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The Hikers: Chapter 1

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I smiled awkwardly at Jessica as the wind blew through my hair, making me want to shiver. I kept it from showing by doing some exaggerated stretches. My grin wasn’t as confident as the one I’d given her when I’d first picked her up. She seemed about to break up with me, and I figured I should let her know I knew something was wrong, but also still show her some affection in case I was reading the situation incorrectly.

“How much further?” she asked, not returning the smile while avoiding eye contact by looking further up the trail.

“A couple miles, maybe more. We should start climbing soon.” The hike had been mostly flat, but I knew from online that the last several miles were steep. I had been looking forward to seeing the honeycomb caves and the view from the top, but if she really were going to end things with me, I’d prefer she did it now and got things over with. I could always come back some other time when the situation wasn’t so emotionally charged.

“Let’s get going.” Her voice was resigned, and I wondered what she was waiting for. Why didn’t she just go ahead and rip the band-aid off already? 

“As you wish.” Something caught my attention in the grass. I bent down and picked up a worn leather wallet. “Suppose I’ll have to find the owner when we get back,” I muttered, sliding it into my pocket without looking for who it might belong to, something I probably would have done if I hadn’t already been feeling uncomfortable.

Jessica nodded as she glanced at me. I smiled, this time forcing myself into a full grin, but she still didn’t return it, making my insides colder than ice.

I knew that look so well. I’d seen it a few times before and even remembered giving it to others.

And just when I was starting to think she and I really had a future. 

I reviewed the morning, trying to think of what I might have said or done to cause such a shift in her thinking, but I couldn’t come up with anything.

Things had started out well enough. When I’d picked her up, she had greeted me with a hug and kiss, as warm and affectionate as any she had given me during the two months we’d been together.

At least she hadn’t asked to go to a public place. It was unlikely anybody out here in the wilderness would be audience to what I was expecting. We hadn’t seen anyone on the trail all morning, and I would have assumed we were alone on the path had it not been for the other car parked at the trailhead.

“Are you ready?”

I could tell by the way she asked she was no longer enjoying the hike and she was just trying to get through it. Perhaps she’d been unsure before we’d started but as we’d gone on, she’d firmed up her decision.

I tried to think of something I might have said but couldn’t come up with anything. Our conversation had been pleasant and friendly.

“Yep,” I said, wiping away the smile and giving her a serious look, racking my brain for anything that would give me a clue about what she was thinking. “I really think we’re going to like the view.”

She muttered something I couldn’t make out as she pushed on ahead, hiking up the trail with a renewed sense of purpose.

We shortly came to a bend and began to climb the mountain. It was steeper than I planned on, I wasn’t as active as I had been two years ago. I needed to lose ten pounds before I would be comfortable again.

I followed after, giving her a safe distance so if she were to fall down the steep incline, I’d have a warning before she hit me.

The climb was strenuous. I soon found myself distracted by the strain. And if she was determined to finish this hike, I was glad to have something else to focus on instead of stewing about what was coming.

Ten minutes later she stopped and pulled a water bottle out from a pocket on the outside of her backpack. She unscrewed the lid and took a long pull.

I put the mouthpiece of my water reservoir to my lips and took a sip.

Even though we’d been hiking for more than an hour, you wouldn’t know it by looking at her. If I looked closely, I might have spotted a drop of sweat on her forehead or some moisture on her neck. I, on the other hand, had sweat forming around my armpits and on my chest. My back was slick, especially where my pack made contact with my shoulders and waist.

“This is pointless.” Jessica put her water bottle away and finally met my eyes. “I’m breaking up with you.”

Even though I’d been expecting it, her timing took me off guard. Perhaps she had meant to finish the hike but had become impatient. I studied her and then slowly nodded, giving it some thought before answering.

“Sure, no problem.”

“That’s it? That’s all you have to say?”

“I could tell you were going to do it. No biggie.”

My response surprised her, but I’d been down this road before and had learned it was best to let somebody go if that was what they wanted to do. I wouldn’t gain anything by trying to convince her to stay. I’d only look weak. While I preferred that we didn’t break up, nothing I could say would change her mind.

“I’m not playing around.” Jessica’s eyes narrowed. “I’m quite serious.”

“I understand.” When I saw her skeptical look, I went on. “I’m not saying I’m happy about it, but if you’ve made up your mind, I’m not going to change it. I know better.”

“Aren’t you curious why?”

I didn’t answer for several long moments. The question felt like a trap, and I wasn’t so sure I wanted to spring it.

“If you feel the need to tell me I’ll hear you out—”

“Hear you out?” She frowned. “You have got to be kidding me. Look you’re a nice enough guy—”

A gunshot cut through the late morning air. It came from just up ahead.

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New Short Story: The Hikers

I have a new short story out on Amazon today, The Hikers:

Tim gets dumped by his girlfriend Jessica in the middle of the wilderness and then hears a gunshot. Fearing the worst, they hide in the bushes. Moments later serious-looking men in business suits come traipsing down the trail. 

While Tim and Jessica try to decide what to do next, the men return, looking for a missing wallet. 

Just when Tim thinks they have figured out a safe path from the forest, they are caught at gunpoint. He must think fast and speak well; otherwise, there will soon be three bodies instead of just one.

If you enjoy thrillers with a witty hero that end with a twist, this short story is for you. Fans of Jeffery Deaver and Lee Child will enjoy this yarn. Buy your copy today!

Sneak Peek

Jessica shuddered. A cold feeling swept over me. Something was wrong. Men don’t hike in suits. Ever. I all the sudden wished we’d just turned and ran down the mountain when we’d heard the gunshot. My instincts had been to go for cover, but now those men were going to get down to the road and see that they hadn’t been alone out here.

A bead of sweat dripped into my eye, but I ignored it. I hadn’t given it a second thought when I had parked my Toyota Corolla right by their car. Would they care? Would they become suspicious when they saw my car but didn’t run into us on the trail? Or would they wait to see if we knew something?

As we waited for the men to pass, I noticed Jessica’s hand was touching lightly against my own. I wanted to yank it away but did not. It felt good, but at the same time, it filled me with bitterness.

“Wait here,” I said once they’d disappeared down the trail. “I’m going to see if I can figure out what they were up to.” It wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but I needed some distance between her and me, otherwise, cracks might start to form in my ambivalent exterior.

“Nope, we’re going down. We just need to give those men plenty of time—”

“Perfect, wait here. I won’t be long.” I walked in the opposite direction of the men, checking every step to make sure they weren’t coming back up the trail. 

Get it today!

Blood Games – Episode 21



This week’s episode features a chapter from Blood Games, Jake Ramsey Book #3, the first book Black Brick is available as a free ebook from most ebook vendors. Here is an excerpt from the show:  

MY HEART BEAT IN my ears and my head hurt as the final image of the man I’d shot hung in front of my eyes, threatening to distract me from the road. My hands would have been shaking if it hadn’t been for the way I clung to the steering wheel.

His hand had moved for his pistol while he begged. He’d been about to kill me, hadn’t he?

I replayed the event in my mind, wondering if there’d been another way out of the situation. His face had changed right before I’d fired, when he’d brought up his gun and thought that he’d had the upper hand. He’d thought he’d played on my emotions.

But I couldn’t get the image of what the bullet had done to him from my mind. It was a struggle to keep my focus on the road. Each breath was a battle.

He’d meant to kill me. I’d known it and had shot first. It had been my only option.

When I reached an intersection, I took the corner faster than I should have. The wheels on one side left the ground and I was afraid the vehicle was about to roll. In my hurry to leave I hadn’t put on my seatbelt, so I gripped the steering wheel even harder and jammed my feet up under the pedals, hoping I would survive.

When the tires slammed back onto the road, I exhaled. I pushed my foot onto the gas pedal, making the tires squeal. The potential accident had distracted me from my thoughts, but now that it was over, they came swirling back like a hurricane, threatening to uproot my sense of self and reality.

It had been him or me. I knew it. He had known it. If he’d put his hands in the air and surrendered he would still be alive. But knowing that didn’t make it any better.

Blood Games – Episode 20



This week’s episode features a chapter from Blood Games, Jake Ramsey Book #3, the first book Black Brick is available as a free ebook from most ebook vendors. Here is an excerpt from the show:  

I BIT MY LIP to keep from swearing aloud as I looked at my watch. It was time to cut my losses and get out of here.

How long before Reed’s men showed up? Five minutes, maybe ten?

This place would soon be crawling with them. It was frustrating to be so close but not have the time necessary to get to them.

The silence stretched on while I considered my options and adjusted to my disappointment.

I was so close.

The door would stop my bullets. The metal my knife had scraped along the inside wall reminded me of sheet metal, something I could shoot through. The kids were probably with him, so I couldn’t risk it.

Reed had taken a foolish risk by taunting me. If it hadn’t been for that, I would have checked this room, seen it was empty, assumed the doors were closets, and gone on my way. Maybe I would have stopped if I’d have noticed the deadbolt, but I wouldn’t have given it much time, assuming it was a locked utility closet.

I bit my lip, trying to figure out if this was something he’d done on a whim, thinking I wouldn’t find him so fast or if he had another angle. Probably the latter, considering how he’d been acting for the children.

I ground my teeth as I wished for the briefest opportunity to shoot him. One moment with him in my sights and this would all be over.

This terrible game of his—how else could he think of it? —had cost too much blood. I wasn’t so far from my roots to think so much death was a trivial thing.

Even I still had some limits. If not so much in what I did but in my ways of perceiving a situation.

Dead Man’s Fear: Chapter 4

 

To: Brigadier General Katrina Roth

From: Lieutenant General Regina Adams

Log date: 00429.209-05:22:37

Re: Officer Training Protocol Adjustment

General Roth,

You are poking your nose where it does not belong. I urge you not read anything into this message.

Your camp was selected because of your reputation for discretion.

Let the pieces fall as they may. Keep me up to speed as things progress.

Lieutenant General Regina Adams

Dead Man’s Fear: Chapter 6

It was strange to have the thought of death so near. I had a moment where it felt I would fall forever, in the next I had fallen for eternity. In the one after I could only think of how little time I had. My mind ran like a mouse on a wheel, frantically looking for any way to escape. The mental activity might have been useful if I could have focused it on my problems, but it was difficult to overcome the fear. The inner war on my terror was going about as well as the outer one on my fight to survive while I struggled to figure out how to engage the flying mechanism in my boots.

I once again knocked my feet together hoping that might do something. I pushed the buttons on my watch.

“Engage flying mechanism.” My words were ripped from my mouth.

Nothing happened.

Things were getting bad.

Vegetation passed on all sides and I was forced more frequently to bring down my hands to protect my face against the undergrowth as they flashed by.

I had assumed I would die when I made contact with the ground, but now I wondered if it wasn’t more likely I’d be skewered by a branch.

When I repeated my actions there was no difference in the rate I fell. I muttered a prayer to a God I had not thought of since I was a child, if my prayer could be heard in this far off world.

I tried every combination of words I could think of, but my boots did not respond.

The vegetation was bad enough I could hardly see a foot in front of my face, yet I continued to fall without major resistance. My boots took the worst of it as I used my hands to shield my eyes in between attempts to press my watch buttons.

I took in a deep breath, gasping as if it had been my first in minutes. The thought I was seconds from death felt like a monkey on my back that jumped up and down, threatening to topple me over and bring death that much faster. It did not recede without a battle, but I managed to poke a little hole into the thought. I focused on that pinprick and tried to widen it.

I brought my feet together.

Nothing.

I pushed the buttons on my watch and felt the jolt of something kicking in, a sudden force that would have tossed me forward if I hadn’t grabbed vines that dangled in front of my face. Neither the engagement of the flying system nor my hold of the vines broke my fall. I continued to slip through the ravine, my fingers tearing leaves from the vines as I descended.

I slowly came to a halt.

Everything was quiet, something I’d missed in my rapid descent down the ravine. I licked my lips, inhaled, and was glad to be still. The vegetation was so thick I could hardly move my shoulders. There weren’t any critters nearby, but I didn’t doubt they would show up before long.

The fact I was alive sunk into my frazzled brain. I’d tried everything I could to stop it from happening, but I’d known the most likely outcome.

A sigh escaped as I tried to come to terms with my renewed chance at life. My whole body was wracked with fatigue and stress, it felt like I had been seconds from succumbing to a heart attack. The silence washed over me as I caught my breath. I was not in a hurry to return, but I was anxious to get out of the green sea of poison.

The moment slipped away. It was difficult to say how long I waited, floating in the thick vegetation but my mind started to work again, the gears ground like they were breaking off rust.

The ability to fly came from my boots, I could feel the stabilizing force emanating from below my feet, but it wasn’t a propulsionary force like I’d first thought when it had finally kicked in.

It was something different.

For lack of a better term, I thought of them as anti-grav boots because I appeared to float.

I was surprised the boots had not stopped me dead in my tracks, but it was good they had not. They appeared to have a feature that recognized my descent and were smart enough to know nothing good would happen if they stopped me sharp in midfall.

As I shifted I became more certain the levitating force came from the boots alone, my jumpsuit did not seem connected to the experience.

Jeffords hadn’t mentioned the boots once when he had spoken about our jumpsuits prior to his jump.

Another deception. He hoped I’d die before I figured it out.

I was sure he hadn’t consciously touched his watch buttons when he’d approached the edge of the ravine, it had to be something he’d done without thinking.

His slip had saved my life.

I might have stumbled onto it if given enough time, but not before I had become well acquainted with the ground or embedded into a tree. I wanted to know how close I was to the bottom, but it was too dark and overgrown to tell. I could barely see six inches past my nose.

The dark seemed brighter at the top of the ravine, but it was far away and well enough hidden I wondered if it wasn’t just my imagination.

Sweat covered my body. At least I hoped it was just that, I was afraid I bled all over.

Hoping I had not touched anything poisonous I collected my wits and began to put my mind back together. The fear was gone but the aftereffects would be with me for some time. My hands shook, my legs seemed like they were about to fall out from underneath me. Luckily, it seemed my boots kept my feet together and me upright; otherwise, I would not have stood in the air so easily.

Was it my imagination or did the jumpsuit add support?

Jeffords wasn’t kidding when he said some of us would die today. If Logan is a teenager in a man’s body, does he have the presence of mind to hop off the ravine and survive a fall?

Maybe he could—I was surprised to be alive—but I doubted it would be the case.

Logan might hate me, but I did not want him to die.

Why didn’t the boots activate the first dozen times I pressed the buttons?

I had done nothing different the time it worked.

Could Jeffords turn off my anti-grav boots?

I growled.

It was one thing to make me run laps until I dropped. It was another to order me to jump into a ravine without teaching me how to fly while also disabling my anti-grav boots until the last minute.

What if I had not tried my watch again?

After waiting until I was less likely to throttle Jeffords upon arrival, I unclenched my hands and pointed my toes down just a little, remembering how the tiniest movement had pushed Jeffords back several feet.

My action propelled me up, limber branches and other vegetation scraping against me as I went. I winced with each new brush against the plants, afraid I had been exposed to enough poison to expect another visit to the infirmary. A smile crept across my lips when I thought of the look on Dolores’ face when I returned so soon.

It became easier to breathe as the vegetation thinned out the higher I traveled. I couldn’t see much because of the dark, but it was enough to know the way above me was clear. Once the path was not as cluttered, I pointed my toes down and shot up the ravine, feeling like a superhero.

The euphoria ended as soon as I thought of Sam and Jeffords.

Several minutes later I had enough light to get my first real look at the plant life. There were vines, lots of vines. And trees that seemed a cross between mushrooms and pines. They had branches, but instead of leaves there were bulbs that were covered with spiny needles. The thin barbs stuck out as much as a foot. Some of the bulbs were three or four inches around. In between the needles there was something else. I thought at first they were leaves, but when there was more light, I decided it was a different plant that grew on top of the weird-looking mushroom trees, a moss of some sort.

All this grew in two days?

Now that I was free I was careful to avoid touching anything. I didn’t know what poisons I had picked up by contact, but I was certain it was to my advantage to avoid further exposure. I felt a little lightheaded.

Was it the poison, the aftermath of the ordeal I’d been through, or the fact I was traveling in a way I never had before?

My anxiety was less now that I could see better so I slowed my rate of climb, not caring if Jeffords noticed because I wanted to think about how I was going to act at the top. It was a risk in more ways than one because of my exposure to poison, but if it felt like I was getting sick or if there were other obvious effects, I would increase my speed.

Jeffords is John Jeffs the convicted murderer, I thought while shaking my head. The same traits that had landed him on death row would betray him here. His time would come.

Patience was my friend. 

Dead Man’s Fear: Chapter 5

 

To: Lieutenant General Regina Adams

From: Brigadier General Katrina Roth

Log date: 00429.209-05:25:45

Re: Officer Training Protocol Adjustment

General Adams,

Message received. You will be kept up to speed.

Lieutenant General Katrina Roth

Dead Man’s Fear: Chapter 3

 

My heart raced as I fell, anxiety welling up inside my considerable chest because I expected to die within moments of my ill-thought decision. Walking off a cliff with no idea how I would survive was the most dangerous thing I’d ever done, in this life or the previous.

Not to mention the most idiotic.

An unreal feeling filled my mind, but it was driven out by the rushing wind. If I survived I wouldn’t make this mistake again. I didn’t consider myself reckless, but something about this planet and my situation brought it out. Perhaps I had more testosterone running through the veins of this mammoth-sized body, causing me to take more risks.

One moment I had been on solid ground; the next, falling.

One moment I was calm, certain of my decision; the next, I knew I’d been rash.

My anger at Sam and John Jeffs fell with me.

They taunted me while fear and frustration threatened to override my brain. It was only with great effort that I turned my thoughts to my predicament. Sam had killed me once already; it would be my own fault if he caused my death again. If the time ever came I could repay him for what he had done, I certainly would but I had to live today to see that tomorrow.

The walls of the ravine sped past as the scant predawn light diminished, making me feel like I had fallen into a tunnel. The walls moved in, closing an inch or so at a time but at a sickening rate when compared to my speed of descent. Claustrophobia crept up the back of my mind and interacted in sickening harmony with the terror that wracked my soul.

I didn’t have long to figure out how to fly. Somehow, I refrained from looking down, knowing it would only make matters worse.

My hop off the edge had been instinct more than anything else. Anger had been part of it as well, but I’d known from the look on Jeffords’ face he wasn’t going to give me the information I needed. It had been an act of defiance more than obedience to his order.

If a fool like Jeffords could fly so could I. If I came back alive it would be like spitting in his face.

Quite the gamble just to stick it to somebody.

Perhaps the ability to fly had something to do with the jumpsuit but more likely it was the boots. I’d paid careful attention to Jeffords while he was suspended above the opening of the ravine, looking at his feet to puzzle out how he was doing what he did. He’d kept his feet still for the most part but at one point he’d moved backward when the toes of his boots spread out. The movement had been small, but the force had sent him backward until he’d corrected by doing the reverse, closing his toes and spreading his heels.

It was the boots. I just had to activate them. 

Within the first ten seconds of my jump I pushed the same buttons Jeffords had fiddled with minutes before he’d walked off the edge, both the block timer button and the middle one on the other side.

Nothing happened.

Panic flared but I pushed it away.

If I dwelled on Sam or John Jeffs or John Jeffords, I would fall to my death.

There was much to live for and too much to do, especially with these new revelations.

My mind felt like it moved through mud. Adrenaline might have coursed through my veins, but fear had the run of me, making it more difficult to process my thoughts than I had ever before experienced. I had trained as an attorney to think under difficult and stressful circumstances, but nothing had prepared me for this.

First chairing a murder trial as a young attorney had been nerve-wracking and stressed my upper limits but I wouldn’t be the same if I survived today.

Jeffords’ smile had grown when I jumped. I imagined him laughing as he watched me touch my watch buttons without anything happening. I curled my hands into fists but did my best to grind my mental gears as the air sped by on all sides of me. I closed my eyes, hoping it would help me focus.

Jeffords had been right about one thing. If I overcame the pressure of thinking while falling there was little I couldn’t do.

I held in my mind a memory of him pushing the buttons on his watch right as he’d been about to hop off the edge of the ravine.

Only he hadn’t.

Had he planned to teach us to fly but thought better of it? Had he decided instead to give us a demonstration that hid how it worked before pushing us from the nest? If asked he could technically say he’d taught us what to do. John Jeffs had lied with ease, I doubted John Jeffords had developed a conscience on this side.

I pressed the buttons again but didn’t stop falling.

Without realizing what I was doing I spread my hands to the side, when I noticed what I’d done it reminded me of how I must have looked when I’d jumped off the high dive as a kid.

That first landing in the pool had not been a comfortable experience.

I saw a flash of greenish-brown from the corner of my eye. At first, I thought to put my hands in my pockets to protect them from the vegetation but realized there was no way I could. Their present position helped stabilize my descent and kept me upright.

A plant went right by my face, inches from my nose.

At least I didn’t learn the hard way if it was poisonous. I swallowed. Yet.

More plants passed. The further down I went the larger they became, as if they grew better in the dark. They soon pressed in upon me.

At least I know now why it’s called a jumpsuit, I thought, looking at the protective covering on my arms and wishing it was on my hands as well.

I almost lost my balance when a plant brushed my fingers. I pressed the buttons again, but nothing happened.

It must be the boots, I thought, remembering how Jeffords had told us to take care of them, that there was more he would explain later. It had not been my imagination when he’d moved his toes and been propelled backward. 

How do I engage them?

I knocked my boots together, wondering if that might flip on the flying mechanism, but nothing happened. A bush scratched my arm, leaving marks on the suit and tearing at the fabric. Maybe I could engage the boots before hitting vegetation on my next jump.

I brought my heels together again to make sure but had the same result. My hands shook, from air or adrenaline, I could not tell. I brought them over my head and pressed the buttons on my watch, but nothing happened. I tried pressing the other buttons in a variety of combinations but remained in freefall.

Everything was dark now.

Plants whipped by on all sides, screaming when they touched my jumpsuit, tearing the fabric in some places and merely brushing against it in others. 

My whole body vibrated.

It was not just the wind rushing past that caused me to shake. It became impossible to think as I clicked my heels together and pressed my watch buttons. Fear crawled up my spine like a spider and made a home in the middle of my brain.

Then it began to lay eggs.

I could think of nothing else.

I could feel nothing more.

When something brushed my hand, I brought them close above my head, almost sending me head over heels. Luckily, I stabilized once again as I continued to plummet.

Dead Man’s Fear: Chapter 2

 

To: Brigadier General Forrest Brown

From: General Gregory Seed

Log date: 00429.209-03:18:55

Re: Planet A474-Z5673

General Brown,

Please wait while until more lurkers have landed on the planet. We will detonate once we can achieve maximum damage.

I want this one to hurt.

Please send updates.

Respectfully,

General Gregory Seed

Dead Man’s Fear: Chapter 1

Buy it here!

To: General Gregory Seed

From: Brigadier General Forrest Brown

Log date: 00429.209-03:16:17

Re: Planet A474-Z5673

General Seed,

Planet A474-Z5673 has been overrun by lurkers. My team finished its mission only an hour before the lurkers arrived and had already scuttled base and gone. My team is still in system, using inactive scanning only.

The lurkers landed two weeks ahead of their expected arrival. The plateweb is in place. With few exceptions, it appears to be holding. 

Shall we detonate?

Please advise.

Respectfully,

Brigadier General Forrest Brown

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