Excerpt: Tales of Adventure & Fantasy: Book One
An excerpt from the new collection of comic-book themed short stories featuring original characters. On sale NOW!
Codename: Agent Triple Zero
An elderly woman walked slowly down the hallway of an old, run-down hospital 50 miles south of the border between the United States and Mexico. A layer of dust and sand covered the dingy green tiles, sending up little clouds with any footfall. Built during the Spanish-American war, the hospital long ago stopped treating patients. The new owners paid the local governor three times what the property was worth, and the greedy bureaucrat didn’t even bother to listen to the lies they spun as to why they wanted it. Still, the Stasi was nothing if not thorough. If the governor asked, an entire backstory with paperwork and business plans likely stood ready to satiate any curiosity. For three months, not one person ever bothered them here. At least, until this old woman appeared out of nowhere.
Klaus sighed, flicking the spot on his closed-circuit monitor showing the old woman with his thick finger. He stood, stretched, and grabbed a flashlight from the cabinet by the door. He’d paced the hallways out of sheer boredom enough, so he didn’t need it. Yet, he thought, if this old woman falls or hurts herself it’ll just be a bigger headache. The hospital wasn’t that big, so it only took him about a minute to get to the woman. Klaus could tell from the way she walked that she did not know where she was going.
“You there!” he shouted in Spanish, his booming voice echoing off the walls. The woman started. She recovered, turning to face him. He shone the flashlight on her, causing her to squint. She was definitely a local, Klaus reckoned from her shabby clothes alone. “This is private property. You aren’t supposed to be in here.”
“How dare you?” she shouted back, also in Spanish, the brazen authority in her tone stopping Klaus in his tracks. “How dare you? Shouting at an old woman when she thinks she is alone. You could have given me a coronary!” She frowned at him, though Klaus thought he saw more embarrassment than anger in her face.
Klaus decided to shift his approach. After all, they weren’t in East Berlin anymore. “I’m sorry, ma’am. Truth be told, I was a little startled myself. We don’t get many visitors here.” He lowered the flashlight and held out his hand. “I’m Rickard,” he said, using the cover identity he’d almost forgotten. “What brings you out here?”
The old woman didn’t reply, instead she just stared at his hand. After a few long seconds, she extended her own and they shook. She had a firm grip for a woman her age and remarkably soft and sturdy skin, from what Rickard could feel. “I thought this place was abandoned,” she said, skepticism in her eyes. Klaus couldn’t help but laugh.
“It is, really,” he said. “The new owners have some plans for it, I guess. They don’t share all that with me. All I know is that I’m not supposed to allow anyone on the grounds.” He stopped, but the woman didn’t reply. “There is a phone in the office,” he continued, “if you wanted to call someone to maybe come and get you?”
“No one I know has a phone,” she said with distrust. Then her expression softened. “I was born here. Back when this was still a hospital,” she said.
Klaus whistled. “No kidding? I mean, this place has been shut down for what? Half a century, at least.”
“Are you trying to ask a lady her age?” the woman said, feigning offense. Klaus grinned at her, and she smiled back. “But you’re right, I’m an old woman. When you get to be my age — and I’m not telling — you get sentimental. I just wanted to see the place where I was born before…before I…,” her voice trailed off. At that moment, Klaus thought of his own Oma, who died while he was on mission in West Germany. He’d even missed her funeral. He slipped the watch from his pocket and popped open the cover. The rest of the team would be doing border recon for at least two more hours. He shut the watch and smiled at the woman.
“Well?” he said, “let’s go.” He offered her his arm. “Labor and delivery is upstairs.” The old woman welled up but caught her emotions in her throat. She offered him a warm grin and hooked her arm through his. Klaus helped her up the stairs, impressed at the ease with which this, at least, eighty-year-old woman managed them. They walked through the doors, and Klaus turned on his flashlight. “It’s just down the hall here,” he said, “do you know which room?” The old woman just pointed towards a door near the end of the hallway. Klaus led the way, shining the light ahead. He got to the door and opened it slowly. When his light fell on the room, instead of a birthing suite he saw an office, cluttered with moth-eaten furniture and old boxes. “Looks like we got the wrong — ,” he said turning to face the woman. What he saw stunned him silent.
Instead of the diminutive Mexican woman he’d been talking to, he stood face-to-face with himself wearing her clothes. Klaus actually noted how different it was than looking in a mirror, because that lacks a third dimension. His mirror image sneered and lunged at him, pushing him into the room. Klaus tried to punch the figure on top of him, but his swings had nothing behind them. He was too flabbergasted to fight for his life. He rolled onto his side, hoping to get away but his doppelganger wrapped a thick forearm — his forearm — around his neck. Klaus felt the other arm bracing behind him, and he clawed at his attacker’s skin. His nails dug in, but the flesh stretched like rubber. Klaus couldn’t take a breath, gasping fruitlessly as his arms went limp and everything faded into a cool darkness.