An excerpt from Dark Genius (Unpublished manuscript)
The last time Harper went out to Stone’s Island was in August, some years ago. He couldn’t remember exactly how old they were, or what year it was, but they’d gotten hold of Uncle Jim’s 15-foot Boston Whaler and headed out to explore the island. They discovered a cove on the lee side of Stone’s and pulled her up onto the rocks. Deciding to take a closer look at the estate, they walked along the rocky shore and discovered in the tide pools the headless carcass of a harbor seal, rotting in the morning sun. Instead of going to the house as planned, they took the carcass back to the boat and headed out into the shallows.
They hooked the carcass onto a drop line, cast it out, and let it sit on the bottom. After a few minutes they pulled it up, and with it came a mass of frenzied, feeding sharks. The sharks swarmed and dove and bit at the meat, breaking the surface as they gorged. Jimmy stood in the boat and smacked the bloody water with an oar, trying to bean one of the sharks. He frantically smacked the water over and over, but failed to hit anything. The spray got into their eyes and ran down their faces into their mouths. Harper remembered the taste of the salty red water and, even now, it turned his stomach.
Jimmy stood on the bow, feet wide apart, rocking the small boat back and forth, forcing the weight of his whole body with each push, laughing uncontrollably, until they started to take on water. Waves slapped up, into the boat. Bits of seal gut came aboard with each wave. The sharks circled and bit at the meat, swarming in a frenzy. Harper held on to the side of the boat, overcome by fits of uncontrolled laughter as it bobbed up and down, shark fins rising up, teeth mashing the seal flesh. Jimmy became brazen by Harper’s response, rollicking with laughter at his mad game, forcing the boat closer to the water with each push. Jimmy suddenly fell out of the boat, and into the churning sea. Harper had seen Jimmy swim fast before, but he practically leaped back into the boat. The image of a shark grazing Jimmy’s leg as he swam, the black shadow surging forward from the depths, was etched in Harper’s memory.
Harper fell to the floor of the Whaler, holding his stomach; the cold water and uncontrolled laughter caused him to pee in his pants. Watching from the floor of the boat, his body drenched in remnants of seal guts, seawater and urine, looking into Jimmy’s wild eyes, he knew; He knew Jim had fallen overboard on purpose. Had carried the little adventure as far as it could go. It struck Harper as such an obtuse thing to do, and he couldn’t understand why Jimmy always went too far.
August Chase is an ordinary man plagued by extraordinary precognitive dreams. When he foresees the brutal murder of a young woman, he tracks her down to warn her. His warnings go unheeded, and the dreamed murder becomes a reality. The victim’s sister, frustrated by slow police work, enlists August’s help, and he is launched into his first case as a private investigator. Delving deep into the victim’s life, he soon discovers a common thread in the shadowy world that may have claimed her. This is book One of the August Chase Mystery Series.
5.0 out of 5 stars A mash-up somewhere between Raymond Chandler and Doctor Strange.Reviewed in the United States on April 3, 2017Verified PurchaseI quite enjoyed Charles R. Hinckley’s novel, Dream State. The psychic detective genre, in general, is a tricky one, a mash-up somewhere between Raymond Chandler and Doctor Strange. Hinckley pulls it off by writing well. He grounds his characters solidly in a New York I could recognize, and gives them realistic, often humorous dialog. This makes the fantastical excursions into August Chase’s pre-cognitive “dream state” more compelling. On top of that, the writing is extremely visual, forcefully propelling Chase through a complex series of interrelated encounters in both this world and the next, and bringing it all to a satisfying resolution. It’s a book worth your attention. Dream State: The Sleeping Detective Series Book One
He was awakened by movement and lay silently in bed trying listen. The room was pitch black. He realized it was the slight sway of the bed that had awakened him. She was getting in beside him. He cleared his throat, and said softly, “Hello?” She slipped under the covers and laid down next to him, her hip and legs touching his.
“It’s okay,” she said, gently patting his arm. “It will be good now.”
She adjusted herself, then didn’t move. He lay quietly, feeling her body heat and listening to her gentle breathing. After a minute, he started to get up, but she held onto his arm and he lay back.
“Don’t,” she whispered.
“But, I –”
“Shhhh,” she said. “I’m almost asleep.”
The gentle patter of falling rain was the only sound now. Occasionally, a drop tapped against the window, like a finger flexing against the glass. Her breathing was deep and regular. He closed his eyes, feeling his body melt into hers. She was small next to him, frail almost, and very hot. He was tempted to slide closer for the heat, but didn’t move. It had been a while since he’d been sober and in bed with a woman. He thought how he may get excited in spite of himself and would want to do something with her. Moving closer would feel like heaven. Then he thought of his wife and how her body felt next to his. This girl’s body was different, smaller. Maybe she was warmer than his wife. He thought about the many times his wife would climb on top of him, in the morning just after waking up, and he would melt into her. She would ride him and always climaxed very easily, she would be right there with him. She had learned how to do that for herself, she had told him, and he was happy for that.
The girl moved, and the bed swayed a bit. He lay still, not wanting to encourage contact while he was thinking of his wife. Cheating was something he’d never done, and now he felt like a cheater, because he wanted the girl. Her warmth next to him lit a fire he thought was dead. Desire is something for lovers, not drunken fools. The whiskey came into his thoughts and he saw himself taking a huge swallow of the cold sting, savoring it as it burned his throat and warmed his stomach. A wave of unsteadiness washed over him, as if he had actually taken that drink. Then he realized avoiding bad feelings was what brought the thoughts of drinking. Taking a deep breath, he tried to relax, and push the taste of whiskey from his mind.
Her smell came to him, and he could discern the salty sweetness of her skin. He moved further away from her, and thought he might finally drift off, when she came closer and cuddled up to his backside. His eyes popped open and his heart raced, but he didn’t move. She melted into his back and he could feel her soft breath against his neck. He thought about how it would be if she reached for him. He could feel himself growing, and wanted her to take hold while he thought about her scent, and the softness of her body. After a few minutes of being still, his thoughts shifted to his life and his family, then about his drinking and his writing. He wanted to start a new novel, now that the drinking was at bay. Perhaps the girl would inspire some ideas. Perhaps she was the beginning of a new story. Soon, he felt the weight of his fatigued body, and let his muscles relax. He stopped thinking about writing and the girl and listened to the steady drop of rain outside his window, and soon drifted off into a deep sleep.
In the morning he was alone in the bed. Light streamed in through the windows, which he never bother to curtain. He could hear the gentle splashing of water coming from the kitchen. He slid into his mocks and T-shirt and walked to the door and peered into the kitchen. She stood at the sink, bare chested, dabbing herself with a wet towel. She wore her jeans, and nothing else. Her back was well contoured and muscled, her youthful skin slightly tanned. She turned and saw him looking at her, but didn’t stop washing.
“I have a shower. The rain barrel should be full after yesterday,” he said.
“You have a rain barrel?”
“Yes, it’s mounted on the roof. It feeds down into the shower.”
“I didn’t notice,” she said, and turned to him, exposing herself. Her breasts were firm, small and white. Tan lines marked her bathing top. Water glistened off her upper neck and ran down onto her waist. He smiled and turned to go back into the bedroom.
He sat on the bed while he dressed, slipped on his mocs and walked to the door. She was already standing there waiting for him.
“I wouldn’t mind a shower, actually,” she said.
“In there,” he said, pointing to the bathroom adjacent to his bedroom. “It’s small and the water kind of trickles out, but it works. You’re welcome to it.” She walked in past him, her eye on the bathroom door.
“Keep in mind, it may be cold, though. No water heater.”
She turned to him. “Why don’t you have a water heater? You have gas, don’t you?”
“I don’t know. Didn’t want to lug it all the way from the mainland, I guess.”
She said, “Cold showers come in handy, here on the island?”
He smiled. She turned and walked into the bathroom.
In the kitchen, he made pancakes from flour, eggs, milk, salt and baking powder. He added some vanilla and a touch of cinnamon. He fried bacon and eggs-over-easy in the big skillet. When he was done cooking, he stacked the pancakes on a large platter and placed it on the kitchen table. He didn’t have any maple syrup, so he put honey and powdered sugar on the table. When the eggs and bacon were cooked, he placed them on a separate plate, and put that down on the table. The coffee percolated and was strong, the way he liked it.
When he finally sat down at the table, she appeared in the doorway of his bedroom. She was fully dressed in her own clothes and held a towel to dry her hair. “Wow,” she said, looking at the food. She sat at the table, the towel wrapped around her neck, and reached for the pancakes. “I can’t believe you made these,” she said. “Do you have any strawberries?” He saw a youthfulness in her manner that he hadn’t seen before. She was from a different generation. She probably saw him as an old man. And he thought he was too old for her, maybe. But why would he think such things now?
“No strawberries. But if you want, blackberries grow on the island. Up on the ridge, just over there.” He pointed to the door. “We can hunt for some later.”
“You’re a forager, huh?”
She slapped a few pancakes onto her plate and added powdered sugar, then poured herself a cup of the steaming coffee. He was pleased she ate so well and liked his coffee. He took a few pancakes and ate them with bacon and the eggs, runny on his plate.
When they were done eating, they sat quietly for a few moments. Birds chirped in the front yard. He got up and opened the door. After listening to the birds and the gentle calling of gulls at the shore, he said, “So, these people coming to get you, you think they’ll be here soon?”
“No,” she said, and got up to look out the front door. “I don’t think anyone is coming.”
“Oh? That’s not what you said last night.”
“I feel a lot better today.”
“That’s good, but how does that change anything?”
She looked away. “You’re a good cook.”
“Sometimes, when I try.”
“I can see that. I try and things suck. They never pan out.” She leaned on the doorframe, still listening to the birds. “Do you think that’s where the expression pan-out comes from? From cooking?”
“I don’t know.”
“Or gold diggers?” she laughed.
“From prospectors, maybe.”
She turned to him and smiled. “That’s what I meant. Or the movies. Don’t movie cameras pan out?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I want to know what we’re going to do with you. See how that pans out.”
She held onto the door frame and swung back and forth, like a child. “Oh, clever. How many ways can we use that expression? How about if I pan over here and go out the door?”
She walked outside. He followed her onto the porch. She stared at the trail leading to the center of the island. “That’s the way, right? Up that hill?” She pointed.
“Let’s get some.”
“Blackberries. Show me where they are.”
“They’re all over. You just go out and find them.”
“What if I pick something poisonous and eat it? What then?”
“Then…I don’t know. You get sick and die, I guess.”
“Great! Remind me not to eat poison with you around. Show me where they are.”
She walked toward to trail, then stopped and looked at him. “Come on. You have to stop me from eating poison berries.” She put her hands to her throat and made a gagging sound.
“Wait,” he said, and went back into the cottage. He returned carrying a small bucket.
“Oh, we’re gonna get a lot them,” she said.
“They’re easy to catch.”
The sun peeked out from clouds, illuminating the bay in bright slips of silver and blue. The wind gusted sharply and cut through the trees clinging to scourged shoreline. Cool air rippled across the bay. The few remaining storm-clouds moved quickly across the sky, as if they in a hurry to get somewhere.
The interior of the island held onto coalescing moisture and heated by the sun. Foliage surrounding the trail released warm vapor into the air. They walked further away from the shore, and the air was still and dense, with fragrances from the plant life. Northern Bayberry bushes gave off a surprisingly strong scent. She broke a small sprig if it off in her hand and smelled her fingers. The sounds of the bay were muffled. The dirt trail that was well worn near the house, quickly diminished as they walked farther into the field. Soon, tall grass and bushes caressed their legs as they walked.
The island was only a mile long and about a half mile wide. The center held tall pine trees that through many seasons, produced thick needle beds and was well shaded by the tall trees. On the outskirts of the woods, partially hidden in the tall grass, they found blackberry bushes.
“So many!” The girl said, with delight, and started to eat the berries.
“Wait. We should wash them first,” he said.
She popped another one into her mouth and laughed. “They’re ripe and delicious.”
They quickly filled the small bucket to half way. “That’s enough” he said. “We can make blackberry pancakes.”
“Or something else,” she said, smiling.
“You don’t like my pancakes?”
“Is that all you make?”
“Of course not,” he said, feigning annoyance. “You saw me eat lobster and corn.”
“Oh, yeah.” She tilted her head and looked at him. “I forgot. When was that?”
He frowned. “You don’t remember?”
“I’m not sure.” She placed a few berries in the bucket and suddenly looked lost, like she was remembering or daydreaming. He saw this and made light of the situation.
“I bet I can beat you back to the cottage,” he said, and started walking quickly back down the path.
“Hey,” she yelled, and laughed and ran after him.
He had seen the small boat approaching the dock as they rounded the corner, closer to the cottage. A ten or twelve-foot whaler outboard. Two men in the craft. The girl didn’t see the boat, and he decided not to say anything. They entered the cottage and he placed the bucket in the sink.
“Why don’t you wash those and I’ll be right back,” he said.
“Where are you going?”
“Down to the dock. I need to check a crab trap. Maybe we can make crab cakes.”
“Blackberry crab cakes,” she said smiling, then frowned. “Sounds awful.”
He was halfway to the dock when he turned and saw her behind him, standing at the trail-head. When the two men climbed out of the boat, she ran back to the cottage.
The dim light of day blackened under a bruised sky. Clouds swirled and clashed, rumbling the heavens. He sat at the kitchen table and slowly shuffled a deck of cards in the soft light from a kerosene lamp. She emerged from the bedroom, wearing his loose fitting clothes and holding another lamp. She sat down across from him, placing the lamp between them. She looked softer, more approachable, in the dim light. Almost cuddly, he thought, wearing the extra-large clothing.
“Do you play?” he asked.
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know if you play cards?”
“How about Tell?”
“I don’t know that game.”
“It’s easy.” He placed the deck in front of her. “Deal.”
“As many as you want?”
“That’s a weird way to start.”
“There are no rules to this game.” They stared into each other’s eyes for moment. He smiled, daring the butterflies in his stomach to take flight.
“I’ll take as many as I can get, then,” she said.
She picked up the cards and dealt the entire deck. “This is like War,” she said.
“Dealing the whole deck.”
He gathered his cards and said, “We throw down the cards one at a time. You can throw them down from anywhere in your hand. But, you can’t change your throw.”
She turned over her top card, revealing the jack of hearts, then threw it down. He threw down the ace of spades. “I win,” he said. “Now, you must tell me something about yourself. Something I don’t know already, which is almost everything.”
“I just tell you something, you don’t ask?”
“No, that would be truth or dare, wouldn’t it?”
“I don’t know.”
“I don’t either.” He gently tapped her wrist. “Tell.”
She sat back, pulling her hand away from his, thinking of something to say, then leaned forward. “I was born in another state.”
“That’s too vague.”
“I was born…” She placed a finger to her forehead and said, “In a place far from here.”
“Still too vague, but I’ll let it pass.”
He threw down his top card, the jack of spades. She threw down the ten of hearts.
“You win again. Are you going to win all the hands? I bet you are. I bet these cards are rigged.”
“You dealt them.”
“But you shuffled them.”
They stared at each other. The wind slapped the side of the cottage and she turned toward the rattling windows. Heavy rain pummeled the tin roof. Shadow silhouettes came in through the windows and danced across the floor, looking like animals invading the house. “Storm’s peaking now,” he said. “It will calm down soon.” He took her deck and pulled a card from the middle of the pile. It was two of clubs. He pulled another card from the deck, four of clubs. Finally, he pulled the ace of hearts from her deck. “There, you see? You have an ace.”
“Now, you tell me something,” she said.
“All right. I was born here, on this island.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“It’s true. I was born here during a bad storm, just like tonight. My parents were here for the day, but got stuck in the squall. In the middle of the night, my mother went into labor and had me right here, on this table. I was a week early.”
She leaned back and laughed. “This table?”
“I swear.” He held up a hand and they laughed.
She ran her fingers along the top of the table, feeling the raw edges of the wood. “You know what I think? I think you cheat at this game, and I think you lie”.
He stared at her, not liking being called a liar, then smiled. “Your turn.”
“Okay. All right. Let’s play,” she said, shuffling her hand.
“You know you can’t re-shuffle. Once it’s set, that’s it.”
“You cheat. I cheat. It’s the rule. Rule number one.”
“Oh, is it now?” he asked. “Go ahead, throw down.”
She tossed a card from the bottom of the deck. It was the queen of clubs. He tossed the king of clubs. She took a deep breath and looked up at the celling in exasperation. The wind threw rain loudly across the roof, seeming to reflect her response.
“Tell me something good, this time. Something I want to know,” he said. “Like, your name.”
A small tree branch hit against the side of the cottage. The slight pink hue drained from her cheeks. She got up and looked out the window. After a few moments, she turned to him and said, “They’ll be coming for me soon.”
“I can’t tell.”
“Can’t or won’t? I deserve to know what’s going on.”
“You’ll know. You’ll know when they come.” She walked to the fireplace and sat on the sofa. He shuffled the cards a few more times. “I’m playing as your proxy. You’re getting your ass kicked. Tell me your name.”
He smiled. “Jane. Jane what?”
“Just plain Jane.”
“Plain Jane, from Pudden Tane?”
“Yes, that’s right. I was born here, on the kitchen table.”
“Tell me Jane, who’s coming for you, should I be worried?” Rain gusts rattled the large windows on the windward side of the house. Gusts pelted the tin roof more loudly than before. “Is it the boogeyman? Should I be afraid?”
She looked at the ceiling.
“It’s the roof,” he said, raising his voice over the din. “It’s tin.”
She walked back to the kitchen table, took the cards from his hand, and threw down the joker.
“What does that mean?” She asked.
“It means you lose. You have to tell me your story, who you are, everything. I’m afraid I’m headed for trouble having you here, with people coming to get you. I want to know what’s coming.”
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“That’s right, you don’t know, do you? Well, we have that in common, Jane.”
“Look, I don’t remember my name, or anything else, is that so hard for you to understand?”
“I’m a little thick. He’s thick-headed, they used to say about me.” He stood up. “They called me Rocky because of it. My head’s like granite.”
“I can’t say.”
“Why? Why can’t you?”
A thunder clap shook the hill. Lightening lit up the sky. The trees surrounding the cottage swayed violently. She ran into his arms, resting her head on his chest, and sobbed. He gently patted her back. “It’s okay. You’re all right. You’re safe here.”
“Help me,” she said, softly, and buried her head into his chest. They stood like that for a while, until she stopped shaking, then he pulled himself away from her, and held her in front of him. She looked down at the floor.
“I won’t let anyone hurt you, if that’s what you mean. Not in my home.”
“It won’t matter. They’ll come and…” She looked up suddenly, as if remembering something, then backed away from him.
“What?” he asked.
Another violent thunderclap rattled the cottage. She backed away further, looking frighteningly up at the skylight, as if somehow the lightning would illuminate her through the glass, and give away her secrets. After the rumbling thunder sounded, she walked slowly to the sofa, her hands clasped in front of her chest. She laid down and buried her head in the pillow.
Growing exasperated, he walked over and stood in front of the fire. They listened to the storm and the wind. After a few minutes, she looked up from the pillow.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“That’s a tough way to be. Nervous like that. You should relax.”
She smiled. “I’ll try.”
“Good.” They watched the fire for a few minutes, then he said, “I’ll make up the couch. You can stay in the bedroom for the night.”
“No, I want to stay near the fire.”
“Okay, if that’s what you want, but the sofa’s not very comfortable after a while. The cushions are old and – ”
“No, this is good. I’ll be good, here.”
He looked at the decanter of whiskey on the mantelpiece and said, “Do you want a drink?” She stared at him, but said nothing. “There’s whiskey, if you want.”
“Do you want some?” she asked.
There was nothing he wanted more than to pour himself a glass of the aged Kentucky Bourbon. He wanted to smell it, to see it pour over ice and savor its cool bite. He wanted its warmth in is belly, the gentle fire that ran through his guts and calmed him, the fast lift of the alcohol running through him and making his blood hot, energized and crazy. Right now, those old feelings felt fresh and exciting, wrapped in fancy new paper and sitting in a box under the tree. He thought of how after having a few, the whiskey would start to go down like water, and he’d go into a blackout and say and do things, and not remember most of what happened, and regret it all the next day. Then he remembered the puking, the pain in his gut, the hangover headaches and dizziness, his injured and sore body, and not being able to walk a straight line. How his words would come out so slurred, he’d have to think of them as he spoke. He didn’t miss the hangover or waking up in the strange doorways, or the doctors, with their curt manners, telling him he was killing himself, but he liked having the whiskey near, and looking at it in the fine decanter.
“It’s for guests,” he said, and turned and walked to the bedroom to get blankets and sheets.
After they made up the couch, they locked eyes for a moment and his stomach turned over again. He thought of what it would be like to be with her, then pushed it out of his mind. She smiled, but he couldn’t bring himself to smile back.
“I hope you’re comfortable,” he said.
“I’ll hang my clothes in front of the fire, if that’s all right. They should be dry by morning.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Good idea.”
The wind died down, and a steady rain tapped on the roof. The only illumination came from the fireplace, and a kerosene lamp by the sofa. In the kitchen, he took the other lamp and walked into the bedroom. He turned and looked in her direction, but saw only the couch where she lay, and beyond that the clothes hanging from the fireplace screen. He wondered what time it was. It felt very late, but he sensed that it was still relatively early. It didn’t matter. They were both tired.
“Good night,” he said.
“Good night,” she answered, her small voice barely audible.
This Could Make A Cool Movie – Overall A Very Entertaining Listen
Wow, what a mystifying and gripping story. Hinckley successfully messes with your head and shows you just how weird alien life could turn out to be. I found it reminiscent of both 2001: A Space Odyssey (just sans all the monkey stuff) and the Hyperion books, without being derivative. Though many of the ideas in this book are not in and of themselves original, the execution and marrying of those ideas turns this into a fresh and thrilling tale.
This book is written in present tense and initially I found it a bit jarring, especially in third person limited. It makes the descriptions seem too flowery and the characters’ actions too deliberate when they aren’t, not really. Almost like reading a screenplay. The story also takes a while to really get going but that ends up adding to the mystery.
Overall I found myself seeking opportunities to listen so I could find out what happens next, which is the mark of a good audiobook, (I withhold the fifth star only because I reserve that for things that completely smash my mind). I finished it in less than a day. A very entertaining listen.
He laid down, half expecting his daughter to stand next to him and touch her fingers to his eyelids the way she so often did when he napped and wanted to wake him. Her light brown hair was so very fine, he used to tell her, because the angles had found it on the breath of whispers in God’s ear, and they’d snatched it away as it fell from heaven and weaved it onto her head. She’d hold her head in her hands and in a knowing, skeptical tone, scold him. “Daddy!” He’d touch her nose with a finger and hold her close, and they’d sit quietly for a few seconds, then he’d catch her eye and wink, and smile at her and her blue eyes would grow huge for a second and she’d beam at him, taking in a deep breath and releasing it with a sigh. Her small fingers were perfectly formed, but slightly pudgy, as she held them over his eyes, and he’d quickly snap at them, pretending to bite her hand, and they’d laugh. But she did not come to wake him. She would never come again. The pain of that realization sat upon his sternum like a dead weight, a rock pressing against his heart, unable to be dislodged. He crossed his hands over his chest and fell into a deep sleep.
She stood at the end of the sofa, gazing into the fire. The youthfulness of her face was illuminated in yellow and orange hues. He watched her for a moment, not completely sure he wasn’t dreaming. The fire popped and an errant piece of char hit the fire screen. Startled, she turned to him and he smiled. They locked eyes for a second, her opal-light irises instantly captivating. Her hair and clothes were soaked and she dripped water onto the floor.
“You decided not to leave, then?” he said.
“I noticed.” He sat up. The wind and rain buffeted the cottage, making the fire feel all the more pleasant. She stared at the burning wood and said nothing. He got up slowly, watching her and the fire, then went to the kitchen and poured water into a glass and brought it to her. “How’s your headache?” he asked. She took the glass and sipped, but said nothing. “I have a shortwave radio,” he said. “Cell phones are spotty, and may not work. Is there someone we need to call?”
She walked to the kitchen and placed the empty glass on the counter, then sat in the old, creaky chair at the head of the table and stared down at her clasped hands. She shivered from the cold. He saw she was dripping water onto his chair and floor. “I have some dry things you can wear,” he said, and walked into the bedroom. He lit a lamp, then opened his bureau and found a navy blue sweatshirt and pants and thick cotton socks. When he turned, he was surprised to find her standing in the doorway, staring at him. She had removed her sweatshirt and now wore only a tee shirt and skin tight, very wet jeans. The low backlight accentuated the curve of her hips, thighs and well-rounded calf muscles. “I’ll leave these here.” He placed the clothes on his bed and turned to her. “You can change,” he started to say, but she was gone.
He found her looking out a kitchen window. Shrubs and trees wiped wildly in the squall. Rain pelted the cottage in violent waves. “I left the dry clothes in there for you. Feel free to…” She turned toward him, and her slight smile stopped him in mid-sentence. She was more beautiful than any woman he’d ever seen. A flutter grew in his stomach and for an instant, he felt tongue tied, something he’d never suffered before. Feeling momentarily inept in front of her, but quickly regaining his senses, he turned away from her gaze. “You can go in there,” he said, pointing at the bedroom. When he finally turned back to look, she was walking toward the room and quickly disappeared inside. “Bring the lamp out when you come,” he said.
The dead steal my dreams. They come into my head and play pinball with my thoughts, my emotions, my very life. Pick a night, any night:
My heart pounds. I can barely make out the digits on my clock as they jump in a frantic dance. Are my eyes that dry? I can barely make out the numbers. My guess is four AM. The ringing in my ears is louder. I close my eyes and breathe deeply. Cool air fills my lungs. I open my eyes, a dark spot, like an evil cloud in the shape of a man in a long robes hovers in front of me. As my eyes adjust, the dark man dissolves into shadows. My back is drenched in sweat. I shiver and wrap the sheets around my body. Another clawing death dream has shaken me to my core.
I turn on the bed-side lamp and grab a pen and look around for paper. I tear the cover off a magazine and take notes. It was dark. Outside, perhaps. In a park. The woman was in her late thirties. Dark shoulder length hair. Somebody was attacking her. Did I see a knife? A mugging? And her scream. The same bloody scream I’d heard in countless dreams. Just remembering it sends shivers down my back.
I sip water from the glass I keep by the bed for just such emergencies, and take another deep breath. My heart begins to slow. I lie back, saying aloud, “Please, Just make it stop….”
But in that clawing plea, the only thing I’d managed to make go away was my girlfriend of six months. She’d had enough of the nightly carnage, the fitful dreams, screaming in the night, pushing her out of bed. After almost strangling her in her sleep, she finally moved on. Because I couldn’t. I’d give up everything, all my measly possessions: my clothes, prized record collection, new computer, TV, bank account, everything I own, if only it would just stop.
Ripping through another person’s fate is exhausting. The violence is terrifying. I’ve seen people hit by cars, shot, crushed by busses…you get the idea.
My last case began with black sedan careening over the side of a bridge and falling a hundred feet into a raging river. Both occupants were killed. But that was my precognition. That was just a dream. They hadn’t died…yet. So, I sought out the victims and tried to warn them. But they wouldn’t listen. (Most my warnings often unheeded.) They were killed a week later in the exact same accident I saw in my dream. But, hey, who doesn’t have quirks? I’m a damn good detective.
“Powerful and compelling, “Infinity 7″ by Charles R. Hinckley is a riveting psychological sci-fi adventure that readers won’t soon forget! When suspicious communication comes from the Metis 3 Space Station requesting a team to investigate malfunctions and the possibility of alien life forms, astronaut and astrophysicist John Collins knows he is headed back to space. Developer of the Metis Space Program, Collins has dedicated his professional career to this project, at great personal cost, and will do whatever it takes to keep the funding flowing for this research. Discovery of alien spores found in soil samples have been mishandled by Forrest, one of the techs, putting the entire station in danger of contamination. Strange behavior from the crew and the mainframe computer system suggest alien forces have taken over as an entranced crew member is determined to destroy the space station. Fighting hallucinations and madness caused by exposure to the spore toxins, John Collins is in for the fight of his life and the future of the earth. This story is a fantastic read! I really enjoyed the writing – Hinckley has a talent for creating vivid, colorful, life-like descriptions in every paragraph, and not a word is wasted. The plot-line is complex without being overwhelming; the various layers of the story are sophisticated and round out the entire story as a whole. The author’s imagination seems limitless as the creativity displayed in the scenes and the settings compel the reader to plow through the pages…”
I’m standing on dark brown linoleum, my foot narrowly escaping a cockroach as it scurries under the day bed. The room is dark, tall, with ten-foot ceilings. The beige paint is chipping out in large, continent shaped patches, little South Americas, Africa hanging by a thread. Shelves line the walls above the sofa. Good, a book case. The day bed comes with the room. A bent screen is jammed into the open window and I can hear traffic noise, but at least it’s on the ground floor. I look over at my potential roommate, Jim. He’s upbeat, about thirty five, good looking; almost game show host-like in his mannerisms and enthusiasm.
What the hell, “I’ll take it,” I say.
Three hundred and fifty a month, how can you go wrong? A bedroom with a private entrance connected to a small hall and bath. And the rooms are big, if not crumbling out of themselves. I convince myself that with a little bit of paint, it’ll be like new.
“Good!” he says, “Let’s get a drink.”
We wander across Second Avenue and up the hill to the Bull’s Eye tavern. They know Jim there and he seems to be well liked, this game show host roommate of mine. And why not, he’s athletic, got a great smile, dimpled chin, a full shock of hair. We sit in front of a couple of drafts and he casually asks, “By the way, you know I’m gay, right?”
A little twinge hits my stomach. Is he looking at my crotch? Why isn’t he effeminate? I never would have guessed he’s gay. Does he have orgies in his room? I look at the bartender. Now they think I’m gay, right? “Well, I’m not gay,” I say.
Oh, he assures me, I don’t flaunt it. I don’t care for fems, he says. Besides, this is strictly a business deal. Rent for a room. It wasn’t in the ad, but I don’t really care, “Sure, sure. No problem.”
After I pile in my few meager possessions, bags of clothes and my desk from home, I encamp on the day bed. First nights are always the hardest. Cramped and lonely in my little burrow, I learn not to be afraid of things that crawl in the dark and scatter when the lights come on. Lying in the blackened room, they crawl casually across my arm, and I fling the insects onto the wall or floor. I reach up with the side of my fist and pound them into submission, letting them fall where they may.
At four AM, the heavy cruisers arrive. I hear then scuttling and munching on God knows what. The armored division attacks my front. I brush my arm and a heavy thud hits the floor. That was no small insect. I turn the lights on. The floor and walls are alive with brown exoskeletons scattering in all directions.
September 24, 1983
My second evening is less strained. I take comfort in my newly purchased roach motels and poison traps. Already, there are fewer insects to be seen. Suddenly, I hear something at the window. A dark bare arm slowly reaches in through the curtains, fingers outstretched, reaching, ready to grasp. I yell, “Hey!” The arm jerks to attention and recoils as if wound back onto a human fishing reel. I close the window and lock the doors, unsettled, I’m feeling lost in the whirr of the city.
September 30, 1983
I wouldn’t say Jim is a health nut, but he sure does like to run. Right up to Central Park and back every day. Lifts weights in the kitchen, too. Breathes real loud and strong to get that energy flowing. One, two, three twist and turn, up and down, deep knee bends, come on, one and two, his thick boozy breath billowing into all corners of the room, like a steam bath in there when he gets going. It’s tough to swallow my scrambled eggs with all that going on. Amazing how he can stay up until three a.m. sucking up all that booze and pop right back up the next morning… two, three, and here we go and one. Shouldn’t complain, though. It’s tough to find a first floor apartment this cheap on the Upper East Side.
October 2, 1983
I’m waiting tables while I take classes in acting: Shakespeare, scene study, auditioning technique. I have a long way to go. Feel lost in a sea of false hope and groundless optimism leading nowhere. Auditions go badly. I’ve met a few girls in acting class. Made a few friends. I am building a life, my own life, while learning to be a good waiter.
Jan 7, 1984
Jim throws me a surprise party for my thirtieth birthday. Friends from work, some of his friends, they all chip in, buy me a mattress for the wooden frame that I had made from cut pine and bolts. Fits real nice. Damn nice of these guys, friends of Jim’s, mostly, acquaintances of mine. Damn nice.
We finished the evening with another bottle of wine. A girl from the tavern offers herself to me as a present. Can’t complain about that. Damned nice of her. Damned nice. Six months is a long time. Later, we talk on the stoop in front of her apartment until 3 a.m. I’ll have to avoid her for a while. Don’t want to give the wrong impression.
Jan 25, 1984
I come home unexpectedly and my private entrance is locked. I pound on the door, hear shuffling noises in the room and creaking from my desk chair. Jim calls for me to wait a minute. Finally, after several minutes, he unlocks the door. I hear them as they scurry into his side of the apartment, Jim and his secret guest. Later I learn he was glad I had arrived when I did, not knowing what the strange man might have done, Jim being naked and tied up in my favorite chair.
February 25, 1984
Jim has decided to kill himself. Seems he’s unhappy with his life. The booze and the cocaine, the anonymous sex, have all taken their toll. AIDS has crept into the picture. A nurse friend told us about hygiene and the treatment for the afflicted. She scared me half to death and I went out and bought some liquid soap for the bath. No more sharing bar soap for this kid. Jim was greatly offended by the soap, but I told him we always used the liquid at home, I’m just homesick for it. I know Jim doesn’t have AIDS. I think.
February 28, 1984
Three AM. Jim is weepy. He staggers into my room, wakes me up, and tells me he wants to kill himself. I ask him how and he tells me to mind my own business, but if I must know, he has a hoard of pills. I tell Shirley, our mutual friend from the Bull’s Eye and she comes over to search his room while he’s gone out. She finds pills, but there isn’t enough to kill him, just maybe make him sleep for a day or two.
March 3, 1984
I feel terrible about Jim. I confide in a friend at work. He tells me there is nothing for it, he had a roommate that killed himself and he was just a selfish prick, tells me people who off themselves are all selfish pricks. I worry anyway, thinking how unfair it all is.
March 5, 1984
Pills gone, Jim has decided to kill himself the slowest way possible. He stays up all night snorting cocaine, and drinking with his new buddies, the drug dealers. They play cards until morning light; argue about nonsense, thinking they are being clever when they are repetitive and shallow. They offer Jim money for my room; have them move in, me out. Jim turns them down, but likes to tell me about the offers anyway. I find a .22 caliber bullet on the kitchen floor.
Jim comes from a big, Irish Catholic family in the mid-west somewhere. His sister talks to me on the phone, thinks I’m his lover. She wants to know if he’s really all right. I lie; tell her he’s just fine. She seems relieved. What can she do anyway, I think. It’s not like she’s going to come rescue him. Yeah, he’s fine. Well, take care of him, she says. I don’t bother to tell her, he’s just my roommate and I try to avoid him as much as possible.
March 25, 1984
I am finally alone in the apartment! Some much needed alone time! My resentment toward Jim has peaked and I sing aloud, “Ding dong, the master baiter’s gone!” to the tune of “Ding dong the Witch is Dead,” while I make popcorn. I dance with delight at my free evening at home. Jim suddenly emerges from his closet. He’s been hiding behind his wardrobe and wants to spring out and surprise me. Now he wants to know what I meant by “The master baiter” crack. He pulls out his stash of gay porno mags, stained with some odd smelling oils, and asks me if this is to what I am referring. I don’t know what to say. The greasy stained magazines flop around in his hands. I look at the greasy bottle of corn oil I used to make the popcorn. Was that a pubic hair stuck to the label?
April 23, 1984
Jim’s friend Rico, the drug dealer from Brazil, and his heroin-addicted girl friend, Sheila, need a place to stay. Jim lets them put a mattress on the kitchen floor. Jim is very helpful like that. Rico has a lot of phone calls to make to his drug-dealing friends. They come to the door and he leaves with them. Sal, from New Jersey, came by the other day and he seemed quite angry about something. Sorry I answered the door, really. But Rico and Sal went for a walk and worked it out. Afterward, Rico bought a bunch of shrimp and cooked them in water and beer. He insisted I eat with him. They tasted pretty good, once I realized they weren’t poisoned.
May 3, 1984
Rico’s girlfriend, Sheila, is feeling pretty sick. They sit in the bathtub together for hours sometimes; they take the phone in there and make business calls. I hear that Rico has offered Jim lots of money for my room, but Jim says not to worry, he wouldn’t kick me out. Although, he hints, the extra money would be nice.
The landlady came down and asked me for the rent today. Seems she hasn’t seen any money for a few months. I told her I just give my money to Jim. It’s his place. He pays the rent. (I guess not.) I haven’t seen Jim for a while to talk to him about it.
May 27, 1984
Rico and Sheila finally move out. Am seeing less and less of Jim, now. He lost his job at the good restaurant and now he’s working for a not-so-nice place on the West side. Makes less money. I have been talking to the landlady about letting me move into an empty apartment upstairs.
June 15, 1984
I finally have my own place. Up five floors, but it’s worth it. Two bedrooms, kitchen and a bath! Jim knocked on the door the other day, but I pretended I wasn’t home. He scares me now. Not like the person I met at all. That far away look in his eyes makes me think he is the loneliest person on Earth. But I’ve made up my mind I can’t help him. I need to live my own life.
July 2, 1984
They finally came and took Jim home today. He’d been unable to function for about a month. He was too afraid to leave the apartment. His sister and brother bought him a ticket and he’s gone. I don’t even know who’s in the apartment downstairs now. Some creepy guy he had move in a while ago. Poor Jim, all he wanted to do was be an actor.
Sunlight streamed in through a break in the curtains and he could see a wall of tiny dust particles dancing in its beams. He thought of vacuuming the rug, but had only a mechanical sweeper. Ever since he brought that rug to the island, he’d seen particles floating above it.
The sound of running water pricked up his ears. He didn’t understand why water would be splashing in the kitchen. Perhaps a bird had come in during the night and was caught in the sink. He lay in bed listening to the faint gurgle and splashing. The gentle trickle of water falling. He sat up and looked toward the sound. His bedroom door was ajar. He got up and looked into the kitchen. A girl stood over the sink, washing her face and neck. She wore a blue plaid shirt, a red sweatshirt wrapped around her waist, blue jeans and dirty white canvas sneakers. Her hair was dark, almost black, but as she pulled at the wet curls it appeared, in the sunbeams from the skylight, a very dark brown color with reddish highlights, and was thick and wavy. When she was finished pulling at her hair, she looked around the counter top for something to dry it with.
“Hello” he said.
She turned sharply, pointing a long kitchen knife in his direction. Her fearful look startled him and he took a step back.
“That towel is dirty,” he said, pointing to the rag by the sink. “I’ll bring you a clean one.”
She took a step away from the sink, her eyes fixed on him. He went to his bed, pulled on his trousers, stepped into his moccasins, then got a towel from the linen closet in the bathroom, and brought it to the kitchen. He stood a few feet away from her and offered her the towel. She slowly reached out with one hand, holding the knife in the other, and took the offering. “Thank you,” she said, in a small voice.
“I have plenty of food,” he said. “I can cook something. Do you want breakfast?”
She smelled the towel, then slowly dried her hair and face. Her eyes very light blue, a color he’d never seen before on a human being.
“You can cook if you want,” she said.
“You can put that knife away. I’m not gonna hurt you.”
She held the towel in front of her chest and slowly slid the knife into the sink.
“Good,” he said. “I generally eat big in the morning.”
She shrugged and turned to look at the fireplace. He followed her eyes and said, “Fire went out last night.”
“I can build one,” she said.
She walked to the fireplace. He went to the refrigerator to get eggs and ham and bread. He watched her out of the corner of his eye as she stacked kindling on the ashes and fanned the coals. She crumpled up newspaper and placed in underneath and the wood started to burn. She placed a few medium sized logs onto the fire and the flames quickly grew.
He hand pumped well-water into the coffee pot, then put it on the gas stove to percolate. Cracking open the eggs, he placed them in a large, black pan, and laid slices of ham-steak in, and it sizzled and popped from the heat. He placed slices of bread on the old fashioned, pyramid shaped toaster that fit neatly over the gas burner. The eggs crackled and popped and he turned them gently, so as not to break the yolks. While he cooked, she warmed herself by the fire.
“I can tell you’re all right by looking at you,” he said, and wanted to ask why she was there, but decided to let her speak in her own time. Perhaps she was lost or running from something. She cleared her throat and looked as if she was about to speak, but said nothing. “I’ll give you a lift back to the mainland, if you like. Or I’ll give you gas or whatever you want for your boat, but that’s as far as we go.”
She warmed her hands by the flames. “It’s a good fire,” she said. “I was cold. The wood is dry. Burns good.”
“It’s been in the woodbin for over a year, more or less. I get oak from the mainland. Oak burns best, I think. Dense wood. Not like pine.”
He placed the eggs, ham and toast on two plates and placed them on the table. He poured two cups of coffee and set one down for her. “Come and eat.” He stood in front of his place and waited. She walked slowly to the table and sat, never taking her eyes off of him. He sat and smiled at her and said, “Best breakfast in town.” She smiled and picked up her fork.
She looked to be about twenty, he figured. Definitely not younger. Perhaps, as old as twenty five, now that he had a good look at her. She glanced at him and he blushed, wondering how she got the eyes of a husky. She wasn’t light skinned enough to be an albino, but she had fair coloring. Her lips were full and her nose was small.
“Where are you from?” he asked. She frowned and poked her food with a fork. “Aren’t you gonna try my coffee? I make strong coffee.” She gave a slight smile and made a show of sipping from the cup, although it didn’t look like she took any into her mouth. “You want some water?” he asked. She vigorously shook her head. He got a large pitcher from the fridge and grabbed a glass from the cabinet and placed both in front of her. She filled the glass and quickly drank it down. Then she dank another, and another.
“I hope you didn’t try to drink that water that runs in the sink. That’s not potable.”
He watched her gulp down a full glass of water. “You’re dehydrated,” he said.
She looked eagerly at him and licked her lips. “Yes, I think I am. I wasn’t thirsty before and now I am.”
“Why would you be so dehydrated?”
“I was at sea.”
“I swam for a whole night.”
“What about your boat?”
He did the calculations in his head. The currents run swiftly through slots between the islands. Either she was a very slow swimmer, or the tidal current brought her in from one of the outer islands. Perhaps, Jewell Island, the last island before you hit the open ocean. That would be about five or six miles to the East.
“It sunk?” he asked.
“Hit a rock or something. Heavy seas. I don’t remember the rest.”
He hadn’t heard about a shipwreck, certainly not nearby. The radio would have been crackling with the news. There had been very stormy weather the day before yesterday, but something wasn’t adding up. “You’re telling me you wrecked and then you swam here?”
“I think so.”
“You had a life vest?” She said nothing. “Was anybody else onboard?”
“I don’t remember.”
“Was it a ship, like a cruise ship, a private yacht, a sailing ship, what?”
“I…” She stood up. “I don’t think…” She ran outside and leaned over the porch railing. He heard her gagging, and walked over to see if he could help.
“You drank too fast,” he said. “You’ll be okay. Come sit by the fire. ” She turned to look at him and her blue-white eyes sparkled in the morning sun.
They went inside and sat in front of the fire. He sipped coffee from a mug. She sipped a glass of water. Her color came back, what little there was in her pale skin, and her eyes were less glassy. “What’s your name?” he asked her. She stared at the fire and said nothing. Then she extended her right hand in front of her, stretching the fingers out. She looked at the back of her hand, then at the palm, and said, “My hand looks the same. Familiar. But I don’t remember my name.” He took that as nonsense and looked at her for a few minutes, noting the sweep of hair across her forehead, the tight, almost pore-less skin of her face. “What do you mean, familiar?”
“I mean, I know it. It’s mine.” She looked again at her hand and smiled, then turned back to the fire.
“What’s the last thing you remember?”
“Coming to this island. Standing on the shore, and watching you…by the fire.”
“Oh” she said, in a soft voice.
“I was aware of you in the bush. You should have come to the fire.”
She stared at the flames and tussled her hair. She had a slow, dreamy quality about her now, and she could barely keep her eyes open. She stretched out on the sofa and closed her eyes. He got up and moved her feet onto the cushions, then got a blanket from the bedroom and placed it over her. He watched her breathing as it grew shallow. The flare of her nostrils became less pronounced. Once she was asleep, he walked back into the kitchen to finish breakfast.
He split wood in the back yard. The stack, dropped off from the mainland a week earlier, was good oak, ready to be split and dried, and he was making headway. As he heaved the heavy blade, he could feel an occasional cool breeze as the afternoon winds shifted. It was sunny and hotter inland, and he removed his shirt when it started to stick to his back. The sea breeze kicked up and cooled his sweaty skin. The ax was heavy and double bladed, and the oak split easily. Wiping his brow, he turned to see her emerge from the cottage. As he strained to scratch an itchy spot behind his shoulders, he felt her hand move in slow circles against his flesh. He stiffened and turned to her. “How are you feeling?” he asked, placing the ax against to the woodpile.
“Like I’m dreaming.”
“You need food, and more to drink.” She gave him a slight smile and stared at him, as if she were witnessing something completely new. “How long were out in the water?”
“I don’t remember, exactly. It’s a blur. No longer than a day, I think. And part of the night.”
“Where were you headed?”
“I don’t know.”
“Who was with you? How many onboard?”
She frowned and took a step toward the cottage. He placed a hand on her shoulder and she turned to him. “I want to help, but I don’t know anything about you,” he said. “What’s your name? Do you have family?”
“I don’t feel right,” she said. He release his hand and she walked toward the cottage.
“I only want to help.” He put his shirt back on and followed her inside.
She was sitting at the kitchen table, her head down. He brought the pitcher of water and filled a glass. She sipped and stared down at the table, her thick hair obscuring her lovely face. He leaned back against kitchen counter and crossed his arms over his chest. “I’m worried you’ve been missing for a while. People are probably worried, probably looking for you. The police-”
“No police,” she interrupted. “There’s no one. I’m alone.”
“You were alone on the boat?”
“I’m trying to tell you, you can’t just disappear. People will be looking for you.”
Her expression was strangely serene, childlike. He went to the sink and pumped fresh well water into the pitcher. “I live alone. It wouldn’t be right having you here…” He finished refilling the water pitcher and returned it to the fridge. “You understand?” He turned back to her, but she was gone. Her half-empty glass still on the table.
“Hey,” he said loudly. “Hey, kid.”
He walked outside. Everything was as he’d left it. The wind tussled the pines. The tall grass beyond his yard swirled in the gusts. He made his way down to the path leading to the beach. His boat was tied securely to the dock, and bounced freely in the choppy water. Clouds rolled in from the North. The air began to chill. “Hey, kid,” he yelled, against the din of escalating wind. He felt foolish calling her “kid.” She wasn’t a kid. Perhaps, he wasn’t much older than her, he really couldn’t tell. Perhaps, it was her apparent vulnerability that made him call her kid. It could be she wasn’t young at all, but only appeared youthful. What else was he going to call her? And she’d be even more vulnerable in the approaching storm. He wasn’t happy worrying about her, or anyone else for that matter, especially a mixed-up stranger. He had his own troubles. He turned and walked back up the path.
By the time he reached the cottage, large drops of rain began hitting his head. The precipitation was cold, and sent a chill through him. This caused him to worry even more about the girl. Her infirmity reminded him of his own weakness, and how pained he was at the loss of his family. Simple tasks, like taking out the garbage, or chopping wood, could trigger deep, painful memories, and send him into depression.
He stood in the storm-darkened kitchen, staring at the open door and the rainy field beyond, and thought of his wife standing in front of him. At first, she was nude. Her strong shapely legs, the pillar of her vibrant body. Then she was dressed in jeans and a pale red T-shirt, the way she was the last time he saw her. She was smiling, her brown hair diffused in back-light, radiating around her head like a golden crown. In his mind, he smiled back. His daughter ran into the room and said something. At first he couldn’t make out the words, but the sound of her voice spun his stomach. He looked at her angelic face, a smear of chocolate outlined her lips.
“Hi Pumpkin,” he said, and smiled, his heart breaking. His throat tightened, and he could feel tears filling his eyes.
What was left of the light in the kitchen succumbed to stormy twilight, as he stared out the open doorway, his mind dull, saturated by inklings of ancient emotions. A feeling of longing made his eyes lose focus, and he stared at nothing for a few moments, floating in the lightness of melancholy. Rain pelted the porch and began wetting the floor where he stood. Blue-black clouds danced and clashed above. A downpour pinged off the metal roof, slowly at first, then more abundantly, enlivening the sounds of gusting wind in sharp staccato rhythms. He stared put at the field and slowly shut the door.
He retrieved a box of wooden matches and lit a kerosene lamp. The smell triggered sense memory of the often repeated task, rooting him in the feeling security and home. The smell of the stove, the essence of gas fumes after being lit, the crackle of eggs cooking on the stove, the smell of coffee percolating. He slowly stacked dried kindling, lit the newspapers he’d stuffed underneath and waited until the kindling caught, then added larger pieces of wood, building it into a roaring fire. He sat on the sofa and watched the flames.
A dull ache started behind his eyes, and was exacerbated by the light of the fire.