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First pages

Chapter One

Lexine Kessler rubbed her finger under the straps of her green dress. The built-up sweat caused a tiny rash across her shoulders. The humidity made her mascara run. The lingering scent of cigarette smoke scratched her throat.

Naked flesh stuck to the leather interior, and her skin collected lint when she moved around. An orange-labeled wine bottle rested between her thighs. She pressed her head against the window and counted the raindrops.

Which raindrop would reach the bottom first?

Her choice lost.

“Some anniversary,” she said. Since it was a little past midnight, she properly added, “Was my anniversary.”

Lexine’s gloomy demeanor, which the cab driver could see in the rearview mirror, became bothersome enough to inquire about.

“Stood up?” he asked. The scratched-up Plexiglas and pictures of tropical paradises made it hard to identify the driver: no known nationality, no age. She wanted a face to relate to.

“Well, I did make reservations,” she said. “Why stay home on a Tuesday night?”

The cabby said something, but it was lost in the noise of street music. Drizzle, metal machinery, horns, and building ambiances crushed out the cabby’s voice and radio.

“I don’t want to talk anymore,” she said. “It’s getting late anyway.”

Lexine remained silent for the rest of the ride. The cab dropped her off at the Jade Rabbit apartments, and she paid her fare. She took the slow way up the stairs—shoeless, of course. With footwear and bottle in hand, she climbed this Everest with no hurry.

David wasn’t coming home soon, so why rush to the arms of a couch so quickly?

On the tenth floor, she heard slurred sobs. They became more pronounced with her forward procession. Her inner boozehound dulled the crying, until she met a well-dressed drunk in the middle of the stairs.

She wanted to tell him off, despite vaguely knowing his identity. He was a recent customer at Del Toro’s—the Mexican restaurant where she worked. A small cut ran across his forehead, but why was he wailing and blocking traffic? Couldn’t he do it in the comfort of his own home?

She juked past him without so much as an acknowledgment. She was proud to say she did not send him flying downward with a broken neck. Up she went for three more flights of stairs, to the floor housing her apartment.

Lexine’s one bedroom, one kitchen, plus one living room, was comfy enough when the AC was working, like now. The sweat bathing her evaporated, and she lobbed her heels to the side. Her best buddy, the wine, joined her in free fall onto the suede couch.

Rearranging might be fun, if not for David’s inevitable, habitual need to rearrange everything the way he wants: A clean, white, little apartment, with every little thing in its highly specific order. Dishes washed, carpet cleaned, surfaces dusted—all done by him.

Boredom forced Lexine to roll around on the couch. Her liquid friend kissed, quenched as good as any lover. She moaned and gripped the neck tightly. She examined the bottle in hand.

“Alcohol never lasts as long as you want. Alcohol…”

She dwelt on the wallowing man a few flights below. She had left him there in this weak moment. There was no context or even a name for her drunk patron. How could she truly relate? Was it her job to worry about a customer when not on the clock?

“Goddamn it.”

Green dress to shirt and jeans; long flowing to bundled-up hair; a dolled face to plain. A quick brush of the teeth masked her stinky breath, while gum did the rest. As soon as she put on sneakers, she went down the stairs to his last known location.

“You still there?”

Nothing.

She checked a couple more floors down. No one there. She returned to the spot where he had been sitting and checked the floor above it, where the checkered pattern of black-and-white hallways stretched. She discovered little, fresh bloodstains on the wall.

“The guy must’ve been bouncing off the walls, literally.” She giggled. Lexine followed the clues.

It didn’t take her long to find the drunk. His key refused to fit into the keyhole. After jiggling the door handle, he had moved to another door to try the same. He had slid his head across Sheetrock and left a red streak.

“Are you OK?” she asked. He dropped his keys as a response. “Want me to call the paramedics?” He threw up his arms and thudded into the wall again.

His hair was short and dark, his eyes bloodshot brown with raccoon bags underneath. He was clean shaven with a fluster of blushed skin, and heavy sweat drenched his suit. A scent entered her nose: lemon lavender crème.

Lexine licked her lips as she leaned over to pick up the keys. Number 1019. He finished with 1015; he’d get there one day without her. She refused to wait all night and sped up the process. She poked him with a key.

“Hey, buddy.”

He woke from his bat nap and faced her with those bloodshot eyes. For a microsecond his drunkenness faded. He smiled and tried to touch her hair before falling back into the wall. He swayed, tilted, whispered. She didn’t hear it the first time. So he repeated, in order, “My Ophelia,” and “You’re beautiful.”

“Did someone throw you out?” He nodded, groaned. “A complete waste of a good-looking guy, if you ask me.”

She helped point him to his door, and he followed like a good puppy. With a turn of the key, she opened 1019. She saw broken champagne bottles, melted ice over a soaked tablecloth, scattered food everywhere, and torn photos embedded in the little pieces of food. The pictures were of a woman modeling dresses but with her face scratched over or ripped apart.

Who was it in the photos? If Lexine bit into the dirty entrees, maybe she might find the missing halves. Or a mouthful of broken glass. Could be a fun game anyway, but Lexine resisted.

She poked her head into the hallway and offered help. He limped into the apartment without her aid and aimed for the closest bed: the floor mat. The mat softened his hard thwomp downward. His eyes rolled, and his limbs spread. Not good for the spine, for sure.

Two bedrooms. She wanted multiple bedrooms, but David didn’t. Too much unnecessary space; too much on the budget, he said. The blue walls had a fresh-paint flavor to them. A projector and an unused couch rested next to folding chairs.

“This could’ve been mine.”

She huffed and followed procedure: blanket, pillow, bucket, and water.

Lexine selected the open bedroom instead of the closed one. Inside was a three-monitor desktop. Nearby were umbrella lights and tripods and a mechanic’s box filled with camera equipment. Other gizmos resided there too, but she got the idea.

“Could’ve been awesome if this was my apartment…”

She resented, pouted. She relented to her original task and moved to the adjacent room. A king-sized bed, with sheer sheets covering the bedposts, took up most of the room. More pics were scattered on the ground, many of them crumpled. She grabbed a pillow and blanket.

On the way out, she followed a suggestion that came from curiosity.

“Why not? He won’t know.”

Objects wrapped under her arm, she knelt and picked up the photos. She uncrumpled the photographs and looked for the woman’s face. It took a few photos before a face was seen and a couple more before the identity was known.

To her horror the person was her, captured in the most intimate of ways…

In the photo she sat naked on her couch, twisting her nipple with one hand and fingering herself with the other.

The sudden jolt of realization made her drop the objects and cry out.

Like a flip-book, each picture played off the previous picture, only in reverse. Her fingers move away from her thigh. Her hand moves off her breast to touch her neck. From her thigh, her hand moves to pull her hair. From her neck, her fingers move into her mouth. And with both hands she puts on a body-tight black dress she bought to impress David. A few more showed her off the couch, doing stretches. The last ones showed her dancing in front of the window.

The embarrassment and humiliation wrung out all sweat inside her body. She hyperventilated and ripped apart the perverted photos. Condensation on flesh simmered; anger boiled over.

Out of the bedroom, she returned to the storage room. She grabbed one of the umbrella lights. The impulse and desire to hit him, until his altered state became dead, made her drop the umbrella light. The wrench in the toolbox was better.

“This’ll do more damage! I’ll knock his goddamn block off, for sure!”

Back in the living room, Lexine stood over the man and kicked him in the gut. He was too passed out to feel her kick, so she kicked him again. The force moved him, and out came a snore.

“Get up, you son of a bitch!”

He did no such thing.

With anger the only entree on the menu, she did the next best thing. She returned to the computers and hurled the wrench at the monitor. The middle LCD screen warped and broke. Off the desk it went and took with it the other monitors. She lifted the desktop itself and smashed it down. When smashing wouldn’t do, she unplugged everything and brought them to the photographer’s bathroom.

A large bronze tub stood in the middle.

“Fuck! Why couldn’t I have a bronze tub?”

Now she really hated him.

She turned on the tub’s faucets and poured in all the soap and shampoo she could find. She took dishwashing detergent from the kitchen and chucked it in for good measure.

In went the desktop, then the monitors. She murdered more electronic equipment via drowning: cameras, lights—none were spared her wrath. She only stopped when bathwater overflowed into the bathroom.

Taking a break from her catharsis allowed her to assess the damage. Her clothes were soaked with water and suds. She laughed and laughed, first by herself, then over this guy.

“Pervert,” she said.

She rubbed her heel against his cheek. It still wouldn’t wake him. If only he could see her righteous fury. He would, soon—after she called the cops, told her husband, got counseling, went on TV, and became an activist. Not in any particular order, of course.

Lexine went to the table and picked through food-covered pictures. She needed proof of what he did. The world would see him for his wickedness. She would make sure he paid.

But her revenge plan subsided. These food-stained pictures, even without her head, were not as explicit. In fact, they were of her dancing in front of an open window, in different dresses.

She wore a different dress for a different day, until she stepped up her game and personal fantasies.

“I wish I was somewhere else in particular. Somewhere,” she said then, said now.

Did she know he was there? Did she think no one was going to see her? Did she assume she was hidden from view? How else would this have turned out?

Shame made her drop the photos. If someone was to blame for inviting this sicko’s camera lens, she took this piece of parity.

“I should have taken the elevator,” she said, sneaking out of the apartment.

It was a miserable walk back home, knowing someone had seen her like that.

What would David think if he found out?

Chapter Two

Hidden in the kitchen of the Stray Dog bar, David Kessler remained stumped. Despite his rinsing the best he could, the cloud wouldn’t come out of the blueish plastic cup that was chipped on the rim, uneven on the bottom. The customer didn’t care about clouds in a glass filled with liquid, but he cared.

“What else can I do? Why worry about one, when over a hundred dirty clones are standing by, waiting to be cleaned?”

He had no one to ask. Well, not counting the poster on the wall above the sink. The poster was of an overbronzed, string-bikini-wearing babe on a beach. Someone had replaced her head with a picture of a Xenomorph from the movie Alien.

The bikini babe’s head grinned from its new home atop the body of Ronald Reagan. Reagan’s body was taped to the walk-in freezer door. Next to him was a speech bubble that read, “If you’re going to steal, let me know—Bob.”

The head of the former living, fortieth president was disposed elsewhere, along with his acting career.

“Tasteful stuff,” he said to the 2D creature that watched him longingly all night. But she—or “it?”—couldn’t give him an answer for his glass problem.

So he made a life-altering decision: David would try to salvage the glass.

David dried his hands against his soaked slacks and went to work. He dunked the glass into soapy water and scrubbed. The glass torpedoed into the normal water; he scrubbed some more. Finally, he careened the glass to dark teal sanitizing water; he scrubbed one last time. Each type of water kicked out and onto him. The black-on-black outfit he sported hid all the colors he dipped in over the night. Not that it meant much. He was still soaked in juices, water, alcohol, and sweat. His skin was pruned; hands and feet took the brunt of the flood.

He inspected the glass one last time. Light came through a bit better. Satisfied, he wiped the glass down and stacked it with the rest of the clean glasses. He picked out another dirty glass to wash.

Rinse, dry, and stack. Repeat.

He toiled away in this repetitive pattern until he finished. He packed away the stacks of glasses next to the server station in the corner of the kitchen. He next cleaned and set up carafes, buckets, trays, napkins, etc.

Next to the station was the large walk-in freezer. All hot or spare beer was stored here, along with garnishes when work finished. It was emptied out over the shift. Tomorrow the bar got its delivery, so he didn’t have to worry about stocking the big freezer tonight.

David left and headed for the emergency exit in the back, past the restrooms. Outside waited twenty trash cans overflowing with bottles and plastic cups. The Dumpster was two hundred feet away. The parking lot was quasifilled with rainwater that hadn’t run off into the drains. He dragged them, two at a time, to this pseudo dump site.

“Oh damn.” He groaned while trying to hoist one up. He lifted it onto his shoulder and heaved upward.

Momentum chucked whatever garbage stuck inside into the mouth of the Dumpster. Pieces of rock, oily mud, tiny glass, and wet paper fell over him as he struggled to lift the overweight cans. He repeated the process, praying every time, “Please, don’t get a hernia.”

By that time the bartenders brought floor mats outside: sticky rubber carpet with round holes filled with bottle caps and receipts.

“Why the holes?” asked David.

“So no one slips,” Bob Ashby had told him when showing him the bar. “In a pinch it can be used to net an evildoer. Or someone running from their tab.”

He sprayed down the mats and bins with a cleaning solution and water. Even with the overcast, they still needed to be clean—or at least, not smelly. It would take a while to wash everything, but he was happy. This was the actual “end” to his night.

David pulled the bins and mats back into the hallway. They would dry overnight behind locked doors. His shoes squeaked with every step, and his clothes had a heavy flap to them as his body shifted underneath.

The bartenders counted registers. They swept and mopped, stocked beer bottles in the coolers, and married liquor bottles.

“Need any help?”

They told him nah.

One spun around his bar key and popped open a beer. He offered, and David, though thankful, resisted the temptation. The bartender ducked into the cooler and tossed David a freshly stocked bottle of water, not yet cooled.

David made his way for the booth as far away from “work” as possible. He splashed down and felt the imprint of his ass saturate the red leather. He rubbed his ankles and kneecaps. A white, coarse towel was dropped onto his head. A half-finished beer slid by David’s nose.

“No thanks,” said David. He waved the water around.

Bob slumped down next to David and was as equally soaked as David. Unlike David he wasn’t a lowly grunt but rather the owner of Stray Dog. A middle-aged man with slicked gray hair and goatee to match, he had a coarse voice to reflect his long, hard life.

David stood and dried himself off—and the spot he had marked with his frame. “Why are you drenched?” he asked.

“Had to go check the AC unit on top of the building several times tonight. Almost fell to my doom.” Bob roared with laughter. “Shit got hot real fast, no? Literally too.”

By the time David had showed up for his shift, the bar was already cooking. As the night progressed, the heat turned worse. Being sprayed down kept him a few degrees cooler than normal, he assumed.

“Weren’t you worried about being electrocuted?” David asked.

Bob leaned forward. “Not everyone can have superior genetics that make them immortal.” He swigged down his beer and burped. He spun the empty bottle on the table and slammed it down.

A forceful…well, force attacked the back side of the booth, pushing David forward. A muffled voice shouted, “Shut the fuck up, Bob!”

“Oh, sorry, doll.”

He motioned with a dash of his head to move their talking party elsewhere. The two men headed to the bar. David glanced back at the furniture attacker. A woman in medical scrubs was in the booth asleep.

“She’s a friend going in to work at Telesto Medical Center,” Bob said. “Bounces around a lot. Easier to rest here.”

“Has she been drinking?”

“Probably. A little malpractice never stopped that girl.”

Bob went behind the bar, scooting past the cleaning bartenders. He disappeared under the bar and came up with two beers: another for Bob and one for David.

Once more, David declined. He was so winded and sore and tired that any form of alcohol would flatten him upon consumption. Plus, he did have another job in a few hours.

Bob approached the counted money drawers stacked on the bar top and searched through them. He removed a white envelope entitled “Barback.” He slid the envelope across the bar to David.

“Sorry for throwing you to the lions, bro.”

“Ah, wasn’t too bad…”

David opened the envelope to find a stack of cash. “Tip-out,” Bob said, “twenty percent from the bartenders and Becca.” David pocketed the envelope without counting. “Not gonna count it?”

David shrugged. “I got paid. That’s important.”

“Honest man.” David wagged his bottom jaw, and Bob sipped his beer. “Wrong business for an honest man,” Bob warned.

“If it wasn’t in there to begin with, it was never mine to own.”

“A genuine romantic. Jesus.” Bob shook his head. “And you believe that bullshit.”

Bob returned to the drawers and pulled out a hundred. He slid the money on the bar. David tried to push it away. Bob insisted. David argued that it wasn’t justifiable. Bob refused to listen, opened his hand, and slapped cotton against flesh.

“I can’t—”

“Then…take it as a token of gratitude. I had no one tonight. You agreed without knowing what you were getting into. Should’ve found you more help.” Bob scratched his goatee. “You do good work for a guy who breaks my inventory.”

David didn’t need to be reminded, again, that he had dropped a case of beer. Everyone got on his ass. Before he could apologize, again, Bob told him it happens. A lot. Bob assured him it wouldn’t be taken out of his paycheck, or tips.

David sighed and pocketed the extra cash. He humbly thanked Bob for the work.

“So you like it? The work, not breaking my inventory. Dumb ass.”

David scoffed. “Can I be honest?” Bob nodded. “The whole start and middle is all one blur. Right now is vivid. Of course, it’s happening now.”

He’d accomplished “things,” and in time someone might tell him just what “things” he did. But David couldn’t give Bob an honest opinion. Not yet.

“Fair enough,” said Bob. “So you gotta work after this?”

“In a few hours, sure. Courier job. Seven to four.” Bob winced; David winced back. “Gotta see how my hours are gonna be before I say one thing or another.”

“Must be hard.”

“Eh, the oil fields were rough. Compared to this job juggle, it’s not as wrecking. Plus, I’m not wasting money driving four hundred miles to the middle of nowhere. Not out there for a week at a time, wondering if I’m going to get bit by a rattlesnake, have my arm blown off by a loose bolt, or get laid off.”

“Ah, get to be home with the missus, huh?” David frowned, and Bob asked, “What’s bothering you?”

“I missed my anniversary. Tonight. Well, yesterday.”

David played around with his wedding ring—he was surprised it stayed stuck to his ring finger. Hadn’t come off in eight years.

Bob covered his face and wailed out noises. He apologized and apologized. If David had told him, he wouldn’t have used him today.

Besides Bob, David was the only married person at the bar. Such events were important. Young, stupid kids wanting to make a quick buck wouldn’t understand.

David assured him they needed the money. He patted the money in his pocket to assure Bob he more than earned it tonight.

“Well, what are you gonna do about the missed anniversary?”

“Umm…reschedule?”

“Your conniving gifts ain’t a cure-all. You still upset her, and women add that to the list of stuff. All you’ve done is mended a screw-up from turning into a massive sinkhole.”

“Seriously?”

Bob nodded and gave an “Oh yeah.” Lexine wouldn’t forget his being a terrible husband. “She’ll hurl your screw-ups back at you—after coating them in venom. And that’s ‘because’ you got her a bribe. Without the bribe, the only response is chopping off the pecker.”

David fidgeted, panicked. What was he to do?

Bob told him to never fear. He had concocted a scheme with his own rampaging wife. He would share his secret with David, provided he waited a little longer until the bar closed. He would plot with him, give the play by play.

“Come on,” Bob said. “She’s already mad at you. Making her wait a little longer won’t make things worse, now will it?” David said no. “Plus you made some money tonight in spite of your anniversary, right?”

David twisted the wedding band around his finger.

“I guess you’re right.”

“So kick back,” Bob ordered him, and David waited for this snake-oil salesman to close up shop. There was no need for him to be home, just yet. Right?

Chapter Three

Lexine rocked on the edge of her bed. The night sky lit by false illumination was overpowered by a solar god. Bloodshot eyes winced. The little light painting a gray canvas reminded her of the passing time.

David was still not home.

Steam from a fresh hot shower still hovered. She had knocked off all the sheets so she wouldn’t soak them. She stole a white T-shirt and boxers from David to wear. All her clothes made her itch and want to bathe again.

The reality of her situation compressed her at all angles. The suffocation was too much to remain in one place. Her feet took her body back and forth between bed and couch. She inspected everything about her apartment over and over during her round trips: Soda stain here, bleached-out wine stain there, a bad paint job over yonder. An electrical outlet sunk into the wall.

“Remind me to buy brackets,” David had said, but Lexine never did until now.

“Buy those brackets,” she said, too late.

She found cobwebs in the deep corner of the windows. Little spiders lived there, hidden well within the blackness of the frame.

“Can they kill me? Do I want them to?” She pressed her head against the window. “Where are you? Talk to me, little spider. Please.”

She imagined the spiders hid in the adjacent building. Hundreds of them reached for her into the little hideouts—places that man could have spied on her from. Each spider pulled out a photographer and devoured him alive, ripped him apart. Her imagination ran wild.

After a while it got boring, the pretend horror. The terror of her reality was worse.

She left an imprint on the glass of condensation and breath. She drew David’s name on the glass. “This is your fault,” she said. “If you were here, you would have done something.”

“We need the work,” David had argued with her earlier and much earlier than that.

It was the same argument. “We” need the work. “We” could use the money.

“We can do this another day,” said David, for the both of them. “What’s one day?”

But it was their day, and she never agreed to his terms. Why should she not be allowed to celebrate without him? So proud she was, she went out alone. Then she met the man on the stairs…alone.

Lexine slid into the corner of her apartment. David’s music was collected, arranged, near his radio. A pair of expensive headphones bit half her head. Whatever track she put on was of a depressing kind. Even the cheerful one made her crave jumping out the window.

“I go splat, and my blood becomes a wonderful sacrifice to the storms.”

A headache thundered. Sober tiredness kicked in. Lexine hated the soberness, despised being dry of drink and him.

“David…” She moaned. Lexine took off the earphones and held them close to her chest. She slid her finger over his record player, his record, his radio. “Come home already.” She pulled on the connection line. Music blared at a reasonable level but remained dissonant. Sickness cooked in her stomach but wasn’t a real sickness.

“Disgusting. That’s what he would say. He would leave me for being dirty.”

Lexine’s fingers dug deep into her scalp. She knew the last statement wasn’t true. He loved her unconditionally.

“David, David…come home. I’ll tell you what happened. Just come home.”

She marched up and back to her room. She stole clothes belonging to her husband and massaged her face against them. She rubbed the rocking chair he had in the corner, not far from his record collection.

The heat of the apartment got her all over again. Yearning turned to anger. Her screams worked her up into a frenzy, and she repeated her process. She stripped and showered, wore David’s clothes. Rocked on her bed. Inspected the apartment. Looked out for spiders. She yearned. She angered.

…in a causal loop that repeats to get caught in a casual loop that repeats to get caught in…

This was her night. This was her morning.

Her frantic pacing was finite. She slowed with every loop until she could barely walk, until she started crawling to make it to the couch. She forgot on her own how to move. Fighting the sleep was like cutting off the hydra’s head. She was not the classical hero. Her attempts to chop and chop were for nil.

Lexine was eaten by the power of tiredness. If she had it in her, she would sing “Daisy Bell” until she could sing no more. She passed out. The blackout, for better or worse, denied her any form of dreaming.

Sometime later, around the time the sun awoke and turned everything orange, the front door opened. The man she had been waiting for slunk in the door as it swung open. He tried not to cannonball onto the floor. A sigh at this point emptied out the remaining fuel left in his tank. David still needed to find a way to last the next twelve hours.

“Bob’s little plan better work,” he said. Otherwise, the sacrifice of his anniversary would be all for nothing. Lexine would hate him, more than she already does.

His clothes had dried and stuck to his skin. He smelled a wonderful awful. He would have jumped in the shower wearing everything, but hunger took priority.

David wobbled through the living room, past the couch, to the kitchen. He hadn’t seen Lexine asleep or heard her snore. Unusual, but not a red flag in his current state. What he found was a sign from her, though.

A brown bag contained a pair of packed sandwiches. Bacon, mayo, spinach, pepper jack cheese, and salami on toast. It also contained three hardboiled eggs. There was a cold soda waiting for him, but David was more interested in the bag itself—for the moment.

The bag had a cat drawn on it in blue ink. “Every time,” he said. He imagined Lexine drawn as a cat. He savored his cold meal and messed with the paper cat. He felt the ears, touched her whiskers.

Lexine loved cats, and she resented David because he was allergic. It never stopped her from buying every cat-related thing she can find. Frivolous, he knew, yet also wasteful. She would throw it away in favor of new, different, “better” stuff involving cats. She guilted her way into each purchase, with a reminder of how he got rid of her last real one.

He should’ve never taught her the mechanics of Catholic guilt.

Now, if David ever packed a lunch for Lexine, his always had a white rabbit drawn on. The reason was because they lived at the Jade Rabbit.

“It’s not green,” Lexine would say.

“It’s not supposed to be green,” he would say back.

Upon moving back to his hometown, David had tried to find a place close to where he grew up. Houses wouldn’t do. Work had to be close to wherever they chose. Gentrification and the passing time stripped old Chinatown of its identity. David himself barely remembered what went where, and what still existed.

Some things remained constant. The Jade Rabbit apartment complex was one of them. It was one of the few places of David’s youth still standing—here or elsewhere.

The price was reasonable, but what attracted David was the name. It came from the Chinese myth of the Jade Rabbit, or rather, the Moon Rabbit.

The ruler of heaven, the Jade Emperor, was looking for a new medicine man. He sent three divine emissaries to earth to search for a replacement. Mankind couldn’t be trusted after what happened with the previous god. So the Jade Emperor had his emissaries search among the animals. Disguised as three old men, the emissaries came upon a fox, a monkey, and a rabbit. They asked for food, and the three animals set off. The monkey and fox brought back food, but the rabbit wasn’t able to. So instead, the rabbit sacrificed itself to feed the men and threw itself onto the fire.

“The act was so selfless that it moved the emissaries,” David told Lexine on the day they moved in. “The hare was chosen to be the new medicine maker.”

“Speaking of move, move this box.”

“As you wish.” But he loved the story. He pressed on and on. “Isn’t it awesome? The story, not me moving this heavy-ass box.” Lexine’s eyes rolled. She wasn’t paying attention. She hated that they couldn’t find a place on a lower floor level.

Still, she humored him, to keep him motivated. “How did you find this out? Endless research?”

“The plaque at the entrance.”

“Smooth.”

“I thought so too.”

He segued from a yawn into a smile. That was half a year ago already. The apartment wasn’t his childhood home. It wasn’t near as good as the starter home he and Lexine owned prior, or the replacement house they bought when the first was lost. He had fixed it up the best he could, within the limits of the lease.

This would have to do, until he could afford better.

He scarfed down the sandwiches over the sink and washed the crumbs down the drain. He swished around soda like acidic mouthwash before swallowing. He hoped to doze off for a couple hours before the courier gig.

In the bedroom he found the mess Lexine had made in her frantic panic. He was completely oblivious to what had happened at the apartment with Lexine. Without the context he was left assuming, “Oh, maybe she spilled something.”

He picked up the sheets and was happy Lexine left out clothes for him. On the way to the shower, he came around to the missing body on the bed.

He searched for her. She wasn’t in the bathroom, wasn’t in the kitchen. His fatigue made the obvious not so. He leaned hard with his forehead into the frame of the living room door and rested. His body tried processing hints that he should stay home, rest, or it would shut itself down and force him to rest.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Vincent Nicholas Perales is the author of two horror novels, The Blood Knows and Nightmare Me. After a period of time off, Tempt marks his return to writing, and his first non-horror entry. Perales lives in San Antonio, Texas, where he writes full time and consults on fiction.

Q. This book is part of a series, tell us about your series.
A.
The Red Clover series explores the nature of relationships between people, and how they change and evolve over time. Different characters join as a consequence. The conflicting perspectives and endgames add to the chaos. Right or wrong, everyone has to make a choice.
Q. What was the hardest part of writing this book?
A.
Writing believably flawed characters that readers will buy into. In a story like Tempt, the characters are what make it work. If you're not invested in them, or see something real in fictional people, then the journey feels like a letdown.
Q. What did you learn while writing this book?
A.
Communication is important. People change, even if they stay the same. What you want is not always as important as what you need. Faith and patience are important in the process...but one also has to actively be involved in making it work.

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How would you feel if it happened to you?
Nina's Nebulosity
In full darkness, a ray of light brings hope.