Read an Excerpt
The Sleep that Rescues
By C.J. Henderson
Elder Signs PressCopyright © 2009 Elder Signs Press, Inc.
All rights reserved.
"Mr. Morcey, look out!" cried the older man. "There's another one."
Paul Morcey did not waste time looking about, quickly ducking instead as a screeching bundle of wings and fangs and leathery fibers violently slashed the space over his head. Claws raked the air wildly, grasping at the balding man, trying to at least snag his foot length pony-tail as he dove for the floor.
"Guoooofffff!" Air rushed out of the ex-maintenance man as he slammed against the marble walkway. His move had been neither well-planned nor well-executed, but it saved him from the terror's razored attack.
"Leave these nasty t'ings to me boys, now," shouted a large black man over the increasing din. "Dis be our job."
Stepping forth into the open, a compact automatic weapon in each hand, the towering figure made a rolling motion with his shoulders. Instantly, well-trained men appeared in response to the silent signal — behind him and at each side.
"Ah, me brothers," he said in a thick accent that spoke of exotic islands and the reality of pain, "let's kill us some bad t'ings — now!"
Gunfire rocked the museum halls in response to the command. Shotgun blasts tore through creature flesh, splattering fluids, pulping narrow eyes and conical ears, shredding wings and leathered bones — and more. Two of the things went down in immediate response to the opening fusillade, shrieking a foul, terrible noise that almost sounded like language. Instantly, three more of the gruesome shapes appeared out of the shadows, each of the new trio markedly faster than the first.
"Second team, news flash," the balding man shouted into his headset, desperate to be heard over the reverberating din of the gunfire. Pointing at the new arrivals, he bellowed, "we got company!"
The shooters turned, one too slowly. Fangs clamped on the man's neck just above his protective vest, tearing into his flesh. Bone snapped. Leather lips smiled. Blood pulsed in a wild arc, showering across the polished stone flooring as well as those standing nearest the victim. As multiple weapons swung toward the thing's direction, it let go its now-dead prey and beat its massive wings furiously, trying to gain height even as its fellows dove toward the marksmen. Gunpowdered thunder shattered the night once more, missing their mark by inches, tearing gouging holes in the marble wall beyond.
The bellow swelled from a tall, thin man with intense, blazing blue eyes. Small boned, but square-shouldered, he pointed around wildly at the priceless paintings all about the invasion force with one hand, tugging at his tie with the other, as he screamed into his throat mike over the gunfire.
"Remember where you are!"
"Goward man, right," snapped one of the gunman, a wiry deep-black Jamaican. Nodding, he added, yelling to the others, "De teacher speak most cool — wrong bang bang and kiss goodbye the gentle mystery of dey Mona Lisa's smile."
"Also most terrible law suits and other annoying t'ings, my brothers, don't you know?" answered their boss. "Okay, me Murder Dogs," he shouted to his men. "Show de man we know our business."
"Yes, daddy man!"
Pa'sha's forces returned to their defensive crouches. They moved forward slowly, their guns frozen in their grasps, their eyes scanning the walls and ceilings carefully. The men watched the areas ahead of themselves, as well as behind, their minds constantly repeating the warning that the things they were waiting for could come from any direction. Ignoring the mounting tension as well as the beads of sweat gathering across their brows, the force continued sweeping forward, weapons ready, waiting for their targets, following the lights — eyes searching–
"Left — up — the Warhol section!"
Those designated as part of A-Sweep followed the line of direction, their weapons ready. As the lighting man marked the designated coordinates with his hot flash, the B and C men fired without question at the first thing that moved into sight. Black it was, large and powerful with wings spreading some eight feet across. It was a screeching fast flier that slashed at the lights hitting it, somehow spilling a warm foul line of darkness into the beam from some beyond realm.
The men's eyes widened, several of them freezing in place. Pa'sha roared into his mike.
"Damnit, all — move it now! Get out o'de way!"
The mercenaries scattered, backing rapidly away from the fetid, light-absorbing pus as their first projectiles struck their targets. The shotgun man's blast sent a shatter of pellets through the thing's shoulder at the wing, turning the meat and sinew of the joint into a splintered ruin. The rifleman's first bullet tore a chunk from out its neck. His second sliced a flapping ear neatly off the leathery head. Both men silently cursed their missed shots. Despite being hit cleanly, the thing continued to fly for a moment, then wobbled off course and shattered its skull against the marble wall. Bone and stone both cracked loudly. The vaporous ooze vanished in an acrid flash as the broken thing slid down the wall.
"Good shooting," called out their boss. "Dese t'ings be devil fast — lucky we are to hit them at all. B Team, you're up. C, prepare."
"T'anks, Pa'sha daddy."
The big man smiled. Watching carefully for any other beasts that might appear, he flipped his throat mike upward and began making a report of the recent action. Readjusting his night vision goggles at the same time, he listened to a response coming from someone not within the same chamber. From the look on his face, it was clearly evident the big man was not happy with what he was hearing. Across the room, the woman watching from the corner stayed glued against the wall.
Who in hell are these people, she wondered. Her eyes wide — round, unblinking. Back slick with sweat, she stared mutely as another round of gunfire tore two more of the impossible creatures apart. Her gloved fingers tapped unconsciously against the marble slab chilling her spine.
And, while we're busy speculating, a nervous voice from the back of her mind asked, could you explain just what in Hell it is they're blasting to bits?
The woman was not part of the team shooting up the museum. She was not even armed. She had no idea who the men before her were, why they were there, or what the creatures were they were slaughtering with such precise determination. She did know a few things, however. For starters, she could see that the men were dangerous, and good at their work.
Unlike her, they did not stare open-mouthed at the flying, vicious horrors whistling through the hallways. They were not frightened of the claws or fangs, or the fact that the things they faced could tear apart the fabric of space to open inter-dimensional rifts. Unlike the woman, they seemed, if not complacent about it all, at least somehow used to the idea of creatures of which no one else had ever heard. Indeed, so unflapped by the beasts were they that they were coldly, coolly and quite rapidly disposing of the things one after another as if they were nothing more than bats or over-sized moths.
In fact, the woman suddenly realized they were making short work of anything moving that was not a part of their team. Realizing what that calculating efficiency would almost certainly soon mean to her personally, the woman told herself;
So, there's your question, little girl. Do you stay where you are and eventually get yourself discovered, or do you move and get yourself shot?
"Dearon," Pa'sha bellowed into his throat mike, "what's holding up de lights? Why we still walking around in monster-protecting darkness?"
"I found the problem, daddy-man," came his answer, broadcast to the assault leader through his headset. "Someone cut the main feed wires. Dey also jam the security back-up."
The man in the basement cursed under his breath as he worked feverishly to untangle the mess before him which had once been the museum's central electrical main.
"Can you at least get de back-up lights running again?" asked Pa'sha with frustration.
Well, the woman told herself after hearing the big man's request, that should answer your question.
Deciding that risking death was better than risking discovery the woman carefully felt for the doorknob she knew was somewhere behind her. Normally the doors to the security hallways would not open for anyone without the proper codes to use at the punch pad. But, with the power throughout the museumm neutralized, minor problems such as that had been eliminated. The woman moved slowly, quietly, working with precise care in her attempt to avoid being detected by the heavily armed force.
The hundred questions she had already asked herself buzzed through her head again, some of them for the fiftieth time — who are these people, what are they doing here, what were those things they were fighting, and why here? Why now? What the goddamned Hell is going on around here, how long has it been going on, why hasn't anyone ever heard anything about these kinds of things before, how can this be happening–
There was more, but she silenced all the trembling voices within her mind with ruthless efficiency.
It doesn't matter, she told them, harshly shouting down their protests. Who needs to know? Who cares? What does it matter if they're filming a movie, it's the end of the world — what the hell difference does it make?!
It certainly won't make much difference if they catch you, another voice within her head whispered. Or kill you.
The woman nodded. She did not believe the assault team knew anything about her. They were not worried about her. Indeed, it was painfully obvious to the woman that catching her had nothing whatsoever to do with why they were there. But, getting in their way seemed more than possible.
Move your behind, she told herself. We're not bleeding for this job.
As the woman inched the door open she did not bother worrying about the noise it might make. There were too many shouts and gun shots for anyone to hear a set of squeaking hinges. She still moved slowly, however. The men tearing up the museum were equipped with night vision equipment and were checking every corner with a thoroughness she found both impressive and frightening. Her only chance lay in the fact that the things they were fighting, or hunting, or whatever they were doing, were airborne and fast-moving.
No one's looking for slow little us down here on the boring old floor, she told herself calmly. And that's the way it's going to stay. All we have to do is keep our cool and we'll be out of here in no time.
Once the door was open some nine inches she stopped its forward motion and began instead to slide herself along the wall toward the opening. Her back moved along the cold marble, her black leather outfit gliding noiselessly across the stone. She inched through the near-foot wide opening she had created, only her breasts and the barest edge of her skull mask grazing the door's brass edge. Once on the other side she closed it again, somewhat faster than she had opened it. Then, safely in a less violent darkness, she finally let go her self-control and quietly indulged her violently pulsing nerves.
"Jesus," she breathed, half-gasping, half-crying — her voice angry, but still a whisper. "Jesus H. Christ, what in all the hills of Rome were those things? What in six goddamned Hells were they? I mean, I ... that's nothing you find in the encyclopedia. There haven't been any Discovery Channel specials about 'the flying goddamned lizard monsters of Manhattan's museums.' So, what, what ... what in all the damn ..."
The woman felt a tear forming in the corner of her left eye. Surprised, embarrassed, angry, she forced herself to take a deep breath, then another, then another.
I will not cry — nothing can make me cry.
Although her resolve was fearsome, the woman could not completely control the panic flooding her. Now that she had removed herself from the immediate danger beyond the door, her nerves were rebelling. The deep breaths could not help her. Sliding down the wall, she hit the floor hard as tears began to roll down out of the corners of her eyes, soaking her mask.
"Damnit," she cursed, a fist striking the floor, "Damn, damn, damnit all, damn."
You're getting hysterical, the voice from the back of her mind whispered in caution.
"Of course I'm getting hysterical," she snapped to the air, louder than she should have. "Who wouldn't get hysterical after what I just saw?"
Reaching up, the woman pulled off her mask. Three feet of wet, dark red hair tumbled out from beneath the black wool, sticking to her neck, ears, forehead.
That's enough, she told herself. Control yourself.
Repeating the words of her long-dead mentor snapped her back to her usually controlled mindset. The still rational part of her brain kept talking.
Whatever those things were, they weren't ghosts or demons, they were just creatures of some sort — flesh and blood. If those men doing all the shooting didn't have any reason to cry over them, neither do you.
The woman's tears stopped abruptly. She clamped her teeth together, forcing her chin to stop quivering. Then, pushing herself up off the floor, she gave herself a reminder.
Remember yourself. You're Joan de Molina, the woman they call the Pirate Queen. You're stronger than this. You're the best thief in all the world.
"Really," she questioned herself quietly, desperately working to regain her composure while she muttered under her breath, "Some thief. You break in, disable the security and lights, and for all the time you've had free access to this entire place, you've got precious little to show for it."
Well, the night's not over, the back of her mind answered. A smile crossing the redhead's lips, she pushed herself down the hallway. Picking up speed as she reassembled her usual attitude, she quickly mapped out her exit strategy.
There's still time to make tonight work, she schemed. Whatever is missing, the bangbang boys will take the fall for it. No one's going to identify that kind of destruction as my handiwork. After all, blowing the hell out of places isn't my M.O. All I have to do is make a quick grab and get the hell outside.
Scanning the doorways as she moved, Joan quickly retrieved her sense of direction. She had come at the request of a collector, an exceedingly rich individual who thought little for the boundaries by which most were expected to live. He had hired her to make off with a particular painting he wished to add to his private collection. That piece, however, if indeed it still was in one piece, was back in the gallery with the gunmen. Obtaining that at the moment was out of the question.
However, she thought craftily, the Antiquities Section is just around the corner ahead. Gold with inlaid jewels, thousands of years old, priceless beyond measure — even if there's no buyer, just the insurance return will cover a year's expenses.
Seeing the right door ahead of her, Joan de Molina, the beauty widely regarded as the greatest professional thief in all the world smiled softly. She would grab an armload of trinkets and hit the sidewalk before any more time was wasted. It was not the score she had intended to make, but it would do. Her hand touching the doorknob, she thought to herself;
Funny, that almost looks like light coming from under the door.
Then, she pushed her way into the Hall of Antiquities, and stared into the face of Hell.CHAPTER 2
Joan could not — refused to — believe her eyes.
As the security door swung open before her she saw that the main chamber of the Antiquities Hall was filled with a blazing light, but not one created by any man-made source. What she saw, no — actually she more felt the illumination than saw it — was a dull, bubbling shimmer, a pale green dashed through with flashes of putrid orange and purple. The light did not shine outward from its source, but rather it somehow throbbed forth, oozing forward a space, only to then retreat backward and then ooze forward once more, over and over in dull repetition.
Oh, God, she thought, her mind stiffening, terror itching its way into every part of her once more. Oh, my dear God ...
The light moved nosily. Somehow, the grotesque shimmer sent a muffled echo bouncing off the stone walls as it pulsated wetly within the room. The sound it made was heavy, thick, squealing — like the slap of a damp rug against a chamber filled with half-empty balloons.
God, oh God, ohmyGod, ohmyGod–
The woman's mind raced, her nerves screaming again as panic flooded through her, chewed at her logic. What now, she wondered — amazed, frightened. What in Hell have I stumbled into now?
Shutting her eyes, hating the tears that had begun again, she whispered weakly as her legs began to shake;
Excerpted from The Sleep that Rescues by C.J. Henderson. Copyright © 2009 Elder Signs Press, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Elder Signs Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.