Sunday, February 27, 2011

Enigma Black-Chapter 7

Chapter 7
The Shadows

"You look absolutely amazing tonight," Chase admired me from across the small, entirely too cramped wooden table. 

I could feel my face turning redder than the Merlot I was sipping on.  No matter how much time had passed, I still felt butterflies in my stomach whenever I was around Chase.  It was almost as if he were my kryptonite; my one weakness.  It was both frightening and exhilarating at the same time.

We were at our favorite hole-in-the-wall pub just a block from my apartment.  Chase and I were not much for appearances preferring the rugged, manly atmosphere that our pub offered.  We’d spent many a date night here without it ever having grown old, even as the atmosphere around us had grown more unsavory.  It was unusually quiet here tonight with only one other couple seated a few feet away from our table and a couple of men playing pool in the corner.  I liked the quiet, but this was a tad unusual, even for this place.  Chase took a sip of water, swishing it in his mouth as he rolled the glass around in his hand.

"Tap water, vintage 2009," he announced discerningly.

I couldn’t stop myself from bursting out into laughter revealing the dreaded snort that came whenever I was thoroughly amused by something.  The other couple near our table looked up in surprised amusement causing my face to flush.

"Absolutely adorable," Chase proclaimed happy with himself.

"I bet you won’t think that in twenty years," I retorted.

 "Twenty years? I was going to trade you in for a new model after ten."

"Ha ha."

"Celaine, I love you with every fiber of my being. Until my dying day, my heart will be yours, or at least until you get sick of me."

"Chase Matthews the day I get sick of you is the day that pigs sprout wings and take to the sky."

"You know that isn’t entirely impossible…", he started breaking into what I affectionately referred to as his "nerd lingo", which usually involved talk of DNA, chromosomes, surgical procedures and pretty much anything else remotely related to the human body and how it worked. 

"I’m sorry," he stopped. "I think I’m boring you."

"No, no not at all," I lied.

"Really? Your eyes were starting to glaze over."

"I just like it when you go all nerdy on me."

"Thanks, I think.

Chase glanced up at the television on the wall to check the final score of the baseball game taped earlier that afternoon. Since the curfew, many professional games were taped as opposed to aired live allowing the public an opportunity to actually attend the games. The taped games were then broadcasted at their normal times for the rest of the country to view within the safety of their homes. Tapping not only abided the curfew laws but also served as a deterrent for The Man in Black. The shock value of an attack on a taped game was significantly less catastrophic than if the attack were to take place during a live broadcast. 
Watching Chase, I looked up at the screen just in time to see a recap of the day’s news scroll across the bottom of it.

"What do you think of the death of one of our supposed superheroes?"

 "It’s weird," he replied, "I can’t say that it surprises me, but it surprises me.’     

"I know exactly what you mean."

"There’s nothing out there that is impervious to everything. Whatever this psychopath is, he can and he will be stopped. It’s only a matter of time. What makes me wonder is what will take his place...if something hasn’t already."

"What do you mean?"

"Doesn’t this all seem a little odd to you Celaine? We voted to basically give up some of the basic principles of democracy by being fed with the explanation that it was for our own safety. How does that even happen? Do you think the public would have been so quick to give up any freedom, no matter how small, if The Man in Black didn’t exist…if there were nothing to fear? Do you think that President Brooks would now be serving his third term? There’s just something fishy about this whole thing. Yet the people approve of this madness.  They think just because the attacks have decreased by a couple percentage points over the last few years that what he’s doing is working and we’re going to win this battle when, if you ask me, we’ve already lost."

"I think it’s a hundred percent plausible but not probable," I replied in a tired, half-hearted attempt at sounding only half as eloquent as Chase.

He smiled his crooked smile. "Well Ms. Stevens, I do believe that we need to start heading back as Big Brother will sick the Feds on us if we break curfew."

"Hey, you have a hospital badge. You know the curfew doesn’t technically apply to you."

"That may be true when I’m actually on duty, but right now I’m just a humble civilian. Nice try though."

"Can you blame me for trying to live on the edge?"

"Yeah, you’re a real rebel." He rolled his eyes at me from across the table.

I took Chase’s hand as we walked out of the pub to my apartment. It was a spectacular night, perfect for a long romantic walk. Too bad we couldn’t be on the street past ten.  One thing I’ve never been able to get use to is walking through a city completely devoid of people when logic says it should be teaming with activity.  Perhaps there was some truth to Chase’s theory.  In moments like this, it made perfect sense.

However, despite the absolute perfection of our moment together, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something didn’t feel quite right.  As we turned down the alleyway to my apartment it seemed like there was someone watching us; calculating our every move.  My body tensed as my stomach shifted from the euphoric butterflies to a sudden sickness as if something terrible were about to happen.  In a flash, I whirled around to face the dark street laid out behind us. 

 "What are you doing?" Chase asked with uneasiness in his voice.

"I don’t know what it is, but I suddenly have this strange feeling that someone is watching us."

"Oh man, I knew this would happen someday. The fresh air has made you delusional. That’s it, I’m never letting you out of the house again."

"You may want to check your faucet, your sarcasm is leaking. I’m serious Chase, I feel someone watching us. We’re not alone. I mean…we are alone, but we’re not…it’s just…oh…you know what I mean."
Chase placed his hand on my shoulder. "Celaine, there’s no one there.  If there were, we would’ve noticed it.  There are only so many places a person can be on this empty street."

He was right, although I would never have admitted it.  Behind us, there was nothing but the dark, deserted alleyway. Ahead of us, more of the same.  Knowing that I wasn’t going to let it go, he opted for a compromise.

"Okay, if someone had been following us they obviously aren’t now and, if they are, I hope whoever it is enjoys the show." Chase scooped me in his arms passionately pressing his lips to mine. "Well, we had to make it worth their while, right?" he smirked.

 "Uh-huh." Great, not only was I paranoid, now I could hardly walk.


In the shadows, he waited for her at exactly the place they told him she would be found.  He lit a cigarette checking his watch impatiently. It was almost curfew meaning that she should soon be in his sights.  The hunter would have his prey.  This amused him.  In fact, it’d been just about the only amusement he’d experienced in the last several months. Slumping further down the wall, he wondered if she would come with him willingly or if she would need to be dealt with.  Oh how he hated dealing with people, it left such a mess. 

Out of the pub she walked. As instructed, he cautiously took steps out from his place in the shadows to engage her, quickly backtracking at the sight of someone else with her. Oh great, a boyfriend, he thought to himself.  They hadn’t said anything about there being a boyfriend.

With no other option but to remain hidden, he watched his new target. She was beautiful, he observed. Tall, long, dark hair, with a nice figure-from what he could see of it.  There wasn’t a single thing about her that screamed "killer" prompting him wonder if they hadn’t completely lost their minds in their selection of her.  When they’d told him that she would be a "she" he envisioned a woman with more girth and slightly more muscle.  After all, she was the first woman they’d ever chosen.

His target turned down an alley with her boyfriend in tow.  He couldn’t allow himself to lose sight of her. At all costs, he had to stick with her until his job was done, no matter what the outcome may be.  With the cigarette still aflame between his lips, he leapt onto a fire escape, scaling the side of the building lining the alleyway.  Along the edge of the roof he walked until he saw her further down the alley.  Her boyfriend was clutching onto her in a passionate embrace almost as if it were the last time they would see each other again.  Who knows, depending on how his mission turned out, perhaps it would be. 

Love, it was the dirtiest four letter word of them all. That dreadful emotion rendered a person weak and vulnerable which was unacceptable to him.  It was a hypocritical emotion, love. Not only did it instill immense pleasure but it also served as a catalyst to excruciating pain and suffering. It was unexplainable and he didn’t like the unexplained. Besides, nothing lasts forever, so why pursue an impossibility.

 Quietly from his vantage point, he observed the couple entering her apartment complex.  He would approach her tomorrow, he decided as he pulled his cell phone out of his pocket.

"Blake," the response to his call rang into his ear.

"I’ve located Stevens and will make contact tomorrow," he reported.

Without waiting for a response, he shoved the cell phone back into his pocket, stomping the cigarette out on the roof.  He wondered how long she would last.


The stars glittered above us from our vantage point on the rooftop of my apartment building.  We weren’t supposed to be there, but we didn’t care.  With the expert lock-picking skills I’d acquired during my teenage years of forgetting my house key along with a bookend from my apartment, we were able to both prop and open the fire escape door nicely. It was our spot. A regular retreat used by Chase and I as a means of escape from the monotony of daily life.  The one positive aspect arising out of the mass exodus of the city had been revealed to us during the first clear night we‘d come to the rooftop. The barren city allotted for an uncompromised view of the night sky. There were no city lights now to compete with the natural luminescence of nature.

I held Chase tightly with my head on his chest just over his heart, running my hands through his hair.  Most couples had a song to define their relationship. We had a star and it was shining proudly over us as if realizing its significance. Our star was the last star comprising the handle of the big dipper and was chosen primarily because it was one of the few stars I knew I’d always be able to find. Chase tried explaining the constellations to me once but his lecture was drowned out within fifteen minutes by my snoring. 

"So, do you still feel like someone is watching you?" he asked. 

I sat up to meet his eyes.  "Yeah, but somehow it doesn’t seem as foreboding now."

"I guess I need to try a little harder then," he chuckled. "It’s getting late, we should probably go inside."

"Party pooper."

"Don’t blame me, blame our employers."

"What? Are you telling me you can’t do your job on only a couple of hours of sleep?"

"It’s not me I’m worried about, it’s my patients. Would you want to see your surgeon yawning only a couple minutes before he was scheduled to cut into your body?"

"Point noted.

The flame from the candles bounced around my bedroom walls creating a ballet of light that illuminated Chase’s bare torso. As we lay in my bed, I traced the lines on his abdomen. He worked out obsessively when he wasn’t at the hospital and it really showed. Oh man, did it ever show. My head rested on his broad shoulders, his hands caressing my back. It was a moment bathed in perfection. It was a moment I wished would last forever. Chase moved his fingers up my back, tracing my spine until reaching my head where he lightly stroked my hair.
"My sentiment exactly."

"When are we going to move in together?" he asked breaking the silence.

"My guess is that you’re enjoying this just as much as I am."


Even though we’d been together for two years, the whole idea of the big "C", or commitment for those brave enough to use the word, scared the hell out me. It wasn’t as if I imagined my life without Chase, because I didn’t. I was just afraid of the unknown. I’d never been married nor had I ever lived with anyone I’d been in a relationship with so the whole prospect was rather frightening.

"I don’t know. I was always taught that people should be married before they lived together," I asserted in an attempt to grab a hold of the topic to steer it over a cliff.
So…you want to get married?"

"No…no…oh my gosh no….I mean…you mean...right now?"

He laughed. "Not this very second and thanks for the confidence booster by the way."

"Chase, you know how I feel.

"I know. You’re afraid of commitment and I think that’s the most intriguing thing in the world because I’ve never met another woman who seemed to have that problem." He rolled over to face me, cupping my cheek with his hand. "I also know that the majority of that issue stems from the loss of your family. Trust me Celaine, come hell or high water, I’m not going anywhere. I’m afraid you’re stuck with me."


"I promise."

I leaned in and touched my lips to his. He ran his finger tips from my neck downwards toward my back creating an electric like tingling sensation to surge through my body as he pulled me closer.

"Do you want me to stop?" he asked.



"I promise."


I opened my eyes.  It was morning and it was raining; terrific.

"You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are grey. You’ll never know dear, how much I love you, please don’t take my sunshine away." Chase kissed my cheek. "Good morning beautiful," he cheerfully greeted me.

"Ripping off songs now are we?"

"When you’re a suave as I am, you can make anything sound good."

"What time is it?"

"It’s about time for the both of us to get up and get ready for work."

I groaned.

"Well it was good while it lasted," I mused.  

"Yes, yes it was."

At that moment, the alarm on my nightstand went off. Chase leaned over me to turn it off.

"What? No snooze button," I teased.

"I have to pull a double shift and will be on-call after my shift for the rest of the week so I’ll pretty much be MIA for the next few days."

I gave him the best pathetic looking face I could.

"Don’t look at me like that," he smiled turning his gaze to the ceiling, staring seemingly off into space.

"What is it?"

His gaze was fixated on the ceiling as if he were some sort of intense concentration. After a moment, he spoke, "How about you and I have dinner at Angelo’s on Saturday?"

"Angelo’s? What’s the occasion?"

"No occasion.  I just figured we could use a change of pace from our normal routine."
"It’s a nice thought Chase, it really is.  Isn’t it pretty expensive there? After two years, I think we’re well beyond having to impress each other. I really don’t want you to spend that kind of money on…"
He put his index finger to my lips. "Don’t worry about the money.  I have some extra funds lying around just itching to take my beautiful girlfriend out."

"Well, when you put it that way."

"Angelo’s on Saturday then?"

"Consider my arm thoroughly twisted."

Super Mario Brothers - Frustration

For all you lovers of the old school Super Mario Brothers Nintendo games.  Back in the day when you had to blow on the games to get them to work and when controllers didn't require a degree in engineering to figure out.  Back in the days when playing video games didn't require any feats of physical prowess to play and you could play the way you were meant to...sitting on your lazy ass. 

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Enigma Black Chapter 6

Chapter 6

The Aftermath-Ten Years Later

Through the windows of our SUV, I could see their faces staring at me, pleading for me to free them.  I had exactly ten seconds to save them….9…8. The department store door jammed, forcing me to scan the rubble for the familiar metal pole. Success. I grabbed the pole from the severed hand’s grasp releasing each finger from their death grip around it. Time was running out…7…6…5.

Giving up on prying the door open, I threw my body against it, shattering it into a thousand pieces.  The clock ticked away…4…3…2…I took off running towards them. I was going to make it this time. Finally, I was going to be able to save them.  But, as this scenario always unfolded, when the final second ticked away a dark figure appeared in front of me. It threw its arms up into the air summoning an enormous explosion, throwing me back into the store. My family was gone.

I shot up in bed, a cold sweat trickling down my face.  Ten years had gone by and still the vivid nightmares of that horrible day continued to plague me unrelentingly.  Sitting up, I allowed my eyes to adjust to the darkness. My heart was pounding hard within my chest making breathing difficult.  Taking in a deep breath, I guided my fingers along the contents atop my nightstand stopping when they hit my cell phone. It was three o’clock in the morning, but I knew he wouldn’t mind.  He never minded.  In the two years I had known him, I’d only seen him upset a handful of times all of which were work-related.

He picked up on the fourth ring. "Hey you," he answered groggily further intensifying my guilt.

"How did you know it was me?"
 "My other girlfriend already called me hours ago."

I could almost see the smirk forming on his face. "Very funny," I retorted.

"Did you have another nightmare?"

"Yeah, that makes four now in one week." 

Tears started forming with a single one running down my cheek.  "Will this ever stop? Haven’t I been tortured enough already?" My quivering voice was bordering on a sob now.

"Shh…shh…it’s going to be alright, Celaine. I’m here for you. In time, the nightmares will fade away leaving you and I and our life together and…"

"Stay with me tomorrow night," I interrupted, more of a plea than a request.

"Hmmm…getting to hold an incredibly beautiful woman for a whole night…I don’t know. I’m really going to have to think about that. I mean, I do have a pretty busy schedule and all…but I’ll see if I can rearrange some appointments around and pencil you in."

"Other than me, you’re the only person capable of mustering sarcasm this early in the morning," my sobbing subsided as a half-smile returned to my face.

"That’s why we’re perfect for each other.  We’re the soul mates of smart ass."

"I love you."

"I love you too. Now get some sleep. You’ve got a busy day ahead of you tomorrow. Loans to decline, lives to shatter, you know, fun stuff."

"Thank you. I’m not sure what I would do without you."

"Well, fortunately, that’s something you’ll never have to worry about. See you tomorrow, beautiful."

I hung up the phone, getting out of bed to stretch my long, tired legs.  It would be at least another hour before I’d be able to fall back asleep again.  Switching on the lamp atop my nightstand, I walked down the hall of my apartment to my cold, uninviting bathroom. Its tile floor was like sheer ice underneath my feet making me shudder. I reached for one of the disposable plastic cups on the basin to fill with water.  Not only did the nightmares affect me emotionally, but they also took a toll on me physically.  My throat was dry and the same knee I smacked on the floor in the minutes before the explosion throbbed in eerie phantom-like pain.  Some nights I swore there was still glass imbedded in my skin. Some nights it felt as though I’d lived through the devastation all over again.  As I so often did after my nightmares, I opened the drawer of my bedroom nightstand taking out the worn photo album. The photo album had been one of few possessions I’d salvaged from my parents’ home before my move to Iowa.  Its cloth cover was somewhat faded from years of wear with the pages beginning to yellow.  Turning them with care, I soon found what I was looking for: the last family photograph ever taken of us.

There I was in all my awkward teenaged glory, smack dab in the middle. We were all wearing our standard, identical photograph attire: matching blue sweaters and khaki pants. It’d been Carol’s idea, of course. Oh how I missed Carol. She was so gorgeous in this photograph with her hair, the color of toffee, pinned back.  George looked so regal, so professional, and so proud.  Then there was Jake. I’d often wondered what he would look like now as a young man.  Would he be in medical school following in George’s footsteps or married with children of his own? Anger overtook the sorrow in me while the feelings of the injustice of it all came flooding back.

"There will be a day," I spoke to them as they if they could hear me. "I promise you, one way or another, there will be a day of retribution."

I tucked the loose photograph back into the photo album, turned off the light and laid back down in bed.  While laying there my thoughts drifted to the aftermath of the explosion.  My Aunt Tasha had done everything she could think of to make my life as normal as possible and, considering the circumstances, she’d done a wonderful job.  Of course, she was nothing like the hawk Carol had been. Under Tasha’s supervision, I‘d been allotted way more freedom than any teenager should possess. At times, she’d seemed more interested in playing the role of big sister to me rather than acting as my maternal role model but, when push came to shove, she managed to step up to the plate. This ensured my grades were always up to par and that I kept relatively out of trouble. Not that there was a whole heck of a lot of trouble I could have gotten into. After all, there really wasn’t much to do in Iowa besides outhouse tipping.

Much to Tasha’s chagrin, after graduation I decided to come back home to Maryland.  Some would argue I was a sadist or a glutton for punishment.  Regardless, I still felt at home here. Plus, a part of me needed the closure in seeing the Memorial site that was erected two years after the explosion at The Lakes. In a strange way, seeing the Memorial gave me a sense of peace.  It was something tangible.  Of course, Lucy had been beyond thrilled with my decision to move back.  We’d ended up attending college together; she studying psychology and I, finance.

My decision to move home inadvertently became the best decision of my life the day I met Chase Matthews. Shortly after my father’s death, Hope Memorial Hospital created a scholarship in honor of him for those young medical students interested in studying pediatrics. Catching wind of my return, the hospital contacted me requesting that I present the scholarship to that year’s winner.  At first I was a little hesitant. I wasn’t sure how I would react to all the stares and inevitable awkward conversations, but I knew that my father would have wanted me to do it.

Every presentation ceremony started off with a memorial to my father.  Doctor Taylor, the pediatric surgeon who’d served as a resident under him, gave the speech every year.  Sitting on the stage, I could see the admiration in his eyes as he spoke of him. During Dr. Taylor’s speech that day, I sat on the stage scanning the audience, looking for any familiar faces. That’s when I saw him.  He was boyishly cute with shimmering, sky-blue eyes and the smirk of a hardcore smart ass.  He was resident Chase Matthews.  A fan of my father’s work with the pediatric unit, he was as close to perfection as I had seen, and he was staring at me. 

A rush of heat poured into my cheeks alerting me to the fact that I’d probably turned twelve shades of red.  As much as I tried to, I couldn’t divert my attention from him. I was so entranced that, when it came to be my turn at the podium, my name had to be called twice to snap me out of it. Two years later, I was still under that same trance.

With memories of my initial encounter with Chase Matthews flashing through my head, I managed to fall peacefully back to sleep.

The sun beamed into my fourth floor apartment creating a makeshift heating pad on my back.  It was another fabulous workday morning.  Another day of fun and finance awaited me at the First American Bank & Trust.  Don’t get me wrong, FAB was just fabulous.  Unfortunately, many careers it had just grown too mundane for me. 

It was a perfect summer day and, if not for the presence of armed soldiers on every block, it would have also seemed like a normal summer day.  Their presence was an omnipresent reminder that things were still far from normal here. We were still living in the nightmare of unwavering paranoia with every person, parked car and building being a potential target for lethal destruction.  Pure anxiety served to reduce a once bustling, crowded city street to just a few brave souls using it to commute warily back and forth to work. 

The attack on The Lakes created a fork in the road for more than just those whose lives it’d directly impacted. A Pandora’s Box had been opened in its wake, unleashing a chain of events overseen by the Brooks’ Administration.  Military enforcement of Brooks’ new order swept through the nation generating a false sense of security. The fall of democracy had been met with praise by Congress and the highest approval ratings of any President in history.  President Brooks was keeping us safe; President Brooks cared about society.  Bullshit.  At least, that was my opinion. 

After the revocation of the Twenty-Second Amendment allowing Brooks at least one more term in office, suspicion rose amongst us more cynical members of society.  The more vocal members of this opposition--radicals they were called--were said to be launching a rebellion against President Brooks as they considered him just as dangerous as The Man in Black.  The Man in Black or any other responsible party still hadn’t been apprehended and, although conditions had become markedly more calm the last couple of years, there were still random attacks occurring.

This decline in instability was due, in part, to the appearance of an inexplicable duo who’d mysteriously appeared on the scene in the last couple of years.  Many thought they were subhuman, robotically engineered by the Department of Defense to counteract The Man in Black finally putting an end to the insanity.   There was something different about this duo.  Their abilities were not of this world.  Normal humans simply couldn’t make the graceful yet deadly movements that they could.  Normal humans couldn’t leap into the air at the staggering heights nor did they possess the speed they did. Normal people could not take on The Man in Black.  They were our nation’s very own "superheroes", sent to destroy The Man in Black and make our world safe again.

In some ways, I loathed the necessity for their existence, but mostly I longed to have the abilities they mastered. To be able to deliver the fatal blow and watch the life leave the eyes of the person responsible for the attack on The Lakes just as they must have watched my family die would be the best form of justice.  I was a block away from work when I heard the commotion coming from the corner behind me.  The newspaper had just hit the newsstands and, from the sounds of it, it appeared as though there had been another attack.  Curious, I did an about-face heading back in the direction of the commotion.        

"Can you believe it," one red headed, freckled woman cried out.  "It’s terrible, just

Another woman chirped in, "It just proves that this madness will never end."

I stood on my tip toes peering over the crowd to catch a glimpse of the headline:

Hero killed after confrontation with The Man in Black

A wave of nauseated shock ran over me.  How could this be?  These super humans, they were mortal? I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised.  The duo had to have been at least partly human and there wasn’t exactly anything manmade out there that wasn’t entirely indestructible.  Nonetheless, it was shocking and I’d grown almost immune to shocking the last ten years.  In disbelief, I headed back down the sidewalk to my job as the lowly loan officer. 

The mayhem didn’t recede when I entered the usually quiet, mundane atmosphere of the bank.  Everyone was abuzz with the news of our hero’s demise.

"How could this have happened?" Travis one of the other loan officers and a constant thorn in my side with his by-the-book attitude inquired.

Veronica, a teller and my closest friend outside of Lucy, piped in, "Geez Travis nothing is impossible nor is there anything that is indestructible. Besides this would be a great career opportunity for you now that there’s an opening."

"Oh really, how do you figure?" 

"With that hard head and that thick hide of yours, it would be almost impossible for a bullet to wound you."

A snicker erupted through the crowd.  Travis was not exactly a favorite amongst our usually tight-knit group.

"Hi Celaine," Veronica greeted me with her all-too-cheery-for-this-time-in-the-morning voice.

"Hey," I replied.  "I see we’re starting in early on Travis today."   Travis let out a disgusted groan and headed to his office.

Veronica was one of the first people I’d met when I came back to Maryland.  Leaning on each other in hard times like an emotional crutch, we’d had the unfortunate coincidence of having had family members killed in an attack. Veronica flipped back her long raven hair, the envy of every woman at the bank, following me into my office.

"So, do you have any big plans tonight?" she asked.

"Actually yeah, Chase is coming over tonight and we plan on going out to dinner. Last night was another bad one and I think he feels sorry for me," I replied with a stifled laugh. Veronica looked at me with concern growing in her eyes. 

"You had another nightmare? Celaine, this is really getting ridiculous…maybe you should get some help.

"Are you saying I’m not right in the head?"

"We already knew that."


"What I mean is that maybe there’s something more behind your dreams. You know, like…like psychological or something. Maybe you need to work your inner demons out with a licensed professional. Doesn’t one of your friends work in that field?"

"Lucy? Believe me, she’s given me more than my fair share of free counseling throughout the years. Actually, I’m pretty sure she uses me as an exemplar for the mentally ill when she’s in session with patients."

Veronica laughed.  "I just worry about you Celaine."

"I really appreciate that Veronica, but Chase takes really great care of me."

"I’m sure the boy wonder does," she said with a wink.  "I don’t know how, for the life of me, you can be around that human encyclopedia all day. He would give my brain a knowledge overload."

"What can I say, I like em’ nerdy."

"That you do…that you do."

With that, she leapt from her perch on my desk nearly spilling coffee in my lap in the process. As she proceeded to her booth in the front of the building she offered up another jab in Travis’ direction for good measure. A quick retort of "Bite me" rang from his office to which she replied, "Is that all you got, I’m sorely disappointed, Weiner."

"It’s pronounced Wine-ner."

"That’s not how it’s spelled Weiner"

Besides the obvious monetary gain, there were definite advantages to coming to work.

Friday, February 25, 2011

In a Perfect World

After repeatedly vowing to get to it, but watching it collect dust on my shelf instead, I finally picked up my copy of Stephen King's On Writing. I have to say, so far, I'm learning more about Stevie boy's life than the fine art of crafting words. Since it's his book, I suppose he can write about whatever the hell he wants. After all, the man is obviously doing something write (oh yeah, I just went there). Still, I'm finding myself not really giving a shit about his earlier years.

Needless to say, I'm thirty pages into it and am thinking that, instead of complaining about never having the time to write, I should have just written--or skipped through the pages chronicalling Stevie's gas-filled childhood.  So here I am, blogging at midnight--seven hours before I have to wake up and go to work again.

Time; they say it goes by when you're having fun.  Well, whoever "they" are, they completely neglected the fact that it also goes by fast when you're running around like a chicken with your head cut-off dying for a chance to do those fun things.  Time, in general, is fleeting.  Especially for those of us who have lives outside a budding literary career (okay, so I can dream).  For me, I have a full-time job, various weekly commitments, a four-year-old and a husband getting ready to deploy overseas.  Time, for me, needs to apply the emergency break.

Somewhere in this book--lord knows if I'm ever going to get there--King tells us we need to spend time writing everyday and also gives the reader quite a lengthy reading list.  That may be all fine and dandy for him, an established author, but what about the rest of us forced to reside in the stringent confines of reality?  How many of us can honestly spare thirty minutes, let alone an hour to write something that may or may not be nonesense on a page?  Oh, and we have to do this between our jobs, kids and trying not to neglect our spouses.

In a perfect world, this extra time will appear from somwhere within the depths of the twenty-four hours we're allotted everyday. In a perfect world, I can be a paralegal, mother, volunteer, army wife and author with the greatest of ease. In a perfect world, time will stand still.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Enigma Black-Chapter 5

Chapter 5

The Dawn of Totalitarianism

Democracy is a very fragile thing.  You have to take care of democracy.  As soon as you stop being responsible to it and allow it to turn into scare tactics, it’s no longer democracy, is it?  It’s something else.  It may be an inch away from totalitarianism.
~Sam Shepard

President Brooks was many things. He was vivacious, outspoken, and, at the age of thirty-eight, he was also the youngest President ever to have been elected into office. While many had been put off by his youth, most were enthusiastic about the handsome, young senator and his uncanny ability at bringing unity to the Senate. Public outpouring of support for him was so momentous that, on the dawn of Election Day, the Presidency was all but handed to him. Consensus was that we were approaching the dawning of a new era and President Brooks was seen as the visionary who’d carry our country over the threshold.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened.

Our country’s new era dawned two years after the bombings at the The Lakes, as the fear of the unknown continued to encapsulate the nation. Several more attacks had taken place; some were work of deranged copycats, but most were confirmed to have been perpetrated by The Man in Black.  After early opposition initially derailed President Brooks’ proposed curfew, another attack prompted him to again address the subject. Propelled by fear and the reassurance of the eventual return to safety and security, it was soon decided that a curfew should be enacted temporarily barring anyone from being out on the streets past ten at night other than for employment or emergency related purposes. With minimal opposition, the Bill was passed by Congress and would remain in effect until those responsible for the attacks were brought to justice.

However, when society allows one liberty to fall, the rest of the dominoes follow suit.

Billed as another means of ensuring safety, travel restrictions were imposed soon after the institution of the curfew. Patrols were dispatched to all state lines making interstate travel too much of a hassle for most families to attempt. Those who chose to travel by air were subjected to strip searches, body scans and the issuing of a Federal Aviation Administration-approved flight suit.  Their clothes were bagged, tagged and given back to them at their final destination.

President Brooks ushered in the dawning of a new era; the era of totalitarianism.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Enigma Black-Chapter 4 (Oh what the heck)

Okay kiddies, this is the last chapter I will be posting.  Remember, I'm still in the editing process, so what you read is not perfect and some parts will change. 

Chapter 4

The Ledge

I’d never been through an earthquake before nor had I ever heard of one occurring on the East Coast.  Therefore, in hindsight it seemed like a fairly odd conclusion for me to have rendered as the Earth shook beneath my feet and the sky began falling in around me.

Immediately in response, I steadied myself against a railing separating the third floor from a sixty foot drop.  Discernable screams of fear and shocked surprise broke through the chaos. Intermingled with those screams were gruesome cries of anguish whose presence was silenced by the sound of concrete striking the floor.

Smoke invaded The Lakes blending in with the hurricanes of dust being generated with each explosion, three in all, creating the perfect storm. It was, in the aftermath of the final explosion, that the railing serving as my sanctuary began to buckle. The steel squealed in defeat as the piece supporting my body suddenly swung out over the center of the mall bringing me with it. In shock, I looked down at the floor below my dangling feet noticing that the majestic thirty foot fountain, and the crowning glory of The Lakes, now stood in nothing more than piles of broken concrete.

My heart raced rapidly inside my chest as my body hung over the chasm.  Tears welled inside my eyes from the fog of smoke encasing me, impairing my vision.  A sudden tremor then shook throughout the mall causing the third floor to shift once more and the portion of the railing I clung to creaked as it slowly started to break away from its foundation.  Holding on tighter to the metal bars, I knew that if I didn’t act fast I too would be in pieces like the concrete beneath me.

Taking a deep breath, I slid my body upwards to the third floor. Inch by inch I hoisted myself along the railing in a near vertical climb up the side of what had once been the floor beneath me.
"Keep going, Celaine, you aren’t going to die here…not like this," I repeatedly told myself unconvincingly.

Halfway to my destination further disaster struck. Droplets of water began raining down from the mall’s sprinkling system. These water droplets dripped unrelentingly down the sides of the metal railing rendering it a virtual slip-and-slide in my hands.  Any grasp I’d had on it was suddenly compromised forcing me to slide back down it.  If I couldn’t find a way to battle my way back quickly, I would be in dire trouble. Before that day, I hadn’t realized just how amazing the sheer human will to live was. At the point when I should have lost my grip, my adrenaline kicked in. With this new burst of energy came an overpowering determination that only intensified as I forced my body back up the railing. Before I knew it, I’d surpassed the point where I’d slid down.

Water poured in steadily from both the sprinkling system and the remnants of the mall’s ceiling soaking me to the bone. The bitterly cold air from the outside was also making its way inside sending my damp body into shock.

"Inch by inch," I repeated to myself.

I could feel the varietal mountain I was climbing beginning to tremble again making me fully aware of the fact that I didn’t have much longer before the final avalanche struck.  It was a culmination of every horror movie I could think of except I kept telling myself that the lifeless figures scattered on the floor below me were nothing more than mannequins.

That illusion was shattered when I saw the blood.

The railing shuddered again forcing my body to swing precariously back and forth. I looked back up the metal pole and gasped in shock upon realizing that less than an inch of steel was left binding it to the rest of the railing. Desperately, I made one last heave propelling myself away from the pole and, to my relief, my hands managed to grasp the jagged edge of the third floor foundation. Using all the remaining energy I could muster, I pulled my body safely to the floor just as the railing broke loose falling to the rubble.

I lay crumbled on the dust-covered floor, sobbing. Dust and smoke created such an impenetrable haze that, if not for the mini fires spouting from the perforated gas lines, I wouldn‘t have been able to see at all. In pain, I managed to stand up and assess myself.  There were a few minor cuts on my arms but they were otherwise unscathed. I knew that would not be the case elsewhere. As I inspected the burning pain in my thigh, I noticed blood flowing down my leg from an extensive cut leading from the upper thigh halfway to my knee. My jeans had been torn all the way down on one leg exposing my skin. These new wounds made the throbbing knee I’d experienced earlier seem insignificant in comparison. 

As my thoughts began to clear, I remembered the whole reason I was even still in the war-torn mall.  I let out an audible gasp while the tears welled in my eyes. Oh God, no, I thought to myself as I remembered that George, Carol and Jake were waiting for me outside.  Hobbling along the rubble, I ambled towards the department store that was separating me from the parking ramp. It was in this direction that the explosions had come from.  

Above me, a sudden snap erupted. Looking up to see the source of the sound, I found myself diving out of the way to avoid a skylight as it crashed to the floor sending shards of glass flying in my direction.  Picking myself up from the floor again, I felt my skin prickle. Broken glass had cut into my hands, but neither that nor the pain mattered to me right now.  The entrance to the department store was just yards away and I was going to make it or die trying. 

I climbed over the debris making up the remnants of the department store entrance. Survivors who’d been in the store at the time of the blasts were scrambling to get out, looking at me as though I were suicidal for wanting in. 

"You’re heading to the worst of it!" a woman, covered in dust from head to toe, shouted at me.

I ignored her, continuing my climb into the department store.  To say that this was the worst of it had been an understatement.  War zones probably didn’t look much different than the sight that was before me now.  Smoke infiltrated my lungs causing me to cough so incessantly that my ribs began to ache. As I crouched down to crawl in the more breathable air on the floor below, my hand touched something that felt familiar.  A scream escaped my lips as I realized that I was holding a hand that was no longer connected to a body. Throwing the hand off to the side, I continued my crawl to the ramp.  My stomach turned and I knew that I had to keep my eyes forward if I was ever going to make it without passing out. 

Almost there, I thought to myself.  The door was within my grasp with an almost blinding beam of light shining through it into the smoke.  It was funny how I hadn’t noticed there being a light there before. The department store had always seemed so dark in the direction of the ramp.  Even more amazing to me was that the entryway appeared to be intact.  With my target in sight, I took a deep breath using my remaining strength to spring to my feet, running the rest of the way to the door.

The automatic door was more manual than automatic now.  I banged on it with my fists attempting to do the job the explosion had been unable to accomplish.  When that failed, I braced a leg on one the side of the frame and, with my aching arms, attempted to pry the door open like a human crow bar.  No luck. After a couple more minutes of kicking, smacking and invariably flipping the door off, I realized that what I was doing was not going to work. Undeterred, I scanned the rubble for an idea. A piece of scaffolding stuck out like a sore thumb within the concrete. Lunging towards it, I prayed it would be suitable to pry the door open.  Just as I bent down to grab it, I felt a hand on my shoulder and another around my waist attempting to pull me back.

"What in the hell do you think you’re doing!" A man whirled me around to face him. His eyes were wild, his hair gray from soot. He appeared to be a security guard or an officer of sorts. It was too hard to tell based on what was left of his uniform. "There’s nothing left, do you hear me? The ramp is gone. You’re going to get yourself killed trying to go out there."

Even though I heard the words he spoke they made absolutely no sense to me.  What did he mean the ramp was gone?  It had just been there twenty minutes ago.  Deciding that the good officer was crazy I broke away from him and proceeded onward to grab the metal bar.

"No!" he screamed at me again attempting to restrain me.

I’d had enough. As much as I didn’t want to do it, I felt like I had no other option but to disable the officer as reasoning with him was clearly not going to work.  Raising my arm, I forcibly swung it back striking him in the chest. The force of my elbow to his rib cage caused him to release his grip on me enough to where I was able to break away. Once free, I whirled around swiftly kicking him in the legs as hard as I could in the hope that it would incapacitate him long enough for me to pry the door open.

Fetching the metallic bar from the rubble, I jammed it between the seal and the frame of the doorway pushing with all my strength. At first it put up an admirable fight, but after several solid jabs, it finally conceded defeat, slowly squeaking open. Smoke poured into the store from the outside sending me into another coughing fit. Holding my breath, I gave the bar a few more solid pushes until enough room was created for me to squeeze my entire body through. Through the cloud of smoke, I took off down the crumpled concrete. On the outside, snowflakes stabbed my face like tiny daggers adding further insult to injury.

My eyes worked to focus in the direction I’d left my parents’ vehicle. I walked carefully down the pavement looking for the familiar sight of the garage. I should have been there by now. This walk was taking entirely too long. The fog of smoke slowly became less and less dense the further out I walked, until a wayward gust of wind blew past me punching a hole into the unknown. What it revealed was a scene I hadn’t expected.  Instead of the familiar ramp, I found myself standing on the edge of a cliff with the rest of the city spread out before me.  Sirens surrounded me as I shielded my ears with my bloodied hands.  A strange sound approaching from above drew my attention to the helicopter that was starting to circle around the mall. The hurricane-force wind it generated pushed my broken body in all directions.  Did I take a wrong turn?  Was I that disoriented?

No, I wasn’t.  This was where I’d left my parents and Jacob.  They had been right here.  A thought occurred to me then; a thought that rendered my delicate stomach as fragile as an egg shell.  Taking in a deep breath, I slowly walked to the edge of the pavement peering over the side only to see what I already knew would be there.

"No! God no," I screamed as I dropped to my knees and sobbed.  In anguish, I repeatedly punched the pavement over and over again, breaking my hand.  The physical pain, however, was not something I remember even feeling to this day. My body was already too numb from the emotional shock. Over the edge of the newly-formed cliff, my family’s fate had been revealed to me.  Strewn in a mass of broken pavement were pieces of steel in every shape, size and color.  Attached to these pieces of steel were tires, antennas, and license plates. My father, mother and brother were down there at the bottom of that cliff.  The parking ramp had been the epicenter of the blasts.

On the pavement of the ledge I lay; immobile and unfeeling.  I was wet, cold, broken and I didn’t care about anything anymore. From what I was told later by both my doctors and from reports on the news, I’d laid immobile on that ledge for about an hour before firefighters were able to remove me from my perch.  My motionless body was on the national news serving as the perfect illustration for the devastation that had transpired that day. 

One of the firefighters, who’d eventually rescued me from the ledge, carried me to an ambulance where EMTs stripped the soggy clothing from my body.  I must have been shaking pretty badly as they enveloped me in blankets almost instantaneously.  After I’d been secured, the ambulance fired up racing to what I assumed would be Hope Memorial Hospital.

"Poor thing," a pretty, young EMT stated while attaching various tubes to my body.

I heard the other EMT, a man, who’d obviously been the seasoned veteran of the two, with salt and pepper hair and a stare devoid of all emotion, speak as he radioed ahead to the hospital.  "Teenaged female with probable hypothermia, smoke inhalation and a possible broken right hand…possible bilateral rib fractures and multiple contusions. Estimated time of arrival is ten minutes." 

The woman EMT whose last name was "Topper"--or so I gathered from the badge dangling around her neck--soothingly caressed my cheeks. She then began humming a familiar tune I recognized from my youth and the volumes of lullabies my mother used to hum to me at night.  This instant memory of my mother sent a new wave of pain coursing through my body and a small tear formed in my eye.

"She looks catatonic," she had a worried tone in her voice.

"They’ll do an MRI at Hope Memorial," the male EMT replied un-phased.  "She’s probably just in shock.
There’s no telling what she’s witnessed today."

Topper winced continuing to stroke my cheek.

The last thing I remember that day was the ambulance pulling up in front of Hope Memorial; the hospital that’d become like a second home to me through the years.  The hatch opened and my stretcher was unloaded to a throng of trauma-hungry physicians.  It was a sight that would have made George proud.  A handful of trauma physicians, some of whom I recognized through my frequent meanderings in the halls, rushed me through the doors into the Emergency Room.

"Oh my gosh! Is that Dr. Steven’s daughter?" one of them exclaimed.

"All pretty girls look the same to you, Scott," another retorted.

It was then that my memory cut off.
The rain and sleet came splattering down against the umbrella I clutched in my good hand in the sea of black umbrellas gathered together in a tight semi-circle.  In the middle of the circle stood three oak coffins each covered with a bouquet of roses; my mother’s favorite flower.  Standing next to me, Lucy was nearly as devastated as I was. Wanting to comfort me but not exactly sure how to do it, she simply hadn’t understood just how much her mere presence meant to me.

Everything went by in one big blur that day. I’m not sure I could recite a single word of Reverend Logan’s eulogy or any of the heart wrenching memorials given by my father’s colleagues.  I couldn’t remember the names of most of the people who attended the funeral. I couldn’t describe the faces of the individuals who embraced me while passing along their condolences.  All I could focus on were the three oak caskets sitting side by side being pelted by balls of sleet. 

Why had I been spared?  What made me so special?  These were the questions I yearned to have answered but of which I knew answers did not exist.  My father had done so much in the advancement of pediatric medicine and had so much more yet to offer.  Why him and not me?  None of this made sense; none of this was fair.  I watched as the caskets were lowered into their final resting places while the crowd dispersed to their vehicles.  With Lucy still loyally at my side, I continued watching them until they were no longer visible--half tempted to ask for a hole to be dug for me too. 

"Celaine," a voice behind me said soothingly, "are you ready?"

I turned to see my Aunt Tasha looking at me sheepishly. 

"Yeah," I replied.

"Okay. Wait here and I’ll pull the car around."

Carol’s sister, Aunt Tasha, must have drawn the short straw as it was she who would be my guardian for the next year.  This meant a move halfway across the country, but I really didn’t care.  There was nothing left for me here anymore. Lucy was devastated but I reminded her that the year would go by fast and there was always the Internet. That had seemed to appease her for the time being.

"You’re like a sister to me, you know," Lucy murmured almost incoherently through her tears.

"Don’t…don’t get all emotional on me right now Luce." Breaking my gaze away from their coffins I turned to face Lucy wrapping my arms around her. As much as I tried to fight it, I just wasn’t strong enough to keep the tears away.

"Now look who’s getting emotional."

I gave Lucy a small smile releasing her from my grip. "You’ll always be my sister too." With the sleeve of my overcoat, I wiped the tears from my eyes.

"I’ll be back, Luce. I promise."

"You’d better be."

She looked over my shoulder just as my aunt pulled the car off to the side of the drive behind us. "Well, I guess this is goodbye then?" she sighed.

"Only for now."

Giving me one last quick hug, Lucy too wiped a tear from her eye and, with a forced smile, waved to me before walking to her parent’s car. Aunt Tasha must have sensed that I wanted one final moment alone with my family.  For not being good with such "delicate situations" she was handling me like a professional.  I stared at each individual resting place, the places that would eternally hold my father, mother and brother. 

"I promise you that I will do whatever it takes to give stop whoever did this to you. You will not have died without retribution…I…I promise you that I will do what I can to stop this from ever happening again.  Never again will anyone be made to suffer like this. I promise you…I promise you…even if I have to give up my life to do it, I will stop them. I love you."

My knees, having shaken all day, became too weak to support me. I dropped to the rain-soaked ground sobbing in my good hand.

It was later determined that the bombings at The Lakes had been related to the overall string of attacks occurring along the East Coast.  However, this bombing was different in that there were mass casualties; one hundred four in all. There were also witnesses this time who described seeing a mysterious male figure in black.  At least, some had thought him to be a man. Others swore this mysterious figure was more machine than human.  Thus, the story of The Man in Black was born inciting headlines on the front pages of every national newspaper.  Who what this Man in Black?  Why was he doing this? Was he human?  One thing was sure, whoever was doing this was getting bolder.

After The Lakes bombing, panic spread across the country.  People were afraid to leave their homes. They were afraid to live, afraid to die.  Many residents of the larger cities began migrating to less populated parts of the country in an attempt to feel safe again.  Rumors of a nationwide curfew along with the institution of military enforcement in the major cities, spurred talk of the end of democracy. This talk was quickly put to rest by President Brooks.


Monday, February 21, 2011

Enigma Black-Chapter 3

Chapter 3
        The Lakes  

My father, mother and brother were murdered on a snowy December day just before Christmas. In essence, I was too.

It was another dull, drab December day during the Christmas shopping season when my family made their way into the mall packed with the usual holiday traffic.  This time of year, the city turned into a claustrophobic’s worst nightmare.  Sure, there was an aura of glee and merriment in the air.  It was, after all, just mere days before the big event.  Permeating the atmosphere were the aromas of evergreens, sugar cookies, and cinnamon acting like effervescent buffers keeping the usual smell of exhaust fumes and funk at bay.  Those sights and smells are what I firmly believed prevented a person from going absolutely insane as they spent an eternity in line buying something that was probably only going to get returned anyway.  Merry freaking Christmas.

The Lakes was a plethora of retail paradise where all fads were exploited to the max, ensuring every last penny was being squeezed out of the pocketbooks of the unassuming.  Fads weren’t my thing.  I marched to the beat of my own drummer, much to the dismay of George and Carol. Being as that may, my academic achievements and overall demeanor had earned me my parents’ confidence throughout the years. So, when Jake decided that my hair looked better with Smoothie in it, they didn’t protest to my sudden need to break away.

"It’s not fair" Jake demanded.  "She always gets to go out on her own."

"Well, Jake" my father chimed in.  "Perhaps your mother and I could trust you too if we weren’t so sure something would be lit on fire in our absence."

"That was one time!"

"Tell that to Ms. Jacobson’s cat," Carol added.

It’d taken nearly a full year for ole’ Smokey’s coat to grow back after Jake’s infamous experimentation with bottle rockets, and, still, the cat just wasn’t the same.  Poor Smokey now walked with his head tilted, the smell of signed hair never having fully left him. In a sick and twisted way, I had to laugh at the irony of this occurring to a cat named Smokey.  Besides the obvious lesson, Jake also had learned that, like elephants, cats too never forgot being wronged. Since the incident, any time Smokey would see Jake outside, he’d crouch low to the ground with a maniacal stare etched across his feline face, plotting his revenge. 

"Meet us at the third floor parking ramp at 5:30."

"No problem Geo…dad."

My parents were very liberal when it came to us using their first names but my dad still managed to wince every time his name escaped my lips, forcing me to keep my "Georges" and "Carols" to a minimum. Thanking my parents for the moment of freedom, I stuck my tongue out at Jake as I bounded away.  It was a juvenile move which nonetheless managed to get under his skin and, well, wasn’t that my job?

I’d always felt such a profound sense of freedom after breaking loose from my parents. So much so that, without someone being there to tell me what to do and when to do it, I usually ended up just wandering around aimlessly. There was nothing I needed to do nor was there anything in particular that I really wanted to look for which didn’t help matters.  Scouring around the various shops, I traversed the mall until finally deciding to check out a store pedaling memorabilia from the 80’s.  I didn’t know what it was about the 80’s that drew me in and theorized that I was subconsciously channeling my parents’ long-forgotten youth. When they were just a young couple in love with no children to blow up random animals.

From the moment I entered the store, I was in all my neon, bangle bracelet, big-haired, legging wearing glory.  The employees in the store obviously took their jobs seriously.  With stirrup pants, oversized off the shoulder sweaters and mall bangs to top off, they looked like something straight out of a Tiffany video.  Canvassing the store, I rummaged through hair ties, abnormally large sweaters and huge hoop earrings. Surprisingly, it took quite a bit of searching through the store’s merchandise before a pair of neon pink hoop earrings managed to catch my eye. After all, electric yellow leggings were still a bit of a stretch for me, but I figured I’d graduate to them eventually.

After purchasing the earrings, I meandered through a maze of oversized candy canes, swam through a sea of impatient children and maneuvered my way through the crowd until finally locating a restroom.  As far as public restrooms go, The Lakes wasn’t half bad.  It still wasn’t clean enough to meet my standards, but if it were an emergency I would suck it up and hover.  As I entered, Christmas carols were blaring over the speakers.  It would have been a welcoming sound, deviating from the utter chaos of the mall, if not for the fact I’d been listening to Jingle Bells for the last two months now.  I was truly starting to loathe the Holiday season and all its ho-ho-hokey glory.  Setting my purse down on the sink, I removed the earrings from the neon green plastic bag, fastening them to my earlobes to inspect them further in the mirror.

"Not too shabby Celaine, not too shabby," I said to myself creating amused glances to reflect in the mirror from those around me.

I pinned my brunette hair back to let my new earrings take center stage.  Just as I brought my arm back down into view, I happened to take a glance at my watch instantly gasping at the time. 5:45!  Uh-oh.  There goes my freedom for the next couple of months.  Without hesitation, I bolted out of the bathroom sprinting, not too gracefully, through the crowd of people while eliciting gasps, expletives and overall general irritation in my wake.  I wasn’t an athlete by any stretch of the imagination but I could run when I had to.  My hope was that my parents had completely lost track of time meaning that I would remain to be seen as the dependable, punctual daughter they thought me to be.  Yeah, no such luck. Jake stood beaming as he watched me approaching.  This was no doubt his vindication for my earlier sisterly gesture.

"There you are!"  my mother proclaimed.  "Really Celaine, we’ve been worried sick."

"I’m sorry mom, I just completely lost track of time and, well, there was a long line to get into the bathroom and...."

"To what, check out your new earrings Young lady I’m not as gullible as you make me out to be. If there’s one gene that I passed on to you, it’s an aversion to public restrooms."

Damn.  "I’m sorry mom, it won’t happen again."

"Well let’s get going" George proclaimed.  "It’s really starting to snow out there."

Dejected, I followed my family out of the mall to the parking ramp with Jake snickering beside me the entire time.  The weather had definitely taken a turn for the worse. That much was evident even in the cement sanctity of the parking ramp. Wind whipped through the rows of automobiles ricocheting off their plastic bodies and inevitably imbedding itself into my flesh.  I shuddered trying not to think about the fact that I’d completely neglected to wear any other means of protection from the elements other than my hooded sweatshirt.  After taking a couple of wrong turns and attempting to break into a vehicle that was the identical twin to ours, we finally made it back to the correct vehicle.

"Celaine, could you give me a hand with this please?" Carol called to me.

"Sure thing."  I grabbed the packages out of my mother’s hand and located room for them in the corner of the trunk.

"Bag lady," Jake sneered.

"Is that the best you got little man?"

"Enough," George quipped.

George started the car as I strapped myself into my seat with my I-Pod preparing for the hour journey back home in our winter wonderland.  My mind now at ease, I began sensing that there was something not quite right. Something was missing, something whose identity presented itself just as we were about to pull out of the third floor parking ramp.

"Do you have any gum by chance?" Carol asked leaning back from the front seat.

"Yeah, let me get my p…"

"Your what?"


"Okay. So, where is it?"

"Do you really want to know the answer to that question?"

"Oh Celaine," my calm and collective dad was now clearly aggravated.

"It’s in the restroom isn’t it?" my mom asked.

"I do vaguely remember setting it down there."  The vein in my dad’s neck was starting to bulge, his face turning bright red.

"How could you be so careless?"
At this point, Jake was giggling like a school girl.  Christmas had come early for him. 

"I will drive you to the entrance of the mall and we’ll wait for you there. No side trips young lady. You will go straight to that bathroom and back, do you hear me?" George announced, clearly exasperated.

"Dad, I made a simple mistake. No need to brand me with a scarlet letter just yet."

My dad parked just outside of the doorway to the third story mall entrance motioning for me to get out with a big sigh.  Giving my dad an apologetic smile, I shut the door and dejectedly made my way back into the mall.

Had I had any inclination that this would be the last time I’d ever see them again, I would have stolen another glance at them. I would have done anything I could muster to capture the very essence of their faces, to engrave them in my mind forever. Of course, there was no way I could have known that moment was going to be the last time I’d ever see them again.

With speed that would even make an Olympian proud, I ran back into the mall.  The crowds had thinned out somewhat, but not enough to make my journey back to the restroom a walk in the park. There was the usual monotony of screaming children, people stopped haphazardly in paths clearly made for travel and others gathered around in idle chatter about their holiday plans.  It was almost as if the mall itself were conspiring against me.  As the minutes ticked away, I could visualize the vein on George’s neck bulging out further and further until it finally burst in a bloody mess.  The thought of this made me shudder; prompting me to decide that the only way to get around this problem was to go through it.

"Excuse me, pardon me, coming through, girl on the move here people," I exclaimed as I pushed my way through the mob of holiday revelers. 

Crowds were just another reason to hate the holidays--as if I really needed another one.  Its funny how, when you’re in a hurry, time seems to stand still making a simple trip to the restroom seem like a hike across the Yukon.  Of course, knowing that George was getting closer to having a coronary the more time ticked away, didn’t help matters.

Finally, with my destination in sight--and in my rush to get there--I completely neglected to look where I was going. It was only after I crashed to the floor that I saw the felled candy cane that had mysteriously managed to jump out in front of me.  Attempting to compose myself as I stood up in pain, I muttered some words that most certainly would have eradicated my name from the fat jolly man’s "good list". 

The fall managed to pop a cork of negativity in my mind forcing me to realize that, even on an average day, the odds that my purse was still exactly where I’d forgotten it were pretty slim.  Nonetheless, I knew if I were to come back empty-handed I would hear about it from George and Carol for at least the rest of the year and Jake for a good six months.  I let out a sigh preparing to meet my fate as I limped into the ladies room door discovering, to my amazement, that the fates were smiling on me after all.

My purse was there in all its denim glory right on the sink where I’d forgotten it.  Now, whether or not my wallet was still in it was probably a whole other story. I decided I’d worry about that later as the mere presence of the purse itself would be enough to appease George and Carol for the time being.  Quickly, I snatched it by its faded, denim straps and made a bee line out of the restroom back into the mall. 

My knee was throbbing from having been bashed against the linoleum floor. Great, I was probably the only person to have ever suffered a battle wound from a hard day of shopping.  I hobbled along until I came to a bench that just so happened to be located next to the same candy cane of doom that had attempted to foil me. In pain, I rolled up my pant leg to inspect the damage.  Already I could tell that my pasty skin was beginning to bruise around the point of impact was noticeably beginning to swell.  Disgusted with my lack of coordination, I pulled my jeans back down.

It’s amazing how life can change in just a mere matter of seconds.  One moment you’re walking casually through a mall shopping for Christmas presents for your loved ones; the next, everything goes black. Exactly two things happened before my world was quite literally ripped right out from underneath me: First, there were a series of pops resembling those of an automatic firearm; then there was a flash of light so bright I swore the sun had crashed into the earth. 

Amidst those thunderous blasts and that flash of light, life as I knew it came crashing to an end.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

For my fellow Twihaters

This is an absolutely WONDERFUL blog that picks apart the entire series one grammatical error at a time:

Don't say I never gave you anything ;)

I will be posting Chapter 3 of Enigma Black within the next day and will probably not post any more of it as I am still seeking representation.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011



Hours spent in quiet self-loathing
Putting finger to key in hopes of a break
Words deceive like wolves in sheep’s clothing
Every typo revealed, every mistake

Perfection is subjective, or so it seems
Tastes range from the norm to the absurd
For vampires and werewolves publication reigns supreme
And dreams of originality take to the sky like a determined bird

New concepts are revealed in painstaking detail
Hopes for approval, for acceptance run high
But shattered dreams and plans derail
Marketing new and bold is not something to try

I’m sorry but this just isn’t right for us…

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Enigma Black--Chapter 2

Yet another excerpt from my novel, Enigma Black:

Chapter 2

The Beginning of the End of My Life
Like most seventeen year olds, I’d been completely oblivious to what was going on in the world around me and the inevitable ramifications the recent string of attacks would have on my life.  All I knew back then was that I was happy in my own little world--as dull as it may have been.

On an overcast day in December nearly a decade ago, I sat in chemistry class running my fingers along the grooves of the table staring blankly at the world outside my window.  The first snow was going to fall soon, or so they said.  Hooray.  Why my parents had chosen Maryland to live and not some tropical haven, I would never understand.

Next to me, my lab partner was feverishly taking down notes.  Derek was your average run-of- the-mill science geek. Feverishly scribbled down every bit of Mr. French’s more-rambling-than-informative-lecture, he was completely ignoring the fact that his glasses were siding ever so precariously down his nose.  Despite his nerd-like tendencies, he was still a pretty good looking kid with thick, dark hair and piercing eyes the color of kiwis.  Especially evident to me, however, was the fact that his face turned various shades of crimson every time I even so much as glanced in his direction making it pretty obvious that he had a thing for me. From the beginning, I’d made it clear to him I wasn’t allowed to date. Okay, so that was a lie…a lie made all the more interesting by confiding to him that my father was an avid gun collector with a split personality.

Although my aversion to dating seemed to be somewhat of a relief to my parents, I suspected that they were nonetheless starting to wonder about their teenage daughter’s lack of interest in even broaching the subject with them. In fact, I was fairly certain that my mother was chomping at the bit for me to bring a date home to give her an excuse to take me shopping for prom dresses, makeup and all that other frilly, girly crap. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be for I had ulterior motives with my lab partner selection.

Derek was a science phenom; so, when it came down to choosing lab partners, let’s just say it was a no-brainer for me. It never ceased surprising me that, despite his academic intelligence, all it ever took for me to win him over was a simple bat of an eyelash and a lip-gloss infused grin. It’d been one of only a handful of times I‘d used my feminine wiles to my advantage. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t as if I were incapable of passing the class based upon my own merits.  Quite the contrary, it was because I was perfectly capable that prompted me to select him. He was a genius and I was of slightly above-average intelligence which translated into me not having to do too much to ace the class.  Some would call it laziness, I called it efficiency. I’d always been an honor student without even trying. I considered it nature’s way of making up for everything I wasn’t graced with: artistic skills, athleticism, and the uncanny ability to walk into a room without tripping over my own two feet. Classes were just an unnecessary formality creating a damper on my social life.

"Ms. Stevens," Mr. French called my name while leaning dangerously too far over the overhead projector near the front of the classroom.  His stomach was almost as pompous as his ego. As he leaned over the projector, it brushed against the ink on the transparency smudging the glass, putting yet another stain on his two-sizes too small polyester shirt.  He’d just completed his lecture and was scanning the jungle for unassuming prey to devour with humiliation.  Today, I was his target. Oh crap.

"Ms. Stevens, what is reverse osmosis?"

I looked at Derek, giving him a big smile as I turned to face Mr. French, "Reverse osmosis is a method of producing pure water by forcing saline or impure water through a semi permeable membrane across which salts or impurities cannot pass."

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Derek giving me a thumbs-up from underneath our table. Mr. French wore a clear look of disappointment as I’d again robbed him of the chance to reprimand me for not having paid attention in class. 

"Very good, Ms. Stevens."

"Thank you," I replied in a tone peppered with a hint of smart ass.

"I think you just stole the wind from his sails," Derek whispered to me obviously amused.

It was apparent that I was becoming somewhat of a bad influence on the future valedictorian. Giving Derek a sly smile, I resumed my descent into la-la land, staring out the window as a lone snowflake fell from the sky.


"I have this theory," my friend Lucy announced from her aptly named "co-pilot" instead of "shotgun" position in my Taurus as we were pulling out of the school parking lot. 

I’d basically been Lucy’s chauffeur since obtaining my license a little over a year ago.  Her parents didn’t much care for teenage drivers and weren’t about to add to the problem by allowing their daughter to join their ranks. For some reason, they had trusted me as I--in their words--"radiated maturity beyond my years".  I supposed it was a compliment seeing as how whatever exactly it was they thought I radiated was apparently enough of a reassurance for them to leave their daughter’s life in my hands.

"Oh really? What pray tell is said theory?" I asked Lucy inquisitively.

"Quite simply, the world is ending."            

Lucy’s proclamation nearly caused me to miss a stop sign forcing me to brake rather abruptly, clearly annoying the person in the car behind me.

"Okay," I replied. "You have my attention.  I would love to know where you came up with this theory."

"Just look at all the chaos and destruction going on right now with these bombings taking place. I mean…what else could it possibly be?  There must be some reason for this kind of erratic human behavior.  All the attacks that have been going on and they only seem to be getting worse. Someone or something has to be sparking them."

"What? Because psychopaths don’t exist?  Come on Lucy. there are a lot of evil, psychotic people in this world.  The only difference between now and like fifty years ago is the fact that people now have better access to more tools of destruction.  Take the internet, for example.  There are websites devoted to the sort of chaos that has been going on lately. Plus, there’s way more media coverage than there used to be. We just hear more about everything that goes on now so maybe it’s just that it seems like there is really more happening than there truly is."

Lucy was my best friend even though she’d always been the overtly analytical, paranoid, conspiracy theory type of girl.  These traits tended to wear thin on most everyone else who knew her, but I’d become accustomed to--if not somewhat amused by them--through the years. Whenever she’d suffered so much as a cough, she’d be on the internet researching it, developing speculations as to its origin. Instead of the usual viral causes, she’d more often than not come to the conclusion that some freak pathogen had been released into the air. Over the years I discovered that if I could reason with her by providing cold hard facts, or well spoken bullshit, she was quickly brought back down to reality.

"I suppose you’re right," she finally agreed.
"As always."

"So what are you planning on doing over Christmas Break?"

A puzzled look must have overspread my face as Lucy immediately shot back, "You completely forgot that today was the last day of school before break didn’t you?"

"So, sue me for not owning a calendar. Besides, I finished all of my gift buying weeks ago.  I guess I just felt like I could forget about the whole Christmas thing."

"You’re one strange creature."

"One person’s strange is another person’s unique.  Now get the out of my car."

Lucy laughed, rolling her eyes at me as she opened the passenger side door of my car now in her driveway. 
"I’ll give you a call this weekend."

"Thanks for the warning."

She shook her head, closed the car door and proceeded up her driveway.  It was nice actually having a friend who understood me.  I’d made several acquaintances and quasi-friends over the school years, but none of them seemed to appreciate my dry humor like Lucy Pierce did.

Methodically, I backed out of the Pierce’s driveway, carefully avoiding the various ceramic pots and ornamental statues planted at the end of it.  A minor infraction last summer forced Lucy and I to make a mad dash into town to quickly replace a couple of potted geraniums that had somehow mysteriously ended up underneath my tires.  Narrowly avoiding another disaster, I backed out into the road driving the two blocks from Lucy’s house to my parents’ split-level complete with white picket fence.  My parents truly took the whole American dream thing to the extreme. 

By late afternoon the wind had picked up substantially, howling in sheer protest. It all but took my breath away as I opened my car door and made my way into the house.  I absolutely hated this time of year and that’s probably why I always allowed myself to forget about it so easily. The true meaning of Christmas, as far as I was concerned, had been lost years ago in the age of advertising and keeping up with the Joneses. Now, it seemed as though the holiday was becoming more of a time for parents to buy their children’s affection; after a year of neglect masked by the use of television as a babysitter and having a "headache" when asked by them to play catch in the backyard. 

Much to my relief, I was the first one home.  I threw my keys into the wooden bowl serving as a catch-all for all of our miscellaneous junk next to the front door.  There were days when I treasured solitude, a fact of which my mother and little brother never quite seemed to grasp. 

My mother, Carol, had yet to catch on to the fact that I was none too interested in the daily gossip around town. Nor did I care to partake in the standard "girl talk" with her.  Small talk for me consisted of a lively discussion of a novel or a stimulating debate about some hot topic issue.  When I tried to institute such talk with Carol it was like hitting a brick wall, inevitably prompting me to give in to her while patiently sitting and listening to her stories of how the dignitaries in town lived their lives.  I knew everything about Mayor Anderson’s extramarital exploits and Sheila from down the block’s five hundred dollar pumps.  I’d made half-hearted attempts at smiling at all of Carol’s stories as she regaled me with them and was always amazed that she still couldn’t understand why dances didn’t thrill me; why being a cheerleader never really appealed to me--I use to tell her that I wasn’t "rah rah material"; or, why I had no interest in befriending those daughters of the social elite in our town.  The answer was quite simple: I would not allow Carol to live her life vicariously through me. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’d been dealt a decent hand in life.  Carol and George, my father, always ensured that my brother, Jake, and I had everything we needed. George was head of the pediatric unit at Hope Memorial Hospital. Carol was a journalist for the local newspaper with her main expertise--surprise, surprise--being human interest stories. Landing that job had been like receiving manna from heaven for her as there was no one more interested in how others lived their lives than she was.

George was the only thing standing between me and the loony bin.  My father was a little more low-key than Carol, preferring to stay at home instead of attending social gatherings.  Carol and George were complete opposites who miraculously fit together perfectly like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

Jake and I were the quintessential brother and sister team.  We pretended to despise each other often refusing to be in the same room for more than necessary. However, if one of us were in trouble, the other would walk on hot coals to kick the ass of whoever warranted it. After all, if anyone was going to do bodily harm to my brother, it would be me.

We lived the perfect, all-American, white picket fence kind of life until one late December day turned everything upside down.

After grabbing an apple from our fruit bowl, I plopped down on my bed, wrapped myself up in my down comforter and turned on the television.  While flipping through the channels, a news bulletin appeared on the screen quickly grabbing my attention. This particular bulletin detailed yet another bombing. This time the bomber had struck an Atlantic City casino.  That would make twice this week and four times within the last month that an attack had occurred.  There was no doubt the insanity was escalating.  Thankfully, this time the casualties were minimal since the casino was struck in the wee hours of the morning. 

I turned the channel only to find another news organization replaying the same story.  A perky, blonde anchor woman who appeared to have had numerous cosmetic procedures therefore appearing perpetually surprised recounted the attack:

"A blast killed three people and critically injured five more at the Flamingo Resort and Casino in Atlantic City shortly after 3:00 this morning.  The blast took out the lobby of the casino damaging much of the gaming floor.  Fortunately, due to the timing of this explosion, there were minimal people on the floor at that time.  The cause of this incident remains under investigation, but many believe this explosion is linked to similar incidences in Philadelphia, Dover and Baltimore all occurring within the last month…"

I turned off the television and lay on my bed staring at the ceiling.  What if Lucy was right?  There had to be a reason for all of this. This couldn’t just be random, could it?  Coming to the conclusion that I was becoming just as paranoid as she was, I put all thoughts of Armageddon to rest and closed my eyes.


"Celaine, dinner’s ready," Carol called.

"Huh?" I sat up groggily looking at the clock on my desk.  Apparently, I’d fallen asleep.  Who would’ve thought that staring at the ceiling wasn’t stimulating enough to keep a person conscious.
"I’ll be right down."

It was time for another rousing Stevens’ dinner.  I stood up slowly making my way downstairs.  Not surprisingly, they’d already started eating without me.  When it came to food, my family meant business. 

"So nice of you to join us," my father said sarcastically. 

I dished up a plate of lasagna for myself.  Besides grilled cheese and spaghetti, lasagna was just about the only other thing Carol knew how to make ensuring that we ate those three meals quite frequently. Suffice it to say, she was no Betty Crocker.

"I was talking to Claire today at work," she began. "Apparently, her and Bob are considering building a bomb shelter in their backyard what with all the mayhem that has been occurring lately."

"Is that a fact?" my dad replied with slight bemusement.

"Yeah, they’re really freaked out.  Bob says that if there’s another bombing, he’s selling the house and moving out of the city altogether."

"Bob has always been one to overreact."

"You think?"

"Yeah, why?"

"Well these attacks…they seem to be occurring more frequently…in more heavily populated areas. I mean, what if they start bombing highways or…schools."


I stole a glance over at Jake relieved to see him building a garlic bread town in his lasagna, completely oblivious to what was being discussed. 

"Carol," my dad began clearly exasperated. "More than likely these attacks are being carried out by copycats.  The problem is with the media…they sensationalize this crap to the point where those psychopaths tune in to see it. They think they’ll get their names in the history books if they set out to best what has already been done. It’s their attempt to instill further panic.  By building a bomb shelter or uprooting our lives we’d be doing nothing but fanning the flames they’ve created."

George hadn’t been himself lately.  His unflappable demeanor had mysteriously changed recently overnight.  We all noticed that he seemed slightly more anxious lately but couldn’t quite pinpoint the reason for it.  Our best guess was that it was due to more stress put on him at work.  He was extremely well-respected by his colleagues and peers. Some even speculated that he would be in the running for the chief of staff position when the current chief retired later next year.  Whatever it was, George wasn’t talking about it and repeated inquiries from Carol were doing nothing to lighten his mood.

"Well I suppose you’re right," Carol answered clearly deflated, "But still, these incidences are a little disconcerting."

My fork scraped the bottom of the plate creating a blood curdling shriek that brought me back down to reality.  Something about my parents’ discussion surrounding the attacks hadn’t set well with me. 

"Thanks for dinner mom," I said as I stood up.

"You’re welcome sweetie," she replied. "Oh, Celaine."


"We’re going to the mall tomorrow to pick up some last minute gifts. Do you want to come?"

"Darn skippy." I was happy to hear the conversation returning to an iota of normalcy.  My father chuckled.

"She’s one strange child," my mom muttered.

"You got that right," Jake announced. 

 "Jake what the heck is that?" my father asked.

"I’m building a replica of Washington DC. See, here’s the White House, the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument..."

"For Pete’s sake Jake, eat your dinner." 

I could tell George wished he’d stayed at the hospital tonight instead of coming home.

"And you think I’m weird," I called out as I headed back upstairs.

"It’s not being weird, it’s channeling my creativity."

"I’ve heard that President Brooks thinks that the attacks are becoming more organized," Carol proclaimed returning to that disturbing topic.  "He believes we may be dealing with a domestic terrorist organization bent on staging some sort of a coup.  They’re talking about institutionalizing a nationwide curfew because of it."

I stopped dead in my tracks halfway up the stairs as I strained to listen.

"That will never happen," my dad countered.  "It would be like spitting on the Constitution.  The people simply wouldn’t allow it."