What if Muses weren’t always figures who inspired man to create? Three dreamers must band together to stop a Calliope, a Muse hellbent on inspiring as much death as possible.
I hope you enjoy the first chapter of my novel. Follow me on Twitter for more snippets.
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 failed to live up to what the mind conjures when one thinks of Los Angeles. Instead of golden beaches or fabulous hillside houses fate led him before the looming twin towers of the city’s massive correctional center. Neon signs in rainbows of red, green, and purple advertising the services of bail bondsmen and attorneys shone behind him. The tiny slits that served as windows held as little activity as the street. 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. He longed for the foam sandals, stolen like the rest of his ensemble, in the sweatshirt pocket, but 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 Metro station from a house party across the river. Their hips swayed in an unbroken cadence as they walked. There were 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 flavor of pain – like someone had sandwiched his brain between a waffle iron. 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.
You’ve failed me!
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, gulping 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. His stomach knotted itself like an old pair of earbuds as he thought of what else the voice may force him to do. Tomorrow morning, in broad daylight, he’d turn himself into the police. He recalled passing an electrical substation on his way here. It was only a few blocks away and would at least be warm…