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A Novel

Nicholas Cochran

Chapter One


He crouched. Moonlight rapidly absorbed the white flash. A fading hum from the craft tickled the cool desert silence. The bitter smell of pistacia wrinkled his nose. Moments ago, his surroundings were a vast illuminated patch of acacia, retama, and sand. Now the valley floor lay in darkness, except for the pathway of cascading light from the gibbous moon.

Outside the pathway, a deepening murk submerged all but the outline of mountains to the west.  Quick sidelong glances. Nothing. He slowly lifted his head, as though expecting an Arabian leopard or a ravenous desert beast approaching him with evil intent. No beasts. Only the feeble sounds of skittering desert nightlife. He stood to his full height and instantly felt diminished. He was. For a long moment, he stared at the jagged scars on the immense moon and clenched his jaw. ‘So this was it.’

The desert chill informed him he was naked. His nakedness reminded him of the earlier disrobing. A desert breeze caressed his nudity; warm sand caressed his feet. Looking about, he recognized the outline of the mountain range. The contour of the black horizon slipped away to the point where earth and sky merged in inky oneness.

Squaring his shoulders, he strode toward the mountain range and began to laugh. Years of experience flooded his memory. The more he remembered, the louder he laughed.


 An easy breeze was stacking tiny tumbleweeds along the bottom of the open trailer door.The sweet smell of Manzanita and scrub brush filled the desert air of Anza Borrego. Sounds of night critters occasionally rippled through the silence.

Jack Conners; tall, lean and thirteen, sat on the top step of his motor home, lazily throwing stones. They skipped along the dusty avenue of light from the forty-five foot motor home toward the dazzling track of  moonlight.

“Jack . . . you there?”


“Good; don’t move from there, okay?”

Ok . . . why not?”

“I don’t like it; I just don’t . . . it just doesn’t feel right to me somehow.”

Jack, pursed his lips as he parsed Mom’s words and then had to smile.‘doesn’t feel right; what the hell does that mean?’

He got up and tossed a stone beyond the end of the trailer glow. When he turned to step into his home, he felt the presence of his father. He stopped and listened. As he held his breath, he peered into the shadows with blank expectation.


Francesca Weir tugged at her special compression running sock and dribbled sweat onto the bathmat. ‘These damn things are just barely worth it.’ She rested for a moment, inhaling the soothing scent of verbena while she considered the contour of her left leg. Its snug white container made her legs look younger than she was. For a moment, she considered the possibility of wearing some type of invisible compression number over her face, to conceal her thirty-five-year old crinkles. Too much worrying; two ex-husbands; two helpless cats, and too many ridiculous shifts for the L.A. Alert caused the nascent wrinkles

Her income from the Alert was of the roller coaster persuasion. When the coaster was operating at its apogee, her check was more than decent. When the income-as-fun-ride stalled—or never got going, Francesca would call one—or both—of her wealthy bygone husbands. She asked them—politely—to skip a payment on their jets; or the yacht; or the new diamond thingy for the latest princess. They transferred money to her account as soon as she hung up.


 Aboard the Casino Palace yacht on the Sea of Eilat, most of the revelers remained leaning on the deck railings, drinking and laughing.  All were watching with irresistible fascination, the widening V of the ship’s wake as land ebbed into the night. The golden tongue of moonlight chased their ship all the way to its anchor point.

 At the drop of the anchor, gambling and heavy drinking broke out in all directions. Carousal captured the scene and reigned for the next twelve hours. Laughter and chinkling glasses, braying and cursing by winners and losers, all manner of human emotions created the timeless atmosphere of hope and despair.

He wore a simple denim jacket buttoned at the neck to conceal his nakedness. He bent over to conceal his height of almost seven feet. His dark hair was long, almost reaching his shoulders. A shapeless gathering of wool around the lower part of his body served as pants. On his feet, he wore mismatched sandals.


Outwardly, Buzz Macklin presented as mildly obese, with long ears and thinning grey hair scattered here and there. When he walked, he appeared to carry his late-fifties head on his shoulders without the use of a neck. Forty years of oil wildcatting had etched its revenge on Buzz’s face. All but a few of those forty years produced failure, yet only on occasion would grayness slide across those etchings. Buzz was optimism personified.


Melinda Meadows was half-way to the trailer door, ready to raise her voice at her teenage son. The moonlight outlined him standing in the doorway. She caught her breath, dropped her arms, positive that this was not her son; but her husband. Shivers tracked her entire body. She thought she might faint. Jack moved, breaking the spell. His mother held her position in some nameless desperate hope that this man was Chuck Meadows; here . . . and not in harm’s way; not in a combat zone; not in Afghanistan, but here; with her. She began to cry and grasped her son tighter than he could ever remember. Jack deftly put his arms around her as he breathed in deeply.

“It’s okay Mom; it’s just me.”  He didn’t sound that sure to his mother. She stood back and looked up at him with searching eyes. ‘What was it about this moment that was so real?’

She bit her bottom lip and smiled, not bothering to brush away her tears. Perhaps she was holding onto that last fleeting impossible hope, that if this was not her husband, then the next man through that doorway would be. That sensation calmed her. She felt lighter, cheerful, and for some reason, much happier. Her son looked at her with a smile, trying to understand what happened. 


Francesca’s ex-husbands still loved her. Both made daily supplications to any variety of pagan deities, in addition to the five traditional ones, firmly believing that some miraculous situation would render a phone call from Francesca—not begging him to return; she wasn’t the begging sort. She knew she did not have to--but wanting to have coffee, maybe lunch, dinner . . . or just a chat. They were easy to please when Francesca was the subject, and very mature in all subjects excluding Francesca.

‘But why did she have to work all the time, when I can provide her with her every need—and aspiration.

She told them repeatedly she had to work. An unquenchable thirst drove her. The thirst for those unfailing elixirs, which soothed any affliction saddling her. Deadlines, hourless days, waking nights, when the world was too much with her. She craved the ‘latest’; the pith of the moment; a gathering of inner resources to track and bleed all new sources, sources of the gut that daily chews up its own time and craves for the morrow.

She set to yanking and pulling the left sock, exhaling with a breath of blessed relief as she dropped it beside the other and stepped into the shower. She shook out her tangled hair and wondered if she would like to be a blonde next week; or was the classic chestnut brown still bringing it.

Her thoughts promptly left all subjects concerning her lithe body of six feet as well as any clothes that she might wear to adorn her contours. Also left behind, were all potions, lotions or smears that she might engage to increase her appeal. Francesca Weir moved all her thoughts to her latest assignment; to any means she could use to jack up her latest story, one that her editor told her about while she was just finishing up a five mile run on Santa Monica beach.

End of Chapter One

Submitted: June 04, 2016

© Copyright 2021 Nicholas Cochran. All rights reserved.


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