In honor of making more progress on line-editing Together Alone, the third book in the Only Human on the Block series (and sequel to The Four-Year-Old Guardian and Bravado/Dramatique), I thought I’d publish an excerpt so readers can get a little taste of what’s to come.
***For the purists who like to go in blind, this chapter contains mild spoilers.***
This is from chapter twenty-one, at a point in which a demon army is marching on Averton. It centers around Vernon Wilkes, the mayor of the town. Please note, this is not the final version, as it hasn’t been properly edited, and is subject to change in the final book.
Vernon Wilkes gazed out the window in his office that ran the length of the wall from floor to ceiling. He stood, hands clasped behind his back, looking out over the town that had been his home—his very life’s blood—for over twenty years.
Has it really been that long? he thought.
It’d been more than half his lifetime ago when he’d first come to Averton, then a small town only people with connections had ever heard of. He’d been full of lofty ideals and, with the help of Victoria Snow, Betty Hammer and Ted Wrightson, he’d set about enacting radical change. He was considered the most charismatic of the group, so he’d run for the office of Mayor on the platform of bringing Averton closer to the rest of the world while maintaining their anonymity. The older residents objected, claiming the town’s secret would be found out and every monster there would be persecuted.
But Vernon’s generation was one that embraced peace and change, and he won in a landslide. His first order of business was to have a road built from the highway, making Averton accessible to everyone. He assured those who worried about their secret being revealed they would still be safe. Even safer, in fact, if they did as he suggested and never revealed their bestial sides to one another.
After an influx of new people and with some of the old-timers leaving in a huff, Vernon’s plan soon saw fruition. Within a few short years, humans and monsters lived side-by-side. They shopped at the same stores, went to the
same school, ate at the same restaurants, and no one was the wiser.
With the limitations of hiring only monsters lifted, commerce reached an all-time high for the town. New businesses were built by the score, big chain businesses that brought with them big tax revenues.
One of Vernon’s main pushes came in the form of inviting multi-millionaires to relocate there. Without the stigma of being a monster-only town, Averton was a prime piece of real estate, conveniently located fairly close to Portland, but without all the hustle and bustle. He offered several incentives for them to visit, and many found the offers too sweet to resist.
With the increased interest, Vernon had the forest at the north end of town leveled to make way for construction. The move angered some of his previous supporters, including Betty and Ted, who moved just as Vernon’s dreams were being realized.
As the rich came to stake a claim in the small town, it became a mad scramble to see who could snatch up the lot with the best view, and who could build the biggest monuments to their egos.
Not to be outdone, Vernon had the Wilkes Building built, the one in which he now stood. After ten years of being in office, he felt like he’d finally taken a little instead of constantly giving. The cost to the taxpayers was enormous and many people picketed, including his former girlfriend, Victoria Snow. She told him he’d changed, as if that was a bad thing.
“All things change,” he said. “It’s the very nature of life.”
While the effort to bring in some rich home-owners was a success, his hold on the town started to slip. Several of the chains he worked so hard to bring in went out of business, victims of a massive protest and boycott campaign spearheaded by none other than Victoria Snow. In a few short months, she managed to turn the town against him. It was only through the lack of a viable opponent and the support of his rich colleagues he was able to win the following election.
Having gained a new lease on his position, he refocused his attention on improving the town, putting his expensive dreams on the backburner. But he never forgot about them. Not a day passed when he didn’t stand in his office, gazing through the massive window overlooking the city, like he did now. Most days, he dreamt of what could be.
Today, he saw that dream dying.
Brad Warren’s warning call came just moments before the sky grew dark with the shapes of flying demons. The report had been there were dozens of demons, but if Officer Warren’s report of a separate, massive ground force was true, Vernon suspected the number to be in the hundreds.
They came out of the forest in a straight line, a solid stream of airborne terror seemingly headed straight toward the gleaming white walls of the Wilkes Building. It wasn’t long before they broke off into groups, swooping down on people’s cars and houses. Citizens ran in horror as the demons descended on them. They were wholly disorganized, unlike the demons. Of course, the demons knew what to expect. Not the citizens of Averton. They’d been given no warning.
I did this, he thought, the muscle in his eye twitching. My pride. My arrogance. I let this happen.
He was too far away to hear their screams, but he felt them, knew with an uncompromised certainty every angry, confused, or scared word was directed his way. Why hadn’t the alarm been sounded, the one bought and paid for care of the tax dollars of the very citizens who now needed it? Where was the military protection that had been promised in every election Wilkes had won?
It’s too late for some of you, he thought. But I can still save my town.
He pushed a button on his earpiece, patching him directly into the Emergency Announcement System he’d had installed several years back. Aside from the annual tests, they’d never had a need to use it.
Now was the time.
“Attention, citizens of Averton,” his voice boomed, echoing from the loudspeakers located throughout the Wilkes Building and all around town. “This is Vernon Wilkes, your elected Mayor, broadcasting on the EAS. As most of you no doubt know, our town is under attack. We have been besieged by the very forces of evil.”
A Grasshopper Demon rammed into the window he faced, causing him to jump back. “At this time, I want all citizens to report to the safety zones, as designated by our last test run. Once there, sit tight. Reinforcements are on their way.”
He switched off the headset and made his way to his desk. There was a box in the corner that controlled the EAS and he opened the top and flipped the switch that caused his words to play back in a loop. He listened to it one time through, checking to see if he’d forgotten anything.
His assistant, Tom, stepped into the office, instead of lingering in the doorway as he usually did. “Is it true?” he asked. “Are reinforcements really on their way?”
“They will be soon enough,” Vernon said, searching his desk drawers for the Cuban cigar he had kept for a special occasion. “Our EAS is tied into their system, so they should be fully aware of the situation by now. I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before they get here and take care of it.” He lit the cigar and took a drag then rubbed it out on his marble desk. It tasted awful.
A Bird Demon flung itself against the window, leaving a streak of saliva, blood and feathers. Its talons scratched at the glass in an effort to break through.
“We may not have time,” Tom said. He gazed down at the ring on his left hand. “You should go, sir. That glass won’t hold forever.”
“I intend to,” Vernon said, finding it difficult to abandon his office, even though he knew it was in his best interest. “What about you?”
“I’ll hold them off as long as I can.”
Vernon barked out a laugh before he could stop himself. “By yourself? That’s suicide.”
A crack appeared as two more demons dive-bombed the building, eager to get to the prize inside.
“Averton needs you,” Tom said. “I can’t promise to stop them all, but I may be able to slow them down.”
“We’ll fight them off together,” Vernon said, despite his complete lack of interest in doing so.
A smile ticked at the corner of Tom’s mouth. “You forget, sir. I know your dirty little secret.”
He considered arguing with his assistant, but he knew it’d do no good. Besides, he was right. Averton did need him. There was still so much the town could do under his leadership. After the rebuilding, of course.
“How long have we known each other, Tom?”
“Eleven years, sir.”
“Eleven years, yet you still call me sir all the time instead of Vern, like everyone else. Why is that?”
“Because you’re my boss, sir. Not my friend.”
Vernon dropped his gaze for a moment, finding he had no response.
Another demon hit the cracked glass, causing it to spiderweb.
“Are you really going to stay behind to die?” Vernon asked. “It’s suicide. What about your wife… uh… uh….”
“Anne passed away last year, sir. Cervical cancer.”
“No… really? When? I don’t remember that at all.”
“I took a sick day, sir. I recommend you flee now.”
“Right, well… good luck, Tom.”
As he left the room, he saw his assistant undergo a transformation, his lean build bulking out and becoming covered in coarse brown fur. His massive paws clawed at the tattered clothes left hanging to his frame. He released an angry roar, and Vernon let the door close behind him, leaving the beast to swat off the pests.
Partway to the stairwell, he heard the breaking of glass followed by Tom bellowing. He quickened his pace, hoping his friend had bought him enough time to make his escape.
The parking garage was secure, so he jumped into his Hummer and started it up, simultaneously dialing his contact number for Commander Masterson. He drove up to the ground level, tapping impatiently on the steering wheel as the phone continued to ring. He was almost ready to hang up when a voice answered.
“You have reached the voice mailbox for Gary Masterson. If this is an emergency, you can reach me on my other line. Otherwise, leave your name, number and a brief but thorough message, and I’ll return your call in a timely fashion.”
Other line? Vernon thought, trying to remember if the man had ever given him a secondary number to try.
“Masterson, this is Vernon Wilkes over here in Averton. Maybe when you’re done sipping teas with the other ladies, you can pay some attention to the EAS warning I sent out. We need to enact Contingency Plan B. Operation Concrete Veil is a go. I repeat, Concrete Veil is a go.”
He muttered a curse as he hung up the phone, then another as something struck the side of his vehicle, nearly toppling it over. Vernon shifted his weight to keep it on all fours, even as another demon struck the roof.
“Good luck getting through that, boys.”
The rear passenger window shattered and a clawed talon came through, gripping the frame. He cried out as another demon smashed through the rear driver side window, then the front passenger side. He expected them to reach for him, to pluck him out of his seat and make a quick treat of him. Instead, he found himself, vehicle and all, being hoisted into the air.
Soon, he was level with his office. Beyond the great window which now lay in shards scattered across his office floor, there was no movement within.
The demons lifted him higher and higher until he was well above the Wilkes Building. From this height, he could survey the damage done to his beloved town in such a short amount of time.
They don’t stand a chance, he thought, fairly calm, given the inevitability of his demise. In a way, it offered him comfort, knowing he wasn’t going to have to live through the onslaught that was soon to come. These demons were doing him a favor by taking him out early.
His gaze fixed on the school, the destination he had in mind when he climbed into his Hummer. Victoria was there, he was sure of it, and he had a feeling his daughter was as well. He’d kept his promise by keeping his distance all these years, but there was very little he wouldn’t do to be able to tell her to her face who he was.
He chanced a glance out the window, noting he was several hundred feet above the highest point of the Wilkes Building.
“Shouldn’t give up,” he laughed. “I’ll be fine. All I have to do is turn into a bird and fly.”
The only thing stopping him was his so-called dirty little secret Tom had mentioned. Long suspected and rumored, but never verified, Vernon Wilkes, elected Mayor for over twenty years of the monster capital of the world, was one hundred percent human. And thanks to his reforms, no one had been able to question him about it.
His laughter turned to tears as he looked to the right and saw the ground-based demons marching from the forest, single-file like the ants they appeared to be from this height and distance.
Would it have made a difference if he’d heeded Victoria’s words? Probably not, he knew, but now that he was facing his final moments, he wished he’d given her that. Of all the things he’d taken from her during their friendship, their relationship and their rivalry, he could’ve given just a little back.
Of course, he’d lost things along the way, too. The woman he loved hated him as much as he despised the woman he ended up marrying. And then there was his daughter, who he’d never met and now, never would.
As he felt the demons loosen their hold on his Hummer, he spent his last few minutes praying someone or something would save the people he cared about, the city he loved.
Then they let go, and the world rushed up to greet him.