Work in Progress.

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This week I want to share a little taste of what I’ve been working on. An excerpt from my current work in progress, Bitter Hollow. I hope you enjoy, and would love to know what you think, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

BITTER HOLLOW

“Is everything okay, Harold?” I stepped onto the deck, unsnapping the strap that kept my pistol secure.

“I tried to warn him,” Harold said, turning his head to look at me with a distant stare. It was the same thousand-yard stare I saw every morning gazing back at me from the mirror while I shaved.

“Who did you try to warn, Harold?”

In the yard Harold’s German shepherd barked again, a high-pitched whiny sound I knew so well. The dog sat at the top of the yard, keeping its distance while favoring its left paw.

“It doesn’t matter.” Harold turned his attention back to the German shepherd. “It’s gotten into all of them, and there’s only one cure for what they’ve got.”

“What have they got Harold?”

“I told him to stay away from that place.”

“What place Harold?” I had to keep him talking, as long as he was talking everything would be okay.

“Bitter Hollow, you’re not from these parts,” Harold said, “you wouldn’t understand, you’re from down around the city, I’ve heard about you, and why you came here.”

“Why did I come here?” I’d eased my way onto the deck and was carefully moving towards Harold when he spun his head around and stared at me. I’d seen such fear before, in Afghanistan when the shit hit the fan, and everything went sideways. It burned in Harold’s eyes, flowing across his lined face like the touch of a shadow barely seen. It was then I spotted the revolver in his right hand hanging at his side.

“Doesn’t matter,” Harold said, bringing up the revolver. I took a step back, pulling my own weapon. But Harold didn’t turn his pistol in my direction. Instead, he aimed at the German shepherd.

“We can’t let it get out,” Harold said as he drew a bead on the dog.

“Put your weapon down.” I took a two-handed stance and settled the forward sight on Harold’s chest.

“Fuck you,” Harold said before squeezing off a shot. The German shepherd darted to the right as a spurt of dirt was thrown up to his left. The sharp crack of the shot rolled away into the distance.

“I said put your weapon down.”

“Or what?” Harold said as he abruptly swung the muzzle in my direction. Instincts, fine turned by the brutality of the war, took over. I squeezed off one shot as Harold fired. The sound of our dual reports echoed through the forest like thunder. My bullet hit Harold high in the chest, above his heart, and a surprised expression replaced the terror lurking on his brow.

My left shoulder was driven back. It felt like I’d been hit by a sledgehammer, and my entire arm went numb. My calm, rational half, took a step back while the more primitive side took over as adrenaline flooded my system. I knew the feeling, had experienced it several times on the battlefield. It was a survival mechanism, a throwback to our distant past when reasoning with one’s enemy was not an option. When the only thing you could do was fight to survive. I knew I’d been hit, my left arm was useless, hanging dead at my side. Thankfully, I was right-handed.

Harold stood his ground for a moment, weaving back and forth on his feet. The color draining from his face as understanding dawned in his eyes. He was about to die, and he knew it. He staggered towards me, the pistol still clutched in one hand, the muzzle weaving back and forth as his own blood mingled with the other blood on his clothes.

He squeezed the trigger, the sharp report echoed through the shadows as the wicked sound of the bullet slamming into the post behind me came to my ringing ears. I flashed back to another time and place when I’d been confronted by an enemy that refused to die. There was no time to dwell on these memories and I pushed them away as I steadied my weapon, and the old man took another step towards me.

A shadow washed across Harold’s face, contorting his features. The dog barking in the back yard came to me as if from a million miles away. The old man smiled and opened his mouth to speak, darkness escaping the prison behind his teeth as I fired again, aiming higher this time. Harold’s head whipped back, a bloody wound forming a third eye in the center of his forehead. Something old and terrifying crawled through my belly when Harold lowered his head to look at me with those flat, dead, eyes. A wicked smile bisecting the bottom half of his face.

What do you think?

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Cursed

Bitter Hollow

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No weekly writing challenge this week, I’ll get back to that eventually. What you will find is a brief excerpt from my current work in progress: Bitter Hollow. I hope you enjoy it.

From the center of the door a small figure hung. At first I couldn’t tell what it was but as I drew closer its details emerged from the night. It was a small statue of Jesus on the cross, only it hung upside down, and from the crown of thorns upon his head tiny rivers of blood flowed down the surface of the door.

Unable to stop myself I knocked on the door, waiting as the sound of movement came from behind the worn facade. I focused on the small statue, realizing as I did it was not a statue as I first assumed. It was alive, and the figure of Jesus watched me with blue eyes that glowed softly in the firelight. That radiance vanishing every time he blinked.

What are you afraid of? A voice whispered in my mind.

Everything, I responded with a thought of my own.

At that point, a latch was thrown back and the door swung open to reveal Laura on the other side.

“Laura,” I whispered as I stepped closer, a part of me was still watching the cross and the tiny figure nailed to it. His head slowly shaking back and forth, as if he? It? Whatever was denying me entrance to the only true love I’d ever known.

She didn’t respond, but stood beyond the threshold, watching me with big, frightened eyes. I moved towards her, my arms outstretched. She shook her head and held out her hands to stop me from entering the house. 

“Don’t,” she said.

“I love you.”

She shook her head. “It’s too late for me.”

“What do you mean, too late?”

“Just go, forget about me, I’ve ruined things enough as it is.”

“Come with me.”

“I can’t.”

“You can.”

She shook her head, taking another step back. I took another step closer. From somewhere came an expectant sigh, the release of a pent-up breath filled with anticipation.

Don’t go in. The voice in my head warned and I glanced at the upside down cross on the door. Jesus standing on his head, thin lines of dark red blood slowly oozing down the door. He watched me with unblinking blue eyes.

What did she mean?

“Laura, please, come with me.”

“I can’t. It’s too late for me, they own me.”

“Who owns you?” My question fell on empty darkness. The door was gone, as was the upside down cross with the animated Jesus. All that remained was a crumbling doorway filled with the night. Somewhere in the black depths of the abandoned house something stirred, some ancient thing that had been waiting for eternity, stirred to life by my presence. I felt it reaching for me with the twisted claws of night and I stepped back. Away from the house that was falling in upon itself.

Weekly Writing Challenge 03/17/2021

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Real life has intruded once again and I was unable to update the current story in progress. I believe it has a lot more to do with the fact I’m trying something new with this story, stretching my literary muscles if you will. I lack the confidence to continue, but continue I will. In its place I’m sharing a snippet from my current work in progress, my novel, Bitter Hollow. I’m shooting for a late summer release for this one. I’ll keep you posted. Here is a little taste of chapter 2.

A shadow washed across Harold’s face, contorting his features. The dog barking in the back yard came to me as if from a million miles away. The old man smiled and opened his mouth to speak, darkness escaping the prison behind his teeth as I fired again, aiming higher this time. Harold’s head whipped back, a bloody wound forming a third eye in the center of his forehead. Something old and terrifying crawled through my belly when Harold lowered his head to look at me with those flat, dead, eyes. A wicked smile bisecting the bottom of his face.

The old man fired a third time, the round embedding itself in the wood at my feet as I returned fire. Harold took another staggering step, driven by an unseen darkness that wrapped him in its embrace. The pistol, a well-worn .22 revolver, slipped from Harold’s hand and fell to the surface of the deck. He took another step, reaching for me with bloodied hands as blind panic overwhelmed reason.

“Why won’t you die?” I screamed as the old man crumpled to the deck.

The world shifted around me and I realized I’d fallen onto my ass, sitting with my back against the railing as Harold pulled himself towards me. His fingernails, dirty and cracked, dug into the wooden surface softened by past rains and the passage of time. Harold’s hands flexed, each finger digging into the wood. Several nails had broken as a result, peeling back from his fingertips, blood spotting the wood a soft pink.

I realized Harold was looking at me, his eyes filled with an impenetrable emptiness that reached out to envelope me in an endless despair.

I tried to warn him, Harold’s words whispered in my mind.

 Laura’s face swam into view, her features twisted into a grimace of pain and terror, and it filled me with a blind rage. From somewhere a dog barked hysterically and I searched for the source, only to find a vast emptiness that lay spread out all around me. I felt like I was lost,

The sound of a distant siren was punctuated by that frightened whiny bark. I looked back at the old man sprawled out before me. One hand outstretched, the fingers curled into a partially closed fist, and in it I spotted an object that glittered with a light all its own.

It held all the answers, and I wanted it. I leaned forward to retrieve the object as the siren filled the world around me. Running steps and voices came as a hand pulled me back until I was resting against the railing. I glanced into Sheriff Burris’s face, noting the worry in his eyes, then looked at the shimmering object as others gathered around the body.

It knew the answers to all my questions. Why Laura left. Why I’d been fired. Why Harold did what he’d done. Everything I needed to know lay hidden in that soft glow.

I tried to reach the object, only to be pushed back by a paramedic working on my wounded shoulder. Someone was shouting my name and I glanced at Sheriff Burris, then back to the glittering object in the old man’s hand. I had to have it.

Something poked me in the arm, and I was overwhelmed by a desire to lay down and take a nap. But I couldn’t. I had to have it. Michaels knelt next to Harold’s hand and retrieved the shiny object. No, that’s mine, I wanted to scream but found no voice as a mind-numbing cloud enveloped me. I’ve earned it, it’s mine, the thoughts whispered as the world dimmed.