Rue From Ruin – Part 4

Here it is. I hope you enjoy it. If you don’t know what it is, go here.

This is the last time I’m going to write recognitions for folks who’ve helped out directly on a part. I’ll move all of them to the main Rue From Ruin page soon. In the meantime, I need to say this now. It’s important because, without these fine people, you wouldn’t be reading Part 4 today.

So much great help from Meri. She spotted all the really dumb stuff I was doing and she found it while suffering from a horrible cold. What an amazing woman! I’m blessed beyond belief to have her as my wife. My teen sons also took turns reading although their feedback was more along the lines of, “Ooo! Pretty good, Dad!”

Big thank you to the beta readers who provided some wonderful critique and helped me add more story that might have gone missing otherwise. J. Rushing, K. M. Alexander, and Drew Gerken all pitched in. Each of them had a unique perspective and I appreciate them immensely. They don’t even know. Srsly.

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Rue From Ruin – Part 4

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Imprisonment

I’m being marched through the center of a village at gunpoint by a fourteen-year-old girl, I think to myself. I wonder how pathetic it must look. Vanity isn’t a major weakness of mine, but I’m not immune to it either.

A tall young man, several years my junior, lounges against the wall in front of the small building we head toward. Incredibly, the squat stone structure appears to serve as police, fire, and La Poste for the little hamlet. The youth stares at me, but the girl with the shotgun ignores him and his sickly complexion. There is something familiar in his dark hazel eyes; I can’t place it. As we breeze past him, I’m unable to stop staring back.

“Watch where you’re going, scruffy-man,” the tall teen says and nudges my ribs with her 28-gauge. I turn around just in time to stop myself from walking right into the doorjamb of the building we are entering. She says, “I am the gracious host, am I not, señor?”

I nod agreement, not trusting my tongue to be civil.

It won’t do any good to snap at her, I remind myself. However, if I hadn’t taken the tincture in time… I shudder and try not to think about it.

We resume walking through the door of the multi-purpose building. I catch a whiff of something pungent that causes me to stop like a car in one of the crash test commercials. I feel the shotgun barrel dig into my back as the girl presses forward, not anticipating my sudden halt.

I know this scent.    

The girl sighs, impatient, and we continue down the narrow stone hallway past the shuttered window where La Poste customers fetch their mail. The odor is so strong it’s becoming overpowering. I can almost see it. After ten meters, the hall opens up into a tiny room with a small rectangular table, covered with a black and white checkered tablecloth. A man in a rumpled uniform sits behind it. The officer barely registers to me because my sinuses are reeling in the overpowering smell of HIM. I swear the odor emanating from the small window on his cell door is practically visible, with sickly green tendrils of smoke-like stench reaching for my nose.

“Hola, papa,” the girl says to the man at the table. “This Americano was trespassing by the old well on the Laurent property.”

I barely notice her speaking, because this is it! At last, the end of my search! I’ve found René Demons. And soon, he will pay so dearly for what he has done.

After I get some answers, I remind myself.

The man in the chair straightens and says something in thickly accented English about, “… night for trespass … go in morning.” He waves a hand toward the open door of the second holding area. It’s barely a closet, and his daughter gives me a nudge toward it. I try to catch a glimpse into the window where the sickly scent-tentacles are reaching out. No luck. I listen for any movement in the cage and hear none.

Of course, Demons probably knows I’m here. I haven’t said anything, but he’s always been very canny at running from me; the monster must know I am near. He can’t be allowed to escape, but I also can’t see a way to get to him now without slaughtering the officer and his daughter. As badly as I want the Professeur, I don’t wish to harm these people.

Deadlocked by indecision, I allow myself to be herded into my tiny prison, hardly noticing as the door grinds shut behind me. Once in the cell, I sink to sit on the cot. It’s barely larger than an oversized camping cooler, and no softer. That doesn’t matter. All I can think of is how I’m going to rend the Professeur’s flesh in the most painful ways.

After sitting for a while, fantasizing, I start to consider the questions I’m going to ask him in the morning. Why turn me into this… thing? Why let me go home to my family as if nothing were wrong?

Why the hell didn’t he just give me some answers that day? I’m clearly delirious. He’s been running from me because he knows I’m going to kill him. How could he have any doubt of my intention?

Exhaustion and the droning on of the father and daughter eventually lull me. A night of rest will ease my fatigue and help me deal with him in the morning, the rationalized thought comes thickly as if bubbling up through molasses. I fall asleep sitting on the cot, back against the wall, chin on chest.

——

The dream always brings back every painful reminder of what I felt like waking up on the morning when they died. I’ve dreamt it more times than I can count. It goes like this:

I’m looking up at the ceiling and note with morbid fascination that there appears to be something crimson speckling its powdery, popcorn texture. I roll over on the slick, hard surface, nearly naked in my shredded clothing from the night before. I’m covered in sticky red blood and, in fact, am lying in viscera in the middle of our kitchen floor. Their dead and waxen faces are waiting for me as I roll to my knees in the ichor. The bright red lifeblood spattering them is a stark contrast to the porcelain of their features. There is so much of it.

Everywhere.

The details of the night before are hazy, but I do remember coming home and feeling terribly sick. I went straight to my bed to lie down and was frustrated and worried that the Prof had gone off his rocker. He had taken a phone call earlier in the day, I think. Shortly after hanging up, he had left for a few minutes and then he came up behind me and injected me with a hypo of what I think was his own blood. I recall his crazed screeching about it being the only chance.

I called security immediately, and the Professeur fled the lab. I tendered my resignation in disgust and left the office to return home after making my report.

No longer able to keep my thoughts to myself, I remember getting up and coming to the kitchen. Always my sounding board, my wife was there sitting at the table with little Kara. I sat with them and ranted on about the incident. Marilyn, ever rational, reminded me that some blood tests were probably in order. Just to be sure I wasn’t infected with something dangerous like HIV. How I wish I would have left the house right then to follow her advice. Instead, I complained and whined and said I would get checked in the morning.

Then the change started coming on. I felt the terrible pain of displaced bone and muscle and ligament for the first time. The dread of a strange, overpowering hunger and the anticipation of sating it.

To my utter dismay, shame, and heartbreak, there are only two human beings I’ve ever killed in the throes of my curse: my wife, Marilyn, and my daughter Kara.

After awakening and sitting up to the scene of their deaths, I collapse back to the floor. Salty tears of despair flow freely, and somehow I can’t seem to breathe. Finally, a cry that sounds like the mating call of a grizzly bear escapes my lips. Once released, the wracking sobs won’t stop for what feels like hours.

When the tears finally run dry, I make a solemn vow to my dead family: I will make vengeance my life’s last goal.

——

The door swings open, and a man in a fireman’s uniform is speaking to me in French. Still mostly asleep, I don’t understand a word of it. I wipe the wetness of the drool from my chin. But, unfortunately, it has also soaked a portion of the overall I’m still wearing. There is a large salty-edged saliva stain on the front. It must look ridiculous.

The man motions me to leave. Finally! I wipe the sleep from my eyes; stand and follow him out. I’m groggy, but I still notice the open door to the other cell. I sniff the air, and although the scent is still there, it’s somehow weaker, less overpowering. My worst fear of the previous night is realized. They’ve let him out while I slept!

Sniffing the air, I catch a tendril of scent leading out of the building. He is still very near.

I don’t much care what the Frenchman is yelling after me as I sprint out of the building at full tilt.

Rue From Ruin – Part 3

If you are wondering where to find the beginning of the story, see Part 1 or Part 2.

This one was difficult because there reveals, and I don’t want to give away too much.

Yet.

I had some amazing help from my friend Pablo Orozco on the European Spanish. Also, Meri, Drew, and K.M. all helped me work out some issues I was having and assisted the removal of the stiffness from my writing. Without these fine folks, Part 3 would not be what it is. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it! What an incredible learning experience.

This story is a labor of love. Check out the inspiration if you have time.

Rue From Ruin – Part 3

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Tincture

So damn close!

The sun is a melted tangerine sinking toward the horizon.

Melted tangerine probably isn’t a thing, the finicky thought follows immediately.

I’ve been running all day in this stupid chaffing overall I grabbed from a hook in some abandoned barn, and I’m tired. Can’t remember the last time my muscles felt this exhausted. He’s got to be somewhere near. As an urgent reminder, the tincture materials swing at my neck. There isn’t much time.

Maybe I’ll just let the change happen, and then catch up with the Professeur and rip his lying throat out.

It’s so tempting. But no.

My wife Marilyn and little Kara deserve answers. It’s his fault, what I did to them. And he can’t keep running forever.

Eventually, he will fall asleep on a train, or in a hostel, or under a bridge. He will have to rest. No one can stay awake forever. Even the cursed must sleep – I would know. It hits me then just how tired I am. I’ve been up for thirty-six hours minus that short rest at dawn. I’m so worn down it feels like I’m going to collapse.

If I don’t drink my tincture tonight – what will happen? Will “the beast” take over and decide to lay down for a nap? Something tells me it won’t. I would probably just die of exhaustion in the morning like a horse flogged to gallop all day in the desert. Inexplicably, Another One Bites The Dust by Queen is now playing in my head. I start to contemplate the level of impropriety my brain is capable of and halt refocusing on the immediate need.

The sun has now sunk to the point of touching the horizon. It’s ruddy, and the optical illusion of its line of light is expanding across the western horizon.

I’m going to wolf-out soon if I don’t take action. It’s now or never.

Running to a vantage point at the top of a nearby knoll, I see several buildings. There are barely ten of them huddled tightly to form a village. Most of the structures are built of the pale stone common in the region. Looking south, I can see the shadowy forms of the Pyrenees Mountains in the distance. I’d been focused on my search for signs of his passage on the ground, and I’d almost missed the proverbial forest for the trees. Focusing my search, I look for water to mix with my tincture because swallowing the vomit-inducing liquid straight isn’t in my repertoire. I spy an ancient looking rock-rimmed well. It could be right out of a storybook. Jogging down toward it, I keep an eye out for locals but don’t notice any. Hopefully, the reservoir isn’t dry; a relic of days gone by, but never removed, just capped.

Reaching the short structure, I see that there is a bucket. I can smell the dampness of deeper water. Luck. Finally. I drop the wide, rusted iron receptacle into the depths. I barely remember to catch its recently attached, and still crunchy, nylon rope. The tincture pouch has to come off my neck. I grab and yank.

It doesn’t break. Frustrated, I wait to hear the bucket splashdown; it does, and I breathe a sigh of relief. There is water.

In a huff, I begin yanking it back up. The sun sinks further as I hand-over-hand the rope frantically. Only a quarter of the fiery globe is still visible. The horizon has faded to a rich red as the purpling of twilight sets into the east.

The decrepit container clanks up over the edge, catching the lip slightly. I slam it down on the brink of the well with a dull clang. Reaching for the strap around my neck, I lift it up and over my head. My frantic fingers fumble for the cord tied around the mouth of the pouch.

Finally, it’s open! With only a sliver of sun left, I pull out the tiny bottle of tincture, spin off the lid and shakily deposit a single drop into the bucket of water. I replace the lid and hope like hell it isn’t too diluted. Then, I raise the nearly full bucket to my lips and drink.

With my hands this close to my nose, I can smell the blood still crusted under my fingernails. This morning’s quick splashdown wasn’t as successful as I’d hoped.

I gulp down four huge swallows in seconds.

Then it happens. I feel the cold metal of a firearm pressing into the back of my neck. The pressure is uneven, with the top edge of the barrel biting deeper into my flesh. “Tranqui,” a low yet feminine voice says. My Spanish is even worse than my French. Without a pocket translator, there’s no way I can say exactly what she said, but the meaning is clear. I slowly set down the bucket and raise my hands above my head, careful to clutch the pouch of tincture in one closed fist.

“¿Qué estás haciendo aquí?” she says. I just shake my head. The next statement is under her breath, but I hear it because… yeah, “Capullo estúpido.” Then louder, “Parlez-vous français?”

I shake my head slowly and say, “Pas vraiment.” Not really.

“American?” she replies with a mild accent. “Makes the sense.”

I wasn’t sure if I should be offended or not, so I decided to err on the side of not. I was the one drinking madly from her well after all.

“Yes, American,” I said. “How’s your English?”

“Much better than your French,” her rich contralto reply. “You are the second man I’ve caught on my property this day. Am I holding some fiesta I wasn’t to know about?”

I understand that word, “No, no party señora,” I reply, hoping to ease the tension by using what little Spanish I think I can speak. Total backfire.

“Turn around! And keep your hands up!” she says. I oblige, as I do for all women holding me at gunpoint. My eyes are greeted by something unexpected. A tall, dark-haired Spanish girl, probably only in her mid-teens. She considers me and asks, “Do I look like la señora to you, señor scruffy-man?”

“No,” my heart goes out to this girl who’s discovered two intruders here today. Strange indeed. I want to comfort her, but by the agate-hard look in her eyes, she doesn’t want to hear it. As if to prove my thought, she nudges my ribs with the high-gauge shotgun she’s holding.

“We’re going to go to have the talk with the police now, scruffy-man. After you,” she says.

The scattershot loaded in her gun won’t keep me down for long. But I don’t want strange stories to circulate about me. That’s the last thing I want for so many reasons. Could I even get away as tired as I am? We walk into the rough square of buildings, and I observe a red-smeared hypodermic needle in plain sight. The blood looks fresh. It has to be a sign of his passage. Confirming my suspicion, the Spanish girl doesn’t notice it at all.

At least I haven’t lost the trail.

Continue the story in Rue From Ruin – Part 4.

Inspiration For Rue From Ruin

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Montepulciano, Tuscany, Italy 2009

Here it is. No, not the serial story post I hoped to publish today. This isn’t exactly a filler post because I’ve been planning it for some time, but it is in place of Rue From Ruin.

You will have to wait a bit longer for the next installation.

I’m not entirely happy with Rue From Ruin – Part 3 yet, so today I’m sharing some of the inspiration for the story with you instead.

The picture above was taken several years back during my first trip to Europe. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been infatuated with the old world. I love the sense of permanence and history that permeates that part of this tiny blue planet (even if imagined).

So when my friend and writing support group member, J. Rushing shared the photo below with our little group, I immediately loved it. The image is so wonderful and so full of character. Therefore, I felt inspired to write something about it. Anything really.

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Also, I recently binge-watched Supernatural. Yes, this had a considerable impact on my writing timeline for The Galaxy and All Her Charms. In my opinion, totally worth it. I probably would never have even considered writing anything in the paranormal vein before I watched those crazy Winchester brothers. #SPN can be cheesy at times, but I’m so not above cheesy.

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Finally, I wanted to write more on the themes of addiction and loss. My current work in progress deals with loss, but in Rue From Ruin the loss is far more personal. It’s tied directly to the addiction as well (no spoilers) which is something I feel very strongly about writing.

So there you have it. Hopefully, the next part of Rue From Ruin is complete as soon, but I’m not going to rush out something that doesn’t feel ready. I’m excited about what I’ve written so far, and I think my three readers are going to love it. At least, I hope you do.  It certainly is a blast writing it!