Sample of something I’m working on. Haven’t even self-edited so don’t look at grammar or other silly things – will get that later.
This is chapter one – would it entice you to read more?
Having left his car on the side of State Route 375, thirty-five-year-old Jon LaForce scrambled down a steep path leading into Tikaboo Valley. Taking a swig from the cheap red wine he’d bought from the gas station in the nearby town of Rachel, he grimaced. “Ugh, this crap’s worse than the bathtub gin I found in that abandoned house.”
Almost as soon as the sour wine settled in his stomach, a flush crept up Jon’s neck and warmed his cheeks as the first effects of the alcohol took hold. He glanced at the heavy scrub covering the valley before him and frowned. Having just been fired for the second time this month, he wasn’t even sure what had brought him out into the middle of nowhere in southeastern Nevada.
When he was a kid, his friends used to talk about coming out here to spy on the military planes as they took off and landed. After all, this was supposed to be where they kept those aliens at Area 51. Hell, when he was a boy they used to whisper about secret experiments, mysterious clouds in the sky over the nearby military base and of course, UFOs. Since then, the nearby town of Rachel had sprung up, catering to some of the crazies looking for aliens.
Jon didn’t believe any of that crap. He doubted any of his friends had ever had the balls to actually sneak past the gates to see what was really out here. Panning his gaze across the downhill slope, he didn’t see much other than acres of thick desert sagebrush.
Taking another swig from his bottle, Jon felt the buzz from the alcohol as he walked down the slope when suddenly, something broke through the thick sagebrush at the bottom of the trail.
Yanking his Glock .45 from its holster, Jon aimed, knowing that bobcats sometimes prowled these hills.
As the animal approached, Jon relaxed a bit when he realized it wasn’t anything particularly dangerous. It was some stray dog.
With a dark-brown coat, long tail and floppy ears, it looked like a chocolate lab. Jon whistled and then called, “Hey boy, what are you doing out here?”
The dog met his gaze and wagged his tail furiously.
Holstering his gun, Jon smiled and shook his head as the lab bounded toward him.
Jon put the screw top back on the wine bottle, then held his hand out for the dog to sniff. The dog huffed at his hand and ran his nose up and down the legs of his trousers.
Jon noticed a bloody wound on the animal’s front right leg where some fur was missing and asked, “Did something take a bite out of you, old boy?”
The dog whined and glanced back toward the scrub.
Scratching the dog’s head, Jon commented, “Your coat’s nice and shiny and you look well fed.” He shook his head and patted the dog on his back. “You don’t look like you belong out here, boy. Maybe I should get you to a shelter and see if they can find your owner. Someone’s probably looking for you.”
The rustle of movement in the nearby sagebrush caught Jon’s attention and he turned toward the thicket about fifty yards away.
The dog whined, took a few steps up the slope and turned to Jon as if to say, “Are you coming?”
Ignoring the dog, Jon took a few steps toward where he thought he’d heard something.
The lab raced in front of him and gave him a low growl.
Jon said, “Shh…” and took a step left, skirting past the dog.
Just as Jon walked by, the dog whined and nipped at the base of his right leg’s jeans and pulled hard, away from the bottom of the trail.
“What the hell are you doing, mutt!” Jon yanked his leg away and gave the dog a sideways kick, which it easily dodged.
The dog slowly backed up the slope, all the while whining to get Jon’s attention.
Suddenly two dark animals burst through the sagebrush and Jon turned his attention to them.
Behind him, the lab yipped and Jon heard its paws pattering as it ran away.
There were two more dogs, both nearly identical to the chocolate lab.
But Jon immediately noticed a difference.
Instead of the wagging tails and lolling tongues, the dogs locked their gaze on Jon and lowered their heads as they stalked closer.
Drawing his gun, Jon aimed toward the dogs and yelled in a friendly tone, “Hey boys, are you missing a friend of yours?”
As soon as he trained the Glock on the animals they immediately split, one going to his left, the other to his right.
His heart thudded as he backed up the trail. He aimed toward the dog on his right and the animal darted behind a nearby boulder.
For a moment, Jon stared at the rock, a realization hit him that the dog had reacted as if it knew the gun was dangerous.
Hearing the other dog’s nails scraping gravel, Jon wheeled toward the animal and fired a warning shot.
It was only fifty feet away.
The animal growled as it advanced, using a zigzag pattern that sent a chill up Jon’s spine. It was as if the dog was trying to make it difficult to aim.
Gun arm shaking, Jon focused on the approaching dog. For a split second his mind flashed back to when he’d been an artilleryman in Afghanistan. Back then, he’d shot at enemies he could barely see, but for the first time in his life he was within spitting distance of his target as he squeezed the trigger.
The animal had just begun to leap when the bullet slammed into the beast’s shoulder.
As the dog fell to the ground with a whimper, Jon felt nearly 100 pounds of canine smash against his back.
Knocking him off his feet, the second dog clamped its vice-like jaws on the wrist of Jon’s shooting hand.
With his heart pounding in his ears, Jon sat up and struggled with the growling animal. He was about to yell when blood splattered into his eyes, his voice suddenly trapped in his throat.
He fell back onto the dirt as the dog he’d shot clamped tight on his throat.
As he struggled, heart hammering, the world faded to gray and then black.
Standing at the top of a rocky slope, Paxton Reed breathed in the acrid smoke of the burning sagebrush. A half-dozen men in military fatigues spewed hellfire from each of their flamethrowers and the sound of stone cracking due to the enormous heat echoed across the burning landscape.
The operation had been going well, but now everything was chaos as the cover-up ensued. It was a complete disaster and despite the excuses he’d been hearing from his contacts in the Pentagon, Reed knew it was time to reset the experiment. The operation needed to move to a more remote location.
An Air Force Major sidled up and handed him a printout. “His name was Jonathan LaForce, Marine artilleryman, ten years out of Afghanistan with an honorable discharge.”
“What the hell was he doing here? I thought this base was secure.”
The officer pursed his lips for a moment and shifted his weight nervously. “Mister Reed, the base was secure; however we’d underestimated the containment measures needed in the kennel. I reviewed the security tape and it seems as if one of the experimental subjects figured out how to open the latch to its stall. Once it escaped, the others duplicated the first animal’s efforts. Before we knew it, the dogs had dug a hole under the perimeter fence and encountered Corporal LaForce.”
Reed kicked a stone off the rocky escarpment and ground his teeth with frustration. “A dead Marine is not something we need. Is this going to be a problem, Major?”
“No, sir. He was a loner, no immediate family, and it seems like he was out of a job, so nobody will be looking for him. We’ve created a cover story for his remains.”
“Have all the experiments been tracked down and decommissioned?”
“We tracked all six of the PIT tags and for five of them, we disposed of their bodies.” The Major withdrew a plastic baggie from an inner pocket of his uniform and handed it to Reed.
Peering at the contents of the clear plastic bag, Reed saw a tuft of bloody fur and skin. Embedded within the tissue was a shiny metallic transponder the size of a fingernail.
“Sir, we suspect that the experiments tracked the first escapee and killed it. We didn’t find its body, but we suspect the animals may have eaten it and its remains were likely carried off by a scavenger.”
“You’re sure it’s dead? The last thing we need is for a genetically modified attack dog wandering around Vegas.”
“Sir, we found scraps of fur and blood where we believe the animal died.” The officer nodded to the baggie. “At that scene, we found the sixth PIT tag. The transponder would have been carried subcutaneously in the animal’s right front leg. What you have in the baggie must be a result of experiment number six being ripped apart by the others. We’re confident it’s dead.”
Reed stared at the bloody remains in the specimen bag and grumbled, “You damn well better be right about that.”
George O’Reilly poured a few inches of pea gravel into the fence-post hole he’d just dug. He glanced over his shoulder at Johnny, one of the ranch hands he’d recently hired, and explained, “Make sure you get at least three inches of these rocks into the hole and tamp it down good, like this.” George tamped the rocks down with a large wooden pole. “We need a solid footing for the fence posts, you understand?”
“Yessir, Mister O’Reilly. And you need them posts eight feet apart so them sixteen-foot planks can span two openings, right?”
“That’s right, young man. Make sure them posts are square with the ground and space them evenly across the new pasture.”
George handed the young man a post-hole digger and smiled. The ranch hand had just turned eighteen and George couldn’t help but remember when Kathy was that age. It had been only four years ago, but Johnny had that same lively spirit and energy that reminded George of his baby girl when she’d just graduated and took off for the world. He patted Johnny on the shoulder and asked, “You got this?”
“Yessir, but if’n you don’t mind my asking, why all of a sudden you taking on help? You fixing to retire?”
George laughed and shook his head. “Johnny, I might be fifty-three, but I’ve still got quite a bit of life still left in me. Just get the job done and you best be minding what I said about doing a quality job. I’m going to check all of your work, so don’t take no shortcuts, you hear?”
“Yessir. Don’t have to worry about that.” Johnny hefted the post-hole digger and walked over to the next flagged spot George had marked for each post hole location.
George turned away from the unfenced field and nearly tripped on a dog that was sitting on its haunches right behind him. His arms wheeled back as he caught his balance, but the dog didn’t yelp or whimper. “Damn it, where the heck did you come from?”
A chocolate lab remained sitting with its tongue lolling out of its mouth, panting.
It was a beautiful animal. It had a shiny coat and had obviously been well cared for. Someone owned the dog. He held out his hand. “Here boy, are you friendly?”
The dog stood, its tail became a blur as it wagged.
It sniffed at George’s hand, then it lowered its nose and sniffed at his boot and up along his pants and sat back on his haunches. It licked it lips and whined. Its bright brown eyes stared up at him glanced at his trousers and then back up at him. It whined again.
George tilted his head at the strange animal and suddenly remembered what was in his pocket. He laughed and dug his hand into his pocket. “Oh, I know why you’re so interested in me.”
He pulled out a folded-up piece of homemade beef jerky and tossed it gently to the dog.
The animal snatched it in midair and chewed contentedly on the fist-sized chunk of meat.
George waved at the dog and said, “Well, I best be off, pup. Martha’s going to give me a tongue lashing if I’m not home in time for supper.”
As George turned away from the dog and began walking briskly toward the house, which was roughly half a mile away, he heard the sound of paws padding along behind him.
Purposefully ignoring the animal, George figured that the dog would eventually get tired and go back to wherever he lived.
As he approached the modest white ranch-style house, George caught the whiff of beef roasting in the oven and Martha stepped onto the porch and called, “Dinner is almost ready. Go get washed up.”
As George climbed onto the wooden porch and gave Martha a peck on the lips, she shifted her gaze and pointed at the dog with a puzzled expression. “You made a friend?”
George glanced behind him at the lab, who sat at the edge of the porch steps, its tongue lolling from its mouth with what could only be described as an amused expression.
“Well, he just showed up, and I made the mistake of giving him some jerky. I guess he liked it.”
Martha knelt and patted the wooden deck of the porch. “Here boy, did you like my jerky?”
The dog bounded up the stairs and lay down in front of Martha, his belly up in the air and its long tail sweeping back and forth over the wooden planks of the porch.
Martha giggled as she rubbed the dog’s belly.
“You’re such a good boy.” Martha looked up at George with that sheepish smile that he knew so well. “George, do you think anyone owns him?”
“No idea. He doesn’t have a collar or anything. But I thought after Daisy died, you swore—”
“Oh, you poor thing!” Martha exclaimed. She pointed at the dog’s front right leg and said, “It looks like he got into a fight or something. He’s got a patch of fur missing and it’s got dried blood and dirt crusted into the wound.”
The dog whimpered as if he understood what Martha was saying.
“I suppose he’ll be fine—” George began, examining the wound.
“No!” Martha stood and wiped her hands on her apron. “We’re going to take him to the vet and get him cleaned up.”
He wondered how much a vet might try to gouge him for. “But Martha, he’s not even our dog.”
She turned to George and gave him that look she always gave him when her mind was set. “We’ll have the vet check him for one of them chips they put in dogs nowadays.”
George stared at his wife of thirty years. She was no taller than five-feet and anyone would think a strong breeze might knock her over, but when Mrs. O’Reilly set her mind to something—she was immovable.
He raised his hands in defeat and asked, “But, what about dinner?”
“Dinner will keep.” Martha walked into the house and motioned for the dog to follow, which it did. “I think we still have Daisy’s old dog dishes in the cupboard. I’ll see if this boy is thirsty while you go call the vet and tell him we’re on our way.”
George shook his head and he listened to his wife’s fading voice as she began talking to the dog.
The hairs on the back of his neck prickled. He wondered where in tarnation that animal had come from.