And without further delay, here is the cut prologue from my novel.
Darkness crept across the small town; hesitantly it swallowed the homes and businesses that lined the streets. The meager light from the pale sliver of moon only cast shadows that danced in the cool autumn breeze. Red and golden fallen leaves, their colors muted to match the black night, skipped across sidewalks and yards; enticed, a lone cat pounced upon them to satisfy its primal nature. The air began to grow heavy; sound became hushed. The wind calmed, the cat hid, the moon itself found shelter behind a cloud. A lone figure observed this for a time before it walked within the town’s limits.
Within the local bar a young man ordered a round for the house, which was sparsely filled with, mostly, his friends. Cheers rang out and several of those closest to him patted him on the back; some shook his hand a bit too energetically. Questions about his generosity came, and the young man explained the events of that afternoon. He and his wife had just found out that she was pregnant with their first child. Another cheer erupted, and one of his pals quickly ran off to get a celebratory shot. Even the few brooding in the darkened corner by the decrepit pool table, a group that the man had never gotten along with, nodded in acknowledgement when they heard of his news.
The attractive bartender quickly began to pour drinks as the man basked in moment. He absorbed everything, reveling in his state of bliss. His eyes darted about the barely adequate lighting, over the cedar paneled walls and ceiling. They had always seemed so dank and dreary in the bar’s poor lighting, but now they seemed to radiate warmth. He smelt smoke and beer and thought that they were just a bit sweeter tonight; though try as he might he could not say the same for the vague scent of urine that leached from the washrooms. The old jukebox dutifully belted out as best it could a series of AC/DC tracks; though it would randomly produce a burst of white noise. His fingers ran along his pint of beer, the cool condensation sent a shiver down his spine. And its taste, it was like the nectar of the gods. His senses awash with so many sensations he could not help but grin like a fool.
The large wooden doors that held the night back creaked open begrudgingly. His attention grabbed, the young man turned and saw a figure he didn’t recognize. It was a man; a disheveled man with unkempt hazel hair and a week old beard. The stranger’s cobalt padded jacket, appropriate for the cooling temperatures, looked like it had seen better times. Its left shoulder had been torn open on at least one occasion, and dirt had become a permanent addition to its color. His pants didn’t look any better; grimy jeans with frayed hems, the left one slightly more ragged. He moved towards the bar with smooth, confident, graceful strides; his eyes seemingly focused on the bartender. For a brief moment the man’s eyes locked with those of the stranger. Behind the dark circles, that cried immense exhaustion, the man saw grey eyes that were calm and focused; eyes that tried desperately to hide regret.
The bartender moved to meet the stranger with obvious unease. The man watched in curiosity as her eyes moved from the stranger to the group at the pool table. From where he sat the man couldn’t make out any of their conversation; though the bartender’s sometimes frenzied gestures hinted at something seriously amiss. Near the end of their discourse the bartender began to shake uncontrollably, leading to the stranger placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder. Straining his ears the man managed to hear “Don’t worry.” The stranger moved towards the pool players, who glowered at his approach.
The man’s friends began to demand his attention, in particular one who wished to retell an amusing story that had happened earlier that week. Half-heartedly the man listened to the tale while he attempted to watch the stranger’s activities. The anecdote of a far too curious dog and a squirrel’s nuts mingled with a heated discussion beginning to boil over. Two of the men were arguing with the stranger, although it didn’t seem like the stranger had much to say. Unable to follow either with any satisfaction the man refocused his senses on the stranger, in time to see one of the men lunge at the stranger.
A blur; that’s all he saw. A side step, a knee to the chest, and the attacker fell to the floor. A foot placed on the back of the attacker’s neck to pin him. The other’s ready to jump the stranger. But they didn’t. Why? The stranger pointed at them and apparently said something; the group venomously retort, spittle finding its way onto the billiard table. The stranger gestured towards the door and held up two fingers, then turned and walked towards the bar. The group quickly picked up their fallen comrade before fleeing into the night. The stranger sat down at the bar, and patiently waited for the bartender to walk over. He spoke, she poured him a beer, and they spoke again.
The night continued unabated. The uneasiness of a moment before had transformed into a general calm, strengthening the patrons’ desire to drink the brief instant away. But the young man was not one of these, for instead of his attention focused on his drink it was focused completely on the stranger. His friends’ voices became a dull buzz resonating in the back of his mind; his eyes never strayed far from the intriguing man in unwashed clothing. It seemed that at least once every five minutes the beautiful bartender bayed for the stranger to speak with her. And each time he merely shook his head and continued to sip at his drink.
An hour passed and the stranger had not moved from his perch atop the bar stool. The man wished he could observe him more, but the father-to-be knew he was late enough already. Not wishing to anger his radiant wife anymore than she probably was, the man stood and began to say his farewells. Having finished with the pleasantries he turned towards the bar only to see the stranger watching him. As the man approached the bar the man felt an overwhelming wave of anxiety suffocating him. Still, he did have a tab to settle and he was not about to leave it unpaid.
The man handed the bartender what he owed and began to walk away when the stranger grabbed onto the man’s arm; bloodied medical gauss and tape revealing itself from under the stranger’s jacket. After a brief pause the stranger spoke, “It’s not safe out tonight.” Slightly more frightened now the man asked what the stranger meant by that. “Just a feeling.” The man explained that his wife was waiting for him and that he really needed to go. The stranger glanced back at the bartender before shrugging, “Well, it’s probably nothing anyway.” The man saw the worried expression the bartender wore; an unsuccessful attempt at an encouraging smile. A feeling of dread descended upon him; his stomach rolling in free-fall. With a final furtive glance behind him the man walked out into the night.
Under the faint light of the moon the man took a moment to regain his nerves. Beneath the gaze of infinity, the man reached into his jacket to retrieve a pack of cigarettes. His breath, small wisps of vapor, quickened briefly as he placed one of his last cigarettes against his lips. After a brief search for his lighter, the small flame lit up his haunted face before it was quickly extinguished. He drew his jacket closer around him as he took the first drag; he managed a weak grin as he looked down at it. Quitting had been one of the first things he had told his wife when they had learned the news. Thinking of his wife and child calmed the slight tremor that quaked through his body. With a look to the sky he headed down the road to the outskirts of the town.
His home was a mere twenty minute walk down the grid roads that lined the countryside, and with what he had been drinking it did make more sense to walk than drive. As he trudged along his mind wandered back to the night he had proposed. It was almost surreal, the feelings coming back in hazy warmth as he thought of the restaurant, the meal, the wine, but most of all her ecstatic smile as he knelt and quietly asked for her hand. Her smile lit up his own; the man dropped the spent cigarette and slowed to carefully crush its dying ember.
As he walked, a shadow moving in darkness, he felt an itch in the back of his brain. Something was off. He noticed the unnatural calm; no wind, no sound, no movement. He shuddered and coughed, if only to reassure himself that he wasn’t deaf. He continued on and was hit by a repugnant wall of diseased air. He gagged instantly and tried desperately not to vomit. The smell hung in the air and clung to him, slid over him, seeped into his pores. The man briefly considered returning to the bar to seek a ride. But it would only be a few minutes of discomfort before he would be home. His thoughts returned to his waiting wife. The man continued down the road hoping that distance would weaken the stench.
It did not; it only grew stronger with each step taken. With his jacket sleeve over his nose, he attempted to ward off the odor as he struggled to see through watery eyes. He tried to keep his mind off the foul stink, but there was something disquietingly familiar yet alien. His stomach tightened; what could be the cause, the words echoing in his wind. Why, in the putrid scent, was there something that he felt he knew? Hundreds of thoughts and theories rushed past in his mind; with only some being coherent. In his dazed state he found the answer before him.
Lying prone in the center of the road there was something large; a mere dozen feet from the man. He didn’t approach immediately, his imagination running wild with what it could be. Reassured, at least to a small degree, there were no signs of breathing the man began his slow advance. Each cautious step granted new revelations about the form on the road. At first they were small; the form was large, much larger then that of a man. Next, the man was certain that the form was most likely dead and that the stench was probably coming from it. It looked to be lying on its side, its back to the man. Finally, the man realized that it was a cow.
There was something odd about the way it laid. The shoulders were too slumped, the chest to depressed, and its hide shone too brightly in the poor light. The smell burned his eyes and nose as he got closer. Under the moon, watched by the stars and surrounded in silence the man saw what remained of the beast. Its throat had been torn out, the spinal column a glistening red visible just below the jaw; strands of the ragged esophagus hung out onto the road. Intestines were spilled and strewn about, some looking like they had been torn to shreds. The ribs were visible, picked clean and a disturbing white in the darkly macabre scene. The rest of the internal organs were either missing or mangled beyond recognition. Eyes bulged in pure horror and agony, accusing the man for not preventing its fate. The sight was too much for the man, he vomited.
The man stumbled away in horror while wiping the remnants from his lips. What could have done that? That question pounded into his mind with each step. There weren’t any large predators in the area, and certainly not one as vicious or ravenous as the corpse implied. The smell, a putrid combination of blood and bile and something else was strong then ever; it refused to release itself from his clothing. And the eyes- the cow’s eyes- that bulged to the point of nearly fleeing their sockets bore deep into his psyche. His body wracked with quakes as he struggled to urge his feet on.
Minutes crept by as he walked; with each that passed he began to realize that the smell didn’t weaken. Once again he felt the noose of fear tighten; his breathing became a laborious struggle. His eyes surveyed the ditches unwillingly searching for more unfortunate beasts. Despite his hopes, the man did see numerous forms about, though none as thoroughly disemboweled as the first.
He longed to be with his wife. To hold her in his arms, to feel the comfort of her embrace and warmth; to attempt to forget what he had seen. He would lock out the night and steel his resolve to keep the darkness from ever reaching her. Yet he didn’t even know what he was terrified of. In his mind the blackness took shape: figures, forms, creatures of myth and lore, others the embodiment of pure chaos. His hearted raced at a dizzying pace as if it had plans to burst through his ribcage and flee on its own. It wasn’t long before he needed to stop to try and calm his hammering heart.
Coarse and cracked, a malevolent chuckle broke the abnormal silence. The man shuddered, his ears twitched as if to shrug off the inhuman laugh. The tone was disturbingly familiar yet alien, as if coming from a man’s voice box grafted to a feral beast’s. More sounds assaulted him; visceral gnashing of jaws, tearing of flesh, and the snapping of bones into dust. Grunts and growls, all on the verge of comprehensible words but still beyond his ability to understand, surrounded him. Then silence. Then the eyes appeared.
At first he didn’t register the glowing ruby red orbs about him as eyes. Perhaps some mechanism in his brain refused to believe acknowledge them for what they were on mere principle. But at the same time he knew they were. They circled slowly, accompanied by the sound of shifting gravel and grass, a hint at crushed dry leaves. None had encroached upon him; for unknown reasons the red orbs kept their distance. The man caught a brief glimpse of a set of orbs to his left narrow and a low threatening growl cut through his courage. He closed his eyes as he trembled, and begged god to watch over his wife and child when he was gone.
“Let him go.”
The forms around the man snarled in unison at the unexpected interruption. Something behind the man emitted a strained voice, as if trying to force humanity into its being, “Stay out of this, agent.”
An audible set of metallic clicks came from the darkness, from where the man had walked from, “You forced me into this. So I take it you four weren’t going to turn yourselves in.” The man opened his eyes in apprehension; it was the stranger.
A creature to his left took off, peppering the man’s face with kicked up gravel. As blood trickled down his brow, blasts of light and sound shattered the night. The cry of a wounded beast collided with the stillness of the world; the man’s blood turned to ice. The creatures around the man growled, hatred and fury taking over. Yet none moved against the stranger.
Footsteps moving towards the man, the pace confident and unwavering, “I’m not going to warn you again. Turn yourselves in or I’ll make damn sure you won’t be another stunt like this.”
“We won’t be caged like dogs!”
“Well maybe you should have thought of that before you began this killing spree. The only way any of you will see the light of day again is if you tell me right now where you’ve been getting your information.”
A frenzied series of events took place, so quick that the man wasn’t sure if some had actually happened. A creature grabbed the man from behind, its claws tearing through his skin. Blood poured through the wound as he was tossed aside with incredible force. Landing hard the man felt bits of gravel grind deep into his hands; his cries drowned out by roars of unquenchable rage. Light and sound cut through the night, illuminating impossible silhouettes. The gun fire created a slide show. Fangs, claws, thick fur, trails of spittle coming from the creatures’ maws. Each glimpse into the carnage was punctuated with explosive sound. Howls of anguish, the dull thud of bodies hitting the ground, an odd pathetic gurgling, and then… nothing. No… a slight wheezing and approaching footsteps remained.
“…I need the cleanup crew. Yeah I know I wasn’t supposed to get directly involved. No… They weren’t going to turn themselves in… well they attacked me when I asked… No, I think one is still breathing. I know we were supposed to take them alive but they were getting ready to attack a man. Yeah we have a civilian here… slightly injured but otherwise fine… No he wasn’t bit, at least as far as I can tell. Doubt you’ll need to do much, he didn’t really see anything; yeah I’ll wait for the crew then head back to let Leayn know he’s fine. Yeah, we’ll go over everything when I get back.“
The footsteps stopped near the man, who was on his side in a confused delirium unsure of what had transpired. “Not exactly how you imagined this day to end.” Lights broke over the horizon, coming towards them. “They’re going to make you forget what happened out here. My advice – don’t fight it. You don’t want to know what the world is really like.”
Three vehicles stopped, their headlights blinding the man. The profile of the stranger turned and walked away. The man tried to follow the stranger’s exit but lost him beyond the glare. He wanted to know at least the name of the man who saved him, but knew that soon it wouldn’t matter. The stranger didn’t stop, and was soon lost to the night.