This is a novella (between 28k - 29k words, or about 80 pages). It's a companion piece to "Half Past Midnight" and tells the story of one of the minor characters in that book, what happened to him on D-day, and how he came to be in the town's labor pool in HPM. Here's the description from Amazon... In the post-apocalyptic world of Half Past Midnight, Mark Roesch was the quiet guy - the gentle giant. The people of Rejas learned to count on him during the hard times after D-day. But every survivor had a story from before... and most of those stories dealt with the deaths of friends and loved ones. Mark is no exception. Pain, loss, friendship, and wonder await him along The Road to Rejas. I hope you enjoy it. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The Road to Rejas Chapter 1 “See ’im? Just about twenty yards past that bit o’ scrub on the right.” Mark Roesch sighted his scope where his spotter indicated. After a second, he whispered back, “I see him.” “Got a clean shot?” Looking at the sight picture, Mark debated. “Not yet. Too much brush. The shot’s no good.” Mark waited silently for more movement, patiently anticipating the moment when his prey would step out from behind the foliage. His heart skipped a beat when Dale Thompson interrupted his moment of Zen-like concentration. “Come on, man. Go ahead an’ shoot through the brush. It don’t look thick enough to matter.” “Dale, will you please shut the hell up?” He kept his voice low, but the threat carried nonetheless. “Yeah. Sorry, man. I just don’t want you to miss—” “Dale?” “Yeah?” “Still talking.” Not wanting to spook their prey, both of them kept their voices at a whisper, and as he spoke, Mark saw more movement. “Hang on.” As he watched, a beautiful six-point Axis buck stepped around the obstruction and into view, its spotted coat gleaming in the evening sunlight. “Oh yeah. Stay right there, baby.” Moving deliberately, he clicked the safety off and tightened his finger on the trigger. Exhaling slowly, he squeezed the trigger back until the loud crack of his Remington filled the evening with its report. Down the hill, the buck jerked, staggered, and dropped to the ground. Mark’s guide clapped him on the shoulder. “Beautiful shot! That was beautiful!” Dale stood and slid his binoculars into their case. Looking at the setting sun, he gestured downhill with a jerk of his chin. “C’mon now. We best get that baby dressed ’fore the light’s gone.” Sprinting down the hill, Dale completely missed Mark’s furious glare. *** Back at the lodge that night, Mark’s best friend and partner, Carl Miller, raised his beer bottle in salute. “Here’s to the end of a good hunt.” The two sat at the hunting lodge’s faux-rustic wooden bar. The bar and furniture alike were all made of what appeared to be rough-hewn wooden logs, but the discerning observer might note that the coating on the bar was crystal clear, polished to a perfect finish. It was as hard as glass, but covered every square inch of every splinter and knothole of every stacked log that composed the front of the bar. Mark returned the salute, chugging a swallow of the dark, ice-cold brew before setting his bottle down. “That hits the spot.” “Yeah.” Carl contemplated the condensation on the bottle in his hand. “That it does.” He took another swig and leaned back into the plush cushion covering the rough wooden chair. Mark looked around, noting the room’s furnishings. The chairs and tables, even the mantle above the imitation fireplace had been treated with the same coating as the bar, all of it carefully designed to give a rough appearance while still maximizing the comfort of the patrons. Mark figured it had cost a small fortune to create this rustic atmosphere. He snorted at the paradox. Carl interrupted Mark’s musings. “You heading back in the morning?” Mark sighed and nodded. “Her flight gets into Longview at ten… I don’t know, ten something in the morning. I have to hit the shuttle bus from here to DFW at six so I can make an eight o’clock flight to Longview and pick up her and Angela.” He tilted back the bottle again and closed his eyes contentedly. “I should get there about nine thirty.” “Cutting it a little close, ain’t you?” Mark shrugged. “I’m in no rush to jump into the frying pan.” Carl grimaced. “Nikki still pissed at you?” Finishing off his beer, Mark sighed. “Nikki’s always pissed at me.” Carl’s reminder ruined his contemplative mood and brought him back to reality. He pushed back from the bar. “I’d better go pack. Tomorrow’s gonna be a long day.” Carl raised his bottle in mock salute, and Mark left the fake bar in a foul temper. *** Mark and Nikki had been squabbling for more than six years now—pretty much since Angela was born. Last week, it had really gotten bad. How? How had it gotten like this? Their marriage had been idyllic at first. They were madly in love, and Mark had just passed the bar exam with flying colors. He and Carl, his study buddy from law school, planned to start a small law firm. No grandiose ideas, they simply wanted a small private firm that would allow them to make a comfortable living in their hometown of Marshall, Texas. And life was good for a while. Mark and Nikki began the life they’d talked about for so long. They had the nice cars and the nice house, and when Nikki got pregnant, Mark was on top of the world. Once Angela was born, though, Nikki wanted him to slow down at work and spend more time at home with her and the baby. But Mark felt that the baby made it more important than ever that he make sure they were financially secure. He turned into a workaholic, spending nearly every waking minute either at work or at the gym. The arguments began shortly after those first months, and over the last few years, they had become more and more heated, culminating in the big blowout last week. Nikki had planned a trip for them to visit her mother on the same weekend of his hunt. Mark was convinced she did it on purpose, knowing the guided hunt at Texas Exotics was something he looked forward to every year. But reasoning with her was impossible. “You and Carl have gone on this hunt for the last five years. You can miss this one, can’t you? You haven’t been to see my mother in two years, and I’d like us to go as a family.” “Hell, Nikki, your mother hates the sight of me!” Mark was convinced she had never forgiven him for taking her little girl away from her home in Cincinnati. “And we’ve had this hunt booked since February. I’ll lose my deposit.” He knew it was a lame excuse. A thousand-dollar deposit wasn’t something they could throw away all the time, but it wasn’t going to break the bank, either. “Please, Mark. If you won’t do it for me, do it for Angela?” That almost swayed him. He’d do anything for Angela, his little Angel—and Nikki knew it. But as the thought occurred to him, Mark was suddenly convinced that she was using their daughter to manipulate him, and that pissed him off more than anything else. “No, goddamn it! You want me to go with you, then schedule for another weekend. Otherwise, you can just go see the wicked witch without me!” That had been three days before the hunt, and the house turned glacial afterward. He reverted to spending most of his time at work or in the gym again, avoiding Nikki as much as possible. They were both being unreasonable, and he knew it. Mark had seen the symptoms too many times, in too many husbands or wives when he represented them in their divorces. He hated the idea that he and Nikki might be following the same path. The sad thing was that for all his skill in the courtroom, he couldn’t seem to express himself properly to his wife. He couldn’t seem to let her know just how much she meant to him. Now he stood at East Texas Regional’s baggage claim area, flowers in hand. He’d already packed his gear into his truck outside and cleaned up as much as he could in the airport restroom. He wasn’t sure what he was going to say, but he had to make his wife understand how much she and Angela meant to him. Chapter 2 Eyes flitting from one face to another, Kenni Anderson looked for her brother as she wound her way through the crowded corridor, weaving between slower groups of people headed for the baggage claim. When she got there, she scanned the area and her face lit up as she saw one ebony face in the sea of white. “Frankie!” She waved, and her brother returned the smile, making his way through the crowd. As soon as Kenni was within reach, he pulled her into a hug that lifted her off her feet and spun her around. Frankie finally put her back down and pushed her back to arm’s length. “Damn, girl! Look at you in that uniform.” Then he laughed and pulled her back to his broad chest for another hug. The crowd parted, flowing past them like water past a boulder. She didn’t know if it was her uniform or her brother’s size, but no one so much as gave them a look. Frankie hugged her so tight, she could barely breathe. “Hey, try not to break any ribs, okay?” He released her, grinning from ear to ear. “Sorry, sis.” He took his sister’s duffle without giving her a chance to protest. He shook his head again. “I can’t get over that uniform. Corporal Kennesha Anderson.” “Sorry, bro. Not corporal yet—for now it’s just lance corporal.” She slugged him playfully. “Lance Corporal Anderson, then. You know, Daddy’s so proud of you. All he can talk about is his baby girl marine an’ how you followin’ in his footsteps.” He looked back through the crowd. “So where’s this ‘friend’ you been talkin’ about? That’s all the ol’ man can talk about. I ain’t seen him this happy in a long time. Didn’t think you’d ever find you a man, since…” he stopped for a moment, averting his eyes. “Damn. Sorry, sis. Didn’t mean to…” Kennesha looked away. “Don’t worry about it; it was a long time ago. I’m over it.” But she wasn’t. She would never be over it, and they both knew it. It wasn’t something she would ever “get over,” but it wasn’t a night she liked to dwell on, either. Frankie sighed. “Yeah, well, you probably should know it looks like that sumbitch has been on the prowl again.” Her heart skipped a beat, and her world narrowed. “What?” “Yeah. He been quiet for the last few years since…” Frankie obviously didn’t want to say it, so Kenni prodded. “Since me.” He grimaced, but nodded. “Yeah. Then ’bout a month ago, the Wilson girl come up missin’. She showed up at the police station a few days later claimin’ she’d been raped and dumped in the woods.” Kenni pressed her lips together. “That doesn’t mean it was him.” “Mama says it was Willie.” “Damn it, Frankie. That does not mean anything!” Her brother shrugged. “She knew where to find you.” “Oh, don’t start that again.” “Hey, you weren’t there. You know Mama’s got the Knowin’.” Kenni sighed. Her brother’s belief in Mama’s “abilities” was not something she would be able to argue, and she didn’t care to try. Instead, she decided to change the subject. “Well, that’s not why I’m here, is it? So can we just drop it?” Frankie grinned weakly. “Sorry, baby sister. Didn’t mean to start the day on a downer.” “Forget it.” He looked around at the crowd milling around them. “So where is this mystery man of yours, anyway?” Kenni started to turn and stumbled against a uniformed figure behind her. She felt a hand on her back steady her as she recovered. “Easy, Lance Corporal.” She turned and saw Sam, and her heart beat a little faster—though she couldn’t say whether it was from embarrassment at having stumbled, tenderness at the sight of Sam, or even in preparation for the fight she knew was to come. Sam smiled at her reassuringly, and as Kenni turned back to her brother, she saw his quizzical look. There was no putting it off any longer. “Frankie, this is Sam. Sam, this is my brother, Frankie.” Frankie’s eyebrows shot up as comprehension sank in. “Oh, snap!” He looked at Kenni. “You shittin’ me?” Kenni sighed and shook her head. “I shit you not.” Sam smiled at him. “Corporal Samantha Givens.” She stuck her hand out, and Frankie shook it numbly, obviously stunned by the events unfolding in front of him. Sam looked back at Kenni. “I take it you haven’t told your family?” Kenni bit her bottom lip, chagrined. “It never really seemed like the right time.” Frankie snapped out of his shock and laughed. “So I suppose the middle of their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary is the right time? Daddy’s gonna have a heart attack!” He looked up at Sam. “No offense, but Daddy’s a little ol’ fashioned, and you ain’t exactly what our parents had in mind for their little girl. You understand.” Sam frowned at Kenni. “Maybe I should stay at a hotel?” “No! I’ll tell them before the party.” She wanted to take Sam’s hand, but they were in uniform. So she turned back to her brother, her eyes begging him for reassurance. “It’ll be all right. Mama and Daddy will accept it after they cool down, won’t they?” Frankie just shook his head for a second, and then he pulled his little sister back in for a hug and sighed. “I’ll help you break it to ’em. We’ll work it out.” With his arm still around her shoulder, he turned her toward a gift shop. “But a box of his favorite chocolates would go a long way toward calmin’ him down.” Together, the three of them began to thread their way through the crowd. Craning his head forward so he could see around his sister, he addressed Samantha. “You know, the girl-on-girl thing—that ain’t so bad. But why you got to be so damn white?” Sam shrugged. “What can I say? Inferior genetics.” Frankie howled with laughter and tightened his grip on Kenni’s shoulder. “I like her.” With those three words, Kennesha felt the tiniest bit of tension leave her chest. Chapter 3 Nikki and Angela were on flight 1427, due in at 10:10. But the flight marquee showed it was running a little behind schedule. The ETA had been revised to show 10:16. With a few extra minutes to spare, Mark saw a collection of stuffed animals through the glass front of one of the airport gift shops. Scanning through them, he spotted a stuffed Velveteen Rabbit that he knew Angela would love. They had read that book repeatedly when she was younger, and though she had proclaimed herself too old for a baby book anymore, she still loved stuffed rabbits. He slipped through the glass door, the electronic chime announcing his presence to the clerk. She glanced up from the register, where she was ringing up a young black woman in a Marine uniform, then immediately looked back down to counting out the woman’s change. Mark went to the stuffed animals and picked up the rabbit. Taking it to the counter, he pulled out his wallet to pay the bored cashier just as the lights went out. Enough light filtered in from outside that it wasn’t completely dark, but it was still disconcerting. “Shit.” The cashier muttered the oath under her breath, but Mark was close enough to hear. She looked up apologetically. “Sorry about that.” Mark shrugged. “No problem. This happen very often?” “No, sir. First time since I been working here, but that ain’t saying much. I only had this job for a month.” She looked at the register. “Sorry, sir, but the register’s dead, too. I’m afraid I can’t ring this up until the power comes back on.” Mark looked at the price tag on the rabbit. It was fifteen dollars. “What about if I pay cash? I can give you a twenty, and you just keep the change.” She thought about it and pulled out her cell phone. “Let me call my manager.” Mark glanced at his watch again—10:14. “That’s funny, my cell phone’s dead.” The cashier shook the phone as if that would get it working. She pushed the power button again. “Damn! I just got this thing last week.” Mark automatically pulled out his phone and was surprised to see that it was dead, as well. “What the hell?” Then the ground shook, and people began muttering. Mark saw some of the people in the store walk to the glass front of the shop to see if they could tell what was going on. As he followed their gazes to the passersby in the concourse, he saw the mood of the crowd in the darkened hallway begin to change. At first, he couldn’t hear anything through the plate glass that made up the front of the shop, but he could see the pace of the crowd outside change. People became more agitated as they milled about. After only a few seconds, he heard the loud, incoherent muttering as many of the people began talking to the neighbors around them. A few seconds later, the muttering turned to shouting. Suddenly, a woman ran into view, grabbed a man outside the store, and began wailing into his shoulder. Similar scenes unfolded as other people ran into view, passing news to small groups. More people began crying, and a few screamed. Mark dropped the rabbit and ran out of the gift shop. The concourse was turning into a madhouse as some people ran past him, while others milled about as if unsure what to do. He grabbed a red-faced woman as she stood alone, sobbing. “What happened? Ma’am, was that an explosion?” But as he said it, he realized what must have happened. A plane crash! That’s the only thing it could have been. He grabbed her by the shoulders. “Was it a plane crash?” Crying so hard she couldn’t speak, the woman simply nodded. Mark’s heart raced, and he swallowed the sudden lump in his throat. “What flight was it? Do you know what—” Once again, the ground shook, harder this time, and Mark staggered a bit, as did everyone else around him. A split second later, the ear-shattering sound of another explosion ripped through the crowd, and he looked up to see the darkened hallways illuminated by the bright yellow flames of a fireball outside. More screams filled the area, as people who had only seconds before been confused and questioning, suddenly began to fear for their own safety. The milling crowd turned into a panicked mob as people rushed for the nearest exits, knocking Mark down in their mindless fear. On hands and knees, Mark scrambled out of the hallway—out of the rushing mass of people and back into the gift shop. He looked up at the other wide-eyed customers in the store. The female marine he had seen at the register helped him to his feet. “What’s happening out there?” He turned to her in shock, trying to wrap his head around what the woman outside had told him. “She said a plane crashed.” He realized that this was a pretty small airport, and there were only a few flights due in. As he followed the thought to its logical conclusion, comprehension dawned, and Mark spun back to the entrance. “Nichole!” He took two steps before another explosion shook the ground, and the screaming down the hallway changed pitch. Down the concourse, toward the sound and the light, the shouting evolved from fearful to terrified, and as Mark and the others in the gift shop looked down the shadowed hallway, light flared and the ground shook once more. Mark could actually feel the heat, as the corridor outside the gift shop flared bright yellow. Suddenly, the crowd outside had a purpose. They were no longer scattering in all directions, but ran screaming away from the gates, away from the searing conflagration that Mark could still feel through the glass of the shop front. He flinched and then started for the corridor once more, panicked at the thought that he might lose his family. The marine grabbed his sleeve. “Hold on, mister. What are you doing?” “My wife and daughter are on the flight from San Antonio. I have to…” He stopped, unsure of how to finish. The woman’s eyes were sympathetic, but she kept a firm grip on his sleeve. “Sir, you don’t know what flight went down. And heading into that fire won’t do anyone any good. Let’s just let the emergency crew do its job.” Mark jerked his arm free. “What emergency crew?” “Every airport has its own emergency service for situations like this. If you listen, you can probably hear the sirens outside.” Mark stopped to listen and then shook his head. “I don’t hear anything but the crowd.” And before anyone could object again, he opened the door to the gift shop and pushed his way across the corridor to a door marked Airport Personnel Only. He tried the door. Locked. Looking to the right, he noticed a card scanner. He slammed the flat of his hand against the door with a booming clap that sounded even above the shouts of the running crowd. “Sir! You can’t go out there!” Mark turned to see a man in an airport security uniform pushing toward him. “Open this door! I need to get outside.” The man shook his head. “No, sir. I’m sorry, but you need to go to the front exit with everyone else.” He got closer to Mark and tried to guide him away from the door. “No!” Mark grabbed the man by the front of his shirt and pulled him closer. “I need to get outside here to see what’s going on!” Shouts from the gift store registered vaguely, and Mark saw the marine, accompanied by another woman in uniform and a large black man, working her way through the crowd toward him. Mark lifted the security guard by the front of his shirt, and panic registered in the man’s eyes as he suddenly realized how big Mark was. Working in the gym several days a week for the last few years had turned Mark into a mountain of a man, and he was in no mood to be denied. He slammed the man against the wall and grabbed his name badge from the front of his shirt. Sure enough, the badge opened the door, and Mark jerked it open. He gazed out into hell. Two distinct fires blazed—one in the distance across the runway and a closer one off to his right, where part of the terminal itself burned. Oh, God! Four jets were gated at the terminal near the blazing inferno of the closest crash. Bodies lay strewn about the tarmac, and Mark jumped back as one of the four jets exploded, its fuel tank going up like a bomb. Once again, Mark was thrown against the doorframe as fresh screams and cries of anguish erupted in the crowd behind him. He started to run outside, toward the blazing wreckage. He had to find out if that flight was 1427. But as he began to step forward, strong hands grabbed him and pulled him back inside. “Hang on, mister. You don’t wanna go out there.” Mark turned to find the large black man and the two marines pulling him back. “Let go of me! My wife and daughter might be out there!” “Mister, ain’t nobody alive still out there.” Mark flailed his arms, breaking free of the three of them, and started again to dash outside. “Frankie, stop him!” Frankie was evidently the large black man because he grabbed at Mark again, yanking him forcibly back inside the hallway. The crowd was beginning to thin out now, and the two men tumbled to the floor. The marines stepped into the fray, trying to help Frankie restrain Mark, but Mark screamed incoherently and punched Frankie, knocking him into the white marine, and turned to the door again. Frankie scrambled to grab Mark’s legs as he tried to get back to the door, and one of the women jumped on Mark’s back. Mark tried to spin her off, but tripped and fell as Frankie refused to release his legs. Kicking wildly, Mark managed to break free and scramble upright. Slinging the woman off his back, he found Frankie staggering back to his feet. Mark grabbed him by the shoulder and flung him backward, where he tripped and fell on top of the woman. He took his first step toward the door when he heard a shout behind him. “Hey, mister! You forgot something.” Mark turned to see the other marine hurl something at him. He was confused for a split second as his mind slowed things down and he had time to watch the baseball-sized crystalline object tumble through the air toward his face. He had just enough time to identify the projectile before it hit him directly above his left eye. Snow globe? And then consciousness fled.