On the street
A shout behind him on the street interrupted his contemplation. Jeremy’s good mood evaporated. It sounded like the thug. Jeremy put his head down and kept walking.
“Hey! Hey you!”
The urge to bolt rose as the voice came closer. Jeremy lacked any notion of what the hoodlum wanted, but there was no chance of preventing Armageddon if the ruffian caught him.
“Hey!” The owner of the yell grabbed the back of Jeremy’s arm.
Jeremy panicked, shrugged off the hand and fled. He pushed through pedestrians and attempted to lose himself in the crowd. But feet pounded after him.
“Hey you! Stop!”
Jeremy ran faster. Muttered apologies as he knocked aside complete strangers. Turned down a side alley between two buildings—unable to see the end, he kept going. He mustn’t be caught. His side seared in agony as he sprinted round a bend.
And ran into a dead end.
Fire escape ladders taunted him just out of reach. The cul-de-sac lacked doors or windows. Held nothing but high walls and garbage. Hide under the rubbish? No. They would find him. And after everything he’d been through, he wouldn’t die cowering under the trash.
Breathless, he stood to his full height, and composed himself. A little taller than average, he might stare down his opponent. Except that beanpoles like him intimidated no one. He lamented leaving the crowded streets. But he would face whatever came. Yesterday taught him that. Taught him he could face the situation. Perhaps he could talk his way out.
Jeremy turned around as his assailant slowed to a stop. The hoodlum dropped his hands to his knees; shorter and heavier than Jeremy, even a touch overweight, the ruffian’s straight brown hair obscured a young face. He didn’t look like a criminal, but then thugs presumably came in many shapes and sizes.
He gazed at Jeremy and laughed. “Buddy, you sure led me a chase back there. Figure if you weren’t cornered, you’d still be running. I have something for you.” The goon reached into his pocket.
This was it, then. How Jeremy’s life would end. Jeremy raised his chin in his best impression of John Wayne. Jeremy would die, but his pride remained—even if he discovered the concept only yesterday.
The thug pulled out a black and bulky object, and thrust it at Jeremy. “You dropped your wallet back there.”
At first, the words didn’t process. Then Jeremy giggled, unable to stop himself.
The man stopped. “Buddy? You all right?”
Jeremy stifled the laughter. He nodded, stepping forward himself. “Thank you. That’s very … decent of you. It’s just unexpected. I’ve had a rough few days.”
The man’s face became wary, as though he prepared to bolt lest Jeremy’s affliction be contagious. “No problem. Here.” He shoved the wallet into Jeremy’s hand, backed up a few steps, and hurried away.
Jeremy shook his head in dismay. The first normal interaction in days and he stuffed that up as well. “Pity.”
“Yeah,” replied a shabby man wielding a piece of wood as a club. “Now you can give that to me.”
Jeremy stifled a cackle. Yesterday he prevented the apocalypse, only to be accosted by a bum on the street today.
The ragged man hefted the club. “Teach you to laugh at me!”
Jeremy held out his hands in placation. “Sorry. It’s not you. And you can put the club down.”
“Right.” Jeremy opened his wallet and pulled out the cash. The handful of small notes meant little to Jeremy, but by the downright hungry expression the money meant a lot to the other. “I’ll keep the cards. You can’t do anything with them.”
The man grabbed the notes. “And your shoes.”
“My … seriously? Can’t I buy you a new pair?”
The other hefted the club again.
Jeremy sighed. His now-uncomfortable leather shoes were not worth a fight. He pulled them off and winced as stones dug into his feet. The club wavered, then hit the wall as the other snatched Jeremy’s shoes and fled.
Shoeless, Jeremy focused on providence. He’d intended to go shopping anyway.
For an unfathomable reason, Jeremy’s discomfort increased as he exited the elevator opposite Mrs. Abercrombie’s. To lure the Red to the Well, he needed to leave a message in his apartment, and not warning Mrs. A of the danger was just plain wrong. But doing the right thing didn’t subdue his agitation. In fact, he realised he always felt that way—like a schoolboy nervous at approaching the principal’s office after wrongdoing.
But Jeremy had done nothing wrong. True, Mrs. Abercrombie let him stay overnight after a bomb destroyed his apartment, and then, earlier this morning, he careened out her front door without saying goodbye, as through the world would soon end. But then, he’d had an excellent reason.
Jeremy stared at the door bell, unable to bring himself to press the buzzer. His head fell forward, and he gazed at his new shoes. They chafed. Fluoro-orange didn’t appear to be an appropriate choice to hide from hunters, but he had to buy the first pair he found. The sneakers screamed … at a loss to describe what the footwear said about him, Jeremy at least realised they hollered something. And it wasn’t positive. He would have considered another pair, but every second that shoeless Jeremy spent in the store took the shop-keeper closer to the point of screaming. He’d left before the situation became too uncomfortable, shoving on the runners, and paying the exorbitant price without qualm.
Discomfort. He looked at the doorbell again. “It’s a door bell, Sunson. No need to fear, no assassins here.” And yet, he needed to force his finger towards that innocent little button.
The door opened, a face appearing behind the chain. Startled, Jeremy jumped backwards, his first thought to flee. And fell in a heap.
“Who’s there? What do you want? Jeremy? What are you doing on the floor? And why are you wearing such horrible shoes?”
“Just … just startled.” He needed to restrain that reaction.
Mrs. Abercrombie closed the door in his face, and Jeremy heard the chain unlatched. The door re-opened, and the old lady waddled out in fluffy slippers to help Jeremy to his feet. He burst into a goofy smile.
“Jeremy, are you all right?” Mrs. A wore that expression again—as though craziness abounded. “You’re not suffering post-traumatic stress disorder?”
Lost for words, Jeremy shrugged. Mrs. Abercrombie no longer lay lifeless on the floor, which had been one way Jeremy repaid her hospitality earlier that morning, before time reset.
“PTSD. I read about that after my husband …” She looked at his runners in concern. “You don’t have an urge to fly do you?”
Jeremy winced. Years ago, her husband convinced himself to strap on feathers and jump off the roof—only to discover that he could not, in fact, fly. “No. No. Nothing like that. I’m just happy to see you’re alive. It’s been a strange week.”
“You ran out this morning like the world was going to end. You didn’t even say goodbye.”
Words still failed Jeremy. “I’m sorry. There was a good reason.” The world had been about to end. “I … I was late for an appointment.” The excuse sounded lame, even to him.
“I see.” Luckily, Mrs. Abercrombie was used to odd behaviour, and not just from Jeremy. She handed him a key. “They replaced your front door, and someone asked for you. Not that man in black from yesterday. Another man wearing a suit. Said he didn’t have time to wait for his appointment tomorrow and needed to see you today. He seemed rough.”
No doubt the thug who had threatened him. “Mrs. Abercrombie, I think that man wants to hurt me. He might be connected with my apartment.” He did call when I returned there. “It might be best if I left the city for a while.”
“But … you haven’t taken a holiday in ten years! You’ve never even left the city. Where will you go?”
“I … I haven’t decided. And I probably shouldn’t tell you. Safer that way.”
“Safer?” Mrs. Abercrombie’s voice became shrill and Jeremy winced from the sound. “Jeremy, are you in trouble? Did you rob a bank?”
“No. Why would you ask that?” Mrs. Abercrombie shrank back at his tone, and Jeremy winced again. Calm down, Sunson. It’s an ordinary question from a concerned neighbour. She has no idea about the money in your bank account. He sagged, and the tension left him. “Sorry. It’s been a strange few days. I’m not in trouble.” That is so untrue. “Just tell anyone who asks that I’ve left. Can you do that for me?”
The old lady nodded, eyes full of concern, but with that odd look she had every time she spoke about her husband’s flight.
Jeremy sighed. He should get used to everyone thinking him crazy. “Thanks, Mrs. A. Thanks for everything. I hope I … I’ll see you later, when this is all over.” Presuming the world to still be here. Jeremy tried smiling, and stepped backwards, nearly tripping over again. He caught himself and stumbled to the stairs, hearing Mrs. Abercrombie’s door close with a solemn thud, as if placing a final period on that part of his life. But a final period that came with concluding remarks he heard through the closed door.
“Shame. Such a nice boy to die so young.”
At the Well
The pouring storm left all in darkness when Jeremy reached the Well, reducing the streetlights to no more than a dim glow. At least he now wore clothes that fit, and black to match the night, though the unwashed jacket gave him phantom itches. The taxi dropped him off at a warehouse a street away from the Well, a precaution to prevent the cabdriver asking awkward questions about a final destination in an empty part of the city that happened to be under lockout.
But now as he dragged his little two-wheeled shopping trolley—he ignored the scotch plaid design which made him resemble Mrs. Abercrombie—and failed to keep the rain off the both of them, he found himself regretting his decision. Conspicuous, he glanced at shadows, anxious he’d be jumped on by a gang, or run over because his new waterproof sneakers weren’t reflective. That would be all he needed.
After many tense moments spooked by shadows, Jeremy arrived at the Well. Excellent. Only a barbed wire fence and guard dogs to go before he set traps for the hunters.
And hope they didn’t arrive early.
Or that they weren’t here already. He hadn’t thought of that.
In the end, gaining the inside of the structure turned out to be not as difficult as he expected. To avoid the dogs, he headed for the point where the building butted up against the road. Jeremy remembered such things, he’d never known why, but the knowledge came in handy now and only left the simple matter of scaling a twelve foot wall. The pounding rain taking a break, the streetlight now provided sufficient illumination.
The shopkeeper had given him a strange look when asked for a grappling hook. Jeremy supposed he wasn’t the type. The multi-pronged implement came in plastic instead of metal, but seemed strong enough, and the cord attached tested for three large men. He gave himself a headache interrogating a vague memory from high school athletics as to how to use the thing, then remembered the trick: make sure the cord didn’t tangle.
He played out a length of cord and whirled the hook in a circle a few times before letting the contraption soar to the roof. That was his intention at least. The hook rebounded from the wall near his head. In the time he took to untangle himself from the cord, he remembered the second trick: stand at a distance and release at the right moment.
He stepped back, whirled until the motion felt right, and released. This attempt much better, the hook flew in a perfect arc over the top of the wall.
“Oh.” He now remembered the third trick: don’t let go of the other end of the cord. He lunged, only to have the loop he’d meant to tie to himself slip through his fingers. The rope’s end came to rest on the wall. Just out of reach.
“Oh, you foolish jellybean.” Never taught to swear, Jeremy wondered if he should teach himself. He jumped a few times but the loop at the end of the rope remained out of reach.
The wind picked up again. Stuck on the wrong side of the wall, the rain would no doubt drench Jeremy soon. He’d be mugged, and shot by the Red as Armageddon destroyed the world.
“Get a grip, Sunson. Start acting instead of lamenting.” What could he do? Best not to get drenched. He opened the golf umbrella again, a sturdy metal construction with an easy-grip crook.
A curved handle? Why did that attract his attention? “Oh.” Jeremy closed the umbrella, reversed it, and snagged the loop with the crook on the third attempt.
With care, he pulled the cord. Insanely happy, he grasped the loop with his hand and checked the hook wouldn’t come away from the top of the wall.
“Stage one complete.”
Now for the simple matter of climbing a twelve foot wall, pulling the shopping trolley up after him, to gain the inside of the structure. In the rain.
A WELL TOO DEEP (BOOK 2 OF THE 12 NIGHTS OF JEREMY SUNSON)
The craziness surrounding Jeremy is real! He’s survived the first night of Armageddon but the second beckons him today, and he has no idea what to do about it. His bronze saviour dead, Jeremy is alone.
His plan: prevent the apocalypse’s return by luring an assassin from the future away from everyone he knows. And survive the encounter.
Not to mention avoid the Cartel and that mysterious man in black. Welcome to the second night!
The 12 Nights of Jeremy Sunson—ride a wave of laughter, fun and sci-fi fantasy all the way to Armageddon!
Available 1 March 2017 from Amazon.