Another week, another excerpt from my draft of Black Earth: Dark Masquerade. This scene takes place near the beginning of the book and introduces us to the situation Nathan Pierce – the main character of the series – finds himself in weeks after the events of the second book in the series, The Broken Daisy. Serenity March, one of Absolute’s rebellion leaders, makes her appearance, and a new character, Katt, is introduced. The setting is the ruins of the Westgate Plaza Mall, somewhere in California.
This scene does have some mild language in it, and please keep in mind it’s a draft, so it hasn’t been professionally edited yet.As always, I would love to hear what you think!
Excerpt from Black Earth: Dark Masquerade –
Serenity March took a sip of her coffee and set the mug on the saucer, rubbing the tiredness from her eyes. The benchmarks that graced her beauty less than two weeks earlier when Nathan first met her – her emerald eyes, her enduringly freckled face, her energetic and confident demeanor – were replaced with darkened eyes clasping tightly to black bags underneath, dirt smudged complexion, and a waning energy like that of a toy whose batteries are on the verge of dying. Her hair, which as far as Nathan could tell hadn’t been washed in a long while, refused to hold its framework around her once young-looking face, succumbing now to tangles and frizz.
To the simple onlooker, she was tired. But Nathan knew the core of her being was more than tired. It was worn out, discouraged, ravaged by doubt and the onslaught of world events. Much like the rest of the rebels and outcasts occupying the Westgate Plaza Mall.
Serenity glanced up from her mug. Her eyes reminded him of witch’s eyes, full of seemingly endless darkness. He took the seat across from her at the little round table. The small café they sat in had once been a busy, bustling coffee house. Now it was a somewhat haunted relic of an age quickly passing them by.
“Hey,” Serenity mumbled before taking another sip of coffee.
“Want something?” She started to get up from her chair. “Katt’s in the back, organizing supplies. I can -“
Nathan motioned for her to sit back down. “I’m good.” One of the many reasons Serenity was so tired and worn out was because she was a woman who tried to do everything. “I can get her if I need to.”
She gave him a fake grin and went back to sipping her coffee.
Nathan glanced up at the counter behind Serenity. The menu items on the chalkboards above seemed like cave paintings or ancient hieroglyphics. When they – Absolute’s Rebellion – first arrived at the mall, the building had been mostly intact, yet deserted. A Legion vessel had crashed into one of mall’s adjacent buildings, but a close inspection into the debris surrounding it told them there were no seals that the vessel had broken, meaning demons wouldn’t be swarming the mall…as far as they knew.
He kept his observations about the vessel to himself, but Nathan grew a bit uneasy when he saw that the Legion vessel hadn’t created a crater like the other vessels he had seen. No crater, no wipe-out of entire square blocks. The vessel simply crashed through the roof of the building and sunk deep into the surface of the mall floor, so far in fact that the tip of the vessel fell barely below the ground. It was unusual, compared to what Nathan had seen of Legion’s vessels, and it was something he decided to keep tabs on.
Nathan also had to wonder, upon closer inspection of the place, if Legion had come through at some point – possibly from the rogue vessel – and killed off those who were still standing. It could have been his imagination, but the same dust – the red and black particles he and his sister had ingested in the outskirts of downtown Phoenix – had been lingering in the air in very small quantities. It was a sign that Legion’s vessels – or Legion itself – had vaporized someone…or many someones.
Nathan leaned back in the chair and studied Serenity as she sipped warily from the steaming mug. For the last few days, he found himself growing increasingly worried for her well-being. She was their leader – according to Absolute anyway – and she had done a great job of leading them, up until a few days ago, when the signs of exhaustion had begun to settle in. Nathan would admit to anyone that he too was tired and worn, but he was already taking steps to keep himself together. A good nap every few hours, four meals a day – regardless if he had an appetite or not, and plenty of water.
Serenity stuck a hand in her bangs and fumbled with her decaying hair. “Do you know if the reinforced metal has been installed in the doors at the southern end of the mall yet?”
“Yes. A few hours ago.”
She sighed. “What about the skylights?”
“The last of them are being boarded up right now.”
She closed her eyes in a long blink. When she opened them, they looked darker than before. “What about the parking lot?”
“The vehicles in your schematics have been mined, like you suggested.”
“Suggested? I ordered it. Has it been done?”
Nathan took a deep breath. Dealing with Serenity’s constant mood swings – an obvious side effect of her fatigue – weren’t too bad, until she started crossing the line into a power trip. “It’s been done.”
She leaned back in her chair and sighed again before staring at the ceiling. “Legion’s coming for us. I know it. I can feel it.”
“Don’t say that.”
“I just did.” Her dark eyes looked straight at him. “I’ve been having…I’ve been having dreams. Nightmares. They keep me awake at night.” She looked down at her mug. “It’s why I can’t take naps during the day. It’s why I can’t sleep at night. All I dream of is Legion. The black swarm of -“
“Stop!” Nathan felt somewhat surprised at the tone of his voice. But it was a necessary evil. He didn’t want to think anymore about Legion than absolutely necessary and he didn’t want Serenity spreading her fears through the rest of the rebellion. “You need to stop.”
“Did you just yell at me?”
“What other things? You mean your God, don’t you? We need to focus on the God who’s let this whole world go to shit?”
“I meant we need to focus on securing the mall, on -“
“Finding your sister?”
“Yes. My sister.”
“Geez, you should just count her as dead, Nathan. Haven’t I told you that before? If I haven’t, you need to hear it at least once, from me. She’s one person. This whole world is collapsing on itself and you’re worried about one person.”
“She’s my sister.”
“You have Pearl, right?”
“You hate Pearl, remember?”
“Yeah, I remember. But you have her. Can’t she be enough?”
Nathan leaned over the table, making sure he had direct eye contact with Serenity. “Until I receive proof that my sister is dead, I won’t stop looking for her.”
“Whatever,” Serenity scoffed.
A young woman in a black apron came out of the back room carrying a large cardboard box, which she set on the counter. “Hi Nathan,” she chimed.
He nodded. Katt was as cheerful as she had been the day they found her hiding in the backroom when they first searched the mall for survivors. She claimed to know nothing about what had happened to those in the mall. She just remembered mass panic flooding the mall when the stars – Legion’s vessels – began to crash into Earth. When she tried to escape the mall and witnessed a vessel crashing into the mall’s adjacent building – the rogue vessel that had Nathan worried – she locked herself in the backroom until Serenity, Nathan and the rest of Absolute’s Rebellion came around. It was ironic, at least Nathan thought it was, that the woman who once worked as a barista in this same coffee shop was working in it again, in the same capacity, just under completely different circumstances.
And God knew Nathan and the rest of them needed someone who knew how to brew a decent cup of coffee.
“I’m sorry,” Serenity whispered. “I didn’t mean to attack you like that.”
“You need rest. Even if it’s not sleep, you should lay off the coffee and go lay down.”
She took another sip from her mug, glaring at him as if to say, “You can’t tell me what to do.” “How about I just let this whole operation go to hell, huh?”
“These people, this mall, this isn’t all your responsibility. We all take responsibility for ourselves. You’re not a babysitter. Why don’t you leave someone else in command for a bit while you rest? You’re going to wear yourself too thin and then you’ll be no good to anyone.”
Serenity stood up abruptly, almost knocking her mug off the ridiculously small table. “Mind your own damn business, Nathan. Since when do you have it all together? You were a shaking, fearful kid when I met you and now you’re trying to hold me up as if you were an unshakeable crutch. Just do what you’re told and stay out of my way.” She stormed off, exiting the café and wandering into the mall.
“Another day, another bitch session,” Katt said, setting a steaming mug of dark roast in front of Nathan. “Just how you like it.”
The aroma of the coffee was just how he liked it. Thank God for baristas. “She’s just tired.”
“As is everyone else around here. I didn’t sleep too well last night thanks to those strange noises again, but you don’t see me acting like that.”
Strange noises again? For the past few nights, many of the occupants of the Westgate Plaza Mall had complained to Serenity and her circle – including Nathan – of strange noises coming from the parking lot surrounding the mall. The noises had been described as loud whispers, the wording of which couldn’t be understood by any of the witnesses. At first, Nathan had been sure the ‘whispers’ were simply wind currents moving through the abandoned lot of cars and trees, but with so many reports stating the sounds were actual whispers – most in low manly tones, aside from the high pitched woman’s screech Katt swore she heard – Nathan couldn’t pass it off as the wind.
Yesterday he took it upon himself to take a stroll around the mall, checking the lot for anything out of the ordinary. Nothing. He even went as far as the main street, but nothing struck him as odd. He came across a sunspot during his minor trek – many sunspots had broken through the dark ceiling Legion had made of the sky and brought rare warmth to the otherwise chilling air – and spent some time basking in it. During that time, he conversed with God.
Nathan’s dealings with God were growing more commonplace than they had been during his journey to Los Angeles to find his sister. His encounters were full blown discussions with the Creator of the Earth. They were also incredibly private, conversations he only shared with one other person – Pearl. Nathan found himself talking to God about almost everything – the condition of the planet, the darkness engulfing the land, the purpose of Absolute’s Rebellion. He even pressed the subject of his sister many times, asking God where she was and if she was still alive. He gave Nathan the same answer each time, the same answer he gave Nathan when he almost drowned – or technically did drown – in the waters on the way to the lighthouse: You will mount a rescue effort to save her.
The answer was somewhat vague. God didn’t – and wouldn’t – specify if Daisy Pierce was still alive, nor would He specify she would be rescued. Just that Nathan would mount a rescue effort.
The rest of his conversations with God were more than a little interesting and pleasant, if not sometimes cryptic. God wouldn’t give too many details about Legion, except that Legion was an evil as ancient – if not more than – the creation of the Earth. A very grim answer came to Nathan one day when he asked God if the Earth was going to perish: Yes.
Nathan had been so stunned by this answer that he found himself asking the question two more times, with the same answer being given before he finally conceded. The Earth would be destroyed. But not yet. The ‘not yet’ was enough to give Nathan hope that he might find his sister and they would have the chance to escape the planet together.
“Hey, you okay?”
Nathan snapped out of his reverie and looked up at Katt. Her mouth curved into a worried grin. “Just…thinking.”
“Any luck finding out what those noises are?”
He shook his head and took a cautious sip of coffee. “I went around the lot yesterday but didn’t find anything.”
“Someone said they saw you sitting out in one of the sunspots, talking to yourself.”
He didn’t answer the accusation. Not many people understood what he meant when he told them he heard from God.
Katt returned to the counter and started pulling out sealed bags of coffee grounds from the box. “Anyway, I think Serenity needs to lighten up a bit. Especially on you. And what’s she got against Pearl?”
“It’s a long story.” He stood with his mug in hand. “Thanks for the coffee. I have to go check on some things.”
Katt smiled warmly at him. “Anytime, Nathan. Let me know if you find out what those strange noises are. They’re starting to give me the creeps.”
Copyright © 2012 David N. Alderman