Apex

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Mr. Greer was known to hire the most attractive dames to guard his estate while he sat locked away in his penthouse suite on the seventeenth floor overlooking New York City. Everybody in New York and their divorce lawyer knew real estate mogul Herman Greer only employed six-foot, blonde beauties with hips and breasts to die for. That’s why it nearly made the headlines when he decided to bring Valerie Seistucket along as his administrative assistant three years ago.

What Greer desired in an employee Valerie lacked. Overall, she lacked charisma; she was a self-starter; she was insanely OCD; and she always brought way too much at the company pot lucks. However, he would be able to overlook all of these shortcomings if she were just prettier, but damn it, she just wasn’t his type. Valerie stood at maybe 5’8″ — Herman likens shorter women to circus trolls — and she was a brunette, all characteristics of his ex-wife Marybette.

The one thing that Valerie had over all the other women Greer had ever employed or interviewed is her ability to manipulate a situation and get things done, no matter how bleak the circumstances. Valerie was a shark, and in a fish tank full of clownfish and sea turtles, Herman needed some teeth. If he did not establish himself at the top of the food chain, somebody else would beat him to it.

“Mr. Greer, here is a list of the scheduled appointments for next week,” Valerie placed a memo on Herman’s large oak desk, she felt as if she were handing a confidential document to the president of the United States. “I made one cancellation per your request for the ten o’ clock on Wednesday, but other than that everything will go as planned.” Valerie’s chestnut hair did not move as she talked and walked around the room, not even as she closed the Greer’s window blinds to keep the morning glare off out of his eyes. Just as Valerie managed Greer’s business life immaculately, she presented herself just as flawlessly.

Mr. Greer sipped his black coffee and mulled over his next week’s schedule, mindlessly clicking an ink pen. His silence concerned Valerie. “Does everything look okay, sir?”

“Set up a meeting with Thomas Black from Phoenix. Cancel my Friday nine and ten. Tell Thomas I want to follow up on the discussion we had last month. About the cancellations, tell them I will make it up to them.”

“One of the cancelations is Lyle, sir.”

Herman took a long swig of coffee and scribbled a note on the memo. “Make it work, Mrs. Seistucket. Lyle will understand. Hell, if it’s that important he can just see me at home on Saturday. Tell him that.”

“Yes sir.”

Back at her office, Valerie immediately made phone calls to adjust Herman’s schedule. She started with the easy conversations first.

“Hello, Mr. Greer.”

“He’s canceling, isn’t he?”

“Lyle, I—”

There was long pause. “I just, I need to see him or talk to him, please. Is there anything you can do?”

“He did say that if it was urgent that you were welcome to see him this weekend.”

“I don’t have that long! You can transfer me; you’ve done that before.” The desperation in Lyle’s voice was heavy. He was crying.

Valerie wouldn’t budge. “I’m sorry, Lyle. Have a good day.” She scratched his name off of her list, exhaled, and dialed a number in her cell phone.

“Hello, Mrs. Williams. I’m calling on behalf of Mr. Herman Greer of Wood Lake Enterprise,” Valerie spoke in a loud, confident manner as she quietly closed her office door.

“Is this line secure?” a man on the other line asked.

“I wouldn’t be calling on it if it weren’t, Eddie.” Valerie’s tone quietened and grew tense. “We need to speed up the project. He’s –”

“Why? Has the father caught on?”

Valerie started drawing tornados on a notepad. “No, he’s completely clueless. But the son about set up a meeting with him.” She cupped her head in her hand and whispered, “Eddie, we don’t have much time.”

“How fast does this need to happen?”

“By Friday.”

Silence.. “Give me some leverage. Our plan has us fixed next Sunday. That’s when Doug and Van were going to get their end set up. But this Friday? That’s in two days, Val. Our guys are confident they could get Lyle to break but they also said that they needed all of that time to get him there.”

“How much money are they offering him?” Valerie asked.

“Five thousand.”

“Well that’s part of the problem. Five isn’t enough. Make it thirty or forty. You’re dealing with the son that’s going to inherit millions within the next ten years. Another issue is what he wanting to discuss with his father exactly. I’ll find out what that’s about and handle it.”

“Do you think Doug and Van can pull this off in two days? What are they planning anyway?”

“Well they presented some ridiculous sham demon ritual to the council and they seemed to like it, but who knows? All I’m focused on is what happens next. Talk soon, Eddie.”

~~~~~

Valerie returned to Mr. Greer’s office an hour later with an updated schedule and a fresh cup of coffee. “Sir, I’ve completed next week’s schedule with the updates you requested. Mr. Black was thrilled to hear that you had reconsidered the discussion and agreed to a meeting on Friday.”

Herman was neck deep in paper work and only partially paying attention. He graciously accepted the cup of coffee, and asked, “And what about Lyle?”

“Oh, he told me to tell you that his meeting was simply unimportant and that it could wait until after the holiday. He is going to be out of town for the weekend, so he asked to set up a meeting in two weeks. I put it on your requests, if you haven’t already received a notification for that yet.” Valerie grinned. “He said he wanted nothing more than to just chat and catch up with his father.”

Herman grumbled. “That boy never learns. He just loves to waste my time with needless chatter. And to think that he would have taken an hour talking about ridiculous things such as which restaurants are now serving vegetarian foods. Ugh!”

“Well, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll get back to work.”

“Thank you, Valerie. I don’t say it a lot, but thank you. And my apologies. My work has me frustrated today. Someone has gone through and changed and moved a bunch of files and such that they weren’t supposed to, and I’m having to fix the lot of it.” He breathed a leaned back in his chair, closing his eyes. “It sure is nice to know I have someone like you to help me out when I’m busy cleaning up these messes.”

“If you need anything, just let me know,” Valerie chirped, offering a warm smile before returning to her office.

~~~~~

At home, Valerie Seistucket quickly dressed down and fed her cat Blyme and waited for her boyfriend to get back from work. Dinner was just some quick leftover meatloaf.

“How was work, Dave?” Valerie asked, pecking her boyfriend on the cheek before heading to the kitchen to start cleaning the dishes.

Dave stretched on the couch in front of the tv, still a little dirty from his job at the construction site, but Valerie did not mind; he learned to clean up after himself thanks to some persuading from Valerie. “Eh, about the same. Not too bad, but it’s getting closer to Friday which means closer to another weekend with you, babe.”

“That’s sweet, but you know it’s not getting you any sex tonight,” joked Valerie.

“Naw, I figured we should do something this weekend. How about we go somewhere?”

“Oh? Where?”

“How about that one forest place you’ve been talking about? The one your parents talked about during Easter.”

Valerie started cleaning the silverware. “You mean Cinther Falls? West of town about sixty miles?”

“Yeah! That’s the place.” Dave got up from his place on the couch and embraced Valerie, passionately kissing her. She got some dish soap on his shirt.

“I think you got yourself a deal, mister,” she said, kissing him again. “I love you.”

“Love you more.”

~~~~~

The end of the week at Wood Lake Enterprises was typically boring and dead for most of its employees, but Valerie hadn’t ever been busier.

“Look, I understand your frustration, but the fact of the matter is that Mr. Greer isn’t interested in any new customers right now, and he’s simply too booked up right now and for the rest of the year to even consider a new project.”

Call after call, the angry messages and voicemails pile up, but none of them leave any lasting damage on Valerie. Curses and bad tempers did not bother her, but she did have a weakness. She would die before she would allow anybody to figure it out, however.

“I’m sorry, but no, Mr. Greer isn’t interested in your staffing agency. As a matter of fact, he’s fully staffed at the moment.”

Herman Greer was used swimming in his fish tank with his protector shark guarding him, but what if the tank shattered? Do all predators turn ravenous when they’re baptized in pools of blood?

Suddenly, Valerie received a call from her cell phone. She quickly closed her office door and answered the phone. “Go.”

“Is this…?”

“I wouldn’t have picked up if it wasn’t.”

“He bought the thirty. It’s happening tonight.”

“Any details?”

Eddie’s voice echoed like he was in a bathroom. “That sham demon ritual like you said. Doug didn’t give me much since it’s Doug, you know. But apparently some bitch offered herself. This shit is legit.” His voice was shaky. “I thought his people were just actors, but I don’t know anymore, Val. I don’t know.”

“Don’t get yourself psyched out. Doug and his team are professionals; if it looked fake, Lyle wouldn’t buy it, you know?”

“You’re right, I suppose,” Eddie admitted, unsure.

“Talk soon.”

After getting off of the phone with Eddie, Valerie looked at the clock, 4:49pm, almost time to go home, also almost time for Doug’s plan to spring into action. She swore her heart thumped three times as fast as the clock ticked, her fingernails dug into her sweaty palms. Her perfect posture broke into a stressed slump. Dave would be expecting her home soon to pack for their weekend away at the falls, but all she could think about was the plan and what it meant for her if it would fail.

Worst case scenario, if the plan failed, Lyle still could not link her to Doug’s plan; however, the truth would come flying out about her lying to his father about him being unavailable on the weekend, which would result in her immediate dismissal from the firm and ultimate destruction of the council’s plan. There was a lot of things riding on Doug’s plan, and her simple lie to Herman about his son could have dramatic consequences.

“I’ll make a note to deal with that on Monday,” Valerie whispered.

Hours pass and Valerie was still in the office. Herman left for the night long before and security believed she was hard at work on reports, but she was simply staring at the clock, sweat dripping from her brow. As each second passed, she felt the lump in her throat grow larger and larger. The bulb in her head swelled with each moment, making her want to take a revolver to her own head and pull the trigger. “Dave must be worried sick about me,” she thought to herself. “But why hasn’t he called?”

Suddenly, at about nine o’clock, Valerie receives a call.

“H-h-hello?” She half expected it to be Lyle.

“Valerie, it’s the Chieftain of Station 8B.” Doug had called at last.

“Y-Y-You’re calling, so, it-it’s done? The Cleansing is…?” Valerie tried to remember if that was what the council had called Doug’s project. Most of the council’s work is all in codewords to protect its integrity, so in high stress situations, Valerie finds herself forgetting what’s called what.

“Alert the council of our success here and begin taking the necessary steps for initiation,” Doug said nothing more, ending the call as cold and quick as he began.

Instant relief washed over Valerie, but that soon turned to regret when she realized what she had to do next.

Tears welled up in her eyes as she entered the number and pressed dial. “Hi, honey,” she spoke softly to avoid completely breaking down. “Something came up at work, and I’m afraid I won’t be able to make it to the falls this weekend.” She bit her lip and squeezed back the tears. “Maybe next weekend.”

Maybe next weekend.

Chasing Shadows, Ch.2

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Read Ch. 1

I won’t deny them their humanity like they did to us. They labeled us Disgraced, as if they have any ounce of grace themselves. For thousands of years, my kind took part in a grand charade; in our mind we became human. But deep within, we knew we’d have to face the truth someday.

We speak the same language as the humans, walk the same; we eat just as they eat. We were the neighbors who greeted the newcomers with a cupcake basket the moment they moved in next door. But the similarities weren’t enough. We were trapped, beautiful angels forced to live a filthy pig pen, controlled by savages. They treated us like monsters, so we became monsters.

While we share space, we Disgraced are further separated by our luster. Some exhibit their luster outwardly in the form of a physical attribute, while others are more inwardly focused and thus are infinitely more intelligent. Inwardly-focused Disgraced are more apt to survive in these tumultuous times; it’s just the other side that has a hard time blending in.

“So what do you think we’re going to get for bringing in this witch?” The voices echo in my metal chamber.

“Lovers and gold, my friend; lovers and gold.”

“Both of you shut the fuck up! Unless you want to join it,” Eric snaps.

It. That’s all we are to them now, and it’s sickening. Thousands more are brought to the Pale every day, placed in shackles and fed to the Stolks.

It’s hard to believe that there was a time, before the Pale, in which I believed I had feelings for the pathetic shrew. With Eric’s blonde hair and chiseled chin, he would be a total catch if he wasn’t bat-shit crazy.

The rugged road brings me back home. I can still visualize the look on Daisy’s face when I told her I knew her secret, that I caught her kissing Daphne Varlin in the graveyard. She was horrorstruck, until I told her next time to find somewhere a little more romantic, and she might just have a partner for life. It didn’t take a scholar to see they were in love, but in our small town the only thing worse than being Disgraced was a homosexual. Not a second goes by that I don’t wish they would’ve turned me and not Daisy. She was so pure.

Suddenly, we stop moving. “Renegades! In the hills!” The men mumble and I hear them bunch outside the globe. Then there is a charged hum, different than the Sizzlers. The last time I heard this sound was the night Bobby and I were ambushed.

We don’t have a name for it, but its hum is the sound of nightmares. It’s a weapon capable of harnessing luster – the humans’ way of leveling the field.

“Stay away!” I yell, slapping the cold steel wall, as if that’ll do anything.

The fight ensues, but I remain blind within my spherical prison.

“There!” one of them shouts, launching the weapon. The piercing shrill of the gun amplifies within the cooker; my right eardrum bursts, the force blowing the orb and me off the carrier. The door hinge pops slightly, allowing enough of a hole for me to spectate.

It is a full-blown ambush. For every Pale soldier there are at least three Renegades. Whips of cobalt energy clap through the air, electrocuting a few soldiers. Eric is right in the middle of them, safe under a special, plasmic shield, blasting them with the super weapon. I watch seven Renegades melt under one shot. But more come from the mountain. It’s as if Eric kicked an anthill, and now he has to deal with the ants.

I shove a finger through the hole in an attempt to loosen the door, to no avail. Luster pulses throughout my body, itching to join the fight. If I can escape and have time to focus, I can obliterate them all in one swipe. I can be free.

Eric disappears from my sight and things quieten down. A foot obscures my peeping hole. “Hey!” I shout. “I’m stuck in here! Help! Please!” I’ve never sounded so desperate in my life.

Something rips the door out and brings me out in a single swoop. A fist of boulders sinks into my flesh and tosses me into the air.

Angry, carmine streams of light flow from my palms and grip the trees, allowing me to softly fall back to the ground. Inside, I am aching to go total-psycho on these dudes, but I can’t risk the energy loss knocking me out for hours like last time. The runes are already forming on my body; I can feel them burn into my clothes. I’m a ticking time bomb.

“Who the hell are you?” The man wears a tattered coat, his long hair loose against his shoulders. The others are in position, ready for retaliation should I turn out to be as crazy as I appear.

One of them comes from behind and pats my back, reminding me of the Sizzler bolt that was still lodged in there. “Stand down, Tarkin. This is Sophia.” The group erupts in gasps and whispers. Then, the man turns to me. “It’s nice to finally put a face to the legend, I must say,” he says, chuckling.

I have no idea what the fuck this dude has been smoking, but I want some of it.