Emprise – Chapter 13: “Hitchcock Would Be Thrilled”

Because I think it’s a fun book, and I know you haven’t read it, here’s (randomly) Chapter 13 of Emprise, the 3rd book in the Stream series. This is a standalone story (as are they all) and doesn’t require you’ve read any of the others. I DETEST serials, cliffhangers and other such devices.

The chapter details the 1st time 16-year-old Charlie and Robin realize that beings escaping from their dream world into small-time Virginia had begun to spin out of control. Although my books star teens, I don’t write YA Fiction. I just write stories. What I believe (or at least hope) the strength of The Stream series is that the characters are believable and likable, and the descriptions are rich and visual. One day, I hope to have them put on tape, so people can close their eyes and experience the worlds they contain.

In the meantime, you’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way: you have to buy the book and then invite me to dinner. I’ll read it to you. 🙂 (Wine optional.)

13 – Hitchcock Would Be Thrilled

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These appear to be red-winged blackbirds, but you get the point. Visual a blog bonus! (Heh)

It took Charlie more than a week to convince Robin to talk to the moms about her summer of dreams. Her steadfast refusal wavered in the wake of their lack of progress in either contacting G’pa Joe or in discovering the source of the escapes from the Stream. Ultimately, though, it came down to the sudden, massive bird kill.

Immediately upon returning from school on 28 September, Charlie turned on the TV in time to see a reporter’s piece on six thousand dead starlings and crows in Tappahannock, Virginia. Scientists speculated the deaths were due to a freak autumn thunderstorm in the vicinity. Starlings roost at night in enormous numbers. The unexpected lightning had, according to the scientists, startled tens of thousands of the birds in the air at once. In a panic, amid the darkness, the birds crashed into trees, houses, and each other.

According to the reporter.

Charlie and Robin knew differently. The pudgy blond reporter held one weakened starling in his gloved hand, which died on live television. Charlie’s cell phone buzzed with the crying Robin immediately.

The reporter set the dead bird down gently on the ground, joining dozens of others in the shot. “Some of these tragic birds,” the reporter stated, walking toward a thick grove of trees, “show few visible signs of trauma. It’s as if it rained dead and dying birds. Most birds do show significant trauma, while others …” He paused, and bent down, the camera dramatically zooming in on a clearly scorched starling, “… show distinct burn marks. Lightning, perhaps? Some local residents don’t think so. Locals report finding hundreds of what they describe as partial bird carcasses, and even skeletons.”

The live feed cut away to a video clip of local hunter, named Lionel “Bubba” Hartley. Bubba was holding what appeared to be the right half of a turkey buzzard’s singed carcass. The bird was halved in a jagged line, as if torn, rather than cut. The insides were secure, as heat had fused the bird’s flesh shut.

“I had to tote this thang from out the backyard. Y’all see this?” he said, holding the bird by its single wing and talking directly into the camera, “This ain’t no starlin’, and that wasn’t no thunderstorm. This bird got hisself cooked by sumpthin’ maighty big.” When asked to speculate what he thought it was, Bubba shook his head, and said, “Ah cain’t say.” He grinned, showing all of his cigarette-stained teeth. “Ma’ boy, he’s six, though. Claims it was a whole flock of them dragons.” Bubba laughed, but he did not seem amused. Charlie, instead, saw the hollow laugh of a man who thought his son’s imagination was not at all overactive. “Them ‘officials’ ain’t telling y’all ever’thang,” Bubba said, eyes boring into the camera.

The report cut back to a live feed of the on-the-scene reporter. “There you go,” said the reporter, signing off. “Thunderstorms, dragons, or the coming of the Apocalypse? Local residents want answers.”

Over the phone, Robin said, “To vote ‘Apocalypse,’ text ‘DOOM’ to 1-900-WE-R-DEAD.”

The “thunder and lightning” bore the earmarks of an attack of a group of regulation dragons from the Stream. The beasts’ alternate streams of blistering heat and frigid air often caused sounds similar to thunder due to the superheated and rapidly cooling air. The supercooled air, lit by moonlight, could easily be mistaken for strokes of lightning. This was especially true given the dragons left telltale lines of scorched earth from thin streams of their exhaled fire. Dragons on the hunt routinely used the booming sound, along with their deafening screeches, to frighten and disorient prey. The scientists had been right about the enormous flock erupting into a panicked flight that lead to death in the thousands. They were wrong about the cause, however. It was not storms that frightened the birds, but a thundering rage of dragons on the hunt.

Many of the birds had been frozen in mid-air, falling to their death and thawing out on the ground. Those birds showed scant evidence that anything out of the ordinary had happened. Thousands more would have been snapped up in mid-flight by the dragons in the same way that hunting swallows catch insects on the wing. Robin and Charlie speculated that Bubba’s son had awakened at night to see the dragons in action.

“Yeah,” Charlie agreed. “And from his expression, I got the feeling ol’ Bubba saw them too, but didn’t want to admit it on TV.”

Robin added, “Did you notice how he said ‘flock of them dragons?’ It was like he had seen some before.”

“Well, he lives out in the sticks. That would be where they hang out if they are around.” Charlie did some quick calculations in his head. “If they found six thousand birds on the ground, can you imagine how many the dragons must have caught? Tens of thousands easily. A starling flock can be a hundred thousand birds.”

“Well, the farmers will be happy, at least. Starlings do a lot of damage. Between the dragons, and the vampire bunnies eating field mice, we could open an extermination business.” She sighed into the phone. “We need to get serious about finding G’pa Joe.”

“Yeah, because those cannot be normal dragons.” Charlie laughed, realizing his world had changed so much he believed there could be such a thing as normal dragons.

“Why?” Robin asked. She did not question the idea of normal dragons at all.

“Have you seen starlings fly? They have ridiculous spatial awareness. I read once each bird tracks seven other birds while flying full speed. No way they would ever crash into each other and die. And no way our huge Stream dragons could catch them. This is something new.”

“Sheesh,” Robin said. “I wonder if that’s why all the bats have been disappearing too.” Reluctantly, she finally agreed getting “serious about finding G’pa Joe” meant revealing her summer’s dreams. “If there is a whole rage of dragons out here somewhere, things are going to get ugly fast,” she admitted.

***

Second part of Chapter 13 tomorrow!

What colour wine goes with dragons?

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