I offer this opening sequence for the sequel to Temperature: Dead and Rising. It’s an excerpt for what’s to come from Temperature: Bitter Cold. Here is the blurb about the book, already in stores. Click here for a signed copy.
Newly minted zombie, Sally Mertill, is kidnapped by a nondescript van in front of her fellow zombie and mentor – Bocnic Drewings or “Bo” as his friends call him. He can only guess why someone would take Sally: she can raise the dead. Bo is forced to seek out assistance from a self-serving witch named Zemra if he is going to save Sally. What he learns scares him. Sally’s surreal trek through a world of unimaginable creatures has brought her face to face against a menacing entity to outdo them all – the church’s secret division, The Cross. Bo must travel to Scotland, his birthplace. What bitter end awaits them once he frees Sally from their clutches?
Now, enjoy an excerpt from the book.
“You might wanna call an ambulance. I might’ve hurt mor’n his feelings,” Mack said to the bartender, after it was all said and done.
He should have stayed home tonight, but staring at a few second-hand pieces of furniture in a studio apartment would bring his mood down further. Mack lived alone, pinching every hard-earned penny that came his way to survive a meager living. His funds were sapped away at every turn; he needed to eat, pay rent, live out a recurring nightmare where his car needed continual fixing and never stayed functional for long, along with buying drinks at the local bars for winding down after a long day to relax him. They were all a part of his simple, destitute life – especially the drinking. Getting hurt in bar fights did not fit in his budget. All he wanted to do was unwind and relax with a few drinks, but that idiot had to ruin it. His mood matched his dark pants and also the zippered hoodie that he threw on in haste before heading out.
Tonight, Mack picked the wrong bar to visit. The crowd was overly energized with some sort of excitement – some sports event might have just ended. This was not his typical dive; a low-key atmosphere was more his style. No, tonight seemed as if the cool breezes outside carried a statically-charged air about it. His hunger, and feelings of nervousness as dusk settled in forced him into the first bar Mack crossed. He should have found a liquor store and gone home with a case of beer as a night cap with a pizza delivery called; however, he felt compelled to step foot into Frankie’s Suds and Slop.
He sat on a stool too long nursing his fifth Jack and Coke to notice another patron walking past as he got up. Irrational fear spread to his bones from nowhere, a childish fear of being scared of what crawled at night left behind with Tooth Fairies and Santa Claus. An accidental bump when he got up turned from a simple mistake to an all-out brawl. Mack wanted to go home and instead got drawn into a heavy fist fight. In a clearer state of mind he might have pushed passed the fellow but he was too drunk to think that clearly. The other guy fought well without any help from friends, like the younger crowd tended to do nowadays. With a few dirty moves he had learned on the streets as a kid Mack ended the fight quickly.
Mack edged his way closer to the entrance as the bartender turned and picked up the phone’s receiver. Taking one final look at the heap of a man on the floor raised the tiny hairs on the back of his neck. He had beaten him in a semi-fair fight, yet Mack got rattled from seeing the unconscious guy on the floor. All eyes rested on his opponent’s limp body.
“Best be mov’n,” he mumbled letting the bar’s swinging door shut behind him.
Outside, night had already settled in since he first stepped in for a drink. The only light pooling beneath lampposts dotted a street cloaked in a starless night shrouded by thick clouds. Chilly winds from a gentle breeze nipped at Mack as he zipped the hoodie closed to fend off the coming winter. Few people seemed to be out at this hour making him check the time. There should still be stragglers heading for a late bite to eat, but barely a soul could be found walking or driving. The thought raised his neck hairs on end again; the impression that staying out in the open might be a bad idea tonight.
“Spooky,” he whispered, fearing the dark like some babe still wet behind the ears. He tried to push past the feeling of being watched. Tried.
Mack did not say it out loud, but it brought shivers down his spine like a bad horror movie with cheap scare tactics. Never had he felt like this on any other night. Frankie’s sat in a five-block radius away from his place, so getting home unscathed should not be an issue; however, chancing an alley was out of the question. No matter how much time got cut using those shortcuts, Mack could not bring himself to do it.
Face bowed to the wind, he headed off home; sirens blared somewhere far away. The sounds made Mack pick up his pace to put distance between him and the bar. There was not the triple shrill of an alarm from a siren he expected that made ambulances stand out from the rest. The police were on their way down this street and getting closer by the sound of it. They would want to check the bar first before medics showed up, in case more violence reared up, before taking to the streets to search for him. The police might be looking for witnesses or for the man fleeing a crime. Mack gave praise for such a concealing night to hide in.
As he ventured farther down the sidewalk, he hunched his shoulders against the brisk wind and tried to shrink his bulk – two streetlamps flickered up ahead. His mood shifted briefly to an irritation of his town, “City’s never fixin’ anything around these parts,” Mack complained, cursing quietly to the air before him. Tonight it worked in his favor, but how many others have used this same method to commit robbery or worse, and move about unseen?
Light bulbs fizzled out of existence at the same time as Mack finished cursing, more under his breath. Fuming at the city’s inability to maintain its streets is stupid. Mack glowered at his own murky thoughts. He should be elated from this hidden opportunity that a cover of darkness offered. Flashing lights of blue and red bounced off a car’s back window to give him a start. It rounded a street corner six blocks away, giving him incentive to forget avoiding alleys altogether.
He entered one alley and just inside the entrance found a dumpster to duck behind. Not the brightest place to ditch a cop, but it will do. Deep shadows concealing him in the alley gave promise of an unobserved escape.
From there he waited for the sound of tires crunching the loose blacktop to fade before running away. He never heard them move any closer. In fact, not a sound drifted on the chilly wind of any movement at all from whence he came. Sighing with relief, his only hope came from the deeper darkness behind him. The alley led away from home, but a couple of side streets later would turn him back where Mack needed to go.
His corridor jutted to the left like a branch off the main trunk running parallel to paved roads on either side. What first appeared to be a simple walk down an alley became a maze of zigzag networks of nonsense. He broke into a trot down one main path, skirting away from other darker ways. City buildings, each a few stories tall, reached up to the cloud-covered sky above him blocking out most of the moonless night sky. Mack felt invigorated by the vast darkness surrounding him. Dark clothing lent to mask his movements and slowed his steps to a mild walk, as the heightened confidence in his cover overrode an earlier fear of being noticed.
Bands of fog dropped down lower over the alley like a curtain near the end of a performance, creating a false ceiling shrinking closer, boxing Mack in. He looked between two adjoining alleys, deciding which one led to safety. He cringed at what looked like something a nightmare hid within. More misty fog filled connecting alleys blocking entry and possibly steering Mack to a single route. Others might be using this very pitch-black night shrouded in fog to their advantage, too.
Screams of a frightened woman charged primal feelings he kept buried as her voice echoed through dense fog, Stop — Don’t hurt me! Rage boiled up on hearing a woman in distress, dispelling what was left of his recent bender, clearing his mind to act.
Scared for her life, he ran full tilt in the direction he heard her. I hope to God I’m not too late. Labored breathing from sprinting to her rescue sapped what energy he had for any other thought.
Mack rounded his last corner to a sick puppet show of shadows portraying images of someone lying down motionless. Two other figures stood over the limp body before light of a nearby streetlight went out. At least now Mack knew how many he was up against. Without any light he feared those aggressors might get an upper hand and flee before he could do anything; however, it was going to be more of an advantage for him, now that those assailants were momentarily blinded by their loss of light.
Mack took his time, making each step carefully over loose gravel and water-filled potholes to keep from making too much noise. He tried not to squander what small advantage he had over them at the moment. No more cries for help came from the unknown woman. Some things in life could be overlooked, such as run-of-the-mill holdups or a store robbery. Hurting a defenseless woman was an act he never turned a blind eye to. It was the lowest crime a person could do to another as he saw it. Those hoodlums would pay.
Mack skirted the line between right and wrong when it came to being a law-biding citizen, mostly siding with the darker wrong side in his thirty-some odd years of living. Hurting a lady was going overboard in my book, plain and simple. Fighting against a lack of self-control, Mack tried to prepare himself for what was to come.
He steeled himself for reacting better than he had back at the bar. Mack would aim for self-control to be his best defense this time. He peeked around the corner of a stucco covered building where the struggle had been happening. They still stood over her limp form as if waiting for something. Strange, muggers and rapists do not normally gloat over their prey this long, Mack mulled over.
He took it as a sign from above that they would be so preoccupied with their prize to notice him slipping up. His worries magnified as he stared at a voluptuous woman lit by a passing car’s headlights laying prone on the dirty alley, a rip in her shirt running down her back.
Taking a deep breath, he jumped out in rage and ran for the closest one to punch. Not one of them moved as he bound out after them. A sinister sneer stretched Mack’s lips, This is gonna be easy.
Mack reached out for the first one to throw him aside with his built up momentum and lay a solid punch on the second one. It sounded like a good start, but the figure in front of him vanished.
Just like that – gone.
Caught off guard, it caused Mack to stumble in the emptiness left behind, and ram into a far wall. Recovering from the mishap quickly, he turned back from where he came to find no one there. He stood witness to an empty alley. Not a soul could be seen through intensifying fog. A whistle drew his attention to a patch of blackness where his eyes could not penetrate.
“Now it’s our turn,” a man’s voice resonated from deep and powerful shadows.
Mack did not know what to think. Everything changed in an instant. Even the woman on the ground was not there anymore. Was he being played? Who were these people and what game were they playing with a half-drunk man? Better leave it alone, Mack’s fears speaking out of turn, of benevolent nightmares taking to life, driving his thoughts. Something is not right here. Need to get home and turn every light on until the sun comes back up.
A hand grabbed hold of his shoulder pulling Mack into that menacing darkness. The iron grip held tight, while unseen hands pounded at his upper torso. They rained down on him like jackhammers beating concrete. He tried blocking each swing as best he could, but it brought a stinging pain with every hit. A nail raked down his cheek burning from the corner of his eye to the middle of his jaw. Finally, the one supporting Mack’s weight with his shoulder let loose with a shove.
Barely able to stand on his own two feet, he crumpled to the ground. Mack could not believe a single hand kept him from falling the whole time. “That was for ruining our beloved manservant,” a hauntingly cool voice spoke out. Fear struck Mack anew with uncontrolled shaking when his adversary flashed a glint of white pointy teeth lit up from another passing car for just a second, “Now, we take out our own vengeance on you!”
Beneath the sinister depths of those blackened shadows grew a growl deep within its chest. He was not sure what this man was, but being human had nothing to do with it, no longer part of the equation. Abruptly, silence prevailed over everything. Winds grew still, usual city noises ceased to exist as Mack felt those final moments of life ticking loudly in his ears. He waited for that moment when his life stopped altogether.
It never came.
A quick strobe of light was a stark contrast beneath his tightly shut eyelids as he awaited a killing strike. Heels scraped across asphalt, hollow grunts of pain broke the silence. Mack dared to open his eyes to see what was happening. He blindly, and in great pain, crawled to a wall out of the way of mayhem. Faceless shapes stood out against ambient light glowing in and defused by fog from the street beyond. He counted four shapes instead of the three hoodlums originally beating him. A set of headlights from another passing car cut through thick mists to reveal one person fending off the others with ease.
From what Mack could see, bodies of his attackers blurred in and out like a bad episode of the twilight zone; one minute standing out of reach, the next minute dropping out of the sky to pounce. The weirdest thing to him was that almost complete silence fell over the whole fight. A swish here of clothes, or a faint grunt there, could be heard above the otherwise din of silence.
It was eerie.
Noises of occasional bodies smashing into a brick wall, or a trashcan collapsing under a fallen body’s weight grew in a frantically increasing fray of violence. They all moved too fast for his eyes to keep up with their chaos. He just hoped the stranger came out on top, Unless he’s out for me, too. His lone savior fought valiantly against the malevolent shapes.
Mack could not bring himself to call them human any longer. When the things rebounded off the walls to attack they crouched down on all fours before pouncing forward again toward their prey. No human could do that, Mack thought looking on in amazement as he watched them unfold before him.
When one appeared in midair, the stranger drove an object he had pulled from somewhere in his jacket, sharpened to a point at its tip, into the creature’s chest. It was the only time any of them made such a distinct sound. Nails scrapping across a chalkboard could not compare to the ear-piercing howl it made after the stranger’s deed was done. The shape most like the helpless woman leaped out of the air appearing like the rest in blurred fashion to find the same fate as the first. A third tried to escape with little success. Brilliant bars of blue light shot out from the stranger’s hand disintegrating the body in seconds.
Has to be some kind of military-style laser gun. Seen it in a movie once, Mack mulled over in his head.
Then it was over.
The stranger finally showed some exhaustion standing there as a solitary figure panting slightly; apparently winded. Mack felt his injuries flare to life, unnoticed after being so focused on what happened around him. His sight blurred from tears soaking his cheeks. He barely made out his liberator as he walked closer, elation of living one more day overwhelming Mack’s senses.
“Worn-out soul suckers … skin-draped lowlifes never learn,” Mack heard him say in a hushed tone, possibly not meant for him to hear it, too close to mumbling. “I kill, and make alive: I bring down to the grave, and bring up again. There’s no matching a God.” Shaking his head all the while to emphasize the words he spoke with a smirk ghosting across his lips to no one in particular. Those last words he spoke kindled forgotten memories. Mack could have sworn that was a quote from the Bible.
Nothing moved; the quiet of night surrounding them both like a tightly-fit blanket. Hearing the stranger take a few steps closer had Mack reflexively scooting away until he pressed his back against a dumpster. Fear came back to haunt him as he wondered if fate was not done with him yet. He had seen how this man handled his attackers with such graceful finesse. Am I next?
“Whoa there!” he said in a deep resonate voice, “It’s over. No one’s going to hurt you anymore.”
Mack stared up, questioning the words while attempting to fix on the man’s face. The voice was rough around the edges, yet spoken softly enough to keep a person calm. He did not trust his own voice at the moment to give any response; fearing a shaky one would not be manly enough. All Mack could do was cross arms over his chest to stave off pain from breathing. The way he talked in a non-challenging manner almost had him forgetting the earlier beating, almost.
“What’s your name?” He asked Mack, still standing out of arm’s reach.
“Malcom Sankter, but people just call me Mack,” lip quivering slightly from the pain. Not so manly to show fear like this, he attempted to convince himself.
“Well, Mack, you picked the wrong person to use as a punching bag tonight, I think,” the stranger said with a hint of a chuckle. “That guy was one of theirs.”
“Gangs?” He asked over the protest of his lungs, confused. Keeping his statement short seemed best for now.
A louder burst of mirth came out this time, “You could call them that, I suppose.” He paused for only a moment. Mack’s vision did not clear enough to tell what the guy was thinking before the stranger continued, “No, they’re more than that, to be sure.
“I’ll be straight with you. Can’t lie to a man that’s seen what you have tonight. That sorry sap you beat up in the bar was one of many they use as manservants. Someone to run errands for them during daylight, to take care of routine tasks when everyone else conducts business. Vengeance was their main purpose tonight for these vampires …”
Shock was sure to be on Mack’s face, “Like in the movies? Vampires?”
“Vampires in movies sell tickets. They’re too soft around the middle to be real. The real ones created those stories to keep Joe Public and the like thinking vampires are friendly or a big threat. You found out the hard way about the truth,” finishing up what he said with a wave of a hand in the same manner one might shoo away a bothersome fly.
Gathering his wits, Mack finally came to his senses enough to ask the stranger’s name. “No one of great concern,” he replied. “I’ve had a few names over time, and some downright mean ones. But, if it makes you feel any better, call me Jerome, Jerome Tempile,” he said nonchalantly, even if sounding irritated from saying his own name.
Something about saying his name disturbed Jerome, an internal struggle that vexed him briefly, and it showed distinctly on his face. A quick changing of the conversation to what he fought, mellowed Jerome’s voice again, “Those vampires kept one thing true even in movies – they loved playing with their food. I think it’s because they get overconfident to the point of swelling with pride. It dictates how they act toward each other and the world at large.” He turned his head slightly to look back at the two remaining bodies sprawled on the ground, “Have to clean that up before I go. It’s just too messy for someone to happen upon.”
Such an outlandish tale ripped from the movie trailers left Mack delirious, confused about what to make of it all. But could he deny what had happened here tonight? This is whack! I wouldn’t believe it unless I saw it with my own two eyes, and I did! He gave a shake of his head, Damn my sight, why can’t I see straight?
“Those wounds look pretty bad, my friend. I’ll help you to a hospital before cleaning up here. Those eyes of yours are dilating. Could be you have a concussion. Let’s get you taken care of first before anything worsens,” Jerome bantered as he lifted him up off the ground effortlessly to stand. “Told you they play with their food. The vampires just wanted to tenderize a meal before consuming. Glad I showed up when I did or they’d be dining about now.”
Explains why I can’t see two feet in front of me, I guess, Mack thought to himself.
No sooner had he finished thinking, than a flare of light shone brightly before them. Mack shut his eyes tightly against it as Jerome pulled them forward. Light vanished and they stood in a parking lot facing the front of a hospital’s Emergency Room entrance. Bold lettering was large enough for him to make out even with blurry vision.
“How’d we get here?” Mack’s confusion stood out clearly in his voice.
“Right after I got you standing, you staggered a few step like a person with too many drinks in him before falling down. You must have blacked out, because I had to drag you to a cab and you came to just now,” he could almost feel the smirk Jerome was sure to have from the way his voice sounded. “You think you can make it the rest of the way to those doors by yourself?”
“Sure, sure.” He tried to sound confident, but with some effort, “I’ll make it. Thank you for helping me back there.” Those last words hurt his pride, a stab to Mack’s heart for each one said. He stood there alive and breathing. Mack could handle a few measly mental stab wounds tonight.
“Make sure they scan that head. The blurred vision might be something serious,” Jerome said compassionately.
“Will do,” he said reaching out with a free hand to shake. “I’ll be fine.” He firmed up his grip when they shook, and then let his hand fall at his side hiding the shaking of his obvious exertion. Mack had to show he could still fight if need be. Getting dizzy was harder to hide from Jerome than the handshake.
“I have to get back and take…” Jerome dropped his voice then, “the you-know-what and put them in a safe place. Besides, I’ll have use of you later.”
He stared with a glazed-over look back, as Jerome moved away. Mack tried to work out if he had heard him correctly. ‘Need him later?’ What did that mean? Shaking his head only fogged up his mind and made things worse. Mack turned with a couple of steps towards the hospital for medical attention. We traveled twenty miles out of the way to get here. Nowhere near my apartment. They just better have prettier nurses than the one I visit. He looked around with crossed vision for any cars not noticing him, First thing I’ll do is report the murders when I get to a nurse. He won’t have time to clean up anything with the time it will take during the cab ride. Cops will be there way before he is, Mack mused in his head. No matter what happened back there, I’m still a law abiding citizen, and I can’t just turn my back on murder.
Mack drew closer to a semi-circular driveway where patients get dropped off, his steps weak, his body fatigued and aching with each movement. A shallow gust rustled leaves in a nearby bush with its passing, faint light illuminating the surrounding foliage in front of him. He assumed it came from headlights of a waiting car that Jerome would leave in. Pain shot down Mack’s spine as he turned to wave goodbye one last time.
Nothing moved behind him.
Not a soul could be found where he had left Jerome. Not a cab, person, or any kind of moving vehicle could be found in the almost empty parking lot. Determination drove Mack forward, pain ebbing to his will, “Let’s see if you can outrun the cops the same way” he stated coolly under his breath. Another brisk gust pushed him firmly enough to misstep, almost losing his footing, carrying his words away as he crested the entry looking for a phone.
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