Next month, my novella Follow the White Rabbit hits the shelves. Here is a sneak preview of it, but before that, a little about the story.
Jessi, a successful new artist, never thought her life could turn sour so quickly, but when she comes home to find a dangerous man waiting for her, she does the only thing she can do to stay alive… run.
And now, for the story.
Chapter One Preview
When Jessi turned off the ignition outside her apartment, the headlights doused and the wipers froze halfway up the glass. As a fine mist drifted languidly across the street, it eddied over the windshield, licking the surface until it fully wetted as if a layer of crystals refracted the cool white light of the nearby street lamps.
This time of year was colder than usual, and although the temperature inside her car started to drop, she didn’t want to get out. She was afraid someone was hiding in the mist, just waiting for the chance to take her by surprise. Therefore, she sat there, and tried to psych herself up enough to get her things and head into the building.
Her parents raised her in this city, and she knew it wasn’t characteristically dangerous. Most of the homes in the surrounding neighborhoods sold for over four-million each, and the apartments charged just south of three-thousand for a single bedroom unit. It was a typical community of wealth where the worst thing that happened was someone’s yappy dog peed near someone’s lawn.
For years, crime seemed non-existent to her. That remained true until someone mugged her friend Beth at a nearby gas station two weeks ago. The attacker didn’t harm Beth or anyone else, but it was just enough to freak Jessi out because if it could happen to Beth, then it could happen to her. Hell, it could happen to anyone.
Suddenly, all the fright her father had metaphorically beat into her as a child came rushing back. The man was a notorious cynic and categorically hateful of men. Although women were no strangers to committing crimes, he believed women were more likely to commit crimes of necessity. Meanwhile, he maintained that men did stupid things because they needed to show off, which made them incredibly dangerous. Even more dangerous were the ones that couldn’t get their hands on women for one reason or another, so they committed even worse crimes, like rape.
Though her father had passed long ago, that didn’t stop him from whispering into her ear. She heard him admonish her for being out so late and warning her of how easy it would be for someone to sneak up on her in that fog. He constantly reminded her of how little time it would take for someone to take advantage of her, and then she’d be living as a victim for the rest of her life.
Life as a victim. That was the one thing she could never stand hearing him say. There are many reasons someone might become a victim, but she believed that if someone was strong enough, he or she could overcome that feeling of being a victim. She knew that one could never forget an atrocity forced upon them by another, but that didn’t mean they had to live as a victim for the rest of their life.
Truthfully, she knew no single word to describe such an experience, and that by reducing it to a single-word description, be it victim or survivor, it took away from the actuality of it.
“Bah,” she said, annoyed she even concerned herself with those thoughts. She knew the likelihood of something happening to her in Newport Beach was slim, and she knew she needed to get over it. There was no sense in sitting outside freezing when she could be in her nice toasty apartment.
She reached into the back of her car, and struggled to bring her painting equipment to the front. She could have just as easily stepped out and opened the rear door for easier access, but deep down inside, she didn’t want to be out in the fog more than necessary. She may have mostly retired her fear, but that didn’t mean she planned to give a criminal more opportunity than necessary.
Jessi quickly scanned the inside of her car to make sure she had everything, and then opened the door. It was half-open when a car with extremely loud exhaust roared past her. The ensuing flow of air pulled her door all the way open, and the mist swirled behind it. It eddied into the car, oddly like the tendrils of a sea monster reaching for her.
She leaned out of her door and yelled, “Asshole!”
She didn’t feel any better.
Jessi watched the two red lights glow through the fog as they waited at a four-way stop, and then the driver was gone. She thought about how they appeared as the burning red eyes of a monster through that dense mist. How, if it was, she might be the fresh meat of a creature stalking the city under the guise of the marine layer. She thought about how amazing that might look when depicted on canvas, and she grew excited. She couldn’t wait to paint the new piece in her studio.
That was what she loved most about art. Her imagination was vast and colorful, and art was the medium by which she was able to help others experience it. Of course, the only art of hers that sold was the more abstract pieces, but she truly loved her more straightforward depictions the most. They told the story she wanted to tell rather than a mere depiction of what other people wanted to see in it. That’s not to say she didn’t like abstract art, because it was, after all, every artist’s dream to create a unique piece that every single person could get something different from, but to tell a single story with one purposeful painting was truly amazing.
She smiled, suddenly thankful for the driver who refused to take it easy in the fog. Without him, she wouldn’t have a new piece in mind, and with her newfound success as an artist, she might finally receive positive reception from the community on her less abstract artwork.
Jessi quickly got out of her car, pulled her bag over her shoulder, and closed the door. As she walked toward her apartment, the fog felt cold on her skin like tiny icy pricks from a dull needle. The lights hanging from the face of her building haloed in the fog and acted like small lighthouses that led her toward the door. When she reached the steps, she took them easy, one by one, and then when she reached the door, she shifted the bag to just one arm as she searched through her keys.
When she found the one for the building, a sudden noise from the street startled her. She dropped her bag and whipped around. Her heart hammered in her chest and thumped hard in her ears, making it difficult for her to listen to the night. She frantically searched for what might be out there while simultaneously trying to figure what exactly she heard. Was it a car? Was it footsteps? Was it her goddamned overactive imagination?
The fog appeared to move undisturbed, but it was dense enough to shroud most of everything. The cars on the opposite side of the street were now gone as if they never existed, but she knew they did. She thought it was funny that even though she knew something to be true regardless of whether it was visible or not, it still existed outside the realm of all that was Jessi.
Beth once asked her that old philosophical question about the tree in the forest. On one hand, she knew there was no way she could know if the tree would make a sound if it fell. On the other, she wasn’t so naïve to think that just because she or someone else didn’t actually hear it, that it didn’t make noise. It was like suggesting that just because she didn’t see a crime committed that it didn’t happen. The truth is, the world continues to turn and burn whether people are ignorant of it or not, and Jessi, perhaps ignorant in her own ways, still knew that life continued to exist beyond her own perceptions.
Standing there in the cold, the cars closest to her were mere wraiths, not consumed nor entirely exposed. The passenger sides revealed themselves, and each window had fogged just enough to hide anyone that might be within those darkened vessels. Had someone been watching her through them, she wouldn’t be able to tell.
She looked down only quick enough to make sure she had the right key. The carved brass reflected the subtle light from the nearby lamp, and on the head of it was the name of her building poorly etched into its surface. She kneeled to pick up her bag, and then finally turned to unlock the door.
As Jessi slid the key into the tumbler, she felt someone move behind her. The hairs on the nape of her neck raised and her skin pinched with gooseflesh. It was as if there was a ghost sneaking through shadows growing ever closer to killing her. The key didn’t turn fast enough, the door didn’t open smooth enough, nor could she get through it quick enough. Everything took extremely long in that moment, dragging on as if fate had wanted whatever monster, whether man or beast, to catch her before reaching safety.
When she opened the door just enough to get through, she pushed her way into the lobby. In her haste, she hadn’t opened it enough. The gaudy bag snagged between the frame and the heavy door. She turned and began to pull the strap, only getting it through an inch at a time.
When she looked up, she saw a man standing in the fog.
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Also, if you’re a fan of bizarre horror and The Wizard of Oz, my new novella Dr. Oz of Z-Industries is now available! Click cover below to read now.