I had so many topics to write about for last week’s blog. So many I couldn’t decide. Family illness got in the way and instead of writing on my blog I spent those hours Saturday in the hospital waiting room and sitting in the awful chairs they put in the rooms for visitors. They are definitely trying to discourage people from staying too long.
So instead of trying to smash in everything I wanted to say, most of it having nothing to do with writing, I shall go back to my old trick of posting an excerpt. This is an excerpt from the first novel in my upcoming Sci-Fi series Starbird.
This is our first introduction to my favorite character in the series. I am considering a spinoff! Kidding. Mostly.
Anyway, here it is. Enjoy.
A hush encased the room when she entered, but Lark ached too much to notice. She simply sat at the nearest open table, rubbing her angry feet.
After a few minutes the stares began to burn into the back of her head and she glanced around, trying to be unobtrusive. Men and women congregated in groups, dressed mostly in well-worn but sturdy khaki or olive green. The only real color came from the girls Lark assumed were waitresses or barmaids, who wore similar ethnic-looking dresses in every available hue. Judging from their surprised, less than welcoming expressions, this was not a tourist trap. One glanced at an older woman, who shrugged and nodded. Striding over to Lark’s confiscated table, she raised a disapproving eyebrow. “Can I get you something?” she asked in perfect but nicely accented English.
Was being an American really that obvious? Yes, it probably was. “No, thanks,” Lark said, smiling nervously.
“You’ve got to have something or you can’t stay.”
“Oh. Do you take American money?”
Lark ignored the insulting tone, reaching for the wallet she was glad she’d thought to tuck in her vest pocket.
“All right. I’ll have a club soda with a twist of lime, please.”
The server left with a grunt.
Lark paid the exorbitant ten dollars when the server returned, silently scathing as she set down the tiny glass. Her stomach was churning from the smell of spicy food and alcohol mixed with not-very-subtle hostility. She thought about leaving, but her feet grumbled at her. Maybe she could find a map somewhere. If she could find her way back to the McDonald’s she’d noticed; the Jeremiah’s aura should lead her from there.
Yup, a map. That was the best idea she’d had so far. But first she needed a detour. Her eyes followed a large man into a small hallway at the back of the room. “Bathroom?” she asked the unfriendly server.
The woman scowled but gave a terse nod. Jumping up, Lark scuttled into the dark passageway.
The man had already disappeared. The first door she passed didn’t look promising, a heavy slab that seemed more suited to permanent closure than frequent use. She finally found what she was looking for behind a lighter door marked with the simple line drawing of a toilet.
Lark used the facilities with a grateful sigh. When she opened the door to leave, she almost ran into the man she’d followed, who was just exiting through the first fortress-like door.
Her eyes fell on the room behind him. She hadn’t intended to look, but a bright flash of gold caught the corner of her eye and pulled it in.
She pretended not to see the spotted skins, or the piles of tusks, teeth, and bone, or the assorted stuffed body parts in nearly every imaginable shade, keeping her step light and steady until a big tanned hand grabbed her upper arm.
Her eyes dragged themselves up to his, her face bloodless. He ran an unsteady hand through his dark blonde hair, face creased in a frown. “Bad timing, you. This way.”
His voice was slurred but his grip was sure. Lark was dragged into the restaurant and forced to sit back at her table.
The blonde sat beside her, another man with the nearly pure black complexion of the locals dropping on her other side. The blonde was a bit less intimidating, with glazed eyes under the shadow of his scruffy hair and smelling of strong liquor and sour milk. The smaller—though not much smaller—man was frighteningly sober. “So,” he said, his English as perfect and musical as the street vendor’s had been. “New here? On vacation?”
“Not . . . exactly,” Lark whispered.
“Sounds new to me,” the drunk one slurred. “Thirsty, too.”
“Very thirsty,” the first man added.
“Looking for a nice place for a drink,” Lark agreed quickly, desperately wishing she could read auras more specifically; she knew neither man had anything good planned for her, and the ringleader, hard as she tried to concentrate on him, had an aura that kept close and tight to his body, someone used to keeping secrets. She couldn’t guess what answer would be safest. None, probably.
“Nice place,” the sober one repeated. “Mm hm. For more than a drink. Our boss is going to be real interested. Come with us, please.”
“You’ll be our guest until Mr. Brown gets back. He’ll be interested in exactly what kind of drink you’re looking for, and from whom.”
“Let’s go,” the blonde said. Each man took an arm, lifting her from the chair. The sober one gave her a jerk, making her gasp. The gasp turned into a squeal when a small form fell from somewhere above and landed on his shoulder. Sharp little teeth found his ear and he shrieked, batting at it. The creature lost its perch and landed feet-first on the middle of the table.
Lark and the drunk leapt in opposite directions, both screaming in startled horror. The rat, a huge representation of his species, bared wedge-shaped teeth. Its nearly-naked tail scraped along the table as it scurried towards the blonde. With another shriek, the man backed into the table behind him and fell, crushing the nearest chair under his bulk.
The rat looked at Lark. She was frozen, waiting for it to leap and bite. Instead, it blinked bright black eyes at her and sat up on its hind legs, nose twitching in a way that seemed very self-satisfied.
Lark glanced upwards at the ceiling beam it must have leapt from. “Well, that was some jump, Sir Rat,” she said. “I don’t approve of your methods, startled me too, you know, but thank you.” She eyed the men, who were edging closer. “What kind of establishment are you running?” she screamed at them, holding out her arm. “Come on,” she whispered aside to the rodent.
The rat seemed to understand what she wanted and scrambled onto her shoulder. Lark bolted.
“Get back here, you nutcase!” the not-so-drunk bellowed, lunging after her.
Lark couldn’t really argue the “nutcase” comment. She had to wonder why she was talking to a verminous rodent, and not just talking to it, taking it with her. She risked a glance in its direction; its gaze was curious and somehow thoughtful. She wasn’t particularly afraid of rodents and despite its size, this one seemed more like the pet shop fancy rats she used to keep than the wild specimens she’d been taught to keep away from. Its eyes were clear, its coat sleek and shiny, and the white splotch on its chest gleamed. Perhaps it was the camaraderie of shared dislike for what was behind her.
The creature certainly smelled better than her pursuers, like clean kitchens and warm dough. “Easy living, huh?” she panted. “Hang on. They’ll do worse to you than to me.”
Lark thought she wouldn’t have a problem outpacing the muscular men, but a hand caught her arm, pulling her to a stumbling halt. It was the blonde, showing no sign of intoxication. His partner was gone; either he’d fallen too far behind, or more likely was gathering reinforcements.
Gazing into her captor’s face, she tried to look brave, but there was nothing comforting about his ugly mug. She thought he might be smiling but his face was too shadowed by his hat and coat collar to see very well. Except for his eyes, and something about them made Lark want to scream. She wished she’d paid closer attention to him in the tavern, when he’d seemed by far the lesser threat. Not now. His aura was . . . off. The colors around him swirled in a dim, sickly pattern. This man was far from well, and he really enjoyed his work.
“Come on. I don’t have the patience for this. Follow me. It’ll go easier for you if you come willingly.”
“No,” Lark whispered.
“No?” the man repeated. “You can’t say “no” tonight. Especially not to me.” He walked towards her and she matched him backwards step for step until she realized he was herding her into the dark entrance to an alley or side street. She tried to dart around him, but he caught her arm in a steel grip and she saw the glint of a metal blade clutched in his opposite hand. He slammed her into the rough wood of the nearest wall and held up what looked like a switchblade. “You should have chosen my boss. You’ll never say no again,” he whispered.
The rat on her shoulder tensed, digging his needle-tipped claws in for a fierce leap that sent him sailing onto the man’s chest, where he clung to the rough fabric of his kakhi vest, squealing wildly as he climbed to a better vantage point.
Shrieking, Lark pulled back a fist, punching the man full-force in the gut with her free hand. The man grunted and bent double, his grip loosening enough to let her tear away. Heaving himself the final few inches upwards, the rat scratched and bit ferociously at the back of the man’s neck. Her attacker let out a howl, scrabbling to get his fist around the creature.
Grateful for the distraction and hoping it wouldn’t become a sacrifice, Lark ran for her life for the second time in a matter of hours. No fair, she thought. He’s even bigger and crazier than Tony. An impact from behind sent her sprawling across the dirt and a scream exploded from her lips to echo off nearby walls, ringing back and forth across the street. A heavy weight crashed on top of her, holding her down while strong fingers gripped the back of her shirt. Her palms stung from their contact with the street and her breath was half gone, but the scream kept coming as the hands reached for her neck.
Throwing herself sideways, Lark almost managed to dislodge the man who straddled her hips, but he was too heavy and too powerful, holding her face to the ground and yanking at her collar to expose her throat. In desperation she pulled herself up on her arms and rolled, throwing the man off balance. She saw a small shape fall from his head and allowed herself a split second of relief that he hadn’t killed her little friend. Raising one leg, she kicked as hard as she could when the madman lunged, catching him in the chest with enough force to knock most of the breath out of his lungs. The man stopped, gasped, and bared his teeth at her, his vest flapping like great wings as he raised the knife . . .
Then another figure was there, dragging her assailant away. Lark rose to her knees, ready to run again, feeling the rat hook his claws into her trousers to scurry onto her shoulder and hide under her hair, squeaking. She saw her rescuer and his psychedelic aura at the same time as she caught his spicy scent, and could have cried.
Te hauled her attacker to his feet by the collar of his coat, snarling. The dark and the shadow from the brim of his hat made his eyes look almost black. The man sneered back and slashed down with the switchblade, forcing Te to jump back. The stranger hissed at them and fled.
Te tensed as if about to follow, paused, and turned instead to help Lark to her feet. “I thought I told you to stay close. What were you trying to do, save the animals?” he said, pale and angry.
Lark’s jaw clamped tight. She might not be able to do anything, but others could. Turning, she tried to dart after the fleeing man.
Te caught her by the arm her attacker had already bruised. She winced but tried to jerk away, her wild gaze aimed down the street as she struggled.
“Where do you think you’re going?” an exasperated Te cried.
“If I can get a name, something, I can report them . . .”
“How?” Te yelled. “Who would we tell? The United States embassy? Oh, yes, wonderful idea. Get yourself arrested for illegal entry into a third-world country, no passport, no travel records, nothing. That doesn’t look suspicious, no, not at all. I won’t be able to get you out and neither will Melena since we’re all here illegally. I am on this planet illegally. Even if I trusted the Jeremiah enough to try landing him in a jail cell, you’ll be on lists. Lots of lists. You’d be found.”
Lark met Te’s accusing glare for only a moment before she dropped her eyes with a deep blush. “You could have waited for me,” she whispered.
“You could have listened to me,” Te retorted.
It’s still in the editing stages so I can’t promise every word will stay the same, but this should be close to the final scene. Hope it was at least a little fun.
Carry on, all. Keep writing, keep reading, keep hoping. Peace, and goodnight fellow wordsmiths!
Image is the cover to my free short story, that link and others below.
Author Website (Enchantment’s Endgame) (Book two of this series coming out in the next few months)
Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/EnchantmentsEndgame?