Daniel Speegs isn’t aware he was scheduled to die with his fiancée fifteen years ago. He’s spent the stolen time in an alcoholic blur, blaming himself for her death. When he realizes he can go back and save her he sets out on a fatal journey.
But the power to change the past isn’t his to give. Not according to a murderer, a man determined to claim Dan’s mortal energy for himself, no matter the cost.
Enter Shellandra Flack, agent of death.
Dan’s existence has derailed the chain of causality and she needs him to die at the hands of the killer. If Dan survives, the world won’t.
Life and death, choice and consequence.
Dead Yet Dying
Targeted Age Group:: adult
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I write books that I would want to read. I love Stephen King, Christopher Moore, and many other authors that write supernatural fiction. I’m drawn to it because I enjoy pondering the nature of reality and the universe. “What if,” I think, is the greatest question one can ask. That, and “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” That’s where it gets fun.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
My protagonist Daniel began as a version of myself, I suppose. He’s an alcoholic, an affliction of which I have personal experience. While I am recovering, he is suffering. I’ve been there in the depths of addiction. His “terrible bliss” began with mine. Later, as the story went on, I found him changing in ways I hadn’t expected. He evolved away from me, for better and worse. The result, I hope, is a character both brutally honest and unique.
DEAD YET DYING
CHAPTER ONE: TRUNK GIRL
Dead men don’t get cake. They don’t receive presents or blow out candles. Their wishes do not come true. Daniel Speegs was just such a man on his thirty-seventh birthday, dead and yet still dying, drawing breath and wondering why.
Gazing into a downpour he emptied a cardboard case twelve ounces at a time. The stupor grew into a sweet and familiar fog, dulling senses and feeding the terrible bliss.
He gulped down the last few swallows of his current companion and reached for another. A crowd of drained spectators grew over the bucket seat and floorboard with a new member joining the discarded ranks every twenty minutes. They lay huddled in moonlight, labels peeled and torn, watching a dead man sink into oblivion.
It was the fifteenth anniversary of a storm that defined and destroyed him. When it was gone the love of his life was gone as well, whisked away in its fury, leaving behind only a body to plant in the ground. She’d been taken on his birthday and he spent all the rest coming to this place, looking for her, perhaps trying to catch a glimpse of the person he was before. And tonight the storm was back.
Rain pummeled the earth like soldiers, churning the ground to a muddy slop.
He sat in his car for hours, hiding from a world of narrow eyes and shallow judgments. They only saw the surface of him anyway, the side of skin and fake pleasantries.
He’d parked a good ways off the main road so not to be seen by late night patrols or unlikely travelers. Tall weeds and trees camouflaged his rust-infected Chevy. On other occasions he’d been able to imagine himself the last of the human race, a man tragically immune to some deadly virus, but not tonight. Dan watched an unexpected vehicle park in a dirt lot in front of the warehouse.
Twice the size of the local high school gymnasium, the building had been a receiving station used for sugar beet storage. Forty years abandoned, the structure was now a shell of softening wood and scarred concrete. It was where he’d lost her, his reason for being there.
Dan cranked down a window. Icy droplets speckled his face.
He peered though the downpour to see a silhouette emerge from a driver’s seat, the featureless form of a man. Tall. Wide at the shoulders. The dark figure paused to have a look around, surveying the empty lot and the woods beyond. Dan hoped to remain unseen behind the shadowed barrier of the tree line. He ducked behind the steering wheel.
The mystery man walked around to the trunk. It sprang open. He bent down as if to crawl inside. A head and shoulders disappeared as pant legs flapped in the wind. A foot slid forward, gaining traction as he lifted at something heavy.
A rush of panic seized as Dan realized what it was. Thin legs dangled. A head bobbled from a loose neck. An arm hung from its socket like a pendulum.
Am I really seeing this?
A bolt of lightning illuminated pale skin up to the knees and women’s shoes. He focused on where her face would’ve been in the afternoon sun. The black mask of the man’s shadow kept it hidden and the face Dan imagined wasn’t good.
A terrorized heartbeat knocked at his sternum, thumped at his neck, trembled at lips and fingers. The sudden flow of adrenaline had a sobering effect; the haze thinned, if only to sharpen the fright. It was a familiar sensation, especially here at this awful place.
No, his inner skeptic said. That woman is drunk. Just like you. He’s taking her inside out of the rain, that’s all.
“Maybe…” Dan said to the bottle in his fist, “…but why was she in the trunk?”
There was no answer. Logic hit a dead end, forcing him back in the direction of fear.
He swiped a hand across fogged glass, hoping for a better view. The man disappeared inside the warehouse, leaving the storm and the open trunk behind.
“What do I do now?” Dan said. “I can’t just drive away, can I?”
The voice told him to do that very thing. It wasn’t his business, not his problem. He could go home and drink the rest of the beer. Maybe he wouldn’t remember in the morning. For once a drunken blackout would be a blessing.
Dan was in no shape to drive but he’d risk it. He dropped a half-empty bottle out the window and cranked the ignition.
“Focus, Dan,” he slurred. “Drive slow.” He pinched eyes shut and lowered his forehead to the wheel. He needed to force the drunkenness away long enough to get home. After a moment of concentration he looked back to the open trunk.
“Time to go.”
As he reached for the shift lever another vehicle arrived. It pulled into the weedy lot and stopped behind the first. Dan twisted the key back, killing the engine.
It was a dark full-size van. The driver’s side door opened. A woman ducked out and stepped down to the muddy lot. A flicker of lightning snapped, teasing Dan with a clear view. She wore a short pleated skirt, a sleeveless top and sneakers. She must’ve been freezing, yet as rain continued to pour she seemed to be in no hurry. And then Dan realized something odd.
It could’ve been the weather playing tricks on his eyes. It might’ve been the alcohol. Perhaps a bit of both. Whatever the reason, the woman was just out of focus standing there in the storm, while everything around her — the vehicles, the weedy lot, the warehouse and nearby trees — remained clear, crisp. Real. She was like a dream that didn’t quite belong, a ghost stuck halfway between this world and the next. Every snap of lightning was unnerving as Dan tried to make sense the image before him.
She was a mirage. A hallucination.
What the hell?
And then, quick as a blink, she came into sharp focus. Dan jerked in surprise.
The woman surveyed the area just like the man before her. The turn of her head stopped at Dan. She paused, looking into the trees as if considering him for a moment. Dan’s breath came to a screeching halt.
Can she see me?
Another flash strobed from above and in that second Dan would’ve sworn she was smiling at him. The woods where he’d parked should’ve appeared pitch black from her vantage point. The man hadn’t seen him, how was it that she could?
She can’t, can she?
What she did next purged all doubt. She raised an arm and sent him a casual wave. The gesture was friendly, like neighbors passing on the street. It said hello. It said hope you’re having a nice day. But most of all it said I see you.
The hammer in Dan’s chest echoed in his throat. Fingers hovered at the ignition. He watched her turn back to the van and reach over the seat. She emerged with something in each hand. At first it looked like a pair of shaggy wigs. Hair hung down from each, dancing in a brisk wind. They were bright red, fire engine red. Like pom-poms.
What are you? A cheerleader?
She pushed the door shut with an elbow and then headed for the warehouse.
Intrigued, Dan reached for another beer and cranked off the top. “Okay, this is getting weird.”
The list of occurrences sounded off one by one. A tall man. An unconscious woman. Or girl. We couldn’t tell her age. Definitely female, though. And in a trunk.
And now a ghostly cheerleader. Well, not anymore. I was just seeing things, confused maybe, or…
In any event she’d seen him, given him a little wave. She wasn’t worried about his presence so maybe he didn’t need to be worried about theirs.
The mystery man appeared again. He went to his car, opened the back door and slid out a large box with a molded plastic handle. He didn’t look over at Dan, even for a quick glance. He was too busy with the…
Cooler, Dan thought. That’s what that is.
This wasn’t murder. This was a party. Teenagers drinking at the old sugar beet station, something he’d done as a kid himself, the very thing that got Gwen killed. He hoped they’d stay off the catwalk; it was a long way down to the concrete below.
I just stood there, frozen, when she needed me most.
Dan had a sudden urge to go over there and tell them to be careful, tell them to go somewhere else, but he knew he couldn’t. Where he sat now was as close as he was able to get. Fifteen lonely birthdays had proven that.
“No point risking a DUI now,” he said. He still couldn’t explain the trunk or the way the cheerleader looked when he first saw her, but he’d seen stranger things. He just couldn’t remember any of them at the moment.
He fished the cluttered seat next to him for cigarettes and a lighter. A couple empty bottles rolled into darkness, clanking to the floor.
“A cheerleader,” he said. “At midnight.”
For another few hours Dan drank and smoked and listened to the radio, watching the old warehouse. No more people arrived. It was just the three he’d already seen. A private party, apparently. They remained inside the receiving station for the rest of the night.
The more he drank the less it mattered what might be happening in the building. After fourteen beers he found that curiosity was best left to those who could still make sense of such things. He, being totally shitfaced, could not.
The storm made its way east, thankfully taking his birthday along with it.
Dan slipped into a dreamless sleep of the dead.
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