Hey folks! As some of you might know, I was recently on a month-long hiatus. In that time, I plotted out the novel that I’ve had in the works for nearly 6 years and wrote the second draft of my anniversary edition of Night Vision. Since that’s sucked up a lot of my creative energy, I thought I might share a snippet of what I’ve been hard at work doing.
By “second draft” of Night Vision I essentially mean “I re-wrote every story and added two new ones” so it’s sucked up a lot of the ideas that normally float around my head. The featured image you see here was created by the extremely talented Dan Williams. His art will grace the pages of Night Vision’s Anniversary edition with a different illustration for every story. Please be sure to let me know what you think of this story, it’s kind of a big deal. Night Vision hits Amazon’s shelves in paperback and ebook on October 29th and I’ll even be making it into an audiobook to be released later!
You are sitting in your usual booth by a tall window of your favorite diner. A stale quarter piece of bagel sits on a chipped plate to your left, a cold half-cup of coffee to your right. You’ve been here for at least three hours thumbing through the newspaper as you’re known to do on a Sunday morning. You wave over the waitress, Fran, to ask for another cup of coffee. As you fold over your newspaper and look for your favorite comic strip, you hear a giggle. It reverberates through your head and feels more like a thought than a sound. It startles you and you glance around the small diner. After realizing the only patrons here are on the other side of the establishment and Fran is getting your coffee, you decide it never happened and go back to reading. Amid your own laughter at the comic, you hear it again. This time, it sends a chill down your spine because you’re sure you’ve heard it.
“Hello? Is someone there?” you ask, feeling foolish and hiding behind the newspaper.
“Hello,” the voice replies, still at the forefront of your mind, as if someone is speaking directly through your ear and into your mind.
You shake your head slightly and search before you for Fran and your coffee. She’s serving someone else, but on her way to the kitchen, she shoots you a wink to remind you she hasn’t forgotten.
“Hello? Is anyone there?” the voice says again, as if on the other end of a telephone.
“Um, yes. I’m just a bit confused” you reply, your eyes peering over the newspaper to make sure your one-sided conversation hasn’t attracted any attention.
“Oh thank God, you can hear me. I’ve been trying to reach someone for hours,” the voice replies with a sigh of relief as if they’ve been on hold for hours. You’re unable to determine the gender simply by what you hear.
“What is this? Who are you?” you say, exasperated.
“If I’m being honest, I really don’t know. This whole telepathy thing is new to me. They implanted a chip just a few days ago and today is the first day a searing headache hasn’t kept me from using it.”
The voice says this in a matter-of-fact tone that you hadn’t expected. You’re completely speechless and pause for a time.
“Still there?” the voice asks.
“Yes,” is all you can muster.
You hadn’t noticed, but Fran stopped by to deliver your coffee and was staring at you with a quizzical look. As you peek over the headlines to meet her blue eyes, she giggles, shakes her head, and pours you a new cup. To avoid further judgement, you rise from your seat, and leave your half-read newspaper lying on the booth. In an effort to maintain your status as a sane person, you fumble with crumpled bills in your pocket and place them on the table before Fran. Barely making eye contact, you mumble for Fran to keep the change. With nervous energy, you make your way to the parking lot.
“Are you still there?” you ask now that you’re alone in the confines of your station wagon.
“Yeah” the voice replies.
“Now tell me what this is all about. I feel like I’m going crazy here” you say, your heart pounding and sweat beading between the wrinkles on your forehead. You adjust your glasses, but they slowly glide down the bridge of your nose over a mix of tears and perspiration.
“Pfft, you and me both, buddy. I am in a bit of a bind though. Remember when I said someone implanted a chip in my head? Well, that wasn’t exactly voluntary. I think I might need your help.”
You bring your hands to your face, covering your eyes and nose and pushing your fingers under the plastic frames. You take a deep breath, but before you say anything, a scene appears in your mind’s eye. Large grey stone walls surround you and cover the floor. The room is cramped, about 4 feet by 5 feet but the ceiling is at least ten feet tall. Near the bottom of the wall in front of you, you see artificial yellow light pouring into the cell from a small rectangular opening. Before the opening, there is a tray of rotting food. It’s within reach, but the smell emitting from it makes you nauseous. Aside from this, the only other light you see is a small circle projected on the wall from what you assume is a window about seven feet from the floor. It’s cold; you can actually feel the cold of the stones beneath what seems to be your naked body. And it takes you off guard to realize you can smell the putrid rotting food as well. You’re breathing heavily and thick chains attach your feet to a ring in the center of the small room. Hugging your knees to your chest with dirty arms, you shiver quietly, somehow knowing that being any louder could mean your end. Your eyes blink open and it’s suddenly gone.
“What the heck was that?” you ask, not daring to close your eyes again.
“What, what happened?” she asks.
“I saw a room, there was blood and chains, and -”
“Oh, I think you’ve just seen where I am,” says the voice quietly.
“What? I don’t understand”
“Me either. I’m not even sure how long I’ve been here,” replies the voice.
“No, I mean, I don’t understand how I’ve just seen, felt, and smelled exactly where you are” you say.
“Well, I can do the same thing. You’re sitting inside of a really old car, wearing glasses and a wool golf cap. You’re dressed in comfortable clothes and parked outside of a diner.”
“That’s-” you start,
“Impossible?” finishes the voice.
At this point, your mind is racing so quickly that you’re not sure you want to understand what’s happening. A mysterious voice is somehow communicating with you and showing you terrifying images. Even if this is impossible, someone is still in need of help and you’re clearly the only one who can hear them. You sit in silence for a moment, tears fall from your eyes from stress and confusion.
“Listen, I’ve been here so long I’ve stopped counting the days. I’m filthy and cold and starving. My insides are starting to digest themselves and I can’t even scream. Please. Help me.” The confident air the voice had carried until now was wiped away and replaced with desperation.
Your hand brings the keys from your pocket to the ignition and you start the ‘96 Ford. Only now do you realize this girl might not even be in the same state let alone the same country.
“Do you remember where you lived before this happened?” you ask, the engine rumbling and sputtering, showing it’s age.
“Yes, not far from where you are now.”
“You know where I am?”
“This chip does more than let me read your thoughts and speak to you from over 1,000 miles away.”
“That’s a long trip,” you mumble. Sniffing away the tears of fear, you step on the gas and say, “I’d better get started.”
As you take off down the main road, you realize you’ve not even learned the name of this voice, if it has one at all.
“Pardon, but what’s your name? I don’t believe we’ve been properly introduced” you say, rolling down the window to let in the crisp fall air.
“Alice” the voice replies.
“It’s nice to meet you, Alice. What pronouns do you prefer?”
“Female, but thank you for asking. I can tell you’re progressive even for an old fart.”
“Hey now!” you bellow, smiling a bit. “I’ve only seen your world through your eyes, how do I know you’re not much older?”
“Trust me, this chip knows more than I do. I could be your daughter.” This fact stops you in your tracks and the smile fades from your face.
“Well anyway, it’s nice to meet you, Alice.”
“You as well,” she says.
After a brief pause, you ask, “Alice, if you don’t mind my asking, how did you get into this mess in the first place?”
“I blacked out at one point, but I do remember that I was on a roadtrip to my college orientation with my mother. We had barely made it an hour on the interstate before my mom and I stopped at a rest stop. While she went to get us some lunch, I went to the bathroom. It was completely empty when I entered, but once I had locked myself in the stall, I heard the slow clicking of two perfectly polished black high heels walk over and stand before the door. It immediately sent my stomach to my throat and I knew something was wrong. I attempted to sneak into the next stall as quietly as possible, but whoever was stalking me grabbed my ankles and pulled me out. It was a woman with glasses and blonde hair. I did my best to kick, scratch, and punch my way out of her grip, but she somehow restrained me enough to inject me with something and I blacked out until I woke up here.”
“Oh my, that sounds awful. Are you hurt?” you ask.
“I mean, I don’t have any broken bones, but I do have this chip in my head, some scrapes from this shitty floor, and I’m absolutely starving.”
“Well, don’t worry, I’ll get you out of there.”
You pull into the parking lot of your apartment building, walk through the door, and bolt towards the bedroom, opening drawers with as much speed as your arthritic fingers can manage. Within half an hour, you’re back on the road with a small bag of necessities and listening intently to where Alice is telling you to drive.
As night falls on the first day, you settle down in a small motel room. You avoid mirrors as you dress, and shower with your eyes closed to the best of your ability. Alice is thankful for this and the warm water she can feel rushing over your skin. You watch Jeopardy together and alleviate some of the strain she’s feeling by giggling at incorrect answers and competing against each other.
According to Alice’s calculations, the trip should only take another half day. You do your best to get as much rest as you’re able, but sitting in a car for so long makes you toss and turn. Your dreams are filled with what you assume are memories from Alice. You see her beaten, proud that the reason was her refusal to stop screaming for help; she’s brave. You experience the cold floors, heavy chains, and eating your own vomit to survive because it’s more edible than the food that caused it.
The more memories you experience, the more Alice reminds you of your daughter Natalie, and the more determined you are to rescue her. The dreams are frightening, but you take them in stride to remain in solidarity with her, proving that you can handle this task.
As you wake the next morning, groggy from your restless night, you hear Alice breathing heavily.
“Alice, what’s wrong?”
“Time for what?”
“Well, I didn’t mention this earlier because I thought you might have made it by now, but these people…they’re scientists. They’re experimenting on me with this chip thing and today I think they’re going to collect the data. They’re going to know I’ve been contacting you and that you’re coming to help me. You don’t have much time.” She shouts, “Follow the interstate to exit 16 and make the first right you see through the gate!” You’re both blinded as the heavy cell door swings open, a figure in a lab coat calmly clicking high heeled shoes against the stone towards you. You cry out in pain and in frustration, grab your keys, put on your shoes, and throw a jacket over your pajamas. You start the car, push through it’s groaning, and speed off onto the interstate. Once your wheezing breath calms down, you keep a sharp eye out for exit 16.
As you travel down the road, nearing 90 MPH, you see flashing red and blue lights in your rearview mirror.
“Shit” you mumble to yourself, making the snap decision to keep going.
After some time, two more officers add to the chase and you near 100MPH. You zoom past the exit sign and see lampposts lighting your entrance into what looks like a mansion on your right. The police cars zip past you as soon as you signal the turn. Whether they gave up or were just as scared of this tall castle-like structure as you are, you don’t know.
Your station wagon whines as you slow down and drive into the gravel parking lot. With as much strength as your aching muscles can muster, you rise from your seat and weakly jog to the front door, out of breath by the time you arrive. The doors to the building are tall and wide ornate French doors with stained glass windows. Breathless, you reach for the wrought iron door knob only to have it twist before your eyes. There is no one on the other side of the door, but as you walk into the foyer, you spy another man, much younger than yourself. He’s sweating and looks just as panicked as you do. He’s patting the walls and frantically moving his hands as if he’s also in a hurry. Ignoring this man for a moment, you stop short and admire your surroundings.Tall cathedral ceilings skyrocket above you and two winding staircases on either side of the room rise from the floor to a second level. A gargantuan chandelier hangs above your head, and a lush navy blue carpet cushions your feet. White leather armchairs of high quality mirror each other to your left and right, framing the door through which you just walked.
“What is this place?” you ask the young stranger. “Is there some kind of basement?”
“I’m not sure, that’s what I’m looking for too. A latch or a door or something. These stairs only go up,” he replies, continuously slapping at the filigree wallpaper.
“Hello honored guests,” a voice calls, filling the entire room through what you assume are hidden speakers. It echoes off of the grand ceiling. You look at the younger man with wide eyes that match his.
“Alice?” he says, looking around the room in panic. You step back in shock that he knows her name.
“I was- I was told I was the only one” you stutter, your nerves on high alert. The voice sounds like it should be Alice, only more mechanical and emotionless.
“Welcome to Telecorp” she says.
Suddenly, you feel belts wrap around your waist, shoulders, and knees. The joints in each begin to crack and ache as they are tightened around you. You’re wheeled across the foyer alongside the similarly bound young man on what seems to be hand trucks pushed by men in lab coats. You both try your best to free yourselves, but the straps across your bodies are too tight and the people wheeling you to your destination are pushing you at too brisk a pace to stick out an ankle and stop it.
Those pushing the hand trucks use the two of you to open two swinging doors that match the trim and wallpaper of the foyer. You enter a long, stark white hallway. It seems extremely out of place, but the voice suddenly speaks again.
“Welcome to Telecorp, the facility of the world-renowned telepathic research company. The voice you know as Alice was an extremely advanced artificial intelligence program designed to attract those with the telepathic gift. We are here to help. We want you use your skills of telepathy to help the world. You were susceptible to the signals we used to contact you and therefore possess the gift we seek to develop and understand. We are working on state of the art initiatives in the military and decreasing the amount of human error in branches of the government. Our state of the art scientific team is researching those with the gift to better understand the phenomena of telepathic communication.”
You look to the young man beside you and begin to cry. Tears form in his eyes as well. You watch his captor wheel him into a brightly lit room as you continue to be pushed down the hallway. Eventually, the person pushing you turns into another room. There is a bed, a small sink, and a toilet lining the walls. The space is small, but the ceilings are high. The four walls are white with light blue trim, and there is no natural light except through a small circular window about seven feet from the ground on the wall in front of you. The employee pushing you slowly rolls your hand truck into the center of the room, loads some sort of device, and thrusts it to your temple. A sharp pain and hissing static noise radiates through your head and you black out from the pain.
Last Week’s Story: Graveyard Shift
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