I’m busy answering interview question this week so for Free Fiction Friday, here’s an excerpt from Crimson Son… This flashback comes early – end of Chapter Two. No spoilers here, but this is the pivotal event that changed Spencer’s life.
Home. I was seventeen. After years of moving, Mom put her foot down and we’d been in the San Francisco area for three years. She’d found a rental in an older neighborhood overlooking San Pedro Valley Park, one of those stucco homes with a tile roof. Mom loved the place. I did too.
Mom sighs as she tries to feed a page into the fax machine.
“Spencer, honey, do you have any idea how this works? I think I might’ve broken it,” she speaks without looking up and tucks a lock of dark hair behind her ear. She does that when she’s frustrated. That mostly includes any time she’s faced with gears, transistors, chips, batteries or so much as a stray piece of copper wire. She refers to herself as “technologically challenged.” Really, she wants an excuse to get me to help.
I eye the aging fax machine with contempt. “I could figure it out. But, what about your phone?”
She looks puzzled as she asks, “What about it?”
“The phone takes pictures, right? I can take pictures of the papers and send those to Dad.”
She smiles. My favorite part of this dream, nightmare, memory—whatever it is. I always try to stay at this point. Stop time. Freeze her face and burn it into my brain so I can see that expression, always.
“Honey, that’s a great idea. You want to take over here?”
I’ve lived through this so many times, I know what she’s thinking at this very moment. Nothing to do with sending papers, she’s watching me work. She knows I’m happy with a new gadget. She gets me, even if she doesn’t understand what I do. I miss that the most.
“What’s this for?”
“Paperwork for the house.”
“Are we finally going to buy it?”
“No, I don’t think so.” She turns away, busying herself with the fax machine again. The room empties without her smile.
I take the phone and spread the papers on the floor. More rental paperwork.
“I don’t understand why we don’t just buy the place. Didn’t you say the owner wanted to sell?” I ask. She shrugs.
With careful motions I start snapping away, attaching the pictures to an email. I’m not sure where Dad is going to print these, but wherever he found a fax machine, chances are they’ll have what he needs. I hit send. An hourglass pops up, followed by “Connection Lost”.
This part always comes so fast.
I hand the phone back to Mom. “You’ll need to send later, I guess. The signal dropped. Should be in your outbox ready to go.”
As she takes the phone, the wall of the room explodes.
Here. Dream becomes nightmare. For a moment, I feel I can make it stand still, but why would I? Events unfold with the emptiness of the bunker gnawing at my insides. I can identify every stray chunk of plaster and splinter of wood in this time-robbed moment.
Fragments of home spray like a swarm of locusts. Mom screams and the world spins under her protective dive. I struggle to see through a haze of dust. Glimpses of the valley filter past a humanoid silhouette. A long, pincered arm lashes out. The arm clamps tightly around Mom’s waist and retracts, drawing us closer.
“Release the boy and he will live,” the Black Beetle speaks with an unnatural vibration. “He can relay a message for your husband.”
Mom squeezes tighter but her screaming stops.
I search her face, knowing what I’ll find, all the while scrambling to find an anchor as we slide across the room. She’s bleeding from a gash on her forehead and the pincer cinches tighter. Her eyes are full of fear, but focused. She’s calculating, deliberating. A hundred times? A thousand? It always hurts.
“No, Mom, please!” I throw my hands around the leg of a toppled chair which drags uselessly behind us. Countless trips through this nightmare, I know I can’t keep us here, but I reach out anyway. And always, she lets go.
I grab her arm, trying to pull her back, cursing my stunted size, my weak limbs, my feeble grip. Sweaty hands slip as the pincer continues to retract. Her trembling lips form a final smile and she watches me with a sad but determined expression. She mouths the words, “I love you.”
“Mom!” I glance at the lifeless phone, shrouded in dust. The screen is dark and covered in spidery cracks.
“Tell your father it is time to turn himself in,” the Black Beetle says. “Is that clear?”
With a pneumatic hiss the ebony battle armor backs into the afternoon sun. Blinding light floods in. The armor takes flight on a column of flame and the deafening roar rattles our battered home. I rush to the opening. She’s an angel, floating away, the shadowy beast burning behind her. All I can do is stare and cry.
Only this time, the tears don’t come.
Every time this nightmare strikes, I stand there, clinging to that last glimpse as she’s torn away. But this time, on her face, a different expression quivers through the waves of heat and exhaust. All of her fear is erased. Her eyes search mine as though she’s seeing me for the first time.
I continue watching the brilliant rocket flares long after they dissolve into a sunless sky. Then, the points of light burst outward into the bright edges of an eclipsed sun. A ring of light that seems so close, yet so far from home.
Crimson Son is available in paperback and eBook formats at all major retailers. Thanks for reading!