I thought I’d take a break from the politics and gun stuff so here’s a bit of an announcement. I just finished, in first draft anyway, one of my novel projects, Alchemy of Shadows. There’s still quite a bit of work to be done before it’s ready for release, but that’s a major milestone passed. As a teaser, here’s the first chapter:
One thing about living a life as long as mine is finding something to keep oneself occupied. I was working as a living design consultant. I didn’t need the money. Oh, sure, in recent decades it had become harder to just show up with a sack of gold to pay for the things one wants. First you had to exchange it into legal currency. That was not so difficult. But do it too often and people, the authorities, would question from whence came the gold. This would lead to questions I did not wish to answer.
The door to the high-rise apartment opened at my approach. No need to call up to an apartment and be buzzed through, not here. The door opened into a foyer. On the right sat a large desk securely bolted to the faux marble floor. Behind the desk sat the security guard. Sitting down, he was almost as tall as I was. Of course, at five feet three inches, I was short even among my own people. This man would have been well over six feet. He turned his face toward me, his eyes hidden behind mirrored sunglasses.
I pasted a friendly smile on my face.
“Johann Schmidt.” That was the name I was using this century. “I have an appointment with Nobuto Tanaka, Apartment 1406.”
The security guard grunted. “Caldwell Securities” was emblazoned on the pin affixed above the left breast pocket of his dark green uniform shirt. The company he worked for, I presumed, since I doubted his parents were so cruel as to saddle their child with such a name.
He reached for a phone with his left hand. His bulging biceps strained the cuff of his short-cut sleeve.
Very intimidating, I thought.
He punched a number into the phone.
“Security, Mr. Tanaka,” the guard said after a moment. “I have a Johann Schmidt here. Says he has an appointment with you?”
The guard listened for a moment, then nodded. “Yes, sir.”
He hung up then pointed. “Elevators just down the hall. To reach Fourteen you’ll use the left hand bank.”
“Thank you,” I said.
I placed my hand on the handle of the inner door and waited. Mr. Caldwell Securities reached under the desk. A loud buzz came from the door accompanied by a click. I pulled it open.
More faux marble, and a great deal of polished brass assaulted my eyes on the other side of the door. A short hallway stretched past the double bank of elevators before “T-ing” to provide access to the various offices that occupied the first floor of the building.
I pressed the call button on the left hand bank of elevators. The sign showed that these elevators served floors twelve to twenty-three. A glance over my shoulder showed the other bank served floors one to twelve. A single elevator at the end of the bank, with a keyed lockplate next to it, served floors twenty-four and twenty-five.
I could remember when three floors was positively palatial.
The wait for an elevator to reach the ground floor was brief. I stepped into the elevator, alone. At two in the afternoon, most of the residents would be at work, or perhaps engaged in leisure activities. Few would be coming or going. The ride up to fourteen was equally brief.
The door opened to flickering dimness. I frowned. Only a single guttering fluorescent light illuminated the hallway. Typical. Money spent on fake marble and bright metalwork but simple maintenance?
Fourteen Oh Six was the third door on the left. If I remembered the floorplan correctly that would give it a nice view of the courtyard and the swimming pool.
I pressed the doorbell. A musical chime sounded inside. The door opened and a wizened man stood facing me.
The man stood about five foot six and weighed maybe one hundred thirty pounds. Grey salted his short-cropped hair, neither thinning nor receding. He wore a dress shirt and slacks, tie loosened but not yet removed. Mirrored sunglasses perched on his nose and concealed his eyes.
I nodded, still looking at the sunglasses.
He must have noticed my stare. He waved in the direction of his face.
“Dilated. Eye doctor this morning. It’s why I was free to meet you. Please. Come in.” He stepped back.
I passed through the doorway into the lower level of a two floor apartment. A kitchen on my left opened into a dining and living area.
Tanaka pressed himself flat to the closet door to my right to allow me room to pass. I suspected the closet storage space extended underneath the stairs to my right that led up to the loft/bedroom.
Three torchiers illuminated the living and dining area and an LED bulb in a decorative ceiling fixture cast its light in this short hallway. Heavy blackout curtains concealed the sliding doors that opened onto the balcony. A single futon and a small coffee table were the only other furniture visible.
“I don’t know what you expect from me,” I said as Tanaka closed the door behind me. “Normally I work with remodelers, or even architects when people are building. If you’re just wanting decorating, I can give you the names of some good people who charge less than I…”
“No,” Tanaka’s voice came as little more than a whisper. “You’re the one we want.”
I froze, then slowly turned. “We?”
Tanaka reached out to a switch on the wall. His fingers slid down, flipping the toggle. The apartment went dark.
I backed away. By the dim light spilling around the edges of the blackout curtain I saw Tanaka remove the sunglasses. Eight centuries earlier, or even seven, I might have imagined the black pools that filled his eye sockets. Now I knew better.
Scientists say that darkness is simply the absence of light. It’s not a thing in itself. They are wrong. Oh, how they are wrong. Darkness extruded from Tanaka’s eyes, reached for me.
I scrambled backwards. One of the tendrils lashed out and struck my right hand. My hand went dead, frozen from elbow to fingertips. It did not hurt. The pain, I knew, would come later. If I lived that long.
Another tendril struck. I fell backward in a roll, avoiding it, barely. Something tapped the sole of my left shoe. My foot went numb.
My roll brought me next to the coffee table, a lightweight decorative piece, not the solid wood of my own day. I grabbed it with my left hand and hurled it in Tanaka’s direction. That bought me enough time to push myself unsteadily to my feet. I could not feel my foot but it held my weight so long as I did not rely on it for balance.
My right arm still was not functioning, hanging as dead weight from the elbow down. With my left I removed my LED flashlight from its holder on my belt. I pressed the button on the end.
Tanaka, or the thing in his place, cackled.
“You belong to us now.”
I backed up another step, coming to a stop as my back pressed the curtains into the closed sliding door.
Reaching up, I took a firm grip on the curtain and dropped, bringing my full weight onto the fabric, onto the rod mounted above the door.
The rod tore loose from its mounting and the curtain cascaded around me. Light, the diffuse light of the afternoon sky, but light, flooded the room.
The thing screamed, throwing an arm over the space where Tanaka’s eyes would be. It retreated back into the shadows of the hallway.
I untangled myself from the curtains.
Light, welcome light, my one weapon against these creatures, these Shadows.
The creature cackled again. “You are trapped ‘Schmidt’ and we are patient. You have assaulted me in my home. The police will come. And you will have nowhere to run when we come to take you at last.”
I looked left, then right. No exits. Up. The loft? No. I knew the floorplan of these apartments. I’d reviewed it before accepting Tanaka’s request for a consult. No exit up there.
Working behind me, I slid open the door. I backed onto the patio. Fire escape?
Mounting brackets but no ladder.
I glanced over the railing. That was a long way down.
“You have lost. You are ours at last.”
“Will you shut up?” I fumbled in the inside breast pocket of my jacket for my emergency vial. I held the cap in my teeth and spun the vial under it. Once it opened I spat out the cap and poured the liquid within the vial down my throat.
I turned and backed to the doorway. I dashed forward and leaped.
I got my good foot on the rail of the balcony.
I propelled myself out into space.
It takes just under three seconds to fall fourteen stories. You hit the ground at just under sixty five miles per hour. Even for me that could, probably would, be fatal. If I missed the pool. Even if I hit it, it would not be deep enough for what amounted to urban cliff diving.
Three seconds does not sound like much but it’s a long time when you are falling it. I twisted in the air. I hit the pool feet first. The water slowed me. Then I hit the bottom.
The bones in both legs shattered, tibia, ulna, femur, not to mention the splinters the impact made of the smaller bones in my feet. My left arm twisted, dislocating my shoulder. two ribs broke. One drove deep into my lungs. Just enough energy remained when my head struck the cement, face first, to break my nose and knock loose two teeth.
Then the elixir began to work. Bones realigned and knit. Torn muscle wove together. Marrow burned as it poured new blood cells into my veins. I stood, gasping. My right arm still hung limp, my left foot remained a nerveless lump at the end of my leg but of the damage from the fall, only the pain remained.
Coughing as my lungs expelled bloody water, I staggered through the spreading pool of crimson to the shallow end and rolled onto the deck.
Above, I could see people at windows and on balconies. Pointing. Shouting. There would be calls for the police, for an ambulance. I had to get out of here.
I struggled to my feet and looked, spotting the gate. Limping heavily on my numb foot, I stumbled toward it.
Time for Johann Schmidt to disappear.
The Shadows had found me again.
I made my way to my car, a late-model BMW sports-sedan in keeping with Johan Schmidt’s status. As I reached for the door handle feeling finally started to return to my arm. Pain stabbed along my nerves, like severe frostbite, the after effect of the Shadow’s touch.
No pain medicine, not my elixirs and not modern medicines, relieved the Shadow pain. I just had to endure. I stopped and tried to clench my right hand. The fingers moved, but lacked strength. I shoved my hand in the pocket, trying to scoop out my keys.
“Hey, buddy, you okay?”
I looked back. A young man stood, stopped in the middle of stepping off the sidewalk in my direction. Mid twenties, average weight for here and now which meant he was quite a bit overweight by my standards, a weight that would have indicated great wealth in my childhood. Beyond him two women stood, their eyes wide, the brunette whispering to the blonde. Still farther others were turning in my direction.
I was drawing too much attention.
“I’m fine,” I said, putting gruffness into my voice in the hope of discouraging further interest.
I managed to rake the keys out of my pocket but my fingers would not close on them. The keys fell to the ground.
Cursing in German, hoping no one would notice the obsolete dialect, I supported myself with my right elbow against the side of the car as I squatted to pick up the keys with my left hand. I stood and got the door open. At least my left hand was working.
In the car, I got the seat belt fastened one handed, managed to get the key in the ignition and the engine started. Steering with my left hand I put the car into gear, thanking the All for automatic transmissions.
Traffic was light and I soon left the curious crowd behind. I wondered if any of them thought to get my license number. Yet another reason that I had to disappear.
The question was, could I go back to my apartment or would the Shadows be waiting?
And what had happened to my flashlight? Light, bright light, was the one weapon I had against the Shadows. The invention of those brilliant lights that one could carry in a pocket had given me a sense of security.
A false sense, it would seem.