A Vegas magician’s assistant with a drinking problem, Jezebel is being chased by the men who murdered her fiancé. After she reads an odd, golden page, she wakes with the ability to sense other actives within thirty feet. Benny, the handsome former actor, is the only one she thinks that she can rely on, but even he has secrets. Each page stretches the mind beyond what our civilization has discovered, sometimes too far. Each could give you the next Nobel Prize or a ticket to the psych ward. Strong-willed, smart, and sexy, Jez acquires pages faster than anyone. She uses her new paranormal talents to climb the corporate ladder. Now, companies and governments are killing people to find and keep the secrets that will guarantee supremacy for the next century. Jezebel needs to adapt fast if she's going to survive success.
Contains portions of the previously e-published novella "the Icarus Transformation".Available on smashwords and Amazon.
SAMPLE of Jezebel's Ladder
Copyright 2011 Scott Rhine
Chapter 1 – A Drink before the War
Jezebel Johnson hadn’t hit rock bottom yet. By 2:00 a.m., she couldn’t remember the day of the week. She was stuck in Yesterday, her second favorite bar, because she had bounced a check in her usual place. Jez sat next to the speakers so she could feel the beat in her chest. The pounding music also kept conversation to a minimum. The last ounce of her Screwdriver had been bitter, but she stared at the empty glass, wishing for more.
It had taken her five years to work up from showgirl to magician’s assistant, and another year to work up to The Amazing Chance’s fiancée. For a few years, they’d had an apartment and a good life. He had been a rising star. However, her comfortable home had vanished in a flash when The Amazing Chance had been killed in a car-jacking. Since he had neglected to change his will, their joint condo, bank account, and magic show had all gone to his greedy sister, Olive. Months later, Jezebel had nothing left of him except the gold, origami butterfly around her neck.
But she could still rely on her toned legs and shoulder-length, ginger-blonde hair. When she wore her short, red dress for a night of forgetting, she never had to pay. It wasn’t long before the bartender said, “The two guys at the end of the bar want to buy you a drink.”
She knew she could go home with any man there, or even the bartender, if she requested a Screaming Orgasm in her husky voice. The two men wore tan hunting vests and cowboy boots. Their idea of a good time was probably sex in the back of the truck with the strapped-down deer watching.
“Long Island Iced Tea,” she said to the bartender, waving to the hunters with a forced smile. She could nurse it for a long time, and it even had a little vitamin C. Maybe the headache wouldn’t be so bad tomorrow.
The pale, round-faced, sixteen-year-old boy to her right muttered, “Lady, you need to stop drinking and get out of here while you still can.”
“Mind your own business,” she snapped. She jabbed her thumb toward the boy and said to the bartender, “I thought you were supposed to keep kids like this out.”
The bartender raised an eyebrow as he slid the tall drink toward her.
When Jez looked again, the kid had vanished. She felt a wave of dizziness. Damn, that usually didn’t happen till at least three in the morning. Since somebody was already snorting lines in the ladies’ room, she decided to step out back for some fresh air.
Standing on the loading dock in silence after the overpowering music felt liberating. She just had to ignore the noxious smell coming from the open dumpster below: the unwanted parts of the all-you-can-eat buffet, fish heads, onions, and rancid sour cream that had been in the heat all week, garnished with cigarette butts and beer-soaked napkins.
The kid appeared at her left elbow again, making her heart jump like a startled rabbit. He looked innocent, with a mop of sandy-brown hair that hadn’t seen a brush in days. He wore a gray, chamois shirt, and waved his hands in the air. “Run! Get out of here. Those hunters are coming after you.”
The nearest exit from this alley was three buildings away, and the route was riddled with heel-snapping chuck holes and rats. The guys buying her drinks had looked like thick-necked morons but weren’t scary enough to risk needing a tetanus shot. As she started to object, the boy disappeared. To herself, she said, “It’s either blackouts or hallucinations. Neither one is good.”
Without a sound, the boy reappeared on her other side. If she concentrated, she could see moonlight through his form. The shock of the ghostly apparition caused her to drop her purse. She stared down as the purse bounced off the cement into the open trash container. “Oh, this can’t get any worse.”
Impatient, the kid shouted, “They’ve got guns, and they’re going to rape you before they kill you. Hurry!”
Holding her nose, she hopped into the dumpster on top of some nasty, stained carpeting. When the heel snapped off her right, candy-apple-red shoe, she decided to use the tragedy for misdirection. After throwing the broken shoe down the middle of the alley, she pulled the dumpster lid shut over herself.
Jez heard the blast of music as the men came out the back and let the back door close again. Next, a nearby gun made a distinctive click as someone slid a round into its chamber. She held her breath. A calm, male voice with a
drawl said, “She took off that way. You try to catch her while I get the car.”
Footsteps pounded down the cement steps and away. She heard a burst of static before the Texan spoke again, “Control, target is in the wind. Send a unit to her apartment for pickup.”
Between the stress, the smell, and her alcohol intake, her stomach was on a rollercoaster. The moment she heard the man go back into the bar, she threw up, worrying that everyone on the Strip could hear her. As soon as Jezebel was able, she climbed out of the dumpster, shaking. Her left shoe came off, stuck in something disgusting, so she left it in the trash. At least I still have my purse, she thought wryly, wiping a brown lettuce leaf off her shoulder.
The transparent teenager beckoned her down the right side of the alley. She ran, ignoring protests from her bare feet. Every time she got close to him, he would vanish and reappear a short distance further. Jez felt like she was in a bizarre dream sequence. Once on the main drag, he pointed to a shiny, new, chrome-plated bus that looked like the home for a rock band. Then, her guide was gone.
Jezebel fumbled open the bus door and closed it behind her. Desperate for a weapon of some kind, she grabbed a small fire extinguisher from behind the driver’s seat. She crouched behind the two rows of royal-blue seats, waiting for her breathing to slow and for any evidence of her pursuers.
After a few minutes, she heard rustling from the back area. Jez clenched her makeshift club and peeked through the curtain into the main cabin. She saw computer terminals, a big-screen TV, a sound system, two sets of bunk beds, and the kid who had helped her in the alley. He was dressed in the same gray, long-sleeved shirt over a heavy-metal band t-shirt, and blue-flannel pajama bottoms. However, this time he was definitely solid and sitting in a wheelchair. Electrical cables dangled from his forehead like dreadlocks, causing jittery sine waves to dance on one of the monitors.
The absurdity of the pajamas put her at ease a little. She set the fire extinguisher on the black, rubber floor and held out her hand tentatively. “I’m Jezebel. Thanks, I think.”
The teen smiled. After peeling off the last electrode, he reached out as well. “I’m Daniel… crap, I mean Oobie. Pretend you didn’t hear me say that.” He sounded more nervous and nasal in person. There were also traces of a struggle with weight gain in his face that she hadn’t seen before. He threw her a hand towel from a pouch on the side of his wheelchair.
Grateful for the towel, she started to clean slime from her hands and face. “Thanks again. Now, what the hell is going on here?” she whispered, afraid the thugs outside might hear her.
“I can’t tell you,” Daniel said, biting his lower lip.
Desperate, she struggled to find some way to extract an explanation. “Where are your parents? Maybe they could help me.”
“I have guards, but I sort of sent them out on a burrito run. Bad timing.” Then, an idea lit up his face, and he raised a forefinger. “I have something that will clear everything up.”
Daniel rolled his chair over to the work desk and opened a small safe with his thumbprint. He pulled out a sheet of paper the same width as normal stationery, but a quarter the length. It had gold threads and shimmered in the dim light from the desk lamp as he slid it toward her.
Cautiously, Jez took the page from the desktop. The black letters flickered a little at first, but then became perfectly clear.
The Collective Unconscious, the
Union of Souls:
We all come from the same over-world and will return there someday. Someone once said, if we closed our eyes at the same time, we’d see the same thing. That’s close. We do all go to the same plane, but with different locations and with different points of view. This multiplicity is important when defining or triangulating upon a higher truth.
Theta state is necessary for…
Jezebel felt her eyes roll back in her head as the dream state swept over her. She fell to the rubber mat, unconscious.
Jezebel had an amazing dream. She was performing again, with hundreds of people watching her. Coming from backstage, she felt waves of support and a sense of belonging she hadn’t experienced since her father died.
She wanted to stay in that wonderful place, but sunlight battered its way in. Jez woke in clean clothes, on starched-white sheets, with a headache that would have brought an elephant to its knees. Grabbing her temples, she moaned, “Shoot me now.”
“Not only would that be ungentlemanly, but it would probably make all the tabloids,” a man with suave voice confided from his chair across the room.
She was in a private hospital room of some kind. She instinctively pulled the sheets up to her chin. Her hair was a rat’s nest and still caked with fragrant organic material from the night before. After she patted her chest, she exclaimed, “My butterfly pendant!”
The attractive, thirtyish man deactivated and pocketed his smart phone. “Relax. It’s standard procedure for the nurses to take your clothes and accessories. You’re officially checked-in to a drug and alcohol rehabilitation spa in the
hills. You'll get your personal possessions back when you leave.”
“I can’t afford …”
The man held up a perfectly-manicured hand. “It’ll be on our dime. Oobie was indiscreet on several levels.”
His voice triggered a memory. Jez pointed. “You’re that guy, Benny Wholesome, I mean Hollis! You were in all those buddy pictures. I loved when you played that high-school kid who could get away with anything.” She could still see the boy inside, with a little more weight and polish. Then, she stopped the gushing, embarrassed by her fan-girl outburst. The smooth character-actor had been in twenty-three pictures before suddenly disappearing from the spotlight.
As he stood, she noticed that his legs were more firmly muscled than most people who wore suits for a living. Benny walked over and examined her pupils with a pen light. When they responded normally, he smiled. “Beautiful. No apparent damage. In here, please refer to me as ‘Uncle Buddy.’ I’m a dozen years older than you, so the staff will believe it.” She revised her estimate of his age upward, but the years had been kind to him. “You seem coherent. Have there been any ill effects from your ordeal?”
She wrinkled a lip. “I need to shower for a few hours and find a new place to live, if that’s what you mean. Then, I’d like some answers.” She remembered reading the golden document. The sensation had been familiar. “What’s this Collective Unconscious thing the paper mentioned?”
“Human beings are connected on a deeper level than most of us realize,” Benny began. “Some of our more religious members call it the Community of Saints, but I think being human is the only real requirement.” When she looked puzzled, he said, “Allow me to demonstrate.”
The actor’s warm hand took Jezebel’s with surprising gentleness. The moment his thumb caressed the palm of her hand, she felt the sea of belonging supporting her again. “Oh.”
Benny released her hand, but the pleasant tingle remained. “You’ll develop your own definition and sensitivity. More important is the responsibility it places on us to help our fellow humans.”
“Why did I pass out?” Jez said, mellowed by his touch. Even his voice was soothing.
“First, you have to dry out,” Benny said. “The doctors are going to poke and prod you a lot, and ask a lot of silly questions. Cooperate and my employer will give you a fifty-thousand dollar bonus at the end of two weeks, with the possibility of an employment offer. Once you work for us, I can answer any question you like.”
Jez laughed. “What’s the catch?”
The former star’s winning smile dropped as he stood up. “Oobie didn’t know about our failures with this page.” From his emphasis, she knew he was discussing the strange golden document. He turned away in shame, unable to face her. “You’re the first woman who ever read it that didn’t either go stark, raving mad or die outright. The EMTs monitored you the whole way here.”
The revelation shocked her into momentary silence. He walked to the door before she could react. Before he left, Benny said, “Even if you don’t take the job, see the rehab program through as a personal favor to me. I’ve seen too many good people end up dead in the gutter.”
Jezebel showered, ate, and went through the motions of living while doctors bombarded her with tests and more questions than the IRS and college-entrance paperwork combined. Early on the third morning, just after she woke, she had a visitor.
Daniel wheeled in, carrying her breakfast tray. He was wearing the same band t-shirt as before, unwashed. Guilt shrouded him. “I’m not supposed to be here. I’ll leave if you’re mad.”
Jez waved him in. The page might’ve killed her and had given her persistent headaches; nevertheless, she couldn’t stay mad at the kid. Daniel’s sad eyes reminded her of the puppy her family had owned after it’d been caught with a shredded slipper in its mouth. As she put her blonde hair up in a ponytail, she said, “You saved me from becoming a murder victim, or worse, and put me in a five-star hotel. I can’t be too pissed.”
He handed over the food on a beige tray. In addition to the bland eggs, apple juice, and English muffin, Daniel had smuggled in a bag containing two chocolate Pop-Tarts. She ripped open the foil bag. After days of nutrient paste, the sugary pastries smelled divine, and she started wolfing them down.
“I didn’t mean to risk your life,” he said.
“I know,” she said between bites.
“We think we know what makes you special.” Daniel fumbled his words. “I mean phys…physiologically speaking. You had your appendix out. The information will help us save lives. The appendix and endocrine system react negatively to the chemicals released by the brain during the high-gamma processing phase. I didn’t understand all the details, but the effect is worse in women; guys just have shorter lives and early onset of certain psychological disorders.”
She nodded while chewing. Jez wanted to ask about pages but didn’t dare interrupt the flow of information. She was sure the kid wasn’t supposed to be telling her any of this.
Daniel asked, “Why did you have your appendix removed?”
“My dad died of a burst appendix in his twenties. I was working as an escape artist, and when I had a flareup, Chance said—”
She broke off in mid-sentence, no longer hungry.
After a long moment, she could breathe again. “I’ve been awake for twenty minutes now. That’s the longest it’s ever taken me to remember the accident.”
Daniel met her gaze. In the sunlight, she could see that his eyes were the same green as her own, but much more earnest. “His death wasn’t a random act. The same Rexes that carjacked your friend were coming after you. When they didn’t find a page among his things, they thought you might know where he hid it.”
“No. While Rexes are big, strong, stupid and cold-blooded, in this case I mean flunkies for another organization that’s also collecting pages, the Fossils. When their lead scientist, Dr. Wannamaker, wants a problem resolved, he dispatches a ‘prescription’ to eliminate it, an RX.”
First, her hands turned to ice. Then, the anger started. Jez growled, “Chance was murdered by hit men?”
“They weren’t supposed to kill him. Rexes start as washed-up athletes and ex-cons who would do anything for a job. They’re given an Override… treatment that enables them to ignore pain and certain bodily limits. Without pain of their own, they begin to lose normal, human empathy and turn into sadistic bastards. In this case, they misjudged the amount of force during questioning and killed him by mistake. It happened so quickly that I couldn’t send a team in. I shouted, but he couldn’t see me like you could,” Daniel babbled.
“You saw them kill Chance?” she snapped.
Daniel paused. “There are some things you can’t un-see. That’s why I couldn’t stand by and let them hurt someone else.”
“And you came here to confess, so you’d feel better?”
Daniel started to lose his temper, too. “I came to make sure that when they let you go from here, you run, and keep running. I’ve got a Swiss bank-account number that I can give you. Use whatever you need.”
She snorted, and he took offense. Daniel said, “I have real money. They pay me well for what I do. I can’t spend it all.”
Jez shook her head. “No. I believe you, sweetie. I’m laughing because you think I’m going to leave now that I know who killed my fiancé.”
Daniel growled in frustration. He whipped out a pass card and gave it to her. “Take my badge. Everyone always opens the doors for me anyway. When no one is looking, use it to get into Ward Seven. It’s where they keep the mistakes. Meet them, and then tell me you’re not afraid.”
“What are these pages you keep talking about?” Jez asked.
Daniel rolled toward the door. “I refuse to tell you anything that someone may want to torture out of you later.”
For the first day she was in the general population, Jez just watched the routines of the ward between her own activities: exercise, shower, therapy, lunch, art, group, journal, dinner, TV, massage, bed. The workout time felt good after being idle so long. She could get used to this life, but the counselor told her that the evaluation period was only three more days. If she needed medication, or aversion therapy, the stay could be extended by two weeks.
Late the next day, as she peeked through the window into Ward Seven, one of the shuffling forms looked up. An unshaven man locked eyes with her and recognition passed between them. After a long moment, the patient on the other side laid a finger over his lips and left her field of vision.
The heavy-set, African-American nurse coming back from her break said, “You’re not supposed to be here, ma’am.”
Jez jumped in surprise. “I know him.”
The healthcare worker had biceps as big as Jezebel’s thighs. For a moment, the former dancer was afraid that the other woman was going to pick her up and carry her to pottery class. Instead, the nurse made a face. “Please don’t tell anyone you saw him here; we have confidentiality rules. A big-name screen writer like Mr. Ragnar would bring in the press.”
Jez held up a hand. “Don't worry; we have the same boss. Ragnar was great, but his last two films were… disturbed.”
The nurse nodded glumly. “No matter what kind of therapy they do with him, writing exercises, art therapy, or talking, it always ends in zombies. Trust me, honey, he’s better off here.”
When the nurse went to dinner, Jez used Daniel’s badge to slip into the ward. Locating Ragnar was easy. Of the four men in the TV lounge, his was the only face tracking her like a sunflower following the sun. Ragnar motioned her to join him in the art room.
“An angel comes to visit me,” said the patient in rasping, stalker-like tones. “I saw you rise in the east.”
Jez dazzled him with her best smile. “How did you know I was a … friend?”
He glanced around, checking for observers. “Whenever someone becomes active, the rest of us see, like a lightning flash in the distance.”
“Active?” she asked.
“Normal people are like trees. Half their existence is buried in the dirt of daily life, half in the air of dreams reaching for the light of heaven. Actives are not rooted in place.” Ragnar leaned close to her, and her skin crawled. “But not all the actives are good. Beware the zombies! You can hide from them in the cornfields if you hear them first. They may not be bright, but they can run and never tire. Your only hope is to get out of their sight, out of their reach.”
The man was raising his voice and would soon attract attention. Jez tried to change the subject. Whispering, she asked, “What can you tell me about the pages?”
He lowered his head. “They tortured me for days before Fortune found me. I didn’t betray my trust.”
“I don’t think that was luck.”
“Elias Fortune,” he clarified, naming a tycoon who got his start in real estate and pornography. Fortune was the billionaire head of a multi-media empire.
Jez blinked. This conspiracy was bigger than she’d imagined.
Then, the writer lost the little coherency he possessed. “He said my page was blank. It was all for nothing. That which is beautiful is often fragile. Why must we guard against things being stolen or destroyed: children, tall buildings, planes, water systems? Destroying is easier than building. It only takes one insect.”
Jez tried to talk him down. “Good ideas infect and lift nations for generations to come—paper clips, the number zero, Velcro. We just need that one positive while suppressing the thousands of bad. Have faith that people are basically good. You still have the Collective Unconscious.”
He shuddered. “At night, when the noise stops, when the ocean turns quiet, I hear them. I must build barricades and hide, but your sun has been a blessing to me. I can sleep when you’re here. You’re not afraid.”
Jez suddenly realized that the zombies were the men Daniel referred to as Rexes, the ones who had killed Chance. This writer could see them for what they were, and it had torn him up inside. “Sweetie, I’m just as afraid as you are, but nobody hurts the people I love and gets away with it.”