BOOK TOUR PROMO & GIVEAWAY: The Weight of Night by C.L. Stegall
The Weight of Night
by C.L. Stegall
The Progeny Series, Book One
When her mother is taken from her in a terrible accident, Alexis finds herself facing some previously unknown truths. Her best friend, Keats, is her only confidante when she is faced with an apparent stalker who claims that Alexis’ entire life is built around a lie. Alexis is suddenly thrown into a whirlwind world of danger and secret agendas, of demigods and deities.
“After calling Keats on her cell phone, Alexis ambled downstairs for some breakfast. Her father had just left to tie up a few loose ends at work but would be returning in a few hours. Alexis knew just how much he loved her mom and it was uncomfortable to watch him hide beneath his façade of strength. She remembered each and every batch of flowers he had sent to Elizabeth, every little peck on the cheek, every loving word spoken. Having a photographic memory was useful in any number of ways but sometimes a nuisance too. Keats could get pretty frustrated at her for recalling the smallest details of long-passed arguments. Her mother requested that Alexis refrain from correcting her in order to maintain the illusion that Elizabeth was still the parent. Her dad was quite accepting of Alexis’ gift, even quizzing her at a moment’s notice about everything from world history to strange animal facts. Such was the life of a young prodigy.
In the kitchen she retrieved a cantaloupe from the refrigerator and stood lost in her thoughts, slicing it into bite-sized pieces. The silence of the house was irritating. Her mom had the tendency — when she was home — to play what she called ‘classic’ rock music. The guitar wails of Hendrix or the keyboards of Steve Winwood, even the growling of ZZ Top, would permeate the house during the days that Elizabeth worked from home. As a freelance corporate event coordinator, she had the flexibility that most dream of having in their day-to-day careers, not to mention that she was paid very well for her work.
Alexis took her fruit to the kitchen table and sat there, munching and remembering her mom. The house served as a testing ground and demo site for a lot of Elizabeth’s creativity and Alexis wondered how long she and her dad could keep up the charade that, without Elizabeth to maintain it, the house would slip into banality. Alexis had often made sharp commentary on her mom’s decorating obsessions, more often than not with a smile. Now she felt the emptiness and knew she would miss her mom’s personal touch on every little facet of the house.
“Knock, knock,” Keats said as he entered the kitchen from the opened garage. He had been almost as much a member of the family as Alexis over the years. Charles even had a key made for Keats when he was fifteen, so he could house-sit for the Rains when they went on vacation. As far as Alexis knew, her dad never asked for its return.
“Hey,” she said through a half-mouthful of melon.
“Nice,” he replied with a smile. Sitting down at the table, he picked a chunk of cantaloupe from her bowl and popped it into his mouth. As he finished chewing, he asked, “How you holdin’ up, Al?” Keats had overcome a slight lisp before high school but when he was younger her name had given him trouble. He had taken to just calling her Al, and it stuck; though, no one else dared called her that.
“I have to say, I’ve been better.” Alexis dove right in, explaining about the stranger who had been at the funeral and then at the reception, his talk about her family’s secrets and the whole destiny thing. “What do you think it all means?”
She watched Keats as the thoughts ran through his mind at light speed. Even with her photographic memory he could just about keep up with her. Intellectually, Keats was considered something of a genius. Alexis, on the other hand, was viewed as more of a freak. It was all a matter of perspective, she supposed. Nevertheless, her feelings of separation and loneliness were not helped by the lack of understanding by her peers. In hindsight, she knew her attitude had a lot to do with that. Keats was the only one she trusted to keep her in check. Right now, she trusted him to tell her she wasn’t losing her marbles.
Keats listened to her story of the stranger and tossed ideas and theories around in his head. One thing was for sure, she was not imagining things. Poor Alexis never had much of an imagination. She couldn’t even draw with crayons as a child without having another picture to look at. Coming up with something out of her head was nothing less than impossible. He always assumed that it was a side effect of her mental acuity and talents. He also believed it was why she had such difficulty lying. It was almost beyond her capability to speak anything but truth. This was not a fact of which he was a fan, as it had got the both of them into trouble more times than he could count.
Keats saw this as an opportunity to once again broach the one subject she hated. Perhaps with the appearance of this stranger, she might be more willing to give his theory more credence. He took a deep breath and decided to give it a shot.
“Do you think that this stranger, the weirdness, if you will, might be connected in some way to my theory?” He waited hopefully for her response.
Alexis had figured that this would come up again and she did not look forward to being his guinea pig. He had a point, much as she hated to admit it. She mulled the idea over for a few moments and then shrugged.
“Do you mind trying one more time?” he asked with trepidation. “If I’m right, it might be able to lead you to better answers.”
“God, this is so ridiculous.”
“Think about it, Al. There’s just too much in there,” he stated, pointing to her head, “to have been input by you alone. I just can’t see it.”
“Well, what you’re proposing is beyond human capability, don’t you think? You think I’m an alien or some government experiment?” It was difficult not to be offended by his suggestion.
“Al, damn it, you know that’s not what I mean. I think you might have an incredible talent that you’re simply ignoring out of fear.” He looked at her with his lopsided grin. “The Alexis Rain that I know has no concept of fear.”
Alexis thought to herself that what she was feeling might just be fear. If Keats was right, it would change everything. It would make her even more a pariah than she already was. Yes, this might be something she was afraid of. It was also the very thing that had made her call him this morning. The thought had come to her as she came down from her perch. Strange and weird as the idea was, if it was true she could put it to good use right now.
Keats sat waiting without a word. She admired his determination and realized that he trusted in his notion, or theory or whatever he wanted to call it. He had a way of guessing things better than anyone she knew. She often teased him that he should play the ponies but he always laughed at the suggestion. Still, her hesitancy was outweighed by her concerns over the stranger. If he knew something about this—about why she was the way she was—then she would be a fool to pass up such a simple opportunity to find out.
“Fine,” she agreed, the tone of defeat heavy in her voice. “Let’s do this and get it over with.”
“We’ll have to go to your room. I’ll need to use the computer.”
“Uh-huh,” she commented. “You just wanna get me alone in my bedroom,” she remarked as they stood from the table.
“Ri-ight. I don’t think I wanna risk another black eye, thank you very much.” She punched him in the shoulder and took her bowl to the dishwasher while he feigned being in great agony and limped toward the stairs which led up to the second floor.
Her bedroom was stark white, like a hospital room. Alexis felt the minimalism calmed her and kept her grounded. There were no posters on the walls and even her bedding was completely white. The computer sat alone on the long white desk and the only splash of color was the Build-A-Bear dressed in eighties-style workout clothes which sat propped against the pillows of her bed. Alexis had always had a thing for peppy, eighties music and — after watching her daughter bounce to the song Physical — Elizabeth had gotten her the bear for her tenth birthday. It was one of the few ‘things’ that Alexis treasured.
She sat down at the computer and woke it up with a couple of quick moves of the mouse. That was as far as she got however, as Keats shooed her out of the chair and pointed to the bed.
“Whatever,” she complained, but moved to the bed while he took her place in the chair and scooted it under the table, turning the computer monitor away from her. He began tapping at the keys and swirling the mouse around on the desk. “Okay, okay,” she snapped. “Get on with it already.”
“All right. Here we go. Let’s get some baselines done. How did Henry David Thoreau influence Leo Tolstoy?” He watched her face as she thought for only a second before answering. He had wanted to do this for months now. If he were right, this was going to be amazing.
“His views on civil disobedience influenced Tolstoy’s political thoughts and actions,” she replied after a moment of thought. “In this, he also had an effect on Gandhi and MLK.”
“Right.” Since Alexis was a fan of philosophy, Keats knew that she would have the answer to that question. “Okay, now, what did Italian and English women of the sixteenth century wear to flatten and shape the smooth outlines of their gowns?”
“Ah, but be specific,” he smiled. “What type of corsets?” He knew that Alexis hated fashion as a subject and would most likely not know the answer, yet, she could have possibly read about it somewhere. So this was a viable next step in his testing. He watched as Alexis ran the question through her mind.
“They were iron, hinged and armor-like. Influenced by Spanish fashions of the times.” She paused for a second and her face clouded over.
“What is it?” Keats asked, noticing her expression.
“I’m not sure I should’ve known that.”
“What do you mean? You could’ve read it somewhere, right?” He thought it best to allow her to get there on her own, with minimal guidance. This was going to be a tough one for her to accept with her black and white view of the world.
“I hate fashion and trends. You know that. If I’d come close to reading that I would’ve moved on without a second thought. Cosmo is like kryptonite to me; I can’t stand to even be around it.”
“Hmm. Maybe. Let’s keep going. I’ll try something different.” He glanced at the computer and then typed something into the browser. “Ever studied any Mesopotamian art?”
She grimaced. “Uh, no.”
“Great. This will be the first real test, then.” He tapped at the keys and once satisfied with his findings, turned back to Alexis. “Based upon Sumerian sculptures, what is the hieratic imaging system?”
“Oh, geez. Seriously? I have no idea.”
“Really?” Keats’ grin was from ear-to-ear and the look on Alexis’ face made him certain that she would have smacked him if he had been close enough. The girl has a serious violent streak, he thought with amusement. “Think about it. Ask yourself the question again and see if you can’t come up with something. Anything.”
Caving in to his request, he watched her close her eyes as she thought about ancient Mesopotamia, which was the region between the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers — the area that today makes up parts of Iraq, Turkey, and Syria.
“In a hieratic imaging system, size reflects importance. Meaning, that the taller a figure is, the more important the subject was. As well, a beard on a figure would suggest a man in a powerful position.” She stopped, as if hearing herself for the first time. “Wait a minute. How the hell did I know that? I didn’t know that when you first asked me. I’m certain of it. Now, I have the answer? Is that right?”
“Bingo.” Keats sat back in his chair and looked at his friend. Had he been right? All evidence pointed to his theory being correct. “Okay, let’s try again. Just to be sure.”
“Keats, I’m officially freaked out, here. This doesn’t make any sense.”
“Let’s just confirm my theory first and then we can work on the whys and wherefores.” He thought for a minute or two. He could tell she didn’t like this. Knowing her the way he did, he suspected she might feel boxed in somehow, trapped by everything that was happening. Nevertheless, he pushed onward.
“I know you aren’t an animal lover either, so here’s a good one for you. In 2001 it was estimated that there were only about one hundred of these rare rabbits left in the world, located in the southern foothills of the Himalayas. What’s the name of this rabbit?”
“Holy shit. You don’t fool around with these questions do you? I have no idea…” she paused at his lifted finger.
“Ask yourself the question. Just like last time.”
“Oh, good grief.” She stopped, asked herself the question and her eyes flew open wide. “The Hispid Hare.”
“Son of a…” he began, but Alexis had jumped from the bed and began pacing. He waited while she worked it out.
“This can’t be. How could I know the answers if I never read it or studied it or heard it before? I know I’ve never heard of that freaking rabbit, that’s for sure.” She turned and her long blonde hair floated around her shoulders, almost as white as the comforter on her bed. He watched as her bright blue eyes closed and opened as the thoughts whirled through her mind like the fine strands of her hair only a moment before. “Maybe I can read minds? Maybe that’s it. I knew the answers because you knew them. Stupid. But, still. Pick a number,” she demanded, stopping in front him. She looked at him with concern and a fragility he had never seen in her before.
“Pick a number. Any number. From one to a million. And, make it a tough one.”
“Okay. Got it. What number am I thinking of?”
Alexis stood there thinking about it, asking herself the question. Keats saw the crestfallen expression as she realized she couldn’t get it. Her shoulders slumped and she turned and flopped on the bed. “I don’t know,” she said, the blanket muffling her voice.
So she couldn’t read minds. That was one of the possibilities Keats had supposed could be the reason Alexis had all the answers. Now, though, he realized that that was not it at all. His first assumption was correct. It had been almost six months since the thought struck him while they were in World History class together. Alexis answered a question from the teacher and, for whatever reason, Keats had wondered if she just knew the answer. What if she never read it or heard it? What if she just knew?
“I was right,” he said out loud. “Holy crap. I was right.” He seemed stunned at his own accuracy.
“Right about what?” Alexis asked, turning her face to him in the softness of the down comforter. “That I’m a freak?”
“You’re not a freak, Al.” He stood and moved to the bed, sitting to take her hand in his. “You don’t have a photographic mind. You just know everything.”
About the Author
C.L. Stegall is a Dallas-based author. He was born in North Carolina but will always call southern California home. He spent ten years in the U.S. Army, as both an engineer and a linguist for Military Intelligence. He has written innumerable short stories and novellas. His latest novel is a Special Edition of “The Weight Of Night”, which contains two additional tales of the Progeny, “Trinkets And Arrows” and “Soldier Boy.”