Manifest Agony is a fantasy / mystery novel scheduled for release in the fall. Here's a peek at the opening chapter!
“Ya know, I don’t even feel like I need boobs anymore, Jetta...”
Ron Taylor could have sworn that was what his daughter was saying just as she slipped out of earshot. He was still stunned by the peck on the cheek he received from her moments before. Amazingly, the kiss came after being told to complete her chore of walking the puppy she begged for all last year! No side-eye, no backtalk, no fighting, no screaming or slamming doors. Just cooperation.
Ron had no idea what miraculous transformation had taken place in his only child, his precious Terrica, these past few days. But the abnormally tall, beanpole of a girl with a blossom of black spirals positioned on top of her head had changed for the better as far as he could tell.
“Everything okay?” Linda, his wife, asked as she came to his side as he watched Terrica stop at the street to look both ways for cars.
“Absolutely! I don’t know what’s gotten into Terrica but it’s great. She’s so much easier to deal with. To be around. Ya know she just kissed me on the cheek when I told her to go walk Jetta?”
Linda gave an impressed nod, her own dark ringlets pulled back from her face with a purple bandanna. Her husband’s excitement escalated.
“No shit. I said ‘You wanted this bitch, go walk her.’ She said ’Okay, Dad,’ peck, gone.” Ron snapped his fingers and pointed north, watching as Terrica crossed Magnolia Avenue, a thin, quiet street separating St. James Court and from Central Park.
Linda smiled. “I’ve noticed, too. She been doing her homework without me asking. A lot less attitude than last week. She seems...calm. Happy.” Linda put a skinny arm around Ron’s waist and turned to look after their daughter.
“You know what that probably means in a fourteen-year-old girl, right?” Linda said.
Ron’s grin faded into a disgusted snarl.
“She likes someone,” he growled. Linda laughed and rested her head on his rib cage as he put an arm around her.
Terrica, looked back toward the Victorian mansion she lived in and saw her parents hugging, then kissing, and stepping back into their home. This time, the parental PDA did not gross her out. This time, she understood, could relate, and wished them many more decades of happiness. Especially if it came close to rivaling what she had found. The new love in her life.
After a couple of laps around the police station, playground, tennis courts, and amphitheater that made up most of the park, Terrica took a seat on a bench and pulled Jetta into her lap. Tennis players grunted and huffed several yards behind her, the crowd in the amphitheater to her right toward the edge of the park applauded the end of a production of Macbeth, and Terrica admired yet another row of Victorian mansions lined up in front of her, across Fourth Street. She rubbed Jetta’s head, the Black Labrador pup breathing rapidly.
“No boobs, no ass, really. Ever since it came, Jetta, I just...ya know, I really don’t care about Jocelyn’s C cups or Shell’s tight jeans. I’m in love. Right? Then again, how can you be in love with something that doesn’t...hm...well it doesn’t exist. I felt it. I’ll have to think on that a little longer…” Terrica mumbled to Jetta, who was now laying on her side, pushing her nose into Terrica’’s wrist.
“I’m almost an adult, Jetta. Soon, I’ll be sixteen and can drive. I’ll be able to move out, get my own place. Then it’ll just be you and me and...and we can...whenever we want…!” Terrica took a deep breath to calm herself, grinning, gently squeezing Jetta’s snout. Jetta howled happily, picking up on her owner’s excitement. Terrica could feel the heat of arousal and joy on her face and goosebumps spread all over her skin. Her body was hot against the fall breeze. As the wind pushed dry, golden leaves across the sidewalk in front of her, she let out a sigh.
“Let’s get back, Jetta. It could come tonight, too. And I want to be ready,” Terrica said as she stood to leave, cradling Jetta in her arms.
There was a low humming noise as a sudden stinging sensation flashed across her back. The shock of the pain made her lose her grip on Jetta and the dog hit the concrete with a pitiful yelp.
Terrica reached around to touch her back and she felt sticky, torn flesh mixed with the fabric from her white pullover. She held her fingers in front of her face and the blood was so bright red she thought for a moment that it must be fake, or paint. A prank of some kind. But the scent of copper and stubborn hurt told her otherwise.
She spin around, looking for the culprit. A fallen branch? A stray bullet? No. She hadn’t heard any cracking of wood ot he percussion of a firearm. Then she noticed a thin metal rod in the ground to the right of the bench, about ten feet away. She spun back to her left, where her assailant would likely be. The movement set her back aflame with fresh pain, but there was no one to be found. The green clay courts were abandoned, no witnesses.
Jetta was whining now, trying to scramble up Terrica’s leg. Terrica tried to bend down, but the cut wouldn’t allow it. She squatted and Jetta crawled into her arms. The warmth of her fur was a welcome aid to oppose the chill slowly creeping throughout Terrica’s body. Some from the cooling evening. Some from barely-controlled terror.
“We just have to get back home, okay, Jetta? It’s a block. It’s alright. Shh...don’t whine. Don’t be scared. I’ll protect you. Let’s be brave.”
Terrica pressed Jetta tighter against her chest and started walking back toward home, exasperated at having left her cell phone in her backpack. She glanced at the police station on the other side of the park, to her right. She didn’t think she needed it. As scary as the suddenness of the attack had been, there didn’t seem to be anyone around now. Maybe it really was just a freak accident. She heard the intermittent rustle of leaves, but couldn’t make out footsteps, breathing, or any other sign that someone was in the park with her. The audience in the amphitheater and the actors seemed to have all cleared out as well. She knew she’d been getting lost in her thoughts quite a bit lately, but had she really been sitting on the bench so long?
She looked behind herself every few steps, but she was still alone. The wind seared the cut on her back. She was at Magnolia Avenue now. If she were going to go for the police station, now was the time, even though she was just as close to her house at this point. Home ahead, police to the right.
She stepped forward and crossed Magnolia Avenue.
As she stepped onto the curb at the entrance of St. James Court, five houses away from her own, Terrica felt another spark of pain in her shoulder. Her right arm went limp and she struggled to keep Jetta elevated with just her left hand.
What’s wrong with me now?!
When she looked down to where the ache was coming from, she saw a few inches of metal protruding from the front of her shoulder, just under her collar bone.
The rod from earlier!
Now she broke into a power walk, her limp right side and squirming fur ball not allowing any faster speed.. She sensed she didn’t have time to negotiate with neighbors to let her inside or figure out who was and wasn’t at home tonight. She needed her parents like never before. Jetta was being jostled violently and continued to tremble and whine as Terrica clutched the mewling animal right in the center of her chest, trying to keep her hold on her, fighting the urge to drop her and move unencumbered. The rod disappeared after a couple of houses and Terrica figured she had knocked it loose. A cold horror flickered through her as she realized she never heard the metal hit the concrete, or even a dull thud on the grass.
Someone pulled it out. Don’t look back, just run! Focus on running!
Terrica tried to gather enough breath to scream, to get her parents to come outside and close the distance between them. To get them to defend her from this maniac hunting her down. Toying with her.
She was able to pick up a little bit of speed and even draw a deep breath a mere two houses away, when that same cold baton sprouted from her chest.
Jetta had been launched from her fingers and hung limp on the end of the bar, the tip having pieced the puppy’s neck, killing her instantly. Numbly, Terrica dropped to her knees.
“Daddy…” squeezed from her blood-flooded throat. A cough made the scarlet spill over her lips and down the front of her sweater, a mean red streak that scared her as much as anything that had happened these past few minutes. She fell over onto her right side, the vision of her house blurring and dimming simultaneously.
As if by magic, she was airborne, the pole inching through bone, flesh, and cartilage as it bore the entirety of her weight.
Her world went black.
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