September 7th, 2018. Mark that date on your calendar as that is when my new novel Life in Amber comes out! Until then, here’s the Prologue to whet your appetite!
It begins, as every thorough account of the paranormal does: with a dream. I’m sitting in an overstuffed chair in the lobby of a hotel. There’s not a soul around, aside from myself and the clerk. His back is to me as he does some paperwork, unconcerned about the lack of customers.
A Mylar balloon floats by at knee level. It’s losing helium and is folding in on itself. There’s a cartoon on it, SpongeBob SquarePants. I watch it get taken away by the breeze from the air conditioning, and in a moment it disappears behind a column. I stand up, knees popping, and hips aching, to follow the low flyer. I have no idea where it came from; instead, I’m more curious about where it’s going. Air conditioning aside, it seems to move with purpose, as if it’s on a mission. There is a white string attached to it that drags along the ground like a shadow.
I follow behind, walking carefully, almost afraid to make my presence known. No, not almost, I am scared. On the surface, there is nothing to fear. The hotel itself is unduly bright, the fluorescent lights bleaching everything of its usual color. The balloon is innocuous enough, yet…
Yet…there is something still not quite right. It stops, slowly turning and pauses as if looking at me with the vast, blue SpongeBob eyes. I hold my breath, not wanting to make a sound. It turns to the side and floats down the left-hand corridor. The hum of the air conditioning stops, and the silence becomes pervasive, almost as if someone has stuck cotton balls in my ears. I trail behind as pressure begins to build inside my head. I clamp a thumb and forefinger around my nose and hold my breath to get my ears to pop, but this only seems to intensify the clogged feeling. At the far end of the corridor are double doors, the entranceway to a suite or conference room.
The balloon seems to pick up speed, and when it bounces against the doors, they open gradually. A brilliant light starts to pour out, but it isn’t blinding; it is, if not soothing, then at least makes me feel a bit more relaxed. There’s a humming sound, not the air conditioning this time; it comes from inside the room as well, though it has a higher pitch and is faster. Rhythmic.
The balloon disappears into the chamber, and I follow after. It takes my eyes a bit to adjust to the brightness, and when they do, I emit a soundless scream. I may as well be in the vacuum of space, as any noise I make is siphoned away.
This is no conference room. It’s nothing I have ever seen before. Coffins made of amber line the expanse; they are all on stainless steel tables with drains beneath them. I look at one and see the remains of my Uncle Albert who had died decades earlier. His blue eyes bulge and his mouth opens and closes like the gills of a fish in its death throes. His gaze turns to me and pleads for me to do something. My heart sinks; Uncle Albert had always been my favorite Uncle. He was Uncle Al, the kiddies pal. While that may sound a bit creepy in today’s world, back then there was no malicious intent at all.
I place my hand on top of the amber and feel it vibrate. His eyes widen and are the first parts of his body to explode. His blood and gore paint the inside of the coffin. I turn away, hand over my mouth. I look at the wall in front of me and see children pinned to it, the way you’d pin butterflies in a collection.
Unlike the butterflies, these children are alive. There is one large pin through the abdomen and four smaller bolts in the hands and feet. Their eyes and mouths are sewn shut, and they wriggle weakly. In spite of the mutilations, I recognize them-they are classmates of mine from elementary school. The bullies, brats and hostile childrenbullies, brats and hostile children of divorce. As if sensing my presence their struggle intensifies, and while I can’t hear anything they mumble, I feel their emotions. The hate and judgment and blame are all directed at me as if I’m responsible for nailing them to the walls.
There are six of them stuck to the wall. Each has on a white t-shirt with a number scrawled on it in their own blood? Ichor? It made no difference, as I memorize the digits, 6, 27, 32, 11, 47, and 52. There seems to be no discernible pattern to the almost randomly generated lottery numbers. As this thought enters and occupies my mind, the light in the room blossoms until I can no longer see. I’m hesitant to walk, not wanting to bump into the amber coffins. I shuffle along with my hands out in front of me, and I feel the balloon brush against my face. I’m finally able to let loose a scream, and it coincides with the balloon popping.
The sounds jolted me out of my sleep. Sweat covered my body and drenched the thin sheet over me, in spite of the chill in the room. I grabbed my phone, opened the note app and fumble typed the numbers I’d seen before I forgot them. I set the phone down and looked for a pack of cigarettes, forgetting for a moment I had quit two years earlier. I sat on the edge of the bed, a futon truth be told, and hugged myself, as the cold air dried the sweat on my aging skin.
I picked up my phone again and saw the date, September 13th. My birthday.
I was 50.
Stuffing my feet into my slippers, I rose, and began my day, even as the dream started to fade. It was time for my insulin. Birthday or not, diabetes doesn’t take a vacation. I could have been 10, or 20, or hell, even 80 for all that mattered, the fact was, I didn’t care.
Not about birthdays, not about me, and not about life.