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'Bend or Break'

A Sample of the Antihero Novel by Reed Alexander

This is the first book I published. While I usually do horror, in this case it was more of a dark action thriller. It centers around an antihero who has learned the ability to bend reality. He has been using this power to seek revenge against the phantom syndicate that murdered his family. Please enjoy this sample and consider buying yourself a copy at the link below:

Bend or Break by Reed Alexander

The thrill of the hunt is indescribable. There is a knot in your stomach like a clenched fist. It represents a hunger that feels like no other, alien to those who’ve not felt true desire for the unthinkable, those who have not allowed that desire to consume them. Every hunt is like that. Every time the chase begins and all odds point to hunger. No, even further, they point to starvation. Every time the feeling comes, it must be satisfied. I can only assume for animals of prey, this feeling, being that it’s their natural instinct, is a blissful state. The gazelle makes the fatal mistake and strays too far from the herd. The lion waits just off in the tall grass, a hunger in her belly no human can pretend to understand. To feed her cubs, to ensure her survival, the folly of the gazelle is a necessity.

Though I’m no lion, to me, hunger is simply work, but my prey fights back. I think the lion would create a new state of being if gazelles started carrying fully automatic weapons. Then again, it did little good for the prey I chase. It was all in slow motion the minute I sprang from the dark confines of the city alleyway. The fountains of blood as lackey after lackey, after common thug and random mook, fell one by one. The details are a little hazy right now, but I’ve hardly any time to reflect on it.

Rain pours down on the thick, dark, slime of the back alleys. Everything hangs with waterlogged debris in the dimly lit veins of city’s bowels. This prey of mine owns this dockside property but hardly bothered to take a gander into the squalor he’s created. Now he runs hopelessly through downpour in an unfamiliar labyrinth of byways, under curtains of sensory-distorting rain. The only thing that persuades him further into oblivion is the sure sound of my thunderous footsteps closing in fast from behind.

Then a lucky break sparks the final deciding moment between the gazelle and the lion. Will the lion clumsily pitch too far in one direction during a high-speed pursuit? Will the gazelle clear brush, preventing the lion from maneuvering? Or will some dumb young couple be sitting just off to the side in an idling Mustang convertible, trying to get a little midnight action far away from their parents’ disapproval? He pulls a half-naked girl kicking and screaming through the window, her fragile body slapping cold and exposed on the filthy alley floor. Considering the circumstances, she is lucky. Her brave man at her side is simply incapable of fighting back with his pants around his ankles. Poor lad can’t even stay hard under the circumstances. Not that I blame him. It’s not easy keeping a boner with a gun being jammed against your temple. Now the gazelle has wheels. In most cases, the lion would give up and the hunger would remain unsatisfied. Even a hearty veteran flatfoot wouldn’t waste the ammunition on the back of a speeding car. To tell you the truth, I ain’t much of a shot anyway. For the typical lion, the chase has ended. For me, it’s just gotten interesting.

The knot in my stomach clenches tighter, the burning muscles in my calves and thighs start pumping, my heart begins to pound like a war drum, my eyes never leaving the back of the Mustang.

No, no one escapes.

My legs pump harder as the car begins to accelerate and pull away with little effort. I collide with the threshold, the moment of full burn. I begin to push through.

No, no one escapes.

My stomach is cold fusion, my eyes locked on the bumper of the Mustang, my legs pump harder, the Mustang pulling away. The threshold shatters around me, and still, I push further.

No, no one escapes.

The rain is like shards of glass, my body like a furnace, every muscle is a part of the chase, locked on the bumper of the Mustang. The Mustang begins to lose ground. When the next threshold is met, there’s hardly a moment to appreciate it as it tears around me, my legs pistons, my heart an armed missile seeking its target to explode and closing.

No, no one escapes.

We round a corner onto the city streets; the Mustang squeals around the turn with me on foot close behind. I cannot explain this moment. All my senses are silenced. The rain is but pinpricks on my numb face. All that exists is the bumper of the Mustang; he will not escape.

“No! It... it’s impossible!” I hear that a lot from my prey, and this one is no different. “What the fuck are you, man?”

“The piper,” I say this with a hint of glee. “Time to pay up.”

“No! No one can run that fast!” he could never appreciate how right that point is. “What kinda fucking freak are you?”

“Look, I’ve no time to waste with you babbling about circus tricks. We have far more important things to discuss, you and I.”

“But it’s just fucking impossible!” This fellow has a one-track mind; he hasn’t even paid full respect to the gun I have pressed to his forehead.

I grab him by his collar and lift him up to my ugly maw, the gaping hole where my right eye once sat, distracting his gaze.

“If you don’t wanna find out how much of a freak I really am, I suggest we start focusing on my fucking questions, hmm?” Bad enough I’m gonna beat him around. The last thing he wants is for me to make it personal, but then again, it should probably explain that it already is.

The local tabloids call me a superman. I am an urban legend round these parts, a superhero vigilante on the path to justice, but life ain’t like the comic books, and Superman doesn’t have to dodge bullets. They just bounce right off. He also got a pretty crystal palace. I got a fucking room in lower Queens. I am no Superman. I can’t jump buildings, I can’t stop a train with my body. Sure, I can outrun a Mustang, but bullets I have to get a little more creative with. Frankly, I would say that I really have no superpowers. I would like to think anyone could perform my freak show acts if they just learn how, if they just had a reason to learn how, if they had a want that made them need to know how. It doesn’t work all the time. Sometimes, I let reality get to me; sometimes I get distracted or preoccupied. In order to do the impossible, one must have true faith. That is, they must know, without doubt, that they can do what they know they cannot do; what physics tell us is impossible. It’s more than mind over matter. It is will over all.

The man I just got done slapping around was more than some well-armed arrogant prick. He is another rung on a ladder en route to the top in a series of mutually accomplished well-armed arrogant pricks. Thinking back on it now, I wonder if I shouldn’t have just started at the top and worked my way around. Had I done that, I might never have bothered with this petty loser. Then again, I might have missed something or someone that needed to be squeezed. They might all start out the same—just petty losers with enough power to push around the weak—but it doesn’t stop there. Really, though, if I had started at the top, the top would just be replaced by the next wise guy itching to take a piece of the biggest pie. That would leave me holding the knife, and I ain’t feeding no fat cat nor roasting some Don Curlioni’s competition.

Torture is a big part of game, but you can’t just hurt someone and expect them to accept you as the biggest problem they got. Some of my victims say there is nothing I can do their boss can’t do worse. Others think I ain’t got what it takes and have to find out the hard way—the very hard way. Even some, though few, think they can take what I got, but when it comes to pain, everyone has their limits. I get pretty creative when it comes to making them talk. That’s something you won’t see Superman doing. Guess men in capes aren’t into torture. However, I find out what I need to know, and it usually only costs me about two slow hours of my time. I probably could have gotten it quicker, but there is more to torture than just information. With every mangled corpse comes a message: “I’m that much closer.”

Every lackey and hireling only has one step up in succession. It tells them I take my time, it tells them who is next, it provokes a reaction. This forces their hand to actively come looking for the monster that hunts them. This brings them out into the open. More importantly, when the boss sees the body, there will be no doubt in his mind that my victim talked. That’s fear you can’t buy. Plus, it’s kinda fun.

The tabloids help as well: “Man falls 10 stories gets up and runs away,” “Man dodges direct fire from twelve men armed with machine guns,” “Man hurls mob boss’s limo into river,” “Man regenerates missing arm.” That last one was a bit of an exaggeration. My arm wasn’t completely blown off, just most its fleshy bits.

Don’t assume there’s some higher purpose to all this. Don’t think this isn’t about revenge. Yes, I am taking on basically every inch of organized crime in the greater New York area, and sure it’s because they are criminals now untouchable by the law. But let’s clear something up. No, this isn’t about Providence, and no, justice is not what I’m setting out to accomplish. It’s about payback, my pound of flesh.

The task started smaller as vengeance always does. Just a small group of thugs hardly any real connection to the now insurmountable organization I battle. It was supposed to be a simple story in fact, beginning and ending solely with them. They who had made the monster. Then one day, it came for them. Story over, right? That’s when I discovered a hard truth. Violent and disturbed, these men were simple pets, just about the very bottom of the food chain. The truth is, they had received their orders from someone else in the higher up, someone trying to make a name for himself. In the time I spent training for my vengeance, this one man eventually gained control beyond his wildest dreams. That is the man I want now. The man I can’t find. The phantom hand that now holds the leashes to over half the damn city. A man I know only as Beck.

I could have been happy with my first kills. They were the faces I remembered. Older and strung out but still the same faces. I spent time showing them fear, haunting their dreams, chasing them down one by one, taking it as slow as I remember it lasting for me. Five men took almost two months of steady psychological torture. The last left with him a message that has stirred in my core ever since, his final mark on the war of attrition that is time. I missed one. Only a name but enough to turn revenge into an all-out war. That name was Beck. A name my final victim spoke of while trying to buy his way out of the city, a failed attempt at getting away from the phantom of his past. He tried to outrun death, but death hit him with a Mack Truck. It was then I realized the size of the serving on my plate. This is not just about the freaks that pulled the trigger. This is not about the things they did before they were kind enough to finally pull the trigger. This is about the man who gave them the guns, gave them the drugs, gave them the power of fear. This is about the master that held their leash and what that leash is to me. Of course, when I say I started at the bottom, I meant the very bottom. My next meal went from dog to rat.

Despotism is a requirement if the crime machine is to work properly. Desperation lubricates the machine that makes the money. None so desperate as the informants, the harbingers of the word on the street. Whether by vice or incompetence, these creatures get trapped in the worst of places. They can’t leave, so they adapt. They find the one thing that anyone can sell besides their bodies—they sell information. Informants and snitches then become the scum that start the chain of a never-ending cycle known as organized crime. More than that, the rat is essential communication for criminals. Contacts that can be trusted under the principles of control through fear. It’s a simple food chain for the despot rat: rat to the mob to get a fix, rat to the cops about the mob to avoid charges brought up by the fix, rat on others to the mob to avoid the consequences of ratting on the mob. Unfortunately, like all life, through either the promise of success or the world’s largest crack rock, without something to keep them in check, they get greedy. That means a fella like me seems a free meal to a rat. No loose ends or worries. Or so they thought at first.

I even played it up in the beginning to set the pace and make my mark. I’d give the rats something to talk about, which created the setting for the legend I’d soon become. Slowly, I created a new fear. Finally, seemingly almost all at once, those who spoke out disappeared. Cut them off and you cut off the flow of communication. Moreover, you create a new fear that disrupts the control. If new rats come in, they disappear within a week, and because of that, everyone is now equal—the cops, the mob, and me. All of us in the dark waiting to get lucky, trying to act on instinct. This gives me the advantage; it puts them on my turf and my time. Not to mention I’ve been cheating. Though informants disgust me in principle, they are necessity in actuality, and as long as I have something to say about it, mine will be the only one.

Charley O’s Café, the cage where I keep my rat. An old spot just off the drag in the form of a run-down grill and deli, nestled hopelessly between the squalor of housing projects and corporate rezoning. It’s the type of place you go for quiet talk, the kind of talk that you don’t want people listening to. It’s the kind of place where anyone, including the men on top, goes for downtime. Charley, in this instance, has become a litany of need-to-know information. Not to mention Charley makes a hell of a Rueben sandwich.

“Trouble at the docks?” Charley notices me with hardly an upward glance from his closing kitchen chores of oil-soaked rags and grease-encrusted spatulas.

“I think that’s what they would call it,” or at least what they have been calling me lately.

“What did I tell ya?” Charley gets in his moment of old glory while he can. “Nobody makes that kinda effort to keep their nose clean that ain’t got some’n ta hide. Guess that means ya found what you was looking for, eh?”

“This business was just to keep tidy books, nothing directly tangible that I could find.” Though I know, like Charley knows, the criminal mind works on hearsay. “But yes, there was something there.”

“Ooh, got secrets ta keep from your old pal Charley?” Nothing about me impresses him of course, but I don’t have to be impressive to get what I need from him. “That’s fine, plausible deniability I always say. You know I’ll figure it out. You know I always do. I read you like a book.”

“When it comes to that, I will need you for more information, but for now,”—a little donation to Charley’s retirement fund with an obvious look of get with the program and Charley hops to work—“I need to know where these books are laundered through.”

Charley glances over the books for barely five minutes and gives me the address of my next target. A rat to navigate the maze. At least now I can find my way to the next big cheese.

The Barrier

I place my hand on the stinging cold metal of the meat locker door. With light pressure, I focus on the strength of the unyielding steel before me. The skin on my hand grinds firmly against it, causing my muscles to creak with the stress of my contempt for this obstacle. Beyond, in the cold locker loading bay of this old meat packing plant, my target awaits.

On the other side, many voices call back and forth, getting ready for the moment when the door comes down. I can sense the anxiety in their cries for more guns and more cover, a tangible fear in the air of the boogeyman who waits beyond the dark portal into their safe haven. My reputation must precede me as these men were already afraid before I got here. Behind me, in the obscure clutter of the industrial meatpacking plant, a fitting bloodbath has sparked the need for their final barricade. Behind, a dozen or so men, well armed, with ample cover and superior ground, lay dead. It probably didn’t take me 60 seconds to kill them all. Ironic, the scene behind me is indeed a slaughter, but this isn’t the time for amusing anecdotes. The problem now is before me, the rest trapped beyond the barricade, all that stands between them and me.

I deliver the first blow.

Heavy, though unsuccessful, the skin on my knuckles tears from the friction against the force of solid metal. Every soul beyond the door jumps. More panicked voices cry out to be ready.

A pressure forms in my temple, and my left eye begins to burn. Kinetic force starts from the tip of my pinky toe traveling like a shock wave to each conjoining muscle: up the back of my left leg, into my lower back, straight up my spine into my right shoulder, down my arm into my closing fist. The air around my fist burns with a force roaring like a cannon, impacting with a shock wave that melts the frost forming on the metal. The door yields with a groan, the impact echoing throughout the plant. This attempt was not entirely perfect regardless of the impact crater. Noting the tendons showing through the rendered skin on my knuckles, I almost lose focus. The pain would probably be quite severe, but really it doesn’t matter. I can’t feel my hand anymore. Luckily, the noise beyond is quite pleasing, antagonizing me to push further. Someone has vomited, another begins to scream, but he’s quickly silenced at the sound of a pistol and a falling body.

“Anyone else gonna be a chickenshit tonight?” I can hear the big man says to his cowering troops. If he keeps that up, he might do the job for me.

With the added enthusiasm, the next blow is more appropriate. Cold sweat pours down my face, the pressure in my head like a vacuum, the steel door folding in on itself, its hinges shot and shuddering under the force. Beyond, someone begins to pray in Latin.

“Shut up! Shut the fuck up!” the fearless leader barks, but even he sounds shaken by that last blow. “You gots bigger problems to fear than God, all of yeahs do.”

“W... huh... what... what the fuck is it, man?! What the fuck is it?!” Another troop breaks, another gunshot sounds, and another body meets concrete.

“That’s enough outta all a' ya!” The big man regained his composure. “You think the devil has come for you? You work for the fucking devil, so quit trying to back out! You don’t get a choice how it ends when you, sign the contract! You wanna live? Then you’ll kill whatever hell sent ta claim you!” The final blow.

The door does not just break; it does not just fall. With a spark of torn metal, the door comes flying off its hinges, propelled with the force of a sonic boom. Five men caught in the line take the shock as they can do little more than stare at the hell-bent slab of steel bearing down upon them. All others open fire wildly, spraying through the dust and debris. Several drawn-out timeless seconds of bullet flurry through the passageway of nightmares to come, then silence.

“Did we get him?” The shaking voice of an uncertain gunman rings out in the frigid stillness of the now silent loading bay.

“Hold on, hold on. Nobody moves till I say it’s clear.” The big man seems unsure of himself as well. “James... get out there and look around.”

“Are you fucking nuts?” James, still captured in the nightmare, knows like any kid that you don’t go into the closet when the bogeyman waits. “Boss, I’d rather piss glass.”

“You’ll piss lead if you don’t get the fuck out there and see if we tagged 'em.” I can almost see the big man waving his gun around James’s belt line like a fucking commissar. Fear might shake a man, but certainty is always king.

“Hey, boss, what’s this thing?” As James approaches the misty opening, another gunman coins the moment, waving around my special magic trick. A small brick of M2 plastic, one of three that followed behind the freight train of steel, all fully equipped with primed charges and remote detonators. They can thank the sloppy gunrunner from my last job for those.

I crack my neck as the blast from the explosion tears through the loading bay’s lower docks, ripping men into charred pillars of fleshy ribbons. I breathe out, hoping my gamble was correct. That this would bring down the big man’s foremen catwalk without killing him. The goal being to incapacitate him without putting myself in harm’s way. I might be crazy, but I ain’t stupid. I’ve learned, with time and effort, to dodge bullets, and I’ve extended this to a new level of the impossible on open ground. However, twenty or more men spraying gunfire into a 10-by-10 cargo ramp was a little more than I could wrap my mind around, especially after my first circus trick.

The thing is, the real trick here was X-ray vision. Mind you, I can’t see through cement or steel, more like I can feel the room on the other side. The fear from the shaken troops helps a little, giving me their basic position. Beyond that, I had to know what was beyond my ability to know. Know that in a room I have never stepped foot in, there were seven stacks of pallets perfect for cover and a catwalk up to an upper office area. The outer loading dock I noted as I came in. I decided to lodge a truck up against it in case anyone tried to take the easy way out. I needed to know all these things so that when the door came down, I could accurately throw the little bricks of plastic. Not just throw them wildly, hoping they would land where I needed them, but carefully pick targets so I could clear out as many men as possible without killing the one I came for. I pride myself on detail.

After the explosion, it was little more than a bullet here, a bullet there, and my boot on the cheek of the big man.

“You look like a fucking roast pork, fat boy.” He squirms a little under my boot.

“And you look just like everyone else. You ain’t no fucking devil!” He grunts with every word under my grinding heel. “You’re just a man, just a fucking worm like the losers you just fucking waxed!”

“Never claimed to be a demon. Guess your men have been reading the tabloids.” I draw out long and slow a butcher’s knife I pilfered from the factory floor up front. It’s already caked in slaughterhouse grime and the blood of some unfortunate lackeys. “Gots some questions you might have answers to.” I let up my weight a bit to give him plenty of room to speak.

“Kiss my ass, you freak.” The big man spits out onto my leg, finally getting his first good look. “Oh, you’re a cute one. What happened to your eye? Yeah fucking jerk off too much?”

I’d forgotten all about that actually. I even rub my eye, forgetting it’s been gone for over 18 years now. Now all that remains is a puffy, scarred, cavity after the eye and its surroundings were hamburgered by an ice pick. I don’t need it to see anymore, so I forget it’s not there sometimes. I really should get a patch to cover that up.

“Hmm? It is nice, isn’t it?” I scratch just below it, leaning my weight back into his cheek. “It’s a funny thing, the eyes. Ya know, some say you can tell when someone’s lying by looking in their eyes.”

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean, you faggot!” His jaw crunches a little under my boot as I add more pressure to shut him up.

“Please try not to interrupt.” The tip of the blade closes in on his dilating pupil “They were right, you know. The truth can be captured through your eyes. Of course, I’ve never been sure if I’m supposed to leave them in or not.”

The knife dives home.

***

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