Authors: Timothy Miller
Copyright © 2013 by Timothy Miller
Sale of the paperback edition of this book without its cover is unauthorized.
Spencer Hill Press
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.
Contact: Spencer Hill Press, PO Box 247, Contoocook, NH 03229, USA
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First Edition: August 2013.
Awoken: a novel / by Timothy Miller – 1st ed.
Fourteen-year-old boy discovers elemental powers and is caught in a war between frightening dollmen and a more frightening corporation that would use his powers to redefine “human.”
The author acknowledges the copyrighted or trademarked status and trademark owners of the following wordmarks mentioned in this fiction:
Bambi, Criss Angel Mindfreak, Formica, Frisbee, Girl Scouts of America, Harry Potter, Humane Society, Krazy Glue, Lord of the Rings, Sleeping Beauty, Supernatural
Cover design by Lisa Amowitz
Interior layout by Marie Romero
ISBN 978-1-937053-53-6 (paperback)
ISBN 978-1-937053-54-3 (e-book)
Printed in the United States of America
For Zenoba, who knew the way home. For my children, and all my nieces and nephews. And especially for Breigh, who helped me rediscover the Dollmen.
Time was running out for fourteen-year-old Michael Stevens. He could feel it in his bones. Night was closing in, as unstoppable as the changing tide, as uncaring as the seasons.
They’d be coming soon.
He leaned his palms against the large bay window. Across the street, the setting sun brushed Mrs. Finche’s roof. A shaft of light reflected from her weathervane, turning his fingers a translucent pink against the glass. The faint silhouettes of small bones appeared beneath his fingernails. He stared at the skeletal fingertips and licked his lips. Death was coming.
“I’ll have to be very quick.”
“Did you say something, Michael?”
Michael jerked his hand from the glass. “Just talking to myself, Mrs. Wiffle.”
The portly woman seated on a tattered green couch in the center of the room clucked her tongue in mock annoyance. “Call me Barbara, dear.”
“Sorry, Mrs. Wif…I mean, Barbara. I was daydreaming.”
As was her habit before bed, Barbara wore her favorite fuzzy purple bathrobe, a shaggy tent-like garment large enough to cover a small automobile. Michael normally loved talking to Barbara when she wore the robe. It was as if he were having a conversation with a talking, purple bear.
Barbara smiled, pushing deep dimples into her cherubic cheeks. “Well, don’t be too long about it. No school doesn’t mean you can stay up all night. You’ll need to get to bed soon.”
Michael squashed a flare of annoyance. Barbara wasn’t trying to nag, but he needed no reminding of the hour, not tonight. “I’ll head up in a minute, Mrs. Wiffle.”
A discontented snort drew Michael’s attention to the occupant of a navy-blue armchair in the corner, a skinny man in red and white pajamas holding a worn paperback.
“Talking to himself,” Mr. Wiffle muttered, frowning down at his book. “No friends, doesn’t like sports—not healthy, if you ask me.”
“You leave him be, Karl,” Barbara retorted. “Michael’s only been here two weeks. Give him some time.”
Michael grimaced. Mr. Wiffle’s comments didn’t particularly bother him. He’d been a ward of the state of Michigan for eleven years, since his parents had died. Compared to some foster dads, Karl was a soft-spoken creampuff. What did irritate him was the Wiffles’ habit of speaking as if he weren’t in the room.
“Two weeks,” Karl said. “Has he attended one sporting event or party? It’s not healthy, I tell you.”
“He needs time to adjust.”
“Time?” Karl threw up his hands. “Yesterday was the last day of school. How is he supposed to make friends now?”
Michael rolled his eyes. The same old complaints had dogged him for years. Why didn’t he have friends? Why didn’t he sign up for sports? When was he going to start adapting to his new home? He had learned to ignore them, mostly. Tonight, however, the carping grated on him like car keys on a mirror.
“Mark invited me to the park tomorrow,” he blurted. “We’re going to play football with some of his friends.”
The Wiffles looked at him as if surprised to find him still in the room. After a moment, Barbara smiled. “You see, Karl? He’s making friends already.”
Her enthusiasm left a sour taste in Michael’s mouth. He regretted the lie, but he had enough to worry about without their bickering chipping at his frayed nerves. Like so many others, the Wiffles expected him to behave in a certain way. They wanted him to hang out with other kids, go to the movies, or join the wrestling team. But he’d had enough of making new friends, of tying himself to fresh places and people only to be dragged to a new town every three or four years. He had made an exception in Diggs’s case, but he doubted revealing his friendship with the old vagrant would put his foster parents at ease.
“About time, Mike,” Karl grumbled. “Football’s a man’s game.”
“It’s also a rough game,” Barbara warned. “Be careful tomorrow, Michael. Don’t get hurt.”
“I will,” Michael promised.
Barbara the worrier. He only wished he could tell her his secret without having her send him to the nearest mental ward.
The sun dipped low behind Mrs. Finche’s roof, the orb’s rays turning a forbidding red as the night widened its hold. Isolation settled on Michael like a heavy cloak. Why was this happening? The Wiffles would never believe him. He had no one.
He should have stayed in bed.
He bit down on his lip and fought back his tears. Too late for “should haves.” He had to stick to the plan. Stick to the plan, and hope he was alive come morning.
Yep. He should have stayed in bed.
Michael lay in his bed, reading a
Morbius, the Living Vampire
comic beneath the sheets. Propped up by strategically placed pillows, the sheets had become a makeshift tent that perfectly muted the glow of his flashlight. It was also stuffy, so he pulled back the sheets to get some fresh air.
Today had been hot and sticky, making the last day of school drag on almost unbearably.
Julie Schmidt, a girl from his class who stared at him too often with her smoky brown eyes, had invited him and a handful of others to a swim party after school. He had declined. The offer was tempting, but the party was to be held at the rock quarry, an abandoned cavity of solid granite fed by underground springs. Once he got in all that rock, the music would start and…
“All kinds of awkward,” he said aloud.
He’d heard the music of the rock for as long as he could remember, like a small bee buzzing in the back of his mind. Mostly, he ignored the music. But at age seven, his second grade class had gone on a field trip to a cave filled with crystals. The moment he’d stepped inside the cavern, the music had become so loud he’d blacked out. His foster parents at the time had reacted as if Michael had been diagnosed with leprosy. A week later, he was living in a new foster home.
Now, he avoided large stone deposits. The swim party might have been fun, but waking up at the bottom of the quarry would have ruined the afternoon.
He breathed in the night air, welcoming the cool tang on his tongue. A breeze had sprung up after sunset, and it flowed through his open window to chase away the lingering heat. Cooler and more comfortable, he lifted his comic.
The noise was tinny and startlingly loud. Michael jerked, dropping the comic. The sound had come from the window.
“The boogeyman, I presume,” he joked.
Goosebumps washed up his arms. Great. Now he would never get back to sleep without first finding out what had caused the noise. He slipped out of bed and tiptoed to the window to investigate.
The back yard was not nearly as dark as he expected. The bright half-moon cast its silvery radiance on the ancient oak outside his window, covering the lawn with a hundred-armed silhouette that clawed at the detached garage with crooked, black fingers. Next to the garage, the garbage stood lined up in three grey trashcans. Tomorrow morning, Karl would carry the cans to the curb to await a Flintville garbage truck. Later in the afternoon, Michael’s job would be to return the emptied containers to the garage.
“In just a week, we get to do it all over again. Behold, we hardy men who fight for cleanliness, hygiene, and the trash-free way.”
He chuckled, and noticed a trashcan lid on the grass. The metal lid could be responsible for the clanging noise. But what had dislodged it?
As if in answer, a black cat leapt out of the darkness to land atop the opened can. The animal sniffed at the trash, pawing at the plastic bag.
Michael winced. So a hungry cat, and not the boogeyman. That was a relief, but Karl was going to pitch a fit when he found garbage scattered across the driveway in the morning. He should wake Karl, or at least try to scare the scavenger away.
Still, he wasn’t supposed to be up this late in the first place. If he woke up the Wiffles, he’d have some explaining to do. He leaned against the window frame and shrugged. A little spilled trash never hurt anyone.
“Enjoy your supper, Frisky. My lips are sealed.”
After a few minutes sniffing the bag, the cat abandoned the trash and hopped down from the can. Back on the ground, the feline made its way toward the deck behind the house.
“Oh, come on. Barbara’s meatloaf isn’t
Raised about a foot above the lawn, the deck was directly beneath Michael’s window. Bereft of furniture or food, what had gained the cat’s interest remained a mystery, unless the animal had spotted a chipmunk, or a mouse.
“I don’t blame you. If I had to choose between eating leftover meatloaf or a raw chipmunk, I’d go for the fresh rodent, too.”
The cat froze mid-step, staring up at Michael’s window.
Michael stayed very still, hoping he hadn’t spooked the stray. The cat wasn’t exactly the nature channel, but watching the animal was more stimulating than reading a vampire comic for the third time.
Motionless as an Egyptian statue, the cat stared up at him, eyes glimmering strangely in the moonlight.
An uncomfortable feeling came over Michael. Something wasn’t right. A discordant note buzzed in his head, both like and unlike the quiet music of rock and stone. Before he realized what he was doing, he took a step back from the window. Abruptly, the cat looked away and resumed the interrupted hunt. The wrongness in the air vanished like smoke.
Michael wiped away the thin film of sweat that had appeared on his forehead. No more spooky late-night reading for him. He was starting to freak himself out.
Five feet from the deck, the cat tensed. The puffy tail extended as it stretched its neck forward, testing the air.
Michael held his breath.
A white blur exploded out from beneath the deck, slamming into the cat with the suddenness of a lightning strike. The cat shrieked, tumbling into the shadows of the oak with its assailant in a struggling heap. They thrashed, half-visible in the darkness, growling and hissing as they fought.
Michael squinted, but all he could make out was a roiling mass of white and black.
A feral screech pierced the night, cut wickedly short. A line of dark fluid splashed against the oak.
Michael’s heart hammered in his chest. It had all happened so fast. He hadn’t gotten a decent look at what had come out from under the deck. Was the attacker a dog? It had to be a dog. Someone’s white, rabid, insane pit bull had murdered a cat in his yard. Now he
to wake the Wiffles. With a killer dog in the yard, he wasn’t about to go outside until the Humane Society’s equivalent of a SWAT team arrived to remove the animal.
He was about to fetch his foster parents when the “dog” stepped out of the shadows, standing not on four legs, but two. A bald little man, no more than two feet tall, came into the light, dragging the cat behind him.
Michael’s legs went rubbery, and he took hold of the windowsill to steady himself. “It’s not real.”
His hoarse denial did not banish the pale horror below.
The little man’s alabaster chest shone in the moonlight above a shimmering black kilt that reached down to his knobby knees. His hands and feet were large compared to his ropey frame, and one skinny arm gleamed dark and wet up to his elbow.
Michael’s thumping heart shook his chest like a drum. This had to be a dream, a nightmare.
As if to prove him wrong, three more little men in matching kilts crawled from under the deck to join the first.
Going to his knees, Michael rested his chin on his knuckles and peered down at the pasty gnomes in stark disbelief.