The following is the first 3 Chapters of my novel, Plagiarism.
Skylos – Los Angeles, CA – Monday Night
Dressed in a surfer’s drysuit, green rubber kitchen gloves, and cheap safety goggles, Skylos hobbled down Vignes Street in the dark. The sweat-soaked hoodie beneath the tight outfit chafed something fierce. However, that discomfort was preferable to the shard of broken glass stuck in his right foot and the pounding ache in his crippled left leg. Despite this, he refused to stop. He felt deep in his gut how close he was to completing the angel’s final task: finding a prostitute and becoming a man.
His surroundings weren’t a positive representation of the Los Angeles Hollywood had shown him. There were no golden beaches or fabulous hillside houses. Instead, fate had led him to the looming twin towers of the city’s massive correctional center. On the opposite side of the street shone a rainbow of red, green, and purple neon signs advertising the services of bail bondsmen and attorneys. The street was dead. It had been at least twenty minutes since he’d seen as much as a car. Perhaps the internet forums had misled him.
Skylos scanned the block ahead and let out a haggard groan. The five-mile hike from the homeless shelter hadn’t been kind on his bare feet. While a pair of foam sandals, stolen like the rest of his ensemble, sat in the sweatshirt he couldn’t put them on. The angel had been very specific about his attire.
I’ll walk another few minutes, and then find an underpass or somewhere to crash.
Headlights illuminated his shaggy brown hair from behind. He followed the red coupe with his eyes as it passed. The vehicle slowed, swerving into the oncoming lane, where it locked up its breaks and came to rest on the curb at the intersection. It stayed there only a moment.
“Fuck off!” yelled the man in the car. Tires screeched and the car sped off. Skylos spied two women standing at the street corner opposite him. They waved their middle fingers and shouted obscenities of their own. After a moment, they crossed the street. Skylos hurried to catch up.
When the pair reached Skylos’ side of the street he was still twenty feet away. The first woman looked roughly six foot and in her early-thirties. The streetlamps soft glow highlighted long black hair and a dark dress struggling to conceal her bosom. The second woman would’ve been closer to his own height, about five-seven, if it weren’t for the heels. Dirty blonde hair fell to her jawline. An open, olive Peacoat obscured a similar dark dress.
Skylos had little time to determine whether they were escorts or simply returning to the Metra station from a house party across the river. Their hips swayed as they walked. There was no signs of intoxication, it looked like he was in luck. Butterflies filled his stomach. He smoothed down his hair, the glove becoming slick with sweat.
The taller woman elbowed her companion and nodded in his direction. The blonde placed her hands in her coat pocket and stepped forward despite her friend’s nonchalant headshake.
“A bit late for a costume party, isn’t it?” she said, grinning.
Skylos offered a half-smile but said nothing. He knew damn well how ridiculous he looked and couldn’t afford to scare her off. The woman came closer, flaring the coat open to give him a better view of her plunging neckline.
“Candy,” whispered the other woman, “we have an appointment.”
“What brings you out so late?” Candy said, ignoring her companion.
“I’m lo-looking for…” he swallowed hard, trying to control his stutter.
He nodded eagerly. As the woman came closer a bead of sweat dripped down the small of his back. This was going to happen.
“You can’t need the money that bad,” said Candy’s friend, a little too loud for a whisper.
Skylos fumbled with the fanny pack zipper and withdrew a measly wad of small bills. A ten slipped from his grasp and he chased it as it tumbled a foot away. With a smile, he held up the money between his green-gloved fingers.
Candy looked over her shoulder and shrugged. “Sixty bucks is worth ten minutes of my time. I’ll meet back up with you in front of Metro Plaza in twenty minutes. This won’t take long.” Her companion shook her head and walked off.
The escort grabbed the money and then his hand. “Come on. I know somewhere we can go.” They walked a block ahead where she pulled him up the quiet palm-lined walkway of L.A.’s Union Station. Skylos paused for a moment in front of the building’s massive glass façade while she dropped his hand and grabbed the door.
“Hurry,” Candy said, motioning him forward. “The last train arrives shortly. They’ll be locking up soon.”
Skylos’ heart pounded as they shuffled over large triangular floor tiles arranged in concentric circles of a giant compass rose. A lone Amtrak employee mopping around the enclosed glass ticket booths gave a sly wink and smiled as they passed. Candy let out a soft giggle and ducked into the men’s restroom. Skylos glanced over his shoulder and followed.
“In here,” called Candy from inside the handicapped stall.
He was going to do it. Two birds with one stone – lose his virginity and fulfill the destiny the angel had spoken about. As the peach-colored, metal door’s lock clicked into place a breeze swept through the still air. The space around him came alive with static electricity. Skylos shivered as each tiny hair on the nape of his neck stood at attention and the taste of a nine volt danced across his tongue.
Slit her throat, Skylos, whispered the angel’s monotonous, static-filled voice.
Skylos froze, his eyes wide.
“What?” he said, looking right through the beautiful woman holding out a wrapped condom.
Candy and the angel spoke simultaneously. “I didn’t-” KILL… “Say anything.” HER!
Skylos whipped his head from side to side and threw himself back, cracking his head against the stall door. A deafening ring overtook him like he’d been standing inside a massive bell struck by a Mack truck. Whatever words Candy mouthed fell on deaf ears as pressure built up inside Skylos’ head. His eyes bulged and red filled the left half of one as blood vessels burst. He struggled to draw breath as the room faded to white.
Kill her! demanded the angel again. Its voice alone broke through the cacophony.
Visions – no, memories – projected on the blank canvas that was his failing vision. Knives piercing, slashed, and flayed porcelain flesh. There was so much blood gathering in pools that it could have drowned a village. Skylos recognized the faces of all the men, women, and children he’d killed. His body shuddered and his knees buckled. He tried to fight the images, to blink them away, but they remained. They weren’t his memories; he’d never hurt anyone in his life. Nevertheless, each of them felt personal, like he’d been the one behind them..
These memories came with their own pain, a white hot burning compared to the ringings pressure. He threw his mouth open, but his muscles convulsed too hard to emit any sound. There was only one way to make it stop. He had to obey. At that thought the ringing lessened enough to allow a single gasping breath. Fighting through the lingering pounding in his head, he dug into the fanny pack and opened the largest blade of an old Swiss Army knife. Before he could withdraw it, Candy shoved him over and ran.
His head exploded with fire as the ringing overtook him again, preventing him from standing. With the little air remaining in his lungs he screamed for help. Skylos was deaf to all but the sharp, resonating chime. He shut his eyes and waited for death. The peach wall vibrated as the door burst open. A young man with a chiseled jaw flew into the stall – Tom, according to the embroidered name badge on his navy blue Amtrak vest. Skylos recognized him as the man who’d been mopping moments earlier. Tom’s mouth moved silently.
Last chance. Become a man! Skylos nodded, gulpin another breath of air.
“Please help me up.”
Tom extended his arm and helped Skylos to his feet.
“Thanks,” said Skylos as he drove the blade into Tom’s neck. The ringing in his ears was immediately replaced by a whistling gurgle of blood from the man’s nicked airway. Skylos stepped back, his lip quivering, and stared at the blood trickling down Tom’s neck.
Tom’s hand fumbled in his pocket and a utility knife clattered to the floor between them. Skylos glanced down then stepped forward and raised his own blade again. His mind flashed back to one of the memories not his own. Using it as a guide, he flicked his wrist like an artist throwing paint on canvas.
Streaks of crimson erupted from Tom’s carotid artery. Skylos watched the man’s feeble attempts to stop the bleeding with both hands. Blood gushed between Tom’s fingers before beading up and rolling off the drysuit.
The chronic, dull thud in Skylos’ leg evaporated along with every other trace of pain. With a clear head, he finally saw the big picture. Stealing the drysuit from the unlocked vehicle at the beach and the other trivial thieveries the voice requested brought him to this point. It was a requirement to get him killing again.
Again? Skylos shook his head knowing he couldn’t trust his memories. This was the first time he’d killed someone. Though, when looking down at Tom’s body he felt only an odd calm. Repulsion, what he should have felt, lay out of his grasp. He glared at the bloody knife in his hand. Maybe there’d never been an angel and…
You’re not crazy, whispered a soft feminine voice, but you do need to go.
That voice was different, but at the same time, it wasn’t. Sure it was a woman’s, but the energy-laden vibrations behind the words were familiar. There was no doubt it belonged to the same thing he’d been conversing with the past week.
Crazy or otherwise, it was too much. Skylos wanted to stay put. If the prostitute hadn’t called 911, the train would arrive soon. It wouldn’t be long before someone noticed the giant pool of blood. Once caught and locked up, he couldn’t hurt anyone else.
Embedded within that single syllable was an undeniable command. Skylos hung his fanny pack over the toilet plumbing and shoved the still dripping pocket knife back inside. He peeled off the gloves , then the suit and discarded them in the corner. Grabbing his pack again he reached for the door. The moment he touched the metal handle the static in the air dissipated, leaving him lightheaded. Although overjoyed that the ‘angel’ was gone, he found himself compelled to follow her orders.
Bloody footprints trailed behind Skylos as he left the handicapped stall. He drew the blue sweatshirt tight around his face and cracked the bathroom door. The foyer appeared as quiet as when he’d entered. The scrolling LED board above the ticket window across the foyer showed that the last train had arrived at the station. He rushed to the yellow mop bucket, splashed his face with the dirty water, and then submerged his feet one at a time. With the blood washed away, he donned his sandals. The soft echoes of a handful of people reached his ears as he ducked out the way he’d come in.
An exhausted Ben Thompson stumbled north along Vignes, tears streaming down his cheeks. He was no champion – if that’s what ‘Skylos’ even meant. There was no telling what else the voice may force him to do tonight. It was safest to turn himself in tomorrow morning, in broad daylight. He recalled passing an electrical substation on his way here. It was only a few blocks away and would at least be warm…
Calliope descended upon the pitiful creature huddled beside an electrical transformer spotted with chipped gray paint and rust. She wondered if the crippled boy had been the best candidate. The ruthlessness displayed by many of her previous selections wasn’t there. Left unchecked, his morals would result in a lower body count than she wanted.
Luckily, she’d been doing this for eons. There’d been plenty of time to learn what seeds to plant for proper motivation. Humans were simple creatures motivated by even simpler things. Lust, greed, and fear with the least common denominator. From what she’d seen of this one, those wouldn’t work. Skylos, as she’d dubbed him, simply wanted a purpose. He’d even revealed the perfect catalyst when he labeled her as an angel – Religion.
When she was done, he’d believe he was serving a higher power and making a difference.
Though, he’d require plenty more work to get to a point where he could operate where she needed him.
Calliope knew her sisters had already begun moving against her. Though the eight of them were weak and slow, they weren’t stupid. Calliope couldn’t absorb all the energy released upon the woman’s death. Some of it would have traveled back on the silvery threads that anchored her to the physical realm. Her sisters would know. Likewise, they had the ability to see through the human’s eyes she’d attached to using those same strands.
If they hadn’t already, they’d locate their own puppets. Feed them intel, much in the same way she was doing now. Though because of their strength, her sisters could only communicate through dreams. Calliope did not have this limitation, but was restricted in other ways. She could not see back through the threads in the same manner they could. That was okay. It made the game even more fun.
Calliope pushed her sisters from her mind, then pulled close to Skylos. His muttered things in his sleep and his eyes moved rapidly as she whispered into his ear. She let the memories of past killers flood deep into the recesses of his mind.
Skylos – Glendale, CA – Tuesday
Ben Thompson rubbed the sleep from his eyes. The morning sun spotlighted the high voltage sign on the electrical transformer over his right shoulder. He’d obviously slept here last night but for the life of him, he couldn’t recall the events leading up to it.
He worked his jaw up and down, trying to summon saliva to his bone-dry mouth. The rest of his body felt far worse. This wasn’t the discomfort a night’s sleep on a concrete slab. He’d had worse accommodations over the years. This was something different entirely. Something akin to chewing insulation while being dragged behind a car through Death Valley.
“What the hell did you do last night, Ben?”
A mourning dove cooed and fluttered its wings from atop the barbed wire chain-link fence. As Ben took a step forward a new pain sprang forth from his right foot. He lifted his heel and carefully lowered back to the ground. Ben gingerly pulled his foot into his lap to investigate. Sunlight glinted off a speck of amber glass lodged firmly in his foot. While this was something else he couldn’t explain, at least it was easily remedied.
His fingers searched through the fanny pack for the old pocket knife he always carried. With any luck, the pair of tweezers hadn’t fallen out since he’d last used it. As he withdrew the implement, maroon flakes sloughed off under his nail. Blood? Ben fully inspected the tool and found most of it covered with dried blood. A faint ring buzzed in his left ear as the largest blade snapped open.
The Swiss Army knife dropped to the pavement and skittered beneath the large unit beside him. His heart pounded. The blood on the knife belonged to Tom – the man Calliope had coerced him to kill. Though he inherently understood that was an oversimplification.
Calliope had led him miles from home under the guise of making him a man. Ben shook his head, feeling foolish he’d fallen for the ruse. It was never about the prostitute. Why would an angel care if I was a virgin? She’d misled him for the sake of both protecting him and making sure he didn’t bail. If she’d told him outright he needed to kill someone inside Union Station, even a diehard Christian would have refused.
Once Calliope provided a glimpse of Tom’s memories, his course was clear. Tom had been following lone riders off the train and killing them. There was no choice but to kill him. He’d been brave and stepped up – doing what was necessary. Skylos was already a man.
He straightened his back, pulled a shard of broken beer bottle from his foot, and held it up to the light. It seemed the red stained piece of glass was part of the big picture too. If he hadn’t stopped to pull it, he may not have remembered the events of last night. Skylos was sure that Calliope had orchestrated this too.
The dove flew off as he squeezed through a gap in the fence. He mindlessly followed north beside both the Metro tracks and the Los Angeles River. This route would take him in a wide circle around Dodger Stadium and, after another hour or two, bring him to I-2. Once there he’d determine where to head next. There were several options available: the Friends of Hope homeless shelter, the Silver Lake Branch Library, or Past Productions, the theater where he often squatted.
As he walked his thoughts gravitated back to Calliope. In particular what she had in store next, where she was now, and how he could get back in contact with her. Their interaction had thus far been fleeting, and she’d always been the one to reach out to him. He couldn’t physically feel her now, but was she still watching?
“Hello?” Skylos called aloud. “Calliope?”
When no response came his stomach lurched. She may have left him for good like his mother did when he was thirteen. Even worse, he was certain it was his fault this time. Perhaps the thought of turning himself in after he’d killed Tom had left her disappointed in him. He had to find a way to impress her and display his willingness.
The world was a wicked place. Tom couldn’t be the only murderer in the city. If Calliope needed other sinners taken care of, he’d eagerly help. First, he’d need to get another knife. Candy had taken all his money, but more was stashed in the theater for emergencies. Skylos compiled a list in his head as he continued his trek.
The exterior of Past Productions was covered in recessed arches and faux columns carved into the building itself. Skylos found the historic landmark to be fascinating. The building housed a Performance Theater in the twenties which transitioned into a speakeasy during the prohibition era. Presently, the space operated as a four-screen movie theater. Skylos had been a long time, though often non-paying, customer.
When Skylos approached, patrons filed out the single side door. He turned sideways and pushed against the flow of the crowd. Once inside he ducked under the velvet rope closing off a short stairway. He pulled open a black painted metal door bearing the faded white stenciling of a lightning bolt within a triangle beneath the words ‘Electrical Closet’.
Breakers and conduit lined the wall of a cramped interior barely deep enough to accommodate the door. Skylos yanked a red shutoff handle at the far left. The wall jumped forwards an inch with a guttural creak. He learned on the heavy wall and it swung inward on its hidden hinges.
Skylos jostled an emergency light hanging on the wall and it cast a dull yellow light on a basement full of cobwebs, broken seats, and props from when the theater catered to live acts. Among the piles of rubbish sat an old bed frame precariously balancing on a single intact leg. Although full of dust, like everything else, the mattress had surprisingly sturdy springs.
He moved through the piles of junk and left his heavy blue sweatshirt on the bed’s headboard before stepping to the room’s other corner. Behind a stack of dry-rotted pallets sat a utility sink. Skylos drank several handfuls of water before wiping down his chest with a rag hanging over the faucet. He grabbed a short-sleeved, grey T-shirt and slipped it on. A small cloud of dust rose as he dropped onto the old mattress.
What the basement lacked in accommodations was made up for by the freedom. He wasn’t held to the shelter’s curfew or rules. Also, after hours he was free to roam the kitchen, use the computer in the manager’s office, or watch any movie he wanted. He’d been doing this for a year or two and no longer had any fear of being caught. Most of the employees were college kids and didn’t really care. Besides, they saw him frequently enough to assume he was a cinephile and never questioned his presence. Since the basement stairwell was right next to the exit, he’d overheard the security system passcode when new employees were being trained. Nobody ever changed it.
Skylos’ growling stomach reminded him that he hadn’t eaten since last night. He swung his feet over the edge of the bed and dug his fingers inside a slit cut into the side of the mattress. He withdrew a few bills and walked toward the door. After reconnecting the emergency light he ducked back into the electrical closet. As he grabbed the door handle, a voice from the other side stopped him in his tracks. Kent Peterson, the theater owner, faded in and out as he paced the hallway.
“Yes honey, I’m leaving shortly. I wanted to finish some billing before we leave for the cruise.” His voice fell silent, waiting for his wife to finish speaking.
“No, I’m not bringing any work with. That’s why I’m still here.”
Skylos held his breath until the conversation ended. He cracked the door a few inches and peered out. When he was certain it was safe, he ascended the stairs. After using the restroom he purchased a hotdog and orange soda from the concession stand, and then carefully ducked back to the basement.
It sounded like Kent would be out of touch for several days. That would work in his favor. Skylos ate his lunch and passed out on the bed.
Skylos awoke in the middle of the night to complete silence. He disabled the security system at the top of the stairs. The interface’s clock read one in the morning. There was plenty of time before anyone would be in for work.
He slipped into the manager’s office and ran his fingers along the spines of old novels resting in the cheap bookshelf by the door. He sat down at the desk and pulled back a silver ball of the Newton’s cradle and let go. The gentle clacking melded with the computer’s humming fan as it booted.
When the Amazon page loaded Kent’s account automatically logged in. Skylos smiled and without hesitation added the item’s he determined he’d need: a large lock blade knife, a roll of duct tape, a backpack, and a tablet PC. He clicked the button to process with expedited shipping and crossed his fingers. It completed without a password prompt. As he swiveled in the chair, he realized that while he’d have a new knife in a few days’ time he would be empty handed until then.
Skylos wandered to the kitchen and searched the metal the prep table for a weapon. Within the last drawer he located a trimming knife. He carefully slipped it into his fanny pack. The blade was long and thin, not terribly suitable for heavy applications. It would have to do for now.