[Thought I'd give you a little peek. Expect me when you see me.]
Tiger Boy: The Ring of Fire. By Stacy Dooks
Red Hart, Montana
“Oh come on.”
Brent spared a glance from the city streets, looking over at the passenger seat at his friend. Jason was nose deep in the latest Kent Valor paperback and—to judge from the disgruntled expression on his face—something had rubbed him the wrong way.
“What?” Brent's eyes slipped back to the road, hitting his turn signal as they made their way up Sackett Street. Red Hart's busy streets were bustling, it looked to be the early signs of the afternoon rush-hour, though it was only three-thirty. “What's got you looking like you just took a swig of bad milk?”
“The password would be 'bad writing'.” Jason sneered, flipping a page as he made his way through the slim paperback. “Okay, so it's been a while since the last volume in the series came out, right? So what does this so-called 'author' do? He doesn't lead you back to the cliffhanger that you were obviously waiting the better part of a year for, oh no. Instead, he pulls this total bullshit move where he opens on something else! What a hack.” the younger man snorted, adjusting his glasses before throwing the paperback over his shoulder to bounce along the back seat.
“I dunno, maybe he's trying to ease new readers into the story?” Brent offered, turning onto main street, his eyes on the lookout for a parking spot nearest to Echo Base Comics and Collectibles. Nothing promising presented itself; main was notorious for being distinctly less than parking-friendly.
“Please. It's got to be one of the lamest moves you can pull as an artist.” Jason raised his fingers, waggling them before him as he pulled a face. “Oooh lookit lookit at this piece of obvious filler! Pay no attention to the little man behind the curtain running the great and powerful Oz. God, it's got to be up there with the 'It was all a dream' bit as one of the most cliched moves to pull.” he huffed, slumping in his seat, his hair draping his face lightly from the move.
Brent rolled his eyes. Are all English majors this lame? Or did I just get lucky?
“Well if it upsets you so much, why don't you just sell it off to Fair's Fare or another used book store? Maybe that Weird Tales place, it looks nice and genre. . .”
James snorted. “No such luck. I have to read it for Adventure Fiction 280. Lucky me.”
Brent snickered. “Oh come on, I bet you'd like it if you gave it a chance. Maybe it was leading to something really cool. You're almost as bad with books as you are with film. Remember the night we saw. . .it?”
Jason scowled, sparing his friend (and favorite venting board) a withering glare. “We agreed never to speak of. . it.”
“Oh right. No sooner did we bring up how monsters couldn't exist and. . .”
“. . .we had a shared hallucination.” Jason's voice was flat and firm.
“A shared hallucination. Have you been reading the papers?”
“Not that Red Hart Review rag you love so much, that's for sure.”
Brent snickered. “All I'm saying is it looked awfully. . .familiar.”
Jason looked out the window, the car idling at an intersection. The radio was playing softly, and for the first time he noticed the song it was playing. Stevie Wonder's 'Superstitious'. He snapped it off, muttering softly. Bereft of any avenue of escape, he reached behind him for the paperback, opening it back to the last page number he could recall.
“Fine. I'll give it another go.” His voice was casual. “But I'm telling you. I know exactly how it's going to go.”
The light turned and Brent eased his foot on the accelerator, making a slow circle around the block, his eyes casting about for a parking space. “Oh? Enlighten me, great sage of the mountain.”
He felt rather than saw his friend's smirk. If it was one thing Jason loved even more than being right, it was to illustrate exactly how he was was right.
“All right, usually these dialogue scenes go on for a little bit, very nice, very light, very breezy stuff. Just enough to make you feel all nice and calm and relaxed and then WHAM!” he slapped his palm against the book's back cover with such force Brent nearly jumped in his seat, the car swerving a bit.
“Jeezus Jay! Don't pull that kind of crap!” Brent's grip tightened on the wheel, his expression darkening.
Jason blinked, as if the very concept of his demonstration of his rightness putting them in any kind of danger was a completely new idea. “Oh. Right. Sorry. Anyway, it's just how these things go. They write about it in Fiction Structure 101. Which I aced, by the by.”
“That's great. You're a credit to all undergrads everywhere. Now could you keep an eye out for a parking space? I've got nothing.”
Jason frowned, but gamely peered out the window, shading his eyes against the afternoon sun. “Oh! Over there might be o—”
Something hit the roof, hard. Hard enough to make the metal buckle, nearly striking the two students. Brent screamed, the well jerking in his hands as he reflexively stomped the brake, Jason's head rocking forward and coming short of striking the dashboard side-on. He gagged, the seatbelt having compressed his windpipe. Brent screamed again, louder this time, and Jay's eyes moved slowly, focusing on a glow that was growing brighter and brighter, descending on a street filled with cars screeching to a halt, yells and cries, and the creak and groan of metal as something big and heavy shifted atop Brent's car. His chest hitched something entered his field of vision, long and striped, a tail with four long, wicked-looking spikes along it's tip. . .something he'd been convinced he'd hallucinated so many months before. He wanted to scream, needed to. . .but no sound emerged from his strained throat.
Seeing no other avenue in which to express it's outright denial of the facts at hand, Jason's mind did the only sensible thing it felt prudent and promptly shut down, causing him to faint dead away. The last cognizant thought he had before the void reached out and claimed him was a rueful one:
Goddamn adventure stories. . .
'We believe in heroes because, ultimately, we believe in ourselves.' -Jack Kirby