Run by Chance McLin, Ph.D. - Read Online
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Summary

"Your will or your faith, under pressure, which will break first?" Thanks to Noah Carrington, President of United World, that's a question that Caleb Döring and a dedicated group of C-1's are forced to answer. Marked for death, they employ a last-ditch effort in their quest for a Noah-free existence. What they find at the end of that quest may just be their own personal Armageddon. When all else fails, RUN!
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ISBN: 9781483516295
List price: $4.99
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Run - Chance McLin, Ph.D.

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Page 1 of 1

Siq.

Chapter 1

Red Rover, Red Rover

Kendall’s blood chilled at the sight of the thistles. They stood face-high, their branches joined in solidarity; like kids on a playground, locked in silent challenge.

But this was no game. There was no playground, no smallest child, no weakest link to exploit. For her, there would be no triumphant breaking through to jubilant cheers. No collapsing of any guard. No victorious emerging.

No…this was going to hurt.

Let Kendall come over.

She buried her face in her elbows and whimpered. In full sprint, she held her breath and launched herself at the mercy of the thickets. Her leap, graceful in thought, was clumsy in application. She tumbled, painfully to the other side. Exhausted and contemplating surrender, she rested.

She had been running for hours. Exactly how many, she didn’t know. She kneeled, gasping in the knee-high brush. Her lungs seared with every breath. She swore that her heart was punching her sternum.

The warmth of her breath offered little relief to a gloveless, blue hand. Her torn pants introduced her bared knee to the iciness of the marsh. The rays of the late sun mocked her porcelain flesh. Once firm and supple, her skin was thorn-riddled and burned from the salty sweat that soaked her frame. The brown tresses of her hair were matted and steamed in the winter’s air. It fell forward and brought with it the stench of dried mud, musk and blood. It brought with it…the stench of her.

They can smell you, Kendall. Damn it, they can smell you!

A twig snapped. Her head jerked, locking on to the sound of men approaching. Barking hounds drew nearer by the second. She recalled tales of how dogs would chase a rabbit until its heart exploded from exhaustion. She had never seen it, but she was sure that her present condition was proof of the possibility.

She was a daddy’s girl; had been for as long as she could remember. Whenever frightened, she would think back to the security of her father’s hugs. Her cheek, tightly pressed against the worn smoothness of his favorite plaid shirt. The comforting smell of cherry pipe tobacco mixed with his day’s doings on the farm.

She loved that smell.

Right now, she was beyond frightened. Her cheek, frozen and chafed by the elements, longed for the feel of that ratty shirt.

She missed the farm.

She missed her father.

She only had time for a single tear.

Her toes, planted firmly in the soil, were wet and nearing frostbite. She hesitated, waiting for the right second. Get your poop in a group, girl. You gotta’ go!

She looked ahead and visualized the path of her escape. Ten yards through the thistles, five to the tree, then head for the ridge. Just gotta’ make it to the ridge!

She shifted her weight, disturbing a clearly defined boot print. It was full and intact. Someone had stopped there. Drops of blood speckled the edges, spilling into the heel. Still wet. Whoever left it couldn’t have been gone long. Her eyes narrowed with distrust. Friend or foe? An ally would be welcomed company.

A small patch had been cleared intentionally. In it, a random assortment of sticks and dark stones replaced the typical salt marsh flora. It was obvious that they had been left in haste. She looked closer. The arrangement was scrambled but the message was clear.

RUN

She never got the chance.

The brush parted. She froze, face to face with the business end of an M-4. The male voice that addressed her wasted no time. Are you a condemned?

She stared at the barrel and the golden hue of the bullet within. Her lips parted with intent, but her response was inaudible.

He asked again. This time, pressing the muzzle of his weapon against her temple, demonstrating the severity of an answer not suited to his liking. I said are you a C-1?

Her breath had become an indigestible pocket of air, holed up at the front of her throat and refusing to move. She clutched her tattered blouse, feeling for the cross that lay beneath. She lowered her head and watched as the chain passed between her bloodied fingers.

The hair fell from the nape of her neck, uncovering a small but discernible ‘AΩ’.

Branded! the man yelled. Those accompanying him immediately chambered their weapons.

Her eyes lifted, relaying a level of disdain surpassed only by the smirk that followed. Her eyelids tightened. You wanna’ know if I’m a C-1?

Yes! Are you a C-1?

Her smirk morphed into a full-blown smile of indignation. Until the day I die.

Somewhere between the drop of the hammer and the fire of the barrel, Kendall smelled her father.

Such a brilliant flash.

She never even heard the bang.

Chapter 2

Caleb’s awakening was terror-induced. He bolted upright, body first, awareness a close second. Lazily, his eyes drifted through the darkness as he gathered his bearings.

A thin layer of sweat covered his palms and his entire body trembled. He panted, hoarding the surrounding air. His lungs burned. He’d been holding his breath again.

He looked to his wife, Cristiana sleeping next to him. Months earlier, she would have awakened within seconds of such a violent stirring. But she was well into her third trimester of pregnancy. Deep sleep was the least of her concerns. He rubbed his face and exhaled. Afterwards, he leaned over and kissed her; more for his own peace of mind than anything else. He let his lips linger a few seconds, finding solace in the brush of her cheek.

He stroked her face, amazed that years later he still found himself lost in her beauty. Initially, he found that odd, seeing that she went against everything his definition of beauty was. It’s not that she wasn’t attractive. Cristiana was no less than gorgeous by anyone’s standards. Caleb however, had always fancied the shorter, more petite women with hair that leaned toward the lighter end of the scale. He was also quick to admit that he had more of an affinity with the attic than the basement.

She stood five-foot seven and if there was to be any lasting peace about the home, never an ounce more than a buck thirty-five. Far from the lighter side, her hair was a dark brown with natural red highlights that readily came out to play in the sun. Though her attic wasn’t as cluttered as he had liked, it was a long way from empty. He described her skin as ‘untainted cream with a splash of butter’ and she never failed to blush whenever he said that God made her body way too small for her heart. Yes, to him, she was downright alluring.

He whispered, careful not to wake her. "Are you ever unattractive?" He pressed his face against hers and breathed in long and deep.

You smelling me again? she asked, eyes closed. It was dark, but her rising cheek was evidence of her smile. What’s with that anyway? It’s enough to give a girl a complex you know.

"Give you a complex? You should try being Joe Shmo married to Venus. He threw his legs over the side of the bed. That’ll give you a complex."

The sheets were drenched in the outline of his nocturnal demons. The result was an air-chilled moisture that served as a brutal reminder of the world in which they lived.

He planted his elbows into the crevices above his knees and cupped his face. His shaking fingers massaged his temples before dancing over his scalp. He rubbed his eyes and snuck a disheartened glance at the clock. It read three a.m. C’mon, really? he asked, looking upward.

He stretched and shuffled out to the bathroom, making note of the feel of the carpet. The caress of the soft, stringy tufts passing between his toes always seemed to ground him in the here and now.

He closed the door, scratched the cheek of his butt and rocked unsteadily as he stood before the bowl. Seat, male. The lid hummed softly and started its ascent. The cold ceramic chilled his calf as he waited for the cycle to finish. Sheesh, he thought while watching it rise must’ve been invented by a woman!

With the seat fully upright, he hummed as he relieved himself and turned to walk away. He took a few steps, chuckled and looked back, Seat, female. He shook his head and rolled his eyes as the lid began just as slow of a descent. Talk about a nightmare, he joked, "I’d never hear the end of that."

He stared into the mirror and scratched lightly at his chest. It didn’t itch, it just gave him a sense of control over something and he needed that. He desperately needed that. The image staring back was a mere glimpse of the man he once was. His six foot-two inch frame; once massive and weighing in at a commanding 240, had been relegated to lugging around a nuisance in the 215-220 range. His strong and defined hairline had long since gone AWOL, having stealthily retreated to who knows where. He often joked that it would return someday and rally for a full mutiny. God, he was barely forty but sometimes he felt more like sixty.

His hand slid from his chest and found its way to the riddled maze that adorned his dark abdomen. The tips of his fingers cascaded over aged wounds and elevated scar-tissue; tangible evidence of his past torture that piloted his mind to a time long passed. A time of individual countries, currency and people. A time when militaries existed and he could (and did), serve voluntarily. Back to times of brothers-in-arm and bravado while serving in the United States Special Forces.

Back to a time when there was a United States.

For a man his size, his hands were deceptively small. He planted his palms on the sides of the basin, lowered his head and spoke, Water, on. Cold. Low stream.

The faucet sprang to life. As the temperature adjusted itself and his brown eyes mirrored his reflection, he scornfully engaged it in conversation, "Why you, huh? What makes you so special? You didn’t ask for this. He looked skyward. I didn’t ask for this. Why me? What do you want from me?"

He cupped his hands and waited as the water pooled. It trickled between the loosely sealed cracks of his fingers as he splashed his face. He puckered his lips, spitting out the water that had managed to make its way inside. He massaged the back of his neck and paused to trace the outline of the one mark that he had not received in battle.

Until the day I die, he said, recalling the dream.

Everyone dreams. They’re necessary. For many, they serve as a temporary release; a welcomed escape from the many complexities of one’s day. Mid-slumber, a person could forego the rules of reality and experience the most unattainable facets of fantasy. For others, they’re nothing less than a late night horror fest; a midnight manifestation of one’s mental demons. For Caleb, it was an unnerving merging of the two.

It was at the age of thirteen when he realized that his dreams were unlike those of others. Most were what one would expect of a normal teenager; nothing out of the ordinary. As time passed, he quickly realized that the events of his dreams were no longer limited to the walls of his subconscious. He spoke of them candidly and quickly learned that doing so left him subject to relentless ridicule from his peers.

In his third year of high school, he dreamed that his favorite teacher, Mr. Macon had met with a rather brutal and untimely demise. Caleb wrestled with telling him but ultimately chose to remain silent. The following weekend, the news of his teacher’s grisly murder spread like wildfire. For months, he suffered quietly, draped with the guilt of having said nothing. As his beloved teacher was laid to rest, so was his candor. Not until Gwen, then Cris, would he ever speak of his dreams again.

He returned to the bedroom and stood silently at the window. He glanced over his shoulder at Cristiana and smiled. So as not to wake her again, he exaggerated his parting of the drapes and gritted his teeth as a sliver of light darted through the window, landing on her face.

Trained by repetition, his eyes darted to the sign that burned just outside of their window. It read ‘5,251,976’. The small, red arrow positioned to the right indicated the direction of the number’s movement. As always, it pointed downward.

He turned his gaze to the horizon and the multitude of flashing lights that endlessly peppered the nighttime sky. He was about five-hundred yards into a thousand-yard stare when Cristiana’s voice broke the silence. You have the dream, again?

Not Fuzzy Face.

An innocent?

He nodded.

Caleb had returned from the military as many did. He had the medals and the stories. He also had memories of things the average person would rather have forgotten. All too often, he was plagued with horrid images that invaded his sleep; subconscious care packages of poorly wrapped visuals. The dream was always the same. The grisly recollections of his torture, relived…detail in agonizing detail.

The mission was typical, easily accomplished in theory. Black silk insertion, execute, predetermined extraction. In and out.

All had gone according to plan. The team had performed swimmingly and was eager to hitch a ride home. Caleb was charged with bringing up the rear. The resulting firefight was vicious and the team struggled to stay on course. Caleb rushed to close the gap between him and his men. One misplaced step, one well-placed mine. He was separated from the team.

He came to, groggy and disoriented. Though he had opened his eyes (or so he thought), he did so to a world of smothering blackness. He closed them, inhaled deeply and opened them a second time, hoping for a different outcome. Again, sheer and utter darkness.

My god, I’m blind!

He tried to rise and one by one, his limbs met with resistance. He shook off the growing fear and tried to concentrate. Ok, Caleb…focus. A jealous man can’t work…A scared man can’t gamble.

Vision was of no use to him. He stared into the darkness and listened. Nothing. No movement, no chatter, no hint of team entry. It was as quiet as it was dark. He pushed his hands as far forward as the restraints would allow and pulled. The sound of his dislocating wrists filled the room. He swallowed his cries of pain and succumbed to the darkness.

Then came the light.

I think he’s up, a voice said.

Caleb opened his eyes to a slap across the face. The lights had been turned off. He wasn’t blind, after all. His eyes wandered the room. The walls surrounding him were hospital white and the entire room reeked of disinfectant. His head flopped to the side where he noticed a large pool of blood on the floor beneath him.

He was strapped to a chair with shackles of some sort and pain inhabited every inch of his body. He tried to speak, but realized that he had been gagged with something.

He steadied his gaze on the face glaring down at him. He could make out the vague features of a man, but a detailed account was impossible.

How’s that abdomen? the figure asked. I tell ya’. No accounting for the effectiveness of IED’s, huh?

Caleb’s glance fell clumsily to his stomach. He groaned.

Yep. That’s gonna’ leave a roadmap, for sure, his captor continued. But we’re wasting time, soldier. I’m going to ask you again.

The muddled face leaned closer and pressed something against Caleb’s swollen cheek. "That yes you gave me wasn’t as enthusiastic as I’d hoped for. Almost like it wasn’t heartfelt, you know? Let’s see if we can get you to sing it from the rooftops. By now, we both know you’re not strong enough. Never will be."

Caleb trailed the blurred hand that grasped the top of his head. Seconds later, a body weighed upon him, as if he was being straddled. What’s going on? he wondered. What does he mean The yes I gave? Yes to what? What did he ask? What does he mean not strong enough?

The grip on his head tightened, disrupting his internal dialogue. He opened his mouth to contest and the object of his gag became apparent. Enunciation’s a bit tricky with a mouthful of blood. It dribbled from his mouth like molasses and dangled from his chin, like strings of flash-frozen gelatin. His gag reflexes warred with the spongy mass that had settled at the back of his throat. At that very moment, panic arrived.

Ok, the voice taunted, let’s give her another go, shall we? With that, came an ungodly surge of pain. Caleb’s body twisted without form, wanting to be anywhere other than in that chair. His hands locked into a disfigured, open claw position. He thrashed uncontrollably but his eyes remained fixed on that face…that fuzzy, fuzzy face. And there they stayed until drifting into the upper recesses of his skull.

Clear! came first, then the smoke. The door exploded and within seconds, Caleb was surrounded. The hand that touched him next was much gentler. Stay with us, brother. We’ve got you, now. Extract’s here. We’re taking you home.

Over the years, his health returned. His peace of mind never did.

Cristiana peeled back the comforter and climbed out of bed. He held his breath as he heard her feet lite upon the floor behind him.

I’m sorry, she said. I know how much they disturb you. She wrapped her arms around his waist and planted her cheek against his back. He felt a soft peck on the eagle tattoo that covered his right shoulder blade. Well, feel me, she said, squeezing him gently. I’m still here, my darling husband. I’m not going anywhere.

He pivoted and let the crook of his elbow cradle the back of her neck. He pulled her close and leaned his head on top of hers. You can’t. I waited too long for my time with you, Mrs. Döring.

Truth was, he had waited a long time. They had met twenty years earlier. Caleb was in dire need of stitches, after mistaking four knuckles of his right hand for the stalks of asparagus he was chopping. Cristiana was the nurse practitioner on duty that day. The attraction was instantly mutual. In many ways, they were a good match.

A C-2 then, he was reckless and full of ego and Cristiana simply refused to compromise her beliefs. She was born in Old Wisconsin. Raised with a strict, moral upbringing, she found very little wiggle-room between right and wrong. Sure, she strayed on occasion but for the most part, she held firm to her values. Caleb went against nearly everything she stood for. Inevitably, the attraction was not enough to sustain her interest and they soon found themselves drifting apart.

Years later, he still ached for her but dared not show it. He wished her well with a new relationship and silently pined for her when she wed another.

Still a newlywed, Cristiana found herself the recipient of varying degrees of verbal and emotional abuse. After only two years, she walked away from the marriage. In the aftermath, it was Caleb who was there to pick up the pieces and offer consolation.

For years, they kept one another company. Their relationship was strictly platonic but inwardly, Caleb yearned for more and she knew it. Emotionally, she was broken and unavailable but he persisted. In a final act of desperation, he appeared at her place of employment one day, electronic piano in tow, and serenaded her and her coworkers with his rendition of Adele’s, One and Only as a proposal. That was a risky move to say the least, being that they had never officially dated. When he finished, his throat was dry. No one could say the same for any eye in the room. She said yes.

It was ten years later and he had no regrets. He was a confirmed C-1 now. He saw things differently, saw life differently and if asked, would say that his love for her alone brought about his enlightenment. Ten years later, he felt that he owed her everything and ten years later, she requested nothing.

What’s wrong? she asked, sensing his distance. Over the years, she had become accustomed to his early nights and frequent bouts of insomnia. This however was different…very different.

She felt his chest rise and fall as he drew breath. As she waited for his response, she felt a tear fall upon her arm. Caleb simply shook his head. Will they ever stop, Cris?

Will what stop, hon? Talk to me.

He sighed and nodded into the night. The lights. Will they ever stop?

She parted her fingers and pulled his hair lightly between them. They will one day. Just not tonight. Tonight, we’re safe.

"But, there has to