First off, an update on The Dungeon.
I’d hoped to have a release date by now, but we (myself and the publisher) are having a little trouble tweaking the cover art. It’s a necessarily slow process, where their artists try things, I approve or disapprove, and then it goes back through their queue. We’re close, and hopefully by the next blog post, we’ll have a set release date.
Now for the big news of the day.
AmazonUK runs a StoryTeller contest. It began last year and is gearing up to be an annual event. Only never-before published works can be entered. Since Waking Light was finished (I’m actually about 70% through the sequel), Jill and I decided to enter it in the contest. Which means that Waking Light: Book 1 of the Chosen Cycle is now published and available through Amazon.com. It has to be exclusive to Kindle until the competition is over, which will be at least six months, but even if you don’t have a Kindle device, there will also be a paperback version available through the Amazon store.
The Kindle version is available now, and the paperback will be orderable by this Saturday (May 4th).
Here’s the back copy:
A day at the carnival turns to a war for the planet as John Wilson stumbles into what he believes is a demonic summoning. At the same time, a multitude of white lights strike the Earth, granting supernatural abilities to hundreds of people.
Armed with an amazing power to project force and allied with a telekinetic and a girl who can literally see who is gifted and who is a monster, John and his friends decide to strike back at the hordes invading their world.
Check it out and let me know what you think.
Finally, here’s a first chapter of something new. The work is untitled as of yet. I’m kicking around several ideas but none of them feel just right. The book is complete through a first draft, and I’ll be attacking with my red pen over the next couple of weeks, rearranging sentences and making sure everything works and makes sense.
Unlike Brightness and Waking Light, the following is not for a young adult audience, as it contains violence and adult language. As always, your feedback is welcomed.
Bad things don’t happen in daylight.
Bad things especially don’t happen on the sidewalks of the popular and well-populated Outlet Mall in Gaffney, South Carolina, with families of haggard adults escorting hordes of chattering children, businessmen rushing into the Rockport store for a pair of comfortable-but-business-acceptable shoes, and tweens exclaiming over the latest trends in strategically-ripped jeans or scandalously-skimpy blouses and skirts.
There shouldn’t be any bad on a ninety-degree, early summer day under a cloudless blue sky, certainly not with a parking lot full of Nissans, Toyotas, Dodge Rams, and Hondas which collectively transported the thousand or so shoppers to the mall-wide summer fashion sale.
Last, but definitely not least, bad things don’t happen to Joseph Davis. Buck to his friends. He wasn’t Buck until the last year of high school, when a two-hundred-pound strong safety thought to stop him on the one-yard line, with time expired and his hometown Gaffney Indians trailing the visiting Spartanburg Vikings 40-35. Head lowered, smelling the game-winning touchdown, Joseph never saw the safety plant himself like a human wall, arms out to wrap him and up and pull him down. Joseph bowed under the sudden pressure, but he didn’t drop. His knee didn’t go down. Instead, he pushed up, somehow slinging the safety sideways, before gaining that last, precious yard.
His back ached for a week after, but he graduated a hero. Buck Daniels, the tight end who saved a perfect season.
That was the first time Tiffany Richards let him slip a hand inside her underwear. It was also the last time, because the next day she caught him slipping a lot more than a hand into Naomi O’Connor.
He didn’t complain. Naomi was prettier, more experienced and, most importantly, more willing to commit and not about to lead him on. He’d scored a touchdown one night and a home run the next. Meatloaf would be proud.
No, bad luck stayed away from Buck. He was big and likable, the kind of guy you wanted to go drinking with and who didn’t make an ass of himself so you regretted it. He made it out of high school with a diploma, without an arrest record, and without getting anyone pregnant. For a black guy in South Carolina, those were all things to celebrate, please and thank you.
Everybody knew Buck and he knew just about everyone. If it wasn’t from his youth in the area, or his time as a local newspaper hero—he still had the full-page Gazette cover photo hanging on the wall, bent almost double with another man trying to climb his back like a confused drunk at a gay bar—it was because of his job. Buck was a registered paramedic, responding to calls throughout the county. His big smile was often the first one seen by people having the worst day of their lives, his deep voice resonating with concern and reassurance in equal measure. He never lost his cool, whether dealing with a cardiac arrest or trying to talk someone down from a methamphetamine high.
Even on a day like today, saddled with a fresh EMT trainee, caught between fear of touching a living patient and goggle-eyed wonder at the ease and efficiency with which Buck tackled the job, he still maintained his calm.
“Truck One, on scene at the Outlet Mall,” Buck called in to the station.
“Roger that. South side near the Interstate. Caucasian male, mid-thirties, DFO in the parking lot.”
“D.F.O.?” the rookie mouthed.
Buck ignored him. If the rookie lasted a month, the numerous acronyms would become second-nature, from the official ones like ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support) to the more colloquial DFO (Done Fell Out) to the colorful FOS (Full Of Shit).
“Expect a crowd on scene,” the dispatcher continued. “John Doe was raising a fuss before he collapsed.”
“Any other vics?
“Zero collateral. Plenty of witnesses though.”
“Any back up?”
“GPD just arrived and are establishing a perimeter. They’ve confirmed life, patient is unresponsive and breathing.”
“Roger that,” Buck said, turning left into the Outlet Mall parking area, following the feeder lane from the north lots, past the easternmost store, a Tommy Hilfiger anchor, and to the south lots, which stretched from the back side storefronts a hundred yards or more to the Frontage Road that paralleled this stretch of Interstate 85 between exits 90 and 92.
Turning right, Buck cruised past the southern stores, mostly shoe outlets like Reebok, Nike, and Adidas, giving little chirps of the siren whenever a car looked likely to pull out of the lots, or before a pedestrian could step off the sidewalk, bags in one hand and smartphone in the other, oblivious to the world around them because of a phone conversation that couldn’t wait. Buck hated those phones. Every advancement in technology was accompanied by an equal increase in the motor vehicle accidents, falls down a set of stairs or, as made famous by a viral Youtube video, people falling into mall water fountains.
It had gotten so bad that he recently had to respond to a 9-1-1 call placed by a pissed off phone owner whose service was cut off due to non-payment. 9-1-1 still worked though, so the guy called, hoping whoever showed up could get his phone working again, because not having access to some social media app was causing him to have chest pains.
The flashing lights of the Gaffney Police Department cruiser guided them the last fifty feet, one of the uniforms waving his arms, exhorting the crowd of rubbernecking shoppers to back up, open a hole, let the ambulance through. Easing the truck as close as he dared, Buck lay on the horn and sirens for a full five seconds, rending the air with a full-volume blast that got asses moving aside a lot faster than the cop could manage.
The road was a two-lane, allowing traffic to weave in and out of the parking aisles. After easing through the crowd, Buck pulled the truck at an angle to the left, taking up most of a handicapped spot and a good bit of the left side of the road, but placing him and his partner in a great position to aid the victim.
Slipping the gearshift into Park, Buck and the rookie jumped out of the cab. “Grab one of the blue bags,” Buck said, leaving the younger man to retrieve the basic bag from the back of the truck. There were two of the small blue bags packed with identical equipment, good for the vast majority of EMS calls. There was also a red bag, which contained a battery-powered Lifepac defibrillator and all the drugs and access devices necessary for a field cardiac resuscitation, a to-go crash cart.
Rounding the truck, Buck got his first look at the victim.
Laid out supine (Supine, on the spine), the man looked like he was simply sleeping off a good drunk or was caught in the middle of a heroin high. Approximately thirty-five, with a days’ growth of gray-speckled brown facial hair that matched the untidy mop on his head, the man wore a maroon Polo-style shirt half-tucked into khaki cargo shorts. Both shirt and shorts looked like they hadn’t been worn too many times, if color and texture were any indication, but showed signs of recent hard wear. Dark sweat circles stained the armpits, and darker-than-the-fabric splotches stained the shirt around the three-button collar, smaller spots like dripped grease tracking over the abdomen, collecting at the waistband of the shorts, where it took on a decidedly-rusty color. There was no visible blood on any of the exposed skin, but long years on the job told Buck there weren’t many other liquids that could create such a stain.
Buck went into automatic assessment mode as he slipped on a pair of blue nitrile gloves before kneeling by the patient’s right side, noting smooth, even respirations and a strong radial pulse. Thumbing back the guy’s eyelids revealed wild, gyrating pupils, like he was frantically scanning a McDonald’s fast food menu in his sleep, trying to decide if he wanted a burger or a salad. The pupils were pinpoint and unresponsive to light or shadow, which immediately ruled out some drugs like LSD, while making others more likely, like heroin.
The rookie stumbled over, lugging the heavy blue bag.
“Guy have an ID?” Buck yelled to the nearest police officer, a big ol’ white boy named Chip. He was good people, Buck thought, always ready to pay his turn down at The Stoplight.
“Yeah, wallet, driver’s license, credit cards, the whole nine,” Chip replied. “Name is Austin Wallace, age 32, out of Alpharetta, Georgia.”
Buck did a quick pat-search of the Austin’s pockets, noticing the tackiness of the stains around the waistband, how they tried to adhere to the pads of his nitrile gloves. “He have any keys on him?”
“Just the wallet, Buck.”
“What d’ya need?” the rookie asked.
“Full set of vitals and an IV start kit. Get a line on him before we try to rouse him.”
“You gonna stick him?” the rookie asked, his tone hopeful.
Buck sighed. There was a mentality among EMTs and paramedics, the good ones anyway, that told you more than anything if a guy or gal was cut out for this line of work. The same mentality defined the nurses and providers in the emergency room, giving a good indication whether they belonged in that environment. It was Me first, a drive to be the guy in the room ready to do anything, learn everything. It was the difference between You gonna do it and Let me get it.
The rookie set to work wrapping a cuff around the guy’s left upper arm. He fit his stethoscope to his ears and Buck though that at least he looked to be doing something right. Buck grabbed the pre-packaged, sterile IV start kit, selected an 18-Gauge catheter needle from the blue bag, and started applying a tourniquet over the right biceps. The guy was lean, several prominent veins visible on the forearm and in the antecubital fossa, ripe for the sticking. The man would have been a perfect cherry-popper for the rookie, and Buck could have pushed the issue, but he’d already decided there was enough wrong with the kid that he probably wouldn’t pass his orientation period. It was far easier, considering South Carolina’s labor laws, to keep an unqualified person out than it was to try to get rid of them later.
An audible popping sound accompanied the activation of the Chloro-Prep site swab. The man showed no reaction to the cold foam touching his skin, providing Buck a small, sterile place to insert his needed.
“BPs 132 over 77. Pulse is racing, 144. O-2 sat is 99 percent. Wish we had a thermometer, Buck. Feels like he’s burning up.”
The guy did feel warm, Buck thought. A fever would explain the pulse. But lying out here on the asphalt under the summer sun would also make his skin warm. If he’d walked any distance or was under the influence of something that turned off the natural drive to hydrate, he could be dehydrated, which would also explain the tachycardia. They didn’t have enough information yet, and it wasn’t their job to diagnose. Once the IV was established, they’d administer some fluids en route to the hospital, maybe try some Narcan to see if they could get a change in his mental state.
“Make sure he doesn’t jump,” Buck cautioned, holding the man’s right shoulder down while the rookie placed a similar pressure on the left. Lining up the IV catheter tip a good inch below the antecubital fossa, he pushed the needle into the skin.
The man’s eyes snapped open, no longer roving but fixed and staring straight at Buck. His upper torso lunged forward, going from flat on his back to pushing up and forward so fast and with such ferocity that both Buck and the rookie couldn’t hold him. He said nothing. No expletives, no questions, though both of the EMS workers let out a few choice words. Then he kept coming, shaking the rookie off his left side like a rusher stiff-arming a tackler, bearing Buck backward. The paramedic had enough presence of mind to pull the needle away, out from in between their bodies, as the suddenly-all-too-conscious guy drove him to his back. Now I’m supine on the spine.
A stray scream of surprise came from the watching crowd.
A second later, as he felt the guy’s teeth latch onto his right ear, his own screams of sudden pain and fear tore out of him. He started flailing with the only weapon available to him, stabbing with the large-bore IV needle again and again at whatever part of the man he could hit, shoulder, arm, side.
The hot agony on the side of his head was bad enough, but the grinding crackle of crushed cartilage that he could feel inside his head, a sound transmitted through the small bones rather than heard through the ear, was somehow even worse.
The guy was chewing on him!
Then more voices yelling, calls to stop, threats of imminent use of force. A set of strong hands grabbed his, preventing him from wielding the needle, not that it had been doing any good. More hands grabbed at the crazy man, trying to wrestle him off of Buck, but the more they moved and shifted him, the greater the pain became on the side of Buck’s head. The man’s teeth held, pulling his ear this way and that like a dog worrying a bone.
Buck couldn’t stop screaming, his whole worldview shrinking to a single spot on the side of his head. It was worse because someone was holding him down, preventing him from fighting back. How did a day like this turn so bad so fast?
“Sorry about this, Buck,” Chip’s voice said a second ahead of a force like a punch to his whole body slammed into him, a wracking pain that started at his ear. The man bucked as his mouth snapped closed, teeth meeting and tearing away a portion of Buck’s ear on the diagonal.
Then the teeth were gone and the man was being rolled off of him, still twitching from the Taser.
“Sonuva—” the rookie swore, shaking numb hands. He’d gotten a mild shock, third hand as it were, from his contact with Buck.
Buck lurched to his hands and knees, unable to tolerate the thought of being vulnerable on his back like one of those stink bugs any longer. The world swam and his stomach did a crazy twist and lurch and his ear—my fuckin’ ear—was positively on fire.
“Holy fuck,” one of the cops said. The rookie rushed in with a handful of gauze. Buck batted him away, forcing himself forward, crawling/lunging toward the guy, unconscious again and face down now, hands linked behind his back by silver bracelets and a length of chain, a half-dozen bleeding holes in the right side of his shirt and upper arm. There was something pink and gristly by his mouth, sitting in a small puddle of bright red blood, looking for all the world like a chewed-up piece of fruit his wife might put in a bowl of red Jell-o.
He wanted to punch the Yuppy bastard with his sixty-dollar shorts. He thought about, really thought about what might happen to his career and decided Fuck it! If they don’t fire me over stabbing the asshole with an IV needle, then one extra punch won’t seal the deal. He rose up, pushing himself upright, one big hand clenched into a fist and arm cocked, but then his lunch decided it had enough of this fucked up merry-go-round and it wanted off now and up it came, tiny chunks of carrot and potato from half-digested beef stew, still swimming in brown greasy broth that felt hotter now than it had when he ate it. It poured out of his mouth, streamed in twin rivulets out his nostrils.
And finally the rookie got his gauze on the side of Buck’s head, wrapping brown Coban once, then twice, around his skull to hold it in place. “I got you, Buck,” the little pissant said. Maybe that wasn’t fair. Maybe he wasn’t that bad.
He held me down—yeah, which was the right thing to do. Paid the price for it too, if his hand-wringing was any indication. He was quick with the gauze too.
“I’m gonna call for another team, get you outta here,” he added.
“No, load him in the back,” Buck said. “We’re too understaffed to waste another truck out here.”
“I’ll drive, let you ride in the back. The docs will give me a once-over in the ED.”
“You gonna be pressing charges, Buck?” Chip asked, brown eyes showing the genuine concern for a friend overshadowed by his duty as a cop.
“I dunno yet, Chip,” he said. “Depends on if he does.”
How many times did he stab the guy? “He breathing okay?”
“Yeah, I don’t think you stuck him too deep.”
The clatter of the stretcher rolling out of the truck reached them. “Listen, help the kid load the guy, willya?”
“I’ll be in the truck. Think I got some Motrin in there.”
That glistening pink something bugged him, a chewed up and spat out piece of his meat.
“Tell the kid to bag that.”
Buck walked slowly back to the ambulance, one hand to the side of his head, thoughts ranging from frustrated anger that this happened to wondering if he would need stitches.
He thought this was as bad as a day could get, especially for him.
He was wrong.