The following is the first 3 Chapters of my novel, Plagiarism.
Skylos – Los Angeles, CA – Monday Night
You need to be made a man; in terms of cryptic instructions from an angelic presence, this one had to be oddest. Skylos presumed this meant he needed to lose his virginity. Dutifully, he hobbled through the alleyways among closed business in downtown Los Angeles. Was he in the right place to find a prostitute? You couldn’t Google those kinds of things from the library.
The wetsuit, green rubber gloves, and goggles had him sweating. After rounding a corner he rested on the windowsill of a convenience store. He discarded a shard of amber glass from his bare foot and wondered how many hours he’d been walking. At least two.
He trudged on through the throbbing cramped muscles in his crippled left leg. The angel had been adamant he complete the task. Above him a poorly illuminated street sign read Temple Street. He recited the route back to the homeless shelter.
“Temple, San Pedro, Adams, Central, Sixth…” He swallowed after each word, doing his best not to stutter.
“Fuck off!” yelled a voice a few blocks away. Skylos craned his neck toward the commotion. A car’s tires squealed as a group of women waved their middle fingers and shouted.
He slicked his hair back with the rubber kitchen gloves and sprang forward, revitalized by the sight of them. Wincing he jogged to their corner. The wetsuit clung tight against his lanky frame. Every step sounded like he was carrying a bucket of crickets. They heard him approaching and laughed. He held his head high out of pride and necessity; the goggles had fogged from his shallow, panting breaths.
“I need to be ma-made a man,” he stated, voice muffled. Without someone to help him don the suit, he’d stepped into it backward.
Two of the girls stared at each other before erupting into another fit of laughter. The third covered her eyes with her hand and shook her head. A tall blonde past her prime leaned into his face. She looked like a sausage wrapped in a white dress.
“Ge-get lost, cripple.”
She was close enough that he could smell booze on her breath and see the faint track marks on her arm. Skylos flinched. The rail thin brunette with frizzy hair stepped forward next. She placed her hand on his chest and shoved him back.
“We’re not out here for charity,” said a voice gravelly from a lifetime of smoking. “Get your gimpy ass back to your cardboard box.” The first two prostitutes laughed again.
The remaining girl was younger, with long, dirty blonde hair and a prominent scar on her cheek. Skylos crossed his fingers. She looked between him and the other ladies then shook her head.
“Do you have cash?”
He offered a broad smile and fumbled to withdraw a lone twenty from the pouch around his waist.
“After is fine, honey. Do you have a room nearby or a car?” Skylos shook his head. “Of course not, why would you?” she said under her breath. The prostitute grabbed his gloved hand and led him toward the alley.
The brunette snorted and the blonde cinched her dress up a few inches before approaching a truck that pulled up.
The young woman moved with determination, desiring to finish the task as soon as possible. When she realized he was struggling to keep up, she stopped. They were barely thirty feet from the other women.
“Let’s go fu-further,” Skylos said, glancing over his shoulder. He pointed to a dumpster at the far end of the alley.
The prostitute looked down at his leg and sighed. He continued to glance around nervously as they reached his designated spot.
“I’m Candy, what’s your name, sweetie?” She ran her finger down the side of his cheek.
Shrinking away from her touch he mumbled “Skylos”. The zipper pull of his fanny pack jingled as he batted at it. She raised an eyebrow.
“That’s an interesting name. Does it mean something?”
Champion, according to the angel. Skylos shrugged. She pawed at his crotch but had difficulty locating his penis beneath the wetsuit.
“You have to take this off.” Candy reached for the zipper hanging above his chin. He batted her hand away and shifted weight to his good leg.
“I’ll d-do it.” He grabbed the zipper and paused, thinking about what he was doing there. It definitely wasn’t what he expected for the third trial.
The voice had started almost three weeks prior. It began as a static-filled whisper permeating dreams and waking hours alike. After two weeks of focusing, he had been able to make out a voice – few syllables at first, then an occasional word or two, and finally entire phrases. While the voice still crackled, he was able to communicate with it. It informed him the first trial was complete.
According to the voice it had been watching and found him worthy. It wanted to reward him for the humble life he’d led. The voice promised to return, and each time it did, he found the ache in his leg disappeared temporarily. When it requested he conduct a series of trivial thieveries, he was all too happy to oblige. A pair of gloves one day. A pocket knife another. A wetsuit. Some goggles. He didn’t understand the purpose, but who was he to question?
The static diminished with each small task, landing him here. One final, albeit odd, trial: to become a man.
“Well?” asked the prostitute.
A cool breeze passed through the alley, blowing Candy’s hair into her face. She brushed it back behind her ear. Skylos knew what it meant. The angel had come to stand witness. The taste of a nine volt lingered in his mouth as the air came alive with static electricity. A shiver ran up his spine and the small hairs on the back of his neck stood at attention as the breeze penetrated the suit.
Slit her throat, whispered the angel.
Skylos froze, his eyes wide.
“What?” he asked, his eyes focused on the opposite wall of the alley.
Kill her, it demanded.
At the same time Candy said: “Take. The. Suit. Off.”
“No,” Skylos said shaking his head, not even hearing the prostitute’s words. This wasn’t what he expected and certainly not what he signed up for.
A sharp ringing assaulted Skylos’ ears causing him to flinch. It echoed off the gray brick walls. Candy’s mouthed something he couldn’t make out and walked away, her high heels producing no sound.
Get on your knees, please, said the voice. It was the only thing strong enough to pierce the cacophony. His head filled with images of knives piercing, slashing, and flaying flesh. He had no choice but to obey.
“Gu-get on your nu-knees, please.”
Candy returned, licked her lips, and smiled. As she bent down Skylos slipped his hand inside the fanny pack, slid it to the side, and palmed the Swiss Army Knife. His fingers twitched while flipping open the largest of the three blades. With his left hand, he grabbed the back of her head and pulled it close. She gasped as her face collided with his stomach. The smell of neoprene invaded her nostrils. Before the word ‘gentle’ could escape her lips he drew the blade across her throat. All at once the ringing stopped.
A geyser of crimson erupted from her throat, filling the air with the scent of copper. The blood spray against his torso caught him off guard. His fingers snapped open and the knife fell to the cement. The trials, and the cramped outfit all made sense now.
Candy’s hands grasped for the fissure in her throat and failed to hold it shut. He was sickened, but couldn’t look away as the color drained from her face. Her pale body toppled forward, striking his good knee. Skylos stumbled backward.
He was rubbernecked between her lifeless body and the blood soaking his feet. He needed to go. Skylos stepped back and unzipped the wetsuit. Pulling his arms free he pushed the tight suit around his waist. As he shifted his weight, his knee buckled. While the strength the angel bestowed upon him removed the pain, his weak leg muscles were too fatigued to support him. His arms flailed and he caught himself in a push-up above the ever growing lake of blood. Bloody handprints marked the ground as he scuttled backward.
“Get up,” whispered a female voice.
He snapped his head around, checking the alley. It was only him and the dead body. Skylos scrutinized the cherry red lips of the prostitute. Was he doomed to hear the dead now too? The voice came again. It wasn’t the corpse.
Clambering to his feet, he shed the wetsuit. Aside from a few splashes it had done its job and kept his holey tee and faded shorts clean.
“Take the money and go.”
He stepped over the body and rummaged through her purse. The wallet contained ninety-six dollars, several condoms, and a compact. He stuffed the cash into a zippered pocket of the fanny pack. Bloody footprints trailed behind him as he limped out the back side of the alley in a daze. The voice from the alleyway came again.
“That wasn’t so hard, now was it?” His eyes flickered with recognition. The tone was different, but the energy was the same. No longer a monotonous and peppered with static, the voice’s present incarnation was melodic and female. With the final task complete the voice was crystal clear.
The pain in his leg disappeared entirely. He ran, something he hadn’t managed in twenty years.
“You can’t leave me, Skylos.”
The voice was still on top of him. He slowed.
“Who are you?”
Calliope, she whispered.
“Why did you make me do this?”
You can hear me. It’s your destiny.
“I can’t do this.”
But you already have. I’ll return when I have need of you again.
The buzz in the air faded, but the gooseflesh remained. Something in his gut told him she was watching.
He walked up two blocks to a bus stop bench. He removed the sandals from his fanny pack and dropped them on the street. As he was about to slip his feet into them, he realized how much blood covered his feet. Digging through the garbage can he removed a half-full soda bottle and poured it over his feet. Taking the remaining swig from the bottle he tossed it back into the can.
Staring back at the alley he wondered what to do next. He needed to get back to the shelter and get some rest. In the morning he’d turn himself over to police. Continuing down the street he recited his route.
“Central. Adams. San Pedro. Temple.”
When he returned to the Friends of Hope Shelter it was a quarter past four in the morning. The glass doors rattled as he tugged on them. The security guard looked up, recognized him, and came to the door. Skylos was in his late twenties, older than the shelters intended demographic. The staff overlooked his age because of his disability and willingness to assist with work.
Vincent, an overweight middle-aged, African American man unlocked the door and greeted him. Skylos opened his mouth to confess, but managed to only flash a simple smile. Vincent was the first staff member he’d met at this particular shelter. Years ago Skylos introduced himself using the same name. People liked having something in common.
After stepping inside, Vincent gave Skylos a thorough once-over and frowned. “Vinny, what kind of trouble have you gotten into this morning?” Skylos neglected to respond. Due to his prominent stutter, most of the staff intended their questions to be rhetorical. “You’ve cut your feet up something awful. Let me grab the first aid kit.”
“Not surprising if you’ve been relying on those old sandals.” The guard scratched his head. “You know what? I’ve got clean socks and a brand new pair of tennis shoes in my gym bag.” He patted his belly. “You can see how often I get to the gym.”
Vincent retrieved the items from behind the security counter. “They may be a size too big, but your feet are swollen anyway. Go clean up and get some sleep. I’ll tell the morning staff to let you sleep in.”
Skylos navigated the halls to the living quarters. As he stepped in front of the bathroom’s mirror his legs gave out and the pain rushed up his leg once again. Clenched his teeth he grabbed onto the counter. While the pain abated much longer this time, it came at a dire cost.
Using the counter for support Skylos struggled to undress himself. He shuffled over to the shower and rested his head against the blue stall divider. The near-scalding water beat against his muscles, relaxing them.
He shut his eyes to avoid watching the swirls of red circling the drain. As he did the events from the alley replayed in his head. Tears streamed down his cheeks. That voice was no angel… What was he dealing with and what had he agreed to?
Skylos shivered in a pitch black room. The water was ice cold. He waved his arm, triggering the light sensor. In a daze he shut off the water and got dressed. His eyes shut again and he fell asleep. Muscle memory guided him to the sleeping area where he crawled into an empty cot and pulled the thin wool blanket to his chin.
A cool breeze washed over him. Calliope looked down at the pitiful creature. While he was incredibly receptive his morals needed to be worn down. She had work to do. Her sisters would take action shortly, if they hadn’t already. She had to be prepare him for when they came. The memories of the ones she’d influenced in the past flooded into his head as she whispered into his ear.
Skylos – Glendale, CA – Tuesday
Skylos woke with a faint ringing in his ear but no recollection of the grisly murder from he’d committed hours earlier. He swung his legs over the side of the cot and stretched out the cramps. If he hurried he could still catch breakfast at the cafeteria.
After a huge meal, he limped into the kitchen and assisted the staff. While washing dishes he contemplated how to spend the afternoon. Another day of panhandling felt…too mundane. It was Tuesday, and unfortunately at this hour the library offered only children’s activities. Last time he attended story-time parents gave him disparaging looks until staff asked him to leave. Instead he’d go to the theater, his other makeshift home.
Once outside he withdrew a worn wallet constructed from duct tape from the pocket of the shelter’s blue sweatshirt. It contained only three singles, not enough for a ticket. He’d have to sneak in. As he rounded the corner he spotted a five dollar bill caught beneath the leg of a black metal table in front of a coffee shop. Skylos grabbed it and went to slip it into his fanny pack. Inside was a wad of cash. His eyebrows narrowed while counting them. Where did he get ninety-six dollars from?
A teenager with dreadlocks in a sleeveless tee and tattered jeans collided with him. Skylos fell, striking his face on the sidewalk. “Watch it, idiot!” the kid said, continuing down the block fiddling with his cell phone.
Blood dripped from his nose as he pushed himself up onto his hands. The small red splotch on the sidewalk triggered a memory. He remained on all fours, unable to look away. Images formed within the miniscule puddle: a wetsuit, a knife, a body…
The memories were hazy and resisted his attempts at probing, but he knew he’d killed someone. He hyperventilated. What the hell did I do? How could I have forgotten that? The wind tickled the back of his neck. The familiar feeling caused everything to come back. The angel – or whatever it was – that forced his hand must have been able to suppress his memories as well.
“Is he all right?” a woman asked.
“I don’t know,” another woman responded. “He’s moving.”
“I’m calling nine-one-one,” said a man.
Skylos got to one knee. He didn’t want to deal with the police.
“I’m oh ka-kay”.
A man in a suit and tie standing slipped his phone back into his jacket pocket and extended his hand. Skylos waved the man away, standing under his own power. He grabbed a napkin from the silver holder of the table beside him. Wadding it up he pressed it into his nostril and shuffled down the street. The crowd dispersed, forgetting all about him with their busy lives.
Patrons filed out of the single side door of the old theater. Mindlessly he stepped up to the ticket booth outside the front doors. He slid a ten dollar bill with a small smudge of blood on it through the slot.
A man in a wrinkled white shirt looked at him. “Of what?”
Skylos looked down at the ticket stub for a romantic comedy. He was right earlier, it was the last Tuesday of June. He wandered through the familiar red carpeted lobby. The theater was a place he’d frequented several times a week for the last several years. The beautiful building was a historic landmark with an interesting history. It had been a Performance Theater in the twenties and a speakeasy during prohibition before becoming a four screen movie theater. What Skylos appreciated most was that it was a small business with few employees.
After his first few visits he learned how lax the employees were in their routines. They refilled empty popcorn bags and drink cups without question. No one disturbed him when he fell asleep for hours at a time in the cushy seats at the back of the theater. Assuming he was a cinephile, the staff never questioned his presence.
The theater became a second shelter after he’d investigated the door at the bottom of a roped off stairway. Just past the manager’s office, it bore the word ‘Electrical’ in faded stenciling. Inside was not a typical electrical closet. Cool air filtered through a false wall. A piece of loose conduit revealed a basement filled with cobwebs, broken seats, and props from when the theater catered to live acts. Among the trash lay an old bed whose frame only had one leg intact. However, the springs were sturdy. The bed combined with the utility sink in a cubbyhole behind a stack of empty pallets made for an excellent place to squat. The thick layer of dust on everything betrayed the fact that no one ever went down there.
Skylos slipped into the subterranean hovel unnoticed. Pulling the emergency light’s metal housing away from the wall bathed the room in gentle light. He moved through the piles of junk to the bed. A small cloud of dust rose as he dropped onto the old mattress.
His thought drifted to what happened earlier. It felt like a dream, but he’d killed a woman. He was sure she was a prostitute, but damned if he could remember any of the details. Did he leave any evidence behind? What would he tell the cops? He squinted his eyes. Did it even matter? She was a useless hooker… Even though he couldn’t picture her face, it would haunt him. If Calliope returned, he’d tell her he was done.
Deep bass from the theater above shook particulate matter from the ceiling. As it fell quiet again a breeze swept through the room. He shivered and the gooseflesh returned. The air began to hum with energy. He got to his feet.
“Calliope?” Silence. “I know you’re there. Leave me alone. The deal’s off.” The ache in his knee faded and with it his stutter.
What you’re feeling is natural. It will get easier.
“I don’t want it to get easier.”
We’re bonded now. My sisters will be after you too. There’s work to be done. You need more knives.
Skylos shook his head. A ringing like the feedback from cheap walkie-talkies muted the sounds of the theater above and brought him to his knees. It rose in pitch until he thought his head would explode. Blood dripped from his nose and a blood vessel burst in his eye. He held his breath and ground his teeth, trying to withstand the vise gripping his head.
“Okay. I’ll help.” His mouth moved, but no sound came out.
The bass thumped once again and the vice loosened. He gasped for breath.
You need supplies: knives and gloves. We’ll be on the move soon. Reluctantly, he nodded. Pay attention. Someone’s coming.
A voice came from the top of the stairs. He extinguished the emergency light and listened closely. The voice of Kent Peterson, owner and manager of the theater, faded in and out as he paced the hallway above.
“Yes honey, I’m leaving shortly. I wanted to finish the monthly billing before we left for the cruise.” His fell silent, waiting for his wife to finish speaking.
“No, I’m not bringing any work with. That’s why I’m still here.”
Skylos maintained his position until the conversation ended. He cracked the door a few inches and peered out. When he was certain it was safe, he hugged the wall to avoid the camera at the top of the stairs. It was time to go shopping.
As he hiked the four miles to the sporting goods store he thought about Kent’s phone call. It wasn’t the first useful bit of information he’d overheard. He knew everything about the theater including the security system code and which surveillance cameras weren’t functioning. With the manager’s absence the employees would be even more easygoing. Though at the same time Kent may be more likely to review camera footage upon return.
Skylos awoke in the middle of the night to complete silence. He disabled the security system at the top of the stairs. The interface’s clock read three in the morning. No one would be in for hours yet. Staying underneath the dome camera, he pressed four strips of camouflage patterned duct over its surface.
He moved down the hall to the manager’s office and rested his hand on the door handle. Please be unlocked. Entering, he ran his fingers along the spines of old Stephen King and Michael Crichton novels in the cheap bookshelf by the door. He sat down at the desk and pulled back one of the silver balls of a Newton’s cradle and let go. The gentle clacking melded with the sounds of the computer’s humming fan as it booted.
When the Amazon page loaded Kent’s account automatically logged in. Skylos smiled and without hesitation added a tablet PC and a backpack to the shopping cart. He clicked the button to process with expedited shipping and crossed his fingers. It completed without a password prompt.
Now I only need to lie low and wait for a few days. Skylos turned off the computer and went back to find a book. Running his fingers along the spines of the books he looked for one to pass the time. He picked up Odd Thomas, an old Dean Koontz novel. It was a book he’d read many times, but wasn’t able to relate to the titular character until now. Maybe he could glean some wisdom on turning his situation to an advantage and actually help people.
Samantha Englund – Chicago, IL – Wednesday Night
Samantha Englund pushed the office chair away from her desk. The casters struggled against the thick carpet of her small Chicago apartment. She rubbed her weary eyes, smearing the dark makeup around them.
Rhythmic notifications directed her attention back to the chat-room and she realized it was almost midnight. The window displaying her live stream showed large bags under her blue eyes. Blonde roots peeked from under her long black hair. She wondered if she’d been writing long enough for it to grow out.
“Good night guys. Thanks for working with me tonight,” Samantha said while waving into the webcam. She paused to allow a dozen resounding “Goodbye’s” before shutting off the video feed.
By day Samantha worked as a copy editor for Windy City Publishers, a publisher specializing in children’s books. She spent her evenings writing, and hoped to someday publish a novel by traditional means. Despite doing it for a living, she despised proofreading her own material. As an alternative, she utilized social media to fulfill that role. After receiving a fair amount of positive feedback her self-esteem was bolstered enough to step out of her comfort zone.
As an experiment, she created a website with a chatroom and webcam interface where she could write and communicate with her followers in real-time. It was an interesting enough idea that she gained a following. At the behest of her users the site grew into something more. Soon she had a burgeoning site with forums, and a digital storefront for selling her work. While she didn’t make enough to quit her day job, it generated a decent amount of extra income.
With a yawn she looked over the progress from four hours of writing. The final tally was eight pages and almost five thousand words. She’d never before made that much progress in a single sitting. Despite the ease the words spouted from her fingertips, she was aware of several plot and character issues. She opened a separate text file and talked aloud as she typed reminders for later.
“The cute young hooker is too stereotypical – may want to rethink.” Her followers voiced their concerns about this cliché as well, but it didn’t feel right to change it. She deleted the comment and laughed. “Not my fault, the demon’s the stereotypical one.”
“Find a name for the damn killer.” This item frustrated both her and the readers. She originally wanted to use Skylos but it sounded more like a video game callsign than a ruthless killer. It was impossible to find something that felt appropriate.
One of her users, Heftyshark25, offered a twenty-five dollar donation to serve as the killer’s namesake. She’d normally accept, but this project was special and she couldn’t taint it in this manner. Who in their right mind would want a serial killer named after them?
For the time being she’d keep referring to him as the Bud-K killer, taken from the catalog of knives her older brother had drooled over in his pre-teen years. Most of her readers didn’t understand the reference, which made her feel old.
Onto the next item. “Brainstorm plot further.” She didn’t yet have a good grasp of where the story was going. It opened with an absurd concept: a murderer walking through downtown in a scuba diving outfit. It also went on to break one of the literary guidelines she’d read somewhere: not to start with a grisly murder. However, her audience loved it so she was hesitant to add a prologue. What came next was yet to be decided.
Along with the plot, the cast of characters needed some love as well. She’d established a pair of antagonists; the eccentric homeless man and a demonic entity. Their motivations were more or less clear, but she wasn’t sure of their endgame yet. More problematic was the lack of a protagonist. She’d come off as a psychopath if the story only followed a serial killer. A detective coming out of retirement for one last case? No. That’s a cliché even more tired than the hooker.
It was the first day of work on the story and in time it would naturally resolve itself. If she was lucky, it would flow forth in the same manner. The initial idea stemmed from an eerily vivid dream the day before. When she dismissed it the dream repeated itself this morning. Something told her it was special and to take took steps to preserve it. Before work she’d dictated to her cell phone, it leaning precariously between shampoo bottles in the shower. She sneaked off to the stairwell at work where she could practically smell the wetsuit. In front of the keyboard the notes proved an unnecessary formality. Every detail drained from her fingertips like the blood from the prostitute’s artery.
Samantha closed the lid of the laptop, stood up, and crawled into bed. Fighting heavy eyelids, she groped for the phone charger on the nightstand. Despite her luck with tonight’s progress, she didn’t want to lose any late night literary revelations.