All around her Lauren Bruni is faced with destruction. Her marriage has ended, and her professional life is at the breaking point. For Lauren, this is only the beginning of her pain.
In the small town of Cottonwood, AZ everything seems to be headed in the same direction. A serial killer is on the loose, and his trail of victims holds no connection. His rampage escalates and becomes far more brutal with each murder he commits.
As Lauren attempts to prevent her own life from collapsing down around her she must stop a killer with supernatural strength. But there is something far more sinister in the works than she could ever imagine. In the end it is up to Lauren to make the ultimate sacrifice to save a community from the purest form of evil.
Ashen smoke covered the, once radiant, blue skies of the Verde Valley. Controlled burns were in full swing as the summer season quickly approached. The heat of Arizona this time of year could prove to be deadly, especially in the thirsty desert foothills.
From her front porch, Lilia Sanders looked at the clouds of smoke that rose in the air. The purple mountains, covered with patches of green, always amazed her.
This was the whole point of her moving to Cottonwood, Arizona. The clean, dry air and amazing views were truly a Godsend. With her horrific allergies, the desert had proven to be the perfect place for her to seek refuge.
Closing her eyes, she inhaled deeply, as the smell of mesquite tickled her nose. In this area, there were so many different plants that she could enjoy. The Saguaro cacti were, in her mind, animated versions of Gumby she remembered as a child. At dusk, they would be there to guard her from the dangers that the night can bring. At their base, a number of prickly pear cacti, mesquite bushes, and native grasses littered the ground.
Certainly, there was no reason she couldn’t own a home with a yard, but one of the benefits of living in the desert was that gravel and a natural feeling were okay. Especially with the cost associated with keeping grass.
Standing up for a moment, she dusted off the back of her blue jeans. One downfall of the desert was the amount of dirt that seemed to get everywhere. As she passed the window, she took a look at herself. Her once raven black hair was now streaked with strands of gray and her emerald green eyes weren’t as bright as they had been when she first arrived in the Verde Valley.
Smiling a wrinkled grin, it was all okay with her. She was alive, and that was all that truly mattered. Getting older was a part of life. This is the part that most people forget to enjoy, but not Lilia. She relished being able to watch the beautiful sunsets and the mysteries of the desert that the monsoons created as the water surged across the land.
An old white mail truck slowly made its way down the street toward Lilia’s home. Taking a quick glance at it, she just shook her head. The old man waved his hand slightly at her. Smiling, she nodded her head warmly. At that moment, she didn’t have thirty minutes to talk foolishness with Carl the mailman. There was an appointment she must get to; however, her gentle nature prevented her from being rude. Walking out to the mailbox, she met his eyes and smiled again.
“I’ve missed you Lilia.” He winked at her. “You are the most important stop on my mail route.”
“I’m sure Carl.” Her words were even-toned. “Is your day going alright?”
“It remains the same as usual.” He laughed as his brittle yellow teeth appeared from behind his caked lips.
“You look thirsty Carl.” Lilia sighed. “When did you last have some water?”
“You know I hate the stuff,” he scoffed and playfully pushed her. “Maybe I can come in and get some.”
“Some water perhaps,” she quipped, and turned, while Carl playfully slapped her on the rear as she made her way back toward the porch.
“Carl,” she growled. “I don’t have time for your games today. I am sorry for being short, but I have a very important appointment.”
“Aww, come on Lil. Why do you keep playing hard to get,” he demanded. “Don’t you see how excited you have me?”
“I’ll give you some water and a swift kick in the ass,” she chuckled.
“Tell you what my sweet little Lil, I’ve got a package in the back of my truck. When you bring me the water, I’ll give it to you.” He winked at her devilishly.
As she turned once again towards the house, she rolled her eyes. Carl was certainly harmless, but she didn’t appreciate the attention he gave her at times. There was nothing wrong with being friends, she just couldn’t understand why he continued to harass her.
From the south, a warm breeze smacked the back of her neck, and she could feel the sweat begin to bead up. She made her way for the old wooden door that was in desperate need of paint, and pushed it open.
Cool air blasted her face as she entered her home. The smell of furniture polish and stale smoke made her eyes water. She hated the way that the smoke smelled, but quitting wasn’t an option at all.
Turning to look behind her, she noticed that Carl had gotten back into his mail truck and was nervously looking around. The man was all talk and no action, but this pleased her to no end.
Walking to the kitchen, she opened a wooden cupboard and dug through the glasses in it. There were a number of chipped and cracked glasses, she didn’t mind using herself, but she tried to avoid giving them to company. In the back, she found a decent sized glass with a blue hue to it.
Pulling it out, she walked over to her freezer and began to fill it with ice cubes. Counting out exactly ten, she dipped down to her refrigerator, pulled out a bottle of spring water and filled the glass.
Water was scarce in the desert, and the nearby wells were loaded with minerals and heavy metals that were native to the area. Bottled water was the one luxury that Lilia afforded herself.
With glass in hand, she stepped out of the air-conditioned home and was immediately welcomed with a blast of hot air. Sweat once again began to bead around her neck. It seemed hotter now and she felt her skin begin to moisten under her white tank top.
Making her way over to Carl, she noticed he was staring straight ahead. His knuckles were pure white against the black steering wheel in his hand. He remained unmoving even as she approached.
“Carl,” she called out to him.
No response. The unmoving man left a sense of dread in Lilia’s stomach. Was he another victim of dehydration, or could it be a case of heat stroke, like what happened to those poor immigrant workers in Phoenix the other day? Perhaps he was just slightly overheated. Quickly picking up the pace, she scampered over to the side of the car and placed a hand on his shoulder. His head did turn, but, she could barely hear him breathe.
“Are you okay,” she demanded, and shoved the water in his face. “Drink this Carl, you’re overheating!”
Again, there was no response. As she placed a hand on his shoulder, she then noticed for the first time his right eye and the tears that were seeping from it.
“Why are you crying?” She anxiously demanded.
Pain paralyzed his face, and although Lilia tried to figure out what the problem was, he sat there frozen. His eyes remained unmoving.
Finally, she shook him hard and his head bobbed enough for her to see the trickle of blood seeping down his left side. Taking a step back, she watched as he convulsed slightly and moaned.
As she embraced her friend, she grimaced at the sight. Where the left side of his face had once been, his left eye just hung swaying in the wind. The muscle and tissue now exposed with the cheekbone poking out. Lilia screamed a horrified cry, as she felt the waves of nausea flow over her.
“Carl? What happened?” she demanded.
Turning, she began to run toward her front door. She knew she needed to call 9-1-1. If he stood a chance of living, it would be up to her.
As she grabbed the front door, she felt herself being flung back. It seemed surreal, as the front door began to blast backwards until she felt her body slammed hard against the mail truck.
The crack of her bones and muffled cries filled her ears. Around her, the world began to spin around in violent waves, and she fought to remain conscious.
Move Lilia. She thought. If you don’t move, you’re going to die.
Giving it all she had, she attempted to push herself forward. However, all she could muster was only enough to cause her body to scream in pain.
As blood seeped from her mouth, she began to look around. Her house was intact. There had been no explosion, and no apparent reason for the incident.
Then, she noticed the polished, black cowboy boots to her right. Trying to look up, she couldn’t see anything past the stranger’s knees.
“Who are you?” she demanded. “Why are you doing this?”
Among fits of coughing and struggling to breathe, she couldn’t hear a sound from the man before her. He was simply standing over her. It was almost liked he enjoyed the chance to watch her die.
Giving it all she had, she reached for the cowboy boots and weakly clawed at them.
Finally, he spoke. His words were as cold as the distant San Francisco Peaks.
“Don’t fuck up my boots.”
The muscled legs moved back and then slammed down hard on her hand. The bones inside crushing, and pain shot through her body. She wished she was dead now. Lilia knew that death would be far less painful.
Almost as if the man understood, he took a step closer to her, and he let the steel toe of his boot finish the job.
Darkness began to enclose Lilia, and soon there was nothing more for her to feel, as Death welcomed her into its’ loving arms.
What was the hardest part to write?
I always find the murders to be the most difficult part to write. I don’t want them to be too cruel and violent, but I also don’t want it to be a quick stab. The balance is difficult and I am a very compassionate person, so I tend to find this part difficult.
— Joel M. Andre, author The Black Chronicles: Cry of the Fallen
About the Author
Between the years of 1999 and 2007 Joel was featured in various poetry anthologies and publications. In 2008 he released his first collection, Pray the Rain Never Ends.
Knowing there was something deeper and darker inside of his soul, Joel decided to take a stab at commercialism. Releasing the dark tongue in cheek, A Death at the North Pole, created a dark world among the death of Kris Kringle. Ultimately providing a tale of redemption.
October of 2008 saw Joel release his second book, Kill 4 Me. A tale in which a woman is haunted by a vengeful spirit through text messages and instant messaging.
Taking some time off and doing a lot of soul searching, Joel took things in a new direction and dabbled in the Fantasy Genre with, The Pentacle of Light. The tale dealing with five major races battling for control of Earth, and the acceptance of their God.
Finally, after missing his detective Lauren Bruni, he released the book The Return in October 2009, this time moving the action from the North Pole and placing it in the small Arizona community he was raised in.
Andre’s latest book is The Black Chronicles: Cry of the Fallen about a dead man who seeks revenge on the woman that tormented him in peaceful Northern Arizona.
Currently, he resides in Chandler, AZ.
You can visit his website at www.joelmandre.com.