Book Excerpt: Symbol Of The Dead
Written By: James Paradie
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Chapter 1 – Here on Earth
Charles and Sharron Hawkins
Sharron and Charles Hawkins are lying face-to-face, asleep in their comfy bed. The alarm clock goes off at 7:00 a.m. They wake at the same time. Sharron takes off her sleeping mask. Through heavy eyes, they stare at each other without saying anything. Their eyes then get wide as they both say at the same time, "We’re late!"
A few minutes later, Sharron is all dressed and getting her shoes on while balancing herself against her bureau. She is thin, but not too skinny, has slightly graying red hair and is moderately attractive.
"I can’t believe that we’re late for our first vacation in years," she says to her husband Charles.
Charles, a retired forty-seven-year-old real estate agent, had made great money until the market bottomed out a few years back. After retirement, he moved from New York City back to his hometown of Cold Creek, New Hampshire, to get away from the city life because his nerves were shot. He’s festively plump, but not too overweight, looks kind and nice, but is nervous most of the time.
"Do you think Sam will be all right taking care of Luke?" he says with concern.
Sharron wryly replies, "Yeah, right. By the time we get back she probably will have gagged him, put him in a strait jacket and stashed him in the closet.”
Charles thinks for a moment about that one. He then nods, shrugs and says, "Well, at least they'll be sending some quality time together."
Sharron leaves the room, goes down a hallway and knocks on the doorframe of her son’s room. His room is filled with posters of his favorite metal bands and women with oversized breasts. Your typical teenage boy. She then walks over next to Luke's bed as he is lying on his stomach with his mouth wide open and snoring louder than any other eighteen year old ever could. No blankets over him either, and she can see he's wearing the same clothes from the previous night.
"Luke, you got to get up and get ready to leave. We're running late." She speaks as sweet as she can, but Luke brushes her off with a swipe of his hand. She grimaces with agitation and says, “Luke!” Luke grunts and rolls over, turning his back to her. Angry now, she bends down and screams right into his ear, "Get your butt moving!"
Luke jumps up and walks to his bathroom without saying a word. Sharron then leaves the room with a grunt of satisfaction. Meanwhile, Luke slinks into the bedroom and falls back on the bed.
Sharron returns to her room to find Charles in the bathroom brushing his teeth with his finger. She looks at him in disgust.
"Oh, come on, Charles. Use a toothbrush!"
"I can't find it!" he says with a mouth full of toothpaste.
She rolls her eyes, reaches into Charles' personal traveling bag and pulls a plastic bag out with his toothbrush in it. She throws it at him. He barely catches it.
"What's got your panties in a knot?" he says, going into the bathroom to spit out the toothpaste.
"Luke. He's so unmotivated and he's driving me crazy with his music, his laziness, his constant sleeping, video gaming, and …"
Charles finishes for her, "Just existing?"
She snaps her fingers. "Yes, that's it!"
As she leaves the room, Charles says, “Don’t worry about it, honey. While we’re on our vacation, I'm sure we'll miss him ... a little."
She sighs and replies, "We better be gone for more than week then."
All Luke knows about his older sister, Samantha, is what he has heard from his parents. “She’s odd,” they constantly say.
Luke has no memories of Sam. He was only nine when she left home, and before that she kept herself isolated in her room.
Samantha lived a happy, normal life, until tragedy struck when she was six years old.
That was when her biological mother died.
The dimpled, light hearted, tow-headed child turned into a dark figure of her former self. Since those days of turmoil, she hasn't been the same.
She lies on the bed with her arms spread apart as if she's just been stabbed. Her skin is pale, her views on life are pretty black in most areas, and she nearly despises the sun.
Her phone rings. Still lying with her eyes closed, she picks it up.
Sharron is on the other line. "Ha-ha, Sam. You ready?"
"Oh, let's see, maybe the Grim Reaper, because you act like you are a part of the Night of the Living Dead all the time. Don't act stupid with me, young lady. You know what I‘m talking about. Good God woman, has that ghost hunting business made you loopy? Your little brother that you haven’t seen in a very long time. Does the name Luke ring a bell?"
Sam lies back with the phone away from her ear as she lets out a huge sigh. She puts the phone back up to her ear. "I did have other plans."
"Like what? Stay in the darkness and drown yourself in self-pity? Be all dark and depressed like you’ve been for the past, hmmm, twenty-seven years?"
Sam sighs. Why did Sharron and Dad have to ask her to take care of her brother? How old was he now he anyway? He had to be at least twelve ... or whatever. Who cares?
"Twenty-six and a half." She retorts back to her stepmother. "But okay, you get your way. I’ll look after him."
She never called her stepmother 'Mom'. Hanging up, Sam took a deep breath. Soon she would have to face the mother from Hell and her servant named “You,” the only way she addressed Charles.
Sure enough, soon her doorbell rings.
Outside, Sharron and Charles stand impatiently with a bored Luke.
"I wonder if she’s still into that gothic stuff?" Charles asks.
Sharron shrugs. "With Sam, it's a mystery. She can drink lamb’s blood for all I care. As long as we get him out of our hair." Luke gives her a bland look and looks away, is if he expected her to say something like that. "Oh, you know mommy loves you."
"Sure," Luke says.
Sharron looks around the shabby industrial neighborhood.
“Whatever gave you the idea apartments would work here when you bought this old warehouse,” she sniped at Charles.
“It has actually been profitable,” Charles says through gritted teeth. “And it made it possible for me to give Sam the apartment here so she could pay me a very small rent.”
“You spoil her,” Sharron muttered. “But I wouldn’t want to live in one of these big old drafty places anyway. You could park a car in her living room.”
As the door opens, Sharron and Charles plaster on their best plastic smiles. Luke turns his head in embarrassment. Sam stands there, dressed in a Lacuna Coil t-shirt, a rock band she likes, and loose, black sweat pants.
"Why hello there, Count Dracula. Do you remember your brother?" Sharron says.
Sam looks at Luke real quick, back at her parents, and shakes her head. Sharron and Charles look at each other with resignation, and then they look back at Sam. Their smiles fade.
"Just get to know one another. Okay?" Sharron pushes Luke inside.
Charles puts a hand on Luke's shoulder. "Luke, we'll call and let you know when we get there."
Luke looks up at the ceiling as if in Divine supplication. "Please crash onto a deserted island."
Charles, clearly ready to go, claps his hands and says, "Hope you guys have fun. Sorry, we can’t chat, but we got to go."
He and Sharron leave quickly, slamming the door behind them. They run to the car, and drive away speedily.
Sam walks into the living room and flops down onto a black leather recliner. She closes her eyes, as if dreadfully tired. Of course, this is what she looks like all the time. Luke sits down on the matching black leather couch.
"So," Luke says, feeling awkward, "you’re my sister?"
Sam doesn't open her eyes, but does give him a response. "Wow. What a brilliant ice breaker."
"Well, sorry. Just a question."
She barely opens her eyes and speaks to the ceiling. "Do you have another? Maybe you'd like to know if money grows on trees, or if the White House is really white, or ..."
"I get it," Luke interrupts, obviously frustrated. This will probably be the worst week of his life. "Sorry."
"I'm just waiting for, 'How are babies made? Do they really come from a stork?'" Sam chuckles, annoyed and shakes her head.
Luke smirks. "Nah, I'm all set on that. I do have the internet."
"Okay, we didn't have to cross that boundary on our first meeting." Sam says bluntly.
After a few seconds of silence, Luke says, "I got a question."
She looks over at Luke through squinted eyelids. "What?"
"You got anything to do here? I mean, by the looks of it, I'm in a Tim Burton nightmare." He looks around and then back at her.
"You know what you could do?"
She leans toward him and says with a calm, cold tone, "Keep your distance from me or you'll find yourself a head minus a body the next morning. Got it? I haven't had a good week and I am truly sorry that Sharron and dad have forcibly left me to babysit a teenager. But keep your distance and you won't get hurt." She smiles smugly. "Okay?"
"K," Luke stammers. He wouldn't be so intimidated if she hadn’t said all that with such contempt.
Before long, Sam fell asleep ... or so he hopes. Luke sits back on the couch as he looks over to the glass coffee table and picks up a Para-X Magazine. There’s a story on the supernatural, a world called the Afterlife, where everyone goes when they die. Luke takes interest in it. He sees pictures of real ghosts, or what the magazine is calling real ghosts at least. There are multiple articles on various paranormal subjects: “Electronic Voice Phenomena,” “Electromagnetic Fields and Their Effect on the Spiritual Realm,” just to name two. He then looks at the bottom of the page to see that the photographer and writer for many of the pictures and articles is Sam Hawkins, his sister. He looks around the room and sees other pictures she took and articles she wrote hung up all over the walls in nice frames. Ghosts, UFO sightings, Yeti, vampires—everything of the paranormal realm. Luke puts the magazine back and gets up from the couch to look more closely. As he studies Sam’s work with obvious interest, his sister picks her up head and watches. Smiling to herself, she gets up and walks behind Luke.
"Well, looks to me that we both at least have some interest in the same things. I took those pictures. You like them?"
He turns to her and smiles. "They’re great! I love this stuff, but how did you get them?"
"I’m a paranormal investigator who writes articles for various magazines. But the last one I was in was Para-X Magazine."
"I saw. I've heard of them. They’re like one of the biggest magazines around for the paranormal."
"Yeah. Sharron and Dad never told you that?"
Luke shakes his head. "No."
She looks sad at this. She thought they knew. She sent them her articles. Did they ever read them? Then again, knowing them, they probably never bothered.
"Got anymore?" Luke asks.
"Sure, upstairs." Sam is pleasantly surprised at his interest.
"Maybe this won’t be as boring as I thought it would be," he says.
"Luke?" A question has been particularly bothering her. He has to be older than she originally thought.
"How old are you?"
"You’re eighteen and you need a babysitter?"
"Yeah, I didn't quite get that either. Dad and Mom think I’m some sort of a psycho, I guess. I got no friends and I kind of scare people away."
“Why do they think you’re a psycho?”
“This one time I lit the staircase on fire.”
“Really? How old were you then?”
“It was about two weeks ago.”
“Oh.” Even though she would never light a staircase on fire, she understands the impulse.
"I can be your friend, Luke."
"But you’re my sister."
"So?" She punches Luke across the shoulder jokingly. Luke grins as they go upstairs to look at more of her work.