"Did you do it? Did it work?" Ben asked.
"The worm is served," replied Shon.
"Watch out!" Amber yelled.
Ben swerved to miss a street-cleaning droid.
"You almost deleted us old man!" the nameless subversive carped.
"Oh, don't mess your diapers sonny. I'll get you there."
"Just be careful Grampa."
Careful wasn't what he was feeling. He felt robust, simultaneously fearless and fearful. He sensed his nano bugs working overtime, pumping out the adrenaline. For the first time in a long time, he felt alive.
didn't have a chance.
"There’s where we get out!" Shon called.
Ben pulled up next to the designated building.
"Okay, we're just kids out having a swank time now," Shon said, winking at Ben.
They piled out and Amber ran around to the driver's side.
"Thanks Grampa," she said, kissing him on the cheek. "I won
t ever forget what you did for us."
s a long time," replied Ben. “Even longer for some. You just keep marching to the beat of your own drummer, you hear? Don't take any guff from no one–that includes Shon boy,” he paused, studying her face. It was a face he remembered from long ago. A face he had known so well once upon a time. “You know, standing there, your cheeks flushed with excitement, you look just like your great-great-grandmother.
He saw Amber smile but hoped she couldn
t see the tears welling up in his eyes.
A light passed over them. Ben looked up to see a pair of airborne searchlights.
"Get going now. I'll distract them."
He turned the wheel and his tires screamed for traction. Amber called to him but he couldn't hear what she said.
He had to get going—get that flying bloodhound to follow him. When the searchlight settled on the Ford he hit the accelerator. He figured if he drove like a madman it would stay with him. But he didn't plan on letting it stay with him for long. He had a few fancy moves left in him, and he grinned. It was glorious to be thumbing his nose at
Tires screeched as he turned sharply—first left, then right. Maneuvering under an overpass he figured he
d evaded his pursuer. Then he saw another light up ahead. They'd called in reinforcements—good! The more attention he attracted the less likely they'd bother with Amber. He turned another corner and accelerated again, hoping to lose the aerocars in the dark of a smaller street. But they didn
t shake that easily. They were tracking him somehow.
Amidst the swirl of excitement he felt something in his chest–a flutter. For a moment he had trouble breathing. His vision blurred.
He glanced in the mirror. There were even more of them. He
d never lose them all. They swarmed above and all around him like mutant fireflies, targeting him with their pallid, probing lights. He approached a turn. He had to decide; he had to make up his mind now. He could stop. They
d question him. Probably fine him. Maybe even arrest him for speeding. But they couldn
t connect him to the break-in…to the kids. Could they?
Or he could keep going. Take the turnoff and head for the ocean. Ignore the flock of federales overhead. Drive straight to sunrise.
He slowed to make the turn. Gripping the wheel a little too tightly, he accelerated and as the Mustang roared off, chasing the light of its headlamps, a mish-mash of old song lyrics bobbed through the murk of his memory. Something about taking the highway to the end of the night, riding a snake to the lake and a blue bus. Yes, he remembered now.
The blue bus is calling us. Driver, where you taking us?
He glanced down at the green glow of the dashboard instruments. The speedometer’s toothy grin and the unwinking orbs of the fuel and temp gauges smiled back at him. Then, as if sensing his awareness, a red warning—the oil light. She’d blown a gasket or worse. He was pushing the old girl too hard. Just a little longer—he coaxed her—just a little farther.
Through the windshield the first hint of dawn flaunted itself along the horizon and beneath the illumination, he saw the ocean
s dark expanse. He could even make out the wind-tossed whitecaps playing along its surface and the gulls soaring above.
He was where he wanted to be. He was also afraid. That familiar chill coursed through his veins. It reminded him of the pain, the aching complaints and the sameness of the days. He didn
t belong anymore. What was left? Let them put him in a home and junk his car? He welcomed the chill. He embraced it. As he did, he dropped the hammer—pressed the accelerator to the floor and rolled down the window feeling the rushing wind. He
d take her with him. Drive into eternity. Let the gods watch with envious eyes as he cruised by.
Downward he drove. Down towards the rocky cliffs. Down a bumpy incline of shallow gullies, through parched weeds, racing towards the precipice. In one awkward instant the old steel horse was airborne, graceful as a zephyr.
Once a demon of cerulean speed, it began its descent in slow motion, as if resigned to its fate but still not wanting to go. In that split-second of soaring exhilaration Ben felt something clutch his heart—a burning, ripping pain. As consciousness faded, he heard the engine die—its last piston thrust withering to a conclusive silence, before man and car drove through the surface and disappeared into the sea.
I don’t know how to start. That may not seem strange to you, but it is weird as hell to me. I have been a writer all of my life or at least all of it I can remember. You wouldn’t recognize me at the Food Lion or anything but I have had the good fortune to make a healthy living at it these last ten years. In all that time I have never had a problem with my opening sentences.
When I wrote
, the first paragraph poured out of me into my computer and then it was off to the races. I wrote the whole damned thing in about seven weeks, working like a man possessed, which is really kind of how it always was. Stories just got into my head, appearing there at the most bizarre times, like in the middle of a conversation or once while making love to a girlfriend. Then I just sit at the computer and the story writes itself. It’s been that way since I wrote my very first one—
it was called—in the seventh grade.
, how I miss that feeling—the feeling when a story possesses you and you are just the pitcher that holds the tall drink you hope it might become. But that’s over now.
I haven’t written a word, that I can remember, in seven months, not so much as a post-it note. I have been far away, alone in a cabana on a small island near Crete, no computers, no typewriters. But I am home now and
is back. Soon it will be dark and I need to get out of here before then. I am writing this long hand, on a legal pad and I’ll send it to my sister to be typed. Don’t know what she’ll do with it and I don’t really care. I think I have to write it— it’s different from the writing that slipped out beyond control, but not completely different…maybe.And I know this will be the last thing I ever write, one way or another. I can’t help but tell this story though. I am terrified by it, mostly because it is true but, God, it is a hell of a story. I wish like hell it had been born in the slightly psychotic part of my brain that has made me a good deal of money over the years instead of
levels of Hell it actually sprung from. As a story it could be a real gold mine—a great follow up to my last book—the one my agent has been asking for. Still, I am afraid, so bear with me and I will try to get this out without hurting anyone.
I met Barbara (Babs to her college friends but as God is my witness, I swear I never, ever called her that) about six years ago.
had been a great success, financially anyway, and I had just moved to Clearwater Beach.
was sitting on the chopping block (my affectionate term for my agent/editor Dan Howard’s desk, the sight of many a great and bloody revisions) and I had just cashed the first of three installments on my advance of three more books.
I was drying up from a two-year party binge, a long time to celebrate publishing a book most people have never heard of but having money—even the modestly comfortable amount I enjoyed as a fairly unknown pulp writer—takes some getting used to. I had cut down to hitting the clubs only twice a week (well, more during the Clearwater spring break hot chick parade….I was twenty-eight and only human) and had finally settled into a work routine. I would sit diligently at my computer hacking away, at least four hours a day.
Now I know those of you with real jobs will roll your eyes at this but trust me when I tell you that four hours is a long time to write, especially every day. I put out a lot of work, mostly novel ideas that collapsed into short stories and novellas but my real project,
was taking shape and more importantly, I enjoyed writing again.
After my first book, the fear I would be discovered for the fraud I believed I was had made writing a real chore. Honestly, I never really thought that
was all that great (I still cashed the checks though—I know I am no artist). The point is, I was happy and enjoying work, which I think most writers will agree is the key to producing a story that is worth a shit.
Anyway, Barbara came along at the right time, when I was ready to settle down and have some stability in my life. She was sitting at the bar on the pool deck, at Adam’s Mark on the beach. I used to go by for a beer after walking on the beach (it was supposed to be a run but almost never was) and I noticed her immediately. Barb had the kind of looks that made you notice her, even in a crowd, and then watch her from afar. I guess I was feeling exuberant that day, feeling like a bit of a success, and the beers didn’t hurt. After about a half hour of watching her laugh (a quiet but pretty laugh that started with her eyes) and chat with her grad school friends, I picked up my beer and walked over. I just sat down next to her. I’ve never had any kind of gift with opening lines, despite how easily they came in my writing. I just sort of smiled and said, “Hi.”
Barb looked at me curiously,
sized me up
is how it felt, and I guess I passed some inner litmus test because she gave a, “Hi,” back, and then, well, like the stories—off to the races. She had moved to Tampa, about forty minutes away when the tourist traffic didn’t slow the bridge to a crawl, and worked for some investment company named after a bunch of rich partners. Her friends from graduate school at UVA had come down for the week and she was hanging out with them, reliving some simpler days from school.
My guess is, had I met her out with her work friends, she wouldn’t have given me a second glance, but life kind of happens that way sometimes. With her number and a promise to have dinner later in the week, I left the resort feeling like a stud. And…damn if I didn’t call her later that same night and every night, until Thursday when I picked her up for a fancy dinner at Ruth’s Chris steak house, on her side of the bridge. I didn’t make it back to Clearwater until Sunday.
I could tell you a lot about the next two years but writing is such a struggle now and I am honestly terrified, so suffice it to say, she filled a need I thought I had. I pursued her like a man on a Great Crusade and said all the things she wanted to hear. I treated her the way I knew, in her mind, she needed to be treated.
We married only eight months later; a haughty affair in her hometown of Alexandria, Virginia (where the few friends I had were almost as uncomfortable as I was….
that should have been a hint
) and then I bought a house I couldn’t afford down on the beach in the Indian Rocks area of St. Petersburg.
Those first two years were good. Can’t say I was deliriously happy but I was content. I worked hard and put out some good stuff. It wasn’t that we didn’t get along. We shared company and that was enough. We took some nice trips, laughed a little, had satisfying (though certainly not mind blowing) sex. We rarely went out, except to dinner or a movie and then usually just the two of us. I didn’t have a lot of friends and the ones I had were sacrificed. She never really cared for any of them. I found her friends boring and self-absorbed. I didn’t like who she was when she was with them (pretentious, always talking about money and bragging about my income in ways that weren’t actually true) but I suffered through a night out with them, or parties at their big houses now and again.
I began to notice she talked a lot about money and my contracts but never really about my work. I am not sure she ever read any of my stuff, although she claimed she did but it wasn’t really her genre. She excelled at spending the goddamn proceeds however. In retrospect, I can’t remember a deep or memorable conversation we had about anything. Like I said, we just kind of shared company.
I received my three-year contract for three books and
actually spent a short time on the bestseller list. Dan negotiated a better contract (
money Barbara called it) with a different publisher and I guess I felt too good about myself professionally to notice how our marriage changed. When Barbara started going out more with her friends from work, it wasn’t even on my radar screen but I sure as fuck noticed the first time she stayed out all night. I accepted her explanation—not really even an apology—that she had stayed at her friends after drinking too much. I pouted for a few days but then shrugged it off and I got back to work.
His named turned out to be Chad, a perfect name for a materialistic shithead, who I later found out, had been banging my wife for the better part of that year. She cried a little, blamed me a lot. Apparently all I cared about was my work…I guess I was supposed to care more about money and clothes like her Porsche-driving asshole. Without ever saying she was sorry, she promised to be true. Yeah—right. Six months later I signed the divorce papers which arrived by certified mail while she and Chad laughed and fucked at his big house on Harbour Island in Tampa.
Holy shit I was bitter. I think I knew then and definitely know now, I wasn’t really in love with her but nobody likes to look like an idiot. What really burned my ass was the smug look on Chad’s face when she came in a rented truck to get
stuff included most of the furniture from
house. I really hated him, with a passionate hate those of you who have been there know and those of you who haven’t, can’t really imagine. Writing the kind of stuff I do, I let my imagination run wild, drank heavily at home and pictured a lot of horrible deaths for that guy. All were graphic and painful. Then I wrote the story that started it all.
Not having worked in any real way, in almost a month, I wanted to knock out a quick story centered on a terrible death for my friend Chad, so I would feel better. Maybe at the same time get my creative juices flowing again. Sitting at my computer at about 1:30 in the morning, a cool buzz from too much Sapphire gin, I just let it pour out of me. My stories write themselves, but not like
. This was different. Hard to describe but it’s almost as if the story controlled me. It most definitely possessed me.
I wrote like a mad man and finished exhausted. Not tired like you would expect because it was four o’clock in the morning and I had sucked down more than a third of a bottle of gin.
, like a marathon runner feels after the high is gone and he is left with just a body-wide achy pain.
I collapsed in my bed, almost unable to move. My dry throat burned and I panted uncontrollably. The strangest part is I couldn’t remember what I had just written—not a word. I knew Chad had died in the story (that was not the name I had used but it was most definitely him in every way) but I couldn’t remember a thing about how my story had done him in. Frustrated, but more than that—scared—for reasons I couldn’t get a grip on, I had no memory of any of it. I briefly entertained that in my drunken stupor nothing had been written. I was sober enough to know that wasn’t true. I had the sense I was more like a tool for some other force or power. It sounds crazy but that was how I felt.
I’d passed out rather than slept and…dreamed—horrible things. No real plot, just fragmented terrible images of Chad’s screams as something—some unseen creature—literally tore him apart in the dark corner of my mind. I suspect that many people assume horror writers like me have nightmares all the time. Not me, not once that I remember. My stories are just that—just stories. They don’t get inside me and they sure as hell don’t haunt me.
That night, Chad’s screams woke me up and those screams definitely haunted me the next morning. Chilling, visceral screams of terror and horrible pain. Waking in my bed the screams were still there, off in the distance, fading slowly but real. I swear to God. And there was something else—a presence in my room. I know how that sounds too, believe me. It sounds like something from one of my books. I accept that if anyone ever reads this they will think I am either full of shit or a raving lunatic (You know the kinds of things he would write? I mean this was no surprise…) I’m fine with it actually. I am telling you what happened because I have to and frankly,
what you do with it?
...well, I could really care less.
something there, something powerful and evil. Maybe it felt temporarily satiated from the blood I fed to it but a
still filled my room. I got out of bed and ran from the presence. The presence that sat belching in the corner of my bedroom, bloated from Chad’s flesh.
I sat down slowly in front of my office computer, sweating; the sound of my pulse loud in my temples, a coppery taste in my dry mouth. The computer was on, my screen saver (the cover from
—how fucking vain is that?) floating about eerily. I sat in my chair, the chair from which I made a living, and reached out a shaking hand to the mouse. The moment I moved it the story appeared, the last page sitting there with my editor program box asking me if I wanted to save it. I came very close to clicking
, turning the goddamn thing off and having a Gin and Tonic for breakfast. It scared me shitless, but at the same time, I had to know.
What I had written all night—what had unchained the thing slumbering hungrily in the dark? I clicked
and watched the little boxes scroll to the bottom of my screen. The story saved to my desktop. I then forced myself not to read what was on the last page (why ruin the ending?) I scrolled to the top. Only twenty-eight pages, double-spaced. Less than ten thousand words—give or take.
It essentially revolved around Chad getting hit by a car, with a morbid description of his injuries. The bulk took place in
mind, awake but paralyzed, both by devastating head and spinal injuries and the medicine given to him when they snaked a breathing tube down his throat. It was a classic terror story; maybe more trite than classic. It centered on his unimaginable pain and terror at knowing his life was slipping away, unable to move or speak or stop the cycle of his death. It was the kind of thing I
write. I admit that. But what scared me was my certainty that I did