The Remortal
Sample Chapter

“Got any change?” Telly asked yet another stranger. The guy ignored him, like most people did. But Telly was used to being invisible. He really didn’t want these people to look at him anyway. It was easier when they just ignored him, or threw a coin in his cup without saying a word. Those few that actually made eye contact usually displayed a mixture of pity and contempt on their faces, and he had already seen enough of that to last him the rest of his life.

Venice Beach was usually a prime spot for panhandling, but the tourists were holed up in their cool hotel rooms on this blistering day. It seemed the sun was determined to scorch everything in its reach during this long heat wave. Thankfully, that cruel orb was about to disappear over the horizon. But the sun had done its job, and the building materials of the city would continue to release oppressive heat throughout the night.

Telly decided that he might as well call it a day. He got up from his seat on the curb and watched the sun sink into the ocean. Lights began to pop into the cloudless dusk sky, and he watched them twinkle for a while.

Eventually he grew tired of his stargazing, and the gurgling in his stomach reminded him that he hadn’t eaten yet. He counted the pitifully small amount of money in his pockets and sighed. He usually got together with his friend Mattie to pool money and get food, but their meet up spot was over a mile away. Normally he’d cough up the money to hop on the bus to get there, but tonight he’d need to save every penny he had. So he set out eastward at the fastest pace he could manage, which wasn’t very fast. He felt tired, and the weather wasn’t doing anything to help that situation, but he pressed on.

His spirits lifted a bit when he laid eyes on a familiar Hispanic kid with skinny arms and a lined face that looked misplaced on someone so young. Telly walked up to him and greeted him with a short nod.

“Hey, Mattie,” he grumbled.

“Hot enough for ya?”

Telly scowled. He balled his fist and swiftly punched Mattie’s scrawny shoulder.

“Oww!” Mattie hissed as he put a hand over the rapidly developing welt. “What the hell was that for?”

“Stating the obvious,” Telly said.

Mattie smiled and winked at him. “Yeah, I guess I did deserve that. How’d you make out today?”

“Bad. Not a lot going on down there.”

“I didn’t have much luck over here either,” Mattie said. “But I did score a snack.” He tossed a clear plastic parcel to Telly.

“A Danish? Sweet!” Telly said. “Want to split it?”

“Nah, you look like you need it more than I do.”

“It’s not like you’re carrying any extra weight either.”

“Just eat the damn thing.”

Telly shrugged, ripped open the package, and took a bite. His stomach grumbled when he swallowed the sweet treat. He took another bite, and frowned. Something didn’t quite taste right. “I think the heat might have turned the cream cheese to the dark side,” he said. But he kept eating.

“Sorry about that,” Mattie replied, “but it’s so freaking hot out here. I don’t want to sleep outside tonight. I might drown in my own sweat.”

“The mental image of that just make me want to hurl,” Telly said. “Or it could be the cheese. Maybe we could try one of the missions downtown.”

“Hell no!” Mattie protested. “Too many crackheads and crazy people at those places.”

“It was just a thought. I don’t know. This is my first time being out here in the summer. I’m not sure what to do.”

“Well then it’s a good thing you’ve got me around to look after your ass.”

Telly flinched away from him and scowled. “Ew. Stop looking at my ass!”

“Whatever. It’s not like there’s anything back there anyway.”

They laughed and wiped the sweat from their faces. Mattie flopped down onto the curb and stared at the blacktop beneath him. He coughed loudly, and Telly gave him a light pat on the back.

“You’ve been coughing a lot recently. You should get that checked out.”

“Naw, it’ll go away. It’s just a reaction from quitting the cigs.”

“Ah. That kinda sucks.”

“It does. But somebody told me quitting would make me feel better.”

“It will, Mr. Impatient. Just give it some time.” Telly sat down next to Mattie on the warm concrete. “So what other options do we have for tonight’s accommodations?”

“Cheap motels, or maybe a hostel. But they obviously want their customers to have cash, which we don’t got much of.”

Telly finished off the Danish and crunched up the plastic packaging. “And I’m still starving.”

“Hmm,” Mattie mumbled. Then his eyes narrowed and a devious little grin appeared on his face. He pointed across the street towards a muscular man in a thin t-shirt that showed the elaborate tattoos on his arms. The guy lingered on the corner aimlessly, casting casual glances inside a few cars as they slowly passed by.

“Hey, what about Rodney?” Mattie said. “We could probably lift some money off of him.”

Telly turned and glared at Mattie like his hair had suddenly caught on fire. “Are you out of your damn mind?”

“I know, I know,” Mattie said in a placating voice. “He’d probably cut our balls off if he caught us. But that’s why we gotta make sure he don’t catch us.”

“It’s too risky,” Telly said as he shook his head emphatically, causing his shaggy brown hair to flop about.

“Dude, he’s been dealing all day. And you know how he likes to spread his cash around in different pockets. We could probably lift a couple hundred off of him, and it’s not like we’re doing something wrong. We’re robbing a dirty drug dealer; it’s probably good karma or something.”

“I dunno,” Telly said. “I dunno.”

“We can do this, man. Hell, we need to do this. I don’t like being hungry and hot, and I know you don’t either.”

Telly’s stomach grumbled again and he quickly forgot all the counter arguments he wanted to bring up. “Alright, how do you want to tackle this?”

“Just the usual one-two punch,” Mattie said. “I go high, and you go low. If something goes wrong, just run back down towards the ocean as fast as you can. The cop patrols near the beach should scare him off.”

Telly followed Mattie as he casually crossed the street and headed over to the tattooed man. Telly nibbled his bottom lip and tried to keep his breathing steady. Rodney and his brother Ricardo had earned an intimidating reputation on these streets, and nobody dared to deal in their territory anymore. Two guys had tried a while ago, but when they suffered a broken leg and a missing eyeball respectively, everyone else seemed discouraged from trying.

Memories of all the stories about those events started to dance in Telly’s head, and he started to sweat even more. But Mattie, as always, still wore a carefree grin on his face. Sometimes Telly seriously wondered if the kid was on uppers all the time.

“Hey, what’s shakin’?” Mattie said to Rodney when they had gotten close enough to chat in quiet tones.

“If you ain’t buyin’, I got nothing to say to you,” Rodney growled.

Mattie’s face instantly switched to a hurt expression. “Hey, that’s no way to talk to friends, is it?”

“We ain’t friends.”

“Well, okay…maybe we’re not the best of friends,” Mattie said as he took a quick glance down the street at a pair of approaching headlights, and then gave a sly wink to Telly. “But remember that time—”

“Watch out! Cops!” Telly shouted. He ducked down and slipped a hand into the back pocket of Rodney’s loose jeans as Mattie pushed Rodney backwards towards the rear of the old store. Rodney backpedaled and tripped over Telly’s scrawny legs, tumbling down on the unyielding concrete. He looked up and glared at Mattie.

“You must be real brave, or real damn stupid,” he said as he lifted up his shirt and revealed the black handle of a small handgun.

Mattie put his hands up defensively and gave his best look of sheer terror. “I’m sorry, alright! I thought those were some undercover cops we ran into last week. I’m just looking out for you.”

“I don’t need a couple of ass wipes like you two to look out for me,” Rodney growled as he stood up, keeping his hand near his gun. “Now get the hell away from me. That’s the last time I’m gonna say it.”

“No problem. Sorry about that. You won’t have to worry about us again. Let’s go, Telly.”

Telly slid past Rodney carefully. Mattie grabbed him by the arm and lead him away from the scene.

“He’s going to shoot us,” Telly whispered as they walked down the dark street at a brisk pace.

“No he’s not,” Mattie mumbled. “What did you score?”

“I dunno,” Telly answered as he fumbled around in his pocket. “It feels like I got maybe five or six bills. Haven’t had time to look.”

“Hey!” came Rodney’s voice from behind them. “HEY! Come back here you little shits!”

Telly swore he could see his heart almost jump out of his chest.

“Damn it,” Mattie said. “Split up!”

Telly didn’t hesitate for a second. He took off running as fast as his legs would carry him. He juked right and slipped into the narrow space between two apartment buildings. When he emerged on the other side he found himself in an alley. He was breathing hard—his body was not used to running in this kind of heat. Still, he forced his legs to keep churning. He was just getting back up to a good speed when he heard rapid footsteps. He spared a look behind him.

He wished he hadn’t.

Rodney was running at him at full speed. Turgid veins popped out on his forehead and neck as his muscular body barreled down the alley. His eyes were manic.

Telly suddenly found a new reserve of energy, and ran his ass off.


Van Giles was bored out of his mind.

He sat on the rooftop of his sparkling home and idly stared out over the city of Venice. He liked this city. He liked the odd juxtaposition of sixties-era pastel buildings and contemporary architectural masterpieces like his own home. The old California hippies lived in relative peace with the young skaters, artists, and wannabe movie stars. The city was an eclectic mix of modern and traditional, radical and conservative. He fit in well here, but it had been many years since the place had offered him anything exciting.

“I remember the first time I came to this place,” Van said to his companion. “That was around fifty years ago. None of this stuff was here back then, and the ocean wasn’t as polluted. The air smelled a lot better.”

“When I first traveled here,” the woman next to him said, “about ninety years ago, the sewage system was crap, literally. It was primitive and badly in need of repair. The air smelled a lot worse.”

Van laughed. “You always put things into perspective, Xian. That’s why I tolerate having you around.”

“And all this time I’ve been thinking you just enjoyed my sense of humor,” Xian said. “I’ll remind you that it was you who invited me here in the first place, much to my surprise.”

“Don’t get confused,” Van said. “It was not a friendly invitation. I’ve just been thinking about something, and I’d like to hear an unbiased viewpoint.”

“Why? You’ve never been one to take advice. We both know that my opinion won’t change your mind.”

“I don’t want you to change my mind. I want you to speak yours.”

“I see. Go on then.”

“I’ve been thinking about taking another stab at the Ascension.”

Xian nodded, slowly. “Interesting.”

“Is that all you have to say about it?”

“No. I will tell you the same thing I told you last time—it’s too early.”

“I figured you’d say that,” Van grumbled. “You know, I did the math yesterday. I’ve been alive for over ninety-two thousand days. Ninety-two thousand days since I was born. It feels like each sunrise just adds more weight on my shoulders. The burden is becoming unbearable.”

“I can’t say I recall feeling the same when I was your age,” Xian said. “I’ve cherished every moment of every day—in darkness and in light.”

“Yeah, well…I don’t share your rosy outlook on the world.”

“That’s certainly not due to lack of effort on my part,” Xian said.

“I’m too old to change how I see things.”

“Nonsense. I’ve seen many more winters than you have, and I’m still learning.”

“Well…you’re Asian. It’s different.”

Xian laughed. “I don’t see how me being Chinese and you being black makes a difference in this matter.”

Van rolled his eyes and said, “I’m not black.”

Xian nodded. “This is true. You have more of a coppery skin tone—”

“I prefer the term African American, thank you.”

“Oh really? This is news to me. When did this change of heart occur?”

“Sometime in the eighties.”

“I see. That was around the time you were trying to trace back the African side of your family, correct? Did you have much success with that?”

Van sighed. “No. History has always had a tendency to forget the conquered, and immortalize the conquerors.”

Xian shook her head slowly, and crossed her arms. “I will once again say that it is too soon for what you’re planning. In many ways, you are still the young man you appear to be—still discovering the ways of the world. You are not ready for the immense responsibility of the power you seek, and there is no need to rush.”

Van glared at her. “Everyday, I am surrounded by the ugliness of this world. You talk about responsibility. Well, I think it is my responsibility to seek a way to put an end to it.”

“That’s not how it works, Van.”

“How would you know?”

“I have the benefit of an extra two hundred years of experience that you don’t have.”

Van took a step closer to her. “And in all of that time, what have you done? Is the world better for having you in it?”

Xian opened her mouth to respond, but then paused when the piercing sound of a gunshot rang out. Sounds of heavy feet hitting the pavement rapidly soon followed.

“That sounds like trouble,” Xian said.

“All too common,” Van answered. “The neighborhood’s been getting a little rough lately.”

They both walked over to the east side of the roof and peered down. Below them, a teenage boy flattened himself against the east wall of Van’s home and tried his best to hide in the shadows.

“It looks like the boy got himself into a dangerous situation,” Xian said quietly. “He probably stole some drugs or some such thing.”

“Probably,” Van said. “But he’s only a kid.”

He leaned over the edge of the roof and yelled down to the youngster below, “Need some help?” The boy turned his pale face up towards him, and for the first time in nearly twenty years, Van was actually shocked.

His skin tingled as a cascade emotions washed over him. He hadn’t felt this sensation in years. He knew there was something special about this boy—an undeniable force of will, and optimism, and compassion that materialized before Van’s eyes like a golden aura.

“I can’t believe my luck,” Van muttered to himself. Then the boy took off down the alley. His apparent pursuer, a stocky man in a t-shirt, turned into the alley and ran after him.

“What did you say?” Xian asked.

“Huh? Oh nothing!” Van said as he watched the teenager scamper away. “I should…go check up on that kid and make sure he’s okay. It was good seeing you. Let’s catch up again sometime.”

Xian cast a strange look at Van. “Is something wrong?”

“No, not at all. Thanks for the chat. Now get out.”

“You’ve always had an odd way of showing gratitude,” Xian said with a half-hearted wave. “Until next time.”

Xian didn’t bother to use the elevator. She took a quick look down the dark alley, then jumped off the 40-foot-high rooftop. Gravity pulled her to the asphalt in a flash. But she landed on her feet, straightened her long black hair, and walked away with no trouble.

As soon as Xian was gone, Van also jumped down into the alley. He landed as gracefully and as silently as a cat, and then he started running at Olympic sprinter pace. As he flew down the alleyway, an unfamiliar sense of anticipation grew inside him. Maybe the boy wasn’t quite right for the job he had in mind, but he couldn’t possibly pass up this chance.

He came to the end of the alley and turned down the intersecting street. He ran along the sidewalk and scanned every dark corner for any sign of his target. It was late on a Monday night and the area was nearly devoid of activity, including any signs of the teenager.

Van stopped running and calmed himself. He listened intently, and his keen, unnatural senses took in the whole world around him. He could smell the lingering odor of alcohol from the bar down the street, and the light ocean breeze smashed tiny particles of beach sand into his skin. He heard the rapid thumping of running feet, about forty yards to his right.

He spun in the direction of the sound and slipped down a side street. He caught a glimpse of a figure at the end of the dimly lit street. It was too big to be the boy; it must’ve been his pursuer.

Van ran after him.

The chaser was quick, and in good shape. But he was no match for Van’s speed and stamina—he could run all night if he had to. Van closed the distance between them in a handful of seconds. Once he was in arm’s reach, he grabbed the man in a chokehold and dragged him into a dark alley.

“Shhh,” he whispered to the flailing man in his grasp. At this intimate proximity, Van’s senses gave him more information about this fellow. He could feel the arteries in his victim’s sturdy neck struggling to provide blood flow to the head. He could also pick up the strong and distinct odor of marijuana, along with a whiff of heroin and the acrid smell of a recently fired gun. This man was indeed a dealer, and a would-be murderer. He was another piece of scum on the Venice streets—another sign of a world going mad. Van didn’t feel any remorse for him as he squeezed even harder. Rodney sputtered and thrashed his muscular limbs furiously, but there was no way he could escape. He reached for his gun. Van twisted sharply.

Then a loud pop sounded the end of Rodney’s existence.

Van released his grip and let the body fall onto the hard pavement. With a strong kick, he shoved the corpse into a dark corner where it would remain unseen until the sun returned. He knew that this wouldn’t ultimately solve anything—another parasite would just move in to take this one’s place. But for now, the streets were a little safer, and a troubled young man had one less thing to worry about.

His focus immediately shifted to finding the boy again. His eyes picked up a short person a half-block away—he was bent over and panting. Van crept up behind him as quickly and as quietly as he could, like a cat stalking after its prey. When he got close enough to hear the boy’s heavy breathing, he spoke.

“Hey there. Remember me?”

The kid jerked away and stared at Van with an expression of pure terror. Van smiled and inspected the boy closer. He had unruly brown hair that fell over his face in a curtain that shielded his eyes from scrutiny. His faded clothes weren’t all that dirty, but the grime under his fingernails and the smudges on his pale skin told Van all he needed to know about how this boy lived.

“What do you want?” the youngster asked.

Van’s smile weakened slightly. “That’s not a polite greeting for the man who just got you out of a heap of trouble.”


“The fellow who was chasing you,” Van said. “I took care of him for you. It looked like you were in need of assistance.”

“I’ve been in worse spots. I could have handled that on my own.”

“I’m sure. Who was he?”

“Just some asshole. You a cop?”

“No, just a concerned citizen.”

“All right then,” Telly said. He took a few steps backwards. “Thanks.”

“You hungry?”

Telly gave him an incredulous stare. “W-What?”

“Are…you…hungry?” Van repeated. “Do you want some food?”

“Dude, I just got done running for my life.”

“As I said, that’s taken care of. That danger is gone, but you look like you’re still in danger of starving to death. So I’ll ask again. Do you want something to eat?”

The boy shrugged. “Maybe. Why?”

Van shook his head and laughed. “I’m trying to be generous here. Give me a yes or no answer.”

“Fine. Yeah…I’m hungry.”

“What’s your name?” Van asked.


“Telly? Interesting name. My name is Van. Van Giles.”


“Follow me,” Van said and beckoned Telly with a wave. He started walking westward. But Telly stayed put.

“Is there a problem?” Van asked. “We’re just going to go down the street here to a restaurant. It’s one of my favorite places.”

“I don’t have much money.”

“I guessed that already. I’ll pay for you.”

Telly gave Van a skeptical look and took a slight step backwards. “What do you want me to do afterwards?”

Van laughed and held his hands up defensively. “Whoa, whoa. It’s not that kind of party, son. I just want to get you some food. You won’t owe me anything but a thank you.”

“Okay. What kind of food?”

“Something a little fancier than you’re probably accustomed to,” Van answered. “One of my favorite places is right down the street. They make great seafood.”

“Okay,” Telly said again, but he still didn’t budge an inch.

“Something wrong?” Van asked.

“I…I gotta check up on somebody,” Telly said.

“I can wait,” Van said. “How about you go take care of your business, and then meet me at the restaurant a couple blocks down on Westminster.”

“Yeah…well, I’ll see.”

Van laughed and shrugged. “Fine. Have it your way. Just don’t take too long.”

Telly took one last, long glance at him, and then scurried away. He was a good thirty yards away before he glanced over his shoulder to make sure this strange man wasn’t following him, but Van was gone.