Here they are, the first two chapters of my sci-fi adventure novel, The Altars.
Wondering what it’s about? From the back cover:
Dozens of flying saucers have landed all over the world. As UFO enthusiasts and selfie-seekers flock to the landing sites, Earth’s governments attempt to make contact, without success.
While the world waits for communication from the saucers, Wyck Phillips has a hunch their appearance may have something to do with the Altars, like the one his father brought home from the war.
To find out, he brings the Altar to tech journalist Sandra Park, who’s been tracking the mysterious, otherworldly devices her whole career. With the arrival of the flying saucers, she may finally get her answers.
But will anyone on Earth still be around to read her story?
Of course, that’s just the beginning of the story.
The Altars – Preview
Wyck Phillips couldn’t watch another second of the nightmare unfolding in front of him.
Slumping forward, he dropped his head into his hands, barely able to hold back a frustrated scream, one that had been building over the past hour, a single, loud obscenity, the sort of thing to make the kids around him giggle and force the adults to bounce him out of the park, if they could hear him over the cheering from the other team’s supporters. Were he a praying man, he might’ve dropped to his knees in that narrow space between the two benches to plead for a miracle, anything to end the horror. Instead, he got himself under control and watched as the little brat who had nailed that two-run homer crossed the plate, his hands up, ready to slap five with his teammates.
Next to him, Vin shifted on the bench. “Well,” he said, once the cheering had died down, “shoot.”
The urge to pray came back when Wyck checked the scoreboard. The teams had been tied at the beginning of the seventh, but the Boomers had allowed four runs, mostly thanks to their pitcher. The best they could hope for was a quick end to the inning so they could load the bases and someone—Davis Croker would be up fourth—could hit a Grand Slam to tie the game again.
“Gonna take a miracle.” Vin sipped his beer, a can of Coors hidden inside a paper bag.
“That’s what I was thinking.” Wyck finished his own paper bag-wrapped beer and dropped the empty can into the cooler at his feet. Vin was too quiet, too polite to make a scene, even though he had a kid playing shortstop for the Boomers and his wife was an assistant coach. Jackson, Wyck’s nephew, was the Boomers’ center-fielder, a gawky teenager who was nearly six feet tall and could rocket the ball to the plate without a cut-off. He needed some work with his hitting, but the kid had a future. He deserved a championship season, and he’d have one if the team’s weak pitching didn’t let them down again.
“There oughta be a rule,” Vin said, nudging Wyck’s arm. “Once a pitcher gives up four runs in an inning, they should let one of the fathers take the mound. One of these dads that have been drinking all morning.”
“You volunteering?” Wyck dug another beer from the cooler, stuck it in the paper bag, and opened it.
“Can’t. Bad shoulder.” Vin motioned with his can toward a guy in front of them, sitting a few feet from Renee, Wyck’s sister and Jackson’s mom. The guy was on his feet, swaying back and forth and yelling at the coach. “He could do it.”
“Sure. Maybe he’ll plunk a few of the little bastards.” Looking around, he saw that heads were turned upward, maybe toward the lights, which weren’t on since it was a day game. He remembered the last time the Boomers played an evening game, when an entire bank of lights coincidentally blew out just as little Tommy Shuster connected with a high fast ball, driving it out to center field, an easy triple with everyone distracted. The incident had made Tommy a legend around the Reno little league scene.
A scream snapped him back to the present. Parents were running on to the field to grab their kids. He spotted Renee sprinting toward the outfield. Around him, phones were being aimed straight up at the sky.
“The hell is that?” Vin was looking up.
It took a few seconds of staring before it clicked. Something round and dark was sliding across the cloudless sky, heading roughly west, silently and quickly. “Son of a bitch.” Wyck dropped his beer.
“We should go,” Vin said.
Wyck was on his feet. Someone shoved their way past him, but he never took his eyes off the object as it moved further away. It was hard to guess the size of the thing, since it was such an unfamiliar shape to see in the sky.
Although, he thought, it wasn’t all that unfamiliar.
“Aliens?” he said to Vin, but Vin was gone, probably down on the field, rounding up his wife and kid.
Wyck turned back to watch the flying saucer move west, his knees buckling as he twisted his head around to follow it. Once it disappeared behind the trees, he bounded down the bleachers and on to the field, looking for Renee.
She’d heard their dad’s stories, too. And he really wanted to hear what she’d have to say.
Sandra Park glanced back at Nate’s BMW, parked across the street with Nate behind the wheel, dry and warm and listening to a podcast and paying her no attention. She wondered if he knew he’d parked at a red curb.
Turning, she walked under the JACK LONDON SQUARE sign spanning the entrance, angling the umbrella into the wind. It had been raining all morning, and the fog hid much of the Square from view. Apart from a couple of cops in raincoats taking shelter in the entrance to the parking garage on her left, she couldn’t see anyone, let alone her contact, who said he’d be wearing a bright yellow rain slicker, which was what a hipster would call a raincoat, she figured.
Stopping in the middle of the plaza, she spun around, checking for her contact. It had been a year since she visited Jack London Square, an evening stroll and a drink with her then-boyfriend. The Square’s charms hadn’t done much to advance their relationship, and she remembered that they’d called it quits not long after. As breakups go, it hadn’t been entirely unpleasant, but the Square had become something of a cursed location, the Bermuda Triangle of her love life, though she was aware that a single instance did not equate to a pattern. Still, the place bothered her, even when it wasn’t cold and wet and shrouded in pea-soup fog.
She spotted the yellow slicker, like something a longshoreman would wear, in the direction of the marina. She hurried along the path around the grid of palm trees and toward the water.
The man in the slicker leaned on the railing, looking out toward where Alameda would be if it wasn’t completely lost in the fog. “Mr. Eckert?” she said, when she got close.
He straightened and looked around. “Good, you’re here.”
“Why wouldn’t I be?”
He shrugged. Mr. Eckert wore a long beard, more like a biker’s than a hipster’s. His eyes were bloodshot, but he seemed alert. “Are you planning on using these?” he asked, reaching into his pocket. “‘Cause my old lady, they’ll know it was her that took ‘em.”
His “old lady,” according to his emails, was his wife. More of that biker vibe, she thought, though bikers didn’t usually help out tech reporters.
“I mean,” he continued, “it’s a real good job she has out there.”
“Right now, I’m not planning on anything. Just gathering information.” In her hip pocket, her phone buzzed. She ignored it.
“If they show up on the internet, I mean, these people are serious about these things.”
“Believe me, I know.” Her phone buzzed again. “Like I said, I only wanted photos as confirmation that she’s actually seen one. I have other photos I can use in the article.” Which wasn’t really true.
Mr. Eckert nodded and withdrew his hand from his pocket. “Okay. Sure. And yeah, this is the real deal.” He held out his hand.
She took the two Polaroids, each showing a different angle of the same object, an object she had never seen but of which she’d read countless descriptions, a shiny, dark prism, sitting on a pad of maroon velvet. If the descriptions were correct, the object was about a foot high and made of opaque, heavy glass. Her neck muscles twitched. “Shit.”
“That’s it, right?”
She nodded and took out the folded-up fifties in her pocket. “That’s it.” She handed him the cash. “She’s into Polaroids? Your wife?”
“She used my camera,” he said, smiling. “You can still get film.” Back in hipster territory, she thought.
“Thank you,” she said, pocketing the Polaroids. “I’ll be in touch soon.”
As she turned away, she took out her phone, careful to keep it under the umbrella. She’d gotten a couple of text messages, both from her mother. One was an image.
She opened the image, a foggy landscape that, if her mom had taken the picture, would’ve been somewhere in Marin County. She awkwardly used one hand to zoom in, revealing something big emerging from the fog. It looked like the edge of a skinny bicycle tire laying horizontally. She scanned the image for landmarks to help her with scale. A wire fence ran along the bottom of the image, clearly in the thing’s shadow, which told her that whatever it was, it was big.
The second text contained just one word: ALIENS.
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