The Selection of Milestones Precedes the Offer of Sneak Peeks

Was working on it a bit tonight, and thought I’d choose a good, solid release date for Under the Bright Water, the next instalment of the Treading Twisted Lines series.  So, played with the magical widget machine, generated a milestone, and now have a sweet little countdown to October 27th.  Nice and soon.  Dunno when abouts that day it will be released, but I’m sure it’ll happen before the bells toll midnight for me.

Actually setting a release date will hopefully help with my discipline issue – as I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned several times, want to finish the third instalment before releasing the second.  At least, the first draft should be finished.  I’m liking what I have, so far.  And, as always, I know pretty well where it’s going.  Just need to write it.  Then edit.  Then make it better.  Then edit again.

And now, I shall offer a sneak peek of my soon-to-be-released short story, Under the Bright Water.  This is (again, I think I’ve probably said this before … should really patch them plentiful little leaks in my memory) the story I’ve received the most positive feedback for, and the happiest I’ve been with a story yet.  You shall receive the first segment as it appears in the back of The Chosen Voice.  I hope it’s enjoyed 🙂

There’ll be a lamb on the cover of this one! Hence … the lambs …

The automatic doors opposite leered at him, daring him to enter.  From his safe distance, Kai squinted through them, fingers twining, ruffling and straightening his forever creased sleeve cuffs with unease.  People casually went about their business behind the grimy glass.  Picking up pieces of fruit to examine.  Trailing fingers along neatly arranged rows of canned and packaged goods.  Loading trays with fresh rolls and pastries in the bakery, deep-fried fish fillets and prawns alongside the packed lunch-boxes.

He shuddered.

Suddenly, the doors slid back with a shrill message:  “Thank you for shopping with us today!”  An entire family laden with groceries burst out.  Startled, Kai hastily tried to back up, but tripped, landing painfully in the gutter.

A single child exhibited concern for the fallen stranger, but was herded away by his parents, grandparents, and siblings before he could do more than look his way.  Kai wasn’t about to complain.  It was hard enough dealing with just himself let alone anyone else, do-gooder children included.

Out in the open it was usually all right, so long as he avoided peak hours.  But the grocery store was small.  Enclosed by walls and partitioned by shelves.  Worse, it was crowded.  Why had he signed up to unload those last ships?  He could have been in and out when the tiny shopping street was as still as a graveyard in the pale morning light.  Instead, he’d worked ten hours straight from sunrise.  And now look!  What if he went down an aisle and someone came towards him?  More than one person?  He’d have to retreat.  Either that, or squeeze right by them.  Brush against them.

Touch them.

Don’t think about it, he commanded himself.

But he had to.  He’d earned enough labouring at the docks these past months to afford an old bike.  He’d paid more than its worth and lost a few more days of pay getting its engine reliably spluttering, but that industrial hole of a town hadn’t given Kai any answers.  He barely expected to find them anymore.  But he couldn’t stay any longer, desperate for isolation.  He was headed for the mountains, and needed supplies for the journey.

With a grimace, he picked himself up, dusting off the knees and seat of his trousers automatically.  Midway through the motions he froze, expression pained.  What was the point?

‘Okay,’ he said, eyeing the shop front resignedly.  ‘Get in.  Get out.’

Steeling himself, Kai sprinted across the safety zone.

Hooking a basket over one elbow, he seized packages of instant soup, boxes of crackers, and cans of beans, barely glancing at their labels.  Flying to the fruit and vegetables section, he had to pause to locate treated produce that would last in his pack.  By the time he’d found it he was starting to tremble.

His eyes were almost closed in the deli, throwing processed meats into his basket, and with a surge of good sense he grabbed a lunch-box that would feed him for the rest of the day.  In the dairy section he had to slow again, seeking out long-lasting milks and cheeses.

After tearing through the hygiene section, cramming the little basket full of soap and shampoo, he jumped into the next aisle for gloves and masks, then two over for a fresh shirt.

Overwhelmed and shedding a few tears of frustration, he realised he needed a second basket.  In his rush to grab one its handle caught on a shelf and upended a display of tomato paste sachets as he tugged it free.  Arm wrenching painfully as he almost dropped his already overloaded basket in alarm, he tried to scoop up a few upset sachets.  But a shop attendant was approaching.  ‘Sorry,’ Kai muttered, hurrying away.

Mercifully, he found a checkout line with only two customers ahead and put his baskets down to wait.  His arm still twinged, and he rubbed his upset elbow gingerly.  He then noticed the woman in front’s groceries.  Not a basket.  Not a trolley.  Two trolleys full.

Oh, Gods.

He looked left and right.  No one else had such a load, but the other lines were jam-packed.  Even if those queues moved quickly, the thought of joining them made Kai even more queasy.

He fidgeted, wringing his fingers.  Finally, as the elderly customer two ahead counted coins to pay for her pastries, he spoke up.  He was suffocating, chest caving in as if pinned, crushed between the dingy linoleum and a meteorite suddenly crashed through the store ceiling.  His breath came short.  Uneven.  His face felt tight and cool, cheeks blanched, long since devoid of blood.  He had to get out of there.

‘Ah, excuse me,’ he said hesitantly.

‘What do you want?’ a little voice asked from below.  Kai looked down and saw a pair of children by the woman’s legs.  The girl eyed him suspiciously.  Her brother was pawing through Kai’s baskets, pudgy little hands fingering his lunch-box and shirt.

‘Hey!’ Kai exclaimed, stooping and pulling them away.  ‘Don’t do that!’

‘Is there a problem?’

The woman turned, frowning.  Her frown deepened (as many did) on seeing Kai, but she spoke sternly to her children.  ‘Are you bothering this man?’

‘No,’ they chorused, the boy taking hold of her shiny embroidered dress possessively.

‘Sorry,’ she apologised, eyes not quite meeting his.  Kai shook his head, dizzy.

‘No, no.  No problem.  It’s just … ’

‘Yes?’ she prompted.

‘I’m in a bit of a hurry … I wonder … could I cut ahead?’

‘Wait your turn,’ the girl said in a surprisingly harsh voice.

‘Don’t be like that, Kara,’ the woman chided as she prised her son’s hand from her glistening skirts.  Kara made an ugly face at Kai.  ‘He’ll only take a moment.  Go ahead,’ she said, and Kai hastily scooted out of the way as she backed up her trolleys and offspring.

The cashier neatly packed Kai’s purchases into two sturdy paper bags.  Feeling faint, he threw a fistful of money in the tray and grabbed them, making his escape.  Once outside, he collapsed on the side of the road, breathing heavily as the doors thanked him for his patronage.  How could doors sound so smug and insincere?  Kai wiped his face, collecting his wits.  He wouldn’t have to do that again for a while.

Mostly recovered, he hefted his bags and relocated to a nearby park.  Finding a soft patch of ground under a broad maple tree, he sank to his knees, grateful for the warm, late summer scents of grass clippings and humidity thick in his nostrils.  He sighed once, and then pulled on a pair of gloves, taking out his lunch-box.

Kai had gotten sick a few times not eating right, and now made sure to eat just enough of everything his body demanded.  But he didn’t like eating.  And it was no wonder.

The meal was sullied.  Blackened.  Disgusting.  And that smell. Like rancid meat.  A manure farm.  A metropolis tip.

A desert of thick, oozing excrement shaped by every scrap of waste dropped by every demon, murderer, child-molester, and every Gods-damn cat that ever existed.

But it wasn’t worse than anything else he’d smelt.  And it wasn’t so bad there, really.  Open air.  Alone.

Setting the lid aside, Kai slit the packaging and shook out his chopsticks.  Despite his gloves, the wooden implements were quickly tainted.  His hands were as disgusting as most others’.  Worse.

He was the cursed one.  No one was as repulsive as Kai.

Closing his eyes and lowering his mask, he began to eat.

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