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About the author:
TJ Clark lives in the heart of California's beautiful Central Coast. She has a Masters Degree in Urban Planning and has authored numerous manuals, reports, newsletter articles, and grant applications for both government agencies and nonprofit organizations. Invaded is her first novel.
What inspired you to write your book?
I wanted to create an engaging story with both a strong plot and characters. The near future aspect of the story (believability) is very important to me.
Here is a short sample from the book:
An unearthly wail echoed through the kitchen. Tabitha Mayfield jerked upwards from her laptop and shot a glance toward the window.
“What was that?” Her normally cheerful voice blurted out in fear across the empty room, louder than she’d intended. The mournful cry seemed to have come from outside, but its eerie undertones made it difficult for her to be certain.
The noise sounded again. This time the house shuddered along with it, and the light above her head flickered.
“It’s just the wind,” Darren, her fiancé, called from the living room.
“Oh.” She settled back down in front of her spreadsheet, feeling a tad foolish and also trying to ignore the fact that the hairs on the back of her neck still stood on end.
The light blinked once more. Her glance darted to the bulb nestled inside the swag fixture hanging over the table, then to her power cord plugged into the wall.
“Please don’t go out.” She felt her chest tighten, as her fingers fumbled over her keyboard in a hurried attempt to save her work. Power outage or not, her boss expected a finished product by mid morning, no excuses.
The low, moaning started up anew. Her body cowered at the sound, as it struck her as too animal-like to be the wind. Maybe Darren was wrong, and a pack of coyotes roamed the open land behind his back fence.
She tapped a fingernail against the wood table and forced her mind back onto the task at hand. All she had left to do was format her report, the one aspect of her work her boss always reprimanded her about. Like always, she’d put it off until last.
The house rattled, and something banged outside. Tabitha took a final look at her spreadsheet and shut closed her computer, convincing herself her focus would be much better first thing in the morning.
The outside blackness loomed at her through the kitchen window, as she rose to clear her empty mug. She pressed her forehead against the cold glass and cupped her hands around her eyes, but couldn’t make out anything in the night shadows.
She turned from the window, flicked off the kitchen light, and inched into the darkness of the hallway. It irritated her how jumpy she felt. She had moved into Darren’s house two months ago, and it had taken her almost this entire time to grow accustomed to the haunting quiet of his property. Tonight’s strange noises had pushed her back to square one, making her once again feel like a houseguest.
“Stop it,” she chided herself under her breath.
She wasn’t a visitor, and it was her house now too or would be soon. Once his divorce became final, they planned to get married. If she wanted to feel more at home, the prudent thing for her to do would be to quit fretting and tackle the pile of unpacked moving boxes still littering the floor of his garage. At a minimum, it’d make her feel more settled.
She peered into the living room from the shadows of the short hallway. The lights were off, but she could easily make out Darren’s broad shouldered figure sitting on the sofa, flanked on each side by a child glued to a glowing tablet screen. A hollow spot grew in her chest as her feelings of not quite belonging once again mushroomed.
She gathered up her courage and stepped into the room, reminding herself that despite all the horror stories she’d heard about stepchildren, Justin and Evan had never once given her cause to feel unwelcome.
“You did get Santa Anas by the beach, didn’t you?” Darren asked, spying her, as she neared the couch.
“Of course, they just never caused such a racket.” She sank into the cushions of his oversized armchair with a slight shiver. She’d never remembered southern California’s seasonal winds, which blew opposite the area’s normal ocean breezes, causing such a chilling disturbance.
A ghostly moan filled the air, as if the notorious winds agreed with her statement. Her expression soured, and Darren chuckled.
“There could have been a hurricane, and you wouldn’t have heard it in that new fangled apartment of yours.” She couldn’t make out his eyes in the dark shadows, but could hear the mirth in his voice.
“It’s not my problem you live in an ancient, historic landmark.”
His 1960s home really did seem like a throwback to another era, compared to the jam-packed subdivisions surrounding them. He lived at the far eastern edge of Santa Clarita, and his house backed against the Angeles National Forest, a place she discovered sheltered a startling amount of wildlife compared to the alleyway behind her Santa Monica apartment.
“Easy now, there’s a house or two around here from the twenties.”
“Yeah, where?” Her mouth curved into a small grin, knowing full well he’d bring up what the locals called Old Town, so she grabbed a small throw pillow and tossed it at him.
“Hey,” Justin complained. He shoved the cushion off from where it had rebounded onto his tablet screen and gave them an irritated look.
“What time is it anyway?” Darren asked. “Don’t you have school tomorrow?”
“It’s only eight-thirty.”
“And bedtime is eight forty-five. Your brother is only seven years old and needs his sleep.”
“So let him go to bed first.”
“And you are only nine, and need yours too. Now. Move it. Both of you.” Darren pushed his elbows outwards to spur them into action. He ignored their grumbles and stretched an arm past Justin’s head to turn on a small table lamp. “Evan, don’t forget you have soccer practice tomorrow. Make sure you have all your gear.”
Evan’s face paled.
“What’s wrong, honey?” Tabitha asked. She leaned forward, trying to catch a glimpse of his eyes. He didn’t answer and kept his head lowered toward the ground.
She slumped back into her chair, disappointed he still wouldn’t open up to her despite all the efforts she’d made to gain his trust.
“Quit being a baby,” Justin said, shaking his head. He got up from the couch and pushed his brother aside with a gentle shove. “Evan left his cleats in the middle of the lawn. He’s afraid to go outside.”
“Oh, is that all? I’ll go get them.” She jumped up and made a beeline toward her flip flops parked next to the sliding glass door, the unexpected chance to score some extra points with Evan outweighing her own unease.
Darren started to say something and then stopped. She unlatched the slider and looked at him, expectantly. He could have been about to chastise Justin for calling Evan a baby, but more likely he disapproved of her letting Evan off the hook so easily. Once the kids fell asleep, he’d probably scold her about needing to let them suffer the consequences of their carelessness.
“Be careful out there,” was all he said.
“I think they might be by one of the goal posts,” Evan piped in.
“I’ll check there first.” She slid open the door and stepped outside, ignoring the increased hammering of her heart.
“Wait, let me get you a flashlight,” Darren called out after her.
She turned toward his direction, when the patio light flicked on, its sensor picking up her movement.
“I’ll be okay. The light just came on.”
She pulled the door closed before he could answer, just as the wind started to blow again. Sycamore leaves, easily as large as the size of her hand, swirled around her feet, trapped by the wood patio cover. The gust of air felt surprisingly pleasant against her bare arms, carrying only the tiniest hint of a chill on it. She had forgotten how the fall Santa Anas kept evening temperatures much warmer than normal for the season.
Once the blowing died down, she braved leaving the protection of the sheltered area. She caught a faint whiff of decaying apples from where they rotted on the ground, on the far side of Darren’s property. His lot, unusually large for such an urban area, measured over an acre and a half, and she marveled at the wind’s ability to carry the scent so far.
Off in the distance, she could make out the ghostly silhouette of a patio chair, and figured one of the boys must have moved it. It would be a likely spot to look for Evan’s cleats, if she couldn’t find them by the soccer goal Darren had recently built and staked down in the middle of the yard. Evan was usually pretty good at remembering where he had left things though.
She plunged further into the darkness, the rough ends of the dying lawn scratching against her ankles. The glow of the patio light grew fainter and fainter as the distance between her and the house lengthened. The rustling leaves and creaking tree branches began to spook her, and she now regretted so heedlessly brushing aside Darren’s offer of a flashlight.
She had almost reached the goal, when a strong gust of wind whipped through the backyard, with a long, drawn out howl, following at its heels. She heard a loud pop, and the outdoor light shut off. Her breath caught in her throat. She whirled in the direction of the patio and to her dismay discovered the motion sensor hadn’t timed out, but rather the power had gone off. The entire house stood dark.
She stood paralyzed, torn between fleeing to the safety of the house versus completing her mission of finding Evan’s cleats. It was reasonable to expect Darren could use help with the boys, so she wouldn’t have to admit that her nerves had gotten the best of her, but winning Evan and Justin’s admiration counted for a lot.
Her gaze drifted upwards, and she gasped. Countless stars, normally shielded by the glow of city lights, beamed brightly against the black backdrop of the night sky. Though she could always make out more celestial bodies on Darren’s property than in West LA, tonight’s display far exceeded anything she’d ever seen at his house before. The winds had blown out both the cloud cover and smog, making it an even more spectacular sight.
Her fear of the night momentarily forgotten, she began to search for a familiar constellation, when a blast of wind flung her hair into her face. A childhood memory flashed in her head of a newscaster in a blue windbreaker explaining how the winds blew stronger near canyon passes. As Tabitha swept her hair out her eyes and tucked the longer strands as best she could behind her ears, she had to agree.
She took in a large swallow of air, bucked up her courage, and resumed hunting for Evan’s cleats. The hairs on her arm stood on end, as she scanned the ground immediately ahead, her eyes barely able to penetrate the darkness. She progressed forward, one step at a time, sporadic clumps of dried grass giving her a series of small frights as they jumped out at her only moments before her feet landed on them.
Her arm banged into one of the soccer goal posts, and she winced in both pain and relief at the impact. She took her time to carefully survey the entire area, both in front and behind the net, not wanting to overlook the cleats in the dark shadows, but they were nowhere to be found.
It struck her as pointless to search anywhere else without light, and her nerves were getting the best of her. She turned and cut back across the yard towards the direction of the house, her normally springy steps weighted down with disappointment. She didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, as she pictured herself as a mother wolf slinking home with its tail between its legs, defeated in its quest to bring home prey to her young cub.
She paused a good twenty yards from the patio to take one final look at the night sky. Her favorite constellation, Orion, immediately popped out at her. The sight filled her with the memory of her father, and how he’d explained to her how to follow the star on Orion’s shield to find the big dipper. She could almost feel the warmth of his arm draped around her shoulder, as he extended his other one towards the heavens. Sadness enveloped her, as she realized next summer would mark ten years since his death.
A cluster of tiny, gold lights in the northwest sky broke her from her spell. Each light on its own appeared about the size of a marble, but en masse they created an eye-catching sight.
“What the hell is that?” she asked out loud.
The group of lights hurtled in her direction, remaining in a tight formation. The cluster rapidly descended, with each individual orb leaving a stream of light blazing behind it. The objects now looked the size of ping pong balls and numbered too many to count. Notions of shooting stars and meteors danced in her mind, but she quickly pushed them away. The uniform pattern of the lights and the duration of their presence in the night sky begged some other explanation.
Thoughts of missiles and alien spaceships blasted themselves into her head. She stared at the orbs transfixed, as they advanced closer and grew to the size of tennis balls. Definitely missiles, she decided, studying their golden trails, and possibly nuclear. And they appeared to be racing right towards her.
A sudden longing to be with Darren and the boys surged through her. She leapt towards the house, its hulking silhouette barely visible in the blackness. The wind howled around her, and a strangled cry escaped from her throat. She couldn’t feel her legs but forced them to keep pumping.
As the wind died down, a low humming sounded around her. She gulped air into her heaving lungs and cast a backwards glance towards the sky. The golden spheres had grown to the size of soccer balls. They descended in a group right towards her, slower now, like an airplane coming in for a landing.
She propelled herself forward, desperate to make it to the safety of the patio and to warn Darren and the boys. The humming noise grew louder and higher pitched, until it drowned out the sound of her labored breathing. Only ten more strides, her eyes registered to her brain. Then her right foot landed on one of Evan’s cleats. Her ankle twisted. She lunged forward, unable to catch her fall. Her chin smacked into the patio chair, and she flipped sideways, landing with a thud on the lawn.
She craned her neck to see the sky. The lead orb now hovered about twenty feet above her, with the others trailing closely behind. A loud grinding filled the air. Her body tensed as a black sliver appeared in the middle of the gold ball and grew into a gaping rectangle. Something glinted from deep within the sphere’s cavity. It reminded her of sunlight reflecting off the ocean, as if the orb contained some sort of a liquid.
Panic surged through her, and like a wind up doll, she sprang to life. She rolled over and crawled toward the patio on all fours. The grinding sound had stopped, but the mechanical hum remained so loud, she couldn’t hear the sound of her own whimpers. Tears streamed down her cheeks. Escape no longer seemed possible. She curled into the duck and cover position ingrained into her from early childhood emergency drills and squeezed her eyes closed. Every muscle in her body tightened, as she prepared to be exploded into smithereens.
A sickly smell, hundreds of times more pungent than rancid flower vase water, overwhelmed her senses. She gagged. Cold, wet droplets struck one of her arms. The moisture seared its way into her skin, causing a burning sensation. She wailed in distress. The pain grew in intensity as the liquid penetrated deeper and deeper into her flesh, like acid. It burrowed into her muscle. She could feel it eating through each individual fiber. She writhed in agony, rolling first onto her side and then her back.
She forced her eyelids open, her need to see the origin of her misery greater than her fear. The night’s blackness greeted her, swallowing up the red haze of pain blearing around her eyes. She whined and struggled to raise her arm, in a desperate effort to see her injury, but her muscles wouldn’t lift. She stared blankly at the night sky, her mind barely able to process the images her eyes took in. The gold balls of light sped off into the distance, growing smaller and smaller until she could no longer see them.
Then the pain entered her bone. She screamed.
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