Welcome! Thank you for reading Chapter 2.
Morning came fast for Bradley, but he hadn’t slept well. His back ached and he didn’t feel rested. The bed had the support of a hammock stretched to its limits.
Sam poked his head into the bedroom. “I got to run and get some supplies,” Sam said. “If you want to come, I’m going now.”
“Nah. I’ll hang here,” Bradley said.
“Suit yourself. Be back in about an hour.”
Moments later, Bradley heard the front door to the apartment close. He grabbed his phone, charging on the dresser beside the bed, and checked the time. He laid in bed and looked around the featureless room. All the walls were bare and it wasn’t hard to imagine what it would be like to live in a prison cell. Bradley threw off the covers and walked to the window. Apart from the sun and the shadows they cast, the same alley, the same overflowing dumpster stared back at him. He could see the browning blood streak on the sidewalk from yesterday and Sam’s truck was gone. Bradley changed into his clothes, pocketed his phone, and headed to the kitchen, drawn by the smell of coffee. He was ravenous.
There was a loaf of bread on the counter and the coffee machine’s carafe was half full. Bradley opened the fridge: ketchup, relish and an open package of hot dogs. That was it.
Does he even know the meaning of breakfast?
He grabbed a couple of slices of bread and, after they received mold-free approval, jammed them in his mouth. Bradley found a clean cup and poured himself a liberal dose of hot black coffee. It smelled better than it tasted, but the dry bread didn’t discriminate and soaked up the coffee like a thirsty sponge.
His hunger staved off for the moment, Bradley explored the minimal offerings of Sam’s apartment.
The first door on the right after the kitchen was the bathroom. It was narrow, not much wider than the door itself, and provided a tub/shower combo at the end by the window. Beside that was the toilet and a simple, free-standing sink. A mirrored medicine cabinet hung above it.
Bradley opened the cabinet. He expected to find medication, but was disappointed to discover only a tube of toothpaste, a well-used toothbrush and a Bic razor. For an ex-con, it looked like Sam lived a pretty clean life.
Between the bathroom and his bedroom was what Sam called the “TV room.”
Should have called it the unentertaining room.
The space was smaller than his bedroom by half, and lodged a ratty old couch and an old tube television. Bradley looked for a remote control, and wasn’t surprised when he didn’t find one.
He turned the TV on. It took some time for the picture to warm up and fade in. Bradley flipped through the thirteen channels on the analog dial. Ten of them offered hissing snow, and of the three channels the TV could pick up, nothing of interest was on. He turned the TV off in disgust.
What am I reading? What am I writing?
A little later Bradley found himself sitting on the stairs leading up to the building entrance as he waited for Sam to return. Locked out, he watched the few people that walked by but spent most of his time playing games on his phone. He hoped to see another prostitute, maybe on the corner of Casanova and Spoffard. Instead, an elderly woman with a cane pulled a wheeled wire cart partially filled with groceries to the wrought iron gate. She unlocked it, stowed her cane in her cart, and began to climb the stairs to the front doors.
The woman shielded her squinting eyes with her free hand and looked up at Bradley. “Good afternoon to you now.” The woman spoke with a thick Scottish accent.
Bradley pocketed his phone and prepared to stand up.
“No, no, sit down, child. I’m fine.” The old woman waved at Bradley to sit. Her wrinkled hands looked soft and doughy, tipped with thick, milky fingernails that curved to subtle points, like those he’d seen in vampire movies.
“I’ve been climbing these stairs longer than you’ve been alive,” she said. “Still strong as an ox.”
“I’m not a child,” Bradley said.
The woman caught Bradley’s scowl. “Aye. Right you are.”
Bradley watched the woman struggle up the stairs, one step at a time, until she stood next to him with her cart on the top landing. She paused to catch her breath.
“Have you seen a cat around by any chance,” the woman said. “A tabby? Piper’s his name.”
Bradley kept his gaze locked on the street. “Actually yeah. Saw him here yesterday.” He pointed at the fading blood streak on the sidewalk. “See that? He killed a rat over there.”
“Piper! That blasted cat.” The woman pushed her cart to one side of the front entrance and eased herself down next to Bradley on the top step. She turned to look at him. “So, who do you belong to?”
“My dad’s the super.”
“You’re Sam’s boy?” The woman’s face lit up with recognition. “Now that you mention it, I can see it. You got his eyes.”
Bradley didn’t care. The woman could see it in his face and in the way he tensed up when she talked about Sam.
“Sam’s been through some tough times, I don’t care to know what, but he’s a good man,” the woman said. “He really looks out for us here…even the bad ones.”
Bradley knew what the woman was trying to do and part of him wanted to listen and believe, but old hurt won out.
“He’s a stranger to me.”
“Everyone’s a stranger once,” the woman said. “Give it some time.”
“I got all summer, unfortunately.” Bradley sighed.
Piper mewled from around the side of the concrete stairs. He poked his head through the bars in the railing and strolled up to join Bradley and the woman sitting at the top.
“Ah, there he is.” The woman smiled and made a nick-nick sound with her tongue. “Piper’s a regular scoundrel, and a handsome one at that, hey boy?”
Piper pushed his head under the woman’s weathered hand and she responded by giving him a head scratch.
“You got a cat at home?” the woman asked.
“No,” said Bradley. “My mom won’t allow it. She’s a bit of a square.”
“Maybe when you get home you can convince her to change her mind.”
“Maybe.” Bradley looked at the woman. She had managed to crack his foul mood, if only slightly.
Piper saw something in the alley, froze for a second, then was off with a start down the stairs.
“There he goes again. Damn cat.” The woman began her struggle to stand up. “I’d best be going now.”
Bradley stood up and helped the woman to stand.
“Thank you, dear. Say, what’s your name?”
“Nice to meet you, Brad. I’m Mrs. Baxter, up in 302.” She held her right hand out.
Bradley took it and they shook hands. He was surprised by the strength of her grip. His earlier impression of her hands had been completely wrong.
“Come up and visit any time.” Mrs. Baxter grabbed her shopping cart. She located her keys and opened the front door of the building.
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After her newborn son David is diagnosed with cancer, Deanna’s life quickly focuses on her frantic need for a cure. Her husband Max, however, has other ideas.
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Bradley grabbed the door and held it open for her. She lifted her cane from the cart and moved through the door. At the end of the hallway, the elevator doors slid open. Two elderly men in their sixties shuffled out. Mrs. Baxter’s eyes narrowed and her demeanor flipped in an instant.
She leaned over to Bradley, as if to whisper, but spoke loud enough for the men to hear. “I’ll let you in on a secret,” Mrs. Baxter said. “See those two? Gus and Mel. You’d be best to steer clear of those arseholes.”
Bradley cracked a smile as the two men approached. Gustavo, the taller of the two, wore moth-eaten clothes and his bushy gray mustache hovered over a permanent scowl. Except for the overwhelming odor of booze and sour sweat, there was nothing memorable about Melvin except Carny, a little bichon frise that trailed at his feet. Reddish-brown stains surrounded the dog’s eyes, mouth and paws. At first glance, Bradley thought it was blood.
“Out of my way, Baxter,” Melvin said. “Your frozen dinners are melting.” As if to join the conversation, the little dog began to growl and bark with a high-pitched yip-yip. Bradley thought the dog was a joke.
Mrs. Baxter tapped Bradley’s shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. “You be alright, now, Brad.” She turned to Melvin and said: “Keep your hands to yourself, you bugger. And keep that rat of a dog away from me or I’ll string him up.”
“Same goes for your old, dirty pussy,” said Gustavo. “Oh sorry. I meant your cat.”
Mrs. Baxter’s eyes went wide like saucers. Melvin and Gustavo enjoyed her reaction and broke into hearty laughter. She swung her cane at Gustavo and missed him by inches.
Carny looked up at Bradley, his little body tensed in an attack pose. Bradley chuckled but it didn’t matter how he reacted. The dog took offense to anything he, or anyone, did. Carny began to growl. Bradley growled right back. Carny switched to his annoying yip-yip bark and began to lunge at Bradley’s feet. Bradley pretended to attack. He thrust his body forward and stomped his feet. The little dog backed up, scared, but maintained his incessant yip-yipping.
Melvin poked his head back into the building. “Carny! Move yer ass. Git!”
The little dog responded in an instant, and ran towards Melvin, yip-yipping back at Bradley at the same time. They both disappeared down the front steps.
“Put that thing on a leash!” Bradley said.
“Shut your damn mouth, boy.” Melvin’s response was muted only slightly through the front doors to the building.
Mrs. Baxter pulled her shopping cart down the hallway towards the elevator. She called back, “His bark is worse than his bite.”
“Thanks.” Bradley wondered if Carny had the courage to bite anything. The little dog would find out soon enough.
The elevator doors opened with a rusted, scraping sound. Mrs. Baxter stepped in and pulled her cart behind her. She turned and gave Bradley a small wave as the doors swallowed her up.
You’ve been reading Vermin 2.0
Rats. They brought the Black Death. They’re fiercely intelligent. They eat anything.
Now there’s a new breed of rat in the sewers of New York City…a version 2.0…and they’re hungry for blood.
Ex-con Sam Shaw has problems. Bradley, his estranged son of fifteen years, has moved in for the summer and Sam has no clue how to be a dad. Plus, the building he maintains has become infested with super smart rats that crave living flesh. But Sam’s problems don’t stop there. He also has a debilitating fear of rats. With the help of a crew of rodent experts, Sam and Bradley must battle the infestation before they, and the building’s tenants, are eaten alive.
Vermin 2.0… Can they be stopped?
You’ve read this far. Perhaps you’re willing to go a bit further and continue reading to the end of the tail…er, I mean tale. 😉
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this preview of Vermin 2.0: Hunger Pains