As promised, here's an excerpt from my NaNo 2009. This is most of chapter three. Chapter 1 features a house fire and chapter 2, a visit to a strange lawyer's office. Now, in chapter 3, Ainsley, the protagonist, is trying to shake off the experience in chapter 2 with a night on the town.
It's gone through, at least, a cursory polish, but any mistakes (spelling, grammar, punctuation, or just lousy word choice) are entirely my fault.
There was, I decided after a glorious steak dinner alone and now two yummy martinis my new friend Geoff – Geoff with a G, he’d told me – a serious flaw with Kate’s plan. I was feeling good, but beyond the vodka haze, I knew it was just the booze and not an upturn on life. Geoff had his own plan, that I’d go somewhere with him, but there was a serious flaw with his plan too.
“Look,” he said leaning over on the high-backed couch-booth-thing where we sat at the martini bar. He twisted his watch toward me. “11:11 p.m. Isn’t that great?”
For every martini I’d had, he’d outpaced me with at least one whiskey chaser.
“Swell,” I replied. Ainsley, I told myself, who says “swell” anymore?
I leaned back in my chair, trying to keep my head attached to my shoulders and not let it get away with that floaty feeling I got after two martinis.
Turning to my right, I saw a clock rimmed in a blue neon light hanging over the bar. The minute hand slid from 11:10 to 11:11 with a tick that sounded to me like thunder.
The blue neon edge of the clock pulsed once, like a languorous heartbeat. I could hear the sweep of the second hand, brushing though each second effortlessly. Life was present in the space between the seconds, a primal feeling of possibility and things being called forth from nothing, from imagination. This life-giving force resonated in my being, to the deepest matter of my cells. To me, it felt like an eon.
The second hand finished its upward sweep and the clock moved to 11:12.
“—the whole point of it, right?” Geoff asked. He looked at me for whatever kind of pithy response I was sure to have.
I mumbled some kind of response, half-hearted and stupid. I was still vitally aware of the past moment.
I’d never felt anything like that before in my life. I’d read plenty of accounts of strange happenings – my roommate in college was obsessed with things like alien abductions and the 11:11 phenomenon. I’d read them all with the same disinterest I’d read my economics textbook, that they were things that occurred, but that had no bearing on my life. The odd parts of our world, the unexplainable happened to other people.
I wasn’t surprised I encountered it today. Today was just too weird all the way around. I double-checked my watch just to ensure I hadn’t lost any time, like some sort of X-Files symptom. It said 11:13 now, just like it should.
“Are you alright?” Geoff asked. He put a concerned hand on my arm. Smooth, I thought.
When he asked, though, I realized I wasn’t all right. Not entirely, at least. My senses felt hyper-aware, the way they did when I had to cover an emergency, sucking in every detail. I could smell the regular bar smell, the yeast and hops and the more subtle liquors, but also the wood polish for the bar, and the cleaner rubbed over the tables. I could hear the hum of the underbar refrigerators. Taste the cigarette smoke still in the air, even though it had been a nonsmoking establishment for a number of years now. Beneath my fingers, the wood of the old table still shimmered with a life, though the tree itself was long dead.
I was, I determined, more than all right. I was aware. Of everything.
Geoff’s hand, my jeans, how the alcohol in my system was changing my responses. The flicker of the lights. The conversation three tables over. All of it was vivid and accessible to me.
This was true information overload. My brain couldn’t work fast enough to process everything it was taking in.
I shut my eyes. The darkness helped some, but not enough. While it blocked out the visual assault from the room, I could still sense all the rest. The awareness felt like it was deeper than just my senses, like it was in my blood. Even my watch, ticking against the vein in my wrist, echoed through my whole body.
If I wasn’t so aware, I would have thought Geoff roofied me. I knew from reporting about a spate of the drug that these were not the symptoms.
“Ainsley?” Geoff asked again, sounding less drunk than he had a few minutes ago.
My eyes fluttered open. “I need to go,” I said. I could only hope that the dark and quiet of my hotel room would help bring this feeling under control. And if I could sleep off what I’d drunk.
I gathered up my bag and my jacket and got to my feet. As soon as I stood, the room gave one lazy spin and I tottered.
“Let me walk you to your car,” Geoff offered, putting a hand under my elbow. “Or call you a cab.”
I waved off his help, the room righting itself. “The walk would be good. Some air.”
Geoff followed me out of the bar. As soon as I was outside, I breathed in deep lungful of the cold, winter night air. It seared going down, feeling like I was coating my insides with frost.
The air tasted like snow and freezing and truck exhaust and the hotdog stand set up down the block. Around me, I saw the blinking of traffic signals and the sheen of car-lights. The hyper-awareness was not any better outside.
Like in any big city, I had to park at least five blocks from my destination. I set off at a good clip down the sidewalk. I heard each of my own footsteps. And Geoff’s. I looked behind me to see that he was wearing some kind of soft-soled shoe that shouldn’t make noise. Nevertheless, I could hear each of his steps as he tried to keep up with my fast-paced stride.
“Where’s your car?” he asked.
I told him the intersection near the empty street space where I’d wiggled my rental Toyota.
“Wait,” he called. “It’s faster if we cut through here.” Geoff pointed at an alley running between two of the city’s tallest office buildings.
Tromping through an alley in any city was not highly rated in Ainsley’s best ideas ever, but I wanted to be home. The hotel room would have to do. Burrowed under the covers, where I couldn’t feel like this.
The alley wasn’t all that bad, I thought, looking again. Security lights brightened most of it and I didn’t hear anything scuttling around. I could see straight through to the next main street over. Geoff trotted a few steps in, stamping his feet against the cold and beckoned for me.
I supposed he could try to get friendly in there, but it took two to tango and right now, it was way too cold. I gave a wistful glance at the main street with its glowing street lights – its buzzing, glowing storefronts and traffic lights – and followed Geoff down the alley.
When we were about one-quarter of the way in, I heard another set of footsteps. Inside my coat pocket, I crossed my fingers and hoped that it was just a homeless guy hoping for a handout. But then there was another set, and another.
My stomach dropped toward my shoes. I took ahold of Geoff’s arm and whispered toward his ear. “I think we’re being followed.”
He gave a quick glance over his shoulder. “I thought that weirdo convention was next weekend,” he said.
Unable to help myself, I looked back as well.
The end of the alley we’d come from was blocked by three figures, make that four. They were dressed in some kind of robe, with cowls or hoods pulled up around their faces. Poking out from the bottoms of their pants were metallic colored pants and black booted feet.
“Who are you guys? Devo dressed up as Dementors?” Geoff taunted.
“Not helping,” I hissed at him.
The four figures advanced. Other than their footsteps I couldn’t sense anything else about them. Next to me, I could hear Geoff’s heart-rate increase, smell his beer-laced sweat and the tinge of adrenaline beginning to pump through his system. I could feel my own pulse, matching the ticking of the watch at my wrist.
This was bad, I knew, that these four were blank in my otherwise highly-tuned Spidey senses. Their chests didn’t rise and fall with breath. I caught no trace of a pulse.
I tugged on Geoff’s arm, pulling him backward deeper into the alley.
The four figures advanced as well, faster than we were retreating.
“What do you want?” Geoff shouted. “I’m calling the police.” He brandished his cell phone at them. It was off, I noticed.
They took another few steps forward. Even though Geoff’s phone was off, it gave a sick whirring noise, then sparks jumped from around the edges. Geoff yelped and dropped it in a puddle. One of the four robed guys raised what should have been an arm, but looked more like a tentacle, toward it and the phone was enveloped in a bright flash like a magnesium fire.
Geoff shoved me behind him, a gesture of chivalry that seemed completely irrelevant to me. “I don’t have much money,” he held up his hands, palms out. “What I’ve got is yours. Let me get my wallet.”
They came a few more steps closer. Geoff smelled more now of panic and fear. They smelled of nothing.
“C’mon guys,” Geoff tried again. “No police. Let’s just all be civil here.”
One of the four raised its head. From underneath the cowl, I heard something that seemed like language, but nothing I could understand. It looked at me, ignoring Geoff. It had no true eyes, just two even darker pits in the shadows of its hood.
“Ainsley Doran,” it said.
“Oh shit,” I breathed.
They took another step closer and we ran. They came after us, faster than seemed possible. One reached out a tentacle-arm and Geoff yelled. I saw red dripping from his shoulder, but he continued to run.
I was a few steps ahead of Geoff, since he’d tried to be gallant and move me out of danger. I wasn’t much of a runner, but fear does amazing things for a person.
I pushed whatever energy I had into my legs, ignoring the painful rubbing of my feet in my boots. My life right now, blisters tomorrow.
Behind me, I heard another shout of pain from Geoff, then a full out scream. I risked a quick look. One of the robed guys was on Geoff’s back, pulling him down. I stopped running.
It was like a Nature special, the pack of lions bringing down a giraffe. The robed guys lifted Geoff off his feet and then all I could see was robes swirling. Geoff screamed, the sound echoing in my ears, pain and terror. And then silence, as rivulets of blood streamed past their feet.
I let out a small whimper and one of the figures turned in my direction.
It raised a tentacle in my direction and I felt a sting across my cheek. I touched the spot with my fingers and found a bleeding cut, like a deep lash mark.
Without thinking or waiting any longer, I ran full out to my car. I didn’t hear any signs of pursuit, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of nothingness that surrounded the robed guys.
I burst from the end of the alley and slammed into a wall of sensations from the city street. It made me disoriented and I lost precious seconds trying to get my bearings. From the alley, I heard the sound of footfalls again. I whirled in a circle, attempting to locate my car.
“Give me your keys!” shouted a familiar voice off to my left.
Standing next to my Toyota was Rémi, the butler fromTulio di Lorenzo’s house.
“What the hell are you doing here?” I demanded.
“Answers later, Ainsley,” Ibsen VanderVeld (or VanderVelde) said, emerging from a recessed doorway to my left. “Ordinary blood will not sate them for long.”
“Who are you people?” I demanded again. I clutched my keys in my hand, the way we were shown in a personal safety class I took in college. I wasn’t going to be carted off by this group of wackos after escaping from those robed guys.
“C’mon!” Rémi shouted. “Your keys.”
“Hey!” I shouted to the street at large. “Some help here!”
From across the street, two other men approached. One wore a trenchcoat and looked vaguely like Columbo. The other was bald, his eyes lost behind the reflection of sodium lights on his glasses. None of the city’s other denizens stopped or even looked at me.
“Hey!” I shouted at the two men.
The guy in the trenchcoat ran over toward Ibsen, both taking up defensive postures at the end of the alley. Postures like they were ready for a fight.
The other man came up to me. “This is the best help I can offer,” he said to me.
I jerked back, but he was quicker. He grabbed me around the waist and with his other hand, put his thumb and first two fingers on my face like a Vulcan mind meld. I smelled salty ocean air, then the overwhelming sensations left me and in their place, blackness rushed in.