Copyright © 2017 by Mark Bierman.

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Vanished, Book Excerpt

Chapter One

National Penitentiary, Port-au-Prince, Haiti

January 12, 2010

“Twenty-one! I win!" Thierry raised his skinny arms overhead.

“How do you keep winning? That's every day for the last week! You cheat!”
Frantz shouted, crumpling the cards in his fist.

“I’m just better at Casino. Enjoy sleeping on the floor.”

“No, I’ll take the hammock!”

“We’ll see, tomorrow.”

“I’ll take it now! Move it, boy!”

“Think you’re man enough? Come get it!”

The two inmates squared off.

From fifteen feet away, Janjak raced to close the distance. He tripped over soiled men and spilled waste buckets. The curses of fellow convicts were ignored. His vision morphed into a tunnel that encompassed only the combatants. Watch their hands! Almost there. Hands! Hands! Something flashed. Knife! The Haitian launched himself as Frantz pulled the weapon from his waistband. Shoulder met chest in a violent collision. Frantz cried out as he was tackled onto a stained mattress. 

Pinned underneath Janjak, the felled man snarled and tried to stab his assailant. The pair wrestled for control. Janjak placed his knees on the opponent’s arms, immobilizing them. He pried the knife free and threw it out of reach. 

  

“Thierry, get out of here now!” he screamed.

Thierry slipped away, into the mass of humanity.

“Have you had enough?” 

 

Frantz nodded and then relaxed. He begged for release. Janjak held his position to ensure it wasn’t a ruse.  

A caustic cackle split the air. Both men tensed. The predator had smelled blood.             

 

“Please let me up! Please! Not in front of him,” Frantz whimpered.   

    

Janjak didn’t budge. The ice water circulating his veins was vaporized in the cauldron of rage and disgust that boiled inside his heart. He snapped his head around to confront the beast. His eyes came to rest on a convict everyone called Raven.

 

The title was accurate. The black marble that occupied the left eye socket had more life than the real one. Raven’s cavernous mouth split apart to unleash another hellish peal. Teeth resembling crooked and decayed tombstones rimmed the outer fringes. Widely feared, some whispered he was really Kalfu, the voodoo spirit of darkness.

An atheist, Janjak scoffed at the supernatural designation. Raven may have been a sadistic carnivore, but he was just a man. One who treated his prey with feline cruelty.

Frantz began to sob. Now ashamed, Janjak let him up. Frantz scurried away.

 

A gravelly voice chased him, “I don’t want to hurt you. I just want to play! Heee! Haa! Haaa! Haaaaa!”   

Nauseous, Janjak turned away. The laughter became thunderous. The building shook. The scene exploded into chaos. For an instant, he almost believed Kalfu existed. What’s going on? A quick glance around revealed three hundred men in the tennis court sized room running amok. They crashed into one another and tripped over debris. The fallen were trampled.    

     

Janjak froze. A section of roof collapsed with the reverberating sound of discordant kettle drums, crushing Raven. Red blood flowed from the corpse. Raven was human.

Earthquake!

Slowly, as if regaining consciousness, Janjak returned to his senses. He had a shot at freedom and an equal chance that this vile prison could be his tomb!

There were no cells in this former chapel, however, the windows were barred and the steel door was locked. Their structures may have been weakened sufficiently to allow a few strong men to force them open. He fought through the panicked mob. It took every fiber not to join them.  

 

Another section of roof caved a few feet away. Something struck his head. The pain blinded him; followed by a warm oozing that painted his returning vision red. Blood and dust formed an acidic paste that burned his eyes. His lungs were sand blasted with every breath. An arm appeared from under a mass of ceiling. It thrashed about, as if to escape its master’s fate. I’m sorry. I can’t help you.

Janjak shoved past the last swaying hammock. Ten steps from the door. He was blindsided by another man. The impact sent him into a sprawl, injuring his leg. Try as he might, it was impossible to push beyond a glorified hobble.  

      

He reached the door. The walls moved like paper in the wind. He grasped the handle and pushed. It refused to budge. No use, help was needed. The wall beside him cracked ominously. Time’s almost up. 

A young man ran over. Others joined in. With a group of eight, the door began to give.  

The noise intensified. A horrific rumble threatened to burst eardrums. Janjak glanced behind. A cloud of dust and debris rolled their way.      

 

The wall teetered back. The crew heaved as the outer fringe of the dust bowl reached them. Pelted by large chunks and deafened by the enraged beast about to swallow them, Janjak waited to die. A transcendental peace filled him. His body continued to push. It acted alone. The mind was gone.

A hard landing brought him back. He was now perched on the door. Some debris and humans were on top of him but nothing that couldn’t be removed. His eyes stung, his head throbbed and his leg protested any attempt at movement. Yet he was alive. At least for now.   

 

Five occupants of the door stirred. Three would never move again. He dug himself out and looked around. The quake had stopped. Bodies littered the ground. Groans and whimpers rose from underneath the ruins, men lost to eternal darkness.   

      

Not me, I’m a survivor. A gang raced around the main cell block. Janjak followed. When he rounded the corner, he was struck with incredulity. The wall! It’s gone!

Men clambered up the ruins. They hesitated, momentarily, at the top. Then, one by one, disappeared. Janjak cocked his ear. No shots, good sign!

He peered down at his leg and gave it a pep talk, "We can do this, just a little pain and we can be free! This is Fate and it's given us a gift!"          

The injured man reached the crumbled wall and struggled to the summit. All clear. The former resident of the National Penitentiary stumbled down to the street and entered a city overwhelmed by annihilation and bedlam.

   

Chapter 2

Port-de-Paix Airport, Haiti

October 1, 2010


“Just a few degrees warmer than Cincinnati!” Tyler exclaimed. He wiped his brow in a futile attempt to relieve the heat that threatened to boil his blood.  

 

“Tell me about it. This feels more like July,” John responded. 

Off in the distance, another plane honked a warning as it descended onto the gravel runway. The pair watched people and animals scurry out of the way. 

“Unbelievable view, wasn’t it?” Samantha said. She’d raced to catch up to them. Peter was not far behind.  

At six foot three, Tyler had to look down at the petite brunette. “I’ve never seen so much destruction. Port-au-Prince was a disaster. Think they’ll ever rebuild? What about all the donations?”

Samantha scrunched her face and gave a shrug. 

“Could be special interest groups or the Haitian government holding back. Maybe the world is waiting to see what the election results will be,” John said.

“I think you’re right, John. About the last one, I mean.” Peter’s words were accompanied by animated gestures. “I don’t blame them for waiting. Haiti is so unstable, even at the best of times.” He swept his right hand, including the local vista, or perhaps the entire country, in the comment.

Tyler was about to respond when he spotted a large man standing next to an old Land Rover. The guy waved at them. Tyler recognized him from the website.    

  

“Welcome to our little corner of the island!” Steve Tracey held out a meaty paw. A few strands of graying red hair peeked out from underneath his white straw boater hat.

“Thanks Steve,” John said. They shook hands. “It’s nice to finally meet in person. All this planning and we’re finally here.” 

Steve turned to Tyler and offered his hand. As he took it, Tyler detected a hint of sympathy in his eyes. John had probably told him the reason for this trip. Though he knew John meant well, he felt betrayed. 

Samantha and Peter introduced themselves. Steve hoisted their luggage into the Land Rover and they piled in. As they bumped along, Steve told them about his decision to leave Iowa and open the Mission. “It’s been ten years and I’ve never regretted it.”

He went on to explain their assignments. Peter and Samantha, both nurses, would run a small medical clinic. John and Tyler were to help with the construction of an orphanage. 

Tyler heard only snippets. He was fixated on the scenes outside. Rusted Toyotas stood sentinel in front of crumbling concrete shanties. A moped sped between the Rover and an oncoming tap-tap. Its handlebars cleared the gap by inches. This is going to be a month I will never forget.  

The interior of the Rover reeked of stale body odor and sun block. Tyler opened the window. A blast of putrid air filled the compartment. He closed it immediately. 

Samantha gagged and wrinkled her nose. “Not much better.” 

Steve swerved to avoid a pig and drove into a large pothole. “Cursed things. They’re everywhere,” he said. Traffic came to a stop. A group of street vendors mobbed the Rover. One knocked on the window as he dangled necklaces from his arms. He pointed towards them and then at Samantha. Tyler looked to Steve for guidance.

“Don’t even think about opening that window again,” Peter commanded. 

“What’s the hold-up?” John asked.

“Who knows? It could be anything. This happens all the time,” Steve answered.

“How long do these stops usually last?” Samantha asked anxiously. 

“Anywhere between three minutes to half an hour.”

“Let’s hope it’s the former.” She glanced nervously at the necklace vendor. Five minutes later, the dilapidated truck in front of them began to move. The vendors disappeared.  

 

“The population of this city has swelled since the earthquake,” Steve pointed out. “Many of them are from Port-au-Prince.”

The statement morphed into a diatribe about the Haitian government and its neglect of North West Haiti. Tyler’s attention returned to the outside world. 

Ten minutes later, they passed through a metal gate and into a small compound. Tyler climbed out and surveyed the dusty yard. The entire complex was surrounded by a concrete wall. Shards of glass were embedded into the top. I guess even the Mission has to protect itself. 

“We close the gate at night. Some people think they can take whatever they want,” Steve announced, as if reading Tyler’s mind.

The group followed their host into a white stucco building. The words Rescue Haiti Mission were painted in red above the door.

“If you’ll excuse me, I have some business to attend to. Mahalia will show you to your rooms. I’ll see you guys at dinner. I bid you all a good afternoon.” The missionary tipped his hat and left the room.

A lovely young Haitian woman entered. She greeted them warmly in a heavy Creole accent. “Please come with me.” 

They were led down a narrow hallway. Mahalia stopped at the first door. “This one is yours, Tyler.”

“Thank you.”

The room was a glorified cubicle, furnished with a cot and an ancient dresser. A small window provided a view of the yard. One of the previous tenants had taped a motivational poster to a wall. It was a photo of a kitten hanging by its paws from a clothes line. Underneath the photo was the caption, “Hang In There.” Not encouraging.      

The young American finished unpacking and then found John a few doors down. 

“So, what do you think?” the older man asked. He placed a pair of jeans in a drawer.

“A culture shock to say the least. I mean, you read about the poverty but it’s another thing to see it up close.” 

“We have our work cut out for us, my friend. But it’s useful and honest work. We’re going to do some good here,” John said

A bell rang from a room down the hall. “Dinner’s ready,” John said.

The meal consisted of chicken dumplings and beans, prepared by women from the community. 

“We don’t just provide services, we provide jobs.” Steve informed them proudly. 

Mahalia entered the dining room and spoke to her boss. “I have just changed the bed sheets. Chantale should be here any minute.”

The words had barely escaped her lips when a small girl walked through the doorway. Her features matched Mahalia’s. Her right arm clutched a homemade doll with black button eyes. One of the eyes had a piece missing. Her mother introduced Chantale to the group.

The girl smiled sweetly and said hello. 

The after dinner hours were filled by euchre. Peter and John teamed up against Samantha and Tyler, with the majority of victories going to the former. At ten-thirty, a truce was called until the following evening. The losing pair declared that the reigning champions would be toppled in the next round. Their remarks were countered with friendly trash-talk that lasted until everyone had gone to bed. The busy day had taken its toll. Tyler fell asleep shortly after his head hit the pillow. He slept all night and awoke the next morning wondering if the insomnia was finally cured.

The first week was spent working under the hot sun. John, a retired carpenter, became the foreman. Serge, their Haitian translator, was pleasant and joked with them. The five Haitian workers were diligent.

A lack of building materials often slowed things to a crawl. In Haiti, supplies could be scarce. Steve frequently had to break from his busy schedule to procure materials from several different towns.    

 

Tyler was impressed with John’s knowledge and physical abilities. The sixty-seven-year-old maneuvered around the site with agility normally attributed to a man many years his junior. Tyler became an eager student. As they worked, children came to watch. They giggled as the younger man tried to fit his broad shoulders through small openings. Despite himself, the whole experience proved therapeutic.   

Sheer exhaustion had kept his demons at bay. Sleep came easier than it had in over a year. On Saturday night, however, guilt resurfaced with a vengeance. The photo was pulled from his wallet. A young blonde smiled up at him. Her eyes twinkled mischievously. He studied her face in search of forgiveness. Somewhere in the yard outside, a rooster crowed three times. Sounds about right. He turned out the light and drifted into a fitful sleep. 

“This is delicious!” Peter exclaimed at dinner the next day. “These Haitian women know how to cook!”

“Yeah, I never cared for the bean and rice thing until now,” Samantha agreed.

“So how was the clinic today?” John asked.

“Busy as usual.” Peter gestured, almost spilling his water glass. “There was this toddler, he was brought to us a few days ago. The poor kid was so malnourished. Today he ate three bowls of rice and actually smiled! My heart just melted, the whole thing was amazing! We are doing some serious good!"

“My baby! My baby!” Mahalia burst into the room and began circling the diners like a mad vulture. Chantale’s doll was clutched tightly against her chest. 

Steve came to his senses first. “Mahalia, what’s wrong? Calm down, please! Tell me what’s wrong!”

The distraught mother continued raving until it became necessary for him to grab her by the arms. He sat her down. Mahalia babbled incoherently for another moment. Eventually, the missionary was able to determine the cause. 

Steve turned to the group. “Chantale is missing. She’s only seven and a good kid. She’d never run off. Her doll was found on the side of the road. Mahalia’s convinced that Chantale’s been taken.”

“Taken? Why? By who?” Peter asked. 

Mahalia slid from the chair to the floor.

“We don’t even know if that’s the case. We’ll form a search party and canvass the neighborhood.” Steve looked down at the tormented woman. Curled in a fetal position, she wept silently.    

 

One of the kitchen staff raced to comfort the grieving woman. Steve motioned for Tyler, John, Peter and Samantha to follow him outside. 

In the yard, he turned to them. “Look, I don’t know how much you’ve read or know about this type of thing. It happens all the time in countries like this. I hope it’s not true in this case. I hope that little girl just got too involved in play and forgot to come home for dinner. I hope she’s just lost and that we find her. If it’s the other thing, that poor woman will never see her baby again.”

“Stop talking in circles already. Just the facts, please,” Peter commanded.

“Alright, you want the facts? How about a little girl working as a prostitute to satisfy the needs of a pedophile? Or maybe, she’ll be forced into a life of slavery by a wealthy family who feeds their dog better. The next time you take a sip of coffee, think about the tiny hands that picked those beans,” Steve said with a growl. “Look, I know them. Mahalia has done the laundry here for the past two years. Chantale is a good kid. She loves her Mom and is glued to that doll. It’s unlikely she’d just run off.” 

“So what do we do?” John asked.

“I have several photos of Chantale. I’ll give one to each of you. We’ll team up for safety.” He checked his watch. “Let’s say we meet back here in a couple of hours.”

“What about the police? Shouldn’t we go to them?” Samantha asked.

The missionary just shook his head and turned away. “Okay, pair up. Let’s head out.”

It was dark by the time Tyler and John arrived back at the Mission. They’d canvassed the area using Chantale’s photo. No one had seen her. The others returned shortly after, with the same result. The feeling of defeat was overpowering.

“I don’t know what to say guys. It’s getting late. Maybe we can continue tomorrow,” Steve said. 

“I know you aren’t keen on the idea, but what about the police?” John asked. “Shouldn’t we at least notify them?”

Steve gave him a hard stare. “All right, we’ll file a report. I’ll go with you.”

As the trio pulled up in front of the station, the missionary turned to John and Tyler. “I’ll do the talking.”

Inside, they approached an officer who sat behind a large desk. The uniformed man scowled in a sign of recognition. Steve scowled in response. The two immediately began to argue. Steve’s pale face went tomato red.  

They were speaking Creole. Tyler looked to John, who merely shrugged. The dialogue was too quick. So much for those Creole lessons. 

The policeman rose from behind his desk. One hand pointed towards the door, the other sat on his holster. This was getting serious. Steve ignored the threat. At the very least, arrest was imminent.


John and Tyler each took hold of an arm. They gently pushed their furious leader towards the door. He initially resisted but eventually came to his senses. He brushed them off and followed them outside.

“Sorry about that, just a bit of bad blood.” 

“You think?” John said.  

There was no response. The trio climbed into Rover and drove back towards the Mission. It was several blocks before Steve spoke. “Have either of you heard of a restavek?”

“No, what’s that?” John asked.

“It’s a hard concept for most North Americans to accept. Many of the families here are so poor that they can’t afford to keep their children. They send them off to live and work in other places. Usually it’s the Dominican. These kids are called restaveks. The families believe they are sending them to a better life. Most often, they become slaves.”  

 

“So are you now saying that you believe Chantale is a restavek?” Tyler asked.  

“No, I’m not saying that at all. Mahalia would never send her daughter away. Besides, she makes a decent living working for me. The pig head in the uniform called Chantale that. I knew this would happen. That’s why I didn’t want to bother with the police. They don’t care.”

“This has happened before, hasn’t it?” John said.

“Yes, a few years ago. A woman who worked in the kitchen lost her son. The police accused her of selling him to traffickers. They put her in jail. I had to pay a hefty fine to get her out.”

“What about the boy?” Tyler asked.

“Never saw him again. I’m afraid little Chantale will meet the same fate.”

Tyler struggled with the reality of the situation. “So, what’s next?”

“Do another search tomorrow. Won’t do much good. In the end, I’ll have to tell poor Mahalia that Chantale is gone. It’ll break her heart.”  

“There’s nothing else? We can’t do anything else? Is there no other agency that can help?” Tyler asked. A rush of blood warmed his cheeks. He became aware that his voice was rising.   

 

“There is an organization called the Haitian Brigade de Protection des Mineurs. It’s supposed to deal with child trafficking,” Steve said.

 

“Why didn’t we just call them?” Tyler asked.

“Well, let’s just call and see what happens. The number is in my office. We’ll call first thing tomorrow.” The response dripped with sarcasm. 

They arrived at the Mission fifteen minutes later. Samantha and Peter rushed out to meet them. Samantha dabbed her eyes with a tissue.  

“What did the police say?” Peter asked anxiously. The missionary ignored the question and stalked off into the building. 

“They claim her mother gave her up,” John said.

“Gave her up? That poor woman is in agony! I had to give her a strong sedative!” Samantha cried.

“I know, I’m not agreeing with them. Tomorrow we’ll call another agency to see if they’ll help. There’s nothing we can do right now. Let’s all get some sleep.”

“I won’t sleep. This is horrible.” Samantha buried her face into her hands. She ran inside.

They headed to their rooms. After several hours, Tyler fell asleep. The blonde woman’s photo was still clutched in his hand. He dreamed of his dead grandfather, Pappy. The man stood next to their favorite fishing spot. He wore his trademark green Tilley hat and hip waders. Pappy had two fishing rods and held one out for his grandson. Tyler grabbed it and they waded into the river. Not a word was exchanged. Even without hip waders, Tyler’s pants remained dry.  

Pappy cast first. It wasn’t long before a large salmon struggled on the hook. Encouraged, Tyler cast his line. It was carried swiftly downriver. Nothing took the bait. Determined, he cast again. Pappy’s comforting hand patted his shoulder as Tyler once again retrieved an empty hook. The lure was thrown into the water a third time. The line suddenly became taut and the pole was nearly ripped from his hands. It took every ounce of strength just to turn the crank. His back began to ache and sweat dripped off his nose. There’d be a feast today! 

The point where the line entered the water drew closer every second. When it was less than fifteen feet away, his dream avatar became disappointed. Large clumps of seaweed weren’t very tasty. The line was brought in another eight feet. Something made him stop. The seaweed looked odd. Its coloring was unlike anything he’d ever seen. Some parts were black, while others were the color of straw. That wasn’t the extent of it, either. The individual strands were too thin.

This was wrong! Terrified, he attempted to drop the pole with fingers that refused to release. His feet were nailed to the riverbed. A grotesque hybrid of mismatched features emerged from the water. The face was a contorted mixture of Chantale, the blonde woman, and flesh eating disease. The eyes were blackened and swollen shut. It drifted towards him. 

“Please, I’m sorry! No! Please forgive me!”   

Its left eye snapped open and the creature emitted an unearthly howl.

Tyler awoke to his own screams. There was a soft knock at the door. “Tyler, are you okay?”

“Yes, I’m good. Just a weird dream.”

“Okay,” John responded in a tone that sounded unconvinced. “If you need to talk, let me know.”

Two other voices whispered in the hall, confirming Peter and Samantha had also been disturbed. The poster caught his eye. Baby kitten was still hanging in there. Irritated, he tore it off the wall.

At breakfast, John announced that they should go to Steve’s office and make the call as soon as they were finished. 

“Hopefully they can help,” Samantha said. 

“They should, it’s their job,” Peter said. He shoved a forkful of eggs into his mouth.

Tyler noticed that neither would meet his eyes.  

Everyone ate in silence. 

“Meet me at his office in ten minutes.” John rose from the table and headed for the door.

At the appointed time, the four were gathered around the missionary’s desk. The man held out his cell phone. “One of you can make the call. Someone there will be able to speak English.” 

John took it and dialed the number for the Haitian Brigade de Protection des Mineurs. Five agonizing minutes elapsed before he was able to speak with someone who could understand him. The rest of the team stood around listening to one side of the conversation. Another five minutes and John hung up. The older American shook his head and expelled a long sigh. “They said that the earthquake has tripled their work load. Her name will be put on a list. It’s quite long. They did, however, provide me with another number. It belongs to a social worker by the name of Violine Medor. She works out of a women’s shelter in Ouanaminthe. She might take an interest in our case.”

“A social worker?” Peter said with a snort. He threw his arms up in exasperation. “What’s she going to do?” 

“Apparently she has some kind of inside connection,” John said. He shot an annoyed glance at the detractor.

“Call her then,” Samantha demanded.

The conversation with Violine went much smoother. The woman was cordial, well-spoken, sympathetic and keenly interest.   

“She wants to meet.” John handed the phone back to Steve.   

 

“Where?” Tyler asked.

“At her office in Ouanaminthe.” 

“I’m afraid I cannot allow that,” Steve said. “I’m needed here and it’s too dangerous for you to go alone. Ouanaminthe is a border town, miles from here. Besides, what are the chances she would be able to help in any way?”

“Why not just let all of us go?” Samantha pleaded.

“As I’ve said, it’s too dangerous and because of that.” He pointed out the window to a growing line up. “The clinic needs you.”

"They need them, not Tyler and me,” John said. “We can go and come back in a day or two.”

“Listen, this is not going to happen. I have a responsibility for you. I’m sure your families would appreciate you arriving home alive.”

Throughout the day, the missionary remained firm. That night the hybrid returned to haunt Tyler’s dream. This time, he could smell its septic breath. He woke up screaming and lying in a pool of sweat.  

Late in the afternoon, the following day, Tyler and the other Americans approached their boss again.

“Don’t you understand? She’s gone! We’ll never see her again! You need to let this go! She’s as good as dead!” Steve shouted.

A wounded cry came from behind them. Everyone spun around. Mahalia had heard every word. Steve looked mortified. Samantha ran to the hug her. 

The Haitian shrugged off the embrace and approached Tyler. Her once vibrant and healthy face looked shrunken and old. She placed her hands on Tyler’s shoulders and looked into his eyes. 

“Don’t listen to him. He has given up hope for many things. You are a good man. I know you can do this. Please find her. Please find my baby. Take these, they will help.” She thrust a photo of Chantale and the child’s doll into his hand.

Tyler looked at the missionary. 

“Pack your things. Make sure you have your passport. You and John can use the Land Rover. You’ll leave first thing tomorrow,” he said, refusing to meet Tyler’s stare.

 

Chapter 4

Partial Sample. . .

 

Tyler motioned to John that he was about to move in. He didn’t wait for a response.

The younger American rounded the corner and charged straight at Moon Face, swinging a fist at the large jaw. Moon Face reacted quickly and blocked the punch with his arm. He used his free hand to hammer Tyler in the stomach.

The blow struck with wrecking ball force. The would-be hero doubled over, gasping for breath.

A pair of familiar shoes entered his field of vision. He looked up and saw John approaching Moon Face. Joy’s father walked slowly, with arms held out and shouted. “Lapé! Lapé! Lapé!”

Tyler tried to warn him but his convulsing guts prevented the formation of words. 

John stopped when he was at the perimeter of his opponent’s reach. He spoke in a low tone at glacial speed. The dialogue was rife with mispronunciations that were painfully obvious, even to his fellow countryman.   

  

Moon Face stood there, studying John with amusement. The distraction allowed Tyler to recover sufficiently enough to stand.  

There was a flash of light in Tyler’s left peripheral. His eyes darted instinctively in that direction. Knife!  

Slash Face held the dagger. The blade was pointed at McIntosh. The little man shivered. Tears disappeared into his crevassed cheeks, like a thirsty desert soaking up the rain. The droplets pooled up and eventually spilled over into the lower wrinkles. He issued a loud wail and fell to his knees.

This act of submission seemed to kindle an even greater blood lust in the assailant. Slash Face sneered and moved in for the kill. 

Overriding his pain, Tyler jumped in front of McIntosh, raising his arms in a defensive stance. Slash Face stopped for a second. His face registered surprise. The psycho laughed and continued to advance.

The blade drew closer. It was held by an experienced hand, that was obvious. Tyler had been in a few fist fights, but knives were foreign territory. The proper response was lost on him.  

A flurry of activity erupted nearby. A split second glance revealed that John had crumpled to the ground.

Mouse like hands grasped the back of Tyler’s shirt. The intended victim was content to use him as a shield.

The knife wielding psychopath was less than a stride away. He pointed at Tyler and then jerked his thumb sideways. An invitation for the American to leave. 

The possibility of walking away without a scratch was tempting. This wasn’t his fight, after all.

Tyler risked a peek at John. The older man had risen to his knees but hadn’t fully recovered. It’s not just for your sake. We can both walk away from this thing. Tyler’s mouth quivered involuntarily. His left foot made a step to the side. It’s either Fight or Flight. Go with Flight, for once.

This option had only been considered once before. Two decades earlier he’d faced the tyrannical Dodson brothers. The pair had beaten him senseless but not before he’d put the hurt on them. That had been survived, this could be survived too.

The rogue foot was reigned in and the shoulders were squared.

The attacker nodded in comprehension.   

The only thing to do was wait for the knife to come. It arrived, with blinding velocity. Tyler ducked out of harm’s way just in time. The blade sliced through air space recently vacated by his head.

The knife wielder grinned sadistically and began to sway and shuffle in a side to side motion. Presumably in an effort to confuse the prey. This behavior continued for few seconds before he lunged.

Tyler dodged and kicked the man in the thigh. Slash Face yelped and stumbled backwards.

Tyler heard a shout and saw that John was now a captive of Moon Face. One arm snaked around John’s chest, while the other pressed a bayonet against his neck. A droplet of blood formed a red canal as it trickled towards the hilt. Joy’s father was speechless. His eyes were dilated with fear.

The situation had taken a nosedive towards catastrophe. Tyler was inundated with visions of Trudy weeping over her husband’s casket.

Rapid movement directly in front snapped him back to his own crisis. Slash Face had recovered. He cautiously shifted towards the young American.     

 

A scream came from the right. John had his teeth sunk into his captor’s hand. The one that held the knife. Moon face shook his bleeding arm violently. The free hand attempted to pry off the human Vice Grip.

It was no use. The hostage bared down with pit bull ferocity. The hand relented and the weapon was flung to the dirt. 

Tyler grabbed the lantern and swung it directly at Slash Face. The glass casing shattered as it connected with the target. The victim howled and dug at his eyes. A solid kick to the groin brought him down. 

Tyler rushed over to the struggling pair and placed Moon Face in a choke hold.

“John, let go! I have him! Let go!”

It took a minute before the older man unlocked his jaws. The bitten man was shoved to the ground. A hasty glance revealed that McIntosh was nowhere to be seen. They followed his example and ran. It was vital to put some distance between themselves and these monsters.

The Americans raced through the streets. Their eyes had readjusted somewhat to the low light levels. However, distinguishing the road from the open sewage canals was difficult. After several close calls with some pedestrians and a cyclist, they slowed their pace to a brisk walk.

“Let’s face it, we’re lost,” Tyler said. “Can we pull out your map?”

John reached in his pocket and fished it out. “Here, put your light on, just for a moment. It’s okay, no one’s around.”

They quickly pored over the map. In their haste, they’d traveled in the wrong direction. To reach the boarding house, it would be necessary to backtrack.   

Aware of the possibility of an impromptu meeting with their adversaries, they proceeded with caution. The cooler night air further stimulated Tyler’s overworked nervous system. Every sound was a disfigured boogeyman.

The trip proved uneventful. The boarding house was a welcome sight. Tyler looked at his watch. It was only nine pm. He went to the Land Rover and grabbed the flashlight. He also retrieved two bottles of water and handed one to John.

The house had a back entrance for tenants. They entered a dark hallway. The only sound was a muffled conversation coming from one of the rooms. Tyler clicked on the flashlight. Theirs was the second door to the right. He reached it and swung it open. The rusty hinges sung in protest. The smell of decay greeted him like an old friend. Home, at least for the moment.

The beam was swept over the room. Everything was as it should be. Two small cots were the only furniture. Without a word, he collapsed onto one of them and fell asleep. In his dream, the hybrid returned for an encore. This time she bore a large facial scar. 

Book cover for Vanished, by Mark Bierman
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