“Mark Red” is now available on Kindle!

Okay, everyone, good news!  At long last, “Mark Red” – the complete novel – is available for purchase through Amazon Kindle, here.

In addition, we are currently formatting “Mark Red” for the paperback edition, which will soon be available as well.  It will probably be somewhat more expensive in paperback, but you will also have the option of buying both formats together for a discount, so keep you eyes open.  (You’ll also, in principle, be able to get it autographed by the author, so that’s something to keep in mind!)

In addition, we will soon be formatting both “Son of Man” and “Welcome to Paradox City” for paperback as well, and these too will be available for purchase, with the same deal as listed above.

Keep your eyes open.  If you like modern vampire stories, check out “Mark Red.”  And remember, 50% of royalties go to literacy charities!

TTFN

“Mark Red” is Complete

Okay, just a brief announcement:  I have, at long last, finished the editing of “Mark Red.”  Now, I think it’s a true statement that no work of fiction – be it film, script, novel, short story, poem, or song – is ever completed and perfect.  Its creator simply reaches the point where he or she is satisfied with releasing it to the public, warts and all.  Many cringes undoubtedly follow for nearly every creator…or perhaps I’m just projecting.

Anyway, since “Mark Red” was written more or less entirely while I was an invited guest of the Florida State DOC, and the first novel I’d written in a very long time – and was, of necessity, handwritten – there was a great deal of work to be done to get it ready.  This is part of the reason why “Son of Man” and “Welcome to Paradox City,” as well as my two short stories on this blog, though written after, were released before “Mark Red.”  I’m sure it’s still far from perfect, but I do like it a lot…and I especially love the character Morgan.  I’m very proud of her!

If you want to find out who Morgan is, and who Mark is, and who all the rest of the characters are…well, the book will be available shortly.  I hope to take advantage of Kindle’s new “paperback” option and make it available in hard copy for people who prefer that format, but it will almost certainly be more expensive that way.  On the other hand, if you were so inclined, you could get a paperback autographed by the author (me).  Some day that might even be worth something.

In any case, I’ll let you know when the book is available.  Even if none of you are excited about it, I am, and that’s good enough for the moment.

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Mark Red

TTFN!

Mark Red: Chapter 14 is now available

Mark Red 14 cover

Hello all.  Not a lot new to say today, except that Mark Red:  Chapter 14 is, as the above title clearly states, now available.  You can go here to purchase it.  As always it is a mere 99 cents, and 50% of the royalties go to literacy charities such as RIF.

Mark’s in real trouble, now, and not just because he realized that, when he discovered that he really liked Jean, what he really wanted to do was drink her blood.  Not a very romantic show of affection.  On top of that, he’s now stuck without Morgan’s guidance, because she hasn’t shown up as usual…and Mark needs to try to find her.

I’m going to try to put together a non-writing-related post soon.  Keep alert!

TTFN!

Mark Red: Chapter 13 now available–Your demi-vampire Halloween treat!

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Happy Halloween, everyone!

I didn’t plan this, tough I did mention it before, but it turns out that Mark Red: Chapter 13 is now available on Kindle, just in time for trick-or-treating.  I think it’s especially wonderful that the thirteenth (!) chapter is the one that came up on this date.  Ooooooh, spooooooky!  Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?  (I only wish that Paradox City could have been ready for publication today…it’s definitely a Halloween-appropriate story.  Sigh.)

In this chapter, Mark tells Morgan about the apparitions he’s been encountering, only to have them stop appearing. Then he meets with Jean, and at that meeting he has another surprising revelation, one that nearly leads to horrifying consequences.  Enjoy!  It’s only $0.99–less expensive than most candy is nowadays!–and 50% of the royalties, as always, go to literacy charities.  What more could you ask for on what is, perhaps, the most literary of all celebrations?

Enjoy your Halloween everyone.  It’s my own personal favorite holiday, and I suspect it’s that for a lot of other people as well.  Don’t eat too much candy (if that’s not a nonsensical notion), and of course, be safe, and keep your kids safe.

TTFN!

Paradox City cover design preview. The story itself will be published soon

Paradox City Cover2

Okay, as I promised a while back, here is a preview of the cover design for Paradox City, my story that is a little too long to be a “short” story but just below the traditional borderline of “novella” (it’s about 29,000 words long).  It has been completely rewritten, and is now in the editing process, so it will soon be available for purchase.  As always, when it is up for sale, half the royalties will go to literacy charities.

I actually plan to give you all a little teaser from the story, either right before it comes out, or when it comes out.  Oh, and just so we’re clear:  While Mark Red is oriented toward the young adult market, and The Chasm and the Collision is appropriate for anyone from pre-teens to the elderly, Paradox City is definitely not for very young readers.  Bad things do happen in this story…you know, profanity, adult situations, violence, nudity, references to Elvis singing Guns ‘n’ Roses songs…things not for the faint of heart.  One of the joys (for me) of the short story is that situations don’t always have to turn out for the best, or even for the better.  Bad things can happen to good (or at least benign) people without anyone receiving his or her comeuppance, or any deep philosophical treatment or explanation of what’s been happening.  While novels, by and large, have more good endings than your average strip-mall massage parlor, it’s perfectly okay for a short story to end in an ambiguous fashion.  Actually, that’s one of the most satisfying aspects to short stories:  They can leave you guessing, which leaves you thinking and imagining.

I love ’em.

Just in case anyone wants any recommendations on the matter, my personal favorite short story authors include Stephen King, Orson Scott Card, Edgar Allen Poe, H. P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, Robert E. Howard…just to name a few.  It’s fair to say that I’m much more excited when Stephen King is coming out with a new collection of short stories (as he is now) than I am about his novels*.

I suppose you can guess what my genre tendency of preference is in the short story world, based on that list of authors.

On a different subject, here’s advance warning:  Mark Red:  Chapter 13 is going to be out just in time for Halloween–partly by coincidence, and partly by design, like so much of the world.  In it, Mark’s nature as a newly-made demi-vampire is going to collide with some aspects of adolescence that would have made him very happy, if only…well, you’ll have to read it to see.

And on a different different subject, I am still taking feedback on the issue of “Son of Man:  Serial or novel?”  The final decision has not yet been made, and the rewrite is still very much in progress, so there’s plenty of time to put in your two cents.

Finally, I’m soon going to be posting another entry on the criminal justice system, informed by my own unpleasant and too-prolonged experience with it.  These articles take a little longer than regular blog posts, because I want to make sure they are products of serious thought as well as real research, when appropriate, not just my own personal experiences.  This is not a simple subject, and it deserves great care.

Thank you all for reading.  If you like what you’ve read, please feel free to “Like”, to “Comment”, and to “Share”, as well as to repost.  (If you make any money from doing so, just throw me a cut, okay?)  Oh, and by all means, follow me on FacebookTwitter, and so on.

TTFN!


*Which is not to disparage his novels.  While I don’t love them universally, many are among my favorite modern works of fiction.

The Chasm and the Collision: Chapter 5 is Available Now on Amazon!

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Konnichiwa, friends and neighbors!  As the headline above states, and as I am pleased to announce, The Chasm and the Collision:  Chapter 5 is now available on Amazon for Kindle and other readers (just click on the chapter for the link).

In this chapter, Alex has a discussion with the intruder in his house (whose name is Peetry) on the other side of the dining room wall, and learns a bit more about what’s happening to him and to his friends.  He also becomes aware once again of a danger he’s encountered before.  More questions are surely raised for him than are answered, but at least he’s making headway.

For those of you following the story, I hope you’re enjoying it.  I apologize that there has been such a long hiatus in the publication of the chapters of Mark Red and The Chasm and the Collision.  While I was away, I sent the handwritten works to my sister, and she published the chapters serially for me as she completed the truly heroic work of typing them into the computer.  It often took her a great deal of time to do this.  To try to give you an idea of why it took a great deal of time, I’ll say this:  Many brave and intelligent individuals prefer to decipher ancient Mayan and Aztec writings, without a primer on the languages, rather than attempt to read my handwriting.

Actually, most would people prefer to be hit on the head with a ball-peen hammer rather than be forced to read my handwriting.

I don’t even really enjoy doing it myself, if it comes down to it, but since I am the one who wrote the books (almost 600 pages of Mark Red and almost 700 pages of The Chasm and the Collision) I have no one else to blame.  At least I can always read my own writing, which is more than can be said for anyone else.

That actually raises an important point:  If anyone notices anything peculiar–perhaps an odd choice of words or something along those lines–in the first 11 chapters of Mark Red or the first 4 chapters of The Chasm and the Collision, there’s one of two explanations:  Either I simply wrote it badly (in the penmanship sense) and my poor sister had to guess at what I was trying to say, or I simply wrote it badly (in the authorial sense) and she was stuck reproducing bad writing.  In any case, all thanks belong to her for bringing you those chapters, and all errors and confusion have their origins in me.

Now that I’m back from being away, I’m going to try to publish these Chapters at least once a month for each book, in order to keep the rhythm going, and (hopefully) to keep everyone interested.

For those of you who don’t know, I’ll give you a very brief rundown of the plots of the two novels (both of which are complete, at least in draft, just so you know).

Mark Red:  The protagonist, Mark Reed, is a teenager who works in an ice cream parlor three evenings a week to earn a bit of extra money for himself and his family.  He’s an earnest and well-meaning young man, and one evening, as he leaves work, he sees a woman who appears to be in the process of being attacked by a large man in a dark alley.  He rushes to her aid, but is no match for her attacker, and he’s stabbed by the man from whom he was trying to defend her.  As he falls to the ground, bleeding and about to die, it becomes clear that the woman he meant to protect was not human.  She makes short work of her attacker, and then saves Mark in the only way she can.  This process fundamentally changes Mark’s life, and brings him and the object of his intended good deed together in a strange relationship.  She desperately wants to find out how to cure Mark from what she has done to him.  At the same time, she also dedicates herself to protecting Mark from the consequences of her actions…and to protecting everyone else from Mark.

The Chasm and the Collision:  This story centers around three pre-teens, Alex Hinton, Simon Belmont, and Meghan Tewes.  One day, coming home from school with Simon, Alex thinks he sees movement in his house before they go in.  However, he finds no one home, and though Simon is nervous (which is his nature), the two nevertheless enter the dwelling.  The only atypia they find inside is a triple-branch of berries in the fruit bowl in Alex’s dining room.  The berries smell wonderful and taste even better.  Alex and Simon eat this fruit, sharing it with Meghan, on whom Alex has a crush, and whom he sees walking by as he and Simon are about to indulge themselves.  The rest of that day passes uneventfully, but that night, the three begin to have strange dreams–as well as other frightening experiences that seem to be all too real–and gradually they become aware that the fruit was only the beginning of their involvement in events that are uncanny, wondrous, and dangerous on a scale they could not have imagined.

Well, that’s the quick run-down on those two books.  I hope you’ll read and enjoy them.

FYI:  I’m almost done now with my third book, Son of Man, which is more purely science fiction than either of the previous two.  It’s an idea I’ve been sitting on for almost twenty years; hopefully it’s matured in that time, rather than decayed.  I can’t tell.  It’s all wonderful and enjoyable to me, but I’m the author.  You can’t take my word for it.  In any case, I’m not going to start publishing chapters of Son of Man until I’m at least most of the way done publishing Mark Red and/or CatC.

I also intend, somewhen along the line here, to publish a “short” story that I wrote while away.  I’m using scare quotes because it’s about 76 pages long (handwritten) and something along the lines of 25,000 words.  So it’s not a very short story, but it’s too short to be a novella.  Anyway, it’s called Paradox City, and it’s about a man who enters the titular nightclub to find some rather peculiar happenings.  At first they’re just puzzling, and then they’re quite pleasant…but things take a more troubling turn eventually.  (Bwa ha haaa!)

So, that’s a quick rundown of my writing that’s available, as well as that which is still in progress.  I’d love to receive any feedback you might wish to give.  You can write in the comments below, or contact me through my Facebook page, or my Twitter account (@RobElessar).  I’m also on G+ and LinkedIn.

You can’t get away from me.  Don’t even bother trying.

As if I hadn’t just given you links enough (a phrase which sounds like it really ought to be a Victorian exclamation of frustration), here are links to each of the hitherto published chapters of Mark Red and The Chasm and the Collision.  Please enjoy.

Mark Red: Chapter 1

Mark Red: Chapter 2

Mark Red: Chapter 3

Mark Red: Chapter 4

Mark Red: Chapter 5

Mark Red: Chapter 6

Mark Red: Chapter 7

Mark Red: Chapter 8

Mark Red: Chapter 9

Mark Red: Chapter 10

Mark Red: Chapter 11

The Chasm and the Collision:  Chapter 1

The Chasm and the Collision:  Chapter 2

The Chasm and the Collision:  Chapter 3

The Chasm and the Collision:  Chapter 4

The Chasm and the Collision:  Chapter 5

I do hope you’ll read them, and if you like them, tell your friends.  Also, remember, 50% of the royalties from all of my writing goes to literacy charities such as RIF, so we can all help share the joy of reading with those who have not yet been able to experience it.


Oh, by the way:  Today is my daughter’s 14th birthday.  Happy Birthday, Kyra!!  It’s no mere coincidence that I’ve timed my first new publication since my return to occur on your birthday weekend.  ^_^

Mark Red: Chapter 1 – A Teaser to Make You Thirsty

Hello, everyone,  I’ve decided to give you all a brief, edited excerpt from Mark Red: Chapter 1, hopefully to whet your appetite.  Please take a read and, if you like it, go to Amazon and buy it for Kindle (or any tablet or computer).  It’s only 99 cents!

Remember, 50% of the royalties from all my writing is given to literacy charities.

I’d love to receive any feedback that you might have, whether on this excerpt, the chapter, or on any of the other chapters in Mark Red, or The Chasm and the Collision (an excerpt of which will be coming soon).  If you do have anything to say, please leave a comment.  Hopefully it will be constructive, but even if it’s not…well, I’ve had worse, believe me.

Now, without further ado, here is the excerpt:


MARK RED

Chapter 1

(for Jacob and Kyra)

Mark Reed took off his apron and threw it in the laundry hamper.  It was 8 p.m., and he never worked later than 8 on a school night.  His co-worker, Melanie, on the other hand, often worked until 10 or 11, even though she was also a high school student.  Her parents, apparently, were not as worried about the part-time job interfering with her studies as much as Mark’s mother was about his.  He had only been allowed to take the job in the first place on the assurance‒by Mark and by his employer‒that he would never work past that particular hour if he had school the next day.

Part of the reason for that restriction was, of course, so that Mark could safely take the bus home.  The little ice cream shop was not located in the best of neighborhoods.  Still, as long as the hour was not too late, there was really nothing for Mark to worry about if he stayed on the main road.  Straying off it was another question, of course.  There was known to be gang activity in the area, and although such reports were often exaggerated, there was enough reality behind them to warrant caution.

As Mark made his way to the front of the store on his way out, Melanie was in the process of serving an ice cream cone to a harmless looking middle-aged man.  Melanie was cute, with rather short, dark brown hair that she wore in a kind of a bob.  She went to the same school as Mark, but she was a grade behind him, though she was nearly his age.  She was one of the older freshmen, while Mark was one of the youngest sophomores.

Melanie finished her task, giving the customer his change and thanking him when he headed for the door.  Mark waited until after the man had left, and then said, “Hey, Melanie, I’m heading out.”

Melanie looked up with a smile.  “Okay, Mark,” she said.  “See you tomorrow at school.”

“You got it,” Mark said in response to Melanie’s prediction.  “Your father’s picking you up at closing, right?”

Melanie nodded with a knowing smile and said, “Yes, as always, my Dad will be coming to take me home.  Don’t worry, I wouldn’t try to walk home or take the bus at that hour in this neighborhood.”

Mark, slightly embarrassed that he was so obviously protective, nodded with a bit of a smile.  “Great,” he said.  “Awesome.  Thanks.  Well…see you tomorrow.”

Melanie gave out a small laugh and answered, “You bet.”

Knowing that Melanie was amused by his concern, Mark felt a bit chagrined as he walked out the front door of the shop into what was quite a lovely evening.  The sun was still barely up, giving the sky a beautiful reddish-orange hue toward the west and a barely darkening gray toward the east.  The early autumn air was somewhat cool, but not so much that Mark needed a jacket.  In fact, his short-sleeved work shirt was more than enough to keep him comfortable, especially compared to the cool interior of the ice cream shop.

He looked up at the shop’s sign with his usual amazed smirk.  The name of the parlor was “The Basking Robin,” and the marquee was decorated with an absurd picture of a robin, reclining on a beach chair, wearing dark glasses, its red breast positively glowing under a cartoon sun, while it licked at a triple-scoop ice cream cone.  It was truly amazing to Mark that the shop had never been subject to a trademark action by a certain well-known national chain of ice cream shops.   Why the Basking Robin was allowed to get an away with its trademark infringement, Mark wasn’t sure.  Perhaps because it was a different type of phrase?  Perhaps because, though the name sounded vaguely similar, there was absolutely no logo similarity whatsoever?

As Mark stood motionless in front of the store, knowing his bus was not due for another few minutes, his thoughts about intellectual property were interrupted by the passing of a beautiful woman.

Mark was not normally the sort to ogle a stranger…or a friend for that matter.  He was actually somewhat shy around girls, except the ones that he knew very well, like Melanie.  This was perhaps a bit strange, since he lived with his Mother and sister, their father having died many years before; but spending all of his time at home with only female family members did not make him more at ease with those who were not blood relatives.  However, in this particular case, Mark’s timidity was utterly overwhelmed and he gaped openly at the creature that was passing him on the sidewalk.

She was certainly very pretty, with reddish-brown hair that was highlighted by the setting sun, and green eyes that faded to light brown around the rims of the irises.  She was slender and moderately tall…perhaps no more than an inch shorter than Mark…but she had very feminine curves despite being lean and athletic in appearance.  She wore a chic, belted, dark green dress that had very short sleeves and came to just above her knees, and she carried a simple handbag slung over her right shoulder.  Her lips were a slightly understated red.

Beyond her physical beauty, however, there was something else about her that dwarfed the more obvious causes of attraction.  Mark couldn’t really think for sure what it was, but he literally felt a wave go through him as the woman approached, and he became more viscerally desirous than he could ever remember having been before.

Mark was sure that the woman would have to be annoyed by his open staring, but he couldn’t help simply gaping at her as she came near him.  However, contrary to his expectation, she simply returned a glance and gave him a bright, pleasant smile.  It was not a seductive smile; there was no “come-hither” to it, simply a friendly recognition of his admiration that seemed in no way offended.  That was reassuring, because Mark had never acted that way before, and he was not at all sure how he would have responded had she shown disgust or even slapped him.

The woman walked past Mark, and Mark’s head swiveled to follow her, quite beyond his ability to control its motion.  She looked just as good from the rear as from the front, he had to admit to himself, though he felt even more embarrassed at the fact that he was staring at a passing woman  from behind in fascination and desire.  As she drew farther away, Mark did feel the attractive force fading just a bit, and he wondered whether this could mean what he had felt was the effect of pheromones.  He had heard about them, and how they could trigger powerful sexual attraction, though he wasn’t sure that really applied to people.  In any case, the attraction certainly hadn’t completely passed, because he kept following her with his gaze as she made her way down the street.

About halfway along the block, there was an opening between buildings that led to an alleyway, with rear access for some of the stores along the street.  Mark watched with puzzlement as the object of his attraction paused in her walking, looking to her left down the darkening alley, apparently regarding it thoughtfully.  He had no idea what could interest her about the place.  It was a fairly untended passage, with some dumpsters, a collection of boxes, garbage cans, and also some scattered refuse.  Why a woman such as she should be regarding such a dreary place…

Mark was utterly taken aback when the woman turned and, quite confidently, began to walk down the alley, disappearing from his sight.

What in the world was she doing?  

This was not, as Mark often noted to himself and to others, the best of neighborhoods.  While it was certainly not as bad as many places throughout America, it was not a safe place for an attractive woman to walk down a dim alleyway at nightfall.  Could she be acting on some sort of dare?  If she was, she certainly hadn’t seemed hesitant about it at all.  Perhaps she had some kind of a death wish…or she was a thrill-seeker of some sort.  Yet, that seemed so unlikely…Mark was not able to convince himself based on her demeanor that she was suicidal, and she looked more like a businesswoman than an adrenaline junkie.

Mark’s bus chose that moment to arrive, and the driver, used to Mark getting on at that time, stopped and opened the door, though Mark wasn’t technically at the stop, and no one else was getting on or off.  

Mark glanced up at the driver and the bus, then back at the alleyway.  Could he just hop aboard and leave the woman to whatever fate she might meet…which, he had to admit, would probably be entirely uneventful?

The driver called out, “Are you coming?”  He was a nice enough man, but obviously couldn’t just keep the bus waiting indefinitely.

“Ummm…” Mark began.  Then, making up his mind, he continued, “No, I just realized that I forgot something.  I’ll catch the next bus, okay?”

“Oh, okay,” the driver replied.  “All right, well, you have a good night.”

“Will do,” said Mark distractedly, and as the bus pulled away, he began, hesitantly at first, to follow the woman’s path down the sidewalk.  He knew he was probably being ridiculous, and once again over-protective‒this time of a complete stranger‒but he felt that he should at least make sure the woman was all right, and perhaps shadow her for a bit to make certain nothing happened.  Of course, the most likely thing to happen, he had to admit to himself, was that he would be thought some kind of sexual predator, and frighten her at the least.  He would, of course, try not to let her know he was there…but still, better that she be frightened by someone who meant her no harm than go blithely into the clutches of someone who would bear her ill-will.

Mark reached the entrance of the alleyway and, following the woman’s own actions, he paused and regarded the tiny passage.  It was, as he had remembered, dingy and dreary, with quite a bit of scattered garbage and dumpsters irregularly placed along the way.  There were no real lights, and night time was rapidly falling, with the sun only barely peeking over the rim of the horizon, quite blocked by the buildings in the area.  It was difficult to make out more than rough shapes of shadow and deeper darkness beyond the first few feet of the alley.  He thought that he remembered that, only about fifty or so feet in, the alley widened out a bit as the rear of one of the buildings did not come as far back as its neighbors.  He thought he could make out the beginning of that slightly more open area, but could not be sure.  

The woman couldn’t have gone much farther than that in the short time since she had entered the alley, Mark thought, but it was so dark he could not make much of anything out.

However, as he squinted down the alleyway, urging his eyes to adjust to the darkness, Mark heard a muffled thud, a gasp, then another thud…perhaps the sound of someone falling on the ground.  Mark’s eyes were, very slowly, becoming more accustomed to the decreased light of the alley as he looked away from the lights of the main street.  He thought he could make out a human shape, standing somewhere in the open area of the alley.  It was too big to be the woman he had been watching, and was certainly masculine in shape.  He could not be sure, but he thought he saw a shape at its feet that was not anything like a dumpster or a garbage can…and though it could be an incompletely filled plastic bag, Mark was certain that he knew what the shape was.

Now what was he going to do?  If he went for the police, there would be no way to get to them in time for them to do anything but investigate the crime after the fact.  He found himself panicking and not able to think clearly.  He couldn’t just leave the woman to the mercy of whatever the apparent attacker intended…even if it was just robbery, which seemed unlikely given the fact that it sounded like the woman had be struck, and hard.  She could be raped, and possibly killed.  What was he going to do?  

Mark looked around the alley and the street nearby, feeling at a loss.  There was no one else about but him at that hour of the night.  

He had to do something.

***

Mark had been forced to act quickly, and probably not very intelligently.  He knew he didn’t have time to call the police and still actually prevent anything, so he had to try to intervene before the attacker did anything worse than he might already have done.  But though Mark was by no means a ninety-eight pound weakling, he was also far from being a seasoned fighter, and against what looked like a good sized, full grown man, he knew he would need some kind of advantage.

Glancing around for any possible weapons, the only credible option Mark saw was an old-fashioned metal garbage can lid, which rested askew on its container.  It was not much, but with the element of surprise, it might at least help him to distract the thug from his prey, and perhaps draw him off after Mark in anger.  Mark was pretty confident of his running speed, at least, especially if he was being followed by an angry criminal.

So deciding, his heart pounding, but his hands surprisingly steady, Mark took hold of the lid with his right hand on its handle, as if it were a medieval shield.  He began to creep quietly into the alley, giving his eyes more time to adjust before he made his move.  The sun had more or less completely set, but it was not a dim night, and the moon was apparently already in the sky.  There was a faint ambience, and with his quickly sharpening vision Mark could see the general outline of the wider area of the alleyway as he approached it.  

To the left, he saw a prone figure, almost certainly the woman he had witnessed earlier.  Standing over her was a male figure, fairly tall, and more thickly built than Mark.  He appeared to be looking at something in his hands, and then he put it in his pocket and crouched down.  As Mark tiptoed closer, grateful that the attacker was facing toward the wall rather than the direction from which Mark was approaching, he saw the thug roughly roll the woman onto her back.  Though the light made it far from perfectly clear, the general shape, and the belted dress, was more than enough to confirm her identity.

Mark saw the attacker’s hand go to his belt and saw a glint as the man appeared to free a knife from his left side.

Mark had intended to perhaps throw the garbage can lid at the man, hoping to distract and enrage him, but now it looked like the man might be intending to murder the woman straight away.  He couldn’t chance a minor intervention.  His heart pounded with greater fear than before, but he was surprised to find that it didn’t make him want to flee; instead, it galvanized him into forward action.

Making an instant decision on a change of tactics, Mark placed the garbage can lid before him and, using it as a battering ram, he ran and then hurled himself, lid-forward, at the crouching and unbalanced form of the attacker.

For Mark’s initial intentions, the ploy worked perfectly; he slammed forcefully into the thug, all his weight behind the garbage can lid, bowling the man completely over and knocking him down.  However, Mark’s own forward momentum was deflected rather than dulled, and he found himself literally doing a head first tumble over the top of his quarry, sailing a few feet through the air before landing on his side and leg.  Adrenalin kept him from noticing the pain much, but the wind was knocked out of him, and he was now further inside the alley than the attacker; running back the way he came would be much more difficult than he had hoped.

Mark scrambled to reach his feet and saw the thug rising also, swearing and rubbing his head.  A rough voice came from the large, shadowed figure, saying, “What the FUCK, man? Why did you DO that?”  The man was somewhat sideways to Mark, and Mark could not see both of the man’s hands…he didn’t know if the knife was still a problem.

Mark thought it was painfully obvious‒in more ways than one‒why he had done what he had just done, so instead of explaining himself, he simply shouted, “You leave her alone!”

The thug looked down at the woman lying on the ground and then back up at Mark.  “What, is she a friend of yours?”  

Surprised by this question, Mark answered, “No, I don’t know her.  Why would that matter?”

Mark could barely make out a slight smile crossing the face of the big attacker, who slyly said, “Oh, I see…you want her for yourself, huh?”

“What?”  

The bigger man laughed, then said, “OR…maybe it’s me you want for yourself, huh?  You’re jealous, and want me to fuck you instead of her, huh?  Well, there’s enough of me to go around…”

Mark was utterly dumbfounded.  The man could not really, seriously think that, could he?  It didn’t make any sense.

“What?!?” he exclaimed.  “I don’t want you to…”

Suddenly, while Mark was confused by the unexpected response, the big man lunged toward him, quickly crossing the intervening few feet.  Mark, who had kept his hold on the trash can lid, could think of nothing else to do in response to the unexpected attack but to raise the lid before him again, like a shield.

It appeared that this was exactly what his assailant had expected, for he grabbed an edge of the lid and, instead of pushing forward or striking, as Mark was expecting, he pulled, drawing Mark off-balance and straight toward him.

In that instant, Mark saw that the attacker must have retrieved his knife as he was rising from his fallen position, because it was in the man’s right hand.  While the attacker yanked Mark’s shield forward and upward, his right hand swung under and across, toward the right side of Mark’s belly.

Mark felt a sharp and intense agony lance into his abdomen, below his ribcage.  It was more painful by far than anything he had ever experienced before, and though he let out a gasp when it happened, he found that his lungs were unwilling to spit out a yell of pain, though he sorely wanted to do so.  He dropped the garbage can lid, which the thug flung away, at the same time pulling back his right hand.  Mark felt the blade leave his belly, but it did not hurt any less, and he immediately began to feel warm wetness spread onto his restaurant uniform shirt.  He put his hand to his side, and then pulled it away.  In the dark, there was no redness‒only a black, slick-but-sticky fluid‒but Mark of course knew that it was his blood…a lot of it.

He felt his knees give out as his vision began to go white around the edges, and he started to feel cold and nauseated.  He slumped more than fell to the ground, slightly bumping his head on the pavement as he did so, though it didn’t hurt.  His vision cleared a bit as he became supine, and he watched as the big man, knife still in hand, came closer and knelt beside him.  Mark tried feebly to scoot away, but his limbs were barely willing to follow his commands.

The man chuckled, and Mark could almost make out his face clearly as he said, “Well, so much for that idea.  You wanna watch while I rape that pretty lady…or should I finish you off first?”  He looked down at Mark’s belly.  “Actually, the way you’re bleedin’, I don’t think I’m gonna need to finish you off.  You aren’t gonna last long.  It was a bad fuckin’ idea for you to try to stop me, asshole.”

Mark tried to follow the man’s words, frightened that the statement about him being very near to death was probably right.  It was insane, dying here in a dirty alleyway near the ice cream shop in which he worked, while Melanie was probably beginning the nighttime cleanup in preparation for closing.  He didn’t feel bad about having tried to help‒there was no way he could just have walked away‒but he wished he had thought of a better idea, been better prepared, or simply been more physically capable.

Then, something distracted Mark from the thoughts about his own limitations and impending mortality.  

Behind the crouching form of the knife wielding attacker, Mark saw another shape silently creep up.  It was not as wide as the man, but it was tall, and it was…frightening.  It had long, wild hair, and limbs and hands that were somewhat too long to be human.  Worst of all, Mark could see that it had glowing yellow eyes, with pupils in the shape of concave diamonds.  The eyes were terrifying…they held no mercy, only predatory hatred, a feral malice and a paralyzing will.  Mark gaped at this horrifying figure, wanting to exclaim in disbelief.

The thug apparently could see a little bit of Mark’s reaction in the dim light, but not much.  He simply stopped talking and looked at his victim curiously, before a claw from the creature behind him reached around and took him by the throat, the impossible talon nearly long enough to circle the entire thick neck of the large man.

Then, as if Mark’s attacker were no heavier than bag with a few groceries in it, the figure yanked the big man off the ground and around, holding him up in the air with that one appendage, with the man’s feet dangling in the air.  The thug had dropped the knife as both of his hands reflexively moved to the grip around his throat, struggling to rip the hand free, but not making any more apparent progress than he would have made against steel cables.  Mark saw the big man’s legs thrash, saw one of them lash out and kick the thing holding him hard in the stomach.  There was no apparent effect.

Mark heard a surprisingly human voice‒feminine, calm but angry‒issue from the figure that held the attacker in the air.

“You got extremely lucky with me before, because the sun wasn’t quite down, and I was distracted,” the voice said.  “But now, your luck has run out.”

With that, the figure flicked its arm with astounding speed and hurled the figure of Mark’s attacker through the air, on a rising arc that did not reach its apex before the large man slammed powerfully against the wall of the nearby building.  After the impact, the big man’s form rebounded slightly and then fell to the ground, unmoving.

The nightmare creature that had just flung a full grown man through the air like a softball now turned its demonic gaze toward Mark, and, though he was bleeding, in pain, and already expecting to die, he found himself feeling more afraid than he had thus far throughout the entire encounter.  His limbs, though, were too weak to help him; indeed, they were weaker than they had been when he had wanted to scramble away from the man with the knife.

The voice spoke again, but more gently, though still with some anger.

“And as for YOU,” it said, “You idiot!  You moron!  You stupid, reckless, thoughtless, spectacularly inept, and brave IMBECILE!!!  Why in the hell would you do something so DANGEROUS to help something like ME?  I know, you didn’t know what I am…but even so….I have to…it’s…there’s…there’s only one thing that I can possible do for you…”

The figure came closer and stooped over Mark, its posture not threatening, and its general appearance almost visibly softening.  It was only in that moment that Mark realized that it was wearing the woman’s dress that he had seen earlier…that in fact, this was that woman, somehow not merely alive but awake and transfigured.

In a much softer tone, as the still-terrifying form reached out its claw toward him, the voice said simply, “Forgive me.”

*****


Well, that’s it, everyone.  If you’re thirsty for more, by all means, check it and my other offerings out at Amazon.  I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and that you enjoy all my writing to come.