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The One Hundredth Post Exclusive Excerpt

In July 2011, when I first started posting the archives from my old site here, I don't think I truly believed I'd be capable of continuously updating such a project. It was a dream, as was completing my first two novels, which had already been in the works for years at that point.

Now, one hundred posts later, it's humbling to see how far I've come (especially looking at the first archive post, which dates back to June 2008). One hundred posts from now, I hope to look back to this time and believe the same. 

But, I'd rather not spend all day waxing philosophical. As I mentioned on my Facebook page, I believe the one hundredth post should be something special. Something celebratory.

So, what better way to mark the occassion than with an exclusive excerpt from my upcoming sophomore outing, The Nobodies? Without further ado...



                                an ending


AS THE INFAMOUS ones tend to do, the day began like any other.
     Businessmen and women arrived first, some stopping for coffee and bagels as they walked to work, their hot breaths clouding the cool morning air. Struggling to fight the against the increased foot traffic and the sporadic signal lights, taxis dashing toward fares and buses ambling down the street a block at a time danced about one another. Hands grazed smartphones and switched computers to life as elevators rocketed skyward only to plummet immediately back to earth.
     The tourists came next, impatiently waiting for peak rates to wane so they could flood the city for a final view of Rockefeller Center and some last-minute shopping, the stores’ aisles crowding faster and more fully than any of the city streets as the revolving doors endlessly spun. By lunchtime, every restaurant was overwhelmed with picture-snapping, bag-toting families anticipating their meals as they numbly awaited their chance for a seat.
     They came and went, but shortly before the end of the work day, as rambunctious employees left early to begin the weekend’s revelry, the trains moved off-schedule with unforeseen difficulties and delays. Those parked in the city’s stations failed to operate, despite the best efforts of their conductors and engineers. Traffic out of the city grew thick and nearly stalled, tempers flaring at the early congestion.
     And on the roofs of hundreds of buildings, simple devices smaller than the hottest gift-wrapped items that Christmas were attached to ventilation systems with the utmost care. Below, men clad in black riot gear and mildly wheezing through gas masks suddenly appeared at the busiest corners and the main entrances to dozens of the largest businesses.
     Some tourists took their pictures, thinking the ominous military presence part of a larger exercise, but the local police that took notice were as confused as the sightseers surrounding them.
     At 3:46 PM, all the rooftop devices activated in tandem.
     Just seconds later, an odorless, nearly invisible gas cloud poured from the ventilation ducts. Thicker than air, it settled downward, pushed through filters without effect, and oozed across tile and carpet alike. As some of the more sensitive began to cough and wheeze, the gas escaped onto the sidewalks and out into the streets with every open door and window.
     The children and elderly slipped into unconsciousness less than three minutes later. Within another thirty seconds, men and women of all ages joined them, some dropping with loud, bloody crunches against the floors, sidewalks and streets, some simply sliding down the wall as though they had fallen asleep.
     Those unaffected by the gas or those lucky enough not to have inhaled its toxic fumes quickly panicked, seeking temporary solace in the Subway system or jumping from windows thinking it could be avoided. That was when the armored men with the gas masks broke their ranks. Shots were fired. Tear gas joined the poisonous mixture. Some forced themselves into buildings to bar the exits from the few stragglers desperately clawing for fresh air.
     Reporters began to broadcast as the gas dissipated and violent clashes sparked between the survivors and the unknown soldiers. Stations went deathly silent as their transmissions were abruptly severed. Fires blossomed across hundreds of rooftops, destroying all evidence as the buildings themselves took blaze. Ash clouds filled the sky over the island as a larger military presence pushed past the gridlocked traffic and into the city.
     Across the nation, bystanders stood transfixed as the same events befell city after city. By the time they realized what had happened, it was already too late.


                               waking up


HE MOVED CLOSER with every step. “You can run all you want, but I will find you.”
     Wincing as his jacket caught a jagged chunk of metal, he ran harder, wiping away the blood clouding his vision. He nearly crashed into a washing machine, slamming his palms against its side as he skidded to a halt. His boots slipped in the mud as he regained his momentum.
     “This is fruitless! You have no chance making it out of here alive.”
     Rounding a battered truck, he took a quick look around. The shadows were deep there, almost enough to hide him completely. With the pounding rain beating so heavily, he could chance avoiding a confrontation altogether.
     “What, no witty comeback from my esteemed colleague? Have your wounds already inflicted so much damage?”
     A stairwell of blackness was to his right, its entrance masked behind a knoll of badly-dented appliances and rubbish. Risking a glance back down the narrow path, he shook his head and ran for the steps. There was nothing but darkness, but the lightning briefly showed an open tunnel below. With a smile, he rushed down the wet stone, wary of the man behind him as he reached for the talkie at his waist. Halfway to the bottom, he wedged the transmitter between the stone and a rusty tin car. He slapped a sodden paper over it to hide its green light.
     “There you are.”
     He turned, but it was too late. He toppled down the stairs, his chest exploding with blistering agony.
     “Where do you think you’re going?”
     His head smacked into the granite with a horrible crunch. He threw up. Something was wrong with his foot. Blood covered his shirt. He laid still, vision in his right eye going red. He could feel the blade rubbing against one of his ribs.
     “Yes, this is how you will die.” He felt himself dragged backward by the ankles. Then the rain stopped spattering against him. His breaths were growing shallow. “You will suffer down here for what you’ve done. No one will find you.” Everything went black as he was grabbed by the collar and pulled upright. Cool breath blew into his face.
     He screamed as a hand dug into his chest.
     “Yes, feel that. Feel what it’s like to be betrayed. Know that when you die, it was me standing over you. Me driving the blade. Because you grew too confident in yourself, too—”

II

“—OSS, BOSS, I think he’s waking up.”
     “Jesus, really?” Something pulled his eyelid open. The world was white. “Damn, man, how the fu—”

III

HIS EYES OPENED again, now adjusted to the dark. It was still raining. He inhaled slowly, his breaths shallowly quivering.
     Lightning flashed across the ceiling, throwing shadows on the splintered plaster. The crack of thunder followed almost instantly, drowning a gust of wind that shook the window and drove the rain more forcefully against the glass.
      Breathing deeply brought pain as blinding as the lightning, driving away every thought. He tried it again, looking to isolate the agony, and when he felt the biting sting he dropped back to more shallow breaths. Something near his left lung was either cracked or broken.
     Finding his fingers, he probed the area. A damp cloth warm to the touch was wrapped tightly over the wound. There was more pain when he tried to move his right arm, but he ignored it, moving the hand carefully to his side. The bandage continued around and beneath him, though it felt drier near his back. A sheet lay beneath him, covering what felt like thin padding. He was in a bed.
     His stiff neck creaked as he tried for a better look at the room and his scalp stuck to the pillowcase, pulling a few hairs loose. Wincing, he realized other bandages crossed his face, covering his forehead and dotting his left cheek. His legs moved fine, though they ached as though he had been running for miles. He tried to remember if he had, but nothing came to him. A few of the toes on his right foot seemed taped together.
     A flash of lightning and a moment’s memory of a stone bridge arching over him, its underpass dotted with algae. But it was gone just as quickly, driven away by a moan softer than the thunder, but somehow louder in his ears. His breath caught as he worked the sound, running his leathery tongue over cracked lips, grunting through a throat so hoarse he couldn’t have uttered a cry to save his life.
     Flash, and seconds now before the thunder clap. Seconds now dragging as he waited to hear the soft moan again. Bringing his left hand further up his chest, only by chance did he brush the silky hair dangling at the mattress’ edge. It pulled away from him with a sleepy groan.
     Inhaling once, he fought through his stiffness and turned his neck with an audible crack. White lights distorted his vision as the room spun, the wood floor flying toward him, the doorway looming menacingly. And at the center of his anguished vision, beyond the encroaching blackness, was a woman leaning against the bed frame using her arm for a pillow. A woman covered in blood.

IV

HALF ASLEEP, IRINA felt the bed shift long before she realized what it meant. Letting her eyes slowly drift open, she twisted toward the movement, reaching to smother a yawn.
     She flung herself away from the bed and into his dresser, bruising her back on a wooden handle. The first aid kit came crashing down next to her, spilling its contents across the floor and making her jump again. Cursing herself for reacting so horribly to his steely gaze, she fought her legs and scrambled to his side. He hadn’t moved. His eyes weren’t really open.
     Swallowing dryly, she gently stroked his arm, rocking it lightly to see if it would wake him. “Walt?” she whispered, as she pushed a little harder, rocked the arm a little further. “Walt?”
     He wheezed, as if trying to talk between breaths.
     “Walt, are you awake? You moved,” she laughed, “so that must mean you’re okay, right? Come on, Walt, open your eyes. Tell me you’re awake.” Laying a hand on his bandage-free cheek, she whispered, “Tell me you’ll be fine. Tell me anything. Just say something. Walt.”
     His eyes cracked open. A slight smile touched his dried lips. Before she could help herself, she blissfully lunged toward him, wrapping his head in her arms. Dropping back and fighting a grin as her eyes brimmed with tears, she brushed her lips over every exposed inch of his face.
     “You’re awake,” she cried as she pulled away to look into his eyes. “I can’t—I’m just so glad. You’re going to be alright. We’re going to be alright.”
     Running a finger along his bandaged nose, across his flushed cheek and down to his parched mouth, Irina grinned and stood, taking the pitcher of water from the dresser. Pouring some into the last clean glass in the apartment, she gently emptied it into his twisted mouth, paying careful attention to his swallows.
     “I almost can’t believe you made it. Seeing you like that—” She sighed and did her best to hold back the tears. “Ruben will want to know you’re okay. He won’t believe you’re awake, not after what—” Feigning a smile, she shook her head to dismiss the thought. “But I suppose I should tell him, huh?”
     She nodded to herself, turning for the door, but pressed her suddenly shaky hand against his face to feel the twitch of his muscles, the warmth of his beating heart, to assure her that it wasn’t all just a cruel dream from which she would wake only to find his lifeless corpse hanging over her.
     Turning her gaze back to Walt, she smiled warmly. Despite the slashes across his face, despite the compress around his chest, his body was teeming with life. “Keep yourself awake, okay? It’s important. I’ll be back before you can say tiddlywinks.”
     With one last kiss, she stood, dropping the glass on the dresser, and closed the door behind her. As soon as the latch slid into place, she hit the hall at a run, reaching the stairwell in seconds flat, bounding up the steps two or three at a leap, images of the night before running through her mind, every step she took to ensure he would live to see another day replaying before her eyes. Passing the lifeless turret hanging over the landing, she paused and thought of the chest wound she had been forced to carefully probe with her fingers to ensure none of his organs had punctured or torn. She sobbed once as she remembered her relief when she saw his eyes had been spared by the deep incisions, the ones that had revealed the pasty white bone of his skull in a few too many places.
    With a laugh to break through the tears, she glanced down at her hands and went still. Though she had rinsed them, dried blood covered her wrists and streaked up her arms. And she had wiped at her face repeatedly. She hadn’t even thought twice of it.
     It didn’t matter. She didn’t have time to change or shower if she was to get back to Walt in time. Wringing her hands through her shirt, she stepped up the remaining stairs and down the short length of hallway. Two doors in, she stopped and softly knocked, trying for the handle before an answer. It opened easily.
     “He’s awake,” she called into the dark room. “Walt’s awake.”

V

TWO RUSHED THE stairs with heavy and overbearing steps. One stopped to knock on another door while the other continued to Walt’s, pausing with their hand on the doorknob. After a moment, another set of footsteps, lighter than the others and not nearly as deliberate, followed. A fourth was added as a door down the hall closed with a bang. They exchanged whispers Walt couldn’t make out.
     He could just see the edge of the faded red door and a dark wooden bureau across from him holding the pitcher of water and an unlit lamp. The first aid kit still rested on its side, its contents tossed across the worn and dirty floor where damp puddles extended from the entrance to a side hall.
     Instead of the woman, a large man with a jagged vertical scar across his left eye and down the length of his face opened the door and reached for the lamp. Walt squinted as the bulb flared to show the man’s grimace.
     Another man, smaller and much younger than the first, followed as the one with the scar moved further into the room. Though he didn’t say a word as he entered, his gaze narrowed as he caught Walt’s stare. He moved beside the first man and leaned back against the bureau with his arms crossed. His knuckles were bandaged. Walt wasn’t sure which of the two was Ruben.
     The girl from earlier entered next, almost on the heels of the second man. The blood covering her arms, face and the front of her shirt was clearly not her own. She sat at the foot of the bed just as a second woman came in, quickly closing the door behind her. Patches of grease dotted her clothes and arms, though her bare legs beneath the soiled skirt were clean.
     “How’re you feeling, Walt?”
     He turned to the scarred man and cleared his throat.
     “Kay.”
     With a scowl, the man turned and grabbed the pitcher. The woman in the skirt passed him the glass, which he filled and handed to the bloody woman when she stood to take it. As before, she poured it gently down Walt’s throat. When she was done, she held onto the glass and slid back down the bed, stopping by Walt’s knees.
     “Can you talk now?”
     Clearing his throat again, feeling the water do its work, he answered, “Yes.”
     It seemed to satisfy the man, though the second man grew tenser, working his jaw in a grinding motion. Running his eyes over the others, the scarred man raised his voice and asked, “So what the hell happened to you last night, Walt?”
     “What?”
     “What do you mean, what? You’re gone for just a couple hours, then turn up left for dead at the door, completely drenched, bones sticking out of you and not another soul in sight. Was it an agent? Seriously,” he stressed, “what happened to you?”
     “Don’t know,” Walt said hoarsely, clearing his throat once more.
     The man ran his thumb over the gray-streaked stubble lining his scar. “Okay,” he mumbled, lowering his arm. “So you don’t remember what happened. That’s fine. Normal, even,” he assured. “But what do you remember? The last thing.”
     Walt worked his lips to say something, but the words vanished. He tried harder, but the more he thought about it, the more intense the dull aches grew until all he wanted was to scream. Freeing the air tearing at his lungs, he gasped, suppressing the burn, and waited until the migraine relented before opening his eyes. The bloody woman had moved closer and was clearly worried. The others seemed to be watching curiously.
     “Nothing,” he said with an outgoing breath. “At all.”
     The woman next to him wilted as he spoke, but the others exchanged knowing looks and the second man, the one who had his arms crossed the whole time, seemed to finally find a reason to relax.

VI

THE NIGHT BEFORE.
     Staring out the windows at the lightning flashing in the distance, the glow of the buzzing monitors softly illuminating the room, their static-lined screens filled with green-tinted views of the building, Eddy didn’t bother to turn as the door creaked open. Behind him, the person sighed and walked softly toward him, stopping a few feet away.
     “What is it?”
     “How’s the watch going?”
     Eddy chuckled humorlessly at Ruben’s tired voice, but tapped the closest screen, the hollow sound echoing in the small room. “Fine. Nothing going on. As usual. Hell of a storm coming in, though.” He pointed to the distant horizon just viewable over the buildings. Despite the intense flashes of color in the clouds, no thunder carried to them just yet and not a single drop of rain had fallen.
     Ruben edged closer, scratching his good eye as he glanced over the monitors. “Guess we’ll have to use an umbrella if we go out. Listen,” he continued more seriously, “I need you to follow Walt tonight.”
     Eddy spun in his chair to face Ruben, biting his cheek as he considered it, thought of running through the streets of the night, shadow to shadow, the rain concealing every footfall from his prey until the very last second.
     “Alright,” he replied easily, his smirk almost alive in the monitors’ eerie light. “What’s the score?”
     “It’s complicated.”
     “It always is with him, isn’t it?”
     Ruben laughed, nodding remorsefully as his hard bark dwindled to a sigh. “True. But, well, it’s not something I think you should have to carry on yourself.”
     “That bad, huh?”
     Moving to the windows, leaning on the sill, his head hanging against the glass, Ruben forced Eddy to turn further, though without standing, without moving from his discomfort, Eddy could only see the back of Ruben’s closely-cropped hair and his muted reflection in the window, which seemed to be staring both at the incoming storm and at him.
     “I’m not sure I can trust him anymore,” Ruben whispered in a sigh, shaking his head and working his gaze across the landscape. “I think he’s up to something.”
     “Like what?”
     “Don’t know, but that’s what I want you to find out.” He turned, crossing his arms and clenching his jaw, to look Eddy, rapt in unamused attention, in the eye. “He’s supposed to be doing a job for me tonight and I want to make sure he gets it done. It’s important. But if he does anything else, talks to anyone else, goes anywhere else, I want to know about it.”
     “I can do that,” Eddy answered with a smirk, cocking his head and spinning lightly, side to side, from Ruben to the monitors to the windows and back, chewing the words, puzzling over what had made Ruben so anxious and paranoid. “So where’s he headed? So I know it’s the right place?”
     “Not sure of that, either.” He laughed again, though the amusement was gone. “Somewhere up the ways a bit. You’ll know it’s right when you see it.”
     “Okay. Does this have anything to do with what we talked about last week?”
     “No.”
     “Positive?”
     “Yeah. Related, but completely different. We’ll deal with that when we have to.”
     “Works for me. And if I definitely find out he’s up to something?”
     “If that’s the case,” Ruben began, choosing his words carefully, keeping Eddy in his line of sight and hardly moving as his scowl deepened, “then I don’t expect you’ll have to follow him back from wherever it is he goes.”
     Eddy fought his grin, stifled the laughter, his pulse fluttering as he pictured confronting Walt, taking him out, being the good solider. It would be clean and easy, stifled by the rain and thunder, an answer to all his problems. A solution. “Yeah,” he said, seeing life without him, remembering the simplicity before he had appeared, before his meddling thoughts worked, wormed and forced their way into… into….
     Shaking his head for clarity and dropping his smile, Eddy licked his lips. “What about Irina?”
     With a grunt, Ruben headed for the door, his gait unaffected by the potential death sentence he had just passed. Glancing over his shoulder, smirking at Eddy’s hungry gaze, he said, “She’ll get over it if she has to.” He laughed once more, his humor returning, but opened the door with a rush of air and stepped out, looking back for the final word. “And I’m sure you’ll help her, huh? Just follow him and make sure everything goes right. If it comes down to it, I want it discreet. I want it quiet. Don’t let me down.”
     “Hey,” he called as Ruben, silhouetted by the hall’s light, moved to close the door, leaving Eddy alone in the darkness, his thoughts and the stagnant green screens his only companions, “it’s me you’re talking to.”
     Ruben didn’t return his grin. Without a hint of the sarcastic glee from moment earlier, he said, “Exactly.”

VII

“SO,” THE SCARRED man continued, scratching his stubble again, “let me get this straight before we move on here. You’re saying you don’t remember anything from last night? Not who attacked you, not how you got stabbed, nothing? Or are you saying you don’t remember a thing at all? About anything?”
     “No,” he answered, letting the lump in his throat stay for the moment. “I don’t remember anything.” He paused to look at each of them in turn. “Or any of you. You’re talking to me like I know you, but as far as I can tell, we’ve never met.”
     The woman next to him let out a small sigh and whimper. The other woman went to her and awkwardly threw an arm over her shoulder.
     “Well, we knew this was a possibility,” the scarred man explained. “He was under me at the academy, true, but it was always a potential. Still, he’s young. We don’t know if it’s permanent. It could be only temporary, could wear off in a few days.”
     He stopped as he realized his words weren’t comforting anyone, let alone Walt, who wanted nothing more than to reach up and find out why his head had stuck to the sheet earlier.
     “Walt,” the scarred man continued, “I want to ask you something, see if it might spark a memory or something, alright?”
     Walt nodded without a thought.
     Slowly tracing the horrid tear slashing down his face with the tip of his finger, he asked, “How did I get this scar?”
     Walt concentrated, trying to pull out the answer, but as before, it only brought more pain and exhaustion. He gave in before it could overwhelm him, both the memory and the pain fading.
     “I don’t know,” he answered.
     “Then make a guess.”
     Walt blinked, exasperated. “Boating accident?”
     Then the scarred man laughed. It was forced at first, a dry chuckle that didn’t reach his eyes, but as the other man joined in with a lighthearted, gleeful sneer, it turned into genuine amusement. Even the two women were smiling as he showed them a glimmer of personality. Walt tried to join them with a dry chuckle, but it pulled him into a coughing fit that racked his body, the convulsions pushing against his aching ribs. The woman covered in blood reached out a hand to hold his. He gladly took it as the coughs died down, and laid back with his eyes closed.
     “Well, at least you’ve still got your sense of humor,” the scarred man said, eyeing him closely before looking at the others. “But I guess that proves it. I suppose I have to reintroduce you then, huh? Who knew I’d have to do this every four years?” He chuckled lightly again and pointed to himself. “I’m Ruben.” Nodding his head to the other man, he said, “That’s Eddy.” Then the woman comforting the other one, “That’s Jasmine. My wife.” Walt looked between the two, but found it hard to believe, even putting aside the age difference. “And Irina,” he said, motioning toward the blood-stained woman, “I think you already met.” He paused and appeared to consider continuing, but simply said, “I’ll let her tell you the rest.”
     The woman named Irina nonchalantly wiped her tears, smearing the blood around her eyes a little further, and smiled faintly. The other woman, Jasmine, smiled as well, but consolingly, and patted Irina’s leg.
     “Irina,” Ruben picked back up, “you’ll be keeping an eye on him?”
     “Oh yes,” she replied quietly.
     “Great,” he answered flippantly, slapping Eddy on the back to get moving. “Let me know when he’s feeling more up to par. I don’t want him falling apart any more than he has already. We’ll talk then, Walt. Oh, and Irina? You might want to take a shower or something. Just saying.”
     She giggled sadly as the others moved for the door, but stayed at the edge of the bed. Only Eddy cast a glance back as they left, and not one spoke again until they were well out of ear shot. He was alone with her again.

VIII

IRINA LEANED OVER him, smiling. He eyed her, but not as he had in the past. The look he gave her wasn’t full of intense passion or love. It was the look of a passing stranger, someone forced within your personal space for too long. He opened his mouth to say something, but she cut him off with a wave.
     “Sh,” she whispered. “Don’t try to talk just yet. You’re in no shape to have another coughing fit like that and I don’t want it to happen again, so you’re just going to lay there until I say so, okay?” He nodded and, looking down at the glass in her hand, she moved forward enough to reach his mouth. “You should have another sip, just in case. It should help, either way.” The warm liquid seemed to relax him.
     “You know, you had me really nervous last night when you didn’t come back. You said you’d be back. I told you not to go off and do things at night like that on your own, but no, you always have to go do these things all by yourself.” Stroking a lock of his hair to calm herself, twirling its ends between her fingers, she smiled. “You’ve got to promise me you’re never going to do something like this again, because I just don’t know if I could stand losing you for good.”
     Smiling down at him between her tears, she suddenly leaned closer, kissing his forehead. She let it linger, but not in the passionate, joyful way she had kissed him before. It was a kiss of regret, of longing for something she refused to believe she had lost so easily. Pulling away, Irina ran her eyes over him and watched as he did the same. He didn’t say a word as she moved down, didn’t blink as she moved to his lips, and though she could feel the coolness of her tears between them, she couldn’t feel any response in kind. Trembling, eyes holding back the drops only so much, she let the kiss die as she pulled away, knowing fully well it had never truly lived.
     Looking to the ceiling to clear her eyes, she patted his hand and said, “I know you don’t remember me, Walt. I know you don’t remember us. And that’s okay, because I know you will. We’re too good to be forgotten so easily. And no matter what, we won’t just leave it for dead. We’ll beat it.” She smiled and bit her lip. “Go back to sleep. I’ll be back in a bit to check on you.”
     With that, she stood and left, heading straight for the shower. She dropped the glass on the table when she noticed it still in her hand and stripped off her shirt before she passed through the living room. All she wanted was to wash away the blood and tears before anyone saw her again.


to be continued in

the nobodies

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