Thursday, April 20, 2017
THE COAL burned bright red in the fire pit at the center of the antechamber. The flames kept the interior lit with an eerie orange shimmer, which were reflected on the walls. Smoke escaped through a narrow hole in the clay roof above them. Alex sat with his legs crisscrossed near the fire. His hands were planted firmly on the sandy ground. From there he watched impatiently as his grandfather walked clockwise around the room pouring cornmeal from a velvet bag. He kept chanting mystical words in his native language until the circle he made had completely enclosed them both.
Then Alokai put the bag down on the ground and sat beside him. He took out an ugly mush-room colored root with thin tendrils from his pocket and offered it to Alex.
“What’s this for?” Alex asked.
“It’s a Makta herb which our people cultivate for the purpose of this ceremony. It will help you to find the answers you need.”
Alex’s eyes watered. “What’s this going to do for me? Give me a vision? Will it help me find the killer? Will it give me the chance to make peace with my father’s spirit?”
Alokai calmly replied, “Perhaps and more.”
“No, it won’t,” said Alex. Defiantly, he stood up and spoke as his grandfather looked up at him. “I don’t believe in any of this stuff. What I need are answers! Who killed my father? Why did he do it?” Then Alex shouted, his fist shaking in the air, “Where is he hiding so I can find him and kill him?!”
“Sit down!” Alokai ordered but his grandson did not comply. “Please,” he begged.
Reluctantly, Alex sat down again.
Alokai stared into the fire. He was disturbed by the rage he saw in him. “Alex, there is a terrible battle ahead of you. It is one that I have seen in my visions much to my horror.” He sank his head down for a moment to try to push the images from his mind. “It started with your father’s death. Now events have gone into motion. You must arm yourself with knowledge.”
Alokai’s words left Alex paralyzed with fear. A battle… The gunfire and explosions in my nightmares, he thought to himself. But they’re just dreams! Nothing more! “What caused this?” he asked alarmed.
“Your father did,” said Alokai.
There was distress in Alex’s eyes as he asked, “My father caused this?” He shook his head and said, “No! That’s not true. It can’t be. He was just angry and misguided.”
“It takes only a moment,” said Alokai. “A single act and the loss of a single life can irreparably alter one’s destiny and those of others.”
“Grandpa, you’re scaring me. I need to know more.”
“Take the Makta herb and you will find all the answers you seek.”
Alex could smell the stench of ten-day-old cow manure coming from the Makta herb. He cringed at the notion of eating that nasty little root. He took it from his grandfather’s hand and placed it in his mouth. The bitterness that poisoned his gums, tongue and throat was nearly intolerable. It took a great deal of effort to continue chewing on it. His stomach contracted a few times and he thought he was going to heave. Then the nausea went away and was replaced by a feeling of increasing warmth. The fact that the temperature in the antechamber was already hot and humid didn’t help matters either. Sweat burst though the pores of his forehead and neck. His heart began to pound fiercely in his chest. The room began to spin. Alex’s breathing grew heavy and his temples tingled and pulsed.
He gasped. He wanted to call for help but he had no strength left to talk. Alex shut his eyes as they rolled to the back of his head. He laid back against the earth in resignation and waited for the disorientation to pass.
Then, as quickly as the maddening symptoms had started, they ceased. The heat was gone. No more dizziness. No more pain in his temples. Alex let out a huge sigh of relief and allowed his eyes to open.
“Grandpa?” he called to him, but the old man never replied. He tilted his head to both sides, thinking he’d focus on the humid walls of the antechamber, but they weren’t there, neither was Alokai. Everything was replaced with a white cool mist and darkness. He looked up, expecting to see the antechamber’s smoke hole, but instead he saw hundreds of intertwining leafless branches. The wind made it look like the trees surrounding him were about to swoop down and claw him to death.
It took some effort, but he managed to sit up planting both hands on the ground to support his upper body. The soil felt like desert sand under his palms and fingers. Alex rose to his feet and looked around for anything that could tell him where he was. Ahead of him were mazes of dried lifeless tree trunks that seemed to extend into virtual darkness. He turned around and saw an eerie purple sky swirling with swiftly moving white clouds. Lightning flashed and illuminated the earth. In that brief moment, Alex saw a cornfield in the distance. Beyond that, his family’s home looked so tiny. Alex gasped, realizing he was standing at the mouth of the Void.
He heard whispers coming from within the abyss. He turned around. There was an almost painful sensation to the fear that crept up his skin.
“Hello?” he called.
And from the multitude of growing whispers, a single voice, one that he immediately re-cognized, called to him.
Without warning, a tendril from within the darkness whipped towards Alex and wrapped itself around his right leg. Horrified, he planted his fingers into the soil to try to keep himself from getting pulled in, but it was no use. His fingernails were nearly ripped apart as the tendril dragged him deeper into the Void at heart pounding speeds. His body repeatedly slammed against the unforgiving terrain. His skull was about to split open from the continuous pounding abuse. His chest and back burned considerably from the friction, but the force doing this to him had no mercy. The desperation was slowly driving Alex to the point of madness as he let out an agonizing scream.
Then suddenly, the tendril released its hold on him.
Alex crashed against a tree trunk. He was dazed. His shirt was tattered and bloody. He felt terrible pressure whenever he took a breath, and when he coughed, the pain in his lungs was excruciating. Blood oozed out of his mouth and onto the ground. He didn’t think it would stop. He was convinced he was going to die here, alone. Then the coughing and gagging stopped, much to his relief.
He tried to stand. There was a sharp pain coming from his knees. He looked down at them. Blood seeped through the fabric of his jeans. His eyes welled as he took one painful step after another. Alex breathed deeply and tried to ignore the pain. His entire body trembled.
His pony tail band suddenly snapped and his long, dirt-soiled hair started to rest on his shoulders. The wind kept sending strands into his face. Alex swept his hair back behind his ears and noticed, much to his horror, that his fingertips were moistened with blood. He touched his fore-head and felt a sting from yet another wound. He wanted to call for help but he was alone in this desolate realm.
He looked around at the millions of dried logs and towering dead trees that seemed to touch the turbulent atmosphere. There was no beauty or life as far as the eye could see. Alex lifted his head upward with great effort, and at that exact moment, an intense brilliant light streaked across the sky. His eyes involuntarily closed. A second later, there was an incredible crashing roar. He cupped his ears in agony. The sound nearly deafened him.
When Alex opened his eyes, he was startled to find a trembling old man, clothed in traditional Taulsekan garbs, crouched by his feet. His wrinkled old eyes were shut tight as he whimpered in pain. Alex tried to ignore his own pain and knelt down. He tapped the poor soul on the shoulder and when his eyes opened, they were filled with fear and more. The old man recognized him, but more surprisingly was the fact that Alex recognized him.
“Dad?” he exclaimed.
Alex couldn’t believe it. His father was there, with him, alive, but scared to death. It looked like he was trying to talk to Alex, but all he could do was whimper like a frightened puppy.
The old man’s face, chest and back had the same injuries that his son had sustained. His clothes were smeared with mud and he was lying in a pool of his own blood. Alex fought hard to ignore the regurgitating sensation in his stomach and the anger in his heart.
Through teary eyes, Alex asked, “Who did this to you?”
The old man did not respond. Instead, he shut his eyes and retreated into the numbing darkness of his mind.
“Dad! It’s me, your son. Talk to me, please.”
As Alex burst into tears, someone else spoke.
“He’s too far gone.”
The voice was male, but hollow like an echo.
Alex looked around, startled. Someone was out there in the woods watching him, but he couldn’t see who it was in the dark, not at first anyway. Then, in the distance, between two trees, he saw a silhouette of a man standing in a white misty background. Behind him, another silhouette, not fully defined but feminine. His father became agitated by their presence. Alex stood up too quickly. His knees thanked him with more stabbing pain. He began to limp towards the strangers in a very confrontational way, but as he got closer, the silhouettes vanished. He looked around. The shadows reappeared somewhere else and further away this time.
“Did you do this to him?” Alex asked loudly. “Did you murder my father?”
The silhouettes did not respond.
“Tell me!” demanded Alex. Then angrily, he shouted, “Dammit! When I find you, I’ll kill you for this!”
As if responding to his threat, the environment around Alex took on a terrible change. Lightning and thunder crackled. The winds began to increase. His father opened his eyes, widened with terror. He managed to scream his son’s name one last time before a lightning strike enveloped him. Alex recoiled from the brightness. By the time he reopened his eyes, his father was gone. His entire face creased in anger and pain.
“No!” he screamed wildly.
Alex’s cries echoed through the Void, but no one could hear him. Suddenly, another root tendril snaked out of the abyss of dead trees. There was no warning as it wrapped itself around his legs and dragged him back the way he came at an alarming pace. Alex screamed as his body was battered harder and harder against the ground. It felt like a never ending roller coaster ride with saw blades cushioning each impact. Then, with no warning, the tendril flung Alex in-to the air and released him in mid-flight.
He slid face first onto a concrete floor. Staring at him were the rubber soles of a pair of black combat boots. He was dazed at first. The air rumbled with the sounds of armored trucks and motorcycles accompanied by explosions and gunfire. The battle, he thought. He tried to muster up enough strength in his crippled body to raise his head up and see what he was up against.
The ground was littered with the bodies of soldiers in heavy black armor and Taulsekan men and women. Alex saw that one of his people, a man with short hair was lying next to him. His lifeless brown eyes stared at Alex. His hand was still clutching to a grenade. Alex wasn’t sure how, but he knew that this grenade was meant for him. He struggled to move his arm and reach for it. There was a sharp pain in his lower abdomen. It was different from his other injuries. This felt more internal as if he had been stabbed. Alex began to cough again. More blood oozed out.
“It didn’t have to be like this,” said a voice from someone standing behind him, getting ready to grab him. It was the voice of one of the silhouettes, but there was something else, some-thing vaguely familiar about the intonation that wasn’t there when he heard it in the Void. He tried to turn around to see the identity of the killer, but darkness fell upon Alex.
So close, he thought to himself. I almost had him.
Buy Hunter's Vendetta: Silent Kill on Amazon.com or Lulu.com to find out what happens next. Then, buy the sequel, Hunter's Vendetta: Shockwave, currently available on Lulu.com. An Amazon purchase option will be available in a few weeks. Also, a preview of Shockwave's first chapter is coming real soon.