Introducing … Jackson Gray

After getting my website up, I wanted to celebrate a little. Instead, I thought maybe my readers would like a sneak peek into my latest novel — Jackson Gray (Title tentative)

This is a very rough copy, It hasn’t been through critique group or editors. This is just me spit-balling my latest idea. But hopefully it will wet your whistle for the rest. If you like this, please sign up for my newsletter to keep up with the latest updates on Jackson, his companions and this novel.

This is just my way of saying thank you to everyone for being patient with me as I get things set back up.

* * * * *

Bright blue lights pierced the darkness, spinning over the various entrance gates to the compound and alarms howled. R-55243 — the other kids called him Illusion — knelt behind a shrub. He tried to envision every leaf and twig in front of him, on the shape and texture and the veins. The smell of the greenery. He had made it through the main gates before the alarm sounded from the chip in his neck passed under the sensors above the gate. From watching previous escape attempts, he knew he had at most three seconds before the gunmen would respond and take aim. From the moment the alarm sounded, he had to conjure the greatest illusion of his life, or it would be his last.

The depth of darkness kept him cloaked. It was just after midnight and if his plan went well, he would be free by tomorrow. Bright spots of flashlights danced across the leaf-covered underbrush of the woods, several times focusing directly on him for several seconds. Each time, finally turning back to scanning the area.

Dogs barked in the distance. Not-good-not-good. He hadn’t counted on them. Centratek only broke out the dogs once in the past. Out of fifty-seven known incidents in the archives — and he had studied them all — he had to be number two.

The smell. He had to conjure just the right smell, keep the visual illusion absolutely perfect, and convince every possible mind within radius that their devices were malfunctioning… all at the same time. With so many layers to his illusion, this was going to be his greatest test yet. And at fifteen years old, he wasn’t sure that he was up to the challenge. He’d tested his ability to illusion in private at every turn over the past six months. He’d been a water fountain, a chair and a lamp. He even had to cast the illusion of the entire room when someone turned off the main lights and tried to turn on the fake lamp’s light — an illusion with over six layers. In that moment, he succeeded and he fully believed that he was ready.

Now, in the heat of this insanity, he wasn’t so sure any more. Fear flooded over him like blazing electricity.

No! No, dogs could smell that. Crap. I have to cover the pheromone smells. How?

Wildflowers! Smell like wildflowers.

He tried with everything he could muster to remember what wildflowers smelled like. The cleaning ladies brought real flowers in once to decorate for fall last year. He had sat at the table, his elbows on either side of the jar, and his face propped just over the blue and yellow miracles from The Outside. Sitting like that, he smelled them for hours, in awe of what the real world was like. It may not be what the dogs would expect from a bush, but at least the dogs wouldn’t hit on his pheromone smell. Right?

A german shepherd pressed his nose firmly into Illusion’s rib cage. He could feel the dog inhaling and sniffing, each puff threatening to distract him from his immensely complex concentration.

Shrub. Texture. Wildflowers. Faulty devices. Shrub. Texture. Wildflowers. Fault–

“Over here.” A voice shouted, almost right on top of him. So close, that his first urge was to turn and look, but moving could break his concentration.

Shrub.

Texture.

Wild… wildflowers.

Tired. Where are they? I can’t see anyone.

Faulty.

So tired. Boots. I hear boots behind me. No. Focus. Can’t get distracted.

Static.

Shrub.

“I heard something over here,” the voice behind him said as several sets of footsteps ran his direction. “Rosy thought she smelled something. She flinched, but isn’t smelling anything now.”

Someone shoved the butt of a gun into the shrub next to him, making it shake and rattle.

“You sure?” Another voice, deeper. Illusion knew this voice. Dr. Evansworth. A mean-sprited, spiteful, angry old man. “He was my best subject. If you let him go, you won’t see your wife again. Do you understand?”

Illusion understood. The man would be killed. That’s what Centratek did when people talked about Centratek. They made sure the talking stopped in the most permanent way possible. At this point, it was his life or the guard’s.

Sorry, man. I really am.

Just go… Shrub… away.

Texture.

Wild… tired… flowers.

Faulty… go away… please.

Static.

“He’s got to be around here somewhere,” Dr. Evansworth continued. “My scanner is still showing static, but it can’t. The screen doesn’t get that kind of signal, so this has to be one of his projections. He can’t be that far away. Question and test every tree and rock of his approximate mass. He can’t change his mass. Remember, take him alive. He is one of the most gifted. If you kill him, you know what will happen to you.”

“Units seven and nine,” the first voice shouted. “Go east. Take the perimeter. Units six and eight, you’re with me. We’ll search the surrounding woods. Find him!”

* * * * *

The sun exploded through the trees as it rose. Illusion continued his mental chant as he could still hear boots tromping through the underbrush in the distance. His mind was numb, but he had to press on. The words were losing their meaning and becoming just syllables that were burned into his neural paths. If he slipped in any way he would be discovered.

Sh… rub. Shrub.

Dead device.

He’d given up on the smell illusion now that the dogs had been called off. Two layers. If he could just maintain these two layers. All he had to do was to keep their devices from tracing the chip in his neck. He tried to think of what it would look like if the tracking devices had run out of battery. And if he could keep their eyes from seeing him laying in the dirt, he might survive. Once their attention was diverted, he would try to slip into some other form and wander off, but he had to be sure that not a single person, camera or device was looking his direction. And at a place like this, that was nearly impossible.

The sun climbed into the sky, hiding just beyond the trees and casting a cool shadow over him. He woke to the sensation of a bug crawling across his arm. Fear ripped cold through his chest but he lay motionless.

No, no, no. This is bad. Very bad. When did I fall asleep? Without his illusions running, surely they would have found him. But here he lay. Had they given up? No. Centratek never gave up. Why was he still alive?

Lifting his head as slowly as he dared, he couldn’t see anyone in the distance, nor did he hear boots in the underbrush any more. If they had extended the search beyond his projection range, then they were looking much further than they could see, and further than their trackers would ping his chip. They might notice that their scanners were working again, but he wouldn’t be on it. Now was his chance. And if this was a ruse on their part, he was dead anyway.

It was as simple as that.

At this point, it no longer mattered. He didn’t have the stamina to pull off another layering like that, and if they really were gone, then this was his one chance. Illusion brushed the spider from his arm as gingerly as he could, then tried to remember what a fox looked like, straining his mind to recall all he had read about them, the color of their fur, the length of their tails. He had heard that foxes were plentiful in this area of the woods. Once he felt as though he could remember and project the correct shape, he stood.

I’m a fox.

Darting to the north, he jumped over a log. I’m a fox. Under some branches. Still a fox. A running fox.

After fifteen minutes of dashing and darting from one tree to the next through a sparse forested area, he emerged next to a busy highway. Taking the form of one of the young ladies that cleaned the center at night — after all, they would be looking for a boy — he regained his composure and walked calmly toward the edge of the road. He waved at every car that passed while walking west. Probably an hour or so passed before a car pulled over and stopped several yards ahead. It was a rusty old Chevy four-door. Illusion ran to the car and peered into the passenger window as the driver leaned across to roll it down.

“Thank you for the help,” Illusion said.

“No problem.” The driver was maybe twenty, sweaty with long brown hair and likely hadn’t showered in days. “Where ya headed, cutie?”

Illusion grinned as hope spread like warm daylight over his entire body. “Anywhere you’re going. Just drive.”

“Well, I bet we could come to an arrangement.”

Image By dr-scott (https://www.flickr.com/photos/ryan-scott/)