Something smelled like a tire-fire, a burning landfill, scorched metal and melting plastic.
An improvement, in other words.
Groaning, Greg dragged open reluctant eyelids. He peered, through smoke and disbelief, at a landscape tilted sideways, partially obscured on the right by a curved line of rounded shadows.
Eclipses. Planetary occlusions all in a row.
No. It was a strand of beads, petrified wood and mother-of-pearl, draped loosely over his right eye. He groped up and found the silver medallion stuck to his brow.
As if glued, as if seared into place.
The bright white-hot glare, the magnesium flash, the sizzle … it was seared there, seared into his skin like a brand, and he thought of whichever of the Indiana Jones movies it had been where the guy goes to grab the metal artifact from the flames, only to get its design burned onto his palm as a result.
Had he been branded by his own good-luck charm? How absurd was that? Was he going to go through the rest of his life with Never drive faster than your Guardian Angel can fly printed backward across his forehead?
Maybe it wasn’t the smartest move, but he dug his fingernails under the medallion’s edges and pulled.
Peel-riiip. The sensation of tearing off a Band-Aid, only worse. Greg yelped, his eyes both crossing and watering. He clenched his free hand into a fist. As the stinging pain faded, he unclenched it, and dabbed gingerly with his palm, expecting it to come away bloodied.
It didn’t. Nor did it hurt to touch the spot, after that initial sting. He poked and prodded, and traced what felt like thin raised ridges of scar tissue in some kind of design …
Okay, so, he wasn’t going to go through the rest of his life with Never drive faster than your Guardian Angel can fly printed backward across his forehead … he was going to go through the rest of his life with some weird seven-sided symbol embossed there instead.
He had a ‘rest of his life’?
He was alive?
He was! He was alive!
Strapped in his seat, held half-upsidedown with the ruined cockpit a smoldering broken eggshell around him, the wreckage of his Cessna – still not fully paid for – likewise smoldering, canted at a crazy-skew angle … but, alive.
For now. If he didn’t unhook himself and get out soon, he might very well char-broil on the spot … damn near a miracle the fuel hadn’t gone up already …
Greg clawed for the releases, found them, and probably should have considered the logistics of his position before dumping himself headfirst in an unceremonious heap. Only then did the prospect of other injuries occur to him; he could have fractures, shards impaling his kidneys, arteries only tourniqueted by the pressure of his harness …
Too late now, and no matter. He sprawled and then crawled, mucky soil and slick damp greenery under him.
Once he’d cleared what he hoped was a safe distance from the crash, he flopped over onto his back and just lay there, chest heaving for breath. Which, since he’d also cleared some of the smoke-zone, was breath filled with an ungodly rotten-meat/raw-sewage reek.
The lake, he remembered. That awful, red, blood-shit lake.
“What the hell?” he gasped. “Seriously, what the hell? And where the hell am I?”
“Well put,” someone said, in a voice like delicate wind-chimes. “Not entirely accurate, perhaps, but, close enough.”
Uttering a startled and fairly embarrassing unmanly squeal, Greg scrambled to sit up. At first, he didn’t see anybody – great, now he was hearing things; probably had a concussion, brain damage.
“What the Hell, seriously, and where the Hell, indeed.” The wind-chimes voice spoke again and this time he was able to track it to its source.
Probably had a concussion, brain damage?
Strike the probably.
He definitely had brain damage. Wasn’t just hearing things, but seeing things as well.
Things like that naked angel, perched on a branch.
Lakehouse Infernal is available for pre-order on Amazon now.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Christine Morgan grew up in the high deserts of southern California and headed north as soon as she was able, in search of water and trees. She found both in the foggy coastal redwoods, attending Humboldt State University. Five years later, plus a Bachelor of Arts degree (psychology) and minus a thyroid (cancer), she moved further north yet and settled in the Seattle area.
That shiny new degree landed her a night shift entry level job in a residential psychiatric treatment facility. After twenty-odd — very odd! — years, she’s still doing pretty much the same job, just at a different facility, and as of late 2015, in a different city and state.
The long overnights play havoc with her sleep schedule, but they offer her ample time to write on the company clock. So, in a sense, her hourly rate is not too shabby when you think about it.
Christine relocated to Portland, Oregon. In 2017, she underwent surgery and radiation treatment for maxillary sinus cancer. In 2018, she’s still recovering and undergoing reconstructive procedures to put her face back together.
Her daughter Rebecca (aka Becca and sometimes Bex) sold her own first story at the age of fourteen. She recently graduated from college, having majored in stage management and dramatic writing.
Christine’s current household consists mostly of books and cats. Viewing habits include documentaries (history, travel, nature), cooking shows, disaster movies, and British comedy. Christine has also been known to make weird crafts with her hot glue gun.