Started a new novel last night that I’ve been thinking about for the last year or more. I think it’s going to pretty much write itself because the more I write, the more I learn to set up the story conflicts in the first couple chapters. I hope you enjoy it!
Also if you haven’t entered the blog tour + giveaway, make sure you do. We’re fast approaching the release of my first Crime novel A BEAUTIFUL MADNESS! Thanks for reading and all the support!
The power had just gone out in LeDoux’s Bar & Grill, and the last thing anyone expected was a genuine miracle to illuminate the darkness. The air outside was in the mid-thirties and snow fell softly, and inside the bar, forty people’s lives were forever changed.
Aiden, Jack LeDoux’s sixteen-year-old son, was sitting at the bar drinking a Coke with his girlfriend Emmy, his cousin Connor, and against his father’s wishes, Elroy O’Connell. Jack had been watching the O’Connell boy intensely, never worrying about hiding his rage at what Elroy and his brothers had done to him a few months prior. It had been humiliating and had crippled him, and moments before the power went out, as Aiden was walking to the men’s restroom, his father scowled at him and rolled his wheelchair into the kitchen and slammed the door behind him. Things would have gone differently for him if he had stayed in the bar and not closed himself off from the others like he had been doing more and more the past few months.
Aiden knew that his father was ashamed of what he’d done to call the O’Connells’ wrath down on him, and he thought their nailing his dad to the tree more than a bit excessive, but there were lines a man wasn’t supposed to cross. As he approached the bathroom, he glanced over his shoulder at Connor and Emmy and Elroy, and thought that in another two years their lives would change upon graduation. And he realized that he loved them, and couldn’t understand why he felt this strange unease that he would soon part their company forever.
He told himself it was just the storm. He had one or two bad experiences with them in his short sixteen years. But then the lights flickered and he thought he heard his father throwing things around in the kitchen.
Most of the people in the bar were talking quietly, a few, drunk, were noisier, but they quieted down when the lights flickered again and the snow plastered the large window by the exit and made it impossible to see outside.
Aiden relieved himself quickly and was in the process of washing his hands when the power died. He dried his hands on his pants and groped for the door. He heard a few people laughing nervously and saw the flames from several lighters and the faces both lit and lost in shadow behind them. He didn’t know why it made something inside him seize up, but he paused there near the bathroom door and gave his eyes a moment to adjust.
But then the lights came back on, at what seemed half power. Aiden stumbled back to his bar stool disoriented. Connor said, “Slam your drink and let’s get out of here before the storm gets any worse.”
He finished his own and looked at the clock above the bar.
It was seven-thirteen.
He slapped Aiden on the shoulder and smiled. His cousin had always been trouble, but in a good natured way. Aiden slammed his drink, thinking that Connor was right; they needed to hit the road before the fresh snow made the street any slicker. It seemed as if thinking about it made his stomach hurt because all the sudden it was burning like there was a fire inside him. The voices in the room all seemed far away, and so did Connor’s laugh before he said to Emmy, “I told you.”
She said, “Real funny.”
Aiden said, “Something’s wrong with me.”
Elroy was looking at him from his wide, cherubic face, with both amusement and pity. His voice was muffled, but it was always muffled, as if he was afraid of speaking at normal volume: “Connor spiked your drink.”
His cousin said, “We need to loosen you up…” and he slapped his shoulder again, and Aiden wanted to tell him: Quit doing that, something’s wrong…
But he was embarrassed; any man in town, any boy on his way to becoming a man, all seemed like they could handle their liquor, yet when he’d tried it with Connor and Elroy on the water tower last summer he’d puked over the side, his head spinning, scared to death that he’d fall and plummet to his death.
And his head was spinning again, and it felt like everybody was looking at him, and he knew his dad would tan his hide if he came out and learned that he had anybody underage—especially his son—drinking in his bar. His old man didn’t toy with stuff like that, the fines were too high, and the cost of doing business wasn’t cheap to begin with.
Thinking about all of that only made his head ache more and his ears felt stuffed with cotton until he heard a distant roar like a jet taking off, and it grew louder and louder, and he pressed his palms over his ears but couldn’t drown the noise.
He sensed Emmy on one side of him, felt her gentle fingers, like his mother’s always were, on his elbow. She was good to him, good for him, and he wasn’t even gone yet, but he already missed her; thought that no matter when the time came for them to part ways, that they’d always be friends, the way they’d started when she’d been dating Connor.
On the other side of him, Connor or Elroy, said something, picking their cell phones off the bar and pointing them at him, and laughing again, and he knew it was Connor causing this strange, helpless feeling, and he wanted to say to him, You know I don’t like that shit, but he didn’t have the strength to knock the phone away and make him quit recording…
The pressure grew inside him and the room darkened further, and he cried out, “Oh, God, I’m going blind…” and his stomach continued to burn and he found it difficult to breathe, and he whimpered, sweating and shaking, afraid of the sound of his voice and the words on his tongue: “I’m dying…”
But nobody took him serious. He had been a theatrical boy at times, before his dad’s crucifixion, so the room watched him: his friends laughed and people in the bar murmured at the beginning of a spectacle none of them yet understood.
Jack watched the lights flicker in the kitchen. He’d owned this hell hole for almost twenty years, and he considered barring the front door and burning it to the ground with everybody inside it. Only problem was, his son and his girlfriend Emmy were in there. If he could replace them with Pine O’Connell and his father Mickey, it’d be a done deal. They’d all burn with him. Especially Aria and Mitch O’Connell. He could picture himself in the doorway, in his wheelchair with the flames licking around his brawny shoulders, catching in his hair, as he watched them trample each other to escape. One of them would break the window and the cold gush of air would supply oxygen to the fire, and the snow coming in the broken window would hiss and steam, and the wind would scream horribly, like the harrowing voices of his victims.
He brushed the stubble on his chin with the back of his hand and looked down at his useless legs. Well, it wasn’t the legs that were useless, it was all those shattered bones in his ankles and insteps. It was a night just like this one when Pine O’Connell waited for him to close the bar and walk out to his car. The other brothers were there too, the oldest one Mitch, who was in the process, if rumors could be trusted, of taking over his father’s business; and the chubby one named Elroy, who didn’t lay a finger on him, just watched and cried out there in the dark woods as Pine, just a boy of eighteen, laid the side of Jack’s head open with an Estwing hammer, and then trussed him up to a century-old oak with a piece of dirty clothesline and pounded the landscape spikes through his feet and into the base of the tree.
Mitch, the older brother, was out in the bar now with his stepmother Aria. Jack gritted his teeth every time he saw them, yet the nerve they had to come into his place of business after what they’d done to him, sometimes made him wonder if he’d deserved it.
But hell, his wife Janice had called them animals, and she knew why they’d crucified him, the weight of his sins as thick and undeniable as the blood that had ran from the tips of his toes and fingers.
Aria O’Connell, he thought. Goddamn her. Goddamn me for falling into that endless chasm. Bitch knew what she was doing… and the hell of it was he couldn’t understand what he’d ever done to her. She’d been coming on to him for weeks and when she kept touching his shoulder and his thigh, her hand inching up toward his crotch, this young beauty who was in her mid-thirties but looked no older than twenty-one, he knew the risk he was taking not only with his marriage, tossing it on those hot coals of desire where his corpse would slowly burn in the heated night, then only figuratively or emotionally; but there was Aria’s husband and his sons to contend with, and somehow, like the fool he knew he sometimes was, he brushed those concerns aside for the taste of her lips, her slim fingers curled around his shaft, the hot pant of her breath against his neck, her energetic grinding, and the way she made him feel wanted again.
His wife had grown bored of his physical neediness the last few years, ever since Aiden became a teenager, and she sometimes complained that she would give him what he wanted more often if only he’d romance her once in a while.
But what was she really saying? he wondered.
He couldn’t fathom what sense there was in romance. Just seemed like girls got brainwashed to expect things like that from reading too many princess fairy tales when they were children, and by watching too many movies when they were an adult. Real men didn’t romance. But maybe it was what Aria had been looking for, and when he hadn’t been that thing she’d expected, the thing she wished Mickey O’Connell could be, she pulled ole’ Jack’s plug in more ways than one.
He was lucky the boys hadn’t castrated him. Pine had wanted to, had Jack’s pants pulled down to his knees before Mitch had stopped him because Elroy had cried like a baby and ran off into the woods, and Jack had pleaded they spare him, hadn’t they done enough?
Seeing the pity on Mitch’s face was harder than seeing his anger. He’d told Pine to leave Jack there for the wild animals to pick apart. He hung there and bled all night, but he’d still had a few friends back then and they’d come looking for him. Once he was in the hospital and had stabilized, none of them came around to visit, but he couldn’t blame them. He was a blight to himself, to his family, and to pretty much everybody else.
It was his big turning point, that night, the following months of recovery, the hate inside him that fed on itself and him, constantly thinking he would settle that score with their clan even if he had to do it from his wheel-chair and drive his van over the lot of them and then pick them to pieces with his shotgun as they lay there praying for mercy.
They should have castrated me, he thought. Now it will cost them their lives, and I’ll take the consequences of my actions, and their premature deaths, like a man.
The lights flickered again, almost in time to his accelerated heartbeat, and then the lights went out, and he sat there in the darkness until he heard people in the bar cry out in fear and wonder.
He blinked, thinking the sound he heard nothing more than the wind, although he knew something had happened in his bar, and he had to go back out there to find out what it was, that was his job, and usually it was an easy one, and he did not expect it to be anything special at all.
Mitch O’Connell was sitting next to his stepmother Aria in a booth in the furthest corner from the bar, and staring at the scratch on the back of his hand, when he first heard the commotion at the bar. The lights went out again, but then there was another light, and the sound of a locomotive roaring down the tracks in the middle of nowhere, and it thrummed against steel, and the building shook, the booth seat he sat on thrumming beneath him like his wife had before death carried her low, and Mitch thought: There’s no train tracks anywhere near here… so he couldn’t figure out what he felt, until his little brother Elroy jumped away from his friends and tripped into a table, and brought it crashing down on him.
And beyond his little brother, Connor LeDoux was backing away from his cousin Aiden. The pastor of the small assembly of God church down at the end of the bar had turned his head as well, and there was in his face something of horror, something Mitch had never seen on anyone else’s face except for Jack LeDoux’s out there in the woods.
But then the boy, Aiden, turned and Elroy was at his side, braver than the others for reasons unknown to all of them, and there was a fire beneath Aiden’s face, it glowed a reddish yellow, and the roar of that runaway locomotive quieted the bar completely until everyone listened to the boy say something was wrong, that he was dying…
And Mitch, who did not usually help other people, was pushing himself out of the booth until he felt Aria’s fingers close around his wrist, and he saw the scratch on the back of his hand, and then heard something pop in his ears, as if he were ascending to the top of a mountain, and the bar went deathly dark, a moment before Connor LeDoux said, “Holy shit,” his camera glowing, but not nearly as bright as Aiden’s face.
The light spilled from his eyes and open mouth and his ears, which he covered, shaking his head, that sickly powerful light shining over everyone in the bar as he spun around, crying out, and people gasped and some whimpered.
Mitch saw the wound on the back of his hand close and his skin healed in an instant as if the mark of his misfortune had never been there. He blinked, opened his mouth to say something, but others around him were exclaiming similar experiences and nobody was listening to anyone else as Aiden slumped against the bar with Elroy on one side of him and Emmy on the other, and Connor, still recording the incident with his phone, saying softly, “Maybe you shouldn’t drink again…”
Some of those wearing glasses pulled them off and held them out and looked through them, as if something was wrong with their eyes, but Mitch knew that it wasn’t their prescription that had changed. They all looked at each other, and somebody said, “You too?”
Mitch’s stepmother, a wildly beautiful woman that so many men in the area craved not only for her beauty, but also because she was the richest woman in the county, said, “What the hell just happened?”
He watched more people confess that their eyes had been healed, that a rash had disappeared, that a broken leg had mended, and the pastor, who seemed like such a strange man to Mitch, and maybe to everyone else, said, “I don’t feel it inside me anymore…” and to a stranger who did not know what he was talking about, it would have sounded strange, but everyone in the bar had known about his cancer, how it was eating at his bones and draining his color and leaving little more than a husk of a once healthy, jolly man, robbing him of his faith in God as surely as it robbed him of his vitality. The pastor’s cheeks were rosey, and his eyes clear. He said, “My God, this test you have put me through, that I have doubted you so abhorrently about, I repent, I beg for you mercy.” His eyes filled with tears and he seemed to draw in on himself and then his chest heaved, and others, watching him, cried too, mostly in wonder at what had occurred, most still trying to process that a miracle had occurred at all.
Mitch didn’t need time to grasp the fact. He said, “Run home and get Jessica and bring her back here.”
Aria knew better than to question why, it was as obvious to her as much as it was to him, that everyone in the room had been healed, from minor scrape to terminal illness.
Aria O’Connell had always relied on reason to guide her. Understanding what people wanted had always helped her get what she wanted. But these last few moments were something her brain, at least for the moment, could not process fully. She suspected it was some trick of light, some prank the teenage boys had been playing, but how had they pulled it off? How had that boy Aiden pretended to experience something so sudden and so drastic so well? And… it happened, she’d seen Mitch staring at his hand, and she was staring at it a second before that and had watched the cut heal itself.
And she had felt sick to her stomach as she’d thought about the shoes Mitch would have to fill, and how unprepared for that responsibility he appeared, but after Aiden shone his light over her table, her stomach settled, and a great sense of wonder and peace had enveloped her.
It was only Mitch’s voice that drew her from such feelings with the sudden jolt of a fish hook in her ear. He wanted her to get Jessica. Somehow a miracle had happened, and there was a possibility—and that was all he had needed—that another miracle might occur, and his little girl should be there to bask in the glow of its healing light.
She went to her car and with trembling fingers stuck the keys in the ignition. She passed someone walking down the side of the road on her way out. Mitch’s house was only a mile from the bar, but the roads were slippery and she drove forty miles an hour, slowing down way before the serpentine curves that wound through the white and black night.
The lights were on in the house when she pulled into the driveway. She parked as close to the door as she could and the wind spit snow in her face and it swirled about her feet and the cold clung to her fingers and face, and she dragged the hair out her eyes and mounted the steps of the house and entered without knocking.
Mitch, afraid of the violence that Pine festered, had meant to keep him out of trouble and the public eye, by letting him babysit his daughter Jessica. Aria had known it was an unwise move from the beginning, the way she sensed many things, yet had kept her mouth shut in hope that she would be proven wrong. But the boy of eighteen with the spattering of a star-shaped birthmark on his neck had the young child on his lap, her shirt pulled up, his hands rummaging the flesh beneath the fabric. He was grinning like a lunatic, his eyes lit with a corruption that anyone with eyes to see would determine ran into his soul like a bottomless fissure.
She did not hesitate to grab the lamp on the end table and rip its cord free of the wall. There was no sound in the room but Jessica’s whimper, the child startled by seeing her young grandmother there, weapon raised, Aria jerking the little girl by the arm out of Pine’s lap, and throwing her onto the floor, and with her other hand, slamming the base of the lamp between his eyes.
It rocked him good and she could smell the sharp tang of his ejaculation, and it turned her stomach and she hit him again, higher on the forehead. She couldn’t let go of the lamp and Jessica was crying on the floor behind her. Pine shook his head and rubbed his brow and looked up at her with genuine curiosity. Aria could never tell if he knew what he did was wrong when it came to any number of things, and he put her in mind of a child of four years old who spoke and acted on impulse and mimicry. But his voice was that of a man’s and he said, “You hurt me.”
She ignored him, her eyes blazing, and she helped Jessica up and pulled her shirt back down and led her out into the wind and snow and to the warm, safe car.
Bobby Russell was walking through the snow, thinking about the booby traps he’d made and was carrying in his backpack, and what it’d be like after he broke into the school and armed them for tomorrow’s classes. He’d planned it well. The ones he’d place in the rooms, beneath the teachers’ desks, would go off simultaneously as the first bell rang at 8:35 a.m.
And one minute later those he placed in all the trash cans would thunder, while those who had not died in the initial explosions made their ways out into the halls, disoriented, terrified, and in shock.
And one minute after that those he placed in the shrubbery outside the exits would clap their mighty hands and reduce the exits to broken glass and twisted steel, a fitting coffin for those who had either ridiculed or shunned him.
Three minutes for him to stand outside the building and watch the place burn before the firetrucks and police arrived, and then he’d sneak up onto the water tower, where he’d hid his father’s .30-06, and turn the rescuers into sausage. He wasn’t sure what he’d do then, where he’d go. It didn’t really matter. It was cold tonight and he had to get things in place for morning. He wondered what they’d call him… He liked to think of himself as an angel of death. He knew it’d been overused, but it was also easy to understand why when you considered the power you could have over other people if you had the guts for it.
Bobby had told his girlfriend Cindy that she needed to skip school with him tomorrow, and after the bombs went off, he could test her resolve, find out if she cared for him as much as she claimed to. He doubted she’d hold up. When she knew what he’d done, he couldn’t imagine her coming with him on his rise to fame. But truthfully he didn’t need her, he didn’t need anybody but himself, that was the way it’d always been. He couldn’t foresee anything ever changing that.
The shoulder of the road was slippery and hard and he saw something going on at LeDoux’s, and considered, for a moment, throwing a brick through the large window that overlooked the parking lot. It’d have been nice to interrupt their good time. It’d have been nice to watch their expressions change, for them in that split second to realize they were powerless and inconsequential as the bugs they killed in their homes during the sweltering summer heat. But he was invisible to them, and he needed to remain so for one more night, and then they’d know him, everybody would.
Most of his classmates were already dreaming of prom, so let them dream this final night. Let them dream with all their hearts about what could have been. Let them lie down to sleep knowing that the world would remain as it had always been.
He walked on, the back of his neck wet, his armpits sweating, his gloved hands opening and closing, and his breath pluming out in front of him like the angry snorts of a charnel god inhaling the funk of its sour worshippers.