The Lost Secret
Here are the first two chapters of my upcoming thriller novel, The Lost Secret. I plan on posting more chapters periodically in the run up to what is hopefully more concrete news about publication. Enjoy!
The second coming of Christ stood pinioned against rusty bars in a stifling cell that wreaked of human refuse. Presently, the aggressor at his back relaxed his grip a fraction, allowing blood flow and even greater doses of pain to return to the right arm he had been threatening to rip from its beleaguered socket. Repeated pangs like electric shocks from contorted nerves shot through the right shoulder and up his neck. Muscles spasmed, forcing him to wince in a way that caused the much larger man to release a boom of laughter.
“Have you had enough yet?” he asked in taunting Spanish.
Zacchaeus said nothing, ashamed of his brief show of weakness. A grunt was forced from his throat as the fellow inmate pressed his considerable bulk forward once more.
“I asked if you had enough.”
Zacchaeus managed to register a weak nod and the prisoner relented. “I want to hear you say it,” the larger man uttered. “Say that it was all a lie.”
His adversary was pockmarked and bulging throughout. Sweat and saliva manifested from his orifices in equal measure. His eyes, beady like a rodent’s, were narrowed in a malicious way that meant he intended to inflict pain on the smaller man no matter what was said.
The prisoner had a name, but Zacchaeus had taken to calling him Mugre, a perfect match for his filthy appearance. Despite all this, Zacchaeus stood firm.
“I am the second coming of our Lord and Savior,” he said in flawless Spanish. “Like I told you previously, my fate has been predetermined. I will die at sundown on the day after next. This is the last time I repeat myself.”
The larger man let out a feral growl and rushed at Zacchaeus.
The pair had been cellmates for only a short time. These encounters were becoming a common theme. La Sabaneta Prison was wildly overcrowded with Venezuela’s most dangerous drug lords and criminals, and thus it was all but certain their cramped cell would become home to several more putrid strangers over the next few days.
Zacchaeus had been biding his time up to this point, waiting for the precise moment to act.
At the last possible second, he sidestepped out of the way and let a short length of rusted iron piping slip from the forearm of his orange jumpsuit. Before his adversary could slow, Zacchaeus circled behind the beast with the deftness of a cat and raised the pipe.
It made a sickening thud against the man’s skull. Not adequate to kill him or even send him to the infirmary, Zacchaeus was sure. Only enough force to let him know who he was dealing with.
No one saw the scuffle meet a quick end. Guards venturing to this forgotten corner of the hellhole they called a prison was a rare occurrence. Dingy and rank with lingering smells of death and disease, many were quick to suggest La Sabaneta was home to more rats than prisoners.
Zacchaeus considered himself similar in appearance to his biblical predecessor. Dark locks and a beard that had grown long and unkempt from months behind bars. His lanky form had thinned from malnutrition, and once tan skin taken on the pallor of a spider kept hidden from the sun.
He signified hope. But that was a matter upon which not everyone agreed. Some lessons always needed teaching. When the brute regained consciousness, he would allow Zacchaeus to proselytize in peace.
The predicted timing of his death was a different story. Zacchaeus had passed his morbid prognostication to the right people via secret channels, in a way that would make sure it spread throughout the prison. His careful precaution had paid satisfying ends. La Sabaneta was a world ruled by gangs led by a pran that was feared by even the most arrogant guards. Not hours after the pran caught word, the entire prison buzzed with feverish excitement.
The day in question happened to be a Sunday. Zacchaeus felt it fitting. Passing time had a habit of blurring into an indistinguishable roux inside the prison’s gloomy confines. He made a concerted effort to keep track on the wall of his cell with a scrap of sharp rock he had gleaned from a brief foray outdoors. It was by that endeavor that Zacchaeus knew he had existed as a prisoner for precisely ten months and seven days on the evening he was to die.
The day my destiny is fulfilled.
A quiet energy overtook La Sabaneta after dinner. Guards glanced around, perplexed and wary. They felt something coming but didn’t know what. Like a tsunami cresting the shoreline, the tension broke in an uproarious barrage of noise that shook the dilapidated prison to its rotten core. The bulk of the raucous onslaught could be heard coming from a forgotten annex in the dank heart of the penitentiary’s old wing.
When the guards arrived, skidding around corners at full speed, they found hordes of inmates pressed against the rusted bars of their cells, worked into a frenzied delirium. Pointing fingers jabbed through the air. The guards rushed forward, hands hovering over their batons, until they stumbled upon the cell in question.
At first, there was nothing to make of it. A rather large and grimy prisoner lay snoring on his cot. Despite the cacophony, he slept soundly. Guards stared into the cell in confusion. One felt a hint of understanding jog his memory. He had heard rumors, wild stories, of an inmate who had predicted his own death. Bets involving weapons and various contraband had overtaken La Sabaneta at mention of such an outlandish statement. The guard in question had placed a few bets of his own.
Now he stared into the dark corners of the cell and knew the truth. It didn’t seem possible. His eyes relayed a different story. The outlandish prediction had come true. This prisoner, whether he was the second coming of their Lord and Savior or not, had wholly and utterly vanished.
Howard Gibson Bey felt a jolt of panic followed by the unpleasant sensation of weightlessness deep in his stomach as the plane’s door was thrust open and he was jettisoned headfirst into the brilliant void.
The air racing by was cold and sharp as daggers. Before he knew what happened he had plummeted a hundred feet. Three hundred more were gone before the sickening sensation ebbed away. That left him with nothing but icy dread.
Don’t look down.
Nothing could have prepared him for this. He tumbled through the sky in an out of control spiral reminiscent of a plane that had both its wings snapped off. Trying desperately to stabilize, his eyes locked on the multicolored patchwork of land below and his all too real fear of heights kicked in.
Howard Gibson Bey did the only thing he could do. He screamed. Thankfully, the sound failed to resonate through his vocal cords. It remained trapped inside of him. While adrenaline jolted his body’s physiological processes into high gear, Bey tried to regain his mind’s composure.
A small number popped into view at the upper right corner of his vision.
It counted down, the numerals furthest to the right spinning away in a dizzying choreography. Within seconds it had breached 8,000 feet. Bey trained his focus downward and watched several more yellow numbers flash into view. The speed of his fall hovered around 120 miles per hour. The glide ratio and angle of descent underwent wild fluctuations as he worked his arms like a flailing fish to stabilize. Glancing down again, a radial diagram hovering in midair was dissected by a thin, fluorescent line showing the most direct path to the ground. Another arced into the distance, mapping the subtle curvature of the earth.
Get ahold of yourself.
The numbers disappeared as he focused on his left peripheral. Blood pressure, heartbeat, and oxygen intake numbers appeared. Bey looked past them to the approaching ground. The patchwork from before was gone. Now it appeared green and flat save a few haggard trees as far as the eye could see. He was still too high to pinpoint herds of animals grazing and roaming the Tanzanian savannah. But that was about to change.
As the altimeter sank below 5,000 a ring of red flashed around his vision. Bey knew what he had to do. He grappled at his side for the hackey that would deploy his pilot chute. The ground was fast approaching. His head up display continued to flash bright red around the edges. It set off a phantom ringing in Bey’s ears that he couldn’t dispel.
The HUD was built into customized smart contact lenses that connected to a neural implant in his outer cerebral cortex, a prototype design not yet available to the public or even the most secretive folds of military and intelligence outfits. The smart contacts were his secret advantage, one that was now warning him with soundless urgency that he had seconds to live.
The hackey was missing. Bey flung his hands all about his windswept body, searching for a familiar drawstring or ripcord that would deploy the chute and slow his rapid descent. Nothing.
The ground was closing in, ballooning outward to meet him. Bey flattened his body as much as possible to create drag and felt a pit of dread welling in his stomach. He had heard story of skydivers clawing through the nylon of their jumpsuits desperate to pull a ripcord where they thought it ought to be. In almost all those cases, the cord had been dangling innocently on the opposite side all along.
Bey would be victim of no such folly. In desperation he ran his hands over his body once more. The wind howled in his face, making it difficult to breathe or see anything in front of him other than the swelling green mass. He had been forced out of the plane without goggles.
According to the HUD embedded in his smart contacts, he had less than six seconds before impact. Bey understood the truth. Even if he managed to deploy his chute in time he had little chance of surviving. By the time it opened he would be bracing for impact.
Howard Gibson Bey could now make out every detail of the savannah. Grasslands dotted with acacia trees met rolling hills in the distance. A colony of antelope wove about like drunken ants. They headed for a small lake that sat placid and unaware of a solitary human form hurtling to earth.
This is the end.
He wondered what it would feel like to die and tensed.
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- Charles Harned