter. You neglected to tell the officers that this morning.”

“It was just a… a… Well, it wasn’t as it appeared. She was upset with me because I ran late coming home from work. Threatened to quit.” Dom rambled on, defensively and taken aback.

“So you are saying she was angry… emotional?”

“Yes, but before she left she agreed to stay if I gave her a raise.”

“When the officers asked you about all of this, this morning, why did you keep it hidden? Per those officers, you were rather ill-tempered and unresponsive.” Kenton had pressured him.

“No! Not at all. I was just shocked to learn of her death.”

“Yet, you were present enough to keep information from them?”

“What is this all about? I know you are not digging this hard into a simple car accident. I… I am not answering anymore until you level with me or you can just leave now.” Dominic was a good man and had a keen sense of humor normally, but the stress had been wearing on him all afternoon and it was all too easy to be angry at that moment.

“Whoa whoa, let’s not raise our voices, Mr. Witherspoon. You are going to upset your family.” Kenton had warned.

Pence had then leaned over the table onto his elbows. “You seem under a lot of strain. We can be out of your hair here if you just give us what you last talked about this morning with Ms. Baxter. We are not ‘digging’ as you put it for no reason.”

“What is this all about then?” Dom insisted again.

“We can do this at the station if you would prefer,” Kenton whispered, but it had been a veiled threat.

Dom slouched in his chair. “No, I… I cannot leave my mother and daughter unattended.” He’d rubbed in anguish at the back of his neck. “She….Ms. Baxter was angry like I said when I got home. She had gotten into an argument with my daughter and she was mad that I was late.”

“What was this argument with your daughter about?”

“She found Shellie on her laptop watching videos on how to hack computers. She’s always watching videos and such. It was not a big deal, but Ms. Baxter said that Shellie hit her and that she couldn’t take it here anymore.”

The detectives had thrown sidelong glances at each other.

“Wait… What?” Dom had shouted upon seeing their expressions.

“Nothing. Go on,” Pence had insisted, trying to appear friendly.

“NO! Leave now! You won’t talk to me, I’m not talking to you.” Her father rose from his seat and had stormed over to the door and held it open for them again.

As Kenton strode past, he leaned in and whispered once again, “You can expect a call for an interview sometime tomorrow, Dom. This conversation is just getting started.”

The Hidden — Chapter 11 — T.D. Barton & Derek Barton

TH 11a

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN:  OUT ON A LIMB

Nate’s body was protesting loudly. His legs were cramping and his back, especially between his shoulder blades, ached dully, no matter which way he arranged himself on the branch. The sun had traveled past its zenith, and still, the creature in the bean field had not relaxed its silent vigil.

Nate felt helpless.

If he had just himself to consider, he would wait the bastard out — no matter how long it took. But the thing that drove him to distraction was his concern for Zelda. He kept telling himself that she was alive, which meant she was out there somewhere waiting for him to save her.  She had always depended on him, and now she must be wondering why he hadn’t come looking for her.

Restlessly, he stood up and stretched his back for about the thousandth time that day. As soon as he moved, the beast below him clambered to its feet, all attention focused on him.

“You’re burning for it aren’t you, pal?” he growled at his tormentor. Reaching up, he climbed higher in the tree. He let his legs hang down and limbered up their screaming muscles by pedaling in mid-air. This was followed by a few old-fashioned chin-ups on the branch above his head. Stopping for a moment, he gazed up at the sun and sighed. There was nothing else to do, if he were to have any hope of finding Zelda, he was going to have to climb down from this tree. He slipped the gun from its holster, broke it open and took stock of its chambers. His count had been accurate — two bullets remained.

He’d purchased the weapon while they still lived in Chicago. The man behind the counter at the gun shop insisted he buy a “wheel gun” rather than an automatic, due to its simplicity and dependability. At the time, his main consideration had actually been the price.

“Yessir,” the man had told him, with a glint in his eye. “This here revolver will shoot, reload and shoot again faster than you can pull the trigger — just slicker’n cat shit on linoleum. And, statistically speaking, a .357 will break up a fight faster than any other handgun. It’ll stop a man quicker than anything else you’re apt to lay your hands on. If you’re buying a gun for protection… well, you got the right one, baby. Uh… HUH!” His laugh had been just a little too practiced and forced to sound sincere, but Nate bought the gun anyway. There had been a rash of crime in their neighborhood, and when a gunman held up the store which he worked in, he’d decided it was time to own one.

He had taken a course to learn to shoot, and he’d discovered he was pretty much a natural marksman. The man at the pistol range said it was because he aimed with his head instead of his eyes, making the gun a natural extension of his arm. At the time, he’d tried to get Nate to sign up for target shooting competitions, but he wasn’t interested. Never before had he been more grateful for this talent than now, when he planned to put it to the test.

It was Go Time!

Having made up his mind, he moved smoothly and decisively. First, he grasped the branch on which he stood with both hands. Swinging down quickly to hang beneath it, he dropped to the next lower branch, and then on to the ground. Before his feet even touched the earth, the monster was up and charging toward him. Nate landed in a squatting position. Straightening up, he slid the revolver from its sheath and leveled it at the beast. The creature skidded to a stop as if it were on a short tether. Pawing the ground in frustration, it growled and hissed threateningly.

Nate was impressed. “You learn pretty quickly, don’t you, Brutus?” His voice was low, but it carried to the creature’s ears, as was evidenced by its answering snarl of rage.

“Now, now! Don’t get cocky.” He brandished the gun menacingly and moved along the fence row toward the forest. He figured this was his only choice of directions, the timber at least offering some form of retreat should the creature overcome its fear of the weapon.

The monster in the field followed, paralleling his course, but staying just out of range for a safe shot. Nate made it to the next grove of trees and leaned up against the bole of a large shag-bark hickory. It looked as though it had been there since God was a little boy, its branches large and gnarled with time. A vine the size of Nate’s wrist ran down the side of the tree which he took note of, should he need quick access to the lowest branch.

Patiently waiting for an opening, it sat down, eyeing him and following his every move.  Just as Nate lowered the gun to rest his arm, the thing was on its feet and advancing. Quickly, he raised the gun again and the creature retreated again to a safe distance.  He heaved a sigh and started for the next grove of trees.

This game of cat and mouse continued for some distance down the fence row, as he made his way from one stand of trees to the next. At one point a red-tailed hawk screamed high above them, soaring in slow, looping circles as it rode the air currents above the field. When he looked back down, the creature had closed the distance by several paces and was advancing stealthily.

“You sneaky son-of-a-bitch!” He yelled, startled by how quickly it had moved. He brought his left hand up to join his right in its grasp on the gun.  The ugly beast leaped to safety. Unnerved a bit, he continued on, keeping a careful watch on his pursuer. It was when he was almost in reach of his goal that all hell broke loose.

As he had passed the final trees in the fence row and was within fifty yards of the woods another beast, which appeared to be the size of a grizzly, leaped up out of the tall grass to his left and took a swipe at him. He flinched, ducking his head, and the mighty paw passed within inches of his scalp. Uttering a curse, he thrust the muzzle of the gun into the face of the slavering giant and pulled the trigger. Its face erupted like an exploding melon and the beast toppled over backward, twitching like a beheaded rooster, prepared for Sunday dinner.

Nate twisted in time to see the one that had been following him was closing fast. But, worse than this, he saw two more approaching from the other side. It didn’t take a mathematician to figure out he couldn’t split his one remaining cartridge three ways, so he did the only thing he could think of. He ran for his life again.

Heart pounding and feet flying, he raced for the woods and he had a pretty good start on all three of these beasts, but he’d seen how fast they could move. All the same, fear was a marvelous equalizer when it came to a footrace. He was closing fast on the forest, and there was a veritable mother–lode of trees to choose from. An enormous white ash stood out against the backdrop of forest tangle, its branches raw and gleaming in the sun like exposed bones. It was a giant, holding back the verdant green press of the wood with its shoulders and reaching out friendly arms to welcome him.

Snapping a fast glance over his own shoulder, he saw that he was going to make it.  He began to look for a low-hanging branch to carry him to safety.

Suddenly, he saw something that almost made him lose his footing and stop. Loping out of the forest on a collision course with him was another of these pug-ugly bastards.

Jesus wept! he thought. I’ve stepped in it this time… It’s a whole freaking nest of ‘em!

Without breaking stride, however, he aimed the gun dead-center of the newcomer’s broad chest. It was snarling viciously, its tongue trailing along the left side of its mouth, sending little droplets of slobber in its wake. Forcing himself to wait until the last possible minute, Nate squeezed the trigger and was gratified to see the beast go down in a heap, rolling over and over in the dirt.

Leaping high in the air, he tried to vault over the fallen body, aiming to sprint the last few yards to safety.  But, at the last second, as it rolled on the ground, one of its hoary legs flopped up, catching the toe of his boot. To his dismay, he found himself sailing through the air and diving head-first into the hard dry ground at the edge of the forest.

Rolling to his feet and spitting out a mouthful of dirt, he looked to see how much time his spill had cost him.  There wasn’t much doubt now, it was going to take a miracle to come out of this one, for all of the beasts were almost upon him. His old friend from the bean field lead the pack.

He charged into the brush at the treeline’s edge. Looking frantically about, he spied a large branch and made a dive for it. As he hurtled through the air, he heard the closest of these hell-hounds crashing through the undergrowth behind him. A sharp, raking pain in the calf of his leg flared as he wrapped his arms around the tree limb. He bent and peered down into the enraged face of the creature.  It was standing on its hind legs with its claws buried in his leg, and it was pulling.

Frantically, he struggled to hold on, but it felt as though the horrid thing was about to twist his leg from its socket like a child ripping the wings from a fly.  He knew his gun was useless, but he slipped it from its holster anyway, hoping to bluff the creature. In vain he thrust it directly in its ugly, upturned face, but it took no notice, continuing to drag his leg irresistibly toward its snapping jaws.

He then threw the empty gun at the rock-hard skull of the creature, but again it didn’t react or even flinch.  Scrambling he found the camping ax on his belt.  Raising it high above his head with one arm, he clung desperately to the tree with the other. When he brought it down, the blade buried itself between the beast’s evil beady eyes, and great gushing streamers of blood sprayed in every direction. Nate was splattered heavily with it as it ran warm and sticky, into his eyes and he could taste its saltiness in the corners of his mouth.

The creature, who had been snarling and gibbering, exhaled sharply and fell away. Its claws snagged briefly in the fabric of Nate’s jeans, giving him one final tug before the weight of it pulled them free and it thudded to the ground.  With his strength ebbing, he made one last wrenching effort and drew his legs up just as the other creatures reached his tree.

There was no silent vigil for these two. They leaped and snapped their frothing jaws at him, exhibiting no fear whatsoever.

And why should they?  Nate asked himself, as he gaped at them in exhaustion from his perch. I’m unarmed now — no gun, no bullets, not even an ax.

He looked down at the corpse beneath the tree. The handle of the ax protruded from its head, making it look like some grotesque unicorn.  He leaned back carefully against the trunk of the tree, trying to get his breath back. Below him the two monsters went on snarling, snapping and raking their claws through the bark, ripping off huge chunks in the process.

“This was a great idea, Natey Boy.” he chided himself miserably. “Just great.”

 

***

 

 

While Nate waited in his tree-top sanctuary, he dozed, his two keepers having settled down to keep their guard. After snarling and carrying on fiercely for a while, they fell to sniffing about the body of the one he had adorned with his ax, much the same way this beast had carried on with its mate before. Occasionally one or the other would cast a reproachful glare up into the tree and snarl. Eventually, though, they both lay down to rest.

While he slept, Nate dreamed of Zelda. In his dreams, they were laughing and loving in the yard behind the house. Both of them were nude, and he had a garden hose, spraying Zelda as she laughed, gleefully, and tried to fend him off. She looked radiant. As the light from the westering sky fell upon her face, it became a smoothly glowing sun and her hair was its corona, leaping and flashing in a magnificent aura, shining just for him. The water clung to her skin in tiny droplets, beading up on her breasts. Her skin was awash with goose bumps and her nipples stood out tautly proud against the cool air. He reached out and ran the back of his hand across her cheek, feeling its cool, satiny softness, and he longed to wrap her in his arms. He let the hose fall to the ground and stretched out his arms to her, but she was gone.

He looked for her. “Zel, where are you?” he cried. “Help me, Honey, I can’t find you!”

Turning, he saw her sitting in a tree. She had a picnic basket in her hands and a ridiculously quaint checkerboard tablecloth which was spread over a branch. She was wearing a pale yellow sundress with a broad-brimmed hat, decorated with flowers. Her skin, deeply tanned, contrasted nicely with the bright colors of her outfit, and one strap on her dress kept falling down over her shoulder.  She was alluring, as only love could see her.

Then he was in the tree at her side, the bark rough and course against his bare legs. She laughed, coquettishly and leaned against him for a moment. He was as happy as he could ever remember being. He looked at her and said with disbelief, “You’re not dead, I knew that.”

On impulse, he looked down and saw there were dogs — big dogs, they had gorilla faces, and they were staring… staring… and their eyes were hot. He could feel the heat from them.

Zelda laughed at his remark and reached into the basket. It was one of those old-fashioned creels, with a lid on either end, hinged in the middle. She pulled out a small parcel, wrapped in wax paper. He hadn’t seen wax paper since he was a kid… nobody used wax paper anymore. He told her so, but she paid no attention. She was busy unwrapping his food.

Suddenly he was ravenous. His stomach felt cavernously empty, and his mouth watered at the very thought of food. He realized he hadn’t eaten all day, and this was just what he needed.  Taking the appetizer eagerly in his hands, he thanked her and prepared his mouth for a treat.

Just then one of the dogs below shouted “Come down here,  Meat! Come down! We are sick of waiting to rip you to shreds and lick the blood from your bones.”

He looked to see the gorilla dogs, staring up at him and wagging stubby tails. Fierce, dagger-like teeth stretched beyond their thick lips, and a wild, anxious look filled their eyes.

The sandwich in his hands squirmed nastily, like something alive and slimy. Removing the top slice of bread — His mind screamed NOOOOOO!!!… DON’T LOOK AT IT!! — he saw that the sandwich meat was a decaying face. The face had been peeled from a rotting corpse head. It draped over the bread like a grotesque rubber mask for Halloween — a death mask. Flies squirmed darkly in the sockets of its eyes and its stiff black tongue protruded from purplish swollen lips. As he gasped in horror, he could feel the spinal cord, like a piece of cold, wet string, curling across the back of his hand and tickling his bare leg.

Nate screamed in revulsion while Zelda laughed, hysterically. When he looked, he saw that her neck was broken and her head hung crazily at an impossible angle to her body.

“You didn’t REALLY think they’d let me live, did you?” Her mocking voice echoed hollowly, sounding as though it came from a cave somewhere deep underground. The last of her words were garbled as blackened blood flowed from her mouth.  He shrunk away from her on the limb. Out into space, he sailed, his arms scrabbling desperately for a purchase on the tree, as the gorilla-dogs snarled triumphantly: “YES, That’s it! Come on down so we can eat you! Come on down Natey Boy!”

Lurching violently, he was yanked into wakefulness by a strange sense of vertigo. When he opened his eyes he realized that he WAS falling. In his sleep, he had leaned too far and was toppling from his perch to a horrid fate below.

Clumsily, he jammed his hands into the side of the tree, and at the last second, averted disaster. He shook his head savagely, trying to clear away the cobwebs. What a ghastly nightmare that had been! Of course, his waking hours had all been nightmare lately, so what more could he expect?

The voices of those devil-dogs in his dream had been so eerily real he could almost hear them still… “Come down, Meat! Nate, come on down.” Suddenly he snapped completely awake and his skin began to crawl as he realized that he DID still hear them. Someone was talking to him from down there… and the voice was that of his dream. With a shudder of fear and a sense of unspeakable loathing, he lowered his eyes to the ground below.

“We are sick of waiting! Come down, Natey Boy. Come down.”

2018 March & April Bi-Monthly Goals — Derek Barton

Capture 15

It is that time again to recap my progress on the Bi-Monthly goals I had for January & February and reveal what I want to accomplish this March & April.

For January & February:

** Complete the 2nd wave of edits for The Bleeding Crown — Finish by 3rd Week of Jan  —  This has been completed, but now I have a ton of writing and adding of material to bolster the manuscript.  I have two people helping me do even more in-depth editing and that is nearing the midway point.

** Start 1st wave of edits for Elude #1 — Begin by the 4th week of Jan — Started and worked up to the third scene.  I will continue this project with more intensity once the editing and additional writing have been completed for Bleeding Crown.

** Work of Cover for The Bleeding Crown — Begin by 2nd week of Jan —  This project took up a lot more time than it should have and I used it as an easy excuse to avoid writing…  The additional chapter material I have left for The Bleeding Crown is complex and will take a lot of plotting and organizing (battles, chase scene, etc!).  So far I have 12 different covers worked up but I am not happy with any of them.  I will be putting up the “favs” so far for a vote on my newsletter for this month.  Please let me know what you think!

** Complete Marketing Campaign for The Bleeding Crown — Finish by the 4th week of Jan — Started but not in earnest as I still have more research on proper marketing techniques to accomplish.  I want to advertise but I need to be sure it is the best use of my marketing budget.  If anyone has suggestions — things that have worked well for them, please comment below!

** Complete story subplot and finalize The Bleeding Crown (25,000+ words) — Begin by 2nd Week of Jan — Wrote only 8,000 words of the 25,000 I need.  This goal will definitely be carried forward and will have to be done PRONTO!

** Finalize work on Marketing Campaign for Consequences Within Chaos Audiobook — Begin by 2nd week of Jan  — The audiobook is still being worked on but the project had a setback due to some unforeseen issues.  No worries, as it is coming along and sounds great, however, I pushed this goal to the backburner until the audiobook is closer to being completed.

** Write a separate blog entry outside of goals and The Hidden Saga — Finish by 2nd Week of Feb — Really happy with this accomplishment and the blog itself has been attracting a lot of attention.  If you missed it:  Essential Elements of Book Covers

** Lose 15 pounds by end of February — Lose 2 pounds a week  — UGH.  I seesawed back and forth with a few pounds both months, but overall not much success.  Damn Burger King and its 2 for $6 offer!!  LOL    I am going to change the goal focus next month.  I want to start with baby steps to ensure that I have some weight loss.  In other words, I am going to make a goal as walking a mile a night for the next 60 days which equals to 60 miles.  I know that sounds like a lot, but last year I was in the habit of walking 3 to 4 miles each night.  Then if that works, the next goal set will add some possible weightlifting or dietary goals.  This should kickstart my weight loss, but we shall see!

** Send out Monthly Newsletters by 15th of the month — Completed by Feb 15th — Done and will continue to carry this goal forward.

** Keep up The Hidden saga on the website every 2 weeks — Finished by 4th Week of Feb — Done and will continue to carry this goal forward.  If you are behind, CATCH UP!  Chapter 8, Chapter 9 & Chapter 10 are available…

So… excluding the Audiobook goal, I completed 6 out of 9 (67%) which isn’t horrible and getting closer to “success” (80%).

Now for the next Bi-Monthly goals:

  • Outline new chapters for subplots and additional material – Finish by 2nd week of March
  • Finish writing new subplots/additional material – Finish by 3rd week of March
  • Complete 3rd Wave of edits & send out to Beta Readers – Finish by end of March
  • Complete 1st Wave of edits for Elude #1 – Finish by end of April
  • Complete the Cover for The Bleeding Crown – Finish by end of March
  • Get feedback from beta-readers – Finish by end of April
  • Complete the 4th wave and final edit for The Bleeding Crown – Finish by end of April
  • Write a separate blog entry outside of goals and The Hidden Saga — Finish by 2nd week for April
  • Walk 1 mile a day (60 miles for the two months) – Complete for both months
  • Send out Monthly Newsletters by 15th of the month – Complete for both months
  • Keep up The Hidden saga on website every 2 weeks – Complete for both months

Thanks again for everyone’s support and interest in my progress.  I am super thrilled with the storyline for The Bleeding Crown and anxious to hear everyone’s input on it.  And Elude is also an exciting project that I cannot wait to sink my teeth in.

Let me know if you had any suggestions for marketing!  What was your experience with Facebook ads?  Any success with Amazon Ads or did you have a different source for advertising?

 

Capture 14

 

The Hidden — Chapter 10 — T.D. Barton & Derek Barton

TH 10

CHAPTER TEN:  THE LAIR

 

Zelda remembered the name she’d seen on the poster in the grocery store the day before. She pictured the darling little girl’s face in her mind, her sweet smile beaming like polished silver, and it made her want to cry to think all she must’ve gone through.

“How did you get here?”

Susie reached up and touched Zelda’s cheek, hardly daring to believe she was real. She had effectively given up hope of ever being rescued. Now, although cloaked in darkness, her face filled with wonder. If Zelda could have seen, she would have thought she looked like a child taking in the sight of all those enticing packages piled beneath the tree on Christmas morning.

“One of the females brought me,” she said evenly.  Her voice was detached and remote, drifting in the dark like a single, tiny star in the middle of a black, black night. “They need slaves to help them. I’m supposed to be for Dzhankah when I get old enough.”

The child was speaking nonsense. Zelda decided she was probably in shock and had lost all touch with reality. “Honey, what do you mean ‘they’? Are you saying there are two of these creatures?” She shuddered at the very idea.

“More than that,” Susie answered. Then her voice became very sad as the star winked out, smothered by the thick black blanket of despair. “You’ll see.”

The sound of soft, stealthy movement came from the big chamber, and both of them stopped talking and strained their ears to hear. Something large was approaching them in the dark, its feet scuffling along the floor like burlap bags full of cement. The two captives clung to each other tightly, and Zelda held her breath, afraid to make any noise.

Whatever it was stopped in the doorway. Zelda could hear it making sniffing sounds, and she could smell its animal odor in the stygian darkness just inches from her.  Her skin crawled in anticipation of a heavy, wet muzzle being placed against her skin. But the creature didn’t touch her. Instead, just when Zelda felt she was about to burst, it moved on.  Its footfalls faded off into the distant, echoing depths of the cavern.

After a time, Susie whispered, “Did he… hurt you?”

“No. It went away.”

“Not that one. I mean the one who brought you in. Did it — you know — have sex with you?”

There was a pause in the darkness. “No.”

“It will,” Susie warned her. “You won’t be able to stop it.”

Zelda contemplated this. After a time, she asked: “Is there a way out of here?”

Susie shook her head, and Zelda felt the movement in the dark. “If you try to get away, they just grab you and drag you back. They can see real good down here. And there’s lots of ’em.”

“What ARE they? Where do they come from?”

“They’re the monsters under the bridge. My brother told me about them, only he just said there was one. They live down here in these caves, and the caves go on and on. They hide in the woods and the corn fields during the day. Then at night, they come back down here.” Susie scratched her nose. She was beginning to relax, a little bit, but she still held on to Zelda’s hand.

“My brother says their favorite food is little girls, but they haven’t eaten me yet, just slapped me around some.”

Zelda sat in the dark, thinking. “Where do they go when the corn’s been picked?” she asked. “And how come nobody ever sees them?”

“I think they hibernate in the winter. You know — like bears? They don’t eat people too much. At least, they don’t bring ’em back down here to eat. They live mostly off of deer and squirrels and rabbits and stuff.”

“How long have you been with them? Since you disappeared? What do YOU eat?”

“I eat what they bring me — raw meat. I got sick a lot at first, but I had to eat something. You’ll get used to it. I don’t know how long I’ve been here, but it seems like a long time.”

Zelda had never heard such fatalistic despair in a child’s voice. She reached out and cradled the poor child’s head in her arms. “Well don’t worry, sweetheart. I’m going to get us out of here somehow, just you wait and see. We’ll get you home safe to your family, I promise.” She took Susie’s fingers and crossed her own heart with them, feeling like Anne Bancroft in The Miracle Worker.

A flicker of a smile crossed Susie’s lips, but the darkness of the cave was as deep as the darkness of her spirit and the smile was wasted. She squeezed Zelda’s hand and whispered, “I’m glad you’re here, anyway. How did YOU get here?”

“My husband and I —” Zelda stopped short at the thought of Nate. She could not reconcile herself to the fact that he was dead. What was it Susie had said? They didn’t bring the humans back down here to eat? Oh, God! Is that what happened to my husband? Did those beasts devour him?

It was one thing to be widowed, but this was ghastly. She bit down hard on her lower lip. This was not the time for grief; she would not allow the tears to come until later after they were safe. She cleared her throat.

“We were having a picnic,” she finally continued, her voice thick with emotion. “They jumped us, and they dragged me down here.”

“Will your husband come save us?” Susie asked without much hope in her voice.

“No, honey, he’s dead. I’m afraid we’re on our own, you and me.”

They huddled together in the pitch black, each lost in their own thoughts for a time. Susie thought of her brother, Doug, and how he’d probably got in real trouble for losing his little sister. It was the one comforting thought she’d had to cherish during this hellish nightmare. It wasn’t much, but she liked to return to it whenever she was alone. Suddenly Zelda interrupted her thoughts with a question.

“Susie, you say they need slaves. What for?”

“Oh, things like bringing ’em water and cleaning up the bones, things like that. Mostly, I think they’re just saving me for when I grow up. You know — to breed.”

“You don’t know that, Honey. Not for sure you don’t.”

Zelda thought for a moment.

“You DO seem to know an awful lot about these creatures, though. How did you learn so much about them?”

“They told me,” was her simple reply.

 

The Hidden — Chapter 9 — T.D. Barton & Derek Barton

TH chap 9

CHAPTER NINE:   SUSIE

The abuse began when she was seven. Doug called it playing “Something”. That way he could ask her in front of their parents: “What d’ya want to do this afternoon, Suze?… Wanna play Something?”

Only she and her older brother knew what he meant by this. She didn’t really like it but she accepted it. Doug was six years her senior, and she was used to doing pretty much whatever he wanted. It wasn’t like he beat her or anything. He never forced her to do it — not physically, at any rate — but Doug had a way of playing on her emotions. If she refused, he would actually cry. It so amazed and frightened her to see her big brother crying that she would eventually give in. She felt sorry for him. After all, she loved Doug, as only an admiring little sister can. She wanted him to be happy, and playing “Something” always seemed to make Doug happy.

The first time they did it was in the big barn. It was a hot summer day and Doug said he had a new game to play, up in the loft. Being farm children, with the nearest neighbors two miles down the road, it wasn’t unusual for thirteen-year-old Doug to be playing with seven-year-old Susie all afternoon. In fact, their parents encouraged it and were pleased with Doug for “watching out” for his little sister the way he did. The way they saw it, most boys his age wouldn’t want anything to do with a younger child, but Doug seemed to dote on little Susie, spending hours a day with her. And she obviously loved and admired her older brother, catering happily to his every whim. Yes, her parents agreed that they were closer than any two children they ever saw.

In the beginning, it was just touching and feeling. They took turns — first he would be the patient and she would be the nurse. Then she would be the patient and Doctor Doug would have a look. It was fun! But it did make her feel funny inside. However, she didn’t like the way Doug made such a big deal about not telling their parents. Why would their parents care about some dumb game they’d play? But Doug insisted, and after she thought about it, she was impressed by the idea that he trusted her with a secret that only the two of them shared.

So she kept quiet…

And as time went on and they grew older, Doug kept asking to do more and more. And Susie grew to dislike his little games. They made her feel… dirty, like something that washed up on the beach. By now, though, she knew she was a co-conspirator in their little secret. If their parents found out, surely she would be punished as much as Doug for what they were doing.

Susie began to despise her brother.  He no longer made her feel “special” and loved when he touched her.  She had made up her mind this was going to have to stop.  Some way, some how, she was going to escape this situation.

And that’s how her life transitioned from a nightmare to a horror story.

About a month ago, she and Doug were down at “The Fort”. That’s what Doug called the new playhouse shack he’d built out of scrap lumber down by the river. Susie had been excited when he had started building it, envisioning a place where she could take her dolls and have tea parties and other such little-girl fascinations.  It was to be their special clubhouse.

But that wasn’t what big brother had in mind. He had been growing more and more worried that they would be discovered in the loft or in his bedroom late at night where they sometimes played “Something”. And their parents couldn’t always be counted on to be away from home when he was in the mood for games. What they needed was yet another secret… a secret place where they could go and their parents wouldn’t know.

There was a clearing on the bank of the river, just below the bridge, and Doug could hide the building amid the poison sumac and small scrub trees which grew there. He made a path which ran a circuitous route through the woods and down along the river, bending back at an angle, to come in from behind the shack so nobody would be likely to see it from the road and discover their little hideout.

They would ride their bikes down to the bridge, hiding them in the Queen Anne’s Lace growing thickly by the roadside. Then they followed the path from the west side of the bridge, out through the woods until they wound around and came out on the east side, just twenty or thirty yards from where they’d started. The idea was to throw off anybody that might be following them. Doug wanted to be completely and safely alone with his secrets.

They’d followed this trail dozens of times during the construction of “The Fort”.  One of Doug’s favorite things to talk about while they hiked through the murky wood was the Monster that lived beneath the bridge. It lurked there in the deepest shadows, drawn back against the wall so nobody could see it. But if you got up real close and peered way back in the darkest corner, you might just see two eyes, glowing pallidly from its grotesque face. The Monster’s favorite food was, of course, little girls.  And he was always hungry.

Susie didn’t like Doug anymore, but she did believe him. It never occurred to her this might be just another of his little mind games — that he might be playing on her childish naivete to get his jollies. She had no way of knowing that Doug, like most pedophiles, received his pleasure not only by physically abusing his victim but by emotionally dominating her as well.

There was a monster, all right, but it didn’t hide in the shadows beneath the bridge. It walked the path with her and forced her to do terrible things — things that would haunt her subconscious for the rest of her life.

On this particular day, August third, the story of the Monster had really gotten to her. She listened with rapt attention as Doug masterfully described the creature’s glowing red eyes and shaggy, blood-stained coat. He lowered his voice and growled in a chilling voice that verbally painted vivid pictures of the horror that lurked there in the shadows. He carried a stick with him, and his hands would wrap tightly around the shaft as, occasionally, he would pause and elaborate on some finer detail of his story. As Susie listened, the sounds of the forest seemed to come alive, and the shadows beside the path hid evil, hulking creatures that glared hungrily form their depths.

By the time they reached “The Fort”, she was happy to get there, and she sighed with relief when Doug slid the deadbolt over, locking them safely inside. The shack was sparse with a dirt floor, a stained mattress and a crate turned over to act as a table with a small porcelain lamp.

Doug immediately walked over and pulled out the pack of cigarettes he kept stashed beneath the mattress lying on the floor. Flopping down on his back, he propped his head and shoulders against the wall and lit up. He inhaled deeply, shaking out the match and tossing it into the corner. He tucked the cigarette into the corner of his mouth and squinted up at her through the smoke curling around his head.

He spoke around the butt of his cigarette. “Take your clothes off.”

This surprised her. Doug had never taken off all her clothes or even his.  He was too paranoid and in case his parents came home unexpectedly, they could easily hide their activities.  Now that Doug was growing older, they no longer bothered with pretending or roleplaying.  Doctor Doug no longer came to see his patient, only her nasty older brother, with the hair sprouting on his chin and various other places.

The closest they ever came these days to make-believe was when Doug made her say things to him that turned him on. Sometimes, she didn’t even know what the words meant, but she had learned not to ask questions because he liked to explain by showing her. Later she would try to convince herself she hadn’t said such things, pushing the knowledge and the words far down in her mind.  She buried a lot these days — nasty, shameful secrets buried deep like so many rotting corpses. And God help her if they ever rose from the dead to walk the hallowed ground of her consciousness.

“No!  It’s too dirty in here.”  She complained weakly.  The walls of their clubhouse suddenly moved in around her, tight and choking.

He ground out the cigarette in a silver ashtray on the crate.  With a louder command, he said, “I said take off your clothes!  Get on the mattress if you want to stay off the dirt.”

“Doug, no–“

Doug sprang to his feet and lunged at her.  He slammed one hand upon the wall above her head as he leaned in, towering over her in a threatening manner and stood so close she could smell the stale cigarette and feel the heat of his breath.  He growled in that Monster voice again, “In The Fort, you do exactly as I say, when I say and how I say it.  Susie, do you understand me?”

She sniffed and tears started to well up in her eyes.  “Dougie… you are sca–“

He slammed his open palm into the wall again over her making the shack shake and screamed this time in her face, “Do you understand the rules of The Fort?  Or do you want me to lock you outside for the Monster to eat you?  Take off your goddamn clothes now!”

Susie could only stare back at him, dumbfounded at the rage in his voice and the lust in his eyes.  When he raised his open hand intending to slap her, she nodded profusely and started unbuttoning her shirt.

He doesn’t mean it.  He wouldn’t let the Monster eat me… he wouldn’t.  She struggled to hold onto that thought and not burst out in tears of shame and fear as she still undressed as he demanded.

“We are going to add to our game today.  A little something to Something.”  He then chuckled at an internal thought, a joke at her expense.

He studied every minute movement she made.  She felt like an insect under a magnifying glass.  And the malicious tone of his voice chilled her.  Susie shivered standing in her undies.

“Take’em off and lay down.”

Turning red with embarrassment, she obeyed.  This would be the first time that he had seen her fully naked.  Something was…wrong.  Something unknown and something more to his intentions… And being struck had never been a part of “Something” before.

He yanked at his grey sweatshirt and threw it to the side of the mattress.  As he unfastened his belt and broke from leering at her, she ventured, “What did you mean by adding to the game?”

Doug ignored her as he continued undressing.  He turned his back to her as he fumbled with his jeans.  He then lit another cigarette.  When he faced her again, she saw he had the black leather belt wrapped around his fists.

“It’s time to make you a woman, Suze.”

The world around Susie shut down, frozen in the span between two heartbeats and then shattered like glass.  She finally realized what he meant and what he meant to do.  He was crossing a line, dragging her over it against her will and ending her life as she knew it.  She was too young to fully understand the ramifications of rape; she just understood on instinct that he was bent on destroying a part of her forever.  It was “Something” beyond hurt and innocence.  It was a step that could never be taken back.  She would not give him that.  He had taken too much from her.  Too much!

An animal-like instinct took control of her.  Maybe self-preservation or something else; whatever it was, it steeled her for him.  She would not react until she was ready although her body trembled in terror.  As Nate had discovered, there were some people in times of crisis that would flee or panic, others would lock up and freeze where they stood or some people that refused to be victims and fought back.  Susie Dawn Chamness was a fighter!

He placed her between his legs and stood over her, straddling her body on the mattress.

“Going to make you my little woman today.  Mine!”  Doug snarled down at her.  Then he squatted and snatched her left hand, making to tie it in the belt.

That was his mistake.  With her right hand, she lunged forward and snatched the lamp off the crate and shattered it upon his jaw.  He flew backward, knocked off balance by the strike and smashed his head on a stud in one of The Fort’s walls.

Susie didn’t wait to see the outcome.  She bolted to her feet, grabbed her pile of clothes and flung herself toward the door.

She didn’t even feel the knob of the deadbolt in her hand as she jerked it open and escaped down the path into the woods.  Numb from the terror, she felt nothing.  Her only thought was to get out — had to… had to… had to…

If Doug caught her now, he would really hurt her.  He might not even stop hurting her this time!

Seconds down the path, she heard The Fort’s door explode open and heard her brother calling after her.  His voice chased after her as she ran, running its icy fingers along her spine and snatching at the long strands of blonde hair trailing behind her.

Doug followed after her, calling her name and demanding for her to stop. Susie had one shot at losing him — she left the dirt path, plunging into the thick undergrowth of the forest and forging her way through the thicket down to the river’s edge.   She desperately pulled on her clothes and shoes before she waded on out into the river, which was no more than waist-deep at any point, this being the dry season.

It would take Doug some time to traverse the path and catch up with her.  She decided to follow the river under the bridge until she came to the other side. Once there, it would be a simple task to retrieve her bicycle and ride away.  She had no idea where to go, but she knew she didn’t ever want to see her brother again. Hot tears boiled down her cheeks, making everything she looked at swim and wriggle as she splashed her way along the river. Her face was flushed with shame and anger and her breath came in great hitching sobs.

This was a girl whose whole life was in turmoil. She couldn’t go on with things the way they were, and yet she had no idea where to turn to affect any change. With an unknown strength, she was taking the only action she could, she was running away. She intended, in fact, to keep right on running until something made sense — until she found a place where her life could be as it was in her fantasies.

The water was extremely cold, and her legs were beginning to ache. Occasionally, she would slip on the smooth gravel lining the bottom of the river, but she managed to maintain her footing, flailing her arms and stutter-stepping to regain her balance. At last, she reached a sandbar and she was able to step out of the water, warming her legs in the August sun.

The sandbar continued on under the bridge, but as she stood there, gazing into the darkness beneath it, her brother’s words came back to her and she locked up with dread. The Monster lived under the bridge and his favorite food was little girls. If she went under there, she would see its glowing eyes and it would come snarling and snapping out of the shadows.  The last thing she would do in life would be to soil herself before it clamped down with its yellow teeth.

She had had enough humiliation for one day.  So there lay her only means of escape, on the other side of the bridge on the other side of the Monster hidden in a patch of weeds by the side of the road. In a quandary over what to do, she collapsed to her knees sitting upon her haunches down in the middle of the sandbar, folded her bare arms across her chest and wept.

All the degradation and torment of the last four years of her life came out in a heart-rending rush of self-deprecation.

How could I be so stupid as to let myself be used like that? How am I ever gonna wash away his… grime?  Wash away what he has done to me?  The sins unfolded in her mind and all the buried feelings of disgust burst forth.  These were feelings and emotions a little girl her age should not be forced to deal with.

Her cries were heard.

Susie reached out and gathered a handful of water, which she brought up and splashed into her face.  As her life replayed for her, she began to feel anger.  She allowed the anger to build, leaning on the strength it brought with it. She kindled and nursed it, like a small fire, and her soul began to warm itself beside it.

She began to think along the lines of what her next move would be… should she go forward, or should she go back? Where was she to go now, home to her parents? Could she ever hope to make them understand what she’d been through? A small wisp of hope sprouted somewhere inside her. Maybe if she told her mother everything, she would not be punished too harshly, maybe her mother would understand. She would never be able to tell her father, of that she was certain.

But maybe, just maybe if I could convince Mother to forgive —

“Suze!”

She looked up startled to see Doug silhouetted against the sky atop the bridge. He was leaning over the side with his hands on the rail, looking down on her in the water.  Blood flowed from two lacerations along his jaw and cheek.  She jumped to her feet and splashed over to the bank, where she climbed out and charged off into the woods again.

“Wait, Susie, wait right there!” he called in vain.

“Leave me alone!” she screamed over her shoulder, “I’m running away — far away, where you’ll never touch me again!”

The briars cut into her legs and snagged her clothes as she crashed through the undergrowth, but she continued on until she connected with the path again. Here she hesitated, undecided as to which way to turn. Her brother would be coming back from the bridge. She groaned a bit and then charged off into the undergrowth once again.

She had gone maybe forty feet into the woods and was just about to pause for a rest when something hit her in the back and sent her sprawling amidst a patch of may-apples. Rolling over and sitting up, she looked to see who had struck her, but to her amazement, there was no one there. She remained on the ground for a moment and listened, but not a sound could she hear, save for the calling of birds in the trees and the sound of Peepers calling brightly from the water’s edge.

Then she heard Doug’s footsteps, padding down the path and continuing on toward the shack. He was panting heavily, and he swore when he stumbled across a root. She waited for him to go past, and then rose insecurely, figuring to try the path once more, now that the way was clear.

When she turned, she was face to face with the Monster. It must have followed her from under the bridge. The poor girl hadn’t the strength to run and she hadn’t the breath to scream.  She was struck dumb, and all she could do was stand there and wait for it to eat her. Doug for once had not been lying to her.  Her life had never been a happy one and now she was to die a violent death at the hands of a horrific fiend.

The shaggy beast swayed slowly back and forth on its four legs, sizing her up.  Slowly, she reached behind her hoping to find a stick to defend herself, but before she could do anything it attacked. In two swift bounds, it was upon her, its forepaws on either side of her head and its ghoulish face snarling fiercely into hers. She whimpered pitifully and buried her face in the leaves which littered the forest floor.

Her cries were cut off and she fought for breath as it flipped her over and grabbed a mouthful of her shirt collar, carrying her by the scruff of her neck as a mother wolf would transport her cubs. It bounded off, noiselessly, into the woods; and the last time Susie ever heard her brother’s voice, it was echoing through the trees: “I’m sorry, Susie! I’m sorry! Susie, come back… If you tell anyone, you will be SOR-R-R-EEEE!!!”

Susie thought wildly of the story of Little Red Riding hood, alone in the forest with the Big Bad Wolf.  She closed her eyes and wondered how bad it hurt to be eaten.

 

The Essential Elements of Book Covers — Derek Barton

Book Covers Blog

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

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

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

It is just that simple, and yet, IMPORTANT.

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

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

Overall Principles:

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

 

Style:

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

 

Typesetting:

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

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

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