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:
(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?”
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.