My Commitment (and Chapter II)

     It may go without saying that I am very excited about my next book being released. Somehow, I can’t stop saying it anyhow. This event marks a new phase in both my writing and my life, while adding a responsibility that I intend to take very seriously.

     My first book works for me just the way I wanted it to. “Stumbling Backasswards Into the Light” was designed to be re-readable, offering different insights and perspectives as the reader revisits it throughout their spiritual journey. I hope it has served its purpose for others, and that it continues to do so. I have always intended to follow it up with other books, but I never felt like there was much of a rush to do so.

     This book is different. It is a part of a trilogy, and the story needs to be told in full in a timely manner. That means writing, editing and publishing each book on a timeline that neither compromises the material nor annoys any expectant readers. Publishing “Walking Between Worlds; Book I: Demons & Angels” is both an accomplishment and a commitment for me.

     Feel free to fall in love with this story and the characters that inhabit it; I certainly have. Book I is being released this December in both ebook and print format. Book II will be released December 2015, next year, around the same time. Book III will be released the following year, December 2016. That’s the commitment I am making to myself, this story, and to my readers.

     One book a year is time enough to write and edit each book, and I hope it is a satisfactory timeline for everyone else. A book is a lot of work, especially books of this nature, but it is the kind of work that brings me a happiness I can’t get any other way. I love writing, but without deadlines my writing tends to take many directions without any category nearing some kind of completion. That’s not necessarily bad, depending on what I am trying to accomplish. The next couple of years will be about getting my blog written every week and a book published every year. Then I can assess whether it’s time to lose myself in disjointed journalling in a dozen directions again or let the next book run my life.

    The first book is in final edit, the second book is well under way, and I am looking forward to all of the stages of this adventure with my whole being. Now it is time to share the second chapter of “Walking Between Worlds; Book I: Demons & Angels”. For the first chapter, please see my blog post from two weeks ago, titled “My Next Book”. Remember, the book is set to release in both ebook and print format this December. Check back for updates, and thanks for reading!

Walking Between Worlds; Book I: Demons & Angels

by J.K. Norry

CHAPTER 2

     Paul pushed his way through the swinging steeled glass into the coffee shop. The jangle of the bell hanging over the door announced his arrival, and he stopped a moment just inside the entrance to gaze about the room. A wave of aroma greeted him, the warm welcome smell of fresh brewed coffee tickling his nostrils pleasantly.

     The place was huge, especially considering how many customers frequented the spot. Longer than it was wide, the single room was wide enough yet for four tables, the coffee bar and aisles between all of them. A paneled wooden island on a sea of hardwood floor, the coffee bar was long and narrow, twin counters mirroring each other with matted work space between. Two people behind the bar would have trouble passing without touching, but the length of it would let three or four people move about freely. Stools were placed along the length of the bar for customers, steel and vinyl and old and currently unoccupied. The island was closed at one end by a cash register facing the entrance and a swinging waist-high door at the opposite end. A slab of counter on hinges served as horizontal barrier above the thin swinging door. Sturdy wooden tables were placed almost randomly about the open hardwood floor. There were less than twenty, though the space could have easily held twice that. Only three were occupied, less than half a dozen customers in the whole place.

     Paul approached the register as the girl behind the counter turned to see who had come in. She smiled, a pretty sweet smile under pretty honeyed blonde hair and pretty bright blue eyes.

     “Good morning, Paul,” she said. “White mocha?”

     “Morning, Jessica,” Paul smiled back. “Yes, please.”

     “Brenna’s here,” Jessica inclined her head toward a table in the back while she rung up his order. “Anything to eat?”

     “Yeah, a blueberry muffin,” Paul answered, digging his wallet out of his back pocket. He dropped a dollar bill in the tip jar that sat next to the register and handed her a twenty. She counted out his change and reached it across the counter.

     As their hands touched, Paul heard an explosion. Loud and muffled at the same time, it was followed by a thin, shrill scream. He jerked his hand back, looking around the shop bewildered. No one stirred or looked up; no one did anything. His eyes met hers, his heart pounding.

     “You okay?” Jessica asked him. She was still holding out his change, but her look had become one of concern.

     Paul looked around again. “You didn’t hear that?” he asked her quietly.

     “Hear what?” She cocked her head to listen.

     “Nothing.” Paul shook his head. “I must be hearing things. Thanks, Jess.” He took his change and walked the length of the bar. It wasn’t until he was almost at Brenna’s table that he noticed the big man huddled over another table in the corner furthest from the entrance.

     “Morning, Roche.” Paul called to him.

     Surrounded by books and ledgers sprawled haphazardly across the table, the man seemed oblivious to his environment. A big round head sat atop his mountainous shoulders, bald and topped with a battered black fedora. A blue pocket tee tried to contain the bulk of his torso, and a pack of cigarettes strained the pocket on his left breast even further. He made a notation in the ledger before him, cursed, erased it, and glanced up.

     “Paul,” he nodded, then looked back down at the page before him.

     Brenna had her laptop on the table and a tablet of hand-written notes beside it. They both sat neatly square with the edge of the tabletop, a cup of coffee just within reach on one side and an untouched slice of lemon poundcake on the other. She stopped typing as he approached and looked up at him.

     Her hair was black and straight, parted down the middle to brush against her shoulders equally on both sides. The dark of her hair was in stark contrast to her smooth and milky white skin, and her face was a study in perfection. High cheekbones, full red lips and a small button of a nose all took a backseat to the beauty of her eyes, though. So brown they were almost black, Brenna’s eyes seemed to swirl with depth and beauty and sensuality. She had a way of looking up at him without raising her head that he found adorably breathtaking. A little horizontal line appeared across her forehead, and her big dark eyes got bigger and somehow more beautiful. It was how she was looking at him now. A slow smile started on her lips as their eyes met, and Paul leaned over to cover it with his own smile. She tasted of coffee and mint and lipstick.

     “Good morning, gorgeous,” Paul sat next to her as she snapped shut the laptop. She took a moment to close the notebook and set it perfectly square on top of the computer, then slid them both to the center of the table. When she was done, she turned sideways in her chair toward Paul and put her hand on his knee and her full attention on him. He saw the agate oval that hung always at her throat from a delicate silver chain, hovering over the modest cut of her light blouse.

     “Good morning, my love.” Her voice was soft and low, and her eyes lingered on his. “Are we still on for tonight?”

     Paul nodded while Jessica approached the table with his order. “Absolutely,” he told Brenna, then looked up at Jessica while she placed the coffee and muffin on the table. “Thanks, Jess.”

     He sipped his coffee and turned again to Brenna. “Where’s your brother?”

     She rolled her eyes and frowned a little. “He didn’t come home last night.” When she saw Paul’s frown, she squeezed his knee gently. “Don’t worry, he’ll be here. Where’s Kris?”

     “Running late. As usual.” A plain round clock hung on the wall above Roche, and Paul turned to glance at it. He reached across the table and slid Brenna’s breakfast and fork in front of her. “Better eat while you have time,” he said, and took a giant bite of his muffin. Crumbs littered the table while he reached to snatch a paper napkin from the small stack by her plate.

     Her fingers, slim and delicate, moved from Paul’s knee to pick up her fork. She cut a small perfect square from the corner of the cake and slid the fork underneath it gingerly. She chewed slowly and deliberately as she spread a paper napkin over her right knee. She swallowed, had a sip of coffee, and turned her gaze on Paul again.

     “What time tonight?” she asked.

     Paul shrugged. “I should be home about six or six thirty. I can be at your place by seven.” He took another sip of his white mocha. It was cooling down, so he took a long drink.

     “Okay,” she nodded. She glanced at the clock, and her fingers strayed unconsciously to the amulet at her throat. “I should probably get going.” Brenna was never late. For anything. Ever.

     The door opened then, the bell clanging noisily as two young men entered arguing.

     Tall, with dark hair cut short and styled to careless perfection, one man moved his hands excitedly as he spoke. “It’s called a pre-emptive strike,” he was saying loudly. “The best defense is a good offense.”

     His companion was shorter, with a slight build and more subtle gestures. He was shaking his head slowly. Blue jeans and tee shirt and a light jacket all hung loose on his frame, and his hands were stuffed into the pockets of his jacket. Light brown hair covered his head in disheveled clumps, constantly threatening to fall into his eyes.

     “How can you be the one defending yourself if you are the asshole that strikes first?” He was still shaking his head. “How can you know what would happen if you didn’t attack if you always open with an attack?”

     “It’s the nature of the beast,” the dark-haired one answered with finality. “These savages will move in at the first sign of weakness.” His smile came as easily as the other’s frown, and he seemed to be clearly enjoying the banter.

     His companion appeared visibly uncomfortable, on the other hand. “We’re not talking about war, we’re talking about women,” he said icily. He pulled his hands from his pockets and pushed a lump of hair from his forehead, quickly sweeping the room with a shy stare. Sharp gray eyes took it all in and came to rest on the girl standing behind the register. His eyes widened a little, a shy smile lit his face for a moment; then he looked away and stuffed his hands back in his pockets.

     “Good morning, Jessica,” he said, staring at the floor. He pronounced her name carefully, like it was a sacred thing.

     “Hey, Kris,” she replied, glancing away from the taller man behind him for a moment and then back. With a voice lower and slower she said, “Good morning, Matt.”

     “Hey, Jess,” Matt answered as he stepped between Kris and the counter. “Two cups of your finest house brew, please. My companion will surely need cream and sugar; he can only swallow life and coffee masked by false sweetness.”

     “I customize my coffee to my taste,” Kris said defiantly. He threw a scornful look at Matt and a softer one at Jessica before returning his eyes to the floor. “I don’t just drink any dark and bitter brew someone else serves up for me.”

     A bark of laughter, and Matt called out to the man at the back of the room. “Hey Roach, Kris thinks your coffee is dark and bitter.”

     “Roche!” The man called out without looking up, correcting the intentional mispronunciation with deliberate rudeness. He made a mark in the journal before him, closed it, and stood up. Glaring balefully at Matt, he grumbled, “He was talking about life, not coffee, jackass.” Roche turned to Kris. “Good morning, young man,” he said, almost smiling. “Still casting your pearls before swine?”

     It was Kris’ turn to laugh. By the time he returned the older man’s greeting, Roche had turned and gone through the door at the back wall that said ‘OFFICE’ on a black and white plastic plaque affixed firmly at eye level. It slammed shut behind him.

     Kris walked to their table, doffing his jacket and hanging it on his chair as he sat, while Matt got their coffee and followed him over.

     “Hey, guys,” Matt said casually as he sat lightly on a chair across from Brenna, setting his companion’s cup on the table as he took the adjacent seat.

     “You’re late,” Brenna said. Her voice was forgiving and reproachful at the same time.

     “The day doesn’t start until I start the day,” Matt grinned. “I’m always on time, little sister.”

     “Drink your coffee,” she said, ignoring him. “Don’t make Paul late for work.”

     He ignored her for a moment too, reaching across the table to seize the rest of her lemon pound cake. Picking it up with his fingers, he bit off half of what was left in one huge bite and raised an eyebrow at her across the table. He gulped loudly, took a long pull off his coffee, gasped at the heat, gulped again and asked, “You weren’t going to eat that, were you?”

     Brenna rolled her eyes and stood up. “I’ve got to go,” she announced. She looked hard at Matt. “I believe we all do.”

     Matt gazed up at his sister, and Paul was struck anew at how alike they could look sometimes. The very expression that was adorable to him on Brenna he thought made Matt appear a helpless silly puppy dog. Matt’s long string of lovers surely thought it the other way around.

     They made for the door all at once, cutting the number of customers in the coffee shop by half in one fell swoop. When they reached the door, Paul opened it and stood back, holding it open for the rest of them. Brenna reached out and brushed her fingers lightly across his abdomen, passing by first. Matt made as if to punch him in the gut as he walked by, his good-natured feint ending inches from Paul’s stomach. As Kris passed, he mumbled thanks to Paul and stole one last glance at Jessica over his shoulder as she waved goodbye to the group. A smile played on the corners of his mouth as his eyes met Paul’s. . .

     . . . And when their eyes met, Paul heard it again: a loud thunderous crash, followed by a blood-curdling scream. It was louder this time, and he blanched, letting go of the door. It swung shut, barely missing Kris as he stepped hastily outside. Hanging there above the swinging steel and glass, the little brass bell bumped and rolled over the top of the door, clanging noisily. It clanged again as Kris opened the door and poked his head in, a concerned look on his face.

     “You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” Kris said, stepping inside again. “Are you okay, man?”

     Jessica had come up behind him, looking just as concerned. “Paul? Are you alright?” She touched his shoulder lightly.

     “Yeah, I’m fine,” Paul forced a smile. “You guys didn’t hear that?”

     “Hear what?” Jessica and Kris asked together.

     “Nothing.” Paul shook his head, as if to clear it, and reached for the door again. The brass bell danced across the swing of steel, its last frayed thread giving way a little bit, but not breaking. It clanged again as the door swung shut behind them; then it hung silent and still, just a little lower than it had before.

     Gathered outside, Brenna couldn’t decide who to fuss over. She turned to Matt, but her eyes kept coming back to Paul. Taking Paul’s hand, she spoke stern to her brother. “You should take him home; let him call in to work for both of you.”

     Paul was shaking his head. “I’m fine, sweetie.” Encircling his arm around her slim waist, he pulled her close. “Besides, it’s his first day, if I do get him a job. He can’t call in on his first day.”

     Dark pools of love looked up at him, but her eyes turned to black ice when she looked at Matt. “He’ll find a way to screw it up anyway.”

     Paul nuzzled Brenna’s hair, in part to breathe in the smell of her and in part to hide his smile. Looking over the top of her head, he noticed a man standing across the street watching them. His garb oddly both out of season and out of place, he stared at Paul intently with neither guile nor candor. The man wore a leather cowboy hat and matching leather overcoat hanging from broad shoulders nearly to the ground. Leather boots poked out from under the long duster.

     His whole outfit seemed cut from the same bolt of thick leather. Surely striking when new, the ensemble now hung limp, battered and worn. A deep oiled brown on the armpits, the overcoat was faded to a dry blond in many places. Clumsy stitches held the coat together in three different places with three different colors. At its hem, the trench coat looked scorched, and the boots had the same beaten and battered and burnt color. Banded in what looked like dull red snakeskin, the leather cowboy hat was perhaps the most abused part of his whole outfit. Misshapen by a dent, it looked like a part of the brim had been sliced off clean. A pair of holes the size of marbles punctuated the planned hollows of the hat, a few inches forward from the unnatural grapefruit-sized concavity. Apparently there were matching holes on the other side, as Paul could see daylight through them when the man turned his head slightly. He could also see little black rings around the holes, like scorch marks.

     Paul was overwhelmed by an otherworldly feeling as he looked at the strange man, and he swooned a bit as he brought himself back into his world of Matt and Kris. And Brenna. He breathed her in deep, glad she hadn’t noticed him waver a moment earlier. Paul focused on their words as she argued with her brother.

     “It’s like you think I can’t do anything right,” Matt was complaining. The only time he was not the picture of strength and confidence was around his sister. All it took was a critical word from Brenna, and the man became a boy again.

     “No, you’re good at lots of things,” Brenna responded blithely. “Short and shallow relationships, making promises you don’t keep, pissing away money.” Her body was stiff and rigid against Paul, only increasing the discomfort he always felt when the siblings went at it. Later, he knew, he could look forward to each of them seeking a private moment with him to complain at length about the other. He would validate both of them, feeling they were each wrong in their way but never saying so. She knew her weaknesses and her limits; it was his happy job to let her blow off steam without fear of criticism. And her brother . . . well, lecturing Matt was as useless and obvious as telling a tree it is made of wood.

     Paul pulled Brenna close to him. “Sweetie,” he said. He was going to say, “We have to get going”, but the door opened behind them, swinging inward to the coffee shop.

     After announcing countless arrivals and departures, hanging as silent sentinel in between, the brass bell clanged once as it climbed over the top of the door one last time. Rolling, it clanged again and then again and dropped to the length of the one last thread holding it suspended. The thread snapped soundlessly, and the bell fell just as silently through open space. It clanged again as it hit the floor and half-rolled, half-skittered between the four friends and to the edge of the sidewalk. One more roll and it would have been in the street. Instead, it sat at the curb; silent, still and unnoticed.

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