CIMMERIAN CITY by Rae Lori
Today, corporations are the new aristocracy. A laundry list of side effects accompanies almost every new drug introduced on the market. What if these side effects changed us?
Imagine waking up in a futuristic world were corporations are the new aristocracy. The world has been divided into 2 hemispheres and 2 races: Humans and quick tough skinned vampire-like creatures that are children of the side effects of 20th century pharmaceutical experiments...Dracins.
Imagine dying as a human . . . and waking up as something else.
This is the life of Raven Blackheart, a formerly bored college student turned agent for the Tech Corporation, the largest corporate entity in the Western Hemisphere. Vice President Tyler Deamond, directs Raven as a go between and the last hope for the unification of Humans and Dracins. As deaths start occurring within the corporation headquarters, Raven notices someone is working their way up the food chain. Alliances are questioned as Deamond's intentions aren't quite as noble as they seem. A figure reemerges from Raven's past who may have all the answers to the disappearance of her father...
Cimmerian City is a futuristic sci-fi thriller where government has become big business, pharmaceuticals carry a veil of ghastly side effects and a third world war is brewing between the two races.
Relax...It's just the 21st century.
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Raven’s eyes shot open. She flinched from the blinding sunlight streaming through her bedroom window.
Morning. It was morning.
What happened last night?
After she left class and Jack behind, she took the bus to the art store…but somehow she didn’t remember making it there. Nor did she recall coming home.
Her head throbbed as she pushed herself upright. It felt like a thousand elves were pattering around in her head, banging to get out. Then the pitch-black darkness of her surroundings started coming back to her.
Duskiness surrounded her with only a smattering of light around the city to let her know how close the nearest town sat. She remembered hopping off the bus after it stopped. She remembered the kind-faced bus driver, an older man of Native American descent, who looked upon her for far too long, as if he knew her. However, she had never seen the man before in her life...or had she?
It was even one of those dreams where she could actually see herself from afar. Although she couldn't see her features too clearly, Raven still recognized the same long black hair framing her heart-shaped face and almond brown eyes that danced at the edge of black, along with her full pink lips and cinnamon-brown skin. She could see her parents in her eyes and face. Shades of both her father of the Blackfoot tribe heritage and her Egyptian mother echoed off her own features. She tried hard not to think of them but when she saw herself in the mirror and in dreams like this, it was difficult not to feel the hole in her heart from their deaths.
Images flashed and popped into her thoughts. The deserted train tracks that sat in the middle of the desert, the sound of an oncoming train, and heavy breathing. Then the weight of a body that pushed her to the ground and sliced at her arms.
Her arms suddenly began throbbing as if signaling her attention to the pain.
Raven ripped the sheet away from her arm and peered down. Amidst the dark brown of her skin, there was nothing. No sign of a scratch or any indentation to mark her. What was going on here? Was it all just a dream?
As the question popped in her mind, the shrill scream of the phone broke the quietness, distracting Raven from the vivid images of the all too real nightmare. She looked around the room to remind herself of her comforting surroundings. It was inviting, all right. The warm oak furniture that sat around her bed incited a memory of when she and Jack had picked the pieces up after she got her first home. They bought the nightstand stacked with art books at a garage sale from an older woman who was selling her daughter’s furniture after she got married and moved out. The desk, overfilled with both her and Jack’s art pieces, reminded her of the bargain they struck with the owner, shortly before it was to be tossed away and forgotten in the trash heap. Jack took pride in patching it up, sanding it off, and then applying a coat of finish to bring out the natural wood.
The house itself was a bargain, too. Raven couldn’t afford much on the meager salary she got when working spare jobs at the Navajo reservation but she jumped in with all her savings and part of her scholarship money to rent it.
Since then, Raven had fallen in love with the small home. Sometimes she would complain about the tiny space and imagined moving into a larger spread with multiple bedrooms and furnishings. After last night’s ordeal that may or may not have happened, her little house was the most beautiful sight she had ever seen. Her mother, father, aunt and uncle would be so proud... if they were still alive.
Slowly, she stretched out her shaky arms. They were smooth and unscratched. Perhaps it was a dream. Even she couldn’t have imagined that kind of pain.
Raven exhaled heavily.
At twenty-five, she was not ready for any signs of a heart attack nor was she prepared to be delusional. What seemed like a regular night had turned into something out of a nightmare. She had to get this out in the open or else she would surely end up going crazy with obsession.
She looked up and felt relief flow through her at the return of silence. The phone must have stopped ringing sometime ago while she was distracted. Suddenly, it started its incessant ringing again.
Part of her wanted to scream until it stopped. Instead, she exhaled. “Someone’s going to have to get that,” she muttered.
The phone stopped ringing midway as someone picked it up. “Hello?” The deep, muffled voice came from the kitchen.
Raven peeked into the hall. “Jack, is that you?”
Relief spread over her as she recalled the familiar face. Jack. Just the person she wanted to see. His warm smile, sparkling hazel eyes, and sturdy but thin build immediately calmed her. She would give anything to melt into his arms and lose herself in his embrace, his soft words, and his touch. They had been together for almost a year now, and he was the only person she could trust in the whole world. The only person that mattered to her since she had no family.
The faint chorus of the musical news theme erupted from the living room television set. She smiled to herself. That was Jack, practical, informative and always needing the news on when he came over to see her each morning.
“Blood clots and blood disorders affect more than five million people in the US alone. For a cleaner system, try Delanin, the leading non-prescription medication that targets blood cells for a cleaner flow through the entire body. Consult your doctor if any side effects or allergic reactions occur. Brought to you by Dridan. Making a better future, today.”
Raven idly rubbed her shoulders where the scratches would have been. “Cleaner blood flow?” She chuckled. “They’ll make a pill for anything these days.”
She shook her head and opened her mouth to call out to Jack. However, just at that very moment, he appeared in the doorway with her black cordless phone in his hand.
“What happened last night?” she asked. She didn’t realize how groggy she was until she heard the sound of her own raspy voice.
Jack laughed. “Good one, Hon. Just sit there and pretend as if you didn’t give me a heart attack when they found you.” He froze at the look on her face, and then his smile melted into a frown. “You’re serious, aren’t you? You really don’t remember?”
Raven shook her head. “No, I really don’t. Tell me, Jack.”
He placed his hand over the receiver and walked toward her. “They found you unconscious in the desert,” he said softly. “They thought you may have suffered from heat stroke or something.”
“Police officers. They brought you here this morning. Good thing you kept your address handy in your backpack like I suggested.”
“My backpack!” Raven leaned forward, remembering the tugging from the unseen hands. She could almost feel the jerking and hear the tearing as whatever it was behind her dug into the backpack material. Maybe there would be proof on her backpack of what attacked her. Pain spiked at the center of her forehead, jolting her backwards onto the bed.
“Easy… Easy,” Jack soothed. “Your backpack is fine. I put it in the living room in front of the television.”
“Jack,” Raven said, cradling her head. “Last night was warm, but nothing intense. Especially not hot enough to cause a heat stroke.”
Jack’s gaze flicked to the phone in his hand. “It’s Mr. Davies. He wants to talk to you about your absent days from work.”
“I don’t want to talk to him. Jack, you have to—”
Jack sighed before placing the phone up to his ear. “She’s a bit detained at the moment, Mr. Davies, but I’ll be sure to have her call you… All right… Bye.”
“You think I’m crazy, don’t you?” Raven said.
Clicking the phone off, he laughed. “Talking like that I’m beginning to believe so. Look Rave, I’m just glad you’re okay and they found you when they did. Something could have happened to you while you were out there in the middle of nowhere. If I had just gone with you…” He stopped and looked down at his vise-like grip on the phone. His smooth, tanned hand quickly turned white. Slowly, with a sigh, he released it.
“Jack, I’m sorry. I really just needed a little time to myself. I thought it would be a quick trip.”
He didn’t say anything, as he wrapped his strong arms around her and pulled her close in a tight embrace. Reaching down, he slipped his hand under her chin and pulled her into a soft kiss. His lips were warm and sweet, just what the doctor ordered. Raven felt him push the phone to the side and hold her gently as he kissed her deeply. Then she moved down to lie in the crook of his neck and shoulder. He smelled fresh, like a cool breeze and soft musk. She also spotted a hint of India ink and figured he had come over to work on his latest drawing again. Right then and there, she knew that smell would always remind her of Jack.
“Don’t do that to me again, Rave.” He whispered into her hair. “I couldn’t bear it if I lost you.”
She gave him a tight squeeze as the teapot whistled loudly from the kitchen. With a kiss on her forehead and a final one on her lips, he stood. “Now, you stay in bed and rest, okay? I’ll get you some tea and breakfast.” She watched him as he walked from the room.
Raven found herself missing his embrace as soon as he left. Although they had spent nearly all of their time together, were rather intimate and getting ever closer, Raven had never been ready to give her body to him. She had gladly let him into her heart, where he had been the only occupant since her family’s death, and since they often shared the same thoughts, it was easy to let him into her mind.
But her body…
Raven wrapped her arms around herself at the thought. She wanted it to be special. Many times, she had dreamed of the weight of his body pushing down against hers. The feel of his lips brushing through her lips before his mouth overtook hers. A sea of caresses would mesh their limbs together as one as they bound themselves to each other both in heart and body. Perhaps she had romanticized it a bit but the human connection she always felt was always lacking, except when she daydreamed. She had never grown up expecting to wait but as she distanced herself from everyone she met, it felt natural to close off from that kind of physical human contact. She would think about it, sometimes dream about how the first time would be. Deep in her heart, she knew Jack was going to be the man to journey there with her once the time was right. She was thankful he hadn’t pushed her into anything.
Raven swung her legs over the side of the bed as the sounds and smells of salty crispy bacon, fluffy eggs, and warm tea with a light toast on the side, wafted into the bedroom air. Jack always knew what she wanted.
Ignoring the rush of blood escaping her brain, Raven pushed to her feet and started toward the kitchen. Her stomach grumbled, and her tongue salivated with the anticipation of the feast ahead. The morning newscaster still twittered from the TV as she made her way across the hall.
“That better be a big tall, hairy monster coming toward me with an axe in hand because I distinctly remember telling Raven Blackheart to remain in bed while I brought her food.”
Raven chuckled. “What can I say? I’ll be hard-headed until the day I die.”
“I wouldn’t expect anything else from you, love. So marry me.”
Raven froze in her tracks. It sounded like Jack. It even looked like Jack. But she could have sworn it was a body snatcher who had just asked that question. Either that or she was completely losing her mind.
Jack finally turned to look over his shoulder at her. “No response? Color me surprised. I’ve never known you to go tight-lipped. ”
“I…” What was she supposed to say? “I didn’t think you were serious.”
Jack slipped a piece of bacon in his mouth and shrugged. “You’re right. I’m screwing this up already.” He walked to her and went down on his knees then took her hand.
"One knee..." Raven whispered, trying to bite back a smile.
Jack looked down. "Oh! Right." He quickly hopped up on one knee and then cleared his throat.
“Raven Blackheart. The first time I saw you in class, I knew I had to convince you that I wasn’t entirely crazy but that I really liked you and wanted to get to know you. We’ve been together through some hard times and I know I’ve been a pain. I know you’ve been a pain.”
She playfully shoved him, causing him to laugh.
Becoming serious, he continued, “I love you, Raven. Breaking through those walls you have put up hasn’t been easy, but I’m patient. I just want to be there for you and I want you to be my wife. I don’t have much, but I do have my word and my heart.” He looked down at the half-eaten bacon in his free hand and raised it. “And bacon.”
Raven couldn’t help giggling. “Food is the way to your heart, Jack. Not mine.”
“Yeah well, I don’t have a ring yet.” He wrapped the bacon strip around her finger. “Figured we could go shopping or something. Pick one out of a catalog or…”
She pulled his face into hers and planted a soft kiss on his lips. “You are insane, you know that? Only you would give me an engagement ring made of bacon.”
Jack snorted. “I wanted to leave an impression.”
“Oh you’ve already done that.” She leaned into his embrace. Misjudging his stance, she fell backward into his arms in a mass of giggles and limbs. The kitchen floor was cold and hard to the touch, but Raven didn’t care. This is what she missed and, even more so, this is what she needed after such a harrowing night.
Jack scooped her up into his arms. “So, is that a yes?”
She nestled the bacon strip around her fingers and held it up. “What do you think?”
He kissed her again and moaned softly when she deepened it. “Mmm, the food is going to get cold and if we stay down here any longer, I cannot be accountable for my actions.”
Jack stood and offered her a hand up. He then went back to preparing their breakfast.
“I really wish you had talked to Mr. Davies,” he said, scooping the eggs onto two plates.
Raven maneuvered her fingers to lift the bacon strip to her mouth. Mmm, not crispy but nice, warm and a little undercooked just like she liked. “He’s the last thing I’m worried about right now, Jack.”
“Already thinking about wedding plans, huh? We should have something small. I have some cash in my savings but I think we should hang onto it until after the wedding so we won’t be living in a cardboard box under an overpass or something.”
She shook her head as she settled into the chair at the small breakfast nook table. “I was thinking about last night. Heat stroke doesn’t attack my backpack, jump on my back, and scratch my arm.”
Jack froze when he reached the table. A wrinkle formed in the middle of his forehead. He grabbed her arm, turned it over and analyzed the skin. “I don’t see any scratches.”
“That’s what’s so crazy. I remember it distinctly. I even remember feeling it but there’s no sign of it.” She sighed. “I don’t think it was human.”
Raven exhaled slowly. If he thought she was talking nutsy now, he would think she completely lost it when she voiced this next idea. “Whatever attacked me? It didn’t feel like a person. It felt like…a thing.” Before he could stop her and express any doubt, she continued. “I think something’s out there over those hills, Jack. I can’t be sure but I saw lights on the other side, like flashlights. And I heard voices. The train track that’s been deserted for years was still working and I think something is happening out there. Scratch that, I ‘m sure about it. I want to go back and check it out.”
“Raven.” The urgency in his voice told her he was ready to unload a series of logical reasoning that could explain everything she presented before him. She watched him grab the hand towel from his shoulder and toss it onto the marble counter. Then he frowned. “You’re serious about this…”
“Yeah, I am. If it hadn’t been for my backpack....” Her backpack! That was it! She remembered her previous thought. If she could find the scratch marks, she could try to figure out what kind of beast had attacked her. And then she could really prove she wasn’t imagining all this.
Raven jumped from her chair and swung around to head to the living room. Right away she spotted her backpack lying against the wall near the front door.
Her heart nearly stopped when she saw the dark green thread sewn along the sides of the pockets. Slowly, she ran her fingers over the thin thread to make sure her eyes weren’t playing tricks on her. To anyone else, the thread would be invisible, but Raven knew her backpack. The thread was a slightly lighter shade than the rest of the backpack.
“Did you do this?” she asked softly.
She thrust the backpack forward. “This, Jack. Did you sew this back up?”
Jack folded his arms. “Raven, you know it was like that already.”
She scoffed. “No, no it wasn’t. Look, the thread is new. I never sewed this up nor did I rip it. Jack, you have to believe me.”
“Shhh. Shh. Come on now.” He pulled her into his arms and held her.
What was going on? If she had been a conspiracy theorist, she would think someone was trying to cover something up. But why would they do such a thing to her? She was nobody, a student, who happened to take a wrong turn off the wrong bus track.
Raven’s grip loosened until she felt the backpack fall from her hands and onto the floor with a soft thud. She wrapped her arms around Jack, indulging in the feel of his muscled back and thin frame as he held onto her tightly.
“What’s going on with me, Jack? I feel like my mind is trying to tell me something but my brain refuses to show me. And I can’t shake this feeling. I just know something is wrong.”
“Listen,” Jack reached down and cradled her face in his hands, “come, and eat breakfast. We’ll sit and relax for a while, and then you can tell me what happened. Tell me whatever you remembered. After that, maybe we can take the same route there and trace your steps to see if we can find anything. Sound good?”
Raven nodded. Good old Jack. “I knew there was a reason I loved you.”
“Why? Because I always cave to your demands when you bat those pretty eyes and give me that sexy pout?” He slipped his hands over her hips and gently nuzzled her neck.
Raven gave him another playful shove. “No, I’m serious. I could really use your support.”
He looked at her for a moment, his eyes sparkling again. He was as handsome as she had ever seen him. A thin face matched with wispy, short dark brown hair and a tan complexion made him look perfect in her eyes. Gently he reached up and caressed the side of her face. “You’ll always have my support, Babe. No matter what, we’re in this together.”
“Together.” She liked the sound of that. Reaching up, she wrapped her arms around him and hugged him even tighter. Then a loud smack and the warm tingle on her rear nearly made her jump to the ceiling.
“Now, go eat your breakfast so we can get out of here. Granger’s class is in a few hours and I still need to finish this assignment.”
Raven started toward the kitchen with Jack behind her, grabbing for her again. She laughed and jumped, pretending to dodge his moves. It felt good to laugh and be silly again. After what she went through, it was a welcome distraction before the storm.
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