Authors: Dennis Larsen
A Fictional Series
Dennis F. Larsen
The Raven Falconer Chronicles
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2013
Dennis F. Larsen
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.
Cover Design by Sean Strong for curtisANDstrong
A cold, dense fog lifted from the still waters and effortlessly crept over the worn, smooth boulders that lined the shore of the lake, hiding the earth and the dead. Victor stood near the water’s edge with his raincoat pulled tightly around his neck, his left hand clasped at his throat, holding the lapels together. In his right he held a long, slender dagger, which widened very slightly toward the end, sweeping up into a highly polished point. Thick, red blood dripped from the steel and splashed in an ever-growing pool of crimson near his feet. Exhausted, he could not bring himself to wipe clean the instrument of his salvation, nor could he take his eyes from the bodies of friends and fiends scattered on the ground around him.
The secluded cabin had seemed the perfect place to seek refuge from those that were dead and should have stayed that way. Events around the world had unfolded far more quickly than governments could react. The release of a new, highly concentrated nerve agent, by an extreme terrorist organization, had spread panic and then death in its wake. Thousands, then millions were affected, succumbing within minutes once they were exposed to the chemical. The world community may have survived this alone but the horrific, unexplained transformation of those, thought dead, into savage, blood-crazed zombies tilted the scales against anyone surviving the initial attack.
When the streets of New York reeked of death and before the dead walked again, Victor Graves and
his friends had loaded a van with the few hurried items they could secure and had run for the hills. Pockets of the living were evident as they had driven further north, but death was also present. It seemed there was no rhyme or reason, as if the transforming agent had literally been carried on the winds, killing like an angel of death seeking out the wicked. Arriving at his uncle’s property well after midnight, the little party set about making beds, fixing food and looking for weapons. Victor had pulled the dagger from the mounts above the fireplace as soon as they had entered the home, while others were satisfied with the kitchen cutlery.
It was then, as they prepared to make the quaint, little outpost their home that the wave of repugnant, flesh-eating dead had attacked. They swept over the beleaguered band in seconds, easily ripping entrails from their first victim, who fell before she could ut
ter a sound. Victor and company had battled bitterly, retreating to the slowly lapping water’s edge as their last stand. Screams had echoed for what seemed like hours but in reality were mere minutes. When the scene had matched the tranquility of the placid lake, he stood alone, covered in blood and tissue, unable to fathom what had just occurred and not wanting to accept it.
He pirouetted a
full 360 degrees, confirming that which shrouded him in a blanket of pain and unthinkable horror -- they were gone. All of them – DEAD! Victor dropped to his knees, thrusting the blade deep into the soil at his side. He raised his hands high above his head and shouted, profaning God and emptying the anguish from his soul. Suddenly the snap of a twig alerted him, a warning that he was not alone. He reached for the dagger but it was too late. A pair of cold, spiny fingers curled themselves around his neck. He desperately tried to wrench himself free from the creature’s hands but strength existed in the grasp where he expected there to be none. Victor pushed himself forward into a clever somersault, slipping the blade from the ground as he did and breaking the assailant’s grip. Free, he spun, the dagger ready, but he could not strike. Standing before him was Sky, a woman he had once loved, a faint recognition in her eyes, which were now clouded and grey.
She advanced, walking slowly and dragging her right leg. A fresh bite mark oozed serum from her neck, a remnant of the arterial pulse of spewing blood that had ceased once her beating heart had stopped. Sky reached out for him, her fingers curling and clawing while her teeth gnashed together, creating a ghoulish clicking with each closure. There was nowhere to hide, no place he could run and no option but to plunge the weapon into her skull and end it. As she approached, he extended his hand and clutched her throat, keeping her snapping jaws at bay. Lifting the dagger to strike the fatal blow, he hesitated, but only briefly, before he slammed the blade down, burying the steel in her head until the hilt struck bone.
“Noooooo!” he yelled, as she dropped to the ground, pulling the blade and his hand along with her.
“Not bad,” Raven quipped, pushing her chair away from the keyboard and looking at the glowing screen in front of her. The budding, young author stood, ran her fingers through her sleek, black hair before she hustled to the fridge and retrieved another can of Dr. Pepper.
Fall’s cool bite nipped at passersby walking briskly from car or bus stop to the warmth of their home or workplace. The sudden cold snap had arrived in minutes, unexpected and unwelcome. For the inhabitants of Southern Alberta it was the first impending sign of months of snow and shortened days. On a corner of Bowness Road, near the Calgary Children’s Hospital, a condo complex stood, casting its late afternoon shadow obliquely to the northeast. The earth’s axis was shifting, putting the sun further south and distancing its warmth from the Canadian city. Winter would soon be upon them.
The summer, at least for some, had come and gone as they always did, a chronic lack of sun-filled days and too many mosquitos, but for others it had been the beginning of a living hell. Rainwater, combined with the persistent melting of the snowpack sitting atop the Rockies, had gorged the rivers and flooded many homes while sweeping others away. Some homeowners had lost everything, includi
ng their lives. The past June had been particularly bad, even by Canadian standards. Billions of dollars in damages had forced thousands from their homes and sent hundreds on their way penniless; their hope-filled lives shattered and happiness, now just a matter of wishes and dreams.
On the uppermost floor of the condo building, a two-bedroom unit faced into the sun. The shades were pulled, inviting the fleeting rays o
f summer into the room, warming and brightening the space. A quartet of beautiful yet very different young women occupied the unit, each with unique aspirations and goals but being the very best of friends. The condo had been modestly furnished with hand-me-downs from family and friends when the four had decided to move in together. From that day forward they’d never looked back with regret. Although today something was amiss, as three of the roommates gathered together in the living room, reminiscent of diminutive players huddled up during a powder-puff football game. They spoke in hushed whispers but loud enough to covertly reach the fourth of their party sitting at the kitchen table, poring over a list of items she’d created the night before.
Raven wound her long, black tresses around the fingers of her
right hand while she tapped a pencil against the pad with her left. She could hear the trio of conspirators plotting against her but chose to ignore them, not wanting to give them the satisfaction of distracting her from the decision she’d made.
What else will I need?
She ran the itemized list through her mind one more time, desperately trying to imagine every possible scenario and what she would need to cope. Anxiety, mingled with fear and excitement, stirred her imagination. She’d debated leaving for days but knew there was only one logical decision: pack her bags and head for the hills, if only temporarily.
It will be fun
, she told herself, almost believing the notion. Raven’s first big break as an author was there, teetering in space, just daring her to reach out and take it, but the distraction of living with a houseful of well-meaning roommates was slowing her efforts.
The girls hadn’t intended to interrupt or intrude and were apologetic when they did, but that’s just the way it was. Four women in
their twenties with active lives were impossible to keep down and Raven did her best to understand. Bobi, the youngest and shortest of the bunch, had been so cute the day before when she’d learned of Raven’s choice to depart for a month.
Rave, we can do this. I know we can. We’ll be like . . . ah . . . mice, that’s it . . . church mice. You won’t even know we’re around. Come on, tell me you’ll stay.” She’d been so convincing, almost shedding a tear but Raven knew her friends better than they knew themselves. They would toe the line for a day or two, staying out of her way and letting her work but before long boyfriends would show up, others would drop by, party invitations would come and her concentration would vanish.
The would-be author had remained understanding and tactful in her delivery.
“It’s only a month. You’ll hardly know I’m gone.” The reply, though sincere, had not brought a smile to her little friend’s face but sent her away disappointed and crying. Raven had called after her, “I’ll be fine. I’ve been there before. There’s really nothing to worry about. Come on, Bobi, don’t be so sad.” The words had bounced off the bedroom door as Bobi closed it, but not before she’d glanced back, her quivering lips and red eyes saying what her voice could not.
Tonight the three were preparing an ambush to keep her in Calgary and she knew it. However, she had a little tactic of her own that she was quite certain would bring the friends around to her way of thinking.
Raven Falconer was a deep thinker and dreamed of writing classics that would one day stand on shelves next to the likes of Hemmingway, Tolstoy and Alcot. Her present venture,
, would win her no awards or put her on the bestseller lists but it might secure her a spot with a local publisher who had insisted the novel be completed by the end of the month. For weeks she’d battled her own busy schedule, and those of her friends, in hopes the time to write would miraculously appear. It had not and now that she was down to the wire, she literally felt there was no choice but to get away and write day and night until it was done. Smugs, Raven's uncle, had graciously offered his cabin and she'd readily accepted, having visited often as a child she knew it to be secluded and quiet, presenting a perfect atmosphere to get her creative juices flowing.
Across the room she could still make out most of what was being schemed and plotted quite openly by the trio of ‘mice’. The dark-haired beauty twisted her black locks into a bun and thrust the pencil through it, temporarily holding it in place.
“You know I can hear you, right?” she said, drumming her polished nails on the surface of the well-worn tabletop. There was no immediate reply, as the conspirators were so engrossed in preparing a convincing message that they ignored Raven completely. “Um, excuse me. Helloooooo, what’s going on over there?” she called.
What?” Hannah asked, pulling her head from the huddle long enough to cast a quizzical look at Raven. “We’re just talking and trying to stay out of your hair. We thought that’s what you wanted.” She didn’t wait for a reply before plunging her head back into the cluster of three, interjecting another quick thought.
It is but don’t make this any harder on me than it’s going to be already. Come on, can’t we talk this over? Hannah, Bobi, you guys understand, don’t you? And Mick, I know you can see my point of view.”
Finally the three parted but without the usual ‘Go Team’ shout.
“Okay, we have an idea we’d like to run past you and we’ll abide by whatever decision you make. We are your greatest fans and know one day you’ll make it big in the book biz but hear me out, and then we’ll do whatever you decide. Fair enough?” Mick asked, she being appointed as the head mouse.
Shoot,” Raven replied, pushing her chair back on two legs and pulling the pencil from her hair, allowing the locks to drop and swing freely in the air.
Mick looked excitedly back and forth between Bobi and Hannah.
“Okay, we’re all going to move out for the next month. We’ve got friends we can stay with so we can leave the condo to you.”
Raven jumped in before Mick could finish, cutting her off with a string of,
“No, no, no . . . There’s no way I’m letting you guys . . . ”
ahead, asserting her alpha dog persona and continued her thought. “Let me finish – you promised.” The young author reluctantly dropped her chair back onto all four legs, shrugged her shoulders and closed her mouth. “Fine. So as I was saying, it’s really no sweat off our backsides if we relocate for the month. We’ll only drop by as you invite us, and to make sure you’re still alive. What do you say? It’s the perfect plan.”
A broad smile graced the Falconer girl’s face.
What great friends!
She paused briefly, pulling together the thoughts of her heart before she spoke. “You guys are the best – I mean that! When I count my blessings, you three are always at the top and I love you all so much but I’m afraid I can’t impose on you in that way. It’s not fair to any of us and I’m actually really looking forward to getting away and I don’t mean from you. I need a break from work, the phone and the city in general. I need some space. I hope you can understand.”
Her roommates wandered to the table, each coming close enough to touch their friend and confirm their allegiance.
“We understand but we’re still not happy about it,” Bobi concluded, pulling a chair from the table and plopping her tiny bottom onto it. As she did, a large, unrestrained belch erupted from her mouth, drawing everyone’s attention away from Raven for just a moment.
Mick, the oldest of the group and full-time elementary school teacher, cuffed Bobi playfully across the back of her head, bringing a laugh from the others.
“Hey, what the . . . What was that for? You know my trouble,” the small lab tech said, referring to her ongoing battle with acid reflux. This brought another round of laughs from the roommates, including Bobi.
All right, all right, enough – let’s sort this out before you guys drive me crazy,” Raven pleaded, looking to Mick and Hannah for help.
Okay, can we get back to Raven’s issues for a minute?” Hannah asked, shooting an arched brow at Bobi.
Thank you. So I’m going to my uncle’s cabin – no further discussion. With that being said, I can’t be away from your nuttiness for a full month so how ‘bout you all come out in a week or two and spend the weekend?”
The suggestion brought hoots and hollers from Hannah and Bobi, while drawing a concerned smile from the more mature Mick.
“You sure?” Mick sincerely asked. “Could really screw up your concentration by having the ‘Wild Bunch’ there for a few days.”
Sure, it’ll be fun and by then I may need a restock of the important things, like Dr. Pepper, peanuts, and M&M’s. You know the hardcore survival stuff.” Raven smiled and got up from the chair, took each of her friends in a warm embrace and kissed their cheeks. “You guys are the best family a girl could ask for -- never change,” she said, fighting to hold back the sudden rush of emotion that would have tears spilling down her face if she didn’t act quickly. “Okay, enough of this girly crap. I’ve got things to do, places to go and people to see. Who wants to help?” Three hands went up instantly, into which Raven thrust a quickly scribbled note, providing instructions on what they each could do to expedite her departure.
Raven’s first stop was her summer employer. The owner of the coffee shop had mixed feelings about letting his best staff member leave for a full month, but he preferred to give her the time rather than force her to quit. He was a sound businessman who understood it was the pretty girl’s face and cheerful smile that drove his business and certainly not the second-rate coffee he sold at a premium. However, he insisted she be gone for no more than a month and he even managed a heartfelt,
“Good luck,” as she’d scooted out the door.
The friends, with directions in hand, scurried about Western C
algary, buying up the things Raven would need to sustain her for the month. By 9:00 p.m. they were back at the condo, packing items into boxes and checking them off the list as they went. “I think you’ve done it.” Raven excitedly confirmed.
Did any of you feel like things were a little crazy out there tonight?” Hannah inquired. The friends stopped what they were doing and looked at her. “What? Don’t tell me you didn’t see or feel it.”
You mean the paranoid and perplexed that were mobbing the stores?” Bobi questioned, clutching at her throat, as if suddenly overtaken by some invisible bug.
Exactly!” Hannah replied, shifting her weight to throw a shoulder into the comic. Bobi winced, pulling away and rubbing her bosom where she'd taken the strike.
Happens every year. Flu hits and people empty the store shelves in case they’re stranded at home for a prolonged period of time. Don’t you remember last year when people were begging for Tamiflu and there wasn’t enough to go around?” Bobi asked, in hopes it would calm any burgeoning fears.
The packing done, the girls plopped down on the chairs and couch that faced the well-used fireplace. In years past, they’d all faced flu season with mixed results. Mick was the most prone to exposure, due to the nature of her work with small children, but each had taken their turn in bed for a few days as the others acted as nurse
s and comforters. The women suspected this year would be no different.
Raven sat in an overstuffed armchair and pulled her knees to her chest. She wrapped her arms around her shins before she shifted the conversation away from illness to something more upbeat.
“I’ll print out a detailed map so you won’t get lost on the way to the cabin. Is there anything else you guys can think of that we need to discuss before I leave in the morning?”
Take your cell charger,” Hannah reminded her. “We’ll let you know in a few days which weekend we’ll be coming.”
Thanks Hannah. Let’s say our goodbyes tonight so I don’t have to wake you in the morning. I’m gonna try to get out of here early to avoid rush hour.” The friends sat in silence for a moment, each lost in their own thoughts. It was Raven who broke the comfortable stillness. “I’ve got to get to bed if I’m driving early.” Raven hugged each friend just a second or two longer than she usually did, saving Mick for last. “You take care of these two,” she said, nodding her head at Bobi and Hannah.