Good evening, WordPress community! I hope your night has been treating you well. I’m happy to report that I successfully moved into my new apartment this past weekend! There’s nothing quite as peaceful as living alone, and I’m starting to get used to this newfound freedom. I’m also looking forward to hosting small dinners and get-togethers with my awesome group of friends and acro yogis!
I’m also overjoyed to let everyone know that I’ll be officially starting my new job on Saturday! I’m working with a private practice here in Dallas as a full-time LPC-I counselor. I get to see individual adults and teens, as well as lead groups and supervise CPS visitations between parents and kids. I’m already moving at a breakneck pace, trying to get my marketing going while also familiarizing myself with the workings of a private practice. It’s all a bit overwhelming, but also extremely rewarding and engaging!
Tonight, I’d like to present the first chapter of my newest novel, Stalder Press to Handstand. I am right in the middle of my first round of edits, and I’ve been further developing my characters while also adding additional layers to my subplots, which I feel I skimped out on as I wrote my first draft. But hey! That’s why true writers stay just as focused and determined during subsequent rewrites.
For those who read my first version of this chapter, I want you to know that I made a couple of changes. I switched from first to third person, as well as shortened the flashbacks from entire chapters to brief recollections Rayland has from before the apocalypse. I feel that these modifications allow more space for my secondary characters to grow and more clearly demonstrate their traits and motives. As always, I would love to receive your feedback, thoughts, and wishes. I value them all!
Without further ado, I present…Stalder Press to Handstand.
Stalder Press to Handstand
For you, dad
The Flyer and the Base
Run, desire, run
Sexual being, run him like a blade
To and through the hollow conscience,
One motive, cater to the hollow,
Screaming feed me here,
Fill me up again…
Temporarily pacify this hunger
— A Perfect Circle
They arrive with the latest gusts of wind in the night, ushering in a muted tension that Rayland picks up on way before Jake.
“You okay?” Jake Knect is slipping the last of three fresh AAA batteries into his MagLite when he sees Rayland set his stick and knife down on the kitchen table. Rayland’s muscles tighten as he arches his back and looks to the patio door, which is boarded over with a sheet of plywood.
In the silence that elapses between Rayland and Jake, they listen as another gust of wind buffets the brick walls of the Triathlon House, or Tri House for short. At least, that was the name Rayland and his roommates gave it back in the summer of 2014. Those two years since they had last lived in the two-story corner house now feel like a decade gone by.
Rayland lets his breath out slowly as Jake turned to face the back door. The camping lantern in the center of the glass table they are sitting at whispers and sighs, the flame dimming as it dances less and less. Rayland glances at the last bottle of Nu-Flame that rests on the window ledge behind Jake, but his agitation over their waning fuel evaporates as quickly as the gas fumes within the lantern. He strains to hear, letting his ears do the leading as the darkness of the kitchen inches towards them.
From the second tier of the Tri House’s raised back yard, Thunder begins to bark. This time Rayland can hear the raw fear in his tone as he alternates between snapping yaps and low growls. He locks eyes with Jake before swearing. Thunder got out. He kept clawing at the cracked window in the garage. What the hell were you thinking, getting pissed off at him and shutting him in the garage, Rayland?
Rayland and Jake rise at the same time. Leaves lash against the boarded-up windows, the blinds lowered and shut for the past two months. Tree branches creak and groan in the backyard. But Rayland and Jake know it’s no longer the wind passing through.
It’s the Unseen. How many, they don’t know.
Then the tinny humming starts.
“Radio!” Jake barks it out even as Rayland moves to the counter and snatches up the closest out of the sixteen they had neatly stacked up. It’s a red handheld radio, its paint badly faded from years of use. Jake watches with pulsing eyes as Rayland flips the sliding switch on, then turns the knob to the loudest and most distorted station he’s able to find.
Thunder’s barks grow more and more panicked. Rayland turns to the center island in the kitchen, where they stacked six over-the-head hunting earmuffs. He snaps one pair over his bushy jet-black head of hair before tossing Jake a bright green set. Jake catches them, fumbles for a half second, and is able to cup them over his ears.
The windows are starting to vibrate.
Rayland calls out to Jake before throwing him three pocket radios, then flipping three more on before Rayland cradles them in his arms. They hustle to the door that leads out to the back porch.
Jake nods before raising his warbling radio in one hand like a pistol and clutching the doorknob. His curls bob on his head, and Rayland studies how the muscles in his short calves tense as Jake readies himself to lunge. The humming outside has risen to a roaring buzz, almost mechanical in nature, which they can both hear even through the earmuffs. Neither Rayland nor Jake can make out Thunder’s pleading yelps.
“Go!” Though Rayland’s voice is muffled, his words rattle and tumble in his rib cage. Jake throws the door open – and the shock of the sound waves nearly brings them to their knees.
Rayland only has to take one step out onto the back porch to see the purple and semi-transparent darkness swirling overhead. The Unseen loom among the dead tree branches, screeching and seeking out Thunder. Rayland screams and raises his radios. He imagines he must be pushing crazy, expecting the static to carry over the roar of the creatures. Don’t think, move forward. He stumbles ahead with Jake bringing up his rear, thankful for the protection as the air literally shimmers in front of them. Rayland has to shut his eyes, the force of the Unseen’s supersonic screeches so strong that he fears his eyeballs might pop out. He belts out a roar that almost rises over the wailing and droning of the Unseen — and this time he hears a guttural response: their shrieks of pain.
In the swirling chaos Rayland senses Jake by his side as they start hurling radio after radio up onto the tiered back yard, where only rocks and dirt remain among the barren ground. The cacophony of static grows stronger, and the Unseen let out another angry wail. Rayland collapses onto his knees as the weight of their sonic forces threatens to shatter his legs. Still the static prevails.
Before he realizes it, Thunder is licking Rayland’s face and pleading with him: Insideinsideinside. Rayland grabs hold of his red and black collar like he’s done a dozen times before swinging his hand out to clip Jake’s bare knee. “I got him!”
Without a word Jake turns and, taking Rayland’s hand, drags the two of them inside. Leaves and twigs are raining down on them now, and Rayland stumbles before kicking off the wooden deck as the lid of the round grill flies inches in front of his head. Rayland looks down in time to see himself cross the door’s threshold, Thunder already two steps ahead of him as he barks encouragement at Jake to help him haul Rayland’s ass the rest of the way in. Then Jake swings around as Rayland kicks the door shut, one of his neon green Brooks shoes flying off before it careens under the kitchen table. The sudden cessation of air force causes a small explosion of dead leaves and bits of wood that scatters across the kitchen floor and sends both guys sprawling.
Rayland lies on his back, barely even able to grin as Thunder licks his face like crazy. When his pulse has finally started to drop, he removes his earmuffs and listens as the harsh grating of the Unseen fades away somewhere to the southeast.
We did it.
“Oh, Thunder, I’m so glad you’re safe, buddy,” he murmurs, sitting up and rubbing him like crazy behind his shaggy grey ears. Thunder looks so proud for having survived, his tongue lolling out and his teeth flashing in the pale glow of the lantern. Rayland can’t even tell him that he’s so pissed off at him for escaping.
“He’s a fighter.” Jake exhales before spreading his arms out like he’s about to make a twig-and-leaves snow angel, his earmuffs tumbling out of his hand and across the messy floor. Then he raises his head and beams at Rayland. “Just like you and me.”
Rayland returns Jake’s winded smile, though he can see tiny cuts on Jake’s cheeks and forehead – and feel a line of blood starting to form on his own chin.
Just like you and me.
Rayland listens to the radios blaring static outside, wishing that the ‘you and me’ he has with Jake Knect isn’t so complicated.
They wait another fifteen minutes to make sure the Unseen are gone before going back outside. Thunder yaps and clamors at Rayland and Jake’s legs to try to stop them, and no amount of reassurance or petting will help him calm down.
But they need those radios.
This time Rayland opens the door, Jake raising his flashlight with a swift jerk and casting the beam into the darkness. They each have their own hunting knife in hand, just in case any Unseen are still lurking around. Though Rayland doubts that a couple of Buck hunting knives will do them any good.
Rayland wants to believe that they’ve grown perceptive enough. That he and Jake will always pick up on the Unseen’s otherworldly whine and the howling wind they ride in on at least a minute or two before they arrive, but he can’t bet his life on a single assumption. He’s lost too many friends who assumed too much and paid the ultimate price.
Out on the back deck, Rayland kicks a couple of downed branches out of the way before leaping onto the second level of the three-level yard, each tier walled off with wooden beams. He bends over and picks up the first radio he stumbles across, a blue mini USB radio he’d taken off of the grisly remains of one of his neighbors three houses down. The memory of his dead neighbor’s mangled hand and his still-warm blood drenching the entire radio claws its way back into Rayland’s mind, and he shuddered before moving on.
“They really hauled it out of here pretty quick.” Jake stares at the red fence above them before puffing his chest out. He sounds worn, weathered, unsure, but somehow still curious. They fascinate him, even when he’s living moment to moment in this hell with me.
Somehow Rayland can’t blame him, though he wants to scorn Jake for his childlike awe. Instead, all he feels is a throbbing full-body ache. His chin has stopped bleeding, but something inside him still feels raw. Now’s not the time to have another bullshit survivalist existential crisis, Rayland.
“Hey-ey, this is cute!”
Rayland turns as Jake picks up a Hello Kitty radio, one his friend hasn’t seen yet. He turns it over before shooting a grin Rayland’s way. “Is this the new one you were telling me my sister would love? Cause she totally will!”
Rayland nods and smiles, though the humor in him falters. He wanted to show it to Jake to brighten his day earlier, since he knew that Jake’s younger sister, Marie, loves (or loved…) Hello Kitty. But Rayland also wants to forget those creeping images that sometimes keep him up at night: the mustiness of the house he had explored by himself before Jake had come along, the one across the street and down the block a half a mile…
How he’d entered the kid’s room on the second floor with just a single radio and his knife, the bright pink wallpaper and stuffed animals neatly lined up on a shelf suddenly igniting a flicker of hope within him.
Then saw the little girl’s body slumped against the wall in the closet, the accordion doors almost completely obliterated.
Rayland wraps those twisted memories up neatly before turning back to Jake. “Yeah, it was a cute find.”
In total they pick up all sixteen radios, and Rayland thanks the Universe that all of them are intact and still working, even the one with the now-flimsy antenna. The second to last one he snatches has its battery back popped open, but he finds both AAA batteries amid the blanket of leaves and rocks a few seconds later. Rayland breathes a sigh of relief, thinking maybe there is a God after all.
He never thought that pocket radios, walkie-talkies, and AAA batteries would become so damn precious to him. To the two of them.
Back inside, Jake and Rayland triple check each device. Other than a couple of scratches on the side of Rayland’s, they look fine and still work. He even finds a station playing an older Huey Lewis and the News song, although the signal is weak. Rayland’s foot starts to tap as he grins to himself. His mom and dad drove to this song one lazy dusk evening back in Odessa with Rayland in the back seat, and his six-year-old self did his best to sing along.
He turns to Jake in time to see him hold up a yellow Garmin radio, the antenna that was holding on by a plastic thread now completely broken off in his other hand. His frown is exaggerated, but the pain in his eyes is not.
Rayland leans against the island and bows his head. “Dammit.”
End of Chapter 1