Thursday, January 26, 2012

Chapter Four of Cursed Presence: welcome back Phantom Squad

Chapter FOUR

      Brent’s phone vibrated while he lunched with Chloe, Seven and Maddie at the Loft.“Hey, Joan, what’s up?”
     “Brent, President Dupree needs to talk to you and Maddie at headquarters immediately. He says it has to do with a personal and national matter.”
     “Did he give any other details?”
     “No, but he sounded a little shaky, almost scared. I’ve never heard him like that before.”
     “We’ll be there in ten minutes. Have him waiting on the line when we arrive.”
     “What was that all about?” Maddie asked.
     “I don’t know. John needs to speak to us right away. We’ll have to take our lunch to go.”
     “Can we come?” his wife asked.
     “You and Seven have the highest government clearances, I don’t think the president will mind.”
     Maddie had excused herself and headed over to talk to Benito, The Loft’s owner. “Bennie, I’m sorry, but we have to leave. We have to get back to work, pronto.”
     “Don’t-a you worry,” Bennie said in a very heavy Italian accent. “I’ll have your food delivered as soon as it’s-a ready.”
     The foursome headed to SIA headquarters. Anyone who walked through the doors of the renovated warehouse assumed it housed a think-tank and an institute of heightened awareness where religion, philosophy and politics were studied.
     Joan greeted the crew as they walked through the door. She let them know President Dupree was waiting for Maddie and Brent on the line, as requested.
     “I transferred the call to conference Room A,” she said.
     The conference room held only a large round table and sixteen chairs. Maddie had insisted on round tables in all conference rooms so every participant felt equal. As in every other room, it was devoid of all insignia or other identifying symbols that would reveal the building’s true identity. That was Maddie’s first executive decision after she was confirmed by congress as the director of the Strategic Intelligence Alliance, the most covert intelligence agency in the world.
     The lack of insignia was security overload since the high-tech system incorporated in the building’s design made break-in virtually impossible. Every door, every piece of equipment, responded to palmer recognition or voice activation. In the off-chance that security was compromised, a nerve gas would automatically be released from the ventilation system, causing temporary paralysis to anyone inside the breached area.
     They all took seats around the table, their eyes fixed on the bright light blinking on the red phone. The direct line to the president.
     Maddie leaned forward and pressed the intercom button. “Good afternoon, Mr. President, sorry to keep you waiting. I’ve placed the call on video phone. Can you see us okay? Brent is here as you requested. Chloe, and Seven asked if they could join us, as well. If you prefer, they’ll give us privacy.”
     “I can see everyone just fine. It’s good that everyone is there, this matter will ultimately concern all of you.”
     “Sir,” Brent said, “it sounds as though this is more of a personal situation than a national one. Are you okay?”
     “I’m fine, for now. This is a personal matter, a very personal one, as a matter of fact. But it’s also a matter that greatly concerns the safety of all Americans. I don’t know how to put this delicately, so here it is.”
     As the four awaited the bad news, they watched the president take a long, deep breath and exhale slowly. The four could feel the tension transfer into the room. They all stared at the screen, awaiting the President’s words.
     “The Omega Butcher has escaped.”
     “What!” The look on Brent’s face was one of shock, but it was felt by each one of them. The Butcher was a prolific serial killer who stalked college campuses in 1999 through 2000. The last person he kidnapped was the president’s daughter, Charlotte.
     “We don’t have all of the particulars yet. We know he escaped shortly after 5:00 a.m. this morning. So far, we know of three victims; all dead. During his escape, he killed a doctor, a guard and a bus driver.” The president’s voice started to crack. “Brent, he left a note.”
     “Can you read it, sir?”
     “I will, but first let’s dispense with the formality. We have been through too much together for you to call me sir.”
     “Done,” Brent said. “Now the letter, please.”
     The President cleared his throat, his voice shakier and more frightened.
     “It says,
               President Dupree,
               First, let me offer you my congratulations on your
               election. The last time we spoke you were just a lowly
               vice-president. I’m sorry for the mess I left behind,but
               I was in a  bit of a hurry, you understand. Soon I will be
               taking my rightful place in this world, doing my father’s
               But first, I have some unfinished business to attend to.
              Foremost, there is that sorority harlot. Unfortunately,
              I was interrupted the first time I tried to cleanse her of her
              sins. I’m sure they have multiplied since our last date. She
              will be first on my agenda. Then there’s the matter of that
              hero of hers. He must be dealt with severely.”

      Chloe gasped and squeezed Brent’s hand.
      The President again cleared his throat before continuing.

              I know that our much-loved president will get this message
              to you, Venturi, so listen up. Come and find me. I’ll be waiting.

      The President’s voice trailed off.
     “John, I don’t understand…”
     “Just a moment, Brent, there’s more. After I finish, I’ll answer all of your questions. The Butcher goes on to say,

              When all is complete, I will take my place alongside the one
              true god, the one who set me free.

             P.S. Say hello to your new wife for me, Venturi. On second
             thought, maybe I’ll say hello myself.

      “That’s all of it,” the President said. “My God, I can’t believe this horror is starting up again. My daughter is finally leading a somewhat normal life. It took four years of therapy just so she could feel safe enough to leave her house in daylight hours. How am I supposed to tell her that this maniac has escaped and that he’s coming after her?”
     The room was silent. No one could miss hearing the emotion and dread in the president’s voice. The circles under his eyes seemed to have darkened in the few minutes they had been in contact. Each wanted to reach out and comfort their leader, their friend, but no one knew what to say.
     When the silence seemed most deafening, Brent spoke. “John, we’ll get through this together. First, I have questions, and I need honest answers.”
     “Give me a second Brent.” To help collect his thoughts or possibly to stall for time, the president took a drink of water. Sighing, President Dupree spoke. “I imagine you do. Ask me anything. There are no more secrets. I’ll tell you everything I know. But the information I give you does not leave that room. Understand?”
     Brent, Seven, Chloe and Maddie looked at one another and nodded their agreement.
     “We all understand, Mr. President,” Maddie said. “Brent, since you’re more familiar with this subject, why don’t you lead the discussion?” She was right. Brent knew much more about this matter. In fact, he was the only one among them who had faced the Butcher before his capture.
     Brent scribbled notes on a piece of paper. When Maddie broke in, he barely heard her say his name.
     “Hmm, I’m sorry, Maddie, could you repeat that?”
     His preoccupation surprised everyone. If ever there was someone consistently in the moment, it was Brent. Maddie knew this wasn’t the time to reprimand him, so she repeated herself.
     “Since you’re more familiar with the subject, I’d like you to lead the discussion.”
     “Thank you, Madam Director, I appreciate that.” Brent looked down at the paper he’d written on and inhaled deeply to clear his mind before he spoke. “John, how does someone escape by bus from Monteque Penitentiary? It’s an island prison.”
     “He didn’t—I mean, he wasn’t at Monteque.”
      Brent’s calm exterior cracked at the unexpected news, and showed in the tone of his voice.
     “What do you mean? The court mandated it. He was to be imprisoned at Monteque until the date of his execution.”
     “I know, Brent. Like you, I was at the sentencing. But things didn’t go as ordered. Remember, I was vice-president at the time. President Morrow was a lame duck. He pushed for initiating a pet project of his. His legacy, he’d thought. He was convinced that criminals like the Butcher could be rehabilitated…no, wait, that’s wrong. He felt they could be reprogrammed back to right-minded individuals with rigorous therapy. And I use the term ‘therapy’ loosely.”
     At this point, Brent completely lost his cool. He pounded his fist on the table, causing everyone including the president, to jump.
     “What the hell are you talking about?” he yelled. “Cut the political crap and speak clearly.”
     Chloe placed her hand on top of Brent’s balled-up fist, hoping to calm him. Instead, he yanked his arm away and stood. He slammed the chair into the table.
     “Are you telling me that President Morrow convinced Congress that it was a good idea to rehabilitate or reprogram, as you put it, this psychopathic killer?”
    “Calm down, Colonel. Remember who you’re talking to. It was my daughter who was left emotionally scarred by this man.”
     “With all due respect, I’m well aware of your daughter’s scars. I wear the physical scars from her rescue.”
     “Gentlemen, please,” Maddie interjected. “We’re all aware of the past events. Let’s keep our heads in the present. Colonel Venturi,” Maddie said using a tone of authority, “please sit down so we can continue.”
     Brent snapped his head around and glared at Maddie. He continued to scan the room. Chloe looked up at him with big doe eyes filled with fear. She’d never seen him lose his composure like this.
     Brent looked at Seven, his best friend, the man who trained him. The man he most admired. Seven’s face was emotionless, as if he were on a mission. He gave Brent a nod of assurance that conveyed understanding. A nod that said this was neither the time nor the place. A nod that helped ground his emotions.
    Brent sat down and looked around the table, first at his wife, then at his closest friends, the people he considered family.
     “I apologize for my outburst. Mr. President, please forgive me for any disrespect.”
     “No disrespect taken. Let’s forget the formality and get back to the situation at hand.”
     Brent nodded, his shoulders dropped, a sign that he was more at ease. “Thank you for understanding. Please fill us in on how McFarland was transferred from Monteque and from where he escaped.”
     “I’ll begin with your previous question. President Morrow did not seek, nor did he receive congressional approval. He enacted executive privilege and bypassed the Congress altogether. He’d been convinced by an old college roommate, a preeminent psychiatrist, that this type of criminal could be reprogrammed with the proper combination of psychotic drugs, counseling and E.S.T.”
     “Shock therapy. For real?” Brent said.
     “I’m afraid so.”
     “So, where could they possibly have taken McFarland, and any others they deemed programmable where nobody would be able to track them? I’m assuming there are others in this ‘study’,” Brent said.
     “There were five others, and they were taken to the place the government takes everything and everyone they want to make disappear.”
     Brent closed his eyes, thinking about the last remark. Seconds later, his eyes shot open .
     “John, are you telling me they were taken to 51—to area 51? The prisoners or whatever they are called are housed at Dreamland?”
     “Yes, that’s what I’m saying. A complete underground facility known as the Dreamland Project. It houses prisoners, correction officials and medical staff.”
     “My God,” Brent exclaimed, rising from his chair. He paced the floor. “We’ll need all the information you have, official and otherwise on the Dreamland Project. I want to talk to this doctor, President Morrow’s old college roommate.”
     “The information on Dreamland is on its way to you. I’m afraid you won’t be able to speak to Dr. Osgood. He’s the doctor the Butcher killed.”
     “Great,” Brent said, in a sarcastic tone.
     Maddie held up a finger, wanting to speak but not wanting to interrupt. Brent saw and nodded.       “Madame Director, please, go ahead.”
     “Thank you, Colonel. Mr. President, what can you tell us about the event that took place at the facility last night?”
     “The transcripts are being e-mailed to you under the Pentagon’s password, but this is what I know. In Dr. Osgood’s notes, he wrote that he was close to a major breakthrough in McFarland’s case, that his maniacal behavior could be traced back to his childhood. That information, in detail, along with treatment protocol, is included in the e-mail. I had the video streamed directly to you detailing the entire incident. You’ll see why he was moved to the infirmary. That’s where he escaped from.”
     As the president spoke, Joan walked into the conference room carrying a laptop and a USB cord. She immediately sensed the tension in the room. It was so thick, she thought, she could reach out and hold it in her hand. “I thought you’d want to see this as soon as it came in.”
     Maddie smiled. Joan had an uncanny ability to know what she wanted before she knew herself. It was one of the things she loved most about her.
     Joan returned the smile. They’d become very close over the past year, though neither knew exactly why. There existed between them a special bond not unlike a mother-daughter relationship, sprinkled with a sorority sister-type friendship.
     She placed the computer at the far end of the table and connected the USB cable to a port built into the table. The wiring had been designed so anything that showed up on the computer monitor was transmitted directly to a screen by way of USB or Ethernet. Immediately, a large screen descended from the ceiling at the front of the room.
    “Would you like to view the e-mail or go straight to the video, Colonel?” Joan’s question was moot. She already knew the answer. Brent despised reading off a computer screen, he wanted e-mails printed out before he read them.
     “The video please, Joan.”
     “Mr. President, I’ve gone ahead and linked the video straight to the Oval Office. If you watch your screen, you’ll see the same thing our team here is viewing.”
     “Thank you, Joan, that’ll be very helpful.”
     “If everyone’s ready, I’ll dim the overhead lights before I start the video.” Not waiting for a response, she clicked the start button that automatically dimmed the lights, and headed toward the door.
     “Joan,” Maddie said, “you’re part of this team and welcome to stay.”
     Noting the concern on the faces of the people she knew best, she decided to stay and see what all the commotion was about. As the room faded to black and the video started to play, she took a seat next to Maddie.
     The first images were of someone sleeping on a bed. The wide-angle lens took in a view of the entire cell. A LCD numbers on a digital clock displayed at the bottom right corner of the screen moved in rapid sequence. Hours turned into seconds. When it slowed down to real time, they recognized the Omega Butcher for the first time. He twitched involuntary with spasmodic muscle contractions. Eyes glued to the screen, they watched the contractions become more frequent, more forceful.
     The violent movements were accompanied by sounds emanating from the prisoner’s throat. As the contractions became more agitated, the prisoner’s voice grew louder and deeper. What started as a murmur became incoherent screaming. The butcher leapt from his bed and stood in the middle of the cell. The screaming and thrashing continued as two guards entered.
     The team was riveted to the screen. They watched the large, heavily-muscled guards struggle to subdue and control the small, waif-like prisoner. Tackled, McFarland was placed in a straitjacket. A man wearing a white lab coat rushed in, presumably, Dr. Osgood. A needle was thrust into the prisoner’s hip. The Butcher slumped to the mattress, silent and still.
     “Can you zoom in, Joan?” Brent said.
     “Sure. Which part?”
     “The beginning. Zoom in on his face. I want to see his eyes.”
     “Why the eyes?” the President asked.
     “A hunch. I want to check something.”
     “Okay, here we go,” Joan restarted the video, this time zooming in for a close-up of the Butcher’s eyes.
     “Slow it down, Joan. Frame by frame, if you can.”
     She did as Brent asked, slowing the speed until they could view it in ultra-slow motion.
     Brent raised his arm to get everyone’s attention. “Everyone, watch his eyes and listen to the tone of his voice.”
     At first, Maddie, Seven, Chloe and Joan seemed surprised at how peaceful and innocent Jonas McFarland appeared as he slept.
     Frame by frame, the video slowly moved. Soon, the captivated viewers heard a whimper coming from Jonas’ throat. At the same time, they witnessed a barely visible muscle twitch in his chest.
     His eyes opened.
     They leaned forward trying to get a closer look. The color of his eyes were Unique. Crystal blue.
     “Oh, my God,” Chloe gasped. “They look like blue diamonds, they actually sparkle.”
     Maddie leaned in further. “Are they real? They look like contacts.”
     “They’re real,” Brent said. “Keep watching.”
     McFarland’s voice grew deeper and louder. It was as though some mysterious, intrinsic quality was transformed. The manner in which the sounds were delivered was suddenly different. His voice went from one of innocence to one full of guilt and hatred. From soft and child-like to angry and curt. Simultaneously, the contractions became abrupt and violent.
     Brent glanced at the others. They were mesmerized by the gyrations and forcefulness of the muscle spasms.
     He implored everyone, “Shift your attention from his movements back to his eyes.” They watched with astonishment as the Butcher’s eyes became darker, no longer light blue, now a deep-bluish purple. The next transformation made them appear almost black. When he moved his head the lights in the room reflected a glimmer or spark of red. The spark spread, like a single ember growing into a forest fire until the iris was a glowing flame.
     Everyone in the conference was shocked and awestruck. Everyone except Brent. They shifted in their chairs, uncomfortable in their own skin.
     “Concentrate,” Brent said.
     Everyone’s attention returned to the screen. What they witnessed defied explanation. McFarland’s pupils morphed, losing their humanity and becoming serpent-like. When the change was complete, Jonas had become the Butcher. He was in full, mouth-frothing rage.
     “Stop the video, Joan.”
     Seven, a man of action, had enough of sitting still. His frustration for what he just witnessed was vented in his words. He stood and pointed at the screen. “What the hell was that? And how did you know it was going to happen?”
     Brent looked at his friend. “I’m not sure what it was or what it means. At least, not yet. And to be honest, I wasn’t sure it was going to happen until I watched it with all of you.”
     Brent combed his fingers through his hair, brushing it away from his eyes. “When we apprehended the Butcher, I thought I saw the same thing occur, but in reverse. I was going into shock from the pain caused by the hot oil burns and my mind and body were shutting down. At the time I wasn’t sure if what I saw was real, or imagined. When I woke up three days later, I wasn’t able to differentiate between what I had seen and what I’d experienced in my nightmares.”
     Everyone was quiet. No one knew what to say. They stared at the table, each imagining what Brent had gone through. Brent didn’t pick up on how uncomfortable they felt. His gaze remained focused on the screen.
     President Dupree broke the silence. In a fragile voice, he said, “Brent, after the rescue, weeks after, when Charlotte was finally able to speak, she said there were two men present in the room, two, not including you. She would lie in bed and repeat over and over, ‘Two men and one, two men and one.’ Like some sort of mantra. Her doctors dismissed it as post-traumatic stress disorder. Now, I’m not so sure.”
     “John, why didn’t you ever mention this before now?”
     “I—I just believed what the doctors told me. Why? Do you know what she meant?”
     “She wasn’t saying two men and one, she was saying two men in one. She saw Jonas transform from a soft-spoken, juvenile young man into a demon.”
     “Oh, my God.” The President’s voice cracked. “She was right—and I didn’t believe her. After that incident with the doctors, she became angry and refused to speak to any of us.” He sniffled, then cleared his throat, audible signs that he was becoming emotional. “Even today, she doesn’t talk to me often. Our relationship has never been the same.” Everyone in the room could hear the president pacing the floor of the Oval Office. “Now what do I do? I can’t let her relive that nightmare. I just can’t.”
     Before the President could say another word, Brent interjected, “She won’t. I won’t let that happen.” Changing his tone to a softer, more empathetic one, he added, “John, please, listen to me. Get in touch with your daughter and tell her about the escape before she hears about it in the news. Tell her in person. Have the Secret Service bring her to you, under false pretenses, if necessary. Just make sure you tell her in person.”
     “Of course. But why are you so adamant about it?”
     “Because she’ll run if she finds out any other way. I know all too well what kind of effect this news will have on her. Believe me, if she is not in your custody, she’ll try to run and hide from him.” Brent hesitated, choosing his next words carefully. “But she won’t be able to. He’ll find her if she tries to hide from him.”
     The tension in the room grew thicker with Brent’s words.
     “Please do exactly as I say,” he continued. “Once she’s with you and you’ve explained the situation, put her on a plane and send her to us.”
     “Why down there? That doesn’t make sense. The Butcher is looking for you, too!”
     Brent paid no attention to the President’s remarks. Keeping his demeanor calm, he said, “Because it’s the only place she’ll be safe.”
     “I want her here with me,” President Dupree said. “I’ll triple her Secret Service protection.”
     “With all due respect, sir, she won’t be any safer. Listen to me. I know you want to protect her. This is the only way. It’s what you must do.”
     “Give me one good reason why and I’ll agree. Tell me why she’d be safer there with you than here with the best protective force in the world.”
     Brent almost told him about the tunnel system, but that would divulge the secret of the Endowment and in turn put the President in harm’s way. That was something he wasn’t prepared to do.
     “I can’t. As a friend, I’m asking you to trust me. I would never put Charlotte in harm’s way. If I wasn’t sure this was the best plan of action, I wouldn’t have brought it up. John, I’m asking you…no, pleading with you to trust me. The only place Charlotte will be safe from that maniac is here, with us.”
     The President’s voice was a quivering mess. “As God as your witness, Brent, do you swear this is the only way? I couldn’t live with myself if that animal got hold of her again.”
     “As God as my witness, I swear.”
     The President was silent for a moment. “What do you need me to do? I can put her on Air Force One this afternoon, and she’ll be there tonight.”
     “Whoa, slow down,” Brent said. “First, have the Secret Service pick her up at work. Send someone she trusts. Tell her whatever it takes for her to go with them to the White House. Then you tell her what happened. Keep her in D.C. until tomorrow evening.”
     “Why so long?”
     Brent hesitated, he knew what he was about to say wouldn’t go over well. “I need to give the Butcher enough time to make his way from Nevada to D.C.”
     “Are you insane?” the President yelled. “I’m not jeopardizing my daughter’s life so that we can wait until that madman is close by.”
     “John, please listen to the entire plan. I would never ask you to put Charlotte at risk. Okay?”
     “Go ahead,” President Dupree said, “but so far, I’m not on board with this one bit.”
     “Replace her with an agent disguised as Charlotte. Have her follow Charlotte’s schedule to a tee. No deviation whatsoever. She’ll live in her condo until stage two of the plan. Move Charlotte today, to a safe house located at 721 Piedmont Drive in Arlington.”
     “Who lives at that address?”
     “The less you know, the safer you are. But you can be confident she will be safe.
     At 8:00 tomorrow evening, Charlotte will be transported from the safe house to a hidden airstrip. At 9:00, she will board a non-descript Lear jet and fly directly to another hidden airstrip in Palm Cove. I’ll be waiting for her.”
     Joan typed as Brent talked. They had worked together for so long, she knew when to record his conversations.
     “Got that, sir?”
     “Got it.”
     “At the same time your daughter is being moved, the decoy and her Secret Service escort will leave her house and be driven to Air Force One at Langley, where the plane will depart at 9:00. Its destination will be your vacation compound in San Diego. Is everything understood?”
     “How can you be sure Charlotte won’t be followed to this safe house, or be seen leaving it?”
     “Because you will have her and the agents transported from the White House in one of the laundry trucks which will be parked at the entrance to the underground bunker.”
     Shock shown on the president’s face. “How do you know of the bunker and its location, Colonel?”
     “Trust, sir. This will only work if you have total trust.”
     “All right. Forget the question—for now.”
     “Once she’s at the safe house, she’ll be taken to the plane by way of tunnel. The house is built on top of a vein of the underground railroad.”
     “How do you know about this place?” As soon as the words left his mouth, the President knew he wouldn’t get a straight answer.
     “You’re just going to have to trust me.”
     “I do.”
     “So we’re clear on the plan?”
     “One more thing. All communication is now Level Four. Do you still have that satellite phone I gave you?”
     “The one you said I’d probably never need? Yes, it’s in my safe.”
     “Have it with you at all times. If you need to contact us, use channel thirteen. From this point forward, all communication goes through that channel only.”
     “How do I know our conversations won’t be monitored?”
     “It’s a Phantom Squad-issued phone. No other satellite phones exist with that bandwidth. There is no safer form of communication. For extra security both parties, will always answer with the code phrase, ‘John 3:16’.”
     “Got it. And Brent?”
     “Yes, sir?”
     “God be with you. All of you.”
     “Thank you, Mr. President.” They all heard the dial tone, signaling the President hung up. The video connection went black.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Chapter Three of "Cursed Presence"

     We are ten days away from the release of Cursed Presence and I am very excited for the launch. I have posted chapter three below and will post chapter four mid-week. Thank you for your patience and please let me know your thoughts on what you read.

J. M.

Chapter THREE
      Dr. Osgood took Jonas’ pulse and blood pressure, marking them in a notebook. Next, he took three vials of blood from his left arm. I’ll run a toxicology screen to see if any of the experimental drugs could have built to toxic levels. That would explain the psychotic episode.
     He walked to the lab bench on the opposite side of the room, unaware that Jonas awoke; first one eye opened, then the other.
     Fully awake, eyelids half open, Jonas scanned the room, making sure not to move a muscle. If security was watching, he appeared sedated.
     Jonas’ heart beat quickened as his vision locked on to Dr. Osgood. A hate unlike any he’d known built inside him. His teeth clenched and his heart pounded as if it were trying to breach the restraints of the rib-cage. Nothing was more important at this moment than to kill. It was the only way to satiate the hunger and the loathing.
     His muscles tensed in anticipation of attacking his prey when he was held back by an unseen force. Something strong and heavy pinned him to the table. Although he saw nothing, he felt it breathe; a hot, dank, foul odor. He felt the heat on his face.
     As the force moved closer, the smell made him want to vomit. Knowing he had lost the battle to get up, he gave in to the invisible force. As his body relaxed, the pungent odor made him feel euphoric. His nostrils flared as he inhaled more of the intoxicating scent.
     The being was so close that Jonas suspected he would be able to taste the spirit’s flesh if he stuck out his tongue. The euphoria spread throughout his body while, at the same time, the fury subsided.
     The spirit, his friend, spoke to him in such guttural tones, the words seemed to carry weight. Not yet, my son. Your time has not yet come. You must be patient.
     But when, my father?
     Before the sun rises in the east, you will be a free man. Free to do my bidding. Free to bring about a new reign of terror, one that will bring me out of the shadows and into the light. One that will bring hell to earth.
     Dr. Osgood, oblivious to what was going on, ran the blood samples through the computer in a process that separated the chemicals in Jonas’ blood. While he waited for the readout, he had the distinct feeling he was being watched.
     Turning to where Jonas lay, he could have sworn he had seen Jonas smile. Rubbing his temples, he thought, I need sleep. My mind is playing tricks on me.
     It was 4:00 a.m. Dr. Osgood was no closer to discovering the reason for Jonas’ peculiar behavior than three hours earlier. He’d run blood tests, CAT scans, EEGs and nerve conduction tests, all to no avail. All came back negative; dead center in the middle of the normal range.
     He was so tired he felt he could fall asleep standing up. He yawned as he walked over to the gurney. For what seemed like the millionth time, he took the inmate’s vitals and for the millionth time, they read normal. His pulse and blood pressure were so consistent it was spooky.
     Opening his notebook he wrote,
     The only significant findings at this time are: there are no significant findings. The patient’s pulse and blood pressure have not deviated one beat since I first took them. That strikes me as very odd.
     Placing the notebook on the lab bench, Dr. Osgood walked over to the overstuffed recliner used for hypnotherapy sessions. He massaged the back of his neck. I’ve got such a headache. I just need a little sleep, then I’m sure things will seem clearer. With that, he closed his eyes. Within seconds, he’d fallen into a deep sleep.
     At 4:55, Jonas felt the weight again on his chest. This time, inhaling the beast’s breath did not calm him, in fact, it had the opposite effect. Jonas felt anger build within him. He lay on the flat surface while his disgust for the world churned within. The beast moved close to Jonas’ face, so close that the air became thick and putrid.
     It’s time, my son, it moaned. It’s time you took your rightful place in the world as the son of the Dark One. Jonas felt his ‘father’s’ lips on his as it breathed into his mouth. The breath held the unmistakable smell and taste of death; decomposing flesh, but not human flesh. The smell was much more acrid, so subhuman in its qualities that it had an eternal essence.
     As the sour, fetid breath filled his lungs, Jonas felt it course through his bloodstream. The further it progressed through his body, the further his mind moved into the past. Every evil thing his aunt had ever done to him flashed through his mind. Memory-driven, intense hatred filled his heart to such an extent he had no doubt it was time to extract revenge on those who caused it to happen.
     As quick as the weight came, it was suddenly gone. Jonas’ eyes, fiery red, opened wide. His pupils dilated.
     In one swift move, Jonas leapt. In an instant he was at the doctor’s side. Though he wanted him to feel the pain and torture he had known, he knew there was little time.

     Jonas glanced at the clock: 5:02 a.m. He had to move fast. He had a ten-minute window, from 5:00 a.m. to 5:10 a.m., when the security cameras were disabled to accommodate a computer backup.
     Unzipping his jumpsuit, Jonas stepped out of it and immediately removed Osgood’s clothes. He slipped into the doctor’s scrubs. Next he put his prison jumpsuit on the dead body, feet first, up to the doctor’s hips. 5:05.
     He allowed the body to fall back into the chair. At the lab bench, he grabbed a Bunsen burner and sparked the flame to life. Returning to the body, he burned symbols into the doctor’s chest. He tossed the burner back onto the bench. Time was in short supply. He lifted the doctor’s body off the chair, pulled the jumpsuit up over the lifeless torso, fed the arms into the sleeves and zipped up the back.
     Jonas carried the body fireman-style to the gurney. He arranged it in the same position he’d been in minutes earlier, making sure to turn the face away from the security camera.
     As he finished, the security camera came back to life. The security officer thought Dr. Osgood was struggling with the inmate.
     “Everything okay, Doc?”
     “Just fine,” Jonas replied in a dead-on imitation of the doctor’s voice. “I’m attempting to make the patient more comfortable. After I write a few more notes, I’ll leave for town, to the county hospital. I need to run more expansive blood tests. Send someone in ten minutes to escort me off the grounds, please.”
      “Sure thing. Ten minutes.”
     Jonas placed the straightjacket and shackles on the body, making certain his face was turned away from the camera. Then he tore a piece of paper out of Dr. Osgood’s notebook, scribbled a note, and tucked it inside the straightjacket.
     Finished, he walked to the lab bench. Pretending to trip, he smashed his nose on the top of the table, and caught the attention of the security guard.
     “Doc, are you okay? Are you hurt? Should I call one of the nurses for you?”
     Pulling himself up, Jonas moaned. He covered his face with his hands. Blood ran through his fingers. He grabbed a towel to cover his face and stop the bleeding.
     “No, but I may have broken my nose. Please send the guard now. I’ll have it looked at while I’m at the county hospital.”
     “He’s on his way.”
     Thirty seconds later, the door swung open. In walked Mickey.“Whoa, security wasn’t kidding when they said you busted your nose. Let me take a look.” As he reached for the towel, Jonas jerked away.
     “It’ll be all right,” he said. “The bleeding has just about stopped. If I remove the pressure, it may start again.”
     “You’re the doctor, I guess you know what you’re doing. How about I get you outta here and onto that bus?”
     “Perfect. That would be great.”
     On their way out of the room, the guard glanced at the body lying on the table. His head partially covered and turned toward the wall.
     “How’s our boy?”
     “Resting comfortably. I placed the jacket back on him for safety. He’ll be out for another five or six hours. I’ll be back before then, so I don’t want anyone disturbing him.”
     “No problem there. I want to stay as far away from that one as possible. Besides, I’m punching out myself as soon as I walk you to the surface. I’ll pass on your message to the next shift.”
     The two men walked out of the infirmary and headed down the hall to the elevator. They were six stories under the earth’s surface. The ride took a full minute to bring them to ground level.
     During the ride, the guard couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t quite right.
     When he stepped out of the elevator, Jonas said, “I should be back around 9:30 or 10:00, depending on the bus schedule.”
     Bus schedule, Mickey thought, there is no bus schedule. It picks up on demand. Slowly, he brought his hand down to his gun belt and yelled, “Prisoner 54112, put your hands above your head and turn around slowly.”
     Jonas did just as he was told and dropped the towel. He abandoned using the doctor’s voice, choosing to speak in the same guttural tone he used earlier. “Not a good idea, Mickey.”
     With a speed and dexterity, cat-like in nature, Jonas brought his leg up, kneeing the guard in the groin. The force of impact caused Mickey to drop the gun. He doubled over in pain.
     Quickly, Jonas used the opportunity to reach for Mickey’s head. In one fluid movement, he snapped the guard’s neck, killing him instantly. Jonas quickly covered Mickey’s mouth with his own and inhaled deeply. The guard’s spirit satiated Jonas’ hunger for death. Once Mickey’s spirit was completely captured within Jonas’ demonic state, he dropped the body on the elevator floor.
     The hour, still early, the lobby of Dreamland was empty. Jonas carried and deposited Mickey’s lifeless form in the stairwell. Whether it from his added strength or from the loss of the guard’s soul, the body seemed lighter than he expected. Jonas liked the way it felt and he hungered for more. Exiting Dreamland, Jonas saw the sun make its rise over the horizon and he remembered what the Dark One had told him.
     “Before the sun rises again in the east, you’ll be a free man.”

(Chapter Four Wednesday)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Cursed Presence: Chapter Two

There really isn't much to say. You will find chapter two of Cursed Presence below. It will be published on January 31, 2012 in both e-book and print. Look for it everywhere. As a special promotion for the upcoming launch the publisher had discounted Cursed Blessing. It is now available in all e-book formats for only $.99. It will only stay that low for a short time so please take advantage of it.

Chapter TWO

      Later that evening, long after lights out, he heard his ‘father’s’ voice. Deep and guttural.
Tonight is the night, my son. It is the night you begin your ascent to the seat of honor. Prepare yourself.
     Still asleep, his muscles began to involuntarily contract. First, a slight tremor coursed through his body. Then his limbs twitched. His hands and feet followed, jerking up and down in quick, sudden movements. Fully awake, the twitching grew more exaggerated. Soon the spasmodic movement contained itself to his torso, it quaked with such force the security officers were afraid he would injure himself. Soon, he convulsed to such an extent that his entire body rose above the bed before crashing back down.
      An officer grabbed the in-house phone and dialed #001. “Doc, you better come see this.” No response. He pushed the panic button that rang in Dr. Osgood’s residence and summoned the guards.
      “Doc,” security screamed, “there’s something wrong with 54112. Looks like he’s having seizures.”
      Dr. Osgood threw off his bed covers and grabbed the phone. “On my way. Nobody is to enter the cell until I get there, understood?”
      “Yes, sir, I’ll relay that message.” He turned his attention to the intercom. “All personnel are to stand down, I repeat, stand down. No one is to enter cell 54112 without Dr. Osgood’s permission. This is a direct order.”
     The thrashing settled into a rhythmic movement, the muscle twitching took on a certain cadence. Standing in his cell, he stared directly at the security camera. Following each contraction or thrust, a non-intelligible noise emanated from his throat. The more he screamed and convulsed, the more non-human he appeared. His mouth foamed and his eyes rolled. His mouth and eyes were as white as the rest of his room.
     Dr. Osgood stormed into the observation room. Without addressing the security guard, his eyes locked on the screen.
      “What’s going on, Doc?”
      He looked away from the live feed long enough to answer. “I can’t be sure. I think he may be having some sort of physiological reaction to the major breakthrough that occurred in yesterday’s treatment session. He must be restrained before he self-mutilates.” Osgood  bit the corner of his lower lip in concern. He may be having an adverse reaction to the drastic increase in the psychotropic drug dosage I administered.
     The guard took immediate action and depressed the intercom button. “Attention, we have a Code One in cell 54112. Restrain the inmate and wait for further orders from Dr. Osgood.”
     Osgood left the observation room, and ran down the hall toward the incarceration wing. By the time he arrived, the inmate had already been placed in a straightjacket. The restraint however, did nothing to stop the convulsions, nor did it stop the screaming.
     When the doctor looked at the inmate, he swore the man was telling him something, but all he heard was verbal chant that was neither intelligible nor communicative. The doctor was so concerned with the quality of the voice, he didn’t pay attention to the words or utterances. He was accustomed to the man’s non-emotional, high-pitched, effeminate voice. This voice was base and guttural. It was though someone else’s voice was coming from his patient’s mouth.
     “We’ll have to sedate him,” Doctor Osgood said, pulling a syringe from his lab coat pocket. “Hold him down.”
      The guards grabbed the inmate. With every ounce of their strength, they pinned the already-restrained inmate to his bed. Dr. Osgood injected a fast-acting sedative. The effect was almost immediate.
     “Get a gurney and transport him to the medical wing. There, I’ll be able to run some tests.”
     The prisoner was lifted from bed to gurney where he was strapped down and shackled for safety. The guards wheeled him to the psych ward, or ‘laboratory,’ as they called it, the same area they had retrieved a calm, well-mannered prisoner seven hours earlier.
     The doctor, the only person with keys to this area of Dreamland, ran ahead to unlock the doors to the medical facility. By the time the guards arrived with the inmate, he was busy filling another syringe with two more medications.
     “What’s that, Doc?”
     “A long-lasting sedative. Roll him on his side, please.”
     As they followed the doctor’s orders, 54112 awoke and immediately began screaming and thrashing. Angrier and harsher than before.
     “My God, hold him down before he hurts himself!”
     “We’re trying,” the first guard yelled. “It’s not him we’re worried about.”
     Struggling to hold him still, the other guard yelled, “You’d better be quick with that needle.”
     Dr. Osgood drove the two-inch needle deep into 54112’s hip.
     “Argh,” the inmate screamed as the needle penetrated his muscle. Doctor Osgood depressed the plunger, releasing the medication into the man’s bloodstream. Within seconds the fight left him. He lay still and quiet as a corpse.
     “Is he dead?”
     “No, but he’ll be dead to the world for about twelve hours. You can let go of him.”
     With hesitation, the guards released prisoner #54112, half expecting him to wake up and start his wild movements again. They stepped back and took a deep breath, relieved their fears hadn’t come to fruition.
     “Excuse me, Doc,” Mickey said, “but if you don’t need us anymore, we need to report back to our posts.”
     “Hmm?” Dr. Osgood’s mind was elsewhere.
     “Hmm, yes, I apologize. You’re dismissed. Thank you both for your quick response.”
     “That’s what you pay us for,” Mickey said. He looked at the unconscious inmate, “Are you sure he’s not gonna wake up soon?”
     “Highly unlikely. Jonas…” his voice trailed, knowing he had made a mistake. Dr. Osgood hesitated for a second, waiting to see if either guard reacted to what he had let slip. When they didn’t, he continued, “Inmate 54112 will be out for at least twelve hours because of the sedatives he just received.”
     As the guards turned to leave, the doctor said, “One more thing. Please remove the restraints so that I’m able to perform the medical tests I need.”
     They looked at each other, disbelief on their faces, then at Dr. Osgood. “Doc, that’s not a good idea,” the second guard said. “You saw how violent he became, even after you gave him that first shot.”
     “Jim, I appreciate your concern, but I know what I’m doing. Please remove the inmate’s restraints.”
     Jim looked at his partner and shrugged. “The Doc’s in charge, Mickey. Let’s do as he says.”
     “Whatever. Let’s just get it over with and get out of here. This place gives me the creeps.”
     Once they’d removed the straightjacket, Jim said, “I’m gonna leave the jacket here, just in case. If he stirs, hit the panic button. We’ll be right back.”
     “Thank you. You’re dismissed.”
     On the walk back to their posts, Jim said, “Hey, Mickey, did you hear what he called him?”
     “Yeah, sure did,” Mickey replied in a muffled tone. “He called him Jonas. That psycho really is the Omega Butcher. I never would have believed it.”
     “Me neither. He’s so small. He looks almost like a boy, ya know?”
      “Yup, I was thinking the same thing. Where the heck did all his strength come from?”
      “I don’t know, but we now know how he was able to overpower those poor girls.”

Monday, January 9, 2012

Welocome to 2012: The year of new beginnings

Hi everyone,

It was a crazy ending of 2011 and for that matter the beginning of 2012. For those of you who don't know, I have had multiple hip prosthesis' in both hips. I developed a massive bone infection in my left hip and had to have emergency radical surgery on December 20th. They removed my left hip implant and all other hardware that had been implanted over the past ten years and left me without a hip. Yep, no hip. Who ever thought a person could actually walk and get around without the top part of the femur and a hip. It has been a tough recovery; one I'm still struggling with, but each day is better than the one before. I would like to thank everyone for your prayers, emails and get well wishes. I don't think I could have endured this past three weeks without them...God bless all of you.

Enough melancholy. It is time to celebrate the new year. And what better way to celebrate than with a new book. The long awaited sequel to "Cursed Blessing" is being released on January 31, 2012. I loved writing Cursed Presence and I'm very proud of the final edit. It took a while. We carved the original 600 plus pages down to a tight, spellbinding 400ish. I don't mean to sound conceited, but I think this one is much better than the first.

We received great critical acclaim for Cursed Blessing, so I am hoping for the same for Cursed Presence.
Since I didn't want everyone to have to wait until the 31st to get a glimpse of the sequel, I am going to start to put the first few chapters on the blog site to help wet your appetite. PLEASE let me know what you think. Your opinion means everything! Enjoy chapter one.

God bless and until next week,

J. M.

Chapter One

     “On the count of three, you’ll awaken. You’ll have no memory of anything that  has happened. You’ll feel tranquil, as though you’ve taken a long peaceful nap. One, two,
      Though the words were distant, he heard them deep in the recesses of his mind. Cognizant of their meaning.
      On “three” the inmate awoke and scanned. His gaze sharp enough to cut glass. He knew where he was. The room brought an awkward peace.
      When he spoke, his voice was feminine and sounding preadolescent. “How did I do, Doc? Was I able to tell you anything new? Did I remember anything about my childhood?”
      Two feet away, sat Dr. Osgood. Amazing, he thought, nothing like the psychopathic serial killer who first appeared at Dreamland seven years ago.
      The prisoner had arrived shortly after Dr. Osgood opened the Dreamland penitentiary and research center. It could be argued that the facility was built because of him.
      “That’s not important,” the doctor answered, “You’re doing great, you’re getting healthier and your mind is healing. I’m proud of you.”
      The young man sat up, his eyes darted about the room at all times. The greenery of the plants and the pastel walls helped him focus.
     “How do you feel?” Dr. Osgood asked.
      Hands on his knees, kicking his feet back and forth like a child, his eyes fixed on the doctor’s. “Kind of like I took a long nap. But I’m not groggy or nothing. Know what I mean?”
     The doctor’s mouth turned upward in a friendly, relaxed manner. “I do,” he answered, “that’s the way you should feel.”
     Inmate 54112 bit the inside of his upper lip. His thoughts cut deeper. I’ve grown to like the guy, it’s too bad I have to…a knock on the door interrupted his thoughts.
     A cold, abrupt voice rang out, “Time’s up, doc. I have to take the inmate back to his cell.”
     “Sorry, son, but we’re out of time for today. We’ll pick back up tomorrow in our next session.”
     Two heavily-muscled men walked in. As they moved towards him, the inmate instinctively stood up and held his hands straight out in front of his body, as he’d been taught. The first guard cuffed his wrists and tightly held onto him while the second guard bent down to shackle his ankles.
      A chain fastened to the leg irons was brought up between his legs and attached to a waist chain. It was drawn through an extended link on the handcuffs and pulled down, drawing his hands into his body, and again fastened to the shackles.
      “Let’s move,” the guard said. The prisoner shuffled his feet and moved towards the open door.
      Dr. Osgood looked up from his notes, “Until tomorrow.” 
      Not allowed to speak, 54112 nodded an affirmative and kept walking. The distance from the doctor’s office to the inmate’s cell was a short one, but it took several minutes to navigate because of the confining chains.
      The guards, posted on either side of the prisoner, continued down the hall. “Are you sure this is the guy?” Jim, the guard on the left asked.
      “That’s the scuttlebutt. Hard to believe, isn’t it?” Mickey, the other guard replied.
      “I’d say. This guy’s what, five-foot-five, maybe six? And weighs about a buck forty. I’m surprised he’d have enough strength to overpower those girls, not to mention what he did to them.”
      The first guard turned and looked at the inmate. Goosebumps covered his forearms, as if in warning. “I don’t know, Jim, if you think about it, the timing’s right. He got here at the end of 2001, just about the same time the Omega Butcher was convicted.”
      Jim shook his head. “I know, but it’s still hard to believe.”
      “Yeah, well—if it’s him, he’s gonna fry for those atrocities as soon as Dr. Frankenstein finishes playing with him.”
      The inmate sucked his lower lip and bit down trying to abate his aggression. I’ll show you how I did it, he silently promised. I’ll tear the two of you to shreds before you ever have a chance to pull your weapons.
      Seething with anger, he heard a calming voice somewhere in the recesses of his mind.
      Easy, my son. It’s not yet your time.
      His heartbeat slowed as he listened to the voice. The voice he now considered a friend. A friend who’d kept him from going crazy shortly after he arrived at Dreamland.
      Seven years ago he had questioned the voice’s identity, and was told, I am the one; the ruler of all that is of this world and all that will ever be, and you are my chosen, my son.
      If I’m asked who sent me, whom shall I say? the inmate pressed.
     Tell them the Dark One sent you. The one who lurks from within the shadows of men’s souls sent you and that you are my chosen.
     One of the guards walked ahead as they approached the prisoner’s cell and unlocked the door. Mickey, the second guard walked 54112 straight through without delay. Once inside the small cell, the guards removed the chain, shackles and cuffs in reverse order. The prisoner put his hands down by his sides and remained at attention until he heard the door shut and the tumblers lock.
     His shoulders dropped as he expelled a relaxing breath. Here, in his nine-by-nine square foot home, he felt secure. He looked around. Everything was white: white walls, white linoleum floor, white metal-framed twin-sized bed, and crisp, white linens. A commode and sink, also white, sat in the back left corner opposite his bed.
     He, like other Dreamland inmates, had running water twice a day, between six and six-ten in the morning, and again between eight-fifty and nine in the evening. During that time, inmates brushed their teeth and took a quick sponge bath. There were no showers.
     Truth be told, the cell reminded him of the only other place he had ever felt secure, his bedroom where he grew up.
     If he was nothing else, the prisoner was a man of patterns. He kept a mental schedule of how and when things were to be done and he followed the schedule to a tee. He permitted himself no variations, a system familiar to him from earliest memories.
     A cold sweat began to form as he thought back to that fateful day. He could still hear his mother screaming in pain as she lay in the fetal position on the kitchen floor. The salty sweat burned his eyes as he remembered waiting outside the operating room. Bile bubbled in his throat at the memory of the surgeon walking down the hall, head down, not wanting to make eye contact with him.
     His last memory of that day was throwing up on the shoes of the woman from Child Services.
     His mother passed away from a burst appendix and subsequent infection. He had no father, at least none he knew of. He was sent to live with his Aunt Peg. She was his mother’s older sister, his only living relative. She had agreed to take him in only when she learned the state would pay her to keep him.
     Following his mother’s funeral, Aunt Peg took him by the hand and they walked silently to her car.
     When they arrived home, she grabbed the visibly distraught boy by the shouldersand shook him. Fear swept over him as he looked into eyes that held no love. Evil was all he saw. Evil eyes set in a sharp, angular face. The boy often wondered if her face would crack if she smiled. It was a theory he was never able to prove or disprove in the thirteen years he lived with her.
     “There will be no more crying, boy,” she shrieked.
      She shoved him into her three-story Beacon Hill walk up, as she continued her ‘get to know you’ rant. “Things are done differently around here. Everything is done on a schedule. If you’re late, you’ll be punished. If you’re late for a meal, you don’t eat until the next scheduled meal and you’ll be punished. There will be no sparing the rod in this house.”
     The mere thought of Aunt Peg caused the inmate to shake uncontrollably. Time and schedule had been burned into his being, figuratively and literally.
     The clock above the door of his cell read 4:29 p.m. Dinnertime was 5:00.  It was time to pray, a rigid practice he’d held to since the day he moved in with his aunt. 54112 knelt in the middle of the floor. He knew he was being watched by security officers. They assumed the inmate was praying to God.