Greetings and salutations, folks. Joshua T. Calkins-Treworgy here once more, and today/tonight, I’m going to share with you an excerpt from the Amelia City novella, ‘Unfinished Fugitive’. If you find yourself intrigued by what you read, then I encourage you to head on over to Amazon and pick up a copy of the full tale for your reading pleasure. Indulge in the macabre, and immerse yourselves deeper into the warped and wicked mythology that is Amelia City!
And now, on with the show:
Daryl stood at the foot of his bed, baseball bat leaning against the footboard, his older brother stripped naked and laid out on the bed under a single white sheet. It was unmistakably his brother; Daryl recognized the face, the frame, and the tattoo of a mushroom with a skull on its cap on Charlie’s left calf. Yet caution ruled, because he didn’t recognize the one yellow and one red iris of the eyes. He didn’t recognize the pirhana-like teeth. Lastly, he didn’t recognize the patches of oily black flesh, slick to the touch, which pocked Charlie’s body in various places. His brother had been returned to him, but not as he had been when taken away.
The sheer unreal quality of it all might have sent the average New Yorker into moderate panic, but Daryl Jarsin was not an average New Yorker; he was an Amelian, born and raised in a city whose urban legends had the unsettling tendency to never be shown up as hoaxes. In New York City, unexplained disappearances could usually be chalked up to abductions, human trafficking, and drug deals gone sour. In Amelia City, most denizens had an unspoken agreement to never discuss which of a hundred different horrors might have befallen the missing persons in question.
Now, here lay one of the missing, but changed, made somehow inhuman. The eyes, teeth, and odd flesh all held a predatory quality, something monstrous. And as Charlie let out a moan, eyes fluttering open, staccato notes of motion, Daryl grabbed the bat.
“Nnnng,” Charlie offered, turning over onto his right side, heaving as something appeared to clench his gut. He gagged loudly, expelling some foul, brown sludge from his guts. When he was done, he sat up weakly, dragging the sheet to keep his lower half covered. “How long was I out,” he asked in a weak, garbled voice. It sounded to Daryl as if he were just relearning how to speak.
“An hour, little more,” Daryl said, keeping calm. But Charlie was shaking his head.
“I meant from here, from the world. How long was I gone?” Charlie turned his head toward Daryl, his strange, dual colored eyes meeting Daryl’s own. Inhuman, yes, and haunted, Daryl thought.
“Eleven years,” Daryl choked out, dry swallowing. Charlie made a strange mewling sound in his throat, like a cat bemoaning its fate.
“Christ, that long? They told me time would move differently here, but eleven years?” He held his face in his hands for a moment, sighed. “Well,” he said, dropping his hands into his lap, “at least we can put an end to it. Loan me some clothes and we’ll head over to Darrin Street, get at that mirror I was taken into. I’ll explain everything afterwards.”
“What are you talking about, Charlie,” Daryl asked, lowering the bat.
“Darrin Street, that’s where I got snatched,” Charlie said evenly. “Come on, I can tell you this much- we break that mirror, I go back to normal. So lend me some clothes and let’s go.”
“Charlie, we’re not in Amelia City,” Daryl said. His older brother just stared wide-eyed at him, breathing coming on heavy, chest rising and falling rapidly with alarm. “We’re in Queens, man.”
“Queens? As in, New York?”
“Well,” Charlie said, looking down at the floor. “Fuck.”
The brothers sat across from one another at the small kitchen table, Charlie relishing a cup of coffee, wearing one of Daryl’s red and black lumberjack shirts and blue jeans, both now too large for his wasted frame. A belt kept the pants up, and though he’d lost mass, his feet were still the same size, one smaller than Daryl.
“So we need to get you back to that mirror,” Daryl said, the first words either had spoken other than Daryl offering coffee and Charlie accepting in the half hour since Daryl had informed him of where they were.
“Yes,” Charlie said. “I had no idea you’d left Amelia. I just found your mirror and made my escape. I assumed you’d still be there, or at least somewhere in Iowa. Des Moines, maybe.”
“I had to stay on the move,” Daryl said, sipping his own mug of mud. “Every couple of years, I’d start seeing this symbol, the one from the door I saw you get dragged into. I just kept moving east.”
“Not much help,” Charlie said. “They reach everywhere, though they’re concentrated in Amelia.” He sipped at his coffee, smiled. “God I missed this stuff.”
“Charlie, where the hell were you all this time? What have they done to you?” Charlie rolled just one eye up at Daryl, the red one, and he saw it rotate like a dial in its socket.
“I was in their world, beyond the veil,” Charlie said quietly, almost reverently. A tremor rocked his arms briefly, his eyes squeezed shut, forehead creased. Daryl felt something clammy rising up his spine, shrugged it off. “As for what they did to me, I think they were trying to make me like them, transform me somehow. I think they wanted to make me a wraith.”
“Nevermind,” Charlie said. “That’s not important. We need to get to Amelia and get at that mirror. They’ll realize I’m gone soon, if they haven’t already. When they do, they’ll send someone after me.”
“Like the gorilla thing that nabbed you?”
“No, something worse,” Charlie said, staring off at nothing. “Not Quoth, he almost never leaves Amelia, thank God. If they sent him a lot of people would die. No, they’ll likely send one of the strangers for me.”
“You’re not making any sense,” Daryl groused, rising from his seat. “Just answer me this, Charlie. Are you dangerous?”
“Yes,” his brother said, yellow eye glowing with a faint light.
“Are you going to hurt me?”
“I’ll try not to, as long as you stay clear if something comes after us.”
“Are you human anymore?”
“Are you still my brother?”
“Yes,” said Charlie with a genuine, peaceful smile.
“Then help me pack some shit. We’re taking a road trip.”
Daryl and Charlie Jarsin were neat freaks thanks to their mother. They were quietly capable and determined men thanks to their father, a gruff outdoorsman and machinist who taught them how to survive in just about any circumstances. Their lessons at his hands had never really covered the supernatural, but both men operated on the principle that it wasn’t much different from the end-of-civilization-pandemic scenarios their father had laid out for them in the past.
Step one, always, was to quickly gather supplies. Daryl left the food and toiletries gathering to Charlie while he stuffed extra clothes in a Hefty trash bag. Next came his tool box, into which he slipped the Ruger .357 Magnum revolver he’d purchased on the street shortly after moving to New York City. Three boxes of ammo accompanied the weapon.
An animal hissing brought Daryl to his bedroom, where he found Charlie backed against the wall, shielding his eyes from the open closet door. The hissing came from his mouth, and he appeared to be on the verge of collapse. “What is it,” Daryl asked quickly.
“Knife,” Charlie gasped, pointing one narrow finger at the closet. Daryl walked over and looked at the shelf at the back, past his hung shirts and pants. A plain hunting knife sat on a small display placard, next to its sheath. Their father had given it to Daryl, claiming it had been blessed by a Sioux medicine man during his time doing wilderness survival training. Daryl had thought his father to be full of shit.
Wrong again, kiddo, he thought in his father’s gruff, smoky voice. Sheath that thing and bring it. He did exactly that, and as soon as the knife was safely sheathed, Charlie ceased groaning and hissing.
“I may have to use this thing,” Daryl said out in the living room as they gathered their final supplies.
“Just keep it from touching me and we’ll be fine,” Charlie replied testily. “I imagine you have a ton of questions.”
“Just a few, actually,” Daryl said, putting two of the bags over his shoulder. “I figure I can ask them once we’re on the road.” Charlie didn’t respond, helping Daryl down the three flights of stairs to the street. In the gathering gloom of nightfall, they were just two more dark figures moving from building to vehicle, loading bags into the open back of Daryl’s truck. They went back up for the rest of their gear, loading it in, and Daryl turned toward the building. Charlie grabbed him by the shoulder.
“What’s left,” he asked, looking around.
“Cap for the truck bed, it’s in the storage locker on the ground floor,” Daryl said. They went inside, carrying the cumbersome cap out with them and attaching it to the truck in mere minutes. As Daryl fired up the engine, the brothers heard exploding glass nearby, saw it rain down on the sidewalk, preceding a tall, dark man in a long duster and wide-brimmed traveler’s hat, spurs on his dusty cowbow boots spinning as he landed in a crouch, the ground trembling with his arrival.
“Oh shit,” Charlie hollered, hands flying to the sides of his head. “Drive! Drive! Drive!” Daryl needed no more incentive than his brother’s initial reaction; he’d hit the gas on the second shout of ‘drive’. In his passenger sideview mirror he saw the cowboy fellow standing up slowly, twirling a long knife in his hand like a professional killer. There was a flicker of movement, and the rear window on the detachable truck cap exploded inward. The thrown knife landed with a heavy ‘thump’ in the metal separating the truck bed from the inside of the cab.
“Holy shit,” Daryl exclaimed, swerving onto the first available perpendicular street. “Who the hell was that?”
“That was the stranger named Roderick,” Charlie rasped. “Roderick of the Blade. He’s a younger one, but just as bad as the others I met over there.”
“Well, we’re in a truck, so unless he carjacks someone, we’ve got plenty chance to put distance between us.” No sooner had he said this than the cowboy, Roderick, came barrelling out int the intersection ahead, running faster than any human being could. Other vehicles were honking their horns and swerving to avoid him, and to Daryl’s amazement and terror, the stranger nimbly stepped onto the hood of a passing car, never breaking stride, and spun at the waist to hurl another knife right at them.
He veered hard left, and the knife buried itself to the hilt in the hood just inches from the windshield. Daryl angled right again to avoid going up on the sidewalk, turned around, and sped off southward.
The stranger didn’t appear again, and ten minutes later, they were driving west, making their way towards an exit from New York City.