Over a month ago now I put up the first version of the introduction to a new novel I’m working on, tentatively titled “The Uninvited” or “Uninvited” – still not sure if that will stick.
Well, I haven’t been updating much here, or on my Facebook page, but I have been working. Over the next few days I plan on putting the first ~12k of words here on the blog as a way to show what I’ve been doing.
So, without further ado, here is the revised, and somewhat edited, Chapter One:
The wrench strained against Edward’s shaking arm. He flexed his back, placed a foot against one of the tires, and pushed. The spark plug resisted his efforts. He cursed under his breath, glancing over his shoulder to see if Cece heard him. Her back was turned and she crouched over the kerosene lantern. Behind her, the mountain glowed orange from the setting sun. It would be dark soon.
Releasing the wrench, Edward relaxed and wiped the sweat from a dirty brow. He didn’t need this. If the tractor wasn’t running by morning, he would have to take the truck into town and get a mechanic. Every day without a tractor was a setback for the farm and it was already the end of June. The Washington rains let up for the week, but it was anyone’s guess when they would start again. No time to play games. He squinted at the mountain – two circular clouds, like milk saucers, hovered over the peak. They glowed with the same sun kissed fires as the mountain herself. They could mean rain was coming.
“How’s it going, Eddy?” His wife, Cecelia, asked without turning.
“I don’t know, Cece. I can’t get this dang spark plug out for nothing.”
“Do you want to go back to the house and bring Jim over in the morning?”
“Not if I can help it. I want the thing running tomorrow. We can’t bet on sunshine forever.”
“Okay. I have the lantern ready, if we need it.”
“We probably will. It’ll be dark in a few minutes. Bring it on over here.”
Edward returned to the engine. He bought the 1939 Ford from Mrs. Winters right after he came home from the war. For the last two years, the old tractor ran fine. All it ever required was routine maintenance. It was running the day before, but then stopped. He couldn’t figure out why – everything seemed fine. The thing just wouldn’t start. The last things to check were the spark plugs. Maybe he bought some bad ones. If that was the case, Jim would certainly give him some credit down at the garage – he was a good man that way.
The shadows lengthened and forced Edward to feel around for the right place to put the wrench. He braced himself on the tire, inhaled deeply, and pushed with both hands. He thought he could feel it giving way. Finally. He paused and wound himself up for one final push. Cece brought the lantern over and held it above his head.
“Is that better?”
“Yes,” he grunted through clenched teeth, and pushed.
With a snapping sound and a clang, Edward had enough time to realize his mistake before his head hit the engine. The pain was instant, and throbbed from his forehead down the back of his neck. He sat down on his haunches and held his head in both hands.
“My word, Eddy, are you okay?”
“You’re bleeding. Let me look.”
Edward knew his wife well enough to not argue. She put the lantern in the grass beside him and moved his hands.
“Mmm. It looks like you have a small cut on your head, Eddy. Another on your hand, too. Let’s go back to the house and I’ll put some iodine on it.”
Edward grunted and stood up.
“At least I got that damned plug loose.”
Cece picked up the lantern and shined it on the tractor’s engine.
“Oh my! Eddy, there’s blood all over the spark plug.”
“I have it on me, too, Cece.”
“Look at it, though, it looks like the spark plug is bleeding.”
Edward muttered to himself and leaned in. It did look like there was blood running out of the spark plug. He leaned in closer and squinted.
“Wait. Cece – give me some better light. I don’t think that’s my blood.”
“Well, what is it?”
“I don’t know. Give me some light!”
Cecelia leaned in and hovered the lantern over his head. The liquid wasn’t quite the right color or texture – a little too dark and thick.
“It’s not blood. What is it?”
He stuck his finger in it and then brought it close to his nose. It smelled metallic. He rubbed his thumb and finger together. It was gritty and cold.
“Rust? Cece, I think this is rust.”
“I don’t know. These plugs are new. But look at it. Rust is running out of it. And I snapped the da- darn thing in two. I’ll never get it out now!”
“We’ll bring Jim over tomorrow. Come on, Eddy, the sun’s set. Let’s walk back to the house and get those cuts cleaned up.”
Edward picked up the wrench, collected his other tools, and put them all in the toolbox. The new moon was rising, just a sliver in the sky, and didn’t cast enough light for the two to make their way back to the house unaided. Cece walked beside him with the lantern high.
“It’s a nice night.”
“Yeah,” Edward agreed. “Warm one. Good for a pipe and drink on the porch.”
“Oh, Eddy.” He couldn’t see, but he knew she was rolling her eyes. “I hate the way you smell after that pipe. Not tonight, okay?”
Edward didn’t respond. His eyes were on a star above the mountain.
“Look at how bright that star is.”
Cece looked up. “On the mountain? Are you sure it’s a star?”
“Well, what else could it be?”
“I don’t know. Is it getting brighter?”
“I think it is.”
“Edward…is it getting closer?”
“I don’t know, Cece. Let’s get back to the house.”
Neither of them moved. The light grew brighter, or closer, Edward wasn’t sure which. He felt his stomach tighten up.
“Edward,” Cecelia’s voice was a whisper. “What is it?”
He felt goosebumps tiptoe down his arms. The light brightened, blotting out the night. A voice in the back of his head told him to grab Cece’s hand and run for the house. He tried, or thought about trying, but his arms were too heavy to lift and his feet stuck to the ground. His tongue grew thick and syrupy in his mouth. The light was closer – it was definitely moving towards them, not just getting brighter. The hairs on his arm and neck stood on end. Static crackles filled the air.
The light became too painful to look at. He closed his eyes.
Nothing happened. Edward opened his eyes and blinked against the bright light. It was warm and yellow – different from the cold, white light before.
He was on his back in the field. The sun was up and dew glistened on the grass.
He sat up quickly and looked around. She was laying next to him, on her back, with her arms folded across her chest. A sudden fear gripped his heart and he lunged for her.
She opened her eyes.
“Oh, thank God. I thought…are you alright?”
Cece shook her head to clear the cobwebs.
“Eddy, why are we in the field? Did we fall asleep out here?”
“I don’t know. I thought we were going back to the house. Then there was that light.”
Cece sat up and rubbed her eyes.
“You don’t remember?”
She looked at the mountain.
“From the mountain? Yes, I remember. We were walking back to the house so I could clean your cuts…Eddy! Your cuts! They’re gone!”
Edward looked down at his hand and it looked fine. He reached up and felt his forehead. Nothing.
“Eddy, what happened last night?”
Edward didn’t have an answer. He shook his head.
“Come on. We still need to get Jim out here.”
Edward and Cecelia drove into town in silence. They went straight to Smith and Sons, Jim’s garage. James Smith only had one son. The gossip around town was he named it “Smith and Sons” in hopes he would have more.
“What can I do for you today, Edward?” Jim greeted.
“Jim, the Ford isn’t starting. I checked everything yesterday – spent all darned day on it – and found a bum spark plug last night.”
“Are those the plugs I just sold you back in May?”
“Yes, they are. Strange thing about it, Jim, is the one I broke free is rusted on the inside.”
“Edward, spark plugs don’t rust in there – that’s copper.”
“This one did.”
“That’s just damned weird – pardon me, Cecelia. How about I send the boy back with you to look at it? I think I have some plugs he can take with him.”
“That’ll do. I don’t know how to get that plug out, though. Broke it clean in half.”
“We can drill it out. I’ll make sure the boy brings his tools.” He looked over his shoulder. “Donald! Get out here. Mr. Ambrose needs some work done on his tractor. Grab some new plugs for it and the toolkit.” He looked back at Edward. “Can he ride with you?”
“Donald! Did you hear me?”
“Yes, Dad. I’m getting them now.”
“Good. Mr. Ambrose will give you a ride out there. You can walk back if he doesn’t want to bring you.”
Jim grinned at Edward.
“Thanks for doing this, Jim. We’ll feed the boy and get him back here before nightfall.”
After a quick stop at the Copperside General Store, the three drove back to the farm. Donald spent several hours puzzling over the tractor before drilling out the plugs and replacing them. The old Ford started up and ran fine.
“Honestly, Mr. Ambrose, I don’t know what caused that. My dad and I are very sorry we sold you those plugs. You don’t owe us nothing for this.”
“How about a beer and lunch, at least?” Edward asked.
“Sounds good to me, sir. Let me go wash up.”
Cecelia made spam, eggs, and buttered bread for lunch. The men ate slowly and complimented her cooking before adjourning to the porch for a beer and the pipe. By mid-afternoon, Edward returned Donald and was out in the field, milking the sunlight for all it was worth on the back of the tractor.
The shadows lengthened and a sense of dread came over him – a feeling he hadn’t experienced since the war. Despite his usual tendency to work until it was too dark to see, Edward instead found himself parking the tractor in the barn with the setting sun still visible on the horizon. He walked from the barn to the house, throwing more than one glance over his shoulder at the mountain.
The next day passed uneventfully, with the exception of Edward retiring early again. He couldn’t shake the feeling of dread as the sun began to set.
After another excellent meal prepared by his loving wife, Edward sat down next to the radio and listened to the news reports of the day. One in particular caught his interest: a story about a pilot flying past the mountain who claimed he saw strange flying saucers on the twenty-fourth of June – the day after the light in the sky.
The sound of Cece coming down the hallway prompted Edward to jump up and turn off the radio.
“Eddy, you’re jumpy tonight. Did I scare you?”
“No. Just didn’t want to listen any more.”
“Edward,” Cece stared at his face. “Why are you crying?”
“What are you talking about, woman? I’m not…”
He brought his hand to his cheeks and brushed away the tears.
“I…must have got something in my eye, that’s all. I didn’t even notice until you said something.”
A shudder ran down his body. He excused himself and went to bed earlier than usual, but didn’t sleep.
– – – – –
Angel Hernandez looked at the beautiful girl in the passenger seat. Not a girl. A woman. Stacey Baran was a woman. And she was his girlfriend – his fiancée. The young blonde sensed him looking at her and turned her devastating smile on him.
“I love you.” He said.
She looked down. “I love you, too, Angel.”
“One more night, and we’re free – no more school, no more parents, just me and you.”
Stacey looked away. Angel could see the frown she was trying to hide.
“Stace, we have to leave. Your dad…”
“I know. Angel…I know.”
Both teens fell silent. Angel drummed on the wheel. Christopher Jacob Baran, Stacey’s father, was adamant about their relationship. Or, to be accurate: he was adamant that there was not a relationship, nor would there ever be one. A “worthless beaner” was one of the nicer things old Papa Baran had to say about Angel. “Wetback” and “Greencard Hunter” were some of the less flattering ones. Not that Christopher’s opinions weren’t entirely unfounded – Angel’s parents were farm workers, and they did cross the border illegally when he was a child. But Angel considered himself about as Mexican as Taco Bell – he was raised in Washington State, went to school in an American school, and would be the first member of his family to get a High School Diploma. He rarely spoke Spanish, preferring English. He wanted to become a legal citizen – desperately. And it was true – marrying Stacey would get him citizenship with far fewer headaches and red tape.
It wouldn’t happen the “traditional” route – no way. Stacey’s dad was against her marrying a “beaner”, and Angel’s parents were certain their son would find himself a nice Mexican girl and have a large Mexican family. So they made their plans: after graduating, Angel and Stacey would bid a fond farewell to the other members of the Class of ‘97 and set out for Vegas.
“Maybe we should wait a bit.” Stacey’s voice was soft, she stared out the window.
“Wait? Stace – we can’t wait. The longer we wait, the more time our parents have to figure it out. To try to break us up.”
“I don’t know. Angel, there’s so much going on this weekend. We graduate tomorrow, there’s the graduation parties…our friends and families…and – well, at least a day or two? Maybe? Just to rest up before we drive to Vegas?”
“Stace. I – maybe. We’ll see. Okay?”
“It’s just that I want to be sure, Angel.”
“We’ll see. Okay? We’ll see.”
Another silence blanketed the Civic. Angel turned on the radio.
“It’s ten o’clock and that means it’s time for KEBE news at ten. The New York Times and Washington Post are both reporting that President Clinton has appointed the former Ambassador to Germany, Richard Holbrooke, as a special envoy to Cyprus. Mr. Holbrooke is facing the daunting task of negotiating a peaceful solution between Turkey and Cyprus over the planned installation of Russian anti-aircraft missiles. Turkey claims the missiles, which the Cypriot Ambassador to the United Nations assures are purely defensive, constitute a serious threat to stability in the region. Tune in for a more in-depth analysis of the Cypriot Missile Crisis this weekend on World Round Table.
“In related news, Kurdish separatists in Northern Iraq claim to have shot down a Turkish fighter jet violating the United Nations No-Fly Zone. So far, there has been no outside confirmation of this claim.
“On the local front, Washington National Guard spokesman Colonel Nerring has confirmed that several elements of the Army and National Guard, in conjunction with the Air Force, will be engaged in training exercises at the Yakima Training Center and surrounding areas for the weekend of June sixth through eighth. The National Guard is asking citizens not to panic or overwhelm local law enforcement agencies with calls if they see aircraft or armed soldiers outside of the base itself. Again, the National Guard, Army, and Air Force will be engaged in a routine training exercise this weekend in and around the Yakima Training Center…”
Angel looked through the window at the sky.
“I wonder if they’re flying up there right now?”
“The Air Force. I wonder if there’s any fighter jets or stealths or something up there right now.”
“Why would they be up there?”
“The training thing.”
“Yakima is on the other side of the mountains, Angel.”
“Yeah, I know that. But we’re right in the flight line. We see the helicopters all the time when we’re working the fields in the summer.”
“So? I just think it’d be cool. You know, to see a stealth or Apache or something.”
Angel suppressed a groan and turned up the volume on the radio. At this point, he wasn’t even sure if he wanted to take Stacey to the party. It was just adding up to a bad night, all in all. She was moody, he was tired, and he wasn’t sure cheap beer was going to help at all. But pretty much everyone from school was going to be there – most of the seniors at least – and it might be their last big bash before summer and they all went out into the world. Maybe it would cheer her up.
Angel slowed and left the highway, turning onto one of the county roads. The party was in a field a few miles down the road. A bonfire, booze, and music – classic Copperside bash. The kids were throwing the bash at the Old Ambrose Place. Nobody lived there anymore, the owner was some old woman from out of state who never came up to her place. It was perfect for a bonfire party: out of the way, no neighbors, and a big field.
The radio sputtered static. Angel frowned and spun the dial. No dice. No stations would come in.
“Must be in a dead spot.”
“The radio. Must be in a dead spot.”
He spun the volume control. The display showed the clock. Thirteen minutes past ten.
Several seconds passed before Angel’s brain registered why the steering was so sluggish, and why the Civic was slowing down. His car stalled.
“What the hell?”
“Angel, what are you doing?”
“I’m not doing it, babe. The car just died.”
Angel let the car roll to a stop before putting it in neutral. He tried the ignition. Nothing happened – it didn’t even attempt to turn over.
“What the fuck?”
“Angel. Are we stuck? Seriously. Are we?”
“Hang on. It’s probably the battery cables. Let me go check them.”
She sighed loudly.
Angel reached for the hood latch. He didn’t know why he looked up, but he did. And froze in place.
“Stacey,” he whispered. “Look at that. I think it’s a stealth plane.”
“Up there.” His eyes were locked on a large, triangular, black void in the sky. Something was blotting out the stars. Something dark, silent, and v-shaped. Just like a stealth bomber. He rolled down his window and leaned out to get a better view.
“I don’t see anything.”
“Look – see how there aren’t any stars? In a triangle shape?”
Stacey leaned forward and stared out the window.
“Oh. Yeah. Weird. Why isn’t it moving?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t know they could do that.”
The light was sudden and blinding. Angel tried to shield his eyes with his hands, but was frozen in place.
Just as sudden, the light was gone. He blinked at the spots in front of his eyes. He was night blind – he couldn’t see Stacey or even the dash.
“…Steve Miller Band with ‘Magic Carpet Ride’. Up next, a block of classic rock on KEBE.” The radio blared to life. Angel jumped. The clock still read thirteen past ten.
A new light shone into the car from his left.
“Son? Do you need some help?”
Angel assumed the man was a police officer. “Um, I don’t think so, sir. My car died but it looks like it’s working again.”
“Uh huh. What are you doing out here this late?”
He looked to the passenger seat. “My girlfriend and I are going to a uh…”
The light panned to the empty seat.
Angel’s eyes darted around the car. He was alone. Stacey’s purse was the only evidence she had been there.
“Is she out there?” He yelled at the flashlight. “Stacey? Stacey!”
“Calm down, sir. We just found your car.”
“Can you see her? I need to get out and find her!”
“Private! There might be a missing girl. Get everyone off the truck and fan out! Nelson, get on the horn and tell them we need the police out here.”
“Wait, you’re not police?”
“No, sir. National Guard. We saw your car here and stopped to make sure you were okay.”
“What are you doing in Copperside?”
The soldier ignored the question. “Sir, why don’t you get out of the car and we’ll get you some coffee. The police should be on the way, and I got my soldiers searching for your girl right now.”
Angel was led from his car to the back of a large, covered, cargo truck. Someone handed him a tin cup with coffee in it. He drank it slowly, wincing at the bitter black taste.
“Sorry. Soldier coffee. Not exactly gourmet stuff.”
“It’s okay. I’ve had worse working the fields.”
He sat down against one of the large tires, his legs stretching out into the ditch. The soldiers around him were talking. Flashlight beams flickered in the trees and underbrush and he could hear voices calling for Stacey. He tried to remember everything that happened. The radio died, the car stalled, the airplane and then the bright light. Then the soldiers were there. Where had they come from? It was only a few seconds – and in that time several large Army trucks showed up and Stacey vanished. It didn’t make any sense.
“You Mexican?” A silhouette asked, in Angel’s native tongue.
“Yes.” Angel replied in kind.
“What does your girl look like?”
Angel wavered. “Uh. Short, kind of. Blonde. A little…you know.”
The Spanish speaking soldier chuckled.
“I know. Big in all the right ways?”
Angel grinned despite himself.
“What were you two doing out here? Don’t you have school?”
“Yeah. We graduate tomorrow. We were going to a party.”
“What is the Army doing out here?”
“I don’t know, man. We were convoying over to Yakima for the weekend drills when we got sent here instead.”
“Does it have anything to do with the stealth plane?”
“What stealth plane?”
“Before Stacey…before the light. I saw a black triangle in the sky, like a stealth. But it was real quiet and just kind of hovering there.”
“Don’t know about that. I just know they told us to come here. The Commander might know more, but he isn’t telling us.”
A pair of headlights drove up from behind and came to a halt. Angel watched a soldier in full gear approach the car and lean into the window. Red and blue flashers came on, and someone in uniform stepped out.
The soldier gestured to where Angel was sitting.
“Hernandez?” The newcomer called.
“It’s Deputy Anders.” The deputy walked over to Angel and knelt down. “We’ve been looking for you all night. Mr. Baran called Stacey in as missing about two hours ago. Said you probably kidnapped her. Tell me he’s wrong, Angel. You didn’t do nothing to hurt that girl, now did you?”
Anders was a county deputy and lived in Copperside. He was the unofficial police force for the small town, and spent most of his time patrolling the quiet streets of the town. Everyone knew him – he was at the school in the mornings and when final bell rang, watching for speeders, and often spent most of his time parked by the coffee stand in the middle of town.
“I didn’t do anything, sir. The car died and there was a bright light and then these soldiers were everywhere. And she was gone.” Angel fought back tears. Something was very wrong. Stacey only left her father’s house two hours ago – why would Christopher call her in as missing?
Anders shined his flashlight in Angel’s face. After a quiet eternity, he stood up and spoke into the radio on his shoulder as he walked away.
“Found the boy. She’s not with him. He claims she just disappeared.” Then, to the Spanish speaking soldier, “Keep an eye on him, will you? I need to talk to dispatch.”
The soldier sat down beside Angel.
Angel asked a question that had begun to gnaw at him. “What time is it?”
The soldier held up his hand and pushed a button on his watch. It glowed green.
“That’s not possible…” Angel stammered, switching to Spanish. “It was ten thirteen when the car died. I remember – it was still ten thirteen when it started back up.”
“You don’t remember anything for the last…six hours?” The soldier asked.
Angel shook his head.
“Were you drinking?”
“No. Not yet. We were going to a party.”
The soldier cursed. “Are you legal?” He whispered.
“No.” Angel answered, in Spanish.
The soldier cursed again.
“Until they find your girl, they’re going to blame the illegal Mexican. You and I both know it.”
Angel buried his face in his hands.
Anders returned from his car after another eternity.
“Angel, I need to take you into the city for questioning. The sheriff is sending out more deputies, and the state is sending out troopers. We’re going to find Stacey. But until we do, you need to come with me.”
Angel nodded. He was numb.
“Be strong, friend.” The soldier said.