Urban Fantasy Suspense R .  Mac Wheeler Multi - Genre Author
N ightmares.   Panic   attacks.   Depression.   Margarite   is   hammered   by the    typical    issues    of    a    seventeen-year-old    loner,    whose    parents sympathized   with   insane   people   intending   to   collapse   civilization. The   few   who   care   about   Mar   have   more   concerns.   Her   drinking. Fighting. Jumping out of airplanes.   Her   brother   engineered   the   plague   that’s   breaking   out   across   the globe   and   she   holds   a   little   guilt   for   not   stopping   it.   Or   being   one   of the    first    to    die.    Still,    conspirators    behind    what    they    call    the correction are not done with her.
Chapter 1 ~ Each ring tolled fifty heartbeats. My heartbeats. Not a normal person’s. I hoped, with three or four synapses, that the admiral wouldn’t answer his cell. But mostly I hated the alternative. My first visit to the Orient Road Jail I’d been stubborn. The freaks I had to sit with all night scared the tinkle out of me. I didn’t want to live through that again. Reggie wouldn’t pick me up, even if he could. He could fly down a Nebraska country road but he couldn’t deal with dark Tampa streets. Didn’t matter. He’d told me he was done with me disrespecting myself. Reg didn’t have a lot of patience for anything. The jerk. The deputy’s finger tapped at thirty heartbeats a minute. His eyes remained on me. The third ring began. His fourth finger tap, and his eyes widened. He had remembered me from last time. One eye closed and he studied my face like it was a thirteen dollar bill. Yeah, yeah. I remember you too. I pressed the cold pack back against my forehead to hide. The ring ended, but before the fourth could begin, the admiral answered. “Hey, Mr. Evans,” I said as nonchalantly as I could. “Margarite. You been drinking?” he asked. My chest tightened, my shoulders drew inward, and my eyes welled. My mouth opened, but to suck in air, not to answer. “Always, I’d rather you call me than drive,” he said. “Where are you?” I let the air empty out of my lungs. “You okay?” the admiral asked. In a perfect world, Tony Evans might have been my father in-law one day. The past year, if he was sane, he had begun to hope Kory eased out of our relationship. Whatever our relationship was. Yep. I had way too many issues to be daughter in-law material. “You’re worrying me,” he whispered. “Say something.” “I’ve—” The tears came. I could act tough sometimes, but why did my world fall apart at moments like this? “You have an accident? Are you hurt?” The sound of his panic gripped my chest tighter. I pushed air out and sucked in a longer breath. “Why do you put up with me?” I asked between a sob. “Oh.” He drew that out about three hundred of my heartbeats. “Sweetie.” “I—I was arrested.” “Again?” Anger almost pushed out the despair, but it rushed back with a slashing vengeance. That pain that infrequently gave me a break pressed down upon me like gravity gone wild and I struggled to breathe. I would not kill myself. I would not take the easy way out like my parents did. Did it matter if they drank themselves to death or plastered their heads into a highway abutment? But it would be so much easier if I could just, not, be. “Where are you? What can I do?” He gratefully remained quiet long enough for me to regain a tad of composure. “Because I’m only seventeen, they won’t release me. An adult—” “You’re at the Orient Road facility? I can be there in twenty minutes.” “Ask for Deputy Peña,” my buddy said, and rattled off an extension. I mangled the order of the five digit extension three times before I got it right. I welcomed the anger. Anger was the only thing that kept the other from strangling me. I pressed the handset in place ten times harder than appropriate. Peña glared. He glared for a good thousand heartbeats. “What!” “Are you seeing anyone?” he asked. What! “You’re a little old for me,” I hissed. He smiled. “I can set you up with a counselor.” Over his, They can help, I snapped, “Hasn’t so far.” “Does he know how bad it is?” he asked. “None of your b—” I caught myself. There was no reason to unleash my self-hatred on him. I forced my glare away, into my lap. Better than looking at his uniform anyway. Uniforms always reminded me of that night. When they informed us the witch was dead. And her husband. “Everyone has problems,” he said softly. “We all struggle coping with one demon or another.” He exhaled hard. Was he deciding whether it served any purpose to continue? “No one knew—” he looked across the bank of desks left and right. Started over with a softer voice. “Knew how torn up I was inside when I returned from Afghanistan. I kept it hidden pretty well. But it still ruined my marriage, before I sought help.” “She’s Baker Act-ed me twice,” I said. His pause was a knife in the gut. “Oh. So he, she knows.” “See her every Monday and Thursday.” “That’s good.” “The talking helps,” I whispered. There was no one else I could talk to. Maybe she would get me through high school graduation. Would I ever make it to Tampa U? Most days I hoped I wouldn’t. But I wouldn’t be like my father. The bastard. Still a chance the expanding plague could catch up with me. If not naturally, my brother could help out. Peña asked how my head was doing. I twisted a meh his way. He looked back down at my paperwork. After a moment he said, “You sure you don’t want to press charges against him?” I shrugged again. I should have kept my nose in my own business. “You saved the bar owner. We really should shut him down. At least make him turn his lights higher so he can see someone like you clearly isn’t twenty-one.” “Really,” I said. “I gave the ID I used back to my friend.” He grinned. “You’re a terrible liar.” After he finished shaking his head and his smile faded, he told me to chillax for a few. He had paperwork to do. I was thankful he wasn’t going to make me wait in the tank. Hang around for a while and you learn the lingo.   Chapter Two ~ The admiral kissed me on the cheek first thing, before he signed the release. Deputy Peña checked his license matched the boxes on the form and wished me good luck, before escorting us to the main entrance. Mr. Evans and I strode for the parking lot, the quiet stabbing me in the back. “Say something,” I said as we nestled into his Lexus. He sighed first. “Resisting arrest?” “I didn’t know he was a cop. He was in jeans and a tee. Besides, they’ll drop that.” “You know that because of your extensive law experience?” The anger thankfully tweaked. “No. That’s what Deputy Peña told me. They always go for the moon and accept the slap on the wrist.” “This is your third strike, isn’t it?” “There’s no juvenile strikes,” I said. “Besides. They dropped the charges last time.” “Doubt they will this time.” “It wasn’t even my f—” I managed to cut the word off. I guess I did disturb the peace, and I was a juvenile drinking illegally. My shrink harped the first thing I had to do was accept responsibility. Step one. How many other steps were there? Too many. The first one was hard enough. “You were in a bar. You were drunk. At nine o’clock in the evening? Don’t you have school tomorrow?” “I may have been tipsy. But that’s all. I didn’t expect the guy to fight me.” The admiral barked a humorless laugh. “The bruise looks like it hurts.” What in the heck did the guy hit me with, anyway? A bottle? Mr. Evans entered the Selmon Expressway and accelerated. The tollway was deserted of traffic east and westbound. Seemed weird. It wasn’t even eleven o’clock. Could have been post apocalypse. My brother and I mostly headed off Armageddon, though. Another set of headlights crested an overpass a mile ahead of us. So at least one other person used the Expressway this time of night. “I’ve never heard of that bar,” Mr. Evans said. “Down by the port,” I said. “Get carded everywhere close to home?” he asked. I almost belched out one of my inappropriate responses but caught myself. Mr. Evans didn’t have to come after me. I certainly wasn’t his responsibility. “Yes,” I whispered instead. “You won’t tell Kory, will you?” Mr. Evans ripped a look at me. Yeah, I care. Even if Kory has given up on me. The admiral cleared his throat. “I will if he asks how you’re doing, and you know he will.” Maybe not. “Can you at least tell him I got in trouble for trying to stop a jerk from beating on his girlfriend?” He shook his head, just a tiny bit. “You can explain it.” “You don’t know do you?” I asked. He glanced across at me. “What?” “Kory doesn’t call me anymore,” I said softly. That cut off the conversation. Partly that wasn’t so bad. I didn’t have to listen to anymore mild attempts to—what? Set me on a smarter path? Show he cared? Replace uncomfortable silence? Considering the situation, silence was golden. At least he wasn’t driving me home from rehab. And we weren’t driving home from the ER, or psyche ward. Nothing more belittling than getting institutionalized because you’re honest with your shrink. So much for her office being a safe zone. I exhaled softly. Kory might still call. It wouldn’t hurt if I emailed him once in a while. If only he hadn’t acted so holier than thou at Christmas. But Kory was better off forgetting about me. I did him a favor, giving him an excuse to cut it off. Besides, what college kid wants to be tied to someone in high school? Eight thoughts sped through my synapses making me feel dizzy. For leading such a boring life I had too many things to juggle. A non-relationship with one of the smartest, cutest boys in Florida—well, Annapolis. A plague that was partially my fault. Sort of. An autistic brother. Mental issues. Two ticked off coaches. I didn’t expect to be so busy senior year. The biggie. A withdrawn, paranoid brother who creates plagues in his spare time. I didn’t need to list anything else. That last one was enough for a couple of teenager’s lists. I will not kill myself. But I wish I was dead. I jerked. Somehow the Lexus jumped through the Enterprise transporter and the admiral pulled into the narrow drive. He stopped even with my front door as he hit his own garage door opener. “Thanks,” I said. Mr. Evans motioned toward my black Expedition sitting where it should have been on the Abernathy side of the drive. “You had a designated driver?” “Not too designated, but certainly willing to dump me,” I said. The admiral closed his eyes and tilted his head forward. I was out of the car but still heard the subsequent sigh. “You need to make a better class of friends,” he said. “They can’t all be Korys.” I closed the door before he could reply. I rushed around the back of the car to escape. My chest tightened again and my eyes welled. Kory had definitely gone far and beyond, put his life and future in danger for me and Reggie. With that little escapade over, he’d paid his right for a little peace. The porch was dark. I baby stepped up the three stairs to keep from breaking my neck. I’m seventeen. I should have parents worried about me being out late on a school night. Would Reggie be worried? Not enough to turn the porch light on for me. His willingness to act the guardian ebbed and flowed with his paranoia and obsessions. I needed to get him in front of a shrink. A match in heaven. It took me an hour to manage my key in the door. The foyer was dark too, but Reggie’s door was cracked, bathing the hall with a slice of light. I almost wished I still lived upstairs so I wouldn’t have to traipse by his room. He probably wouldn’t even notice. I crossed the soft rectangle of Persian carpet accenting the granite foyer and the soles of my Nike’s squawked the moment they hit the hardwood. With each step I manipulated my step to silence them but they had their own mind. Why’d the dang shoes choose that moment to sound like flatulent ghosts?  Two steps away, Reggie’s door swung wide and his skinny, half-tall-self framed the doorway. He wore his Granny readers, but he didn’t have a book in his hand, so he must have been tolling away at his laptop. He didn’t look up at me. His eyes locked onto the hall wall about twelve inches from the floor. I considered walking past without speaking. But stopped. I waited. A good thousand heartbeats later he still hadn’t spoken. “What?” I asked. “You eat?” My chest tightened all over again. The past year we had more normally been at each other’s throats, and he chose tonight to step out of character and act motherly. Not motherly. He’d never known what a considerate mother would act like. So he was doubly stepping out of character. The everyday anger twerked. I gritted my jaw. It wasn’t the time to snarl at him. “Caught a chicken sandwich,” I answered. “Should have called,” he said. “I prepared a meal.” “Sorry.” Yes. I was inconsiderate. I’m a teenager. Get over it. “I let Brassy out,” he said. “But she left you some droppings.” She always did. The poor thing could barely walk any longer. Walking and holding her bowels was even tougher. My chest tightened two additional twists, and that heavy, suffocating need to cry shrouded me in its blackness. “Sorry,” I whispered. “Not anyone’s fault.” I blinked away tears. Awfully accepting of him tonight. Reggie lurched in his stressed rock. “What is it?” I asked, not expecting him to answer. He took in a quick, deep breath. “I thought this would be the night the police would knock on the door.” For some reason, much of the pain—and dread, eased. Poor man. He was in a panic over what life would be like without someone to do for him. He might have to walk to the bank, open his own mail. Drive. “I promise—” My voice rattled. “I’ll kill you before I kill myself.” “That isn’t funny,” he snapped. He drew his eyes my way but never made it to me. “Okay, so I won’t kill you.” “Please don’t ever—” What? Kill myself? Or joke about it? His rocking stilled. “Twelve new cases. Two died today.” A good time for redirection. “We did all we could,” I said softly. “They’re dead because of me.” I wanted to slap him, not help him. I opened my mouth but no cliché formed. I emptied my lungs. “It’s appropriate you feel badly about it.” He growled, or something, a noise I’d never heard him emit. Implied maybe a sense of anger existed somewhere deep in that complicated, superior brain of his. “Of all emotions, why does regret bottle up right here?” He stabbed himself in the solar plexus with his thumb. Serves you right. I kept that to myself. Least I could do. “You experience plenty of emotion besides regret. Don’t be so surprised.” “Do not.” “Like obsession, paranoia.” “I’m thoughtful, not obsessive. And if evil people want you dead, you aren’t paranoid.” I laughed. “Why is that funny?” he asked. “Couldn’t explain that in a hundred years,” I said. “You’re making fun. Yes?” “Sort of.” “I’m going to bed.” He ripped around and pretty much slammed his door. Not something an emotionless autistic would do.   Chapter Three ~ “I’m tired of being a virgin.” Dr. Tebeth didn’t even blink. “But I don’t think I like boys.” She remained unphased. Ah come on, this is a new topic. “Maybe you and I could get a lesbian thing going.” That got a sigh out of her. “Why do you think you’re a virgin?” What? I didn’t see that coming. “Because I’m such a bitch no one will touch me.” “I doubt that,” the shrink said in her soft voice. “You’re very personable. Intelligent. Attractive.” “Should I be worried,” I asked, “that you find me attractive, or that was the third adjective you managed to dig up for me?” “You owe the jar a quarter,” Dr. Tebeth said, of our make-believe punishment for espousing inwardly focused contempt. She let the bitch remark pass. Why? Wasn’t that self-disparaging? I could afford fifty pretend-cents.  A thousand heartbeats thumped away. Dr. Tebs could sit and watch me all day without saying a thing. She is amazing. The hag. It would help if she’d blink now and then. “You’re supposed to ask, so you want to talk about being a loner?” “Am I?” “Will you ever answer a question from me?” I asked. “About what?” “Is it weird to be a loner but maniacal about sports? Aren’t the quiet types supposed to stay at home and read?” “You like to read despite your dyslexia,” Dr. Tebeth said. “It’s the studying, cataloging facts in your head that you hate.” “I never said that.” She’s amazing how she can twist the direction of my thinking. “Isn’t it true?” I crossed my arms. I did that a lot with Dr. Tebs. “I can read fine.” “But it takes you more effort to sort through texts. And that ticks you off.” “I never told you that.” The tiniest hint of a smile ticced the shrink’s lips. “We’ve been friends for ten years.” “We’re friends?” I asked. “Of course.” Dr. Tebeth tilted her head a bit. “If you didn’t hold my companionship important you would have been gone long ago. No one makes you visit me.” “Ten years, and I’m worse than I ever have been. You’re a pretty lousy shrink, huh?” “You had a very bad experience last year. You’re still alive, and fairly honest about what’s bothering you, except for today.” Anger welled low in my stomach. Dr. Tebs was too quick to accuse. The witch. “I’m honest. We should give a lesbian fling a try.” The shrink’s left brow raised, her regular accusation. Okay. Maybe I should fess up about the other night. If I’d done that thirty minutes ago the session could have been more productive. I quickly admitted to my drinking adventure Tuesday night, including my conversation with the admiral, but left off my conflict with Reggie afterward. “You worried your brother,” Dr. Tebeth said. I clenched my eyes closed. Oh, boy. She already knew. So it was that time of the month to chat with Reg. “What’d he tell you?” “That the two of you hadn’t spoken since Monday.” The liar. “We had words Tuesday night.” The shrink sighed. I didn’t have to ask why. Since our stupid mess last year she’d harped she wanted to see Reg weekly too. Well, maybe not harped. Suggested it three or four hundred times. Or at least twice. “If you find me frustrating, he’d send you over the ledge anyway.” The quip didn’t give me the least sense of gratification. That was frustrating. Life wasn’t worth living if I couldn’t get a rise out of my own sarcasm. Might as well get it all off my chest. Shrinks are better than priests. They don’t make moral judgments. “The yellow bruise isn’t from the dojo.” Dr. Tebeth waited. “I got in a bar fight. Was actually kind of cool.” The shrink closed her eyes tight and nodded forward. “Until I woke up on the floor,” I finished. “You see a doctor?” Dr. Tebeth asked. “I see you twice a week. That’s enough.” Dr. Tebeth’s eyes flicked at the clock hanging on the wall off my left shoulder. “I’m going to ask you again—” Tebs must have paused for effect. “For a couple weeks, no dojo. Definitely no skydiving.” The last must put the poor woman near conniptions. “I hate myself. I’m not suicidal,” I said, surprising myself. The surprise was the statement didn’t twist my stomach. I had accepted something. Tebs lifted both brows. Yep. I’m not good at admitting things. Big surprise it’s hard to admit I hate myself.    Chapter Four ~ Reg stood in the foyer when I opened the door. He managed to keep his eyes leveled at my chin for a fraction of a second before he looked down. “What did I do now?” I asked. “Brassy.” The word was more a vibration than an utterance. I dropped my gym bag and let my bookbag jolt off my shoulder as I sprinted for my bedroom, my breath coming in a wheeze. My lungs instantly ached as though my brother’s plague exploded inside of me. A perfectly folded sheet covered her. She lay exactly as I had left her before hurrying to Tebs’. I knelt down, pressing my forehead where the Rottweiler’s shoulder would be. The sobs came. I’d feared this moment for longer than I could remember. I’d give my own life if the dog could just sit up and look at me with those enormous mahogany eyes again, with that love that gushed out of the creature’s soul. A fist had to be ripping my lungs out of my chest the pain was so intense. My head expanded, throbbed in sync with my sobs, each an impossible gasp for air. I jerked. Pulled from my agony for a moment. Reggie had knelt beside me, though was careful not to touch me. He leaned forward, over his forearms which stretched across the floor in front of him. His attempt to show empathy. But he could go away and die. Everyone could die. Our efforts last year were for nothing. Did nothing but age the dog, with all our driving around, rushing here and there. Especially the antibiotics they crammed in her artery. I choked, making the sobs even worse. My heart was ripping out of my chest along with my lungs. That was good. I didn’t need either organ any longer. All I wanted to do was die right there. “The door,” Reg hissed over my cries. The two syllables barely registered. The room spun. A force drew me away from Brassy, soft hands, encouraging me away from my beloved friend. A soft voice repeated. Not Reg. A form loomed in the dark to the left. I managed to raise my eyes to find the concrete-hard pillar that was Reggie. Who was— “I got Reggie’s call five minutes after you left,” the soft voice droned. Dr. Tebeth. What was she doing here? “I want to take you to the hospital?” Tebs was saying. No, I screeched. Let me die. The psychiatrist’s arms folded around me. A hand pulled my face into the woman’s chest. You’ll be fine. You’ll be fine, the woman recited like a mantra. I moved back and forth. The woman rocked with me. Had one of my nannies ever rocked me? Certainly neither of my parents ever had. Brassy’s dead. Brassy’s gone. I’m alone now. The sobs and agony continued. I pushed away from Tebs. I needed to stretch out, let my lungs draw in air. I met the shrink’s eyes, which were red and puffy. “You’re going to get past this,” the woman cooed over my unending sobs. I don’t think so. Tebs turned away. She was speaking softly with Reggie but the words didn’t mean anything. I sensed Reg shaking his head, muttering no in response to whatever Tebs wanted him to do. After maybe a third try he stumbled away. I gently pushed away from Tebs and stretched out on the floor next to Brassy, pulled my silent friend to me in a last embrace.   Chapter Five ~ Time didn’t click, except that the sun was up. At least the room was washed in glare. I turned toward the near window. Through mostly closed blinds, a low sun glinted. I clenched my eyes closed against it, concentrated on what and why. I had been telling myself for months I needed to be prepared. But nothing prepared me. Brassy held out longer than was fair for her. As though she knew I needed more time to pull my head out between my buttocks. Ah, Brassy. I listened. The normal chaos rang up and down the hall, past my half-closed door. Of nurses checking on patients. Not the slumber of the nut ward I had visited the last time Tebs locked me up. Snippets of wakefulness meandered back to me, of waking several times, to nurses completing a bed check before I closed my eyes to them. Whatever they injected into my IV in the emergency room ensured I slept through my transfer upstairs. There was no memory of anyone repeating over and over, do you understand we are admitting you for observation? A large paper bag sat on the ride-around table. My clothes? I leaned, grasped the edge of the table and pulled it to me, checked the contents of the bag. Shoes, tee, cargo shorts. Phone in my back pocket, turned off. No keys. No wallet. I struggled to sit up. A lethargy I hadn’t felt since my last horse pill, tugged at me. I dragged my legs out from under the sheet and blanket, stood to a tilting world. Whoa. After a ten-count the room stopped spinning, but a sensation of too much oxygen padding my brain made me wobble on my feet. A lot like the time I downed the two shots of Cuervo, immediately before running for the bathroom. One slow step after another, I walked the IV pole to the door, peeked left and right. Neither end of the hall had the ubiquitous white castle gates with their safety glass squares at eye level. I was on a regular floor. Not committed with the loons. Weird. But cool. I padded to the sink, removed the tape from my arm, and withdrew the IV needle. The short blot of blood made my stomach catch. But a sense of urgency shouted in my head, you have to get out of here. I pressed a thumb over the tiny gusher as I spread out my clothes, struggled to dress one handed. Harder than I expected, especially with my wits half-dulled as they were. Fifteen minutes later I found myself in Tampa’s spring heat, sunny glare, oppressive oak and jasmine pollen, stumbling east on Swann Avenue, for the bay, maybe a mile away. Why did I just run away from the hospital? I didn’t have a clue. Why was it important to get to the bay? Walk in and drown myself? In the Hillsborough’s calm water? There had to be easier ways to do myself in. Fast was a prerequisite. But oddly, I wasn’t motivated for the moment to harm myself. I just couldn’t stay still. I had to move. Thankfully the drag from the remaining drugs in my system softened with my profuse sweating and pollen infused air. Guess it could be called fresh air, for Florida. Fifteen minutes later I leaned against the Bayshore balustrade. The off-hour traffic hummed at my back. Artist painted clouds cluttered the horizon in a one-eighty arc around me. A hint of a breeze nestled strands of my loose hair against my throat. I squinted at the glare. Now what? Tebs would be pissed. Reggie would rock with anxiety he’d never admit to. I sucked in a deep breath, but still couldn’t catch my high breath. For the last few minutes only one face continued to appear in my thoughts. Why Monty? Whatever fear made me flee the hospital, my subconscious clearly had steps laid out I should follow. I pulled my phone out of my pocket and powered it on. A minute later I waited for the man to answer. Hey, Margarite. It gushed out, about Brassy, and the tears and sobs surged again. The man remained quiet, calm, waited for my composure to return. “I’m sorry, Mar.” A gasp shook me. “I hurt.” “I know.” “It’s physical. Like a giant is breaking me in two.” “I’ve felt it before,” he said softly. “Not like this.” He didn’t argue. Instead asked me where I was. Why was that his first question? “Where do you think I would be?” I half-hissed. “Has Reggie, you know, is he helping you?” “Reggie’s a dry teat.” “He’s all you got,” Monty said softly. “That hurts.” A new sob wrapped me tight. “Family. You’ll always have me, sweetie. And there’s always Kory and his dad.” In a hard gush I explained I walked out of the hospital. The phone was eerily silent for a long moment, maybe a thousand heartbeats. “You’re scaring me, sweetie.” “I needed to look out over the water,” I said. “The water is calming.” He didn’t speak for another minute. “I’m texting someone, to see if—” “I don’t want to go back to the hospital.” “You have to see Dr. Tebeth. You’ll give her a heart attack.” “I just need a hug.” The tears streamed again and acid pumped vertically through my body, drawing a screech of pain. A hug? Why in the bloody hell would I say that? “Sweetie, sweetie,” Monty mumbled. “I told you my son was heading to school in Tampa. He left early to settle in. Get some golf in, before. Let me see if he can come get you.” “Your son?” “I told you we were talking, some.” “I thought he was, like ten.” Monty laughed. That helped me catch a breath of air. “He’s starting medical school.” “Oh, God,” I shrieked. “Not another one.” “They’re everywhere,” Monty said. I hate doctors. The three other Abenathys have driven me crazy. Thankfully two of them are dead. I listened to the gulls for an uncomfortable fifty heartbeats. “No need to bother ‘im. I’m, like, fifteen minutes from home,” I said. “He’s replied back already. Said he’d planned to come introduce himself.” I closed my eyes and shook my head. “He’s a wallflower like you, huh?” “His mother was the outgoing one between us.” “Oh my God, the kid didn’t have a chance, did he?” His laugh sounded good. If only Reggie could laugh. Could hug. Could look someone in the eye. It might make all the difference. Monty said he’d stay on the phone with me, but wanted me to head for home. “No. I don’t want to go home. Not yet.” “They’ll…God, Margarite. What are you wearing?” “Not a hospital smock, okay.” “Your regular black tee and khaki shorts?” I wear cargoes. Not khakis. I considered hanging up. This isn’t why I called him. I didn’t know why I called him, exactly. Well, maybe I did. I didn’t have a friend in the world, but he was as close as it got. And I needed a friend. Not a shrink. Needed a release, not any more pressure. The alcohol interrupted the guilt a bit. People were dying every day and it was my fault. Well, maybe it was Reggie’s fault, but I was sort of responsible for him. “Adrian is evidently nearby. He’ll—” “I didn’t need you to fix anything,” I shrilled at the phone. I just wanted—I don’t know what I wanted. “I got t’ go.” I hung up and hesitated to slide the phone into my pocket. I powered it off, first. Monty would just call back. The not reachable message would save him the effort of redialing over and over. Thankfully the sobs didn’t threaten, but the pain gripping my chest continued to flex and relax, flex again. I blinked the tears away. The bitch should have aborted me. Would have been better. What was she thinking? She didn’t want another child. Clearly. I pinched away the snot and wiped it on my shorts. My body vibrated with a need to act. Run. Hide. Something. I flinched with a false start to the right. I didn’t want to go home. I looked left, toward downtown. I didn’t want to be around people. I pounded the concrete of the balustrade with my fist. How long did I stand there not moving? Seemed like the sun should have set. “Are you Margarite?” The old fear, of being hunted, exploded in my chest.   Chapter Six ~ A voice apologized. I whirled to face my attacker. But the man wasn’t holding a gun. “I’m Adrian. Sorry I startled you.” He didn’t have his dad’s green eyes. Brown. With scruffy brown hair that hadn’t been trimmed in thirty-nine months. Wore a navy-blue tee with Emory written across the chest in big yellow, block letters. Baggie khaki shorts. Tallish like his dad, without the Atlas shoulders and thighs. Round face. A hint of dark whiskers prickled his chin. A horn blared, making me jerk. A ten year old Camry sat blocking the near lane of Bayshore. Cars queued up behind to get in the other lane to pass. “Your dad doesn’t take no for an answer,” I hissed. “I wouldn’t know,” the geekish kid muttered. “Lived in the same city but haven’t met him in person in years.” A police car approached with its lights on. Police. Last thing I wanted to see. A voice from the Camry shouted about maybe it was best to move. I glared at the kid sitting in the passenger seat. Looked Arab, maybe, wore a slightly panicked expression. With his genes, he had more than Tampa cops to worry about. “You better go,” I told Adrian. “Uh, Dad said you were in trouble.” He looked back at the TPD cruiser that stopped behind his car. An overwhelming desire to deck the kid sent electricity flowing across my shoulders. I didn’t ask for this. Especially interference from some pimple-faced stranger. An officer strode toward us now. A voice which I didn’t listen to droned. I could get rid of Adrian fast enough, claiming he’d stopped and tried to molest me. That was an idea. “Tell him. Tell him,” Adrian’s voice cut through my thoughts. The last thing I wanted that moment was more drama. I turned and strode past the cop, covering my ears with my hands. A gaggle of anger thankfully pushed out a bit of the pain. My best friend dies and no one will leave me be to grieve. It wasn’t fair. Voices shouted behind me. The anger and hurt shot sharper. I jolted into a sprint, away from the balustrade, across the lawn, nearly into the Bayshore traffic, which pumped more adrenaline in my heart. That was one way to end it, running right into an oncoming car. I ran down the bike lane a thousand heartbeats until I could thread across the two lanes. I remained in the median, feet thudding in the deep grass. My knees were rubber, my mind fogged. What was happening? This had to be a nightmare. A horn blast nearly took me off my feet. I stumbled over the curb. I gasped for breath. A half-dozen glass and steel blurs flashed by me. I slogged forward to the sound of screeching tires. Losing my balance, I leaned my hand on the hot surface of a car hood, pushed away and made it across the street. Where to go? For what purpose? Home meant Reggie. He’d been working from home more than he’d been trekking to the university the last few months. Did I really want to be in the bedroom my only friend just— On the sidewalk, I stopped running. The tunnel I threaded through, the blur of light and shadows dizzied me. My heart must have shifted into my head because the only thing I could hear was thump-thump, thump-thump. The synapses refused to do their thing. I might have walked for ten miles. I didn’t know. No. That would have meant I would be treading water in the Gulf. I collided into something, someone. A sail of navy-blue accented in gold filled the narrow tube I stared through. “The cop says we take you home or he’s going to arrest you.” What? My feet stopped moving. I blinked to clear the blur. Words fluttered between my lips, which meant nothing to me. “Margarite. My dad’s scared pissless. Please get into the car.” A soft hand at my elbow pressed me to step forward. I jolted at the dark dressed form in front of me. A man. Hand on the top edge of a car door. I need to wake up from this nightmare. I allowed hands to direct me forward, fold me into a backseat. Words droned a few moments later. A shriek interrupted the words, a metallic voice without emotion. My knees pressed painfully into a Plexiglas partition. A new anxiety welled of being locked up, shelved into the space of a coffin. I gasped for air.   Chapter Seven ~ The coffin opened and fresh but muggy air rushed at me. A hand offered me help out. I ignored it, scrambled numbly out. The round, white face stared at me. “Dad said your brother is home, will let us in.” They brought me home? I looked at the houses to my left and right, familiar yet not quite right. Voices droned for a moment, before a hand grasped my arm. I flung it off. “Please,” whined the baby-faced one. The fog was clearing a bit. I took a deep breath and walked past the two. They followed me up the drive closely, as though I might take off in a new sprint. Round-face was telling the cop my shrink was on the way. I didn’t even know shrinks could leave their office. Could that be legal? But then she’d been here last night. As I trudged up the three steps the front door opened and Reggie stepped out on the porch. His hands wrung at his waist, but his eyes remained directed at the deck. He didn’t say anything. I passed him and went into the house, was on the second step of the stairs when it clicked. I didn’t sleep upstairs anymore, and paused. My move downstairs was because Brassy couldn’t manage the steps. But that was no longer an issue. Brassy had died in the room those two horrible people lived in. A new reason to hate the master bedroom. I continued on, up, to my old home. “Your room—” Reggie cut off his complaint. Smart man. I didn’t want to beat him to a pulp. I slumped onto my old bed. I drew my hand across the silky bedcover. Reggie had selected it, at Costco. He presumably had a better understanding of style. It was too feminine for my tastes, but, I realized, I had missed it. The hard contours of the aqua and teal colors my parents preferred had grated at me the past year. I missed my reds. Masculine voices threaded from downstairs. Soft. Almost whispers, as though their owners attended a funeral. They did, in a way. What had Reggie done with Brassy’s body? A javelin thrust through my chest, but at least my eyes didn’t well, the sobs didn’t take over. The admiral would have seen to Brassy, respectfully. She wouldn’t have just been hauled to the city incinerator east of the port. That would be wrong. My chest panged with a new shaft. Images, horrible memory, flashed through my thoughts, of that day in Nebraska, of Reggie standing over that man bleeding on the ground, cleaved nearly in two by Kory’s shotgun. Reg blasted him in the leg again with the nine millimeter, and again, until he told Reg what he wanted to know. When he did, Reg put a last bullet in his chest. That was a year ago almost to the day. May—what was it, the twelfth? Reg killed two men. Tortured them. But he learned what he needed. How many lives did he save? Not enough. How many went belly up today already? A softer voice whispered up the stairs. One I expected. Well, in truth I expected the admiral to be there too. Of course Monty would have called his spy friend to keep an eye on me. Big surprise the CDC and CIA remained in each other’s hip pockets. Though the admiral adamantly denied being CIA. Didn’t matter. I might be paranoid but I wasn’t naïve. The man hadn’t moved next door for his health. They knew Reg was engineering Armageddon. “You look like hell.” I jerked. “You know the consequences of walking out of the hospital?” Tebs asked. “Sue me.” “I was there an hour before you took off. I let you sleep. Cut me some slack. I have a life, you know.” “I don’t,” I mumbled. “You are such a whiny little girl.” “I have a black belt. I’m pretty good. I’ll beat you.” Tebs laughed. “I’ve told you, you’re not just a patient, you’re my friend. You can’t beat your friends.” She padded across the room and pressed her hand against my forehead. “Can’t say you were delirious with fever.” She dropped her hand, backed up and sat in the desk chair. “Reggie likes to keep the house like an ice box.” “I noticed,” Tebs said. “Better up here than downstairs though.” “I think I’ll move back up here.” “I’m pissed off at you,” Tebs said. “Stand in line. I just— Had to get out of there. Get some fresh air. Didn’t ask for all the drama.” “You’ve always been a pain in the butt.” “At ninety dollars an hour, good for you.” “That’s all you pay. I bill your insurance a lot more.” I exhaled. “Thank God for insurance.” “I wouldn’t have a practice without it. There are only so many crazy rich folk to go around.” “You going to force drugs down my throat?” I asked. Tebs didn’t answer for a moment. “You maybe didn’t react so well to what I gave you already.” “Yeah. That was it.” I hadn’t thought of that excuse. “If you promise not to go running away—” “No promises.” Tebs glared. I shrugged. We held eye contact for about fifty heartbeats. I had to break it first. The woman is good. “I’m sorry about Brassy,” the woman said softly. “I hurt.” “I know you do. You need anything more than what you’re on?” “You’re asking me?” “I’ll never make you do—” “You’ve locked me up twice.” Tebs shrugged. “I got your attention.” I didn’t need that kind of attention. I drew up my glare again, but only for a moment. I couldn’t beat the shrink. She was a professional. Had sincerity on her side. Tebs proceeded through her list of questions. It would have been easy to just tell her what she wanted to know. There was nothing hidden in her words. I asked her if she made home visits with any of her other patients. Of course she didn’t answer. She asked the questions I didn’t answer. Often. Tebs told me she didn’t want me hanging out in my dark room all day. I shot back I was enjoying the sun before everyone interfered. That earned a smile. Tebs had to leave. Asked if I would be okay. “I hurt. Just a little more than usual.” Tebs suggested I find a basketball hoop and burn up some energy. I didn’t think I actually had any energy. Plus I hadn’t eaten in over twenty-four hours. Before Tebs left, she told me to take a shower and act human. Sure. The admiral must have been standing in the foyer waiting for her to leave, because he showed up ten seconds later. He gave me a chin thrust. Did I have to go through it all over again? I’d rather slit my wrists. Something I’d never voice out loud. Hell would break out. “Reggie says he may go to Atlanta.” My heart doubled in size for a beat. “What!” “We won’t leave you alone,” the man said quickly. “Reggie’s only traveled once before in his life.” That got us shot at, me in the hospital twice. “This is a big deal. FDA is fast tracking the serum he’s working on.” “Liar,” I hissed. “Why would I lie about that?” Mr. Evans groused. I thought hard. Only a tenth of the stuff that crossed my eyes when I edited my brother’s papers ever made sense. Why did the antiserum thing jump out in my head? I closed my eyes a moment to think. There was something about the speed Yersinia pestis attacked its host. Resistance-something. I stood and strode out of the room. The admiral’s footsteps followed me down the stairs. Adrian—wasn’t that his name? Sat in the sitting room. I ignored him. I found Reggie standing before the front door, rocking. He clutched slips of paper in his right hand. Dang scripts from Tebs for me. But that wasn’t important for the moment. “What’s going on? You said your strain wouldn’t be slowed down by any serum.” Reg stumbled when he whirled around to face me. His eyes reached mine for a moment. “I never said that.” “You wrote it. I read all your papers. Remember!”   Chapter Eight ~ Our argument didn’t last long. He had already been rocking. Why, who knows. He stormed down the hall and slammed his door behind him. Acting the little boy. I wrenched at the doorknob, but he’d manage to lock me out too fast. “This topic is not closed,” I shouted at the mahogany stained door. “What’s going on?” I jerked. Maybe I was an Aspie too. I’d forgotten anyone else was in the house. Admiral Evans glared, hands on his hips. The upstart, Adrian, peered around him. The kid said, “How do you fast track a serum for a deadly disease?” Yeah. Exactly. Can’t test it unless you then expose the test subject. And who in their freaking mind would consent to being exposed to the plague? Something else was going on. My stomach grumbled, which acted an effective reminder I was starving, and weak. My rubber knees wobbled. “You’re white as a sheet,” the admiral mumbled. I’m not getting drawn into Reggie’s games this time. “What?” the admiral asked. “I have to eat.” “I’ll fix you something,” he said. “Don’t you have any leftovers? I’m about to puke.” “I’m going to need a ride,” Adrian mumbled. “I let Simon take off with my car.” I glared at him. The admiral turned to give him an eye too. He asked Adrian who he was. Took a little explaining. Evidently Adrian isn’t a succinct speaker. I reminded Mr. Evans he’d met Monty in Nebraska. Since, I learned Monty hadn’t taken his nickname from a rock band. “Hanoch Beri is my dad,” Adrian said. I’d known Monty for a year and never heard his real name. “Hanoch?” I blurted. “No wonder he goes by Monty.” Adrian mumbled something about it maybe sounding regular to him since he’d known it all his life. I could assure him Hanoch wasn’t regular. Adrian followed up with, “I guess they use nicknames a lot in the military.” No. Anyone with a name like Hanoch would get a nickname. I’m going totally mental if I spend any time with this doofus. Yet his dad was so cool. My stomach grumbled again, so I reminded the admiral of my issue. He said he’d drive. That was a good idea. I figured my blood sugar was so low if a car braked a mile in front of me I would probably rear end it. “Since I’m stranded, can I tag along?” Adrian asked. Mental. I was going one hundred percent mental before the day was out. But I didn’t insult the kid. Passed him for the door. The admiral held back, asking Reg through his door if he wanted us to bring him anything back. Yeah sure. But that’s right. The admiral did get to see Reg eat in a restaurant. One of many things that were out of the ordinary for the man on that trip. My brother did not like other’s cooking for him. Stepping out on the porch it occurred to me there were no cops hanging around. I asked Adrian what happened to our escort. He took much too long to explain the cop performed a professional courtesy for a fellow law enforcement officer, meaning Monty. The admiral caught up with us by then, led us toward the back garage. I hated to ratchet my agony back up, but I asked him about Brassy. “I made calls,” he said slowly, keying his garage open. “You can have her cremated, keep her remains in a keepsake if you wish?” Yeah. I wanted a reminder of her death for the rest of my life. “But for now—” He opened the driver door of the Lexus and paused. “She’s buried in my backyard.” I gasped. Words spewed from my lips. That I wanted to see. “You sure?” I nodded. Though as Adrian and I followed my neighbor through his six-foot gate and into his twenty by thirty backyard, I admitted this was probably a bad idea. As soon as I saw the white-ish mound of sand surrounded by the perfect St. Augustine grass, the tears flooded down my face and Sasquatch sat on my chest. I had often discussed with Tebs the stages of grief. Maybe like ripping off a bandage, I could fast forward to acceptance. But the big D just seemed to want to bury me there next to Brassy. Mr. Evans’ arm draped across my back. I wasn’t used to being touched, but I managed not to shrug him away. It was his way to console me. Tebs explained years ago normal people did such things. I’d never spent much time around normal people. Besides, there was no consoling. “Kory sends his love,” he whispered. He could have called me. A sob escaped. I hurried to wipe the tears and mucus away. “I’m hungry.” My announcement edged angry even to me. I walked away briskly. Reggie never should have brought Brassy home. It wasn’t fair. Living in that house was cruel and unusual punishment even for a dog that didn’t know any better. But her presence helped me get through it. What would get me through the next years? Days? Maybe I did need some more potent pharmaceuticals. © R. Mac Wheeler 2017
SCI FI Fantasy Dystopian
R .  Mac Wheeler Multi - Genre Author
6 Ways to Mental Chapter 1 ~ Each ring tolled fifty heartbeats. My heartbeats. Not a normal person’s. I hoped, with three or four synapses, that the admiral wouldn’t answer his cell. But mostly I hated the alternative. My first visit to the Orient Road Jail I’d been stubborn. The freaks I had to sit with all night scared the tinkle out of me. I didn’t want to live through that again. Reggie wouldn’t pick me up, even if he could. He could fly down a Nebraska country road but he couldn’t deal with dark Tampa streets. Didn’t matter. He’d told me he was done with me disrespecting myself. Reg didn’t have a lot of patience for anything. The jerk. The deputy’s finger tapped at thirty heartbeats a minute. His eyes remained on me. The third ring began. His fourth finger tap, and his eyes widened. He had remembered me from last time. One eye closed and he studied my face like it was a thirteen dollar bill. Yeah, yeah. I remember you too. I pressed the cold pack back against my forehead to hide. The ring ended, but before the fourth could begin, the admiral answered. “Hey, Mr. Evans,” I said as nonchalantly as I could. “Margarite. You been drinking?” he asked. My chest tightened, my shoulders drew inward, and my eyes welled. My mouth opened, but to suck in air, not to answer. “Always, I’d rather you call me than drive,” he said. “Where are you?” I let the air empty out of my lungs. “You okay?” the admiral asked. In a perfect world, Tony Evans might have been my father in-law one day. The past year, if he was sane, he had begun to hope Kory eased out of our relationship. Whatever our relationship was. Yep. I had way too many issues to be daughter in-law material. “You’re worrying me,” he whispered. “Say something.” “I’ve—” The tears came. I could act tough sometimes, but why did my world fall apart at moments like this? “You have an accident? Are you hurt?” The sound of his panic gripped my chest tighter. I pushed air out and sucked in a longer breath. “Why do you put up with me?” I asked between a sob. “Oh.” He drew that out about three hundred of my heartbeats. “Sweetie.” “I—I was arrested.” “Again?” Anger almost pushed out the despair, but it rushed back with a slashing vengeance. That pain that infrequently gave me a break pressed down upon me like gravity gone wild and I struggled to breathe. I would not kill myself. I would not take the easy way out like my parents did. Did it matter if they drank themselves to death or plastered their heads into a highway abutment? But it would be so much easier if I could just, not, be. “Where are you? What can I do?” He gratefully remained quiet long enough for me to regain a tad of composure. “Because I’m only seventeen, they won’t release me. An adult—” “You’re at the Orient Road facility? I can be there in twenty minutes.” “Ask for Deputy Peña,” my buddy said, and rattled off an extension. I mangled the order of the five digit extension three times before I got it right. I welcomed the anger. Anger was the only thing that kept the other from strangling me. I pressed the handset in place ten times harder than appropriate. Peña glared. He glared for a good thousand heartbeats. “What!” “Are you seeing anyone?” he asked. What! “You’re a little old for me,” I hissed. He smiled. “I can set you up with a counselor.” Over his, They can help, I snapped, “Hasn’t so far.” “Does he know how bad it is?” he asked. “None of your b—” I caught myself. There was no reason to unleash my self- hatred on him. I forced my glare away, into my lap. Better than looking at his uniform anyway. Uniforms always reminded me of that night. When they informed us the witch was dead. And her husband. “Everyone has problems,” he said softly. “We all struggle coping with one demon or another.” He exhaled hard. Was he deciding whether it served any purpose to continue? “No one knew—” he looked across the bank of desks left and right. Started over with a softer voice. “Knew how torn up I was inside when I returned from Afghanistan. I kept it hidden pretty well. But it still ruined my marriage, before I sought help.” “She’s Baker Act-ed me twice,” I said. His pause was a knife in the gut. “Oh. So he, she knows.” “See her every Monday and Thursday.” “That’s good.” “The talking helps,” I whispered. There was no one else I could talk to. Maybe she would get me through high school graduation. Would I ever make it to Tampa U? Most days I hoped I wouldn’t. But I wouldn’t be like my father. The bastard. Still a chance the expanding plague could catch up with me. If not naturally, my brother could help out. Peña asked how my head was doing. I twisted a meh his way. He looked back down at my paperwork. After a moment he said, “You sure you don’t want to press charges against him?” I shrugged again. I should have kept my nose in my own business. “You saved the bar owner. We really should shut him down. At least make him turn his lights higher so he can see someone like you clearly isn’t twenty-one.” “Really,” I said. “I gave the ID I used back to my friend.” He grinned. “You’re a terrible liar.” After he finished shaking his head and his smile faded, he told me to chillax for a few. He had paperwork to do. I was thankful he wasn’t going to make me wait in the tank. Hang around for a while and you learn the lingo. © R. Mac Wheeler 2017