Wednesday, February 13, 2013
A Peek at "Drained"
I wanted to let everyone keep up with Drained, which is the sequel to Bitten. I am excited to share it with you as I move through the novel.
The hotel looked as if it could have been an Andy Warhol painting. The colors were bright and the décor was clearly meant to convey more than a passing resemblance to the 1960s motor lodges that were shelters to middle-class families looking for the American Dream on the open road.
Lauren opened her suitcase and sighed.
There was something about the symphony of cars, brakes, staggering voices, and the rhythm of the city that put her at ease. As she took the taxi from the airport, she could not help but be relieved by the steady parade of lights that greeted her; rain-drenched and sparkling like constellations in the night.
Her suitcase was otherwise empty.
There was not much to unpack.
The trip to Locke had been sudden, and her Spartan collection of wardrobe reflected such a kneejerk decision. An off-white comforter adorned a bed that called to the weathered agent, but she knew she would get no sleep that night.
Lifting the case file free from deeper in the darkness of the suitcase, Lauren placed the open luggage on the ground and ran a finger over the torn package and its contents.
She had looked at the crime scene photos and crisply written reports several times on her private flight to Minneapolis and then her connecting flight to the Bay. More than once a fellow traveler had looked over her shoulder to find out what occupied her time, only to be disgusted and revolted by the grisly glossy photos and cryptic narrative of the crimes.
It was the address that caught her attention once more.
She had never been to San Francisco.
She knew no one in California, save for an aunt she rarely talked to who lived in San Diego on the beach somewhere. Not being familiar with the city, she walked over to the night stand with the trendy lamp atop it, an ovular shade, which was painted a garish green that obscured the muted light.
Opening the drawer, she found the folded and refolded city map that remained as a testament to a time before computer and navigation software. Opening it up and spreading it out on the bed, she read the address on the brown envelope to herself: 865 Union Street.
Tracing a long finger across the faded map, she found the motel’s location along Fillmore Street. Following the street back to the long line that represented Union Street, she tapped an indiscriminate place on the map where her mystery location would be found.
Grabbing her coat from a hook to the left of the door, she wrapped it around her shoulders. She had not taken off her holster since exiting the airport and a crawling sensation that lingered in her stomach made her think that she would not be parted with it for long.
Fog stung the night air.
Cold condensation covered the metal railings of the staircase and the fence that separated the walkway from a center area where the still waters of a swimming pool and a slightly swaying hammock waited for the light of the day.
Reaching into her pocket, she pulled free a wool cap and pulled it over her pulled-back hair. The air was not as cold as it had been in Minnesota; such thoughts sunk her mood, recalling Dominic and the macabre killer that had stalked the cold woods of Locke.
Lauren pushed the thoughts from her mind and lowered her chin under the collar of her coat. The walk was brisk as she walked up Fillmore and turned the corner onto Union.
The overpass that separated the yuppie hipster youth from the potentially poor was otherwise indistinguishable from any other place in the city. The fog had become a light drizzle that had forced Benny under the comfort of a concrete umbrella.
This was not his normal squatting grounds, but times were tough and he had learned to roll with the punches. His grizzled features and unkempt salt-and-pepper hair might have been charming were he not several shades of crazy and hungrier than a feral cat.
In the late 70s he had fancied himself a musician, playing the tall base with a few friends; it was tough for Benny to think of them as friends now. What passed for a friend on the street was someone who wouldn’t steal your blankets or chase you out of a rat-infested hole with a taped-together shiv made from broken bottles and pieces of fenders from cars stalled out and parked and marked like epitaphs.
The 70s had not been kind to Benny.
Cocaine had gone from recreation to lifestyle to death-style. As other band-mates started lives, as accountants and family men, Benny spiraled deeper into despair.
His friends lost his number.
It was not long before he didn’t have the money for electricity and then his life was lived in darkness. It was a short hop to not being able to pay rent and the streets became his home. Enough time wandering the cold abyss and he became too volatile to bunk in the homeless shelters.
He had become a creature of the street.
Benny could recall a time when he could wink and say a few smooth words and a beaming waitress might swoon––regaling her with his gigs around the city and the promise of a little danger.
Now the danger was quite real.
Digging through one of the grocery carts filled to the brim with postmodern junk, Benny grumbled angrily and unintelligibly to himself. Clearly, he was looking for something of great value; though such value was variable, especially to a man who no longer was encumbered by the constraints of modern society.
He had made a strange sort of existence for himself under the overpass. Newspapers were littered about like a well-manicured lawn. Boxes, crushed and water-damaged, were the wings of his great destitute estate. The barrel at the center of it all, burning brightly like a lighthouse on rocky shores, was full of the wisdom of Western society: newspapers, magazines, and various novels that had been cluttered about corners, tucked away by idle hands.
Retrieving a broken umbrella from the sea of garbage and treasure within his the cart, Benny was startled by the voice. “I do enjoy these brief moments of gentle rain. Do you find them as soothing as I do?”
Turning, Benny was immediately irritated by the man’s presence. Dressed to the nines, with angular, symmetrical features, there was something unreal about the figure.
“I don’t want no trouble.”
The man smiled. “Nor do I. But I wonder, Benny, what is it that you are looking for?”
Benny looked at the streets and saw cars zip past, creating concrete dividers obscuring him from view. It was part of the reason why he stayed: it had become his island, his cabin in the woods.
“Mister, I’m hungry. Do you have any food?”
The man smiled again, disarmingly. “I must admit I am a bit peckish myself. Though I have no food, at least nothing that you would find satisfying, Benny.”
Benny was struck by the disparity in their conversation, as if the man were not talking to him at all and instead reading from a script. This became more surreal as the man stepped passed him and looked into the darkness. His features were adulterated by the shadows there: his dark hair made darker; his gray eyes disappearing.
There in the darkness Benny heard something move.
It could be a rat.
“Watch out, mister, there are rats back there. I catch them sometimes and cook them up.”
The man chuckled but did not respond, turning his back to Benny. When he spoke again, his voice had changed; it seemed bloated and distant. “They never look for the wretches, Benny. Give me your poor. Give me your hungry. These are just words. I am hungry as well….”
The sound came again.
There was no mistaking that it was not a rat this time.
It was bigger.
Hollow, deliberate steps haunted the shadow. A tremor crept up in Benny, rising into his throat like bile from his stomach when he ate from the dumpster behind the Korean restaurant on 20th.
“I don’t want no trouble,” repeated Benny, taking a few steps back, his voice quaking.
“You won’t have to worry about trouble any longer. I will take your fear. Feed on your fear….”
Benny thought to run.
Panic gripped him, but his muscles wouldn’t respond. He wondered if the lady doctor at the center had been right: Was he crazy? Was he chasing shadows in the dark?
Looking at his bin of junk, he saw the broken pipe that he had taken from a rundown building in the Tenderloin. He had thought it was copper, but it turned out to be rusted and useless like him.
Gripping it like he was Babe Ruth waiting at the plate, he watched the darkness. The well-dressed man had disappeared, but his voice drifted on the fog like a spirit.
“Why fight it, Benny? Is this really worth living for, this sad little life?”
Benny’s fear turned to anger.
Gesturing with the pipe, he shouted into the dark.
“How do you know my name?”
The laugh sent shivers down his spine.
Something in the darkness tripped and fell, dislodging the third and fourth cardboard bedrooms of his sprawling street estate. A form emerged in the darkness: something frightening beyond words.
“We know all about you, Benny….”
As the form took shape in the half-light of the passing cars, Benny held his breath and swung the pipe as hard as he could. There would be no game-winning home run to win the World Series. With a gnashing maw, the shadow blotted Benny from view and pulled him back into the darkness.
Lauren was surprised at how many people still milled about in the night despite the rain. Most walked with their heads high; a few carried umbrellas. Union was filled with upper-middle class crowds of men and women languishing at the end of their twenties or in the opening innings of their thirties.
The volume of music played over loudspeakers faded in and out as she passed several sets of stairs that led into darkened bars that sounded equal parts like a J-pop video and a monkey cage at a zoo. After a few blocks the noise diminished and bars and nightclubs gave way to quiet residential buildings stocked with sleeping occupants and empty homes waiting for their drunken stewards.
The building was nondescript, blending into the surrounding two-story homes and apartments that lined the vacant streets. The front door was set back from the light of the luminance from the evenly spaced streetlamps. The name on the mailbox was chipped away, as if someone had been fiddling with it out of nervousness.
As Lauren approached it, she noticed immediately that it was slightly ajar. Heat flushed her chest as she realized the creeping darkness of the interior of the home revealed by the sliver of the exposed door.
Knocking, her voice was gravelly as she called into the darkened interior. “Hello? Is anyone home?”
Pushing on the door, it groaned as it swung open. Lauren peered into the interior, her hand reaching to her side holster. Drawing her weapon, she stepped into the shadow.
The front room was small despite the size of the home; a table sat just next to the entrance, items indistinguishable in the dark collected on its top. A few hangers just beside a mirror created surreal shapes in the darkness.
“The door was open,” called Lauren.
There was no answer.
A heightened sense of possibility itched at veins; the presence of something in the darkness seemed more probable given her time spent in the cold north. The creature that had haunted the rural community was something that she imagined would wake her in the middle of the night for many years to come.Read Bitten for free!