The first book in a new, epic dystopian thriller series has arrived and is ready to change the way you look at the world.
When ex cop John Richter accepts a job offer too good to refuse he leaves behind the streets and heartache of Sydney for the sun drenched concrete of Miami. What should be a simple missing persons case however, quickly descends into a surreal and dangerous journey into the heart of a cult determined to take control in the aftermath of a predicted global nightmare.
With FBI agents circling the waters and an overworked neuroscientist frantically trying to crack a code hidden in blood, John has no choice but to head straight for the fires of fate that will test all he has ever believed in. Truth and lies will push the very limits of his sanity while beneath the city strange forces battle for the power of hidden knowledge, but he’ll stop at nothing to learn the secrets of The Hallucigenia Project and what they mean for the future of the planet.
Will he discover the contents of the blood drenched code? Is the world really on the brink of destruction?
It’s time to delve deep and take the trip…
A heart pulsing vision of the journey to discover our place amongst the stars, The Hallucigenia Project is the latest release from author Darren Kasenkow.
Targeted Age Group:: 18-80
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
The inspiration for this new series came from looking up into the night sky and wondering what role we might play in reaching out to break the seemingly eternal silence. It was also inspired by the wave of technology that is currently guiding us into realms that we may not be prepared for, and what represents the most important aspects of the human soul that must be carried forward and protected in the future.
In a world that seems to be racing towards uncertainty, I wanted to explore the unique tragedy that is human life using tools such as religion, scientific research, spirituality and social structures, and bring to life the importance of questioning our purpose here on Earth. Of course, I also wanted to create a thrilling and action packed mystery to keep book lovers turning the pages at night!
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Having had the good fortune of living and traveling to so many places across the country and overseas my fictional characters are always a hybrid of some of the fantastic, strange, eccentric and mysterious characters that I have found myself in the company of. I try to make a point to learn a little something about everyone I meet, and when it comes time to write I can be inspired by the different emotions and motivations of the people that gifted me insights into their experiences.
John Richter was on his third day of no sleep. He should have been dead on his feet, should have been out cold with an absence of any knowing but a constant onslaught of amphetamines kept his muscles taught, pupils dilated and mind bouncing between utter clarity and swirling chaos. His jaw ensured his teeth were in a constant grind. Although winter reached out with her cold arms small traces of sweat teased the length of his spine, part of a solid frame that was housed in faded jeans and a leather jacket he hadn’t worn in years. A visible scar that streaked across his left cheek did little to dampen the unmistakable handsome contours of his face, and even now in the state he was in the girl behind the bar kept searching for ways to catch his eye.
Through the stained window he could see the morning sky was dark and overcast, with the sun unable to push through the heavy drops of rain that were beginning to fall. Somewhere in the distance he thought he heard thunder, but then it could’ve been his mind playing tricks. All things considered, he wouldn’t be able to tell the difference anyway.
A quiet sigh left his lips. Sydney in winter was a combination he hated, and always brought with it thoughts of moving north. But that’s what they always tended to be, just thoughts. It had been three years since he’d left the force, and every year he was sure it would be the last he’d spend in the city. Yet here he was, sitting at a filthy bar in the heart of the very city he now detested with two companions that made his skin crawl. With his empty stomach pulling tighter and tighter he took another sip of his drink and tilted his neck until it cracked.
On the bar stool to his left Angelo drummed his ring adorned fingers across the stained wood. Determined to grace the world with his steroid built bulk he insisted on wearing a short sleeved shirt that was two sizes too small, and as far as personal statements went there wasn’t much in the way of confusion when it came to the badly designed flames and demonic faces tattooed across his arms. Add a heavy gold chain draped across his neck, probably fake, and he was a living breathing cliché. But, John knew, he was a cliché that was capable of serious damage.
To his right, second companion Rick was using a battered credit card to carefully shape three lines of powder that was a mixture of coke and meth on a smeared round mirror. Although bald on the front half of his head he somehow found reason to grow what remained of his hair so that it fell greasy and dishevelled across the tops of his shoulders. He was probably in his mid forties, with a face left sagging and pale after years of drug abuse. Although physically the opposite of Angelo, John damn well knew he too was a dangerous piece of work, prompting yet another silent reminder that this would be the last time he’d take a roll in the gutter.
The current bender had begun at a notorious biker’s clubhouse before rolling from one bar to another, with an occasional interlude at a random kitchen table to swap chemicals for cash and talk shit in machine gun spurts. John had snorted, smoked and swallowed his way along, constantly struggling to keep his mind focussed on what he had to do. Now they were in an afterhours club in a Kings Cross side street mid morning on a cold week day. His front pocket nestled just over five thousand dollars in cash that kept calling his hand from the bar to dig and caress, to assure himself it hadn’t magically disappeared. He knew there was enough alcohol in his system to drop an elephant and dreaded the fallout from the relentless abuse. Still, he had a job to do. Until it was over, there was no point in worrying about the damage his organs were bathing in.
“So what’s the plan,” he began while tightening his grip around a fresh drink, “are we gonna sit here all fucking day or are we gonna get some business sorted out?”
Rick paused from his line construction and gently placed a finger on a phone beside the mirror.
“When this bad boy hums we can get the show on the road. What’s the matter, you don’t like this place?”
“It’s a shit hole.”
Rick laughed, slid the mirror across and handed John a solid silver straw. With a wince he leaned down and drew the mixture deep into his lungs. Instantly his heart lurched and shook against his rib cage as the inside of his nose shifted from a burning sensation to a strange numbness. He blinked excessively as his pupils began to pull even tighter. A rush of invincibility washed across his skull and the noises in the bar suddenly seemed sharp and crisp. With a wipe of his nose he slid the mirror across to Angelo and then gulped at his drink.
“Another round here darling,” Rick declared, triggering the girl behind the bar to turn and reach for a fresh bottle. As she spun back around her eyes watched with obvious hunger while Angelo filled his nose.
“Feel like helping a girl out?” she asked almost timidly.
Angelo glared at her through red eyes and said nothing, his face vacant yet threatening. Instantly she regretted opening her mouth, but watched carefully as Rick leaned across, grabbed the mirror and handed it to her.
“Here you go sweetie,” he smiled through stained teeth. “Just make sure those drinks are strong ones, yeah?”
The rain began to fall even heavier outside, so much so that the guitar saturated music coming from the juke box was now barely audible. John shifted in his seat and looked around the room. Only one of the booths was occupied. He didn’t need to see their faces to know the type of animal they were, and whoever they were obviously had the street smarts to keep their eyes well away from the bar. Only a fool could miss the stink of menace that his companions brought with them.
Rick didn’t worry him so much. He knew his type, knew the way his lizard like brain worked. No doubt he was as dangerous as they come but he could read his movements, could predict his behaviour to a certain degree.
The same couldn’t be said about Angelo though. John knew he was fucking volatile, a psychotic spring that could unwind in the blink of an eye. For the three straight days he’d been with him there hadn’t been a moment of complacency. Unlike his conversations with Rick, John chose each and every word carefully with Angelo, who even now still looked at him with a deep set suspicion. But there was no getting rid of him, not for the moment anyway. The only thing to do was keep his cool, watch what he said, and ride the storm to its uncertain conclusion. The point of turning back was long gone.
“What don’t you like about it?” Angelo suddenly asked with a bass heavy voice.
“What don’t I like about what?” John replied, staring into his glass.
“About this place. You said it was a shit hole.”
Here we go, John thought, time to tread lightly. “It’s okay I guess. I’ve got people waiting on me, that’s all. Just wanna get the show on the road.”
“Shit, there’s no such thing as hurrying in the fast lane.” He took a moment to stare at John and then slid from his chair. “I’m gonna take a piss, add a bit of class to the joint.”
John let the air locked in his lungs ease back into the room. With a fresh chemical jolt kicking his adrenaline levels up he tightened his grip around the glass and forced the anger that was burning up through his chest back down to the pit of his stomach. There was no making it to the finish line if he started to lose control, even if a lack of control had become the story of his fucking life.
“You know,” Rick announced as if he were about to reveal a secret, “I’ve got another source we can go through. Might even be a bit cheaper too. It’s a little further out of the city but I reckon they’ll be hot to trot right now if you want me to make a call.”
John almost laughed out loud but managed to maintain a tough guy sneer. The last thing in the world he needed was for the plan to crumble at the last second over a logical but none the less stupid offer. He clenched his teeth, reached out and gave a quick slap on Rick’s shoulder.
“I appreciate the offer, really I do, but this has already been sorted out. Anyway you know how it all goes. If this shit’s as good as it’s supposed to be then we can start moving towards some serious business. If it’s worth doin’ it’s worth waiting for.”
Rick nodded slowly. “Just thought I’d offer as much, that’s all. And you’re right, this place is a fucking dump.”
For a moment they sat in silence as the girl used the bar mirror to make sure her nose was clean. Suddenly the mobile came alive with the crappy audio of barking dogs. John felt blood surge up along his neck. Maybe, just maybe, things might be starting to work out. He watched as Rick answered in a low tone, barely speaking two words before placing it back down on the bar.
“Well mate,” he said with a crocodile smile, “sounds like you’re in business. As soon as Angelo stops playing with his dick we can make a move.”
“I’ll drink to that,” John laughed.
Angelo appeared at the edge of the corridor that lead to the bathrooms and looked across the room. Even from a distance his bloodshot eyes almost seemed to be glowing. Rick, noticing his return, twisted in his chair and tapped the phone.
“It’s on,” he stated. “Time to get going.”
“Just a second,” Angelo replied with eyes scanning the shadow covered booths. Rick shook his head with knowing and began stuffing the phone and drug utensils into his jacket pocket as Angelo stepped up to one of the booths, his thick ink fingers rubbing the back of his neck. Seated either side of the graffiti stained table were two guys barely out of their teens, both junky skinny and both now forced to acknowledge the sudden presence at the edge of the booth. The glance they found was a gut twisting case study in the art of the silent promise of doom.
Back at the bar John swallowed what was left of his drink, tapped the money in his pocket and traced the edge of his car keys. Then he turned and watched as Angelo placed both palms on the table and leaned forward. Great, he thought, just when my window of opportunity popped open. There was a scent that the young and vulnerable gave off, a scent that was easily picked up by sociopathic predators who found some form of entertainment in creating fear, and there was no doubt Angelo had picked up on it. John knew the sick dance that was inevitable, had seen it more times than any man should.
At the booth, Angelo focussed in on the guy to his left. The kid had small scabs across the bottom of his chin where he’d picked at sores that may or may not have been there to start with, and a glass with barely a mouthful of beer left that was being nursed by his thin hands.
“You got a reason to be eyeballing me and my friends?” Angelo demanded while leaning in even closer.
“Na man, we’re just minding our own business. Nobody was eyeballing nobody.”
“Bullshit. You and your fucking boyfriend here haven’t stopped watching since we got here. Best you tell me what your fucking problem is right now.”
“Let ‘em go man,” Rick called out, “we got places to be.”
“Hold tight,” Angelo yelled back before pointing a finger in the kid’s face. “Like I said, tell me what your fucking problem is before I lose my patience.”
“No problem man, no problem at all. We’re just having a quiet drink is all.”
“I said stand up.”
“Listen,” the kid stammered as his hands began to shake, “we don’t want any trouble okay? We just came here for a beer while we’re waiting to score.”
“Well,” Angelo laughed, “I gave you the chance.” Quick as a snake’s tongue he grabbed the beer glass, smashed the top half against the table and struck with three quick slices across the kids cheeks. With the blood having barely enough time to begin to flow he grabbed the back of his hair and smashed his face down hard upon the table. Even the sudden cry of pain didn’t hide the sickening sound of his breaking nose. Seemingly happy with his performance Angelo laughed and took a step back, watching as the kid began to moan and crawl his way back against the wall with hands against his face. Across the table, his friend was as still as a statue.
“You finished now?” Rick asked as though bored already.
“Fucking junkies,” Angelo hissed, “they give the city a bad name.”
John could taste bile at the back of his throat. There was a time, long gone now, when he wouldn’t have had a choice but to step in and stop the kid from having a real bad fucking day. Hell, taking down assholes like Angelo used to be one of the reasons he got out of bed in the mornings. Times had changed though, and now here he was forced to ignore the mess in the booth and smile as though the violence was nothing more than fun and games.
“Okay let’s get rolling,” he announced while pulling the car keys from his front pocket. A quick final glance at the bar and he saw that the girl had now retreated against the far wall with eyes open wide. He doubted that she’d call the cops, but still the smart money was on getting the hell out of there.
With a hard shove the front wooden door pushed open and they were instantly greeted with icy winds and relentless rain. Regardless of the fact that it was already late morning, the overhead sky was nothing but a deep black expanse of swirling cloud bands that shook with cracks of thunder. The winter was proving to be especially harsh, and John had just about run out of any tolerance for the bitter temperatures. If and when the season came to a close he was determined to somehow make it his last. For now though, there was nothing he could do to combat the chills that raced across the surface of his skin as he led his newfound friends across the water soaked road to where he’d parked the car.
He unlocked the doors and they piled in as the wind rushed the interior. As quick as he could he started the engine and checked his mirror to see if he’d guessed wrong, watching for any flashing lights that could turn the day upside down. There was nothing but the falling rain and faint glow of the street lamps. He shifted into drive and headed into the storm.
On the back seat Angelo wiped the water from his face. “Well that motherfucker’s in for a fun morning.”
“Anyone ever tell you you’ve got anger issues?” Rick asked with a sneer.
“It was just a bit of fun.”
John pushed the wipers as fast as they could go and did his best to find the line. “You need to tell me where the hell I’m going.”
“Take the next right,” Rick replied, “don’t worry I know the way.”
John kept his hands firmly on the wheel and tried to ignore the bullshit banter as they made their way to the northern edge of the city. Slowly but surely the rain seemed to begin to ease, allowing him to increase his speed while being directed deep into the suburbs. Just as he was beginning to wonder if Rick actually knew where the fuck he was going he pointed to a large gated property that was nestled at the end of a dead end street. John parked up on the curb and switched off the engine. The sound of the rain hitting the windscreen grew louder.
“Just be cool,” Rick offered, “cause these guys don’t fuck around.”
“It’s all good,” John confirmed, brushing his hair back with his fingers.
Together they stepped from the car and made their way to the towering front gates. On the brick wall to their right was a monitor and series of buttons, one of which Rick depressed for several seconds until a voice crackled through an unseen speaker.
“It’s me,” Rick declared.
After a brief pause that left them motionless beneath the cold rain the large steel gates unleashed a soft groan and began to open, slowly revealing a two storey home with a circular driveway housing several late model cars. There was a strange lack of trees or plants on the property, and where John expected lawn there was only slab after slab of polished concrete decorated with statues of creatures he couldn’t identify. Although the area was high end the aesthetics were cheap and nasty, a fact he found hardly surprising as he followed Rick and Angelo to the rear entrance.
Stepping through a glass sliding door the first thing he noticed was the humidity. It took a second or two for his eyes to adjust. The entertainment area was huge, the centre piece an oval shaped heated pool that shimmered beneath rows of bright lights. On the wall to the right there was a large screen that showed two boxers doing their best to annihilate each other. On the left of the pool was a sofa that stretched the entire length of the room and was covered with tasteless cushions that appeared battered and stained even from where he was standing. He watched as a young girl dressed only in a pair of panties jumped from the offensive furniture and dived into the water, sending small waves to slap against the black mirrored tiles. Another two girls wearing next to nothing seemed content to lie back amongst the cushions, expressions of boredom doing little to hide their beauty. Beside them sat four sour faced men, three engrossed with the boxing match and one staring intently in John’s direction.
“What’s going on fellas?” the man asked with a wave of a hand that appeared heavy thanks to the silver rings that covered each finger. “You look like drowned rats.”
Rick stepped forward and shrugged his shoulders. “It’s pissing down out there in case you haven’t noticed.”
“It’s been raining for three days now. I would’ve thought a smart man like you might have invested in a new invention called an umbrella.” He stood from the sofa and walked along the edge of the pool until close enough to extend a hand out to John. “I’m Max. You don’t need to know who the other guys are. And those are my girls. You don’t need to know who they are either.”
“Not a problem.” John made sure he didn’t shake too lightly, or with too much force. “I appreciate you helping me out.”
“Business is what makes the world go round brother. Go on, take a seat, grab a drink, relax. Nothing to worry about here.”
John could feel the muscles around his stomach beginning to pull tight. He knew who Max was, had known for some years now. Slick as oil with connections throughout the city, he’d somehow managed to keep his chemical warehouse in business regardless of the heat that was always surrounding him, not to mention the reputation he’d gained for having associates over the years that had simply disappeared. If things had been different, if his world hadn’t turned upside down, it was possible that John would have been hunting him like well sought prey. Instead, strange and twisted roads left him accepting a cold offer of hospitality.
He found a place on the sofa and accepted a bottle of beer from one of the girls. For a moment all eyes watched him intently. Resigned to the fact that he was now in the belly of the beast, there was nothing to do but smile, drink, and let the conversation kick back into gear around him.
The next hour was a blur of lines of coke, exaggerated stories of violence and bravado, occasional stares from the unnamed men and the constant jumping in and out of the pool by the girls who seemed happy and content to nestle in a room full of vipers. John could only hope that nobody noticed the way he studied their faces as they pulled themselves from the water, or the quick glances at his phone to check the photograph that he’d received just days earlier.
Now Max turned to him with eyes wide and red and a sick excuse for a smile curling the edge of his lips.
“Okay mate, business time. Rick tells me you’re looking to step up your game.”
“Something like that,” John offered.
“Well it’s not very complicated. You give me money, I give you something in return. If you like what you get, next time it better be a bigger fucking purchase. This here today is a one off, so don’t think you can come back here again with a pocket full of change. Anything not clear?”
“All sounds good to me.”
“Then put it on the table.”
John reached for the bundle of cash in his pocket and placed it in front of Max, who quickly removed the band and proceeded to count the curled notes. Content it was all there he nodded with satisfaction, winked at John and then yelled back over his shoulder towards the kitchen area that was visible through a long open window.
John watched as seconds later a young girl appeared in the doorway. Shadows fell across her face and long hair while the dress that hung from her shoulders barely covered her skinny legs.
“Yeah Max?” The voice sounded tired and anxious.
“Bring me the thing from the freezer door.”
Jodie disappeared back into the shadows, returning a minute later to step out into the light where she seemed to almost float across the floor. Dark black lines framed her sad eyes. Her blonde hair was a mess. She appeared both timid and wounded, and the way the nameless men watched her every movement it was surprising they weren’t physically licking their lips.
As she brushed some of the hair back from her face and handed Max a small package John felt a jolt of electricity rush the back of his neck. Here she was, he thought, the reason for his slithering into the mud. But as he took a quick glance around the room he suddenly realized that the mud was a lot stickier than he’d anticipated. This was not going to be easy.
“I could really do with a bump,” she almost whispered.
“Whatever,” Max replied while checking the package.
“Seriously Max, I’m starting to crash.”
“You’re really pissing me off today, you know that? Now fuck off and take a shower or something. You look like shit.”
Jodie winced at the barbs and opened her mouth ready to respond, but instead decided against it. With blood flushing her white cheeks she turned and walked quickly back into the shadows. John stared at his bottle of beer and pretended not to care about the uncomfortable exchange that had just taken place.
“Here you go.” Max handed John a plastic bag filled with what looked like crushed glass. “This shit here will leave you wondering if you’ve ever slept at all.” He leaned forward and narrowed his eyes. “Don’t make me regret doing business with you. I’ve been nice. I’ve let you into my home. You don’t wanna put yourself in a bad situation.”
“You’ve got nothing to worry about Max. I like to keep my business clean. Thanks for the hospitality.”
“Okay,” Max suddenly laughed, “bust some out. Let’s set this day on fire!”
John offered a grin to hide his anxiety. The last thing he needed was more of this shit, but it wasn’t as if he could say thank you for the drugs and just walk out the door.
“You got it,” he said, tapping some of the crystals into the bowl of a long glass pipe.
Once alive with smoke he inhaled the putrid fumes and again felt the warmth of adrenaline and flood of dopamine dance across the top of his skull. As he passed the pipe to Max he looked across the room and could just make out Jodie’s silhouette through the open wall at the kitchen table with her head resting in her hand. He leaned back into the sofa and watched the room. Angelo had stripped away his clothes and was sitting in the pool with his back against the tiles, one of the girls smiling and listening to his bullshit. Rick had joined the nameless three and seemed to be holding court, his hands waving like a psychotic conductor as a mirror constantly passed between them. Circling the performance with drinks in hand were the other two girls, both naked except for towels folded across their chests, but it was the man beside him who had his attention. Max was always going to be the problem. John needed to think, and think fast.
“We should ramp things up a little,” he said while producing a small bag of white powder. “Here, knock yourself out.”
Max raised an eyebrow while John quickly chopped a long line on the table. “What have you got for me?”
“A little bit of heaven in snow. You’ll love it.”
“Hell, probably the only way I’ll be getting anywhere near heaven.”
Max leaned down, grabbed a small stainless steel straw and went to work on the powder. It was pure MDMA, and John watched and hoped it would buy him a few precious minutes. The walls were starting to close in, and his forced patience with the scavengers of the animal kingdom was wearing very thin. The screen on the far wall switched to some car race from the other side of the world, with the camera nestled on the dash so that the road raced towards them with incredible speed. For a second John found himself almost hypnotized by the frantic motion that matched the accelerated beating of his heart, but with a quick shake of his head he broke the spell, gulped a mouthful of beer and peered at Max as he smiled and leaned back against the stained cushions.
“Fucking hell, a little bit of heaven is on the money, you weren’t lying.”
John knew the powder had one hell of a rush when it first kicked in and figured it was now or never. He glanced once more around the room and saw that everybody was caught in their own strange chemical loops. Turning back to Max, he could see the tell tale signs of an endorphin waterfall relaxing the muscles across his face and around his eyes. Having made his decision, he swallowed the last of his drink and stood with the empty bottle.
“I’m due for a piss,” he announced. “Might splash a bit of water on my face while I’m at it.”
“Hell man, jump in the pool.” Max’s words were beginning to slur. “There’s no winter here…”
John guessed the rush would last a good five or so minutes. After that? Well, after that he knew things would come back into focus with a fresh energy. Making sure he avoided any eye contact, he began to walk slowly towards the bathroom with slow and purposeful steps.
Behind him he heard the conversations rambling on and, with the whine of high performance engines growing louder, fought the urge to look back over his shoulder. Instead he took a long, deep breath and pushed passed the bathroom into the shadows of the hallway. A couple of seconds later he was standing in an open archway that revealed the brightly lit kitchen. Jodie was still at the table, head resting on one hand while she slowly scribbled words he couldn’t read in a cheap notebook.
He stepped into the light. The sound of his boots against the tiles caught her attention, causing her to turn quickly in her seat and look at him with a mixture of surprise and exhaustion.
“What the hell are you doing in here?” she asked.
John lifted the empty bottle in his hand. “Just getting a drink.”
“The fridge you want is back out there.”
“My mistake.” He gave his best attempt at a disarming smile and wondered just how darker the day could get. “I’m John by the way.”
“John? Now that’s original.”
“Yeah I don’t suppose my parents gave too much thought to naming me. Still, can’t exactly change things now.”
Jodie turned to peer across the pool through the opening in the wall. “I don’t think Max will be too happy if he sees you in here. This is kind of off limits. Last time he broke the guy’s fucking hand, and that was someone he knew. You? You’re just another blow in from the street.”
“It’ll be alright,” John lied, “they’ve got their own party going. Besides, I figured you might want a bit of this.” He pulled out the same bag that she’d brought him earlier. “You look like you could do with a perk up.”
Her eyes found the crystalline promises and a sense of wanting washed across her mouth. “What’s the story, he send you in to fuck me or something?”
“Nothing like that. Just… thought you’d be interested is all. Your choice, but you need to make it now.”
“Yeah, sure I want some but…” Worry crept into her eyes.
“Look, come out to my car with me. We’ll be back in five minutes. Nobody’s gonna know we’re gone. What do you say?”
Jodie began to bite her bottom lip. It was obvious there was a battle taking place in the storm swirling behind her temples.
“Don’t look so worried,” he continued. “There’s nothing to it. I’m just trying to be friendly.”
“You do know where you are don’t you?”
“I’ve got a pretty good idea. Come on, five minutes and you’ll be back at the table writing whatever it is you’re writing and I’ll be digging in the fridge for a beer.”
“Five minutes or we’re both in the shit.”
With surprising grace she slipped from the chair and marched down the darkened hallway towards the double front doors. John moved quickly behind her, pulse racing. Was this really the best plan he could come up with? Shit, it had to be, and even though he’d pretty much made it up on the spot it was worth a shot.
His senses sharpened as he listened for anything moving behind him. There was no point looking back now though, he was committed. The hallway was long, longer than he’d guessed from his glances from the side of the pool, but somehow they reached the entrance.
A cane basked by the side of the door held several umbrellas adorned with wood carved handles. Jodie grabbed one and paused for a brief moment, as if ready to turn around. The battle, however, proved over and she unlocked the three deadbolts to reveal the thunder filled afternoon sky. Knowing the clock was ticking, John stepped forward and rushed down a garden path that came to a tall iron gate. Mercifully it wasn’t locked, and Jodie was close behind as they pushed through the rain towards his car.
Remote in hand he deactivated the alarm and slid behind the wheel before leaning across and pushing open the passenger door. Jodie edged her way in and drew the umbrella closed before slamming the door shut. Now there was nothing but the sound of rain against the windows and their frantic breathing. John took a moment to study her face, to look at the way her young years had been tarnished with backyard chemicals and the accompanying malnutrition. He knew she was only sixteen and on a better day would have found an angelic beauty, but right now he saw only a lost child with a chiselled face of bitterness. And the clock was still clicking.
Jodie was still biting the bottom of her lip as she flicked the hair from her face. “So let’s see it. I can’t be sitting here all day, and if I don’t get something real quick I’m gonna burn the fuck out.”
“Just give me a second.”
John reached to the side of the seat to make sure his insurance was still there and felt the cold steel he was hoping for. Then, as casually as possible, he activated the central locking and started the engine.
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing? Jesus, I’m not going anywhere with you! And there’s no way in hell you’re getting in my pants, not unless Max clears it.”
“Take it easy,” John said cautiously. “I just want to move around the corner.”
“Not gonna happen.” With an impatient sigh she lifted the handle and found the door locked, turning to John with fear in her eyes. “Are you some fucking psycho or what? Open the damn door!”
A deep, violent thunder clap erupted across the skies. In response the rain began to fall even heavier, so much so that at first neither of them could see the dark figures moving closer to the car.
“Nothing’s going to happen to you Jodie, I promise. But we’re not going back inside.”
Suddenly John saw through the rain and knew that the clock had stopped ticking. A heavy fist thumped the driver’s window and he looked up to find Max glaring down at him. Angelo was already standing by Jodie’s door and the nameless were leaning against the front of the car. Jodie took a deep breath and screamed to be let out while kicking at the dashboard. Max continued to thump against the window as another clap of thunder ripped across the heavens. John tried to swallow but his throat was dry. The day had just got darker.
“Open the fucking door!” Max shouted above the din of the rain as his nose pressed against the glass. “Open the fucking door and let the bitch out.”
Well, John thought, the heaven like rush has certainly faded away. “Sorry Max but I can’t do that. This is where we part company.”
Angelo shouted something that made no sense and slammed a fist into Jodie’s window over and over but quickly discovered he was getting nowhere. One of the nameless crawled onto the bonnet and stared through the windscreen with rage, causing her to kick even harder as her screams broke into cries. John knew the situation was now officially out of hand, and was about to shift the car into reverse when Max picked up a rock and smashed his way through the driver’s window.
“Get the fuck out of the car,” he snarled. “You come to my home and pull this shit? You must be out of your fucking mind I swear. I would’ve thought you know who I am.”
Rain began blowing across John’s face. He managed to suck in a quick breath before grabbing the gun from the side of the seat in a flash of movement and jamming the barrel against Max’s cheek.
“The way I see it,” John almost hissed through a clenched jaw, “you made the mistake of not knowing who I am.”
“Hey man,” Max managed as he felt the steel push harder into his cheek. “You’ve got no reason to be pulling shit like this. If you want a round with her you should’ve said something. So how about lowering the cannon?”
“I don’t think so. You and your dogs are gonna step back and continue the party without us. And Max,” he gave the gun one final shove, “I know who you are. To be honest I’m far from impressed. Just another drug dealing bottom feeder that pours way too much concrete ‘cause you’re too fucking lazy to mow the lawn. If you’re smart, if you’re willing to use what’s left of that brain of yours, you’ll chalk this up to a bit of business tax.”
From the corner of his eye he could see Angelo running back to the house as Rick stood by the front gate with a face filled with surprise and hate. John knew it would be less than a minute before the element of surprise was over and he wouldn’t be the only one with gun in hand, and so shifted into reverse and slammed his foot down on the pedal.
Jodie screamed as the car lurched backwards, throwing the threat on the bonnet down to the wet asphalt. When he’d cleared enough distance he dropped the gun in his lap and threw the gear into drive before sending the tyres into a temporary spin, gripping the wheel tight to the right so that they were heading back out of the street. Rain continued to batter his face as he quickly checked his mirrors and saw dark figures running back of property. They’d be jumping into cars any second, but he knew in this weather they didn’t have a chance. Within minutes they were on the freeway heading for the western edge of the city, and now he was as close as he’d been in days to a promised pay cheque that couldn’t come soon enough.
In the passenger seat Jodie had stopped screaming but was frantically trying to find a way to open the door. For the first time that day John was thankful for the rain, rain that would keep the interior of the car hidden from prying eyes in the traffic. The last thing he needed was some concerned citizen making a call and getting them lit up with blue and red lights.
“You need to calm down,” he said as firmly as he could. “I promise you, nobody’s getting hurt okay?”
“I swear you better pull over right now.”
“Sorry but I can’t do that. I can tell you this though, things will make sense soon enough.”
Jodie rubbed at the side of her temples as she kicked the dash one last time. A hint of resignation seemed to wash across her eyes, and now she turned to John with a look of wanting.
“The least you can do is give me some of what you promised.”
John reached into his pocket and retrieved the bag of meth, then threw it out of the broken window into the wind and rain.
“What the fuck?” Jodie called out.
“Here,” he said, handing her a small container from the centre console. “There’s only a couple left but they’ll help smooth things out.”
Jodie snatched the container from his hand, twisted open the lid and tipped three blue pills into her palm. For a second it seemed she was weighing up her options but then with one swift movement she threw the pills into her mouth and swallowed, strangely resigned to the moment that left her with little control.
“I hope you know you just made one hell of an enemy,” she said while staring out into the dark of the day.
“Believe me,” John offered, “when it comes to making enemies, I’m what you’d call a natural.”
The speed of the car began to slow as he turned off the freeway to navigate his way through heavily washed suburban streets. As the smell of soaking leaves swept into the interior he noticed from the corner of his eye a sense of recognition creeping into Jodie’s scowl, which was already beginning to soften as the valium dissolved into her blood stream. When he turned another corner there was no doubt she knew where they were headed, and now he couldn’t look at her as anything other than what she was, an innocent kid who had strayed too far into a world that wished only for her corruption and demise.
Checking his mirrors one last time he turned into a tree lined street before twisting his way up a snaking driveway that brought them to a large, two storied home. With shaking hands he turned off the engine and enjoyed a moment of simply listening to the storm against the windows and the heavy breathing of his passenger. When he saw the front door to the house open he turned to Jodie with an exhausted hint of a smile that did little to hide his sadness.
“Those people back there, they would’ve taken everything that’s beautiful to you, flushed it down the toilet and not even lose a wink of sleep. The only thing they’re good at is hiding the fact they’ve lost all hope for the world, and where they’re headed is the last place you wanna be. Now you can hate me all you want but this right here is a chance for you to keep some hope alive.”
Before she had the chance to respond a middle aged lady with eyes burning in sorrow and joy pulled open the passenger door. For a moment Jodie remained still and unsure, but then reached up and wrapped her arms around her mother as the rain washed across their skin. The sound of their tears sent a rush of blood across the base of his neck.
Beneath the cover of the porch John could just make out the client standing tall with arms held across his chest. When Chris Woodlock had reached out for his services he hadn’t been sure John was capable of delivering, and had agreed to the terms of the contract more out of desperation than any actual confidence. Still, John couldn’t help but feel little sense of victory in having proved him wrong.
Leaving mother and daughter to somehow make peace beneath the dark and relentless clouds, John eased his now aching body out of the car and headed up the small marble steps onto the porch.
“You might want to keep an eye on her for a while Chris. By the looks of things she hasn’t slept in days.”
“Where did you find her?” His voice seemed under control, but only just.
“Listen mate, there’s nothing good to come from questions like that.” John turned and watched as his wife began to guide their daughter to the house. “You’ve got a chance here to stop any more mistakes, but how you do that is your business.” It was hard to look him in the eyes, especially when he knew once the storm had passed and the blood had filtered the darkness would be calling her name again, begging for her return. “The important thing is to take the small victories when you can.”
Jodie looked up through tired, bloodshot eyes at her father and couldn’t stop her bottom lip from trembling. Chris reached down and gently ran a finger along her cheek before she was ushered her through the front door, briefly turning to John to whisper her thanks.
“You look as bad as she does,” Chris observed after watching them disappear into the warmth.
“You’re right, I do.” Finally, standing on the porch with hair drenched and heart beating wildly, John allowed a brief escape of laughter. “It’s been a real hard couple of days, let me tell you.”
“What you’ve done today, bringing our daughter back, I just don’t know what to say.”
John sensed the tall guy was about to break down and didn’t want to be standing there when he did. Okay, time to get the hard part out of the way.
“Nothing needs to be said Chris. You hired me to try to sort out your problem and I’m just glad things worked out the way they did. Now, I know this probably isn’t the best time, but about payment…”
“Of course.” There was no mistaking the slight sting in his eyes. “I’ve got the bank details you emailed me. I’ll have the full payment transferred as soon as I walk in the door.”
“That’s much appreciated Chris.” Why does asking for payment always seem so fucking awkward? “Remember when we spoke about damage extras?”
“Yeah, um, I’m gonna need a little extra to cover my door window.”
John figured that was as good a closer as any and marched back through the storm, making a point not to look back at the porch as he reversed his way out onto the road. He was tempted to pull over, to strip off his clothes and let the rain wash away the stench and stains that came from rubbing shoulders with absolute and pure scum. Instead though, he weaved the car towards the highway that would take him back to the central coast, where the disarray of his home lay in waiting.
The two hour drive gave his thoughts plenty of opportunity to swirl and punish. Sure he might have managed to do a little good with his drug soaked rescue, but if he was hoping for some form of satisfaction to chip away at the emotional pain lining the inside of his stomach he was sadly disappointed. The undisputed fact was that the state of his affairs was in total fucking shambles. Hell, he wasn’t even sure if he could remember a time when things weren’t broken and in pieces. Maybe, he thought, this was all there was now. Maybe all that was left to do was crawl through the proverbial mud and try to make things right for other people while he tossed and turned, anxiety welcoming him with each new dawn.
The rain had begun to ease and the white capped ocean came into view as he exited the highway. Amongst the chaotic mess there was at least one small reason to want to get back home, and his name was Bobbie. Mercifully his thoughts turned to his small and trusted friend as he steered into the driveway, but they were quickly shut down at the sight of another car already parked by the back entrance. His fingers squeezed the wheel tight and the back of his throat became dry. This was the last damn thing he needed right now.
Thanks to a compensation payout designed to cool the embers of what had been his career he’d managed to raise the deposit for the beach front property. It was just far enough from the city that he rarely had to worry about visitors disturbing the solitude that he craved more and more every day, but close enough that he could still waltz amongst the vices of the masses to keep the bills paid. The car in the driveway not only meant that his moment of solitude had just been corrupted, but also that a fresh wound was about to be torn back open and sprinkled with salt.
With the front of the house facing the beach it was the back door that was the main entry, and as he stepped up to it he did all that he could to steady his breathing, water trickling down from his jacket and wind chilling the back of his neck. If it wasn’t for Bobbie he would have got straight back into the car and headed for the nearest motel with a cheap bottle of bourbon.
He pushed open the door and felt a sickly surge in his stomach. Felicity was standing beneath the bright lights of the kitchen placing cooking utensils into a large cardboard box. The girl he had married just eighteen months ago looked up at his sudden appearance with mild surprise, wearing long dark hair tied back in a bun and a deep red dress that almost managed to hide the fact that she was seven months pregnant. Her natural beauty had, as much as John didn’t want to admit, become even more so with the new life growing inside of her.
“I didn’t think that you’d be here,” Felicity said quietly.
John looked to the floor where another two boxes sat taped up and ready to go. Wind brought the sound of crashing waves as he wondered what might be inside of them, and then realized he just didn’t care. Looking across the kitchen at the neutral expression of his wife he was crushed by the instinct that simmered to the surface, the instinct to walk across and bring her into his arms as though the last few months had never happened. He knew the drugs had left his mind a tightly wound spring that was dangerously ready to erupt unrestrained, and so as he looked deep into her eyes he made the decision to simply keep his mouth shut. Besides, what the hell was there to say anyway?
Choosing to ignore her he marched down the hallway to the front room where large windows revealed the blue of the ocean. Beneath the windows, curled up on a tattered purple blanket and surrounded with small toys, Bobbie lifted his head at the sound of his entry. He was adorned with long fur that was a blend of orange and gold and enormous blue eyes that were now almost totally blind. Unlike other cats he had only a small stub for a tail, and as John crouched down and greeted his best friend he was gifted with strange attempts at talking that became louder and louder as he scratched the area beneath his ears.
He had found Bobbie at a shelter. He hadn’t wanted a pet, and certainly hadn’t wanted anything to do with a cat, but he’d been taken to the shelter pretty much against his will as a last ditched attempt as part of his therapy following the incident. He would’ve bailed on the whole thing except he wanted another script for the blue pills so figured he’d better toe the line.
He remembered walking past the cages with feline eyes vying for his attention but doing his best to ignore them, until pausing at what appeared to be an empty slot with a tattered purple blanket. Empty, that was, until the blanket stirred slightly and from beneath the veil sad, blue eyes peered back. Instantly he’d recognised the look. It promised that hope was almost lost, and that any desire for a better moment had passed. Surprisingly he’d found himself asking about the bundle of fur hiding in the darkness, and was told little was known except he had been treated poorly, with his tail having been cut off by his pathetic owners and eyesight damaged from some kind of chemical spray. He was, they’d told him, scheduled for sleep the following day. The day of execution never came, and Bobbie found his tattered purple blanket removed from the cold steel cage to a warm place upon the carpet where fresh salt air might try and restore hope.
Felicity appeared in the doorway and watched them both. “You know, I used to wish I was that damn cat. I used to think you’d be wanting to come home to me after being gone days on end on one of your damn jobs, but it didn’t take long to see I was wrong. That bloody cat is all you ended up caring about.”
“That’s because he’s the only one who didn’t fuck me over,” John replied as steady as he could, refusing to look back at her.
“Fuck you over? I stood by you through all of the crap you put us through. The late nights, the nightmares, you hitting the bottle and staring at the door with a fucking gun in your hand. Don’t even try to throw any of this on me.”
Now he couldn’t help himself and turned with a simmering rage in his eyes. “I don’t need to throw a god damn thing. Not only do you have to go and fuck someone else, but you go and get pregnant with a guy I went to the fucking academy with? Don’t stand there and try for some kind of high horse. This cat here, the cat that you never even lifted a finger to look after, has done more for me than you ever did.”
Except he knew that wasn’t totally true. Felicity had at least tried to understand the shit storm he had found himself in, had gently taken the gun from his hand on more than one occasion when he’d returned home convinced the door would be kicked in at any moment with a bullet aimed for his head. And yes, she’d been with him for his first few visits to the psychiatrist when the nightmares had become so bad he would thrash the blankets off of the bed. But the simple fact remained that she was standing there right now with a baby that wasn’t his growing inside of her, and there was just no room left to somehow forgive. The worst part, the truth that made him sick to his stomach, was the fact that a part of him still loved her. And god knows he wished he could grab a sharp knife and slice out that infected part of his heart.
Felicity stared down with a slow shake of her head. “You know what? You’re right John. I did make a huge mistake. But the truth is things were broken beyond repair, and I’m not going to stand here and try to pretend I wish I could go back in time because I don’t. The man I married, the man I fell in love with, he was long gone before this all happened. I reached out, really I did, but you didn’t want my help. You just wanted that cat and your fucking pills.”
“Well me and this cat would feel a hell of a lot better if you just finish what you’re doing and get the hell out. I haven’t got the energy for another fight.”
“That’s why things are the way they are John, you didn’t want to fight to get things back on track.” Felicity sighed heavily and wiped at the tears that she hoped he couldn’t see. “We could have had something great, you know that? I just hope you can find a way to get rid of those demons, otherwise they’re never going to stop haunting you.”
“Look,” he said with a sudden softness, “it’s been a rough couple of days and I’m running on empty. There’s no point in firing shots at each other. Pack whatever things you want, but just leave the microwave.”
“I hope you can find peace somehow, I really do.”
Felicity made her way back to the kitchen leaving John with the only form of life he truly cared for anymore. Sure he still loved Felicity, but it was a broken love, a seared into his bones emotion that he no longer wanted.
With a gentle motion he picked up Bobbie’s food bowl and headed for the laundry before returning with a fresh meal for his poor sighted friend. Now that the latest job was over maybe he could shut the world out for a week or so, maybe find a spot next to Bobbie and simply stare at the walls and try to block out the memories that insisted on cutting the inside of his head like a serrated knife through stale bread. In fact, that would be the perfect plan, and suddenly content with the decision just made he quietly listened until the sounds from the kitchen fell away. Seconds later he heard her car reversing up the driveway, and then there was only the rain falling upon the roof. Now he had his kitchen back.
The toaster they’d been given on their wedding day was gone but at least she’d left the kettle. Still, it wasn’t a coffee that he was thinking about though. He moved to the end of the kitchen bench where, sitting beside a basket of long spoiled apples, was a freshly opened bottle of valium. A hand written note lay beneath it.
I don’t expect you to ever forgive me. Maybe I don’t deserve it anyway. But please John, please at least promise me this. Stop taking these damn things before you wind up killing yourself. Regardless of what you think, I still care for you.
John stared at the piece of paper, read it through a couple of times and then tore it into little pieces that swirled and danced their way to the tiled floor. He reached up into the cupboard and grabbed what was left of the bottle of scotch, rattled out six blue tablets and brought the stinging liquid to his lips. There was little chance he could kill the demons, but he sure as hell could shut them up for a while.
Knowing his body would begin to shut down soon he staggered to the bathroom, tore away his filthy clothes and jumped into the shower with the water as hot as he could stand it. His nerves were in a state of total fracture and there was no way to shake the image of his wife standing in the doorway with another man’s baby taunting him from beneath the dress. Not now. He didn’t want to think about any of that right now. He just wanted to let the water drain away the film of street grime that was invading every pore.
Once out of the shower he wrapped a towel around his waist, turned the heating on and collapsed onto the sofa with bottle in hand. Slowly and carefully Bobbie left the comfort of his blanket and pulled himself up with tired legs, purring loudly as he turned twice and curled up on John’s chest as he swigged at the scotch.
“Sorry I was away for a few days,” he half whispered. “If it makes you feel any better now we can afford to get you the fancy stuff. I’ll throw the cheap shit out.”
With a heavy arm he managed one more tilt of the bottle then reached out and placed it on the coffee table. He knew he was caught in the middle of a no win situation. Laying there on the verge of sleep he was unable to rid his thoughts of the woman who had destroyed him, while lying in wait at the gates of sleep demons were ready to play with him like a lion toying with a bleeding animal. All he could do was steady his breathing and hope the six pills would suspend him between the two, thoughtless and dreamless. But as his eyes closed and body seemed to melt into the leather, the visions began to stir.
My name is Darren Kasenkow, an Australian author whose literary worlds are woven together with science fiction, suspense, horror and dystopian elements ready to capture your imagination and set your heart racing.
I have had numerous short stories published in street press and magazines, and had several pieces included in a national anthology titled Paroxysm. My first full length feature The Apocalypse Show was released digitally in 2012, and was followed by Dust And Devils in 2014 and See The City Red in 2016. The Hallucigenia Project is my latest release and is the first book in a new dystopian series.
Work has already begun on the second installment, and the long hours behind the keyboard is made possible thanks to my ever relaxed writing buddy – a monster cat called Bobbie!
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