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The Crippling Terrors (Tracking Ever Nearer Book 1)

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The Crippling Terrors (Tracking Ever Nearer Book 1)

  Tracking Ever Nearer: The Crippling Terrors

  Book 1

  A Novel by Jeff Vrolyks

  Smashwords Edition

  Copyright 2015 Jeff Vrolyks

  The Wind Beneath My Wheels

  Driving down the mountain highway has long been the pivotal point of my day, when the strains of remorse and loneliness are overcome by the many wonders of nature. I have become a habitual person. Every morning I prepare for my commute with the key ingredients for a utopian experience: coffee so hot that when I reach the pinnacle of my drive it has simmered to my desired temperature, a wool-knit hat to keep my head warm when the top is lowered at lookout point #3, and music to accompany the visual masterpiece.

  Music is my sole variable. With so many compelling choices, how could one settle upon a single score of songs? Orchestral symphony is the pièce de résistance of my drive. Today’s selection is compilation #7: serene adagio, with undertones of somberness and impending redemption. I grab the disc and coffee and snatch my keys. I descend the cabin stairs to the driveway, where my partner patiently awaits: a ‘66 convertible Mustang, light blue with dark blue interior. My memory has been delightfully stubborn these days, but I will never forget how we met. It was the summer of ’98. She was on blocks in the dirt driveway of a shabby house. For the life of me I cannot recall the town I was in—or the state for that matter, but I digress. A For Sale sign scarcely discernable was wedged inside a mucky window. She begged me to take her home and restore her dignity, and my heart couldn’t say no. She was returned to mint condition and has since ran like a clock.

  Sitting on the frost-touched vinyl seat, I take a moment to admire the timeless design of my car before finding the ignition. I insert disc #7 and begin my drive.

  The spring is new and alive. Winter hides stubbornly in its shadows. Snow banks cling to life as sunbeams nibble at them cancerously, leaving behind an abridged story of a once-great snowstorm. The weather is sublime and promises a once in a lifetime trip down the highway. It’s tempting to drop the top and imbibe the mountain air and sun, but all in due time. The engine purrs along as the speakers sing a familiar song composed just for me centuries prior to my existence. The road is especially void of motorists today, which pleases me to see few signs of man’s creations interfering with nature’s. I round the corner to find my favorite lookout point, good ol’ #3.

  I pull in and park, drop the top, turn the music up, grab my coffee, and amble to the cliff’s edge. The morning sun is pie-sliced behind a massive mountain’s crest. A mountain dipped in white chocolate and sprinkled with green pines, like its mountain neighbor. The green is so vibrant, so vivid. The twin mountains divide narrowly and severely, plunging down to a breathtaking view of the distant Pacific Ocean. My heart skips a beat every time I view this modern day Eden.

  The warmth of the sun tingles my flesh, a zephyr kisses my cheek. I close my eyes but the image lingers. A Bach sonata plays the keyboard of my soul.

  Thirty minutes pass. The coffee has further stimulated my senses. Reluctantly I plod to my ‘66 and depart with a heavy heart. I traverse the winding road with the crisp mountain air mollifying me, panoramic views keeping me under their spell, the forest scent fueling me.

  A profound day with a profound ending.

  On a whim I accelerate. The surprised engine moans, the wind of passage drums my ears. I kiss my hand and transfer it to the dash; warmth emanates from the black vinyl like body heat from an aroused lover. I haven’t the heart to tell her, she is in too lovely a mood. The hairpin corner looms ahead.

  Is it typical when reading a novel’s ending to reflect upon your emotional journey through its contents? I tend to skip that and write additional chapters in reverie. Maybe our most beloved novels end with new beginnings so our imagination can write the endings we yearn for most. In my humble opinion, How does it end? is a question better left unanswered, as it is kindling for dreams. Whatever didn’t pan out in life is only because the story hasn’t yet ended. It is just a lull in a larger story with an ending of Happily Ever After.

  When one judges a book by its cover, do they consider there may be additional volumes with different covers? I prefer to think of my life as a series composed of dozens of volumes, and this is but the ending of the first. There is that lingering doubt: What if they don’t get written? There is no room for pessimism so I dismiss the idea and return to a state of contentment and serenity becomes me.

  Engine roaring, I blur past the highway’s Elevation: 6,000 Feet sign, followed by a 25 MPH warning sign. The sun now resembles a halo over the mountain’s summit. The heavenly vista is a dear friend and I am knocking at her door. The front tires roll off the pavement and make no effort to avoid the low dirt berm. They instinctively reach down to the ground, but for once it is not there. I am airborne.

  I feel the touch of a hand upon my shoulder.

  Chapter 1: The Stars Align

  I tend to refer to my birth not when I was born, but when my life really began. I entered this world at a quarter till noon on Sunday, May 28th, 1998, inside a drug store in Vacaville, California. I was picking up a prescription of pain meds.

  The day before, my best friend Mike Penrose and I were snowboarding at Heavenly Valley in Lake Tahoe. Halfway down a triple diamond run was a small mountain-like mogul that the most daring deemed a jump. Mike defied gravity run after run, soared high and far over this behemoth. Provoked by him, I rose to the challenge only to be humbled by the law of gravity and my inability to maneuver in its favor. Mike, being the sweet guy he is, felt worse about the accident than did I. The significance of the snowboarding incident survived the broken arm: because of the accident I happened to be in CVS that fateful morning when the first chapter of my unwritten biography truly begins; the preceding twenty-three years were merely a prologue.

  “Is this line moving?” I said to Mike. “Fifteen minutes and I don’t think we’ve moved an inch.”

  “If you want, you can wait in your truck and I’ll get your prescription. It’s the least I can do.”

  “It wasn’t your fault. I would have jumped it anyway,” I lied.

  “Yeah, I guess. I still feel bad though. Hey Kevin, how about a steak at the Down Under after this? I’m buying.”

  A glass of Fosters and a rib eye sounded great. “You got it. But only if you stop the pity act.” He nodded. “That’s if we don’t starve to death first. Help a poor cripple out and grab a pack of disposable razors and Pantene shampoo. I don’t want to stand in another line.”

  “No problem. Be right back.”

  The gentle giant Mike Penrose meandered toward the hygiene aisle. He might have been a lost kid searching for his parents. The only indication of his age—twenty-eight, five years my senior—was his outdated hairstyle and outfit. He wore acid-washed jeans and a neon-striped shirt. His gelled black hair was parted and raked back tightly. Mike chased his varsity football glory days back to the ‘80’s and hasn’t since returned. That said, he is a trend setting fashionista on the slopes. You’d never guess a guy weighing two-forty could be so agile snowboarding. We met three years ago on the flight-line of Travis Air Force Base, changing a KC-135 tire together.

  What the hell is taking so long? There were two pharmacists. One spoke apathetically on the phone; ostensibly it regarded her customer, who frequently gave us (the victims) an apologetic half-smile. The other pharmacist finished ringing up an old woman’s meds—an old woman by the peculiar name of Mrs. Wheels, a name I’d come to decide is fake.

  “That will be seventy-six dollars and eighty-two cents, please.”

  Mrs. Wheels squinted at the clerk’s
nameplate. “You’re wrong, Connie. I always pay thirty-seven dollars for the same medications. I’m not paying extra for what is obviously a mistake in your computer thingy.”

  “We don’t accept your insurance here,” Connie said cautiously. “I’m sorry.”

  “But I always use this card here!”

  The first beads of sweat dotted the hapless clerk’s brow. “Mrs. Wheels, we’ve never accepted Saint Sevens Insurance. I’ve never heard of them. I apologize, but this is matter between you and your provider.”

  “You little bitch.”

  I sensed Mrs. Wheels really wanted to lay into Connie, and used every bit of restraint to keep from doing so. She glared contemptuously at the young woman for a moment before sighing and taking the loathsome high road, and with a softer tone accused Connie and CVS of stealing from her. She threatened in her most polite register to make some phone calls when she got home, and Connie’s name would be mentioned. Heads would roll, she assured. Connie apologized sincerely and wished there was something she could do. The scowling geriatric finally conceded with the promise to find a new pharmacy the minute she got home. Connie flinched when the woman reached for her purse. Wheels thumbed through clutter, withdrew a checkbook.

  The other pharmacist finished her transaction, placed a closed sign on the counter and departed. My time was solely in the hands of Wheels now. I wondered if the other tenants in line shared my petulance. The crone placed her checkbook on the counter and fished through her purse for a pen. She began writing the check and I was relieved it had ink. She wasn’t going to be stealing much more of my day. She handed the check to Connie.

  The abused clerk frowned. In came the fear of retaliation. “I’m sorry, but this isn’t Bixby’s anymore. It’s CVS.”

  As Connie suffered a fresh batch of insults, the other pharmacist returned from the back room and beckoned the next person in line. Three people remained in front of me. Mrs. Wheels proceeded to insult Connie’s mother for raising her poorly as she wrote a new check. When she stopped writing, licked the pen tip and shook it, I looked around for a camera crew, as surely this was a prank.

  “This damn pen! I probably bought it here at Bixby’s too! They probably don’t fill them all the way up with ink so we suckers have to come back and pay more money for a new pen! You’re ripping me off, you little devil!” Wheels grew uglier by the mouthful, spitting out vile words inches from the face of the beaten dog named Connie.

  Then it happened.

  Chapter 2

  One Hour Prior:

  “So, what’ll it be this time,” Holly teased, “a grande half-caff skinny mocha latte double whip with chocolate on top?”

  Alison hummed meditatively, perused the menu on the back wall. “Black cherry iced frappuccino, maybe.”

  “There’s a tasty new drink you should try sometime, Ali. It’s called coffee. It’s simple, delicious, and doesn’t make you fat, unlike that garbage.”

  Alison glimpsed down at her body. “You think I’m fat?”

  “Yeah, you’re a whale,” she said dryly. “You look good now, but that’s only because you’re twenty-two. Just wait until you’re my age, then you’ll have a hard time staying thin, if you keep drinking those sugary drinks.”

  “Your age?” Alison snorted. “So in three weeks I’ll suddenly get fat from drinking these?”

  “Maybe sooner. Listen to your elder, I am much the wiser. You don’t get to be my age without learning a thing or two. Oh shoot, I need to stop by CVS after this to pick up my allergy prescription. I almost forgot. Do you have time?”

  “I guess so, but I need to be at the dentist before noon. It’s just down the street, though.”

  “Wonderful. Thanks, Ali. Last time I was there a perverted old man flirted with me in line. Called me supple. Can you believe that? Supple. He wouldn’t leave me alone. He looked like that guy from Adam’s Family, the one with bug eyes and a creepy grin. Why is it when you tell a guy you aren’t interested, they persist? Do they think begging will turn things around? It’s usually the military guys, too.”

  “Welcome to Stahbucks. What can I get fo’ you today?” The heavily body-pierced and tattooed clerk rolled his massive tongue ring around as he awaited the order.

  “I’ll have a small coffee,” Holly said.

  “Woom for cweam?”

  “No cweam, thanks.”

  Alison elbowed Holly.

  “How about fo’ you, ma’am?”

  Alison frowned up at the menu. Why do they have to make these things so hard? Fewer choices the better. “Uh… I’ll have a… grande non-blended decaf black-cherry iced frappuccino, non-fat and without whipped cream, with a light dusting of cinnamon.”

  Holly giggled. “What happened to the days when coffee had two types, regular and decaf?”

  “Yeah, in your days that’s all they had. That was back when TV’s were advertised as being in color and having a wireless remote. I wasn’t around during those three weeks.”

  “Five twenty-eight, please.”

  Alison reached for her purse: Holly brushed it away and paid. Alison thanked her as they made their way to the other counter to wait for their drinks.

  “I don’t know what your problem is with military guys,” Ali said. “I’ve dated a few and they’re nicer and more respectful than the civilian guys around here.”

  “That’s what they say but I don’t think it’s true. Not for me, at least.”

  “So what’s going on with Seth? Are you seeing him still?”

  “Yeah,” Holly said noncommittally. “I suppose.”

  “What happened? Lost interest in him already?”

  “I don’t know, time will tell. He’s all right.”

  “He tried to sleep with you,” Alison surmised, “didn’t he?”

  Holly nodded.

  “Bye bye, Seth,” Ali said dramatically.

  Holly summarized the dreadful third date. An employee sat two drinks on the counter and thanked them for their business. The girls found an empty table by the window. Alison checked her watch, asked how the search was coming along.

  “Horrible. I’ve interviewed dozens of guys. A couple girls, even. Nobody has the style Kloss is looking for. He’s way too picky.”

  “As well he should be. Why should he bless the first guy who can play a guitar? Whomever he chooses will have it made for life. Kloss should be picky. The guy needs to be dedicated and responsible. And drug-free.”

  “Yeah, I know, Ali. Easier said than done. Kloss is pressuring me to find someone immediately. They’re fed up with Gerry. Done with Gerry. Kloss wants to fire him as soon as possible but not without a replacement.”

  “They should have fired that asshole years ago,” Alison muttered.

  “I agree. Kloss agrees. The whole band agrees—except Gerry, of course. He’s written some of their best guitar riffs, though.” Intoned: “He helped create the unique sound we have.”

  “Kloss can play just as well as Gerry.”

  “That’s what I say. Why not just have a three-man band and let Kloss sing and play guitar? But he wants a lead guitarist so their live performances won’t suffer.”

  “So what are you going to do, keep auditioning until you find one?”

  “Yep. I’m working with an agent on the east coast, too. So now I’ll have twice as many leads. That was Kloss’s idea. Speaking of Kloss, he wants to meet Seth. A third date always means a talk with Kloss.” She sipped her coffee with a grin.

  “Uh oh!” Alison giggled. “He’s going to scare him off. Bye bye, Seth, again.”

  “I know, it’s funny. I love watching him give guys the what-for. His chats are a relationship death warrant. It makes it easier on me, though.”

  “It must be nice having a brother who is so protective of you. Chris is a jerk. Since he moved to Colorado he hasn’t written or called me once.”

  “Chris is a punk. I’m sorry he’s your brother. But at least your parents are alive.”

  Alison arched her brow.
You’re going there? The no-parents card?” Holly smiled; they both chuckled. “I have parents, yeah,” Alison said, “but ever since they bought that stupid second house in Carmel they forgot they have a daughter. They are more interested in themselves. They might as well be dead.”

  “Alison Nichole Lewis, how dare you say that!”

  “I know,” she said, head hung. “I didn’t mean it.”

  “I’m sure they love you to death. How could anyone not?” Holly’s sip from her coffee was cut short. “Crap, I forgot I have an interview tonight at six.”

  “Oh yeah? Who is it?”

  “His name is Jesse Michaels. Lives in San Diego. Came heavily recommended by Curtis, so I’m hoping he plays well.”

  “With the tour coming up, how is Kloss going to transition the new guitarist?”

  “He isn’t sure,” Holly said.

  Alison sipped her frappuccino and checked her watch again. “I don’t have a lot of time. Let’s go to CVS so I can get to the dentist.”

  “All right. Are you coming home after the dentist? We need to finish the Louisville and Nashville provisions still. I need you to take a look at my computer, as well. It’s still screwed up.”

  “Yeah, I know. I saw you whacking at it from the living room this morning. It’s going to be a long day. Long night.”

  “Week,” Holly corrected.

  “I can’t wait for the tour to start so I can take some time off.”

  “Yeah, at least you get time off,” Holly whined. “I don’t. I have to follow them on tour. It’s going to suck being away from you for six weeks.”

  “I’m sorry, hun. I’ll fly out and see you, all right?”

  Holly brightened. “You promise?”

  “I promise. Let’s get out of here.”

  Chapter 3

  Her voice. I could only describe its effect as remembering a word that has long been stuck on the tip of your tongue; in my case, for twenty-three years. The girl stood in front of the gentleman who stood in front of me. How did I not notice her before? I couldn’t see her face adequately from my place in line. I sidled into view and gaped at her. My chronic arm pain numbed as a wave of dopamine crashed into me, not unlike a drug. I was high. High on her.

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