Escape from Reality Copyright © 2017 Toby Bain
All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, without permission from the author.
Welcome to Escape from Reality. Thanks in advance for taking the time out of your day to read this offering.
Escape from Reality is three novellas, each weighing in at a minimum of 27,000 words.
Adventures of a Reluctant Bounty Hunter (29,000 words approx.) chronicles the tales of Emmerlich Day and the dangerous task that falls into his ungrateful lap.
Black Ghost: Public Enemy No1, two, and three (28,500 words approx.) is a light-hearted and often dramatic chronicle about the birth of a self-serving superhero who is not quite the apple of the public’s eye, but who serves and protects the very people he loathes.
The Keeper of Secrets (31,000 words approx.) is a mystery and suspense thriller centring on Tammy-Jo Emhart’s discovery along the banks of the Mississippi River, which unlocks the demons hidden deep in not only her life, but the lives of others.
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ADVENTURES OF A RELUCTANT BOUNTY HUNTER (THE NIGHT MONSTER)
This story wasn’t meant to happen. It came about as the result of an idea for an adventure trilogy of novels that had nothing to do with Emmerlich Day. I cannot elaborate too much on the idea, for it would give away some of the story in the novella you’re about to read. Anyway, so I had this idea for an adventure trilogy and then lo and behold I let it percolate (meaning I sat around pontificating) and then I made an irrational promise to my dear friend Barbara Ann Edwards (as I sometimes do for people I love) to write her a story.
Out of this adventure trilogy came an idea for a novella, a prequel to three novels I have yet to write. Adventures of a Reluctant Bounty Hunter is a prequel to these. It is more drama than adventure, whereas I plan for the novels to be more of an action and adventure series.
Whilst some ideas are like slow moving traffic, a series of stop-start movements, this was more or a less clear road from A to Z with very few obstacles. Of course, when creating a new adventure in a new land, there were various tweaks needed, but the essentials of the story remained the same.
So here it is. A journey through Southern Balkar and into the world of Emmerlich Day and his fears and tribulations, which in general are the same as yours. I hope the cast of characters and the story grab you by whatever gets your attention, letting go only at the end.
The three humans had been murdered with a disconcerting level of enthusiasm, their lives reduced to a montage of gruesome slides in Detective Grimstone’s office. The detective himself displayed the nonchalant demeanour of someone sanitised of emotion, unmoved by the bite marks on the neck and the mass of blood leaking from the bodies.
Witnesses recalled seeing a hooded creature, cloak covered in blood, fleeing into the night. It was immediately given a macabre nickname of the ‘Night Monster.’ The crimes didn’t make sense, and when a crime didn’t make sense rationale dictated that a monster had to be the perpetrator.
The only certainty was that three were killed. Two Mossan Industries lab workers and a Mossan Industries security guard, who had no time to fire his weapon. The culprit fled as quickly as it appeared inside the Mossan Industries laboratory complex.
As if three murders inside the borders of Southern Balkar weren’t bad enough, they had to be related to its wealthiest family. This wasn’t the most disconcerting thing about the case. A year of investigations had seen no one brought to justice. There was, however, one big clue. The detective had intimated this at the start of the presentation but hadn’t elaborated.
With the slideshow finished, Detective Grimstone eased back in his seat, as though waiting for a critique of the demonstration. Grimstone sported a bushy moustache in place of a top lip, which he now caressed. It was a fluffy thing resembling the bambara worm. Maybe it was a bambara worm, thought Emmerlich. Perhaps it had attached itself across his face one night, died in its sleep.
‘Well Emmerlich,’ said the detective, ‘that’s all we’ve got.’ Grimstone took pride in being the most unruffled of characters. The reason Southern Balkar Police Department (SBPD) had given him the case. He effortlessly absorbed the hysteria from Gromides, Jalopes and Humans alike – all outraged as suspicion fell on them.
It wasn’t the only reason the detective was given the case. As the casualties had been humans, a human detective had to be put in charge of the investigation. In line with Southern Balkar Constitution.
As time passed, Southern Balkar comforted itself by insisting the Night Monster was a brief, murderous anomaly. Law enforcement could afford no such comfort. They persistently asked the same questions. Who was the creature? Why was it trying to escape Mossan Industries? Where was it now? How will we catch it?
Emmerlich loosened his collar and glanced around the office, a space befitting the detective’s venerable position. On the wall was a map of planet Balkar. It consisted of three regions: Southern Balkar, Middle Balkar and Northern Balkar, their borders divided by thick mountainous layers of dark carbite rock that covered much of the planet.
‘As one of Southern Balkar’s best bounty hunters,’ said Grimstone, ‘I’d be intrigued at your take on all this.’ His fingertips tinkled the furry black creature above his lip as one would piano keys.
‘Me? The best?’ laughed Emmerlich with disdain. ‘You and I both know the facts don’t quite bear that out, detective. We both know I’m only here because you’re desperate.’ Then Emmerlich was gripped by an unpleasant thought. ‘Have you called Pritchard, Hughes and that other chap, Fareed?’
‘Fareed – you mean the Jalope bounty hunter?’ asked Grimstone. The detective nodded, answering his own question. ‘In times like these,’ he said, ‘we need all the help we can get. Even from a Jalope.’
‘Did you call them first? Before me?’ There was a note of curiosity mixed with annoyance in his voice, for Emmerlich Day knew the answer. He didn’t wait for Detective Grimstone to confirm that D may have been fourth in the alphabet but Emmerlich Day was the last person called in to help solve this crime.
‘We had trouble locating you,’ said the sergeant. ‘We phoned you six months ago. I thought maybe all that business with Gillian had…’
With a sweep of the hand, Emmerlich dismissed the notion inside the detective’s head. ‘Don’t believe all you hear. I was just laying low. And let’s not dwell on the past, for it is the present in which we find our problems.’
The fact he had called other celebrity bounty hunters, shown them the photos, done the whole dog and pony dance with them first, needled Emmerlich. ‘Has anyone actually accepted this case since Malcolm Pinner?’ he asked.
‘There’s a lot of misinformation going around about Pinner,’ Grimstone snapped. ‘Don’t believe all you hear.’
Emmerlich ignored the use of Pinner’s name in the past tense. ‘I heard he went looking for the Night Monster and hasn’t returned.’
‘Let’s not worry about him. The fact is you’re here Mr Day…which means the larger reward offered by the SBPD has served its purpose.’
Emmerlich scowled, casting an irritated glance at Grimstone as he spoke. ‘I’ll leave here this instant if you think I’m only here because I have a dream of getting rich. If I undertake this task, it will be strictly in the name of justice.’
‘So you’ll donate the reward to charity, that’s very fulsome of you, Mr Day.’
‘I’ll do no such thing!’ snapped Emmerlich. ‘And don’t you dare tell the media otherwise.’ Emmerlich Day was of sound mind and body, not the type who would forgo a billion credit reward. Yet, because of the Malcolm Pinner business, others had turned it down.
‘And don’t for one second think my appearance here in your office is an indication of my acceptance of the challenge. It is merely my curiosity that drives me at present and not the offer of some obscene reward.’
Grimstone sighed. ‘If you say so Mr Day. If you say so. But I was hoping your presence here was a mere formality, so much so I’ve asked the department to process your certificate.’
‘What else do you know about the crimes,’ asked Emmerlich.
‘So you are interested? Or are you still in curiosity mode?’ Grimstone sounded agitated. His annoyance finally brought home the gravity of the situation. On the one-year anniversary of the murders, the SBPD must have felt the media pressure. For once, the strain of the case had pierced the officer’s calm disposition.
Something was still eating away at Emmerlich. The one question on his lips the moment he had entered the office: Why are they so desperate for more bounty hunters to take up the chase?
As if reading Emmerlich’s thoughts, Grimstone leaned across his polished desk, saying in a whisper, ‘We’re at a complete dead end in the case and there are some on the Governing Council who have made their feelings known, especially since elections are nearly upon us.’
Elections in six months. Solving the case could preserve a few floundering political careers. Grimstone’s remit was clear: solve the crime by any means necessary. As part of his tactic, the detective would not reveal anything further about the crime until Emmerlich promised to take up the case.’
‘Given what may have happened to Pinner,’ said Emmerlich, ‘I cannot make that promise.’
Grimstone gave a shrug. ‘We don’t know what happened to Pinner, that’s the point. His family come here once a week to ask questions. But no-one knows where he is.’
It was standard practice in Southern Balkar to call the best bounty hunters in on the larger cases. They could get into places the police could not, could break laws the police could not. It kept the detection rate high and the crime rate low. Malcolm Pinner was considered the greatest bounty hunter of his era. He’d helped police solve a number of high profile cases and had done so without going missing.
‘Leaving aside the reward,’ said the detective. ‘The notoriety of catching the killer would mean you’d never have to buy a drink or meal again. You’d be a superstar. Even in the alien sectors of the planet.’
Emmerlich checked the wall clock. The day was 24 hours old. Four hours of light left before the darkness drew a veil over Southern Balkar.
‘Well, Detective Grimstone, I’ll certainly consider the matter,’ Emmerlich said in a detached manner. The carnage he’d witnessed on the screen was already a distant memory, for there were other things occupying his mind.
As Emmerlich rose from his seat, the detective pulled a face and stroked his ample moustache. Then he held out a limp hand, ‘I was hoping you’d seen enough to reach a positive decision and had merely come to sign the relevant forms and ascertain the details before you begin your quest.’
They were truly desperate. Fortunately, Emmerlich Day was not. ‘Then you would be mistaken Detective Grimstone.’ They shook hands. ‘I’ll be in touch.’ There were a thousand things to consider about this case. Grimstone’s happiness wasn’t one. Still clutching the detective’s hand, he said, ‘You need to do something about these pickpockets, they’re everywhere. My wallet was stolen on the way here. You wouldn’t spare some loose credits for transport back to my sector?’
Grimstone released his hand and plunged them into his pockets. Without checking the denominations, he drew out a couple of credits cards, thrusting them into Emmerlich’s hungry grasp. ‘Good day, Mr Day,’ he said with no hint of a smile. ‘I am a little disappointed in your attitude. I thought that despite the obvious challenges you would relish the chance to enhance your reputation. Guess I was wrong.’
‘One last thing,’ said Emmerlich, unperturbed by the barb. ‘You mentioned a clue, a rather large clue at that. Something that would prove we had the right suspect.’
‘Ah yes.’ The detective smiled, like someone who felt rejection was perhaps a premature idea. The detective used his computer to bring up slides. Projected onto the wall was a perfectly severed middle finger.
During the course of one of the murders, the security guard managed to get a blow in. The severed finger, framed on all sides by measuring sticks, was the best evidence in the case.
The finger was grey, shrivelled and discoloured. The finger of evil.
‘To this day,’ said the detective, ‘we haven’t divulged this to the general public. Some people would kill for this reward…severing a finger would mean little to them. As per your confidentiality agreement, this information stays in the office and you agree to a neurological lie detector test if any information about the case is made public.’
As Emmerlich left the police station, images of the victim’s guts and blood pouring onto concrete filled his mind. He tried to escape them, but, as the victims could testify, the clutches of the Night Monster were difficult to escape. Fingers, cold, creeping and invisible, slithered down Emmerlich’s back. He had the uncanny feeling he was being watched. Though two hours of daylight remained, could it be the Night Monster was changing its nocturnal habits and stalking the very people tasked with finding it?
Southern Balkar is a band of territory surrounding the lower tip of planet Balkar. Its terrain, born from the tumult of the Great Event, was by far the most densely populated of the three regions, housing a variety of species.
Most of these species worked and played in the Central Area – a melting pot of shops and nightlife in a space stretching 10,000 square kilometres, more than 10 times the size of New York City. It had the special distinction of being the only mixed zone in Southern Balkar, meaning any species could live there without restrictions. However, most could not afford to live in the Central Area but everyone could afford to mingle.
It was rather surprising to Emmerlich that the tastes of the different species often remained the same: overeating, alcohol, sex, gambling, socialising, and a millennia-old pastime that remained the strength and weakness of all species: fighting.
Beyond the Central Area were swathes of suburbs where most lived. After the Great Event, Mossan Industries helped resurrect Southern Balkar, carving it into separate living areas for each species. They worked together, ate together and got drunk together, but having an alien as a next-door neighbour was forbidden outside the Central Area. Birds of a feather, and all that.
After leaving the police station, Emmerlich shot down the stairs of the nearest metro station. Digital countdown clocks embedded into the walls told him there was an hour of light left before eight hours of darkness fell. It was more than enough time to shake off whoever was following him, for he was certain he was being followed. The long black train breezed into the station, the compressed air it floated on sounding like a thousand angry snakes. It brought with it the jarring tang of burned carbite – a by-product of the scorching heat needed to keep the machine airborne, even at a standstill.
Through the brilliance of Mossan Industries engineers, the air-train ran on asphyxiate gases. The air-train guzzled air, filtering the nitrogen, argon and helium it needed and exhaling oxygen into the atmosphere.
The doors shushed open. Emmerlich stepped aboard. As he sat down, he checked the carriages, and spotted the person following him. It was a tall man of some bulk. A Grimode. He wore a trilby hat, sunglasses and his head was buried in the print edition of The Southern Daily newspaper, which he turned with some difficulty given his long, curved nails. Every now and again he’d glance up at Emmerlich and turn away.
As inconspicuous as a hand grenade in a bowl of soup, that’s what Gillian used to say.
A young Jalopian smiled at Emmerlich from across the aisle. He wore a set of earplugs, head moving to the grove of a silent beat, no doubt the usual crappy Jalope music by crappy Jalope singers in crappy Jalope bands. This kid was like all Jalopian kids: six-feet, skinny, with a large head and protruding antennae-like ears. His tight little mouth overflowed with piranha-like teeth, making him appear to be constantly smiling. Emmerlich thought it rude not to smile back.
Jovial lot, the Jalope. Surely not the murdering type. More than his smile caught Emmerlich’s attention. It was the alien’s grey fingers. All eight were intact, but had his middle finger been missing then there may have been a problem.
The young Jalope rose. This time his face creased into a genuine smile. Emmerlich Day flashed a smile and waved. Jalopes had the distinct advantage of being the only species able to rotate their heads on the axis of their necks, like spinning tops, which was precisely what the young man did as he left the train. Maybe the jovial Jalopes weren’t killers, but they sure were freaky.
A couple of Gromide women trotted onto the air-train at the next stop, complaining at the increased cost of travel, blaming greedy Mossan Industries carbite miners. With their hooknoses, hawk-like eyes, bad breath and predatory demeanour they could have been suspects. Those talons could have carved open the bellies of the victims. Then Emmerlich looked at his own fingers. There was no debating that the killer could have been human too. Three species, millions of suspects.
‘Grand Central Area Station,’ said a robotic announcement on the public address system. He rose, as did his lanky pursuer. Emmerlich made to step off onto the platform and paused. The big man glanced across and mimicked his off-on movements, as though they were doing some crazy synchronised dance. By the time the doors shut with a pneumatic sigh, Emmerlich Day had slipped onto the platform, leaving the big fella trying in vain to do the same. The air-train wheezed and hissed, streaking off on its bed of air.
It was only polite to wave the idiot goodbye and blow a kiss. It would be the only kiss thrown in that ugly Gromide’s direction today.
He crossed to another platform and took an air-train going in the opposite direction. Thoughts of the killings, the blood, Malcolm Pinner, and that reward cast an unhealthy shadow over the journey. A billion credits! At Central Square Station, he found himself above ground. Only 20 minutes until nightfall, according to the electronic countdown clocks. He slipped into a beauty store that catered specifically for humans. Among the array of make-up, human scalps (donated for a price by families of the deceased) and certified genuine human facemasks (ditto) he found what he was looking for. Detective Grimstone had been quite generous with his donation. When Emmerlich Day stepped out onto the smooth black rock of pavement outside the beauty shop, he wore the face of a ruggedly handsome man with a flowing mane of blonde hair, topped by a neat trilby hat. A nice touch that last one, he thought. ‘This playboy’s ready to play,’ he said to himself.
The digital face of a clock embedded into the pavement counted down the last 60 seconds of light. Southern Balkar’s red sun did not extinguish like any ordinary sun. It was eclipsed by a dark moon, which gently covered Southern Balkar in darkness. Therefore, it was in this fading light that Emmerlich Day went back down to the metro, noting the digital wall clock now read 7:59 signifying how much darkness Southern Balkar had to endure before the next of 28 hours of daylight. It was time for the fun to begin.
END OF CHAPTER ONE
If you want to read the rest of this story, [+ visit Amazon+] and buy Escape from Reality, a trilogy of anti-hero novellas.
‘The Night Monster (Adventures of a Reluctant Bounty Hunter)’ (29,000 words) is set on the fictional planet of Balkar. Emmerlich Day is broke. His only way out of destitution is to hunt down the Night Monster and collect the colossal reward. Easier said than done! The killer has a lust for blood unmatched by anything Southern Balkar has ever seen. And worse, better bounty hunters than Emmerlich Day have tried and failed to find the Night Monster. However, with nothing to lose, Emmerlich embarks on the task. The story chronicles his efforts to find the Night Monster, his brushes with the various aliens on the planet, and the sacrifices he is forced to make if he is to complete greatest achievement of an underwhelming life.