An Excerpt from TEXT
My new thriller TEXT is coming August 26. You can pre-order a Kindle copy for just 99 cents or you can order your print copy now. You can also enter a contest to win a Kindle edition (that's up until the 25th. If it's past that time, sorry).
TEXT tells the story of Abe Yates, a writer who suddenly finds himself in imminent danger. The danger all starts when he receives a mysterious text message that contains a video. A video that appears to be from days in the future and shows something - horrifying. It's a mystery. A thriller and a study of how far a family man will go to save those he loves and the life he knows.
Here now, is a excerpt from TEXT.
He stepped briskly, sipping his frozen coffee drink and marched right out the back door and into his office.
Abe stepped right over to his phone. It was now fully charged, so he removed it from the charging cord and sat down on his squeaky chair. He leaned back and first found the remote to turn the music on. Then he began looking through his messages.
Sure enough, there were some texts from friends and people who knew Spencer and whom Spencer had probably called about the party last night. Most of them Abe knew only tangentially and he could not recall most of their faces and most of them expressed regret at not being able to attend. He mused that they could have shown up or just not shown up and he would never have known the difference. That was the thing that happened when you were a reliable bestseller at the agency and publisher. People felt they had to bow down to you even if you had no idea who they were.
Delete. Delete. Delete.
He came to a final message, near the bottom of the list, from a number that he did not recognize. In fact, it was an impossible number to start with.
Abe remembered getting weird phone calls from a number like that years ago when he had first gotten a cell phone. They had finally come down in price and the phone companies were finally offering decent deals on them and he had bought one of those obsolete flip phones. He would find that he had a voicemail from a number that was all zeroes and when he listened to it, it was just a bunch of weird noises. He hadn't gotten a call like that in ages.
Abe opened up the message and saw that there was a black box in the middle of a white field. There was a white arrow, pointing to the right, in the middle of the black box.
Who the hell would send him a video text? No one he knew was the type to do that. Abe was not a video taker himself and he rarely even texted over photos. If he had a good photo, he was told that social media was the best place to put that.
It was probably just someone who was at the party last night. Perhaps someone who stayed later and maybe things got crazier after he and Shari had left. Hell, it was probably a video from Sam or Spence trying to show him the fun he missed out on.
Abe hit play.
At first he was not sure at all what he was a looking at.
It was a weird video, shot poorly, that kept pixelating. It was dark and it was shot with some night-vision setting on the camera or cell phone, so everything had a weird greenish/white glow. The colors were all inverted, too, so the black pants looked white. He saw legs and arms and torsos, but the camera was mostly pointed at the ground.
There was sound, too. Men's voices, from the sound of it, but the sound was tinny and Abe couldn't make out any words. Someone was yelling.
Then there was screaming.
The camera swung up and suddenly Abe was looking into a face that he knew all too well. Whoever was holding the camera was wearing a Henry the Cross-Eyed Lion mask. One of the cheap plastic ones that came out every year and sold at the large discount store around the corner. The eyes, hidden behind that mask, looked empty and dark. There was just the smiling lion and the areas around the eye holes had been painted to look comically cross-eyed.
It was surreal.
Abe sat up straighter on his chair, absently licking his lips. He was distantly aware of the fact that his throat was dry.
The camera swung around and now he could see that they were in someone's house. He could make out a large staircase and a hardwood floor. It was familiar. He could see at least five other men. They were wearing suits, but all of them were wearing animal masks. Plastic animal masks based on the characters in Shari's books.
Someone was coming down the stairs.
Snatches of conversation came through the static.
"-'em down. C'mon."
"Down. Down here."
Abe felt something grab at his heart, like a fist.
Four people were led down the large staircase. Two young people, judging by their size, a woman and a man. The man was turning his head left and right, but what he was saying was lost. What any of their faces looked like was lost because they each had a pillow case over their heads. All of their hands were tied behind their back. The man who led them down the stairs was holding a pistol and he had his hand in the back of the man with the pillow case on his head. They were all forced down the stairs and then made to kneel down in front of them.
"Just tell us --"
"I don't --!"
"You have --"
"Just tell us. Tell us or --"
"Son of a bitch!"
The man with the gun leveled it at the face of one of the smaller figures that were now on the far right of the screen. There was the sound of a woman screaming followed by the squeals of a younger girl and probably the other child.
"No," Abe said.
The video kept doing that pixelation thing over and over again. At times the video froze. The sound would not come through and when it did it had an odd robotic sound to it. Sometimes the voices were high, like the Alvin and the Chipmunks cartoon and records that Abbie had been in love with when she was three.
Abe had a good idea where this was and who was under those hoods. That was his house he was looking at, he was pretty sure.
The gun was leveled at the smallest of the figures on the right. Then the man with the gun leveled it at the next figure, the second smallest.
"Stop it!" Someone yelled on the video. "Just stop it!"
"Tell us where it is."
"I. Don't. Know!"
The gun then leveled at the person right next to the man with the hood. It was obviously a woman. Most likely the man's wife. She was wearing a long T-shirt as a nightgown.
Abe's eyebrows furrowed at that.
"Wait a minute," he whispered.
"--gonna do it --"
"Please. I don't --"
"--bad, then --"
The sound of the gunshot was tinny, but still loud. There was a bright flash from the muzzle and Abe could actually see the impact against the hood. There was a lot of yelling, from the man, and the kids were screaming. Blood flew out of the back of the woman's head and she slumped sideways, falling against the man with the hood and then falling face-forward onto the floor.
More screaming. Lots of screaming and the sounds of crying. The children were crying and so was the man.
"You realize that this is not going to end well."
That was the man with the gun. He was also in a mask. His was not one of Shari's characters. His was a weird, blank mask that was probably pure white, but appeared black with the inverted colors of the night-vision. There were just two small eye slits at the top and a small bump to indicate a nose, then a tiny slit at the bottom where his mouth would be.
"I swear --" The man said more, pleading, still weeping.
The man with the gun slowly swiveled and the barrel pointed to the young girl. Then the smaller figure at the far right.
"--gonna let you see--"
The man with the gun stepped forward and yanked the hood off of the man. Then he yanked the hood off of the smaller figure on the right. The man beneath the hood's hair was standing up and he was looking down. When he saw the figure at his feet, spilling blood into the hardwood, he screamed like a wounded animal, but his face was still focused on the floor.
It was the face of the smaller figure on the far right that grabbed Abe's attention.
The image was fuzzy. The young man's face was filled with terror, the eyes wide, tears streaming down the face. The young man's hair was also messed up, standing all over.
But Abe knew that face. He knew it because he had just been studying it the previous night.
It was Noah.
"What the holy fuck?" Abe muttered and he leaned even closer to the screen.
The video image was so tiny and the quality terrible. These fucking phones and their claims of having the best fucking cameras. This was insane. The gunshot was like a tiny pop, barely anything that you would notice.
The man with the gun reached out and grabbed the hood off the man. Of course, Abe thought, he was now staring into his own terrified face. The man beneath that hood had snot or blood (it was impossible to be sure) running from his nose, his eyes were wide with terror and pleading, his hair stood out all over the place, but Abe knew that face. He knew it because he stared into it in the mirror every morning.
"Stop!" The Abe on the video yelled. "I don't know where it is!"
This came through clear as a bell, if slightly distorted at the end there. Probably because the Abe on the video was obviously screaming. The man with the gun turned the barrel to face Noah. Noah was looking down, crying, his entire body shaking.
The Abe sitting in his office felt himself shaking, too. He wanted to turn it off. He wanted to scream. He wanted to reach through the screen and grab the man with the gun and strangle him. He wanted to throw the phone across the room and let is smash against the wall and burst into a thousand pieces.
Instead, he sat there and watched. Utterly unable to comprehend what he was seeing, but unable to do anything more than witness.
"I'm telling you I don't know!"
The gun burst was a tiny pop on the phone speaker. Half of Noah's head vanished in a spray that appeared black on the phone. It was fast. One moment Noah was there crying, then there was the pop, half of the head vanished and then he fell.
Abe on the video let out a long and broken scream. A scream of both rage and profound sadness. The Abe in the tree house let out a scream, too, but it was quieter.
He felt as if he were having a heart attack. He felt as if someone had reached into his chest and was squeezing the muscle there, constricting it. He was going to pass out. Some part of him wanted that to happen so that he could stop watching, but it didn't happen. His eyes blurred as tears obscured his vision. He wiped at them absently.
The person with the phone or camera was exceptionally cruel. The camera focused in on Noah's body. Noah had fallen backwards, so Abe could not see his face. His beautiful face that he had touched just last night. He could, however, see the spreading pool of blood. He could also see, from the motionless way the body lay there, not even twitching, that his son was dead.
"Just one more!"
"Oh, you bastard! Oh you fucking bastard!"
The man with the gun ripped the last hood off and, of course, it was Abbie. The look of utter terror, of utter sureness that she was about to die, was like a knife into Abe's already tortured heart.
That was Abbie. She was sure that her father knew where the thing was that these men wanted.
"I don't have it! I don't know!"
"It was in the --"
"C'mon, you had to have seen it!"
"He always had --"
"--you know, but you want--"
"Why would I do that?" Video-Abe cried. "You just killed half my family. Why would I do it?"
"He's got a point."
That must have come from the person holding the camera because the man with the gun let it drop to his side and whirled around. He approached the man with the camera, and the video tilted a bit on its side. That weird, blank mask got closer.
They were close to the speaker, but the sound was still bad, and their voices were muffled by the masks. Abe could not tell who the voices belonged to. There was something familiar about the way the man with the gun walked, but Abe's mind was flying in too many directions to be sure of anything right now.
"You know he's telling you the truth. It's not here."
Abe strained to catch these words. What were they looking for? What could be worth all of this? What could Abe possibly have had in his possession that would be worth killing his entire family like this?
"Well, we've gone too far now."
"What are you going to do?"
"We can't let them live."
Just like that the horrible decision had been made, apparently. Whoever these men were, they were obviously ruthless.
Abe in the video had lowered his head again. He was leaning against his daughter, who had her head against his. They were both crying.
The man with the gun turned and walked back to the kneeling pair. He squatted down so that he could look Abe in the eye as much as possible. Abbie squealed in terror when he came into view and tried to turn away.
Video Abe shook his head. "Really."
The man with the mask lowered his head, as if looking for something on the floor. The man shook his head, as if reaching this decision pained him, tore him up, and wasn't something he had reached just moments before as casually as deciding what he wanted for lunch. The man with the gun stood up again.
There were two quick pops. Abe in the real world jumped this time. As a final true cruelty the man in the mask shot Abbie first. Abbie let out a tiny scream that was cut short and she fell over. Then the man shot Abe in the head. Abe saw his own skull burst apart and his own body fall to the floor.
"Tear this place apart," the man with the gun commanded. "Don't forget the tree house. Go!"
The man with the video camera started to move and the image got jumpy again. However, Abe was able to see the man with the gun walk over to the bodies and just before the video went dark he saw him point the gun at Abbie again...and then heard another shot.
Abe sat there for a long time. He had lost all concept of time and had no idea how long he sat there until his mouth and tongue felt dry and he snapped his jaws shut. Then he looked around, as if he had never been in this place. Where was he? What just happened? He looked down at his phone and dropped it on the desk as if it had suddenly turned red and poisonous. He rubbed his hands on his legs.
What was that? What had he just seen?