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The Choice
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ISBN-10: 1-77115-409-8
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Fantasy/SF/Dark Fantasy
eBook Length: 243 Pages
Published: May 2018

From inside the flap

Fifteen-year-old Jared must kill an innocent old man to complete his gang initiation, but instead of shooting, he drops the gun. He may have saved the old man's life only to lose his own.

When Jared refuses to kill for his gang, they beat him nearly to death. Comatose, his world splits in two. In one, Jared battles to wake from unconsciousness. In the other, he becomes a ruthless gang member known as J-Rock. After three years in darkness, Jared finally opens his eyes, and is bombarded by visions of the horrible crimes J-Rock is committing in a parallel world.

As Jared struggles to wake, he realizes his soul has been switching places with his criminal counterpart. With help from his rehab nurse, Kate, he discovers J-Rock is set on wreaking havoc in his world. Jared must find a way to eliminate J-Rock before the next switch, before J-Rock murders Kate and their expected child.

The Choice (Excerpt)


CHAPTER ONE

The Choice

***

The group of men circled Jared. His heart raced. They all carried guns and were bigger than him; each had already aced their initiations by murdering at least one person. He could feel their eyes on him, watching, as an old man cowered on the ground, pleading for his life.

A gang member close to him - he had not yet learned everyone's name - smiled and spat on the ground, nodding to Jared to do what needed to be done.

If only I could be at my old home, enjoying the sun in the backyard.

"How old are you kid?" the lead gang member asked.

Jared sized up the gang leader. Muscular and mean, he reminded him of a Rottweiler, bred for dogfighting.

Jared cleared his throat, "Fifteen."

"I can't hear you. You talk like a baby girl. What did you say?"

The man walked to stand in front of Jared and grabbed Jared's hair, yanking his head back. He heard a click in his neck at the force.

"I'm going to ask you again, and you are going to say in a loud voice, one like when some young chick is grabbing your balls and squeezing. You are going to say how old you are, so we can all hear you. We don't take sissies into our gang, especially a blond baby who can't talk like a man."

He let go of his hair and stepped back. "Now how old are you?"

Jared yelled this time, "Fifteen!"

The man nodded. "Good. Now prove to us you're a man!" the gangleader placed cold metal in his hands. A man in a dark trench coat and a hat stood behind the young men in the shadows. Jared couldn't get a good look at him, but he appeared to be older. Rain dripped off the man's hat, hiding his face.

He looked down to see it was a .38 caliber. His knees weakened. I can't kill him! God, what do I do? The old man cowered in front of him. He appeared homeless, pulled out of his makeshift hovel. But if I don't, I'm dead instead of him. Glancing up, his eyes darted around the circle of young men standing and waiting for him to pull the trigger. Images of him blowing the poor man's brains out made him queasy. The alley was empty, save for the young men, the stranger, and the scared old vagrant. The wind whipped through the street and the collar of his windbreaker snapped against his neck. He shivered from the breeze rushing through his clothes. The cool night air seemed to become dense and heavy with the violence about to ensue. He wondered if it was the grim reaper riding in to snatch its next victim's soul - his or the old man's.

The old man balanced on his knees, raising his hands up to Jared, pleading for him not to proceed with the task given to him. His face was full of whiskers and he reeked of booze.

A dark spot grew on the front of his pants. "Pleash, I dun nothin'," he cried out. "I, I have a boy, 'bout yur age." Tears streamed down his face.

"Just pop' him!" a large boy yelled.

"Slice is here to see you join us. Don't piss him off," the leader shouted.

Lightning struck in the distance and the sky filled with light. Well, isn't that fitting? Nothing like making the situation more intense, he thought as he looked down at the gun resting in his hands. Light reflected off the black barrel as another bolt of lightning graced the sky. He glanced back at the stranger in the background as the lightning flashed in the alley. The man's face appeared wrinkled and aged. A deep slice ran down the side of his face. So that must be Slice. He could see Slice as his lips curled into a sly smile. It chilled Jared to see him smile. It was as if a snake had seen its prey.

"Do it! Now!" another voice called out. He could sense the impatience in the man's loud voice.

The old man, though smelly and drunk, reminded him of his grandfather. He had spent countless summers with him and loved him dearly. It was last summer that he died of a heart attack. God, I can't do this, he thought. I have to, or I am done. He gritted his teeth with determination and slowly raised the gun to point it at the old man's head. Just pull the trigger and be done with it, he told himself. A siren in the near distance blared. The wind was whipping, throwing trash around in the air.

"God Dammit! Kill him now!" the leader shouted.

The gun shook as he held it - the barrel pointed at the old man. Pull it you fool! A blinding flash of light hit a trashcan not far up the alley and he could see his reflection in the glass from a nearby window. There he stood, about to make a decision that would shape his future. Rain dripped off his hair to his shoulders as if the sky was crying for him. Neither decision would have a good ending. The light faded and another bolt of lightning streaked the sky, followed by a deafening clap of thunder. I'd never be able to live with myself. Knowing what was to follow, he dropped the gun. He breathed a sigh of relief. It was the right thing to do. Another bolt of lightning followed. It was as though he were in the middle of a battle in the sky.

"No. I won't kill him." He focused on the ringleader, the largest of the crew closing in on him, cracking his knuckles, grinning. This would not be good. The old man looked up to him, his eyes narrowed, and Jared watched as he gave an understanding nod as if apologizing for the situation. He crawled backwards and through an open hole in the group of boys moving in to punish Jared.

The old man didn't make it far. Jared could see him as he bumped into Slice. One moment, the vagrant thought he was free, the next he had a gaping wound in his stomach spewing blood and a dark fluid to the wet pavement. Slice raised his head to focus on Jared, the knife still dripping blood. The old man held his middle and was moaning. It sounded as though a stray cat was giving birth, deep and guttural.

The leader stepped forward. "I offer you protection, and you do this? You refuse me, you refuse us. Over a drunk?" he motioned to the old man in a pool of blood. "You're dead, like him." Slice gripped the old man's head and sliced his throat open. Jared felt his knees buckle at the sight.

Pain spread through Jared's back. He wondered if he heard the padded "thunk" sound first or felt the pain first. He fell to his knees and saw what appeared to be a bat in one of the thug's hands. He tried to block another attack aimed at his face with a nightstick. It hit his forearm and it popped as the nightstick hit bone, followed by a crunch as it broke through his cheekbone. Red filled his vision and his face was wet. He wished it were just the rain, but knew differently. Falling face-first into the tar, he curled into a fetal position. Pain spread over his body as he took countless hits from many attackers. All for a homeless drunk, he thought. Pain stabbed him from everywhere on his body.

Another flash brightened the sky as he stared up past the faces grinning at the hurt they were causing. A bright bolt darted past clouds, branching out in several directions. He saw Slice looking down on him, that sly smile on his wrinkled and worn face again.

Slice pulled Jared's head back, pulling his hair to expose his neck. He's going to kill me. His vision faded and his eyes stung from blood dripping down his forehead. A familiar noise rang in his ears and he tried to focus on it. Police!

Jared expected cold steel running across his windpipe; instead the old man leaned close to his ear. He could feel the man breathing. "Nobody denies Slice. I won't end this here. If you live, I'll get you and I'll make you suffer. I'll slice you and slice you. I'll make you last. You will wish for the death that bum received." Slice pushed his head to the wet tar.

"Time to go! We can finish this later," the leader yelled.

"Man, look at him! The punk's bleedin' out!" another voice shouted, followed by laughter and then the sound of footsteps running away.

A moment passed and more footsteps approached.

"Son, hang in there. I need an ambulanc-, " the voice cut out and blackness closed around him.

***

Thunder boomed above, and to Jared's surprise, he stood looking down at the .38. Instead of dropping the gun, he brought it up to aim at the old man's head and pulled the trigger. He wanted to stop himself, but couldn't. Someone else or some force had the control. The emotions frightened him. It wasn't remorse or shock, but exhilaration. He had the power over this person. He chose whether he lived or died. Of course, the right thing to do was to kill him. That's what a real man would do. The strong live, the weak die - easy as that. He smiled at the thought. Blood spattered the tar and the man's body fell backwards into a lifeless heap. The body twitched and red covered the ground. Red contrasting with the blackness of the night was quite beautiful. The gang came forward and patted him on the back for a job well done. Slice stood behind the men, clapping. A moment later, he turned and vanished down the alley. They respect me! A blinding flash stung his eyes.

***