For all those who are wanting a taste of DAY ZERO, here’s the Prologue and First Chapter! Hope you like it!
Lightning is my enemy. I know it sounds crazy that a force of nature would have a problem with a mere mortal, but it is what it is. It’s even how I got my nickname, Lightning Luke. I’d much rather be Feathery Frank. It would be less painful, at least. Instead I just have a lightning shaped target on my back.
It searches for me. Down alleys. Between buildings. Under trees. Everywhere. It’s relentless.
Unlike the monster Frankenstein created where lightning gave him life, lightning stole mine … well, in a manner. It’s complicated. It’s not something I want to talk about, so I won’t.
But today, I was warming my hands at a burning barrel of trash when I smelled something on the air beyond that particular piquant stench. Like a hound, I raised my head to get a better whiff. It was familiar: almost acidic, maybe salty, a touch of ozone. But to me, it was the smell of burnt flesh, singed hair, and pain.
I looked for Isaiah in his cardboard shelter. “It’s coming,” I said. He popped his head out with a signature pissed off look on his face.
“What you on about, Lightnin’?” He saw my face and he knew. He scrambled out of the rubble with a wary eye on the clouds. The hair on my arms began to rise. It was inevitable. No escaping it. I raised my hands to the sky like a martyr begging for mercy. Isaiah ran at me yelling nonsense about taking cover.
It was too late. A lightning bolt speared me where I stood. My body convulsed in an awkward dance of jerking and jumping. My skin sizzled and cracked then blackened with char with ugly blisters breaking out all over it. Smoke rose from my collar as my hair fried.
As I fell to the pavement, Isaiah reached me. He tried to turn me over but the leftover electricity sent him flying into the wall across the alley. I slowly looked over at him as he shook off the stars. My voice came out like ground glass from my black, blistered lips.
“Today seems like a good day to forget.”
Isaiah snorted. “Isn’t every day?”
He was right.
I’m flying. Not in a plane or anything. Just flying. And, at least on the edge of things, I know that I am dreaming. I look down at the city. At first, it’s like most people feel it looks: cold, gray, imposing, unfeeling. Steel and glass monoliths rising from strips of black pavement passively look down on the masses going about their days in their shadows.
I pass a raven that’s as dark as the hearts of many of our city’s residents. His coal black eyes follow me as I swoop toward a thicket of trees in a nearby park.
The trees are the first blush of color and they are brilliant … red, gold, and orange flames. Colors of passion. As I come closer to the trees, I catch a glimpse of a family having a picnic. The father is playing Frisbee with his preteen son, the blue disk soaring between them in a clunky rhythm. The boy throws it and it sails wide and high over his father’s head. The father jumps for it like a wide receiver going for a tipped pass and lands empty handed and laughing in a lump on the ground.
The little girl jumps up from the blanket where she has been setting up lunch with her mother but eyeing the game with blue-eyed green envy. “I’ll get it,” she shouts.
The mother smiles indulgently while she sets down the plastic-ware she was unwrapping. A pink plastic rattle flies from the baby carrier next to her and lands noisily on the blanket. She coos into the sweet squealing face of her infant. She picks up the rattle and shakes it back and forth to the delight of the young child in yellow.
I fly past a small play area with primary colored climbing gyms, rocking horses, spinning carousels, and swings. I hear excited peals of laughter as I pass.
Nearby is a small pond with ducks and small sailboats in a vast array of colors and sizes. My eyes settle on a couple sitting on a bench that is looking out over the water.
I’m surprised to recognize myself and Allison, my longtime girlfriend. Her head is on my shoulder and we are holding hands. I can feel the weight of her head and the soft cashmere of the edge of her sweater sleeve. The moment is a peaceful slice of time that could last forever.
I see myself gulp nervously as I fiddle with something in my pocket. I take several deep breaths. Allison looks up at me curiously. She asks, “Are you okay?”
My face reads a mixture of terror, love, and indecision. I say, “Yes. I just have something I want to say to you.”
She scoots away a bit to get a better look at my face.
“We’ve been together … how long now?”
“Over four years,” she answers with caution.
I look out across the pond. My stomach clenches. It’s going to change everything.
I’m amazed at how I can be outside of myself and still be feeling the anxiety. I watch and wonder what I am up to.
Dream me clears my throat. I begin to talk still looking at the boats on the water. “I’ve been thinking. After all this time together, we should know each other enough and how we feel about each other enough to know where we stand with one another. I love you … but I want more.”
I see the pain register in Allison’s eyes. She’s confused and frightened by what’s happening.
Dream me stands up. “I’ve decided it’s time to do the next thing.” I drop to one knee before Allison and pop open a small box containing a large diamond ring. “Will you marry me?”
BZZT BZZT BZZT BZZT BZZT BZZT BZZT BZZT BZZT…
That hated sound jolted me awake. I fought my shroud of sheets like I was fighting a crowd of ninjas. Free at last, I stumbled off the bed and leaped toward the alarm clock that I have on my chest of drawers across the room (or I’d never be awake). I stumbled, just missing an errant chair.
I hit the snooze and made my reverse flight back to the comfort of my bed, a trip repeated thousands of times.
The loops in the edge of my area rug were flipped up and my big toe caught in them. I toppled like a tree straight toward the sharp edge of my nightstand. In a move that could only be described as either heroic or athletic, I caught myself — one hand on the nightstand, one hand on the side of the bed, and one leg lunged out beneath me.
My eyes zoomed in on the corner that could have surely cracked my head like an egg and a relieved breath escaped me. “Patrick, you are one lucky man,” I told myself before I looked back and shook my toe loose from the rug. I sank to the floor. I made the decision right there and then; no more snooze for a while for me.
I slipped my thumb across the edge of the nightstand and a splinter pierced my skin. I yanked my hand back to see a pin prick of blood begin on the tip. “REALLY?!?” I stuck my sore thumb in my mouth and got up from the floor.
As I walked to the bathroom to turn the light on, I nursed my wounded digit. I washed my hands and ran cold water over my face. Snatching the hand towel, I headed back to the bedroom while drying my face and hands. With a sneer, I kicked the hated rug back into place before resetting my alarm for the next day.
I reached in a drawer and grabbed a pair of boxers with yellow smiley faces all over them. They had a bit more personality than the navy striped pair I shed on my way back to the bathroom.
My apartment is nice and very fashionably decorated. I may be a guy, but I have good taste. Simple, yet elegant. There are only a few items that may seem out of place — my stack of comic books on the bookshelves, a beat up green leather recliner that was my grandfather’s, and an old, dust-covered radio I keep in the bathroom that I’ve had since high school. They have all seen better days, but nostalgia keeps me from trashing them and getting newer models.
I keep the radio on a classic rock station that starts my day every morning. I could do without the unoriginal banter of the hosts, but their music selection is just the best.
When I flipped my trusty radio on this particular morning, I caught the second half of Time by Pink Floyd. Not a bad start, I must say. I slid open the glass door to the shower and turned the water to the hottest I could stand before stepping under the spray.
As I started to shampoo, the opening notes for Rush’s Working Man nearly busted the already buzzy speakers. I got soap in my eyes when I opened them to yell, “Aw, yeah!” I sang along with Geddy as I rinsed the soap from my eyes and hair.
It’s true. Shower singing really can’t be beat.
The bathroom was its usual foggy mess when I stepped from the shower with bright pink skin. I have these great towels my girlfriend, Allison, bought me and set up in this wicker basket that is very Bed, Bath, and Beyond. They are one of the best things about taking a bath. I grabbed one and toweled off as one of the snarling radio personalities shared his “thoughts” for the day and began his prank calls.
As I dried my hair, I pulled the stopper in the sink and filled it with hot water. I got a razor out that had my name on it. It may sound anal, but I hate it when Allison uses my razor to shave her legs. It’s just never the same after that…so I labeled mine and hers. I know that makes me sound like a jerk, but I always make sure she has a razor for her on hand for her overnight stays.
I tossed my towel halfway across the radio as I started to put foam on my face. I made several passes with the blade until I had a nearly clear chin. I reached for the towel to wipe my face but it caught my radio and dragged it into the sink filled with water.
I fell backward as electricity licked all the way to the wall outlet. A loud buzzing sizzle filled the air. The lights flickered on and off before a loud pop shut them down for good. Smoke filtered through the room as sparks shot from the wall.
I’d like to say I yelled rather than screamed, but who am I kidding?
After getting dressed, I grabbed a breakfast bar from an open box on the kitchen counter and tore it open with my teeth as I picked up my briefcase and headed for the door. When I got to the street, I whistled for a cab. Another businessman was doing the same thing just a few feet away. He wore the same kind of sharp suit that I was wearing. One only success can afford. We raised our breakfast bars at one another in salute. “Breakfast of champions, eh,” I called to him.
“You said it.” He smiled and climbed into the cab that stopped for him.
I raised my hand for another taxi and one honked at me from across the street. I looked both ways and jogged for it.
Right then it all seemed to go into slow motion. As I ran, my foot seemed to get tripped on plain air and I fell face first into the gritty street. I looked up to see a car grill careening straight for me. It swerved at the last second.
It hit another car coming the other way and together they began to skid toward my body still prone in the street. My eyes felt full of glass as I tried to move my sluggish body out of the way. It was as if I had gained 500 pounds and had lost all ability to drag my limbs. The sidewalk moved a mile away in the seconds that had passed. I flung myself up on the curb to safety just as the cars careened to a halt within inches of my left thigh. Thin plumes of smoke rose from their crushed hoods as I fell limply on my back and held my chest gasping for breath. I was vaguely aware of a car horn steadily blaring through a thumping wrapped in cotton.
Believe me. I am not a clumsy person. I’ve always been very agile. I was a running back in high school and college. I was All State and All American. I’m no slouch. I was just having an exceedingly bad day. Don’t judge me.