The sequel to A LITTLE BIT LANGSTON, ALPHA WAVE, will be arriving from Harmony Ink Press in Summer 2018. Here is a sample of the first chapter:
“Stop!” Kiera tried to scream through the rubber gag, but no sound came out.
The three doctors surrounded her, each wearing a plastic facemask and a contamination suit. They reminded her of industrial robots. She was strapped to a cold examination table, her wrists and ankles in some kind of metal restraint. Keira turned her head from side to side, trying to get a glimpse of the operating room, but the blinding pool of surgical light cast such a small circumference. The rest of the room receded into total darkness. The first doctor stepped toward the table, a silver scalpel steadied in his right hand. She could see the other doctors watching, unmoving, at the edge of the swallowing blackness. Another person stepped forward from behind them.
Someone is filming me. Now he’s coming closer. I see my reflection in his shiny lens – but something’s wrong. It’s not my face; it’s an alien’s oval face – those huge dark eyes - that looks back at me. Who am I? Where am I?
Then the sharp blade entered Keira’s arm above the elbow joint. A searing pain shot up her exposed bicep… Sleeper, awake!
Keira Fairchild woke up in a blistering sweat, bewildered, her breathing labored, almost gasping. She turned, wiping her damp forehead, and looked out the dirt-streaked window at the green and red lights of the oil barges drifting slowly into San Pedro Harbor, on the outskirts of Los Angeles. She looked at the clock, 3:15 a.m. Keira opened the bedroom window a crack to let in the early morning air. It was cool and calming. The metallic sounds of the distant buoy bells rang out from across the troubled waters. She wiped off her upper lip with the back of her hand and tried to forget the nightmare.
That’s the third time this week. The same dream: I’m on the table and they’re cutting me open with that knife. It’s like I’m really there, like it’s really happening to me! But it’s not me; I’m an alien in the dream. What does it mean? Totally Weird!!
Keira rolled over and turned on her gooseneck lamp. From her bedside table, she picked up a smooth stone box with two golden suns etched on top. It fit neatly into the palm of her hand. She traced the outline of the blazing suns with her fingertip. Each was inlaid in real gold and had six flame points radiating outward. The stone box belonged to her birth mother; that’s what the social workers told her. But none of them said if her mother, or her father for that matter, was alive or dead. Keira had entered the foster care system as a small child. Ever since she could remember, she carried the box everywhere with her. It comforted her and promised a connection to her real family, but it was as much a mystery. When Keira shook it, something inside rattled. But to this day, she hadn’t figured out what it was; Keira still couldn’t get the box to open up. There were no seams or visible hinges, not even a keyhole. All she could get out of the stone box was the tantalizing sound it made when she shook it. A sound she knew held the secret to her past and hopefully her parents.
Someday I’ll figure out how to open this damn thing up. I’m going to find out who my real parents are, too, and then I’ll go find them. Someday.
Keira put the box back down on the table and picked up her hairbrush. The natural fibers felt good against her scalp as it separated her shiny auburn strands. This activity soothed her. After a few passes of the wooden brush, she placed it back on the table, turned off the light, and went back to her fitful sleep.
“Get up, lazy bones,” Mary, Keira’s 65-year-old foster mother, prodded her from her fetal curl beneath the checkered quilt. “You’ve got to eat something before you go to school. I don’t want to hear that you’re not hungry again.”
“Alright, I’m up. Jesus,” Keira hissed back at her foster mother before turning over and pulling the warm bedding up over her head.
“And don’t take our Lord’s name in vain.”
“I wish, just once, you could manage a simple ‘Good morning,’” she said from beneath the quilt.
"What?" Mary asked, pausing in the doorway.
Keira heard the bedroom door close as Mary exited. She pulled the covers down and opened her pale blue eyes into the burning stream of sunlight coming through the opened blinds.
“God! That’s bright."
Keira’s feet found their way out of the warm bed, onto the soft carpet, and then into her green felt slippers. She yawned and sat upright and rubbed a limp hand against her pasty eyelids and cheeks. Keira looked down at her closely bitten, unpolished nails. They looked awful, the skin underneath them red and cracking. She always hated shiny nail polish or anything particularly “girly,” much to Mary’s chagrin. Keira bit her nails to stubs. The bad habit stuck with her throughout foster care.
She opened her right hand up, and studied the skin’s intersecting lines. They stitched themselves up from her palm into her fingers and formed what looked like a small triangle within a larger one. She traced one side of the shape. This is my lifeline, I guess. Funny, there’s a gap in it, like one life ends and then another begins.
Keira got up and unplugged the charging X-Phone she kept hidden under her mattress. It was a pre-ACPA “burner” that didn’t run off of the government’s grid. Since the Affordable Cell Phone ACT passed the senate last year, every US citizen now had a data-enabled cell phone, and free government Wi-Fi covered the whole country. Most people saw this as a money saving opportunity and thanked the government. Keira saw it for what is was, just a tracking device to spy on people.
She pressed her fingerprint on the screen, unlocking the phone. Her secret email account unfolded. She knew she was safe from federal data harvesters. All her info streamed through a channel hidden inside the government’s own Wi-Fi traffic; it was beyond VPN, beyond encrypted. What’s better than hiding in plain sight? She’d gotten the illegal phone off a Copperhead last year in exchange for an eighth of synthetic hashish. There was nothing new in her Inbox except a message from the Insemenoid fan club about another concert date. I won’t be going to see them anyway, Keira thought. There aren’t enough credits for that. Keira closed the account with one swipe of her finger.
Just then the home screen flickered a little bit. A dark image appeared for a moment, just a silhouette, the shape of a small person, like a child’s body, wiggled in, blocking out the app icons. Keira stared down at the phone. As quickly as it had come on screen, it squirmed off. WTF? Is that some kind of malware? It’s not like I can take this phone in and get it cleaned! I hope it goes away. She tried to put it out of her mind. Maybe it’s a technical glitch. The phone must be getting ready to die. It keeps doing weird things lately, Keira thought, as she shut off the device.
Her illegal phone was just one of the many things she kept hidden from both her foster parents, Mary and Steve. As far as caregivers went, they were strict and misguided with their attention. In the few months Keira had been with them, both were more concerned about whether Keira was smoking synth-pot than if she were happy or not. She’d been shuffled through the foster care system mainly because of her faulty datachip. Keira’s never seemed to work properly. All Protective Care children had a government ID chip implanted in the back of their left wrists. It was simply easier for processing and placement. When she turned eighteen, it would be removed and she’d be issued the standard government adult ID wristband. The chip had been replaced four painful times already, but within a week it or so would transform from active bio-silicate into a static piece of plastic cartilage. Dead and useless. No one knew why.
Keira lifted her silky black robe from the chair back, slipped it on, and left her room for the hall bathroom. After she locked the bathroom door, she let the robe drop to the floor and she turned on the water in the teal-colored shower. She pulled off her nightshirt and blue panties and hopped into the warm stream. As the water ran down her white back, Keira wondered when she would get her period again; her cycles were wildly irregular. She hadn’t had it for over three months and she certainly wasn’t pregnant.
Keira was still a virgin in spite of herself. Mary saw to that.
“I smelled cigarette smoke on your jacket yesterday. You know we don’t approve of that,” Mary said as Keira, now fully dressed in tight black jeans and a black t-shirt, sauntered into the kitchen.
“I’m not smoking. If you even set one foot into the girl’s bathroom at school, you get covered in smoke,” Keira said as she placed her black leather shoulder bag on the kitchen table. “All the seniors are smokers.”
“Well, just as long as you don’t start. You’re fifteen; it’s really bad for you.”
Keira wouldn’t dignify Mary’s last statement with a response. Instead she grabbed the LA Times from the counter top and glanced at the headlines.
“That huge earthquake in Indonesia looks terrible. Those poor people.”
“It’s just God’s way, Keira.”
“But why would He do that?”
“He punishes the wicked and the unbelievers. That’s a country full of heathens.”
“But it doesn’t make any sense.”
“It’s all part of His plan, Keira.”
Keira knew she was entering dangerous territory. This was not a conversation she should be having with her foster mother. Keira learned early on to hide her real beliefs and to mimic the ones of her caretakers. Developing a “false self” was a survival skill, plain and simple. On some subconscious level, it helped Keira feel she wouldn’t be abandoned again, that she could stay with this family, and maybe they would learn to love and value her. Even if they were loving the part of her that was a complete lie. She’d take what she could get. Love was love. At least that’s what she told herself.
“I know it’s His plan. It’s just sad when so many people die at one time.”
“He moves in mysterious ways.”
Keira put down the newspaper, grabbed her purse and headed out of the kitchen toward the front door.
“See you after school,” Keira said to Mary.
“Aren’t you going to eat anything?”
“But you’ve got to eat something. You’re too skinny, Keira.”
“I’ll eat at school,” Keira lied as she turned to walk outside. “Bye!”
“I worry that you’re going to become anorexic,” Mary said.
“I’m just not hungry. See you later.”
As soon as Keira was down the block, out of Mary’s eyesight, she produced a red pack of Marlboros, shook one out, held it between her full lips, and lit it. Cigarettes are food, she thought to herself. Keira walked the rest of the way to San Pedro High School trailing smoke like a long gray scarf.
“Is this the way to the Vincent Thomas Bridge?” Holcomb asked, pointing out of the front window of his car.
Keira looked over at the grizzled white man in the blue BMW cruising alongside her outside the high school campus that morning. Nice car, weird guy. The shiny coupe slowed down and pulled over to the curb. Keira was still getting used to all the male attention she’d been receiving in the last year. At fourteen she was just another teenager, but a year later when her breasts came, full and round, and the males were all suddenly very interested.
“Is the bridge up ahead? I’m lost.”
“You’re going the wrong way,” Keira said while dropping her cigarette on the sidewalk and crushing it beneath her heel. He looks creepy. Kinda pervy. Keira quickened her pace.
“Do you know which way it is?”
“I’m late for school. Sorry,” Keira said and then turned right, past the chain link fence, and walked onto the busy campus. She could feel the stranger’s eyes on her still, burning two holes into her back.
Holcomb brought the car to a stop and parked. He watched Keira disappear into the colorful huddle of high schoolers. He liked the shape of her backside as she sashayed onto the high school campus. An alert beeped up at him from his phone.
Proximity alert: ID chip identified, Keira Fairchild.
“I know,” Holcomb said to the phone and deleted the message.
Target acquired, he typed into the message field and hit Send. I hope I’ve found her here before Paragon, he thought.
* * *
“Class, today we’ll be studying the details of the rodent digestive system. That means we’ll be dissecting live rats. Those of you who’ve opted out of this assignment with your parents’ signatures can report to study hall right now,” Mr. Hines announced at the beginning of fourth period Life Science. “I don’t want any fussing. Any student without a parent’s signature must complete this assignment, or be dipped in a vat Fluoroantimonic acid.”
“Dipped in what?” a nearby student asked.
“Fluoroantimonic acid; it’s a new super acid, thirty times stronger than sulfuric,” Mr. Hines continued.
The few conscientious objectors: a perky cheerleader, a young Sikh, a weedy nerd, and a Jehovah’s Witness, left in a small exodus. Keira perched on a hard stool at the black countertop of her lab table with her freckled, brunette partner, Lissa, her only friend at San Pedro High. Although she’d been there for most of the school year, Keira was still a social outcast. Neither of her foster parents had ever asked if she had made any friends, and Keira wasn’t about to tell them, either.
On the solid plastic tabletop sat one large, empty Plexiglas jar and accompanying metal screw-top lid with a tiny hole in the middle, a tray of silver dissection knives, two pairs of thick leather gardening gloves, and a wax lined dissection tray with skin-holding pins. There was also one huge, black rat in a tiny wire cage.
“I’ll be coming to each table with a cotton ball soaked in chloroform. Listen carefully, people. Put the cotton ball in the glass jar, put the rat inside the jar and seal the jar with the metal lid. Let the rat stay in there for about 3 minutes. This should knock the rat completely unconscious. I want you to see the living digestive system functioning, not in an autopsied dead specimen. Don’t worry, the rat won’t feel a thing. It’s important you follow all these directions. Let me know if you need help.”
“OK, here goes!” Keira said to Lissa as she slipped on the leather gloves.
“Do you want me to open the cage?” Lissa asked.
“Yeah, sort of dump the rat onto my gloves and I’ll shove it in the jar.”
Lissa picked up the wire cage and pulled the latch, sliding the front panel open. The rat sniffed around outside of the opening.
“Now drop it into my hands.”
The black rat slid into Keira’s waiting grip. She grabbed it firmly with her right hand. The rat reflexively turned and bit down on Keira’s index finger; its sharp rodent teeth piercing through the well-used leather glove. Keira felt the pain rush up her arm. But before she could react, a shower of white sparks began snapping in the air, cracking and popping loudly, all around the rat. It gave out one high-pitched shriek as its greasy body tensed up in agony and then went completely limp.
The whole room was suddenly silent. All eyes were on Keira. She let the dead rat fall from her glove to the table. It landed like a child’s beanbag, as if the rat’s internal organs had been turned into sand and its skin was merely a thin cloth keeping it all inside. Keira pulled off her gloves and examined the fresh bite on her finger. The blood was already gathering in the wound.
“What happened?” Lissa gasped.
“I don’t know.”
“It must have been a discharge of static electricity from the air. You saw the electric sparks,” Mr. Hines said as he quickly approached the workstation. “It’s puzzling, though, because these work surfaces are supposed to be inert and free from static build-up. But that’s what killed the rat.”
Mr. Hines turned to face the class, “Show’s over. Everyone back to work. I’m bringing the chloroform around now.”
“What should we do, Mr. Hines?”
“Keira, go to the storeroom and get another rat for you two. They’re a few more on the shelf in the back. Then go see the school nurse about that finger. It doesn’t look too bad, though. I’ll put this rat in the dumpster,” Mr. Hines answered as he walked away with the departed test subject.
“Okay, Mr. Hines,”
Keira looked at Lissa. They were both stunned.
“That was too weird!” Keira said as she applied a paper towel to her finger, staunching it.
“But it was cool!”
“How did it happen, though? It was so random!”
“He said static electricity.”
“It was so bizarro. You can still smell it in the air.”
The two lab partners paused to breathe in the acrid scent of ozone. Keira’s head was spinning a little bit from the strange experience. It felt like she was floating, like her mind had been set adrift to an unknown location.
“But what should we do now?”
“You heard him, killer. Go get another victim!” Lissa giggled.
“That’s not funny, Lissa.”
“Sure it is.”
Keira strolled over the metal door at the back of the classroom, the equipment storeroom. She opened it slowly and went in. The single overhead light bulb cast harsh shadows in the dark, single-windowed room. Keira heard the rats scurrying around before she saw where they were. She approached the wire cages positioned in neat rows on the far wall. She dropped the bloody paper towel she held onto the floor. The rats, seven in all, stared helplessly up at her. She looked back at them. It was as if in that moment she had seen a caged animal for the first time in her life. Keira suddenly felt the suffering of these creatures. It was too cruel.
I know just how you feel, Little Rat, Keira thought as she approached the first cage. Passed around from place to place. And now this – your death you have no control over.
Keira stood on her tiptoes and unlatched the narrow storeroom window, and with one hard shove, pushed it all the way open. One by one, she lifted and unlatched the first six cages and released the squirming rats into the sprawling juniper bushes on the ground outside.
The last brown rat in its mesh cage Keira carried beneath her arm back into the lab, and walked over to the workstation to retrieve her books and purse.
“See you later at your place,” she said to Lissa, who nodded.
“I’ve got a surprise for you,” Lissa added.
Keira smiled and kept on going, strolling leisurely right out of the classroom, and onto the campus below, not looking back even once.
Asmodeus had his orders from Dr. Albion. He bent his 6’ 5” frame over the rusty green dumpster behind the Life Science classroom, fishing through the collected debris. The Paragon Institute had received an e-mail tracer earlier that something unusual had happened to a girl named Kiera Fairchild at San Pedro High School. Asmodeus lifted the flattened cardboard boxes and soggy newspapers, pushing them aside and looking underneath. He hated getting his hands dirty; he was still adjusting to being flesh, anyway. Stinking mortal flesh. Asmodeus looked at his pale fingers and the backs of his hands; they were covered with thin black lines, just like his pasty face and the rest of his body. Lines ran everywhere, intersecting and crisscrossing. They marked his skin like an incision diagram.
He wished he didn’t have the U. S. Government’s blood oath hanging over him. It was part of the conjuring. If only he could use his infernal powers to sort through all this rubbish, it would be easy. But a contract was a contract; it specified where and when he could use his dark gifts. It actually blocked his power from unwarranted use. That part was decided at his recent summoning by General Hesslop and Dr. Albion. Paragon knew how to control its newest employees, The Four Demons. Only after the contract was fulfilled would Asmodeus be released and receive his substantial reward.
He continued to search for the evidence, what Dr. Albion wanted, the undeniable proof that this girl, Keira, was another of the missing Star Children they were looking for, one of the Twelve Heroes. Asmodeus adjusted his dark fedora; it covered his two short ivory horns. Then it caught his eye, just near the bottom, the furry body of a rat. There it is. He removed the flaccid corpse, slipped it into a plastic evidence bag, and pinched its lifeless form. Sand, its insides feel just like sand, Asmodeus thought as he slid it into his trench coat pocket. She can cause crystallization of living matter. Interesting. I wonder what else she can do? And what’s this? He paused and sniffed the air, picking up some kind of appetizing scent. Asmodeus smiled fiendishly. This girl is a virgin. That changes everything. I will have to ask for her as part of my price when I’m done. I can’t believe my luck. She’ll increase my power ten-fold.
“OK, Song Bird. Item is secured and in transit,” he breathed into the microphone in his shirt collar.
A light tapping came at Asmodeus’ shoulder. He turned to see a campus security officer standing directly behind him. He’d been so carried away with the scent of a human virgin, he’d forgotten to check his surroundings. But no matter. Asmodeus could use whatever power he wished now in this particular situation. That was part of the contract. “What?” he asked, annoyed.
The guard stared at the strange person for a moment. He’d never seen someone with such bizarre tattoos, especially across the face. “This is a closed campus. I didn’t see you sign in at the office.”
“My daughter lost her purse this morning and I was looking to see if it got thrown away by accident.”
“Who is you daughter, sir?”
“And where is she now?”
“In class, of course.”
“I’ll need to scan your ID, sir.”
“Certainly, certainly,” Asmodeus replied, suddenly very cooperative, as he extended the ID band on his left wrist towards the guard’s black scanner. He passed it beneath the red laser beam.
“No record,” the guard said. “Let me try again.”
Asmodeus held his wrist closer to the blinking scanner.
“Have you been x-rayed or passed through radiation that you know of?”
“Weird. I’m not accessing your information. You better come with me to the front office. This scanner is acting up.”
This has gone too far, Asmodeus thought. He stared into the guard’s brown eyes. At that moment, he turned it on. A psychic tremor started behind Asmodeus’ furrowed brow. The mental hooks came out. Little probing thoughts Asmodeus pushed invisibly, one by one, into the guards’ mind as if slipping fingers through the slats of a wooden fence. They attached themselves and fed freely on the guard’s brain impulses, sucking at his life energy. Asmodeus felt his own power surge with a heady rush. It was completely intoxicating. He was in total control.
“You don’t need to do that, Luis. You are going to forget that you saw me here. You will go back to your post and leave me alone.”
Without another word Luis, who was suddenly so tired he nearly collapsed, turned and walked heavily back up campus as Asmodeus exited through the parking lot to deliver the crucial evidence, the tangy scent of a virgin female still in his nostrils.
“Rats are disease carriers!” Steve, Keira’s seventy-year-old, retired, foster father, shouted at her as she sat on her unmade bed. “You can’t keep one in this house!”
“But he’s my responsibility. It’s part of a science project. I have to take care of him or I’ll fail.”
“I’m going to call the school. This is unbelievable. A disease-carrying rat in our home? No way!”
“Why don’t you believe me?”
“I’m not going to respond to that. You’ve been more trouble to us than what you’re worth these last couple of weeks.”
“Than what I’m worth?” Keira asked incredulously.
“The two grand per month Child Protective services pays us,” her foster father said without any emotion.
“Is that all I am to you – a paycheck?” Keira asked, wide-eyed with disbelief.
Steve looked at his charge and said nothing.
“Go ahead and call the school,” she shouted. “See if I care.”
“You watch that attitude young lady,” Steve warned. With that, he glared at her one more time, shook his head, and left the bedroom.
Keira leaned over to look at the brown rat waiting in the cage on her bedside table. He stared up at her through the metal mesh. He poked his pink nose between the wires and sniffed, his black whiskers pointing forward. She put her index finger near for him to smell it, but not close enough to be bitten.
“Don’t worry, little guy, if he kicks you out, I’m leaving too,” Keira said aloud. “See over there in the back of the closet, that green bag? It’s my Emergency Exit bag. I’ve run away from foster homes so many times; I always keep it ready. It might be that time again. We’ll see. I think it’s time that I really try to find my birth parents anyway.”
Keira took her phone from her pocket. It had been heating up. Maybe that weird animated malware was making it overheat? She placed it next to the wire cage and looked down the hallway to see where Steve had gone. He wasn’t in the sunlit kitchen at the far end of the house. He’s probably talking to Mary. Oh, well. I was just starting to get used to this place. Keira stood up and walked over the closet and pulled the green bag out. I’m supposed to be going to Lissa’s tonight anyway. I’ll say I’m going to the library again, like I usually do. They always believe that one for some reason. I’ll just leave from Lissa’s. Maybe I’ll go up north. Portland or Seattle both sound like fun.
While Keira carefully repacked the contents of her green bag, a tiny shadow moved across her phone screen. It had a head, shoulders, arms with moving hands, a trunk with legs and feet attached. The dark figure wiggled on the reflective surface. It twisted its limbs around the frame’s edge as if it were trying to pull itself out. And then it rose up from the phone in a puff of black mist. It shimmered and snaked across the table and headed straight toward the caged rat. In one swift motion the dark form engulfed the brown rat and then disappeared into its fur. The rat trembled, its eyes dilating wildly, and then it rolled unconscious onto its right side. It remained motionless for a few moments; its lungs exhaled one last independent breath. The rat’s heart slowed down and finally stopped. As quickly as death had come, life suddenly returned to the slack body. The rat’s heart fluttered awake. The reanimated animal stood up on all four feet. It squeaked and scurried quickly around the cage as if trying out its legs for the first time. Keira turned to look at her noisy pet.
“Was that you?” she asked gently. “Is something wrong?”
The rat continued to fuss in the cage, running around in the cedar bedding. Steve returned to Keira’s room. He looked angry.
“Your science teacher, Mr. Hines, wants his rats back.”
“What do you mean?” Keira asked as she pulled the green bag over next to her, and tucked it behind her legs. She was ready for a fight.
Steve stared blankly at Keira. “This is the sort of behavior that will get you a one-way ticket to reform school,” he said and stepped closer to her.
“I don’t know what Mr. Hines is talking about.”
“Stop this, Keira. It’s time to admit your mistake and return the school’s property,” Steve said as he reached past Keira and tried to grab the rat cage.
“No! He’s mine. There’s been a mistake,” Keira shouted and stopped Steve by grabbing his right arm firmly at the wrist.
“Let go of me,” he growled at her.
“I won’t let you take him.”
“This is my house and my rules. The rat is going,” Steve replied and tried to pull away from Keira’s grip.
“Keira, let go of me!” Steve shouted and pushed her with his free hand.
As Keira began to fall backward onto the bed, a shower of white sparks snapped around the hand she clenched tightly to Steve’s arm. There was brilliant flash and his shirtsleeve evaporated in a cloud of white smoke. Beneath her hand, Steve’s exposed arm swelled bloody red, and then, cell by cell, the soft flesh became solid marble in an instant. Keira released her grip. The unexpectedly heavy limb tore itself free from Steve’s shoulder joint, leaving a gaping hole. It dropped to the wooden floor and shattered. Steve’s eyes rolled back into his head as the searing pain forced his brain to blackout and his legs gave out beneath him.
Keira screamed. Her foster dad flopped down in front of her onto the reddish rubble of what was once his right arm. Blood began to pool from his open shoulder socket. She grabbed her phone, charger, and her twin sun box, then jammed them into her back pockets. Green bag under her right arm and rat in cage beneath her left, she ran from her bedroom, through the empty living room, and into the small backyard. Where’s Mary? she thought, quickly looking around. I’ve got to get out of here before someone sees me! Keira paused to open the gate next to the garage, looked around again, and then hurried down the block. She put her head down and sprinted all the way to Lissa’s condo half a mile away.