Simple Math: A Sci-Fi Thriller Excerpt

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The following is an excerpt from my sci-fi short story, “Simple Math.” You can find the full story in Lethal Lore, my collection of suspense/horror tales. Since most readers know me through my cozies, I thought I’d introduce this new writing with a sample. Lethal Lore is FREE this weekend, so grab your copy before the price goes back up on January 25th.

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SIMPLE MATH

LIGHTNING WAS STATISTICALLY UNLIKELY to strike the ValuMart, given the height of surrounding buildings. But statistics have no influence on fate, and at 11:46 p.m., a streak blazed through the ceiling, knocking Dr. William Roberson to the floor near checkout stand #8. Shaken, he blinked away the green spots from his eyes and sat forward, pushing aside the breath mints, gum, lip balm and other impulse items he’d spilled with his fall. “What happened?” he asked the cashier.

“Lightning, mister. Storm is getting worse.” The young Hispanic woman nodded to the rain coursing down the blackened windows. She remained behind the counter, untouched by the phenomenon. “You okay? You want me to call the ambulance? Or the manager? Jorge’s on break, but I can wake him.”

William wiggled his fingers in his ears. The thunderclap had momentarily dulled his hearing. He inspected the ceiling. No char, no smoke, not a tile out of place. He was losing it, plain and simple. “You mean it struck outside?”

“Big flash in the parking lot.” She shrugged. “One minute you were paying for your stuff. The next minute—¡pum!—you were on the floor.”

William glanced at the counter. His hunting knife lay in a white plastic bag, ready to take home like a roll of paper towels or a box of frozen peas. If not for this strange turn, he’d have been half way to the motel by now.

The cashier continued, “You must’ve had a seizure. My abuela has them all the time. It’s the flashing at night. Sets off the loco in her brain, but she comes through okay.”

William grabbed the counter for support and pulled himself upright. Other than wobbly knees and a persistent ringing in his ears, he felt okay, well enough to carry out tonight’s plan. Then again, how healthy did he have to be to commit suicide? When he reached for his purchase, he noticed a pair of denim-clad legs jutting from behind the cashier’s station. The man’s body—he presumed it was a man—lay partially hidden behind the dividing wall between checkout lanes. The phantom lightning had claimed a second victim. “I’m fine, but I’m not sure about him.” He nodded to the figure on the floor. “Better call your manager.”

The cashier peered over the top of the divider. “¡Dios mio!”

As William approached the unconscious stranger, the cashier’s voice droned over the loudspeaker: Jorge, caja siete. Jorge, caja siete. ¡Rapido! He knelt and examined the man for signs of injury, noting their similar taste in clothing: blue jeans, brown oxfords, a pale blue button down that could’ve been his own if not for tiny pinstripes. The stranger’s neck and hands had a familiar cast to them, too, as did his wavy brown hair. The parallels unnerved William. He shook the guy’s shoulder and shouted, “Hey, you okay? Can you hear me?”

The man rolled over and rubbed his face. “What the hell happened?”

William scrambled backward in shock. Aside from an opposite hair part and vaguely different clothing, he and the other man were identical. Identical. William had stared into those same hazel eyes in the mirror and shaved around that same Adam’s apple every morning. He reached for the other man’s sleeve to make sure his eyes hadn’t betrayed him, to make sure the lightning hadn’t scrambled his brainwaves.

The stranger jerked his arm away. “Who are you?” he shouted at William. He jumped to his feet and faltered against the bag carousel, unable to gain balance. “Who the hell are you, and why do you look like me?”

William wanted to speak, but the words wouldn’t come. Just this morning, he’d lectured on the equal a priori probability postulate, fielding questions from eager Ph.D. candidates and snuffing them like candles. Now he couldn’t remember his own name.

“Wait, are you twins?” the cashier asked. She cradled the phone in the crook of her neck. “Why didn’t you say so in the first place?”

The other man looked at her then to the knife on the counter. Before William could stop him, the stranger grabbed the bag from the counter and fled the store. “Wait! Come back!” William cried. He gave chase, pushing past a group of Hispanic men in the foyer. Outside, cold drops hit his skin, burning it. At this point, he cared less about the knife than the person who’d stolen it. William wiped the wet hair from his eyes and scanned the parking area. The torrent fell in grey sheets, obscuring his view of the cars.

Across the lot, an engine roared to life. It had to be the stranger. Had to be. William sprinted toward the white pick-up truck with a host of questions. If anyone could answer them, it was his doppelgänger. With desperation, he seized the Dodge Ram’s side view mirror and jumped on the running board as it backed from the parking spot. “Stop! Please!” William begged. When the truck rolled forward, his feet slipped from the wet fiberglass and dragged on the asphalt. He held fast to the mirror. “Please! I just want to talk! We have to talk!”

The truck stopped. The window lowered, revealing a familiar face. “Get in,” the man said. “But make it quick. This truck ain’t exactly mine.”

William circled to the passenger side and hopped into the cab, blowing a bit of rain from his lips. The water tasted of heavy metal and pollution, souring his tongue. “Name’s Roberson, William Roberson.”

“Mine, too.” The stranger tightened his grip on the steering wheel, his eyes to the windshield. “Though I go by Billy, not William. And I pronounce my last name with a short ‘o’—Robber-son, not Ro-berson. But I bet we spell it the same.” He put the truck in gear and drove from the lot.

“I’m sure you had other plans tonight, and I can assure you I did,” William said glancing at the plastic bag between them. “But we have to talk if only to settle this…this peculiarity.”

“You live close by?”

“I’m at the Teepee Motel, just north of here,” William said. “Didn’t look at the room before I checked in, but I’m positive it’s a dump. Do you mind?”

“I’ve probably stayed in worse,” Billy said.

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lethal loreThat concludes the sample, dear readers. I won’t tell you what happens between the two Mr. Robersons, but it’s far more complicated and chilling than one of them deserves. If you’d like to read “Simple Math” in its entirety, download your free copy today. Promotion ends January 24, 2016.

Lethal Lore offers readers the broken remains of legend, recast in blood. Four harmless myths–the jackalope, the doppelgänger, the lucky penny, the Green Children of Woolpit–become the stuff of nightmares in this short story collection. Come explore the dark side of folklore.

 

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