This is a venue for whatever random literary accidents I happen to spawn. Feel free to hang around. If you read something, post a comment. It's the only way I know I have readers. I make no promises of updates, but they'll probably be more regular if I know I have a readership. I have ideas, I just lack time. And experience. And talent. And confidence in my ability as an author.

I should probably take a moment to address content. As the story is laid out now, there are no plans for sexual content of a graphic nature. That being said, I mince no words when it comes to violence or profanity, and sexuality probably won't be any different. The only promise I can make is that I will make sure to present such things in as tasteful a manner as possible. An artful scene change will be provided whenever the story allows.

To review-
Profanity: Yes
Sex: Maybe
Violence. Very yes.
This is not a children's story. I leave the decision to read it to you.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Wanderer: Exodus 4

Noah rose and regarded the carcass before him. The massive corpse was a monument to his determination to survive, and his willingness to kill any devil that tried to stop him.

Haynes approached the body and began examining appendages. The massive fore claws were obviously too large to be of use to him. They massed as much as he did. Each leg segment was at least as tall as Noah. They were likewise useless. Then he noticed the smaller second set of claws. They projected from below the primary claws, tiny mockeries of the two massive engines of destruction. Tiny being relative. The foremost segment of each claw was a yard long and wickedly curved. The outer edge of each was razor sharp. Haynes smiled.

With a little work one claw came free. The second followed soon after. Halfway along each massive digit was a large spur that had been part of the joint. They made good handholds.

Noah hefted his new weapons. They were lighter than he expected. Not too light, though. They reminded Noah of his high school days, when he would hurl himself into any martial art he could find a teacher for. He’d spent a lot of time with tonfa in his hands. It was just like old times, except bigger and sharper.

I just killed a hundred long foot mantis with a pair of sharp rocks. I can raze Hell with these. Or a hell, anyway.

Despite his momentary jubilation, Noah knew his best chance for survival was to stay hidden. The lesser devils would probably go to ground if they thought something of this size was on the move, but it was only a matter of time before someone realized the titan was dead. He didn’t want to be there when the scavengers showed up.

Thick, cord-like tendons had pulled out of the forelimbs along with the claws. Haynes evaluated this material, and decided it was the best rope substitute he would find. He fashioned a lanyard for each of his blades, and placed a length of the sinew into his bag. As he worked, he noticed something odd. Beneath the thick layer of red dust, there seemed to be a faint design on his right trouser leg. Noah started to brush away the dust to view it more clearly, but then decided to leave it for another time when he wasn’t being chased by corporeal manifestations of negative emotions. Or whatever the hell they were.

Another question to ask Death when I get out of here. I should be making a list. Maybe the next devil I see will have a pen attached to his tail.

Noah slipped his hands through his newly made weapon straps and began to walk. He moved away from the area where he had started his journey. Away from the cave with the corpse at the bottom. Away from the field of slaughter.

Time passed. Noah couldn’t tell how much. He didn’t need sleep, and there was no night or dawn here, only twilight. He moved carefully, using the terrain to hide his movement and climbing to scout for opposition. He spotted the occasional devil, but he evaded notice. He resisted the urge to fight, even though the weight of the twin blades and at times even his own body screamed at him to do so. Combat wasted time and made noise. Haynes could afford neither.

Devils seemed to be becoming more common. At first Noah thought he could had just wandered into a more populous area, that he could just double back and travel through a less popular area. But the area behind him was also noticeably busier than when he had passed through it. The devils were becoming more active. Or there were more of them. The devils were also larger than before. Once Noah worried when he saw anything larger than a big dog. Now most of the devils were man sized. It didn’t bode well.

I’ve got to come up with a new strategy. Roaming like this was fine when there were only a one to an acre, but I can’t evade them if the keep concentrating in this area.

Then the situation changed completely. Noah had been traveling along a shallow, wide canyon when he came to a sharp turn. Peaking around the corner he saw a sight that would fuel his nightmares for years to come. The canyon expanded out into a basin, and on the floor of that basin was a pack of devils. A pack of devils and one young woman.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Wanderer: Exodus 3

The blood was already drying as Noah climbed out of the cave. He listened for several moments at the mouth of the cave. No monster broke the silence. It was only a matter of time, though. Even if they hadn’t heard the struggle, the smell of the corpse at the bottom of the hole was bound to attract notice eventually.

Best to be gone when that happens.

Noah climbed out of the hole and looked around. The landscape was still deserted as far as he could see.

Time for some more recon. Let’s hope it goes better than last time.

Noah began to climb again. He reached the apex faster than he expected. He tensed as he surveyed the plateau’s summit. It was blessedly empty. From his vantage point Noah could identify several knots of devils, as well as a few large individual ones. All were distant enough not to be an immediate concern. On the other side of the plateau, on the plain that had become a butcher’s floor, there was no sign of the strife that had stained the rocky sands dark.

These guys sure don’t like to spend time out in the open. Can’t say I blame them.

Noah heard claws scrape against rock and spun around. Climbing onto the plateau was some sort of large flightless bird that hadn’t quite made the jump from dinosaur to avian. It stood four feet tall, with a pair of wicked claws on its wings, and four more on each foot. The saurian bird let out an odd clattering yell from a throat covered with both feathers and scales and then lunged at Noah. He dodged to the side. They circled, the bird squawking and snapping its beak at Noah. Finally, it committed to a strike. Noah slipped to the side and grabbed the bird by its long neck. Before it could bring its claws into use, Haynes twisted until he heard a snap. The bird went as limp as the weasel.

That’s two for the away team. I didn’t even get dirty with this one.

Noah looked around. He thought he’d avoided detection, but then he saw it. It was awesome. It was terrible. It rose up from the land, sand pouring off of its carapace like water. It looked like a crimson mantis, but its head was longer, and it had two sets of fore claws. It turned and regarded Noah with one multifaceted eye, and then the other. He started running when it took the first step towards him. Footsteps rang like sledge hammers falling one after another. This thing was impossible. It was the size of a house. Noah had ridden in aircraft smaller than this thing. The only direction Noah could run was towards the valley where he’d seen the dead men. The other sides of the plateau were too steep. Noah hurtled over the ridge and tucked into a roll.

He came up unharmed and started to run. The monstrous insectoid’s head appeared above the plateau. It had been at least a football field away only a moment ago.

This thing’s too fast. Gotta come up with a plan B.

Noah ran through an arch in a rock wall and took a hard left. Winding along the wall was a steep path leading upwards. Haynes took it as high as he could and then climbed up over the arch. When the monster came through the opening, it stopped and looked around quizzically. Haynes pulled two jagged rocks from his bag and steeled himself.

God help me if I screw this up.

Noah leapt from his perch onto the beasts flattened abdomen. It was like hitting the ground. The impact didn’t even phase the monstrous devil. It turned its head to glare at him with one eye, but that’s as far as it could turn. Its arms couldn’t reach its back. Before it could try and throw him off, Noah ran along its carapace and started climbing its back. The monster thrashed back and forth. It almost dislodged him. But Haynes reached its head. He wrapped his legs around the mantis’s shoulders, then slipped a sharp stone into either hand and stabbed them into either eye of the monster. There was a hellish shriek, and Noah was hurled clear of the beast. It was a miracle he didn’t break any bones. The beast fell to the sand and moved no more.

Noah rolled to his feet and stared at the carcass. It somehow seemed more massive now that it was dead. It didn't seem possible that he had killed it.

Just when I was starting to believe this was going to be easy, they break out the giant insect demons. Death and I are having a long chat about travel destinations next time I see her.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Wanderer: Exodus 2

Haynes ducked back out of sight.

Okay. That may have been the worst thing I’ve ever seen.

Noah considered the implications of the scene on the plain as he tasted bile. Who were those people? Why were they there? How did they get there? Were the candidates like Noah? Did they come as a group? Were there other people there?

I won’t find any answers here. Time to move.

Noah risked one last peek over the ridge. The fighting had died down. Rags that might have once been similar to Noah’s clothing lay bloodstained on the ground. He couldn’t see the bodies. Noah wasn’t sure he wanted to. The devils started to disperse. Most headed towards the mouth of the valley plain. A few clusters of nightmares headed back towards the ridge. Back towards Noah.

Noah moved away from the ridge and walked around the other edges of the plateau, looking down. He saw an outcropping that looked like it might conceal him. He started to descend. Under the outcropping he found a small cave. Providence had smiled. Noah slid into the cave and hoped nobody was home. The opening was only two feet wide, and the cave narrowed as it angled down into the cliff. It was dark, but it was dry and unoccupied, and anything coming down the cliff should miss it completely. Unless they were looking for it. Unless they lived there.

Several sharp stones broke off from the cave walls as Noah climbed into his hole. He noticed this mostly because he broke them off with his shins. When he reached the bottom he collected a few of the stones. A couple looked like they’d make good tools. One felt especially good in his hand. If felt almost like a real knife.

I’m in a cave in the middle of unfamiliar enemy territory, and I’m happy I found a rock. I need to take a long hard look at my afterlife when I get out of here.

Noah half stood, half lay a few yards from the mouth of the cave. The walls at the bottom didn’t seem to hold any recesses or passages.

He heard scrabbling and rocks falling along the cliff. It sounded like several somethings were climbing down the cliff. A silhouette passed the cave. Noah tensed, holding his knife-rock like a blade. A second devil passed. Noah sat in the dark, one shadow among many. A tiny, frightened shadow clutching a pitiful weapon. Several terror-filled moments passed. The world was silent. Then came the sound of claws on stone. A triangular head appeared at the mouth of the cave. The bestial devil chattered with a mouth that was all teeth, then hurled itself into the rock burrow. It hurtled towards Noah like a hellish missile.

Haynes reacted without thinking. He crouched down and then lunged towards the creature. His empty hand shot forward and grabbed the thing by the side of the head and slammed it into the cave wall. A vicious stab pierced one eye and went into its brain. His assailant went limp.

Noah held in his hands the corpse of a weasel the size of a German shepherd. The fur was a rich purple where it wasn’t stained blue with blood. The same blood that stained Noah’s hands.

Noah was an accomplished close combatant. He had trained in several martial arts in high school. In the marines he’d been the best unarmed fighter in his platoon, and no one snuck up on him while he was holding a knife. In a few years he could have been teaching unarmed combat at a police academy. But he’d never killed anything with his bare hands before. He expected to feel nauseous, or horrified, or at least shocked. Instead Noah only felt a new sense of determination. This world held many horrors. But those horrors were made of flesh and bone. They knew pain, and they knew death. Haynes would bring these nightmares both.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Wanderer: Exodus 1

Noah Haynes looked across the jagged, scarlet terrain. Ragged plateaus and worn cliffs jutted from the rocky sand. The entire landscape was a deep menacing red. It looked as if the Martian planetscape had sired a child with one of the desert national parks of the American west. The sky was the ugly blackish purple of a half healed bruise. A nasty orange sun sat in the angry sky.

There was no smell of sulphur. There was no fire. There was just the empty landscape and the faint stench of fear and rotting meat that seemed to emanate from the ground itself. Nothing moved. Nothing lived. No birds flew the unfriendly sky. No animals traveled across the shattered wasteland. No plants grow from the broken ground.

How long will I have to stay here? What will I eat? Do I even need to eat? Great questions to ask Death, Noah. He berated himself. Way to walk into this prepared.

Noah still didn’t see anything that looked like a devil, or much of anything else. As he examined his surroundings, he realized how difficult equipment would be to find. There was no wood. He hadn’t found any flint. So far the only useful thing he’d found were several small round rocks, ideal for throwing. He slipped them into his bag.

Noah needed to find the enemy. Without intelligence on their movements, he’d be too likely to walk into an ambush. There was a small plateau behind him. Haynes started to climb.

* * *

The heat was oppressive, but Haynes didn’t thirst. He’d been climbing for an hour, but his muscles didn’t ache. He hadn’t eaten in recent memory, but he didn’t hunger.

So far, death is a lot like life without the distractions.

He reached the top of the plateau. The summit was as deserted as its base had been. The other side of the plateau was les steep, and dropped into a dry, barren plain. Noah suddenly realized why he hadn’t seen any life before now.

Everybody’s at the party.

More than a hundred nightmares roared and gibbered below him. Some were bizarre mockeries of the human form. Others were more bestial or insect like. More than a few looked like they had drug themselves out of a pit of rejected Lovecraft stories, all slimy tentacles and rubbery bodies. Most of the devils seemed to be fighting over something, or watching others fight. Noah’s blood ran cold. Not because of the monsters that strove below him on the crowded plain. He’d expected worse. But Noah had just gotten a good look at what was in the middle of one of the battles. It was a severed human head, partially stripped of flesh.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Wanderer: Genesis 4

“Excuse me,” Noah Haynes said, staring at his new acquaintance levelly. “I think I’ve misunderstood you. Did you just say you’re chucking me into Hell?”

“Yes,” Death replied, avoiding his gaze. “A hell. Part of a hell. One of the upper levels of a hell. It’s not the death sentence it seems. I’ve seen beings come out of worse places.”

“Oh, well that’s different then,” Haynes retorted angrily. “As long as its one of the nicer hells. I’m sure it’s lovely this time of year. I don’t suppose you’ll be coming with me on this one, Virgil?”

“Virgil?” Death looked puzzled. “Oh. Right. Dante. I’m sorry. This isn’t my fault. I wish I could help you. But you must be tested. There are rules for this sort of thing.”

“What sort of thing is that?” Haynes demanded. “I still don’t know what you people want from me.”

“I’m sorry, I can’t tell you anything else. You will understand in time. For now, please trust me.”

“So I’m supposed to march into Hell,” Haynes growled “Fight who knows how many demons, and then accomplish whatever else your bosses come up with while I’m down there, all for the privilege of doing a job I never applied for and don’t even know the most basic information about. Is that what you’re telling me?”

“I’m sorry,” Death replied despondently. “There’s nothing I can do.”

Noah’s face softened.

She feels wretched about this, you bastard. Do you have to make it worse for her?

“No, I’m sorry,” he relented. “I know this isn’t your fault. You’re just a convenient target for my frustration.”

“Let’s not dwell on unpleasantness,” Death smiled weakly. “Your life is going to be difficult enough for the next few days without worrying about my feelings. Now, let us be on with it.

“I’m going to send you to another plane in a few moments. It doesn’t matter what it’s called. It’s not mythos based. It’s just one of the sinkholes of nastiness that pop up in the Aether. Once there, you will have to survive. That’s all. You don’t have to conquer it. You don’t have to take a castle, or hold a ridge, or retrieve an artifact. You can hide in a cave for the entire time and never have to face a single devil.”

“Do you think that would work?” Noah asked hopefully.

“It never has before. We’ve lost some very promising candidates that way.”

“As promising as me?” Noah replied with a smile.

“Several. None of them were as irritating, if that’s any consolation,” Death returned the smile. “I have one last thing to give you. A gift to help you on your way.”

“You said you weren’t allowed to help me.”

“The rules allow me certain liberties. I can’t give you any item that would help you directly,” she explained, “but this shouldn’t cause anyone to complain too loudly.”

She produced a small satchel, a canvas hunting bag, and handed it to Haynes.

“It’s not much, but-

“Thank you,” Noah interrupted. “These pants don’t have any pockets, and I hate not being able to carry gear with me. You never know when something might come in handy.”

Death set her shoulders. “It is time. To delay further risks more than you can imagine.”

With a gesture, she called forth the blue-white scythe and slashed another hole in reality. It was an ugly red scar against the grassy hills of paradise.

“Step forward, candidate, and face your labor,” she commanded, suddenly all business.

“Yeah. Don’t wish me luck. Not like I’m walking into almost certain doom, or anything,” Haynes retorted. He stepped through the gate, wondering what was on the other side and how it would try to kill him.

The portal closed, and Death cast a melancholy gaze upon where it had been.

“Take care, Noah Haynes.”

Monday, September 17, 2007

Wanderer: Genesis 3

“Gwaah!” Noah observed emphatically as he was hurled from the rent in space. He rolled as he hit the grass covered ground. The trip had been instantaneous, but it had felt like something had kicked field goals with his organs during that time.

Okay, maybe this isn’t a bullet induced fever dream. I certainly couldn’t have imagined that.

His mysterious guide slid through the rapidly closing gate as Haynes got to his feet unsteadily. The specter regarded him thoughtfully

“I suppose a warning would have been appropriate. I’ve heard that this particular form of travel can be somewhat unpleasant.”

Haynes glared at the mysterious nuisance that had come into his life.

“Okay, we’re here. Explain.”

“Give a woman time to take her coat off, would you?”

Before Noah could frame a question, she did just that. With a flourish, the figure flung the cloak into nothingness. Where once stood a shapeless phantasm now stood a fair, red haired woman. She was clad in a gown of royal purple velvet that wouldn’t have been out of place in a medieval festival. She stood shorter than Noah’s six feet and a hair, but only just. Fastened to her gown was a brooch in the shape of a harp.

“Huh. Death is an Irish chick,” Noah remarked. “Guess you were half right, Neil.” Her quick change made him conscious of his own clothing. Rather than the office dress plainclothes he had been wearing on the stakeout he was now dressed in a white T-shirt and odd, pocketless grey pants that seemed to be made from a canvas like material.

“I’m glad you’ve finally caught on to the situation,” Death said as she folded her hands in front of her. “Now, I believe I owe you an explanation.

“You are dead. I’m terribly sorry, but there’s no other way to tell you that. The wound you received during your battle was very severe. It should have been debilitating. We’re all amazed you managed to get to that church.”

“There you go using that word again. Who’s we?” Haynes demanded.

“We refers to myself and others who are concerned with maintaining balance within the cosmos,” she replied. “That explanation will have to suffice for now. Now please stop interrupting me. There is still much you need to know.

“These are the Elysian Fields, the final resting place of great heroes. It is a convenient place to stop while I explain why you are here.

“We have been watching you for a very long time. Your courage and tenacity do you credit. You have been chosen to undertake a journey.” She stopped for a moment, as if reluctant to speak. “You will be tested to your breaking point. You will experience things that have driven men mad. Should you fail, you will be cast into oblivion. There is nothing I can do to stop that. But if you succeed, you shall become a champion of justice, a bastion against both chaos and tyranny. You will be given power unimaginable. You will have to master it and yourself. For now, however, you merely have to survive.” Again she hesitates. “I’m afraid that won’t be an easy task. My instructions are very clear. There is very little I can do to aid you. I am sorry.”

“You make it sound like I’ll be stepping into hell,” Noah said, concern in his voice.

For a moment she looked as if she’d been struck. Then Death’s fair features turned downcast.

“You will be.”

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Wanderer: Genesis 2

Noah Haynes stood in an infinite blackness, occupied only by himself and a specter wearing a heavy hooded cloak.

Am I dead? Did that bastard Jones actually kill me?

“Who’s we?”

“You have questions. That is understandable,” the cloaked figure intoned. It’s voice filled the entire space around between them, but sounded terribly hollow.

“I just asked one,” Haynes replied pointedly, staring coldly at the unidentified figure.

“Calm yourself,” the phantasm soothed. “Everything will be explained to you in due time. But first-”

“Now seems like a pretty good time to me.” Haynes interrupted.

“You certainly are a willful one, Noah Haynes. This intractability could prove to be a problem,” the figure remarked. Haynes could hear the smirk behind the comment.

“I’m a lot more agreeable when people don't dodge my questions,” Haynes replied peevishly. “Who are you? Where are we?”

“I will answer all of your questions momentarily, but we must vacate this place immediately.” The specter urged.

“How do I know I can trust you? I don’t know where we are. This could all just be playing out in my subconscious. I just collapsed from blood loss. This could be a response to a near death experience.” Noah had been near death once before, though he didn’t remember anything like this. Back when he was with the Corps, he’d taken a bullet in the leg saving his squad. He’d almost bled to death. That was what eventually led him to leave the military and join the police academy. If he was going to die, he wanted to do it on American soil.

The figure chuckled. It was the most unsettling thing Noah had ever heard.

“You are not having a near death experience. Although I suppose you could say you are having a near Death experience.”

Noah cocked his head to the side quizzically. The shadow-person had somehow pronounced capitalization in that last sentence. He suspected his original assessment might actually be right.

“This place will not last much longer,” the figure admonished. “I must carry you to the other side, before your link to the Mather collapses, and you are lost.”

“What’s a Mather?”

“What you call the universe, in your narrow definition of the term,” the specter replied haughtily. “I can waste no more time. Please accompany me. Dragging you into the next world would be unseemly.”

“Maybe I’d be a bit more cooperative if you dropped the boogey man bit,” Haynes retorted.

“I realize my appearance may seem odd, but it is absolutely necessary for the completion of my mission,” the figure explained. “I promise you that once we cross over my appearance will be more amiable. Now I must ask you to decide.”

Haynes eyed her suspiciously for a moment.

“Alright. But only because it doesn’t look like I’ve got anywhere else to go.”

“Excellent.” Without further preamble, the specter turned and shifted its posture slightly. From within the folds of the cloak burst forth a blue white arc of light, curving slightly backwards towards the specter before jutting out into a facsimile of a wickedly curved blade. The light blade slashed downward, cutting the darkness.

A scythe? Noah wondered. Are we being this clich├ęd?

The blade left a rent in the darkness in its wake. This laceration seemed to hemorrhage light.

“Please enter,” the figure requested.

“Please, you first. I insist,” Haynes replied.

“I’m afraid that isn’t possible”

“Age before beauty,” Noah retorted, grinning and gesturing towards the glowing portal.

The figure sighed, then stared directly at its seemingly impossible charge and gestured forcefully towards the portal. Noah was hurled past the unearthly threshold.

“Or not. That works too.”

Friday, September 14, 2007

Wanderer: Genesis 1

The night had been damp. It was that odd time when day had not begun to return to the world, but one can no long delude oneself into believing the night had not passed. Light from the occasional functioning street lamp glinted off of puddles. Officer Noah Haynes sprinted through the rain slick streets as a hound after a fox. His quarry was no fox. It was a murderer.

Randal Jones had been a small timer, a two bit street pusher with a smart mouth and a thick skull. He’d been Haynes’s first arrest out of the academy. Jones dropped a dime on a bigger fish, and he got to walk, like every time the police leaned on him. The department had long ago written him off as relatively harmless.

Then he found a fallen drug lord's stash. He suddenly had a truckload of uncut blow, three crates of black market weapons, and $50,000 dollars cash. It had been meant as an emergency depot, but when the cops dropped the hammer on Cal Apone, no one else had been able to claim it. His trusted lieutenants had all been killed, and he couldn’t arrange anything from inside a maximum security prison.

Once he realized what he had, Jones swung into action. Rather than dumping the whole thing and retiring to a private island somewhere, the slime had started building a criminal empire. Classic Jones. Clever, but stupid. Never knew when to put his skin before his ego. He always wanted to be the big man. Now he could.

It took Jones less than a year to claw his way to the top of the local heap. He stood atop a mountain of corpses. Gang bangers. Junkies. Prostitutes. Rival gang lords. The old lady from upstairs who tried to borrow a cup of sugar at the wrong time. Jones didn’t discriminate.

As his body count rose, so did his priority within the department. The case against him was a few months from being completed. Then Jones slammed home the final nail in his own coffin. He killed a cop.

Lieutenant John Moore had been Noah’s partner since the younger had joined the force. Moore was forty-eight with more paunch than in his younger days, but he was a good cop and a good partner. He shouldn’t have died.

It was a stake out. It should have been routine. Somebody’d tipped off Jones. Just after the third hour of waiting a pipe bomb had rolled under their patrol car. The two had gotten out in time, but Noah had a concussion. Blood dripped into his eye from a deep cut on his brow. John was barely dusty. He threw Haynes behind a parked car and took cover with him. The bomber had already disappeared, but a black SUV pulled up. They’d spotted the pair get free of the car. They parked in the middle of the street, and five men with automatic weapons stepped out. Randal Jones was one of them.

“You might as well make it easy on yaselves,” he’d said. “We got ya’s outmanned and outgunned. This is what you get for pickin’ on me all those years, Moore.”

John had told them they were under arrest. When they didn’t drop their guns, he shot one of them to death and wounded another before they could respond. Noah fired several shots, but head trauma makes for poor marksmanship.

The thugs unloaded on full auto. Flashy and stupid, but one bullet managed to graze Noah’s temple. He dropped.

Moore took out the last two thugs expertly, and then stood from cover when Jones ran dry. Moore told the criminal to freeze. Jones went for his pistol anyway. As he pulled his weapon from his coat, John fired. The shot hit Jones in the left shoulder. But the veteran officer’s gun jammed. Jones staggered for a moment and then took advantage of the opportunity. He emptied his pistol into Lieutenant Moore. Noah could only lie stunned and bleeding as his friend fell dying to the cold pavement. Jones sped off in the SUV, and backup arrived a minute later. Two minutes too late.

The city gave John Moore a hero’s burial. The mayor gave a speech. There were floral wreaths and a shiny posthumous medal for valor. But it was still a burial. That’s the problem with a hero’s farewell. You need a corpse.

Less than a month later and Noah Haynes was chasing down his most hated of enemies. He’d gotten lucky, and Jones had gotten stupid. There was a cherry Randal was fond of, a whore who lived for her next fix. He always went to her alone. He was afraid someone would use her against him. He was right.

Jones would slip back to this apartment whenever he could spare a moment. It was a sleazy part of town. Randal liked sleaze. Jones wasn’t completely stupid. He’d managed to spot Haynes and take off before he got busted. So now it was a footrace.

Winding through the back alleys, Noah wondered idly if he was being led into an ambush. He wondered if he cared. When he reported spotting Jones, the dispatcher told to wait for backup. Hell to that.

The radio jockey doesn’t have to look John’s widow in the face and tell her Jones got away again. No more escapes. This ends.

Kelly Moore was the only person who had taken the loss harder than Noah. John had been the only thing keeping her going after their son had disowned them for his “new family.” He said the people at the Gay and Lesbian Center understood him better than a pair of useless old people could. Now Kelly had lost the only other family she had. Noah didn’t care who Daniel bedded, but once this Jones business was done he was going to have a serious talk with the kid about the pain he’d caused John and Kelly.

Noah was gaining on Jones. Fury and superior conditioning allowed him to erode the distance between them. Only Jones’s knowledge of the area’s back alleys had kept him ahead, allowing him to duck under fences and dart through obstacles Haynes had to climb over. Even that was just delaying the inevitable.

Jones rounded a corner and realized he was done. The alley was a dead end. No chain link fence to climb over. No dumpster to boost himself. Just a brick wall. He spun and saw Haynes come around the corner. They both went for their guns. Jones had a head start and came up with his first, but not quickly enough. His aim was wild, and his only hits didn’t stop Haynes. Noah’s three shots ravaged his circulatory system, piercing heart and lungs. He fell to the ground, as good as dead.

Noah fell to one knee. The wound hadn’t taken him out of the fight, but there was a hole in one of his kidney’s that was leaking fast. He called in his location, though he knew he would be dead by the time help arrived. At least he’d gotten Jones.

I won’t let it end like this. I’m not dying next to a scumbag in some filthy alleyway.

His eyes managed to focus on the building across the street. A small chapel lay perfectly centered in his field of vision. Probably there wasn’t even anyone there this time of morning. But it was someplace.

I die on my terms.

Applying pressure to his wound as best he could, Noah dragged himself upright and staggered towards the church. The sanctuary was unlocked. Noah collapsed in the middle of the aisle. Through rapidly tunneling vision he saw an incredibly surprised priest.

“Sorry about this, father,” was all Noah could manage before his injuries took him.

Noah came to awareness in an infinite darkness. He could see himself perfectly, but everything else was like a starless sky, black and empty.

“Noah Haynes. We have need of you.”

He rolled onto his back and saw a figure wearing a hooded cloak

Noah rolled to his feet and smiled slightly.

“Who’s we?”

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Wanderer: Prelude

The wind stirred dust on the abandoned street. Nothing moved within the ruined house fronts. The civilians had abandoned this neighborhood during the fighting. Mixed among the rubble were erect and semi-erect homes, some perfectly unscathed. Every few feet there would be a fragment of a former life. A bent spoon. An overturned chair. A doll. War was funny that way. Funny as only wholesale tragedy illustrated on an individual level could be.

This was the last patrol of the day. The squad had broken camp before dawn, and had been moving ever since. No enemy had engaged them all day. Corporal Noah Haynes was tense. He just wanted to finish the day and get his men back to base. Every darkened window and shadowed crevasse held a potential sniper. Every piece of litter on the road was a potential improvised explosive device. Haynes’s world was made of threats and responses. He walked along avenue with his squad like a man who expected the world to come crashing down on him at any moment. His eyes watched every direction. Suddenly a shadow in a far off window shifted. The world erupted into violence. Rifle fire erupted from in front of and behind the squad. A dozen marines dove for whatever cover was available. Hayne hunkered down behind an abandoned car.

They didn’t set up on either side of the street. Thank God for small miracles.

Haynes shouted orders and gestured quickly. Reinforcements were five minutes away. All he had to do was keep his men alive until then.

There are only seven of them. They’re poorly positioned. You have adequate cover. You can do this, Noah.

Then he saw the RPG sticking out of a second story window. The gunner had perfect line of sight to take out half his squad. The orders to hold position and return fire had just become a death sentence. Most of the insurgent’s fire was focused on other positions. Haynes turned to the two marines next to him.

“Cover me,” he ordered.

Before either could respond, he hurled himself around the smashed front end of the car and sprinted towards the window that held death for six of his men. The sporadic patter fire from his squad became a torrent.

Can’t get a clear shot at the gunner. Have to be indirect.

After firing one last burst from his carbine, Haynes drew a grenade and pulled the pin. A shooter who risked perforation let out a long burst. Most of the shots went wild. One didn’t. A bullet tore thru Haynes’s lower leg, nicking the femoral artery. Haynes tumbled forward and slammed into the street on his chest. The fire from the walls slackened as Marine precision defeated preparation and zeal. And the man with the rpg took aim at six men. Six men Noah Haynes called brothers.

Like Hell.

As a dark tunnel formed around his vision and his life’s blood stained the dusty streets, he rolled onto his back and hurled the grenade at the rocket wielding insurgent. As his grip on the world slipped, Haynes saw fire explode from that window.

The world went dark.

Two figures stood over Haynes. One was shrouded in light. The other was cloaked in velvet.

“Is he the one?”

“He certainly has the courage. Time will tell if he has the will.”

Then there was nothing.