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Sunday, January 5, 2014

Excerpt from 'Pine Needles' by Karli Rush

*Sci-Fi Romance Adventure 18+*

Chapter One


      My hand skims along the once secured concrete wall, broken bits and pieces have crumbled to the floor. The now forgotten structure was a resource full of hidden knowledge.  Ashes of incinerated books leave only dusty remnants. I suppose history has a way of repeating itself, we always succumb to destroy what we fear or do not yet understand.

Many other buildings have fallen to the same fate as this one, the reason I keep finding myself here is that one day I found a book untouched and within its resilient tome was a slip of paper, a message written in dire need of warning.

 I am a survivor, our world was torn apart and the only weapon I had was my mind. Never will I lose sight of such vile and massive endings of so many. Voices still haunt my days and their detached screams echo through my every night. Heed my words, their evil is among us.

 Joshua, a survivor.

 Symbols, I vaguely remember, are scribbled along the note, my grandmother used to teach me that sigils were used for seals, protection, and many other purposes. I carefully fold the well-worn slip of paper and start to place it back in my pocket when two strong hands tug me backwards, struggling I land in his awaiting arms.

“They told me you were out gathering plants, not reading some old love note.” A low chuckle escapes as he playfully flicks the paper still in my hand.

Laughing at his foolishness, I quickly drop the note into my back pocket. “It's not a love note Rayden, I’ve told you that a thousand times already.” He releases me with a teasing grin, pushing away from him I decide to razz him. “It’s a warning you big jerk, could be the last words of a dying man, besides why are you not at work?”

Rayden takes one threatening step toward me. “What did you just call me Selene?” I know that expression and I’m in trouble so I make a run for it. Dashing through the enfeebling doorway, I race down the vine covered steps but before I can even reach the tree-line Rayden is chasing me down like a mountain lion on the hunt. 

Before I know it, I’m lying on the ground with him on top, familiar with his kind of torture I scramble to free myself. His hands grip my sides pinning me in place and then his malevolent fingers begin tickling me with no mercy in sight.

My contagious laughter rivets throughout the simple woods as Rayden straddles over me. He taunts, “Do you give up?” Writhing beneath him, I try to speak, but it’s no use, so instead I nod confirming my submission. His controlled hands measure their way up my body, and his affectionate lips explore mine. “I love you,” he declares as I trace the features of his indomitable face. Those three small words and only from Rayden bring peace to my soul.

As a hint of a giggle slowly ebbs away, I’m finally able to utter, “I love you too.” His arms cradle me. I dislodge a few pine needles from his auburn Caesar cut hair, wondering how he could have any attachment to the woods when I’m the one lying in a bed of it. He laughs at my baffled expression and shakes his head, brushing the remains out of his hair with a hand.

Eventually he slumps over next to me and says, “I see you’re wearing the earrings your sister gave you for your birthday last year, they look good on you.”  Absently, I touch the tear-shaped diamond earring. It is the first time I have ever worn them. Normally, I’m not one to wear jewelry, especially anything expensive. But since my sister Bailey presented these as somewhat of a peace-offering, I decided it’s time to let the past wash away. Our family members traditionally hand down from one generation to another a small locally owned business. I was the next descendant in line. My sister, for whatever reason thought it was she that should have inherited the shop, never considering the obvious that I’m twenty-eight and she has just turned twenty-two, plus the fact she has never stepped a single foot in the place until it was turned over to me. 

So to make my long story short, she quickly married an auditor and simply travels with him shopping to her heart’s content. This is why I now have a pair of fine tear-shaped diamond earrings.

“So, do you think next time this year you will be ready for marriage Selene?” His deep husky tone turns on every pulsating rhythm within me.  I watch him twine a tender fresh pine needle around my left ring finger.

I couldn’t help but smile as I answer, “Yes, I told you yes then, and I will always say yes to you Rayden.” He rumbles out another laugh and tosses me on top of him, “Are you going to help me, or not?” I gesture at my hair bombarded with pines, leaves, and dirt. “Everyone at the shop will think I had a little sexual encounter out here in the woods, Rayden,” I remark gently combing my fingers through my dark ringlets of hair.

He starts unbuttoning my top grinning arrogantly. “That’s fine with me, let them think what they want, we can even come back a little sweaty to confirm their theories.”

My petite fingers nimbly trail behind his more than generous hands, buttoning my top together. I giggle out, “Stop! As soon as I button one you unbutton another, quit it!”  Half-heartedly, I shove his hands away, if it was any other time he could have his way with me, but I had to get back.

Finding enough strength I jump up and bolt through the trees. I turn to see how close he is and surprisingly I have a great head start on him.  Knowing Rayden and his stamina, my odds look slim to none in making it to my car. At this point, it doesn’t matter if I was to veer off the peculiar path or not, because I know at any moment he’ll catch me. I can see my car parked through the dense thicket, and I feel his unyielding grip swing me around, we both laugh with pounding hearts. Slowly he lowers me down. With me laughing and breathing heavily, I have a notion to pass out, but he leans in kissing me, as if his kiss, his lips, his very breath revitalizes me somehow—with a soul kiss. It’s deep and passionate and it tells me exactly how much he wants me. How much he truly loves me.

 “Did you get everything you came out here for?” he asks as I pull out a list from my car and hand it to Rayden. I rummage in a large hand woven basket I just placed in my front seat.

“Okay, go through the list for me.” I glance up to him admiring how he leans his self assured body against my car. Today he’s not in his usual work attire, jeans and a T-shirt which form perfectly to his building physique. This is clearly understandable since he owns the company as well as builds log homes throughout the area.

He clears his throat with a snicker in my direction. “Okay, willow bark...?”

I shuffle through the sealed bags and find the one I marked with willows bark and answer, “Check.”

“Burdock Root, do you have that one...?” Again, I flip through and locate the correct package, “Yes, I have it.” He continues on down my list.

“Mint leaves, Dandelions, and Passion flowers...?” He peers over my shoulder as I search for the items.

A satisfied smile blossoms across my face.

“Check, check, and check. I have them all, now tomorrow I’ll probably need to refill a few others, such as pine needles.” The last two words I stress because we were immersed in them and giving a subtle hint of an invitation for him to meet me again. His cool and charming demeanor tells me he accepts my invite, but with another proposal.

“How about I meet you back at your place later tonight and I’ll bring whatever you may need, including pine needles.”

I press my lips hard along his, nothing he wasn’t use to. It’s my way of sealing our deals. “I’ll follow you back into the city. I have a new client to meet across the street from your shop today.” I nod to him as I push my things back then slamming the door shut to the Prius, but it doesn’t close. A loud clank alerts me to look for the source of the problem. The seatbelt dangles in-between the ridge of the car. I yank the belt, and allow it to zip back into its rightful place and close the passenger door. I glance back at Rayden in his truck and of course, he is shaking his head grinning, it’s apparent I easily amuse him.

 I park in my normal designated spot in front of The Natural Path shop. It’s a completely organic food and natural remedy store. We have always done decent here on the west side of this hard to find on the map city. I have a more than fairly large sized studio apartment on the backside of the shop. Which is convenient, I suppose, but if I were to ever call in sick, I had better truly be. Knowing I’m running later than I had anticipated, I quickly collect my things.

I hear Rayden yelling from across the street to me, “I’ll see you later my tree hugger!” Juggling the basket in one hand, papers, forms to fill out, and my purse in the other, I manage to shut the door with the heel of my sandal.

“Yeah, I’ll see you soon tree slayer!”  I guffaw back making my way to the door.

Carol, one of the ladies that work for me, comes to assist me through the door. Instantly she does her thing, reaching, grabbing, and sorting everything in a blink of an eye. One of the reasons I hired her, plus she’s a long time family friend.  I rush back to my office and check the messages.

I dig out the bank bag and start to walk to the front when I notice everyone gawking out of the front display windows. “Oh, sweet child...Miss Selene you best come take a look.”

I move through everyone as they make a passage for me, a white BMW car parks next to Rayden’s truck. I watch while a very attractive woman steps out of the pristine car. Rayden strides over and greets her as they shake hands and he ushers her inside the restaurant. I note that she never attempts to pull her skintight skirt down, hoping at some point she would at least inch it closer to her knees.

Everything about her strictly states, a fashion show glamour girl, from the tip of her leopard-printed leather boots to her honeyed blonde hair. Before I allow my mind to run wild with invidious thoughts, I wheel around and say, “Okay, ladies let’s get back to work, shall we?”  Irritated, I find myself numbly twirling a strand of my own hair, a slight nervous tangent that I tend to do from time to time.

“Besides, Rayden has already told me he was planning to meet a new client today.” Holding my tone with assurance, I make my way back to the office, but the whispering voices still linger quietly behind me. I glare over my shoulder, flipping my hair back and point out, “I can still hear you, don’t you have the decency to wait until I’m out of the room?” My declining expression soon exposes a teasing grin as I turn back.

“Yes, Miss Selene certainly, but we were just so...” I wave a dismissing hand, to show it’s no longer a discussion.  Adjusting my seat up more, it’s an overly common occurrence with the girls using the computer back here in my office for orders. I adjust the height a tad bit more as I take a look at our inventory and check on a couple of shipments.

Mandy taps on the open door. “Hi, Selene... I was wondering if I can go for lunch now?”  I wrap my hair around a clip. Taking a few pins out of my mouth as I slide them in place on either side of the hair clip.

“By all means, sure go... where are you planning on having lunch?”

She drums her nails for a moment and comments, “McNellis’s across the street.” She throws me a jeering smile and walks away. A few seconds later she yells from the front counter, “And Shellie is coming along too!” I snicker shaking my head and begin organizing the ordering forms. I make a mental count. I usually have four, maybe five girls helping out here at the shop. But today we had one call in for a dental appointment and another extending her vacation in the Colorado Mountains. That leaves me with Carol, Shellie, and Mandy which seems to work really well.  

Once they come back, I’ll prepare the tea packets from the ingredients I gathered up earlier this morning. Filing the last of the forms, I glance over to my computer screen, the image flickers off and then spontaneously back on. That’s strange. I lean over my desk and check the power cords. Everything is plugged in correctly, I step back when I hear Carol calling out, “Miss Selene something is amiss with your register up here.” I press the power button one more time with no results.

I wind my way up to the front counter and suddenly everything on the walls tremble. Carol’s wide dark eyes lock onto mine and I can sense the same apprehension I have rising in her too. The walls shake harder, knocking some of the merchandise down to the floor. The lights waver on and off as if they have a mind of their own. “Selene? What’s happening?”

I race around the counter to Carol. “I’m not sure, but I’ve lost power in the office.” I scan the shop and I know we have no power throughout. I comfortingly pat Carol’s hand and ask her, “Carol, I need you to make a call on your cell, see what you can find out for me.” I nod my head waiting for her reply. It takes her a second, but she hesitantly reaches down, pulling out her cell phone.

I then move cautiously toward the front of the shop, stepping over vitamins, and supplement containers. “W-where are you going Miss. Selene?” Her voice crackles with fear. Twisting around, I point to the main front doors.

“I’m just going to take a quick look out the front here and see if anyone else is having problems,” And tremors I whisper under my breath. Living in this urban area, we have never experienced tremors, aftershocks, or earthquakes, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m not aware of them. Assuredly, I swing open the door and see everyone merging out of the buildings with the exact same bewildering expressions.

I hear someone yell a store down from me, “Do you have any power, Selene?”

I take another step out and reply, “No, I’m guessing this entire block is knocked out.”

Another store owner shouts from across the street, “We are out of power here too!”

Carol’s tone seems more disturbed as she conveys her concern, “Selene I can’t get a signal, I’m so sorry, my... my cell, it’s not working. Do you want me to go get yours?” People start filling the sidewalks and I glance out to see if I can find Rayden. But no luck, I direct my attention back to Carol.

“No, it’s fine Carol, I’ll go.” I shuffle back trying to miss a metal stand that has fallen over and then a violent quake rips its way through the city. Instead of objects descending to the floor entire walls collapse, burying Carol beneath the rubble and I scream out, “Carol!” Staggering back and dropping to my knees, I grip the floor in panic.

That’s when absolute chaos breaks free, ear-piercing screams cluster in the graying dust clouds, men and women alike bellow out in pain, horror, or sheer shock. But no sound comes from where the counter once stood, where Carol had just spoken to me.

I crawl dodging the shelves that tumble over, reaching my goal. “Carol...?!” The earth is still quivering and shifting and I’m beginning to feel like I’m inside a can while someone shakes the hell out of it.  

Silence is the only reply I receive as I keep calling out her name, “Carol...can you hear me? Can you move...?”  I instantly halt as I find Carol laying in the debris, just barely in view as the concrete blocks pile a tomb over her breathless body. Her smoky brown inert eyes reveal her life quickly ended. I hang my head in tears, and drag my nails against the non-shaking floor. Realizing just then someone is shouting my name....

“Selene!” Guarding myself I hold my hands up waiting for anything else to crash into me, a few things bang and topple over my head. Standing wearily I move toward the voice, my shop no longer holds the appearance of a building and neither does any business that once resided here. I come to a stop at an unreal ravine which was once our major street.

I peer over the chasm to find Rayden standing on the edge, shouting, “Selene, are you hurt?”  For the first time I have a chance to think about it, so I glance down. I’m coated in dust and unharmed. I turn to look in Carol’s direction, broken-hearted I focus back to Rayden.

“I’m fine, you?” I narrow my gaze to see the woman he met with today for lunch clinging to the back of his shirt. Even from where I stand I can see the terror riddling her, making her latch onto anyone.

“I’m okay. Shellie and Mandy are helping others right now.” I feel relief as I sigh knowing they survived. A numbing lump catches in my burning throat, but I try to force the words out regardless.

“Carol—” before I can finish my sentence, a man I don’t recognize at first charges deliriously toward me. Frantically, I saunter backward, but he still lunges, slamming us both into the sidewalk. With him up close and personal I now understand who he is. The holes tatter his dark dress coat, which may have been a lighter color many years ago, along with a grungy cotton undershirt, and worn stained pants is all he wears. And his vulgar scent that could have very well knocked me off my two feet without his assault. 

He’s the homeless man that stands down at the street corner from time to time. “Hurry, their coming!” He starts shaking me, as if I’m made of rags. I begin kicking and shoving, trying to get him off me, his milky desolate glare fixates a spine-twisting fear into my dark somber eyes.

I can hear Rayden yelling belligerently, “Get the fuck off her!”

Rayden’s threat never fazes the homeless man as we scuffle on the sidewalk and then as soon as the incident starts, it stops. The man freezes, digging his marred fingers into my arms. He unexpectedly cranes his head to the side and stutters, “Do you hear it... d— do you?”   

I shake my head because I can’t hear anything other than the waning cries and moans of despair. He jerks me up and points to the east side of the district, and still I have no clue what he’s talking about.

Rayden’s voice howls out, “Move away from her, or so help me, I’ll put a fucking bullet in your head!” Vengeance dripping from each breath Rayden takes, but I catch a silky flow of... a veil weaving down the sidewalk. It’s larger than life, as if the heavens above are enclosing a sheer curtain on this side of the city.

The mad homeless man drops me like a ton of bricks and runs, screaming at the top of his lungs, “It’s here! It’s here!” I slowly sit up, hypnotized by what is unfolding before me. An unfamiliar scent passes by as the translucent veil flutters between me and the gaping ravine.

I stand feeling drawn as I stare up to the sky and follow the majestic veil right in front of me. Without really any thought I reach out and touch it, expecting my hand to go through it, but discover it’s more like glass. Surrounding and closing off this section, my thoughts settle and I realize it’s some type of confinement.

The mad man wasn’t entirely insane after all. I hammer my hands desperately into the pellucid veil. “Rayden!”  As I beg for him, I notice he’s contemplating how to travel the trenches of the measureless ravine between us. He slides his gun in the back of his jeans and paces the edge dangerously.

I’m not sure why, but a hollow feeling of doom churns inside me and an inhuman screeching noise erupts through all the other chaotic sounds. Every living soul ceases doing whatever they were doing and aims their blood-running cold stares down to the end of our street. 

People begin running down the dismantled street, jumping over fallen barriers, stampeding anyone who gets in their way. Ghostly arrows plague the air. The deadly onslaught strikes at least a dozen directly in the head. Bodies plummet on top of each other, and that unfamiliar scent I couldn’t recall before is the downpour of blood.

I feel paralyzed as I turn to look at Rayden, unaware that I’m shaking til I see my hands shivering in pure panic. “Rayden! Rayden!” I scream out, unsure if he can even hear me over the slaughtering taking place just a block away from me.

“Run! Selene, Run!” Pulling some sense together I glance back at the ocean of red filling every crack and crevice, I start to run. I peer across to Rayden as he runs down the broken pavement.

“Don’t look back, keep running Selene!” He’s like a mirror image of me on the opposite side of the street, lunging, hurtling past the obstacles we encounter except he’s not the one being hunted.

Cars, trucks, and other vehicles overturned, out-of-control fires blaze off in the distance and the ground quivers beneath my scampering feet as an explosion ejects with such force, commanding my body to thrust face first into the concrete.

I must have veered off somehow because I have no view of the ravine any longer, and I can’t even hear Rayden anymore. I quickly push myself back up when my foot slips in the murky water, draining along the side streets, the pipes must have burst.

I see my reflection just briefly, my hair in disarray half fastened by a broken clip, my nose and cheeks skinned up and then a splatter of blood streams through the water. Whipping my head around, I see a man lying on his side, motionless, with an arrow embedded through his temple.
I amble upward and demand my legs to jolt forward, ahead of me I spot a tree-line. I dart a look over my shoulder to see if whatever took that man’s life is anywhere close to me. In the most desperate moment of my life I realize everything that I once knew before will be forever changed. I’m not running from a group of scared-senseless, crazed people, I’m running from a macabre pack of wraithlike warriors.

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