Sample chapter from HIGH WATER

While I get started on reviewing some books, here’s a sample chapter from my own book. It introduces the main characters, and will give you the general tone. That is, before the action starts! If you like it, here’s the link. Please leave honest reviews if you do buy it!

LOADING THE ARK

The box truck moved slowly, back up alarm bleeping, trying to fit into the narrow driveway between two brick duplexes. At the end of the driveway, arms akimbo, Pete watched the truck that was to carry all his possessions make its way slowly down the driveway, back-up alarm now echoing between the buildings. The midday sun was warm and felt good on his skin, but Pete rubbed his beard in apprehension. It had been a long morning. His arms occasionally cramped from the intense workout at the studio, and the rental agency hadn’t been happy about Walter’s last minute arrangements and made Pete put a sizable deposit down.

More confident having made it between the houses, the driver started to accelerate.

“Hey, hey, slow down, man!” Pete yelled up at the truck.

The vehicle lurched to a sudden stop, turning off the grating sound of the back-up alarm. A long black face appeared from the window, clearly annoyed, glancing to the back of the truck. Walter exclaimed, with some frustration, “Dude, I said I got this!”

“You’re not even looking,” Pete shouted, throwing up his hands. Soreness in his arms made the gesture slightly painful.

Walter, who now stuck half his lanky torso out of the truck to look behind him, replied, “Shut it, I was using the mirrors.”

Pete’s old blue Corolla was at the end of the tight driveway, directly behind the approaching truck. Walter said he had driven a moving truck before, and for whatever reason Pete had believed him.

“Just be careful,” Pete said warily. Maybe he should have moved his car.

“Will you shut your mouth, please? You’re making me nervous. I can’t drive when I’m nervous,” said Walter, whose torso again descended into the cabin. The truck shifted into reverse, the klaxon blaring loudly once again, prompting Pete to start the mantra of anyone helping the driver of a moving truck, complete with a windmilling arm to beckon them along:

“Okay, okay, keep going, keep going, okay, okay, okay… OKAY OKAY… WHAT THE FUCK!“ Pete’s helpful suggestions were cut off by a gunning of the engine, which propelled the truck directly into the bumper of his Corolla. There was a noisy crunch. The back-up alarm on the truck continued to ring obligingly.

“WHAT THE FUCK… ARE YOU DOING!” yelled Pete. He started over to the truck, furious, not waiting for Walter’s answer.

Throwing the transmission back into park, Walter leapt out of the cab before Pete could close the distance. In a gesture of true cooperation, he put his hands up on guard, ready to spar with Pete.

Pete didn’t hesitate at this gesture and walked right up to Walter. As they were of height, Pete got right in his friend’s face. “Why the fuck did you do that, man! Look at my bumper!”

Walter continued to stand with his guard up, but glanced over at the Corolla.

“Are you going to move up the truck or what?” shouted Pete, gesturing at the open door.

“Oh yeah,” replied Walter, dropping his guard. He got back into the cab. Pete stood helplessly as another crunch echoed through the yard. With little hesitation, the truck tore away the crumpled bumper. The twisted piece of metal skidded along the ground, hanging precariously from the hitch. Pete slapped his hand against his forehead, fixated on the damage as Walter put the vehicle into park, turned it off, and joined Pete to survey the damage thoughtfully.

“Dude, it’s messed up,” Walter said, astutely nodding his head.

“It’s not messed up, shithead, it’s fucking gone,” replied Pete. “You never drove one of those before, did you?

“Drove what?”

“Hello? Drove a fucking box truck, Walter!” Pete could feel his blood pressure rising.

“Hey HEY, Pete, will you chill with the language, please? There are children.” Walter pointed.

Pete turned around to see his neighbors’ daughters, twin girls with bright blonde hair and matching yellow dresses staring at him, wide eyed. Behind them stood their mother, Mrs. Tremont, an eerie picture of the twins in thirty years. A scowl of contempt was aimed directly at Pete. Speechless, he watched as Mrs. Tremont led the girls into the house without looking back. The screen door slammed, followed by a heavy wooden door. Pete could feel the slam of the inner door in his feet. He turned around to face Walter, feeling his face flush with embarrassment.

“Jesus… I’m just lucky I’ll be out of here the day after tomorrow. How long were they standing there?”

“Pretty much the whole time,” Walter said, matter-of-factly.

Pete ran his hands through his knotted curls. Inviting Walter to move his stuff was a mistake, much like plotting your boat’s maiden voyage through the Arctic Circle. Since he was the living definition of incorrigible, what Walter had just done shouldn’t have surprised Pete at all.

“All right… look, you go inside and get something packed, and I don’t mean a box. I fucking need it right now. You do that, and I’m going to take a look at this bumper.”

Walter grinned widely and went inside, leaving the screen door hanging open behind him. Without the irritating back-up alarm, the sparrows came back into the yard one at a time, watching Pete from their perch on a power line.

Pete did an inventory of the damage. The box truck was unharmed, so he’d at least be able to get back the deposit. He wrenched the gnarled bumper off the hitch on the back of the truck and walked the crumpled piece of metal over to his unfortunate car. Squatting down to examine the damage, he heard Walter’s voice calling from the doorway.

“Hey, where is all your food?” Walter yelled across the backyard.

“I don’t have any food Walter, I’m moving, remember?” Pete tried to buff out a foot long scratch that ran up to his headlight like a demented eyebrow. It wasn’t helping.

“Nothing?”

“No, Walter,” Pete answered, trying unsuccessfully to prop the bumper back on the front end.

“Alright, I’m going to order some pizza.”

Pete’s stomach growled, and he realized how hungry he was. Poking around a little bit more, Pete then threw the bumper on the ground, realizing that he didn’t know shit about cars and probably never would. Pete walked back to the house and, out of habit, went to lock the door behind him. A sudden pain in his finger made him yelp. “Splinter!” he cursed, bringing the finger up to his face. Vibrant red blood oozed from the entry point of an inch long piece of wood. This was the biggest splinter Pete had ever gotten. The doorframe was rotten, decaying from the slow neglect of the landlord, and the splinter was the sad gray of tired old wood. Cursing to himself, Pete went to the bathroom and opened one of the boxes with his good hand. It took a minute to find the tweezers, buried between q-tips and extra toothbrushes. After some digging in the flesh of his finger, Pete pulled it out.

“Oh nice,” he said to himself, seeing flecks of the door’s spotty baby blue paint on the sliver of wood. “Tetanus and lead poisoning,” he said, reaching for some antibacterial ointment.

One of the few pieces of furniture still in its original position was his dusty old orange couch, a thrift store relic that haunted the living room. Walter was reclined on it, packing the ice bong, codenamed Challenger. After seeing old footage of ice forming on the hull of a space shuttle from the super-cooled liquid fuel within, Pete had christened the ice bong, enjoying the irony of naming it after an ill-fated space expedition. A grin grew on Walter’s face as Pete walked into the room.

“Hey dude, I’m sorry about the car. I think I am higher than I thought I was.”

“It’s… fine. Feeling is mutual,” replied Pete, and they both laughed. “It was pretty stupid to get stoned before picking up the truck. Plus, my car is ancient at this point, and who am I trying to impress anyway? Liz? You?”

“That’s what I’m talking about, nigga. Now hit this shit,” said Walter, handing him the bong, momentarily eyeing Pete’s bandaged finger, but not asking about it.

With practiced ease, Pete took a massive rip, the kind you can take only on an ice bong, and held it. As he exhaled, the high hit him almost immediately, his perception warping pleasantly. Boxes towered over the couch, soaring skyscrapers of belongings. Walter grabbed Challenger and took a hit, coughed, then made a bug eyed expression. “This is some good shit!” Walter shouted. Pete took Challenger for another ride. Soon, a rich, soaring high allowed Pete to shrug off the pain from the pierced finger and his sore muscles. Stoned clarity gave him the patience to realize the pulverized bumper of his decade old Corolla wasn’t that big of a deal.

A sudden knock at the door. Both of them froze.

“Shit,” said Pete, “It’s just the pizza guy.” They both laughed maniacally, and Pete grabbed his wallet on the way to the door. Answering the door was made difficult by Pete’s altered proprioception, creating the feeling that he was wearing large, floppy, clown shoes, a feeling made stranger because he was actually wearing sandals. The pizza guy furtively peeked inside the door as Pete went through the capital motions, but Pete didn’t bother to hide the sight of Walter on the couch, staring straight forward in intense thought, ice bong in his hand. Paying the pizza guy, Pete tipped him well, and returned to the couch, resting the pizza box on his lap. Heat made its way through the cardboard and into his thighs, like a pizza heating-pad. The best kind of heating pad, Pete thought.

“That delivery guy was solid,” Pete said thoughtfully.

“Oh my god, this is amazing,” Walter exclaimed, coming out of his trance and waving his hands.

“I have to pace myself, I can’t have a repeat of last weekend,” cautioned Pete. Walter, Pete and Pete’s girlfriend Liz had smoked half of Pete’s weed and engaged in an all-day munchies-fest that would have put the Romans to shame. In their crowning achievement for the night, Pete and Liz slammed into each other running to the bathroom to vomit. Liz had shrieked as they fell in tandem to the floor of the darkened hallway. Accompanying the shock of impact was a rise in Pete’s gut. Day old chicken wings had combined with Liz’s specialty, a pan of peanut butter and chocolate marshmallow treats, to create a Category Five shitstorm inside his bowels.

“Owww! My head!” Liz moaned.

“Liz, you gotta get off my arm,” he said, swallowing. “I can’t get up.” Sweat beaded on his forehead, which smarted terribly, and his stomach was swimming nauseating laps.

“I can’t see, Pete! I can’t see anything!” she whined. It was the most pitiful thing that Pete had ever heard. He laughed at the same moment he puked, sending it directly through his nose.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been that high before,” Pete said, remembering the vomit mixing together on the floor. It wasn’t really the type of fluid exchange he’d anticipated having with Liz that night.

“I have,” Walter said through a mouthful of pizza.

“Yeah but… my high is like, subjective. You can’t experience what I experienced at my level, you know?”

“What?”

“Nevermind.”

The two couch-locked stoners ate with zeal, devouring the entire pizza in less than ten minutes. Walter sat back with Challenger and took another rip. They shared a moment of contented silence. Reaching over, Pete took the bong from Walter, and remarked that he was going to miss Sal’s Pizza.

“Dude, it sucks that you are moving,” said Walter.

“Yeah, I know, but I’m done with my thesis, so they’re cutting off my assistantship. Gotta pay them bills, son.” Walter knew this, of course. Pete’s thesis on novel techniques for combating infection by the single celled organism that caused malaria had gotten him some great references. The only place hiring was Century Research Corporation, who had offered him a position in their microbiology division. He didn’t have much of a desire to move from South Jersey, but the commute was impossible from here.

“What is Liz thinking?” Walter said, nonchalantly. It was a difficult question. Pete and Liz had been together for a year and a half. He had invited her to come with him to Philly, hoping to get Liz out of her dead end job at Tahitian Water Adventures. If he played his cards right, maybe they’d place her at Century Research Corporation. After all, her paralegal certificate was on the wall in her room, unused and unappreciated. Liz’s career situation was the modern condition for his generation: heaps of education, crippling student loans, and weak job prospects. Everything about the move felt so right that Pete expected their cohabitation to be a no brainer. But she hadn’t committed, and waffled every time they talked about it.

Today was moving day.

“Ahhh, dude, you know how I feel about this. She’s equivocated every time I bring it up.” Pete sighed. “I don’t know, man.”

Walter nodded. “Maybe ya’ll can do the long distance thing.” Pete nodded too, but he had a feeling about how that would turn out.

“I hope you can keep training, but I don’t know if you can find a Sifu like Kyle out there,” Walter continued, wisely changing the subject. “It’s a shame, I thought you were real close.”

“I thought I’d finish the degree and my black belt at the same time,” Pete said, sadly. “Guess it didn’t work out that way.”

“You’re one of the best, Pete, and they’re all going to miss you, Sifu probably the most,” Walter said. Kyle’s pedagogy had done a lot for Pete’s self confidence, molding him into a different person. He’d come to the studio overweight from years of university dining hall food. Kung fu had gotten Pete into the best physical shape of his life, and he knew it was equally important in attaining his graduate degree. His current expertise in the nature of parasitic infectious diseases was the result of hard work and discipline, and the martial arts sharpened mind and body equally.

Pete looked over at Walter, saying, “You’ve got to be pretty close at this point, though.”

Walter grinned and nodded. “Yeah, he hasn’t said anything, but I wonder if he was going to test us both at the same time. Guess I’m going it alone.” Pete wondered whether Walter resented him for leaving, but disregarded the thought. His best friend wasn’t the kind to hold grudges, because Walter would have to remember them first.

Pete’s hip vibrated, and he pulled his phone out to see Liz’s face. The picture he’d set for her number was his favorite. She sat casually in a meadow, wearing a light green dress. Her smile was sublime, and the goldenrod surrounding her made Liz look radiant.

Pete was crazy about her.

“Do you mind, Walter?” Pete asked, holding up the phone.

“Liz? Stop playing, of course not,” said Walter, making a dismissive gesture with his hand.

“Hey baby, what’s up?” Pete said, his ear sweat making the screen of the phone sticky.

“Heyyyy! I almost didn’t expect to get you, how’s the moving going?” Liz’s voice was bright and had an echo that made him think she was still at work.

“Well we’re taking a pizza and smoke break, and Walter tore the bumper off my fucking car, but other than that we’re fine,” Pete said as Walter took another hit. Walter threw his arms up in indignation without stopping his bong hit, only to start coughing violently. Pete helpfully slapped him on the back.

“Say what?”

“I’ll have to show you. What’s up, though?”

“I want to see you, what are you doing tonight?” Liz asked. Pete imagined her brushing her fingers against her neck, which she tended to do when on the phone.

“Walter and I are going to pack up the truck, and then I’m free after that.” he replied, heart rising.

“That sounds great, I’ll come over there. Work was a nightmare, it got real weird up in here,” she said, suddenly getting serious.

“Like how?” asked Pete, amused, knowing that her job was privy to all kinds of scandal.

“Let me tell you tonight, I’ll see you at like, 6:30,” Liz promised. They exchanged their love and hung up. Walter had already put the bong on the floor to stand up.

“Looks like you’re on a schedule son, let’s get to work,” he said, hands on his hips.

Pete looked up at him, doubtful at this sudden motivation. “Since when did you care about my schedule?”

“Pete, you don’t know shit about me. Let’s move some boxes.”

Pete decided to start them in the office. A large stack of liquor boxes sat in the corner. He was still moving most of his undergraduate biology textbooks, even though some of them were out of date and dead weight at this point in his career.

One of his boxes held his computer. Truthfully, Pete kind of wanted it to break in transit. The device was a massive sink of his time, a machine he couldn’t trust to operate. Too many lab reports and paper drafts had committed hari kari all over his hard drive too many times. It deserved nothing less than complete destruction. On the other hand…

“I was thinking that we’d start with the heavy shit.” The computer was more likely to survive if he kept it above the books at the front of the truck.

“Sure, whatever,” said Walter.

They got to work. Pete took the boxes two at a time and hustled, stacking them carefully in the back corner of the truck. It was doubtful that they’d use all the capacity, but he did it anyway. On his second trip back to the house, he saw a lone box set part of the way over the lip of the truck bed. Pete looked for Walter as he reached down to pick up the box. Barely touching it, he watched as it fell in slow motion to the ground. The drop caused the box to fold in on itself, creating a minor explosion of pens, pencils, highlighters, and other office supplies. Paperclips scattered into the gravel, the two almost the same color. His laptop, one he had mentally cursed only a minute ago, sat at the bottom of the carnage, the screen detached from the body of the laptop, several keys acrobatically fleeing the keyboard in the explosion.

“What the fuck?” Pete whispered, baffled. Walter walked back out of the house carrying a large box.

“Walter, when did you put this box here?” Pete pointed at the wreckage on the ground.

“What?” Walter asked from behind his box.

“The box, you put it here and when I picked it up it fell right off the edge and exploded,” Pete said, trying to keep his cool. It wasn’t working. “My computer is broken.” He shouldn’t have been pissed, but it was a computer. His computer.

“Looks like you should have packed your shit better,” Walter replied, flippant. He stood and looked Pete in the eye, frowning. Pete now saw that Walter’s box was marked OFFICE and FRAGILE.

“Listen, it’s not about how I packed my shit. Why do you keep putting boxes at the edge of the truck?”

“I thought we were doing like a, you know, that thing they do with sandbags when it floods.”

Pete slapped his forehead for the second time that day. “Jesus fucking Christ,” Pete said loudly.

“You mean Moses.”

“What? No I don’t, you mean Noah.”

Walter gave him an incredulous look, “I think you need to read the Bible again, Pete.”

“Go fuck yourself, Walt.”

“What did I tell you about cursing, Pete?” Walter said, setting the box on the edge of the truck bed.

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