Arena, p.1

Arena, page 1

 part  #1 of  Arena Series



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  Chapter One

  I was born at exactly 11:58 pm on October 31st, 1988, to a witch and a warlock. They named me Marc Caleb Havak because Samhain babies are said to be immune to evil spirits, able to read the dreams of others, speak to the dead, and have the gift of Second Sight or precognition.

  With all of that going for me, I should have been a fearsome protector of the Nine Realms or a rogue Special Forces soldier wandering the countryside helping the innocent fight back against tyranny and oppression.

  Instead, I drove a truck for a third-rate hauling company in Seaford, Delaware. My mother’s name is Samantha after the main character in a show called Bewitched, and my father was a huge Dungeons & Dragons geek who always played as a warlock or wizard or mage or something. I don’t really know because the only thing he ever gave me besides half of my DNA was a cool last name. He split when I was a year and a half old to go be a drummer in Seattle or something.

  Until the day of my thirtieth birthday, I had lived a mediocre life with mediocre friends and a less than mediocre job completely unworthy of a name like Marc Caleb Havak.

  It was a cold, fall evening, and the sky was blanketed with thick, dark, low-hanging clouds that threatened to unleash a snowy armageddon as they undulated in the bitter wind. I was just about to finish changing the oil for the late model cargo truck I’d driven up and down the East Coast for the last three days straight, and I was more than ready to get out of the freezing air, clock out, and head home. Delivering pastel paint dyes to half of the mom and pop art supply stores in New England was a lot more taxing than one would think, and I was beat.

  The route stretched from D.C. to Jersey City and was a bitch-and-a-half due to all the toll bridges, backwoods roads, and speed traps. I’d been working for three weeks straight and was looking forward to the mini-staycation I’d finagled for myself by taking all the garbage routes everyone hated in trade for shift coverage for the next five days. My plans consisted of watching a crap ton of awesomely cheesy action moves, eating a ridiculous amount of discount Halloween candy, and maybe dusting off the ole’ PS4 controller to play some Black Ops or Battlefield.

  I know it doesn’t sound like much of a vacation, but when you’re from Seaford, a town that despite its name is thirty miles from the sea in “slower lower” Delaware, you have to take joy in the little things.

  I had just emptied the last quart of oil into the seen-better-days engine of my usual truck and tightened the oil cap when it started to snow. I tossed the empty oil bottle into the trash and moved out from under the awning that covered the truck maintenance bay to look up at the dreary October sky.

  The yellow sodium floodlights bounced off the low-hanging clouds and cast an eerie, otherworldly glow around the truck yard, and the normally loud rush hour traffic noises were strangely muted by the sudden flurry.

  The flakes were large and cottony soft as they floated down from the heavy clouds in lazy, haphazard patterns that quickly gathered into a covering of pure, pristine white on any surface they came in contact with. I stood there for what must have been a good five minutes, mesmerized by the snowstorm, and enjoyed the oddly ethereal peace and quiet I had found myself in.

  Finally, the cold broke the snow spell I’d been under, and with a red nose and no feeling in my toes, I headed into the office of MacDonald & Sons Hauling and Freight.

  The inside was little more than a one hundred foot by forty foot rectangle that had once been a mobile home. It had since been converted into a makeshift office by Bill MacDonald somewhere in the mid-seventies when he’d started the small trucking company. It still had the same mustard yellow shag carpet and avocado green and gold lamé wallpaper that I’d always assumed had come standard from the factory when the building had been set on a shallow concrete foundation during the Carter administration.

  The building had been split up into three sections, Bill’s office, Front Desk, and Storage. I’d entered through the backdoor into the storage area. There was an avocado green refrigerator for the drivers to keep their lunches and coffee creamer and such, a small kitchen table, and a pantry full of various meal leftovers, three pepper shakers, a half used container of garlic powder, as well as napkins, paper towels, and garbage bags. The front of the building was old man MacDonald’s home away from home. It looked like a Brut cologne commercial from 1978, and you could still make out the lingering Pall Mall cigarette smoke smell every time you took one step into it, even though Bill had quit his two pack a day habit in 1998. The middle third was the only section that showed that maybe you hadn’t stepped into a time portal the second you walked through the door.

  It looked like the Halloween section at Target had thrown up all over the place. A string of red, LED-filled bats had been strung across the top of the small receptionist desk built into the sidewall of the trailer. Every flat wall surface was covered in Halloween decals, green witches on broomsticks, jack-o'-lanterns, screeching black cats, vampire faces, snarling werewolves, a couple of mummies, and a veritable horde of zombies.

  A big bowl of candy sat on top of the desk with a hand-printed sign that read “Trick or Treat.” Next to the bowl was a Medusa head that would cackle and scream if you reached for a piece of candy… or just at random, it was a crap shoot. The door closing behind me must have bumped its over-sensitive motion detector because the second I entered, the snakes on top of Medusa’s head wiggled around like electrified noodles, and she started shrieking.

  The swashbuckling pirate sitting behind the receptionist desk jumped up and tried to turn Medusa off. She was dressed in a tight dark blue corset that pushed her tan, full breasts together to create cleavage that could launch a thousand ships. A short, tattered skirt started where the corset ended and came down to her upper thigh where her equally tan legs stretched down to fill a pair of leather fold-over pirate boots. An unbuttoned white shirt with big poofy sleeves was tucked into the sides and back of the corset, careful not to obstruct the view of the bounty up front. A wide, blood red bandana with a string of poocha shells dangling in front covered her forehead as a mane of long blonde hair that framed a face that was a photographer’s dream hung down in large braids around her shoulders. Her eyes were outlined in overexaggerated black liner and a fake cutlass hung from a scabbard at her hip.

  “Sorry,” she said as she fiddled with the battery compartment. I watched in imagined slow motion as she leaned over the desk to get a better look at Medusa’s power supply and her corset, not able to fight gravity from such an angel, fell away from her smooth, round, cocoa-butter soft breasts until the faint outline of her nipples were visible. I tried not to gawk, mouth agape, but it was impossible to look away. It was like my eyes were made of pure iron, and her chest was a pair of perfectly shaped, firm yet somehow also amazingly soft, apparently cold, electromagnets to be exact.

  Medusa’s incessant cackling broke me from the spell her chest had me under, and I rushed over to help. I took out a small multi-tool that I used as a keychain, flipped the screwdriver attachment out, and popped the battery cover off Medusa’s base.

  Two AA batteries flew out and rattled on the floor. Medusa was suddenly silent and motionless.

  “Finally! Gah. She’s such a nag, right?” Sabrina said as she hit me with one of her thousand watt smiles.

  Sabrina, aka Swashbuckling Pirate, was our new receptionist, and she’d started about three weeks earlier. She was twenty-three years old, fresh out of junior college, energetic, and way too smoking hot to be working at this crappy place.

  “Medusa’s in a fickle mood today I see,” I said as I handed her back to Sabrina.

  “Yeah, she’s going in the trash tomorrow morning. Last time I buy anything off the bargain table at the Sac-N-Save,” she replied as she sat Medusa down on the edge of the desk unceremoniously.<
br />
  “How’d the costume go over today?” I asked as I grabbed the batteries off the floor and set them next to Medusa as nonchalantly as I could manage.

  “Awful,” she pouted, her full lips pushed out in exaggerated disappointment. “No one got it.”

  “What’s not to get,” I answered with a shrug. “You’re gender-swapped Jack Sparrow. From Pirates of the Caribbean, savvy?”

  “Exactly!” she exclaimed as she threw her hands up in exasperation.

  “Don’t worry,” I reassured her. “They’ll all be sinking back to Davy Jones’ locker soon enough.”

  “Not all treasure is silver and gold, mate,” she crooned slyly in a positively awful Jack Sparrow accent, wiggled her shoulders a bit, and winked at me. I was pretty sure she was doing more than a movie quote because of the way her breasts jiggled as she moved her shoulders but I didn’t want to make an ass out of myself.

  “One of my all-time favorites,” I said, playing it safe. “Unfortunately, MacDonald’s Trucking is not staffed with fans of overly flamboyant Johnny Depp pirate characters.”

  “Sounds like you are though.” She gave me an appraising look.

  “Oh, yeah, Depp’s performance is iconic,” I spouted off in spite of myself. “He was almost fired several times by the Disney execs, but the rum soaked Keith Richards impression won the hearts and minds of audiences the world over.”

  “Wow, thank you, Rotten Tomatoes,” she said with a smile. “I had no idea you were such a movie buff.”

  “Yeah, I guess so,” I smiled back, “there’s a lot we probably don’t know about each other.”

  I wasn’t sure where that bit of bravado had come from but it took Sabrina aback for a moment. Then her eyes closed ever so slightly in a playful, cat who is about to eat the canary grin. I held her sultry gaze for a moment and then my bravado broke.

  “Hey, if you plan on trick or treating, you’d better make it quick,” I gestured toward the door, hoping that my deft deflection wasn’t as obvious as it sounded. “It just started snowing, but it's coming down fast.”

  “Lady Jack Sparrow cares not for such things!” she snarled in her horrible accent as she grabbed her purse and jacket. “Lady Jack Sparrow is going to a costume party tonight at her best friend’s house! Savvy?”

  I laughed. Not only was she freaking gorgeous, liked awesome movies, but she was funny as well. I’d been trying to figure out a way to ask her out since she’d started working here, and the burst of bravado returned.

  “The high seas are treacherous tonight. If you need a shipmate, I could dust off my old Indiana Jones costume,” I said. I knew it sounded clunky and kind of forced, but there was no getting that toothpaste back in the tube.

  “Aw, thanks, Marc,” Sabrina said with her genuine, melt my heart in a second, smile. “I really appreciate it, but I promised to drive my friend Dixie tonight. Her car is in the shop.” She paused a moment and gave me a sly, knowing smile. “But, and I say this even though your pickup game kinda sucks, your knowledge of cinematic excellence has won my number. Text me later, and I’ll send you the address.” She scribbled her number down on a post-it and handed it to me. “Honestly, you should have just asked me out sooner.” She winked at me. “Everyone else here is kinda lame.”

  “Awesome. I will. Thanks, Sabrina.” I’ll be honest, it was hard to say even that because I was too busy alternating between freaking out inside and picturing her naked.

  “You’re welcome. I bet you look all kinds of ruggedly handsome in that costume. Does it come with a whip and everything?” she asked as she looked me up and down with a wicked gleam in her eye.

  “Yup. A realistic twelve-footer I picked up on a long-haul to Mexico,” I replied, a touch overeager.

  “Hmm… I can’t wait to see it in person.” Her voice had dropped slightly, and she gave me a sly wink. “Don’t forget to text me. See you later,” she added right before she opened the door and disappeared out into the snowy night.

  I stared at the spot where she had been for a long second as my mind tried to compute what she had said. “Did she say she thought we would look handsome?” my brain asked itself. “Yes. Yes, we do believe she did,” my brain responded. “And, did she also make a penis innuendo?” my brain continued to inquire. “Yes. Yes, we believe she did,” my brain again responded in the affirmative. “Then what are we doing standing here?! Hurry up. It’s a birthday miracle! Get out of this mid-seventies decor nightmare and go text the sexy Lacy Jack Sparrow already!” my brain screamed.

  Without wasting another precious second, I reached over to grab my time card and punch out, and that’s when I heard a loud voice come from behind me.

  “Hey, Hav-Ass, where the hell do you think you’re going?” Jaden MacDonald snickered as he sauntered up to me. Jaden was the only “son” in MacDonald and Sons, and was the heir apparent of the glorious trucking and hauling empire.

  He favored obnoxiously garish dress shirts with oversized French cuffs that never had cufflinks. They were usually worn in conjunction with too tight acid wash jeans that had rhinestone crosses bedazzled on the back pockets. The ensemble of horrid taste was typically rounded out with either ridiculously white tennis shoes, that he would obsess about keeping clean all day, or pointed toe alligator skin cowboy boots with three-inch heels. Today was apparently a boot day. To say he had a short man’s complex would be an insult to complexes the world over. He was ten pounds of asshole shoved tightly into a five-pound asshole body.

  “Oh, fuck my life,” I whispered just under my breath as he strode over to me with the divine purpose of a mediocre white dude who’d been told he was awesome for doing absolutely jack shit his entire life.

  Worse, with Bill in Vegas for his annual two-week booze and gambling “company retreat,” Jaden was in charge. And if the clothes weren’t a dead giveaway, Jaden was a douchebag. A control freak douchebag with a hard-on for me that he liked to wield whenever daddy wasn’t around. Bill had been good friends with my Great Uncle Joe who had helped get me this job when my mom got sick right after high school graduation. Jaden made like we were best buds when the old man was around, but the second Bill was out of earshot, Jaden would come at me with all sorts of nit-pick bullshit. I only hoped that whatever it was wouldn’t take too long.

  “You don’t think you’re going home, do you, Hav-Ass?” The long “oh” of his thick Delaware accent hit me in the face like a fist. I’d lived my entire life in the same state, hell, the same town as Jaden, and I damn didn’t sound anything like that.

  “Um, yeah. I kinda did seeing as how I’m done with truck maintenance, and I’ve got the next two days off.” Annoyance dripped from my normally accented voice like acid. Something I instantly regretted, but it had been too long a week for me to hide.

  “Oh, you think so, do you, smart guy?” Jaden got right into my face, or below it would be more accurate. “I sent you a text twenty minutes ago that I needed you to hit the road. You’re behind on the Friar Tuck run!”

  The smile died somewhere in my cheek muscles, its soul resurrected as a very pissed off sneer.

  “The Friar Tuck run? That’s a two-day trip in good weather, Jaden,” I said, the irritation in my voice clear and loud. “And I have the weekend off. In fact, I have the rest of the damn week off. Your dad approved it before he left.”

  “Well, he’s not here, is he, Hav-Ass?” he asked, his voice the exact pitch and tone of the tattletale kid who was always trying to get everyone in trouble in third grade. I hated that kid. It just happened to be Jaden.

  “No. I guess he’s not,” I spat out.

  In my mind, I could vaguely see the nightmare that the roads were going to be, especially on the way to the Dirty-Dancing-era Friar Tuck Resort in the Poconos. I’d be lucky to get back by Sunday night. My relaxing stay-cation had evaporated like the steam a few minutes prior. Part of me wanted to rearrange his weaselly face with my fist, but it managed to lose out to the “sensible” part of me that wanted to keep its studi
o apartment above the pizza place.

  “Look, man,” I implored. “It’s my birthday today. Can’t you cut me a break this time?”

  Jaden looked at me for a second. A bewildered look passed over his face that kind of made him look like he was farting as he thought over what I had said.

  “Your birthday?” he asked. “Man, I forgot you were a Halloween baby.” His eyes softened a bit.

  I wasn’t sure if Jaden had shown a brief glimmer of empathy, but it got my hopes up, anyway. It didn’t last too long.

  “You big freak show!” His face burst into a cruel smirk, and he chuckled like a pig with hiccups. “You bitch more than my kid step-sister, and she’s fourteen. No wonder your daddy bailed when you were a baby.”

  I hadn’t noticed that my right hand had closed into a tight, fury white fist that seemed to be moving of its own accord as I stood there seething at Jaden. I’m pretty sure I was finally about to clock him with a haymaker that would have put George McFly to shame but that’s when the spotlight hit us, and the thundering WHOOP-WHOOP-WHOOP of helicopter blades deafened me to whatever nonsense was still pouring from Jaden’s mouth hole.

  The office began to shake and rattle as it was buffeted by the rotor wash of the helicopter outside. The spotlight poured in through the two ceiling lights in the roof and cast in bright rectangles of harsh white illumination.

  “Da fuck…” Jaden had time to express eloquently seconds before the door blew inward, and a small squad of black-clad troops filed into the room with smooth precision. Their laser sighted M4 carbines cut red dot paths across every inch of the office as they created a loose perimeter around Jaden and me.

  I had no idea what the hell was going on, but it was pretty fucking cool. I glanced over at Jaden to see if he thought it was as fucking sweet as I did, and he looked like he was barely holding back tears.

  “Don’t kill me, please,” he cried. “Here, take him.” Jaden shoved me hard in the chest, and I stumbled back into one of the soldiers.

  “Package has been engaged by a hostile. Move!” The figure I had stumbled into yelled. With rattlesnake speed, another soldier body checked Jaden, who flew about four feet in the opposite direction, before he crashed into the wall of the office with an audible “Ooof!”

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