When the stars align perfectly

I might have said this before, but it was a monumental struggle to finally reach THE END of The Dark Menace, a supernatural thriller I’ve been working on since some time last winter. In fact, it’s been so long, I’ve forgotten exactly what date I started it.

But, sometimes, the stars align perfectly. At long last, today I finished my final edits on the book. And oh, what a relief it is. So many months of research, so many months of writing, and so many months of painstaking polishing—finally culminating in what I truly believe is a sensational story about a nightmare-plagued man who suspects an enigmatic doctor may have unleashed a torrent of horrifying attacks by the Shadow People and the Hat Man.

As a wordsmith, it should be easy for me. But, it’s not. It’s hard to put into words the feeling of satisfaction I get when I reach THE END of a novel. It’s always a bittersweet moment when I unleash my creations onto the world. You see, I’ve gotten to know them intimately, grown to love many of them, and now it’s time to let them go. I liken it to the feeling a mother or father must experience when their children grow into adults and they must open the protective cocoon, let them loose into the world in search of love, job security, indeed even a sense of identity and independence.

As a mother would with her child, I hope my characters also find love, fame and fortune, and are able to touch and influence people in ways I never thought possible.

But it wasn’t only the edits that came together today. I’ve been working with talented cover artist Johnny Breeze for, well, let’s just say I forget how long. And, seven versions later, we’ve finally arrived at what I believe is a truly sensational cover for The Dark Menace.

As is usually the case, when one thing goes well in your life, a snowball effect often occurs. It’s not like I’ve been strictly concentrating on The Dark Menace. I’m also researching and writing The Witch’s Tombstone. I still have to keep up with my blog posts and promote my novels. I have a life to live after all, full of domestic chores, nagging house repairs, and planned improvements to my large beachfront acreage.

Oh, wait a minute. Speaking of the beachfront acreage, that’s another project that has gone remarkably well and reached a successful conclusion. Many years in the making, I’ve groomed and developed numerous sites on the property for recreation and leisure purposes. Some are within a hundred feet from the beach, others are in the thick of the forest. But all of them offer a special kind of magic and beauty. As a nature lover, I’ve taken great pains to minimize my environmental footprint on the forest and natural surroundings. Fortunately, I hired a mini excavator operator/logger, who shares my love of Mother Nature and also took great pains to minimize the environmental footprint. The results, on time, under budget, and minimally invasive, are nothing short of spectacular.

Since I draw so much inspiration from my breathtaking surroundings, it seemed only fitting for me to give back to Mother Nature as much as I could, or at least preserve as much of her natural beauty as I could.

It’s normal and natural for humankind to tamper with Mother Nature.

The trick is to do it in harmony with her.

But, alas, I digress. Where was I? Right. My writing projects. Since I just completed final edits of The Dark Menace, I guess it’s time to kick it into high gear on The Witch’s Tombstone, my latest work in progress. But first maybe I’ll kick up my heals at Mother Nature’s beach, savor this moment of multi-accomplishment, and enjoy some of the simple things in life—like a glass of Scotch on the rocks and amazing scenery.

Enough about me. For your reading pleasure, here’s Chapter One of The Dark Menace. Painstakingly proofread. Lovingly polished. Thanks for stopping by and enjoy.

 

 

                                                 CHAPTER ONE

A kaleidoscope of brilliant colors flashed before his eyes. Deep greens, dark purples, vibrant pinks, reds and blues. Inside the colors, images appeared—faceless apparitions with indistinct and undulating shapes. Some of the ghost-like images were black, some white. They twirled in the rainbow of colors, shrinking and growing, shrinking and growing. Then the black images began attacking the white images, slicing them with machetes, stabbing them with knives, biting into their heads and bodies with menacing fangs. Horrifying screams punctuated the eerie silence and Noah, his eyes opening in shock and terror, bolted upright.

Where am I? He looked around at the darkness and saw large trees looming in the distance, illuminated faintly by the white glow of a full moon. The ghostly combatants had disappeared. A forest. But where? Brushing off dirt and leaves from his clothes, he stood up, trying to make sense of his surroundings. But try as he might, he couldn’t figure out how he’d gotten here. Worse, he couldn’t remember events of the last week. He tried to take a step, but felt a numbness and an electric tingling sensation in his body that strained his efforts. He managed one step and stopped, frozen to the spot. A terrible feeling of cold dread surged through his veins. He felt his heart begin to pound in his chest furiously; struggling to escape its rib cage prison cell and leave him to fend for himself. After three or four panicked gasps, he managed to restrain his cardiovascular prisoner.

“What’s going on?” Noah asked. “Where am I?”

In Noah’s panic-tinged tone, the forest echoed back a response: “What’s going on? Where am I?”

Fighting paralyzing protestations, he took a step, crunching into the forest carpet. It brought him renewed confidence, helping to diminish the fear demons. That’s it. You can do it. Noah needed to leave the forest and search out some city lights. That way, he could find his apartment in downtown Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, get to his bedroom, resume his sleep and wipe this nightmare off the map; if indeed that’s what it was.

Locating a path in the forest, he crunched his way along, rubbing his shoulders and arms in an effort to eliminate the tingling numbness and the bone-chilling cold that was slowly enveloping him. He was still looking down at the path when he felt its evil presence. He looked up instantly, knowing, but not wanting to know what he was about to see.

But it was different this time. He was different. Noah stopped dead in his tracks.

Illuminated by the ominously glowing moon and the black looming trees, the old man grinned. He produced a machete and held it high in the air, adjusting his tattered straw hat and scratching his stubble with his free hand.

“You’ve finally come to meet your maker,” he said. Then he cackled in an incongruously high-pitched voice.

The cold chill coursing through Noah’s veins turned to ice. Oh my God, no. He had seen the man in many forms in his childhood years, and wasn’t wasting any time on small talk now. He turned around and ran, taking some measure of satisfaction in the realization that the ice in his body had miraculously thawed and his legs willingly complied.

Noah turned a corner on the path and glanced back. The man was coming for him. He knew that if he caught him, there would be no mercy. As in his childhood nightmares, he would be sliced and diced to smithereens.

You’re dreaming, you’re dreaming, you’re dreaming, Noah thought as he ran. Hide.

As if he’d been reading Noah’s thoughts, the man replied, “You can run, but you can’t hide.”

Panting and puffing, Noah rounded another bend and came into a clearing in the forest. In a corner, just inside the tree-line, was a large hollowed-out log. Quickly he bent down and crawled inside, curling up in a fetal position as soon as he was out of sight, hoping against all hope that the menacing man was wrong. He could hide. He would hide. He would wake up and return to the comfort of his bed.

He struggled to control his breathing as the twig-snapping footfalls grew nearer. Then it became quiet. Eerily quiet. But in the silence, Noah heard the sound of breathing, not his own—a raspy, nasally inhaling and exhaling that grew louder. In a terrified instant, he knew it was too late. He was caught. Time to die.

“I got you now,” the man said, the sound of his approaching footfalls nearing. “You can run but you can’t hide.”

Before he could move, Noah heard a splitting sound and he knew right away what it was. Metal on wood. The man was chopping at the rotten tree trunk with his machete. Chopping through to him. But a split-second later, instead of the sharp metal of the blade, Noah felt the stomping of a boot heel on the small of his back and a bolt of red hot pain shot up his spine.

He tried to scream. Nothing. He tried to move. Nothing. He was frozen, once again.

The man cackled. “I bet that hurts. What I’m gonna do next will really mess you up.”

Noah tried to crawl out of the log but he was paralyzed. He pressed his eyes shut tightly, gritted his teeth and tried with all his strength to break free.

The sound of a distant wailing siren suddenly snapped him back into reality.

When he opened his eyes, he was sitting bolt upright, staring at the small green nightlight that instantly told him he was back in his house, back in his bedroom. With a loud sigh, he curled up in bed. His heart stilled, and the fear slowly melted away. A terrible nightmare. Nothing more.

But it wasn’t long before a dark presence invaded the room—thick and palpable. His heartbeat once again thumped louder, faster. Beads of perspiration sprouted on his forehead. His throat became dry and the numbing, tingling sensation returned. Green dots danced in front of him and he tried to reassure himself. It’s from the nightlight. Don’t worry.

But he was too afraid to open his eyes, in case the inbred-looking hillbilly had returned. Finally, it became too much. He felt like he was being completely engulfed by this dark and evil presence, as if it was swallowing him whole and turning him into some kind of a monster. Emotions swept through him—anger, rage, anxiety and finally a powerful sadness that slowly gave rise to fear.

He opened his eyes. Oh God, please. All this time. Why now?

The darkly cloaked man stood at the foot of his bed, staring at him. Looking at him as if he was trying to reach into Noah’s soul and snatch it away. The man raised a hand and touched his wide-brimmed black hat. Noah tried to shout, scream, move but it was no use at all. He was paralyzed, frozen like a chunk of ice. The Hat Man walked around to the side of the bed and leaned down, his black face, a dark mask with no discernible features whatsoever, moved in closer.

Like an incubated alien fetus, Noah was sure his pounding heart would snap his ribcage, tear his muscles and flesh, leap right out of his chest, and escape its humanoid incarceration once and for all. His mind filled with the sudden image of a slimy extraterrestrial creature exploding onto the Hat Man and wrapping its deadly tentacles around his throat and face, constricting and suffocating the life out of the monster. If he wasn’t paralyzed with fear, he might have grinned.

The black face moved closer and stopped six inches or so from Noah’s face. Noah’s breathing became labored and he felt a painful tightening in his chest. The small of his back still stung from the hillbilly’s heel. Time to die. This is what it feels like to die. Not now, oh please God, not now. With raw panic rising up his throat like a sick green bile, he mustered all his strength and jerked. His body twitched and convulsed and he instantly sat upright, gasping for breath as sweat streamed down his face. Eyes wide with terror, he watched the Hat Man shrink, retreat and disappear out of sight, trailed by a green dragon tail emanating from the glowing green nightlight.

It took a few minutes for Noah to calm himself down. When his breathing finally returned to something approximating normal, he glanced at his digital alarm clock: 3:33 am. He climbed out of bed, wincing as the small of his back ignited with fiery pain. He was still trembling by the time he reached the bathroom. Still too terrified to look in the mirror, he wiped his face with a towel, relieved himself, sat down gingerly on his living room couch and flicked on a table lamp. He needed some incandescent comfort right now to try and make sense of the nightmare that had seemed so much more than a nightmare.

The Hat Man had returned. With a vengeance. He had been only six the last time he’d seen the Hat Man, thirty-four years ago. But he remembered the haunting experience as if it had happened yesterday. As a child, he’d suffered from frequent nightmares, many of them paralyzing. There were variations of many themes, but most involved some kind of a monster chasing him with the intent to kill. And while they’d terrified him, none of them had resulted in physical injury. Except for the Hat Man. As a child, the darkly cloaked intruder had bent down to his bed, wrapped cold fingers around his throat and began choking the life out of him. He remembered gasping for breath. He remembered the constricting pain he’d felt as he leaped out of bed, rushed from his bedroom in terror and face-planted into the hallway wall. He’d suffered a concussion that dislodged much of his cognitive functions for two weeks and kept him out of school for three weeks. He absently rubbed the scar above his left eye, the result of the concussive cut that had required six stitches to repair.

But, after that ill-fated evening, the nightmares had stopped. All the monsters and the Hat Man had vanished. Maybe the concussion—which doctors had described as moderate to severe—had helped. Whatever the reason, Noah had managed to banish the Hat Man, along with all the other shadowy creatures, from his waking and sleeping world. Blocked them out and successfully expelled them from his existence.

Growing up in Calgary, Alberta, had been tough too, but he’d also managed to block that out. He’d been eighteen when his stepfather, Garrett, and his mother Barbara combined lethal doses of opioids and alcohol one night during a horror-movie binge-watching session. The irony at the time hadn’t been missed by Noah. They’d been watching a remake of a Jack the Ripper slasher movie when the grim reaper, with his death-dealing scythe, had decided to pay them a life-ending visit.

But, like the Hat Man, Noah had put it behind him like a fading shadow, and had focused full-tilt on work, not willing to admit to himself, on any level, that at best the workaholic cure would only serve as a Band-Aid solution to a gaping traumatic wound. In spite of himself, images began to float into his head, images of Barbara slumped over on the couch, her glass of vodka and orange juice, her signature poison still held tightly in her hand. Garrett, the loser that he was, nestled in beside her, his head slumped on her shoulder, his mouth open wide, his venom of choice, a Molson Canadian beer, spilled onto his lap.

But, as he’d done successfully throughout his life, Noah, in spite of a knot of sadness and grief tightening in his stomach, pushed the dark shadows into the dark recesses of his mind. In his mind’s eye, he grabbed the Hat Man forcefully and tossed him into the cavernous hole along with the others, locked the closet door and threw away the key.

He smiled. He was starting to feel better already. “Mind over matter,” he said, trying to boost his confidence. “That’s all it is. Mind over matter.”

A few minutes later, as he drifted off into what would be a dreamless and peaceful sleep, the only thought that crossed his mind was one that brought anticipatory chills of excitement. Last week, he’d asked Angela Rosewood, a cashier at a nearby Wendy’s fast-food restaurant, out on a date. And, finally, after the fourth entreaty, she’d accepted. Tomorrow was the big day.

As he drifted off, her acceptance speech echoed in his head: “I used to think you were weird. And I probably still do. But you’re weird in a positive sort of way. You’re five times lucky. I guess I’ll go.”

 

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