16 January 2017

Chapter One - Rain

Welcome back to another installment of The Big Sleep. If you need to get caught up, start with the first part of the prologue or take a look at the Table of Contents. Today, I am releasing Chapter One - Rain. I hope that you enjoy the story. If you do, please feel free to let me know by leaving me a comment. I will return with Chapter Two (Available January 23, 2017) next Monday. See you then!

Chapter One - Rain

"Stop!" a shrill voice rang out behind me. I recognized it immediately as Miss Becky the baker. She must have seen me lift those croissants from her stand. And I thought I had this stealth thing figured out.

Squaring my shoulders, I whirled around to face her. "Miss Becky, hi." I put on my saddest, sweetest face, tucking the croissants firmly behind my back.


"Rain Collins. Of course." Miss Becky bent down, bringing her eyes level with mine. "Do you have something of mine?"


I backed up a few inches so that I couldn't smell her breath, which stunk of just about everything but mint. "No, Miss Becky. I don't have anything of anybody's."


Her hand shot out too quickly for me to react. She seized my arm, pulling it and the croissants from behind my back. "And you paid for these?" She sneered as she wrapped the soft pastries in a cloth napkin and stuck the bundle into her apron pocket. "What are you even doing here, Rain? You can’t be running around like this all the time. You should be in school. Don’t sleep if no one's making you."


I was about to sneer back and tell her exactly why I wasn't in school when I realized that Miss Becky and her husband bought their eggs from my father, who still had no idea that I’d dropped out of school a month earlier. If he found out that his perfect little girl was roaming the streets and pilfering pastries like some sort of urchin, there would be hell to pay.


“Gosh,” I said, looking at the sun, high overhead. "Look at that, Miss Becky. You're right. I must be late for home economics by now. I’m a mess before I get my breakfast." I pulled my last coin from my pocket and gave it to her, along with a syrupy smile. "I’m so sorry about the misunderstanding. I'll be on my way. Send sweet dreams to Mister Will. And the girls."


As I walked away, she called after me, "I'll be talking to your father this afternoon, Miss Rain. You can count on that."


Grimacing, I beat the pavement hard on the way over to The Red Dragon, one of two bars in town and the only bar open during the day. Decades ago, this city was a metropolis where hurried men in business suits and glamorous women with powerhouse personalities ruled. After our near-apocalypse happening and decades of disuse, the buildings stood nearly as tall and pristine as they did back then, but the men and women were few, their personalities bleak.


The Greymen didn't destroy our countries or our monuments or our homes. Just our people and our minds.


The Red Dragon ran out of what used to be the home of an unnecessarily elaborate and ostentatious collector. It had been named for the hulking statue of a red dragon that sat in the center of its cramped courtyard, surrounded by closely planted flower beds and a too tall iron fence.


The building itself was a simple box, one of the few suburban houses that hadn’t been cleared to make way for my father’s farms. Decades ago, the original owner had put up blackout curtains and decorated the entire interior with bits of memorabilia from obscure books and movies and comics and myths and legends and, apparently, just about anywhere else. It made a fine bar.


I stepped in, letting my eyes adjust to the dark and dreary interior. In the corner of the bar, sitting at a table for two with its candle snuffed out, sat my somewhat androgynous and extremely clever best friend, Kayle. As usual, she was dressed from head-to-toe in black, her short, white hair tucked into a black hat.


"Hey." I frowned as I settled down on a chair next to her. “Miss Becky must have gotten her hands on some coffee this morning. I lost our breakfast. Sorry.”


Kayle's face split into a wide grin. From beneath her seat she produced a large black duffel bag and dumped the contents on the table. Out scattered coin purses, wallets, pocketbooks, money clips, and more.


"Damn, Kayle!" I smiled back, Miss Becky and the croissants forgotten. “You’ve been busy.”


“In a town where everyone’s always talking about having wakeful minds and being present in every moment, they sure do a lot of sleeping on their feet around here.” She held up one finger and called to the kitchen, "Bartender."


Perry, the squat middle-aged proprietor of The Red Dragon approached our table a moment later, notepad in hand and pencil poised. “Can I take your order?” he said, bowing slightly as he spoke.


“You know it, Per,” Kayle said, picking up a particularly fat wallet and opening it to produce a wad of bills. “The usual. And keep ‘em coming till 3.”


"The usual till the usual. On it." Without a glance at the pile of obviously stolen goods, Perry took the cash from Kayle’s hand and hurried back into the kitchen, returning moments later with two glasses and two plates.


Kayle and I drank and ate, talked and gossiped all morning and into the afternoon. Finally, it was the end of the school day, the end of my daily ruse, and time for me to go home.


“Have a coffee, first,” Kayle said, her words slurring a bit.


My head felt heavy on my neck as I nodded. “Good idea,” I said, waving Perry over.


“Another, Miss Rain?” he said, shaking his head. “You might want to call it a day.”


I shook my head, making myself dizzy. “Just a coffee, Per.”


He pursed his lips. “It’s gone up again.”


“Seriously?”


“It’s hard to get up here.” He shrugged. “The world isn’t expanding like it used to. I think I have a bit of cocaine in the back though, if you want that instead. It’s not cheaper but it might go farther--”


“How much for a cup?”


“We don’t serve the cocaine in cups.”


“For a cup of coffee, Perry.”


“Oh. Oh, of course. Fifteen dollars.”


“Jesus.”


He shrugged again.


"Make it two." Kayle stuck her hand in her pile of procurements and pulled out a couple still-full wallets. She thrust them at Perry without opening them. He took the wallets, smiled at their weight, then disappeared into the kitchen to fetch our coffees.


“I wonder how much it is to get cream and sugar,” Kayle said.


I laughed. “Probably more than the cocaine.” Cream hadn’t been available in our city even before the Big Sleep--there was just no room to feed and breed livestock anymore--and sugar only grew in far away places, just like coffee. Adding that to a cup would probably more than double its already obscene price tag, if the request could even be filled.


“You think cocaine makes a good sugar substitute?”


“It is a white powder.”


“I don’t think sugar’s really a powder.”


I shrugged. “I’ve never seen any.”


“Me either.”


Perry brought us our coffees and I downed mine in a few quick, burning gulps, then said my goodbye to Kayle before I set off down the city streets and side roads to the family farm.


The Collins Farm made up a unique part of the city, covering nearly a quarter of its land. Before the Big Sleep, the city had sprawled endlessly outwards. Unwilling to compromise on their space, the suburbanites had taken over the fields and the pastures, even the forests and the marshes.


Instead of hunting for virtually non-existent arable land untouched by the past, my father and his crew of farmhands had spent an entire decade tilling the soil in former backyards, tearing down the small houses of suburbs, moving out the trash, planting the right crops in the right formations.


Our acres of crops spread across the east side of the city and our house was situated directly in the center of the sprawling crops, a three-story Victorian that was turned into a duplex long ago, then turned into a family farmhouse by my father.


I braced myself for the storm that my father was sure to unleash over the morning’s events and opened the door. All was quiet.


“Hello?” I called out into the hallway. “Anybody home?”


“Up here,” my sister, Beth, called from upstairs.


I heaved a breath of relief. If my father wasn’t home now, perhaps he hadn’t been home to get the call from Miss Becky.


“Where’s Dad?” I asked as I approached Beth’s bedroom.


“Dunno,” she said in her usual mindless fashion. “Miss Becky called.”


I froze. Beth already knew that I dropped out, but she thoroughly disapproved--perhaps I was still in for a tongue-lashing after all. Still, I’d take my little sister’s scolding over my father’s any day.


“And?” I said.


Beth looked up at me, her face furious. She opened her mouth as though she were about to roar. A giggle burst from her lips. “Why are you stealing croissants?”


I shrugged, laughing with her. “I was hungry.”


The front door opened and slammed, cutting us off mid-laughter.


“Rain!” My father’s voice echoed through the house. “Get down here.”


Next Week: Chapter Two (Available January 23, 2017)

09 January 2017

Prologue (Part Three) - Dusk

Hello again, beautiful people. It's time for the final installment of the three part prologue for my new serial, The Big Sleep. Part three is entitled Dusk. You can check out Prologue (Part One) - Dawn and Prologue (Part Two) - The Little Sleep if you haven't read them yet or want a refresher on the story. The story's not over yet! I will be posting a chapter of The Big Sleep once a week on Mondays until the story is done. Get ready for Chapter One - Rain (Available January 16, 2017), coming next week! Prologue (Part Three) - Dusk Trelevan sat up and took in the clearing. On beds of alien heather lay his companions, peaceful and serene. If not for their still chests, they might have been dreaming. A couple of feet away from the crew sat what looked like a crumpled pile of elephant skin. Trelevan rose and approached it. Staring up at him from the ground was a sagging gray face, wrinkled with unnatural lumps. Its mouth was agape and its eyes were hollow, though they still twinkled with a red that once burned with evil life. As Trelevan gazed down at the corpse, he could feel fatigue setting in. “It’s happening again," he said, yawning. With as much speed as he could muster, Trelevan ran for the shuttle. He boarded quickly and began fiddling with the controls. “If Lafayette can do it...” he muttered as his eyelids drooped. With a whir, a buzz, and a bang, the ship came to life. Yellow, red, and green lit up the control panel. Trelevan slammed his fingers down on the green buttons and, after a few moments, the shuttle was in sudden, swift motion. Trelevan was thrown to the floor by the force. He feebly reached out for the pilot’s seat and dragged himself up and into it. With heavy hands, Trelevan prodded at the controls on a small monitor. He held a silver microphone up to his lips and slurred, “Mission failure. I am returning home. Aliens attacked us in our dreams. Everyone else is dead. I’m going to sleep now. Trelevan...” He closed his eyes and his breathing slowed. +++ Lenore Lafayette was sitting with her grandmother in the kitchen of their house. “Grandmother?” Since her father’s disappearance, Lenore had stopped calling her grandmother ‘Grammy’. “Yes, Lenore?” Grammy Lafayette sipped at a glass of iced tea. “Shouldn’t the Mayflower II be returning soon?” Lenore tried to sound casual, but her words were thick with anxiety. The last transmission from the ship had been grim, but Lenore and her grandmother had yet to give up hope. “You know, I think you’re right.” Grammy Lafayette placed her hand on Lenore’s. “We could watch the skies, if you’d like.” Lenore nodded. She followed her grandmother outside and onto the front porch. Red and yellow light shone like fire in the sky. From the brightness fell a burning torpedo. As the fiery mass grew closer, Lenore could make out tiny blobs popping off it and onto the ground below. She watched as one of the blobs rocketed toward the convenience store up the street. It landed without a sound. Grandmother Lafayette’s eyes were wide with horror. As she took in the scene, tears rolled down her cheeks. “So, he really is gone, then.” The two women collapsed into a heap of tears, hugging each other tight. After a brief moment, Lenore hastily wiped her face and stood. “I’m going to see what that was.” Before her grandmother could react, Lenore was off the porch and across the lawn. She ran to the store and wrenched the doors open. Like a wave, exhaustion overtook her. Lenore fell to the tiled floor and slept.


NEXT: CHAPTER ONE

02 January 2017

PART TWO - The Little Sleep

Welcome back to week two of my brand new serial, entitled The Big Sleep. If you missed part one, you can read it here: Prologue (Part One) - Dawn. This week, it's part two, The Little Sleep. The final part of the prologue will be posted next week. After that, you can look forward to new chapters every week! Enjoy the story and see you next week for Prologue (Part Three) - Dusk (Available January 9, 2017) 

Prologue (Part Two) - The Little Sleep 


Days passed and none of the crew stirred. On the outside, they were peaceful. On the inside, each man was fighting a war that he would be hard-pressed to win. 


+++ 


 “Hello?” Peterson called out. He was surrounded by a blackness deeper than space. “Is anybody there?” 


“Hello, Toby.” A disembodied voice cut through the darkness, a familiar voice. 


 “Dad?” He turned to see his father's thick frame, his face draped in shadow. Portraits of roosters, statues of hens and plates decorated with various poultry surrounded him. He was sitting in the kitchen of Peterson's childhood home. 


 “We need to talk.” Peterson's father was stern. 


 Peterson stepped out of the darkness and into the kitchen. “Yes, Dad?” 


 Peterson’s father stood several feet taller than his son and draped in shadow. “Have you cleaned your room?” 


Heat rose up Peterson’s neck and face. His father had asked him to tidy up his room the last time that they spoke. “Sorry, Daddy.” Peterson blushed, averting his eyes from his father’s piercing gaze. 


A high-pitched cackle burst forth from the looming figure. Peterson looked up as the light caught his father’s face. It was horribly mangled. Bloody tire tracks adorned his left check, while the right side of his face was completely flattened. “You should have listened to your father.” 


A childlike shriek came from Peterson’s lips. He made to run, but found his legs too short to carry him. He toppled over and frantically crawled on stubby limbs. 


 +++ 


Cool, white light carried Wilson upward. He felt calm and peaceful in the radiance. Before him lay a world of colorful clouds sprinkled with stardust, swirling and dancing while he hung in the air, watching.


“Wilson?” said an official-looking man, hovering in the clouds. 


 “Yep.” Wilson lazily nodded from atop his beam of light, content to be among the stars. 


A great flash and a thunderous clap surrounded him. The beautiful light that carried him disappeared. He fell down, down, down through the heavens, landing with a thud on the hard earth. But this was not Wilson’s home, nor was it Dawn. The ground was ragged and red, stained with blood and ash. Somehow, he knew that there was no life anywhere. The nightmare landscape stretched endlessly around him. 


“Commander Wilson?” He spun to find himself facing the official looking man from the clouds. The man wore military attire and looked something like his father, something like the current president, and mostly like Wilson himself. 


Wilson nodded at the man. 


“Pleased to finally meet you.” The man smiled warmly. 


Wilson forced himself to his feet. “You've heard of me?” 


The man’s smile grew wider. “Of course I have. I made you, after all.” 


+++ 


Black was on the ground, surrounded by thousands of children clawing and kicking at every part of him. 


“Black’s got a fat mom,” a boy said, laughing. 


“Did you hear? He’s got eleven toes,” shrieked another. 


Black made to swipe at the young boys, pulling them off of his body. But every time he removed a child, another would take its place. 


“He likes boys.” A boy smacked his face and giggled. 


“None of those things are true!” Black screamed at the children. 


They laughed and jeered. “He’s fat and old.” 


Black rolled onto his side, trying to protect his internal organs. He could feel pops and pains inside his body as the cast of The Little Rascals attacked him. He felt small hands grasping at his wrists and ankles. The legion of children were separating and congregating at either end of him. “Stop!” he shouted as they began to pull. Thousands of little feet pitter-pattered on the pavement as they rushed away from each other. The sound of bones breaking and Black screeching joined the orchestra. Then, with one final crunch, all was silent. 


+++ 


A giant plume of smoke emitted from the bottom of the Mayflower II as it settled. Out of the haze rose Lafayette. He wore a jumpsuit and a smile. 


“Daddy!” came the bright and cheerful voice of Lenore Lafayette. 


Lafayette opened his arms wide and took his daughter into a tight hug. “I missed you.” 


She kissed his cheek and whispered, “I missed you more.” 


“You’ve grown up, my love.” Lafayette squeezed his daughter tighter in his arms. He could feel her chest compress as he pulled her in. Emotion overwhelmed him. 


“Daddy,” she gasped, “I can’t breathe.” 


“Oh, sweetheart,” he whispered, pulling her closer still. 


“Dadd--” Lenore choked on her words, coughing and sputtering. 


Blood came up with saliva as she tried to make room in her throat for air. Lafayette giggled and stroked Lenore’s hair. “Pretty girl,” he said. “My little girl.” A bubble of red spit formed on her lips. 


+++ 


Trelevan was stiff and still, as he so rarely was in waking life. His arms were outstretched in either direction with his left one swinging in a slow, tedious circle. Sixteen corpses lay at his feet, all wearing his nervous smile. 


“I remember this,” he said. “Wait, I remember this...” 


He gazed at the bodies before him and searched his mind. He came to a night thirteen years ago. He and his ex-wife had been having some sort of argument and she’d stormed off. Trelevan had taken solace in a plate of hot wings and ice cream. His nightmares were awful that night. 


“This is a dream,” Trelevan shouted at the corpses, laughing with relief. His arms fell to his side and the corpses disappeared. “All right.” He chuckled. “Let’s have some fun.” 


Trelevan took a hop, skip, and a jump and launched into the air, flying free like so many birds had done back at home. 


+++ 


Lafayette held Lenore in his arms, sitting on the hard pavement. He whispered to her about the coldness of space, the loneliness. She lay quiet. For hours, Lafayette waxed on about his adventures. 


After a time, Lenore began to stir. Her little body trembled in Lafayette’s muscular arms. Tiny hands reached up towards his face and a smile traced her bloodied lips. A low growl escaped her. She bared her teeth and snapped at Lafayette’s throat. 


“Sweetheart,” he held his daughter at arm’s length, “no biting.” 


Lenore’s eyes bulged, looking as though they would pop from their sockets. Her arms and legs flailed wildly, if helplessly, in the air. She clawed relentlessly at Lafayette’s hands, but to no avail. Finally, she submitted to defeat. 


“Good girl.” Lafayette grinned and brought her back into his arms for another hug. 


She snapped again. A red stream erupted from his neck. Lafayette, in shock, brought a hand up to his throat, releasing his grip as she unleashed her fury. Feral, uncontrollable, the little girl tore her daddy apart. 


+++ 


Peterson hid under an old pizza box in the garage. He had propped it up to form a tent-like barrier around his pudgy baby body. 


“Goo. Goo gah,” he said out loud, scratching his bald head with a short arm and pudgy fingers. 


“Toby? Son?” Peterson’s father’s voice carried in from the hallway. The door to the garage was ajar; Peterson could not reach door handles in his current state. 


He watched as a foot emerged from around the corner, followed by another. The two feet paced the garage back and forth. Peterson trembled where he sat, scouring his mind for memories of his father. He found none. Stern and authoritative images of Trelevan and Wilson came to him. 


“Toby?” The feet stopped in front of the pizza box, bringing with them an enormous hand. The hand wrapped its fingers around Peterson’s short, kicking leg and began to pull him up. 


“Wahhh!” Peterson let out a piercing cry. 


Surprised by the sound, the hand released Peterson’s leg several feet up over the garage’s cold concrete floor. With a quiet thud, Peterson’s soft skull hit the ground. 


+++ 


Wilson guffawed and slapped God on the back. “God, eh?” Chortling, he withdrew his hand and wiped tears from his eyes. 


“Yes.” God continued to smile. 


“Well.” Wilson quieted. He watched God for a moment. A light that emitted the same calmness as the beam that had carried Wilson hung around God like an aura. “All right.” God began to walk into the desolate wasteland around them and Wilson followed suit. 


“Life,” God began, “is not easy. Is it, Wilson?” 


“No, sir. It’s not,” Wilson agreed. 


“We all make mistakes, don’t we?” 


“Yes, sir.” 


They came to a large black gate that led into a dismal courtyard. Blackened creatures dragged their limbs as they approached the gate from the other side to heckle Wilson and his companion. 


“And you’ve made your fair share.” The smile faded from God’s luminescent face. “Haven’t you?” 


“Yes, sir.” Wilson shrunk back, guilt overcoming him. “I’m sorry about that.” 


God shrugged as the ebony gate opened wide. “We all have our pride.” 


Several hundred ragged demons limped and scampered out of the gate. Wilson looked at where God had been standing and found his glorious visage replaced by a beady-eyed, panting wolf-boy. The monsters overwhelmed the commander, prodding him with hot iron rods and pushing him toward the mouth of the gate. 


“No!” Wilson protested. The smell of decay overwhelmed him. A demon reached up and cut a slit into Wilson’s chest with its long, sharp fingernails. “Won’t be needing this anymore.” The beast cackled as it removed Wilson’s still-beating heart. White hot pain seared through Wilson as his voice silenced. 


+++ 


Trelevan soared over rooftops and swooped down to carve his wake in the lake. He formed loop-the-loops and figure eights in the sky. Over an open field, a small gray speck caught his eye. Though he suspected that it was just a boulder, left by time or imagination in the pasture, he felt compelled to investigate. 


He flew a large circle around the field and descended on the west side, into a patch of willows. He took cover under the canopy and observed the gray lump from afar. 


“What are you?” Trelevan wondered out loud, nearing the edge of the trees. He focused hard on the blurry outline in the distance and the edges became clear. 


After a time, Trelevan found that he could adjust his eyes well enough to make out the shape of a hunched over, human-like creature. Trelevan froze. He was a smart man, a strong man, but not an especially brave one. This creature was like nothing he’d seen in his dreams or nightmares before. Gathering all the courage that he could muster, Trelevan considered the value of his life: his mission. 


He stepped out from beneath the willow canopy and planted his feet on the rough, yellowing field. As Trelevan advanced, the figure straightened. The closer he got, the more he could discern. The body of the creature was skinny and draped in thin folds of papery gray skin. When Trelevan was a few yards from the back of the drooping creature, it spoke. 


“Why have you come here, human?” Its voice was layer upon layer of familiarity. 


“Where’s my crew?” Trelevan asked, surprised by the confidence he felt. 


The voice hissed. Laughter? “They are in me now, brother.” 


“Devil.” Trelevan spat, circling the gray monster. As he moved, the creature turned. “Let me see your face.” 


“No,” it said. 


Trelevan’s own face was red, damp with sweat. His hands and knees shook as he paced small circles around his foe. He was aware that his crew was most likely dead. He thought about Peterson’s weak mind and Wilson’s undying dedication to himself. There was no way that any of them had discovered that this was a dream. 


“That’s it.” Trelevan laughed. “This is a dream.” 


Closing his eyes, he imagined Wilson, proud and braced, ready to take on hordes of these beasts; Lafayette, poised at Wilson’s side with mindless loyalty; Peterson, wild with passion and urgency; Black, silent and strong. Trelevan opened his eyes to the faces of the crew. He grinned. 


“You ready?” He looked at Wilson. 


The commander nodded and began making swift and definite hand gestures at the rest of the crew. They flanked the gray creature. 


“Face me, demon. I am not alone,” Trelevan drew a pistol from his hip and the crew followed suit. The snake-like laugh rang out again. 


“You are alone,” it said. 


Bile rose in Trelevan’s throat. The crew was gone.


“You conjure for the first time in my realm and expect to frighten me? Do you not see the world that I have created before you? Have you not experienced my nightmares? I am beyond you. Submit to me now and perhaps I will make your death less painful.” 


Swallowing hard, Trelevan steadied himself and focused. “Home,” he whispered. A small hill began to push its way out of the soil beneath the willows in the west. Slowly, steadily, the hill became a mountain. Huge flat plates of rock formed on its face, towering over Trelevan’s head. With a deep gulp, Trelevan brought down the mountain on top of himself and the gray devil. A shriek of pain, then he was buried in heavy stone. 


NEXT PART