Kept From Cages
Series: Ikiri (#1)
by Phil Williams
Published: September 21, 2020
Genre: Supernatural Action-Thriller
Age Group: Adult
Pages: 261 (Print Length)
No one returns from Ikiri.
Reece’s gang of criminal jazz musicians have taken shelter in the wrong house. There’s a girl with red eyes bound to a chair. The locals call her a devil – but Reece sees a kid that needs protecting. He’s more right than he knows.
Chased by a shadowy swordsman and an unnatural beast, the gang flee across the Deep South with the kid in tow. She won’t say where she’s from or who exactly her scary father is, but she’s got powers they can’t understand. How much will Reece risk to save her?
On the other side of the world, Agent Sean Tasker’s asking similar questions. With an entire village massacred and no trace of the killers, he’s convinced Duvcorp’s esoteric experiments are responsible. His only ally is an unstable female assassin, and their only lead is Ikiri – a black-site in the Congo, which no one leaves alive. How far is Tasker prepared to go for answers?
Kept From Cages is the first part in an action-packed supernatural thriller duology, filled with eccentric characters and intricately woven mysteries. Start your journey to Ikiri today.
“Don’t blame yourself,” Reece said, hefting Stomatt’s unconscious bulk up the dirt track. “None of us guessed he lost that much blood.”
“Even still,” Caleb replied, stooping to help. “Shoulda been me behind the wheel. Always shoulda been me behind the wheel.”
“He insisted, didn’t he? What were you gonna do, two maniacs shooting at us?”
“Insist back!” Caleb’s eyes shone in the dark. “Coulda said, ‘No, listen, Sto, I’m driving.’ Coulda got us clear with no hassle.”
“We got clear, and you did good.” Reece grinned. A grin that could charm the devil’s horns off his head, Leigh-Ann liked to say. Even in a thick boiler suit, torn and dirtied from a day’s fighting and fleeing, his hair dyed a murky green. They might be filthy and stinking and hurt in places they were yet to check, stranded on some unlit path to the middle of nowhere, but they were damn alive after taking on a billion-dollar company of thugs. Yeah, their car had flipped and they were still a long way from the safety of Stilt Town, let alone home, and Stomatt might be seriously injured – but they’d done what Reece said they would do and won. That’s what the smile said, and Caleb smiled back.
“Sure,” he said. “But we maybe shoulda switched driver. Made for the main roads after all?”
Reece checked the wood-panel house ahead again. A little further and they’d hit its two-step porch, knock and see who, exactly, lived in the empty fields halfway between Waco and Shreveport. Only an occasional tree on the black horizon told them they were anything short of stumbling through limbo itself. But lights shone yellow in the cross-barred windows, behind curtains – beacons to salvation.
“Reckon they cannibals?” Caleb said.
Reece traded his it’s-all-good smile for his that’d-be-a-laugh one. Even if this wasn’t the home of good honest farmhands, there wasn’t much the Cutjaw Kids couldn’t handle. They dragged Stomatt across a shingle drive, the scrape of boots on stone announcing their approach. Caleb grumbled, “Don’t like leaving Leigh-Ann alone back there neither.”
“She’s better than fine,” Reece said. “You wanna worry? Worry about how we’re gonna spend all that money once we get back to Cutjaw.”
The floorboards creaked as they climbed the steps. The only sound besides them breathing. All those lights on and nothing happening inside: no talking, no TV, no movement.
“Think they’re not in?” Caleb said.
“Find out, won’t we? Lower him here, easy.”
With Stomatt propped against the wall, Reece straightened out the boiler suit and patted down his legs, then twisted his gun belt round so the pistol was hidden to his rear. Caleb caught his eye like he wanted to suggest something worrisome, and Reece smiled it off before it was said. Because everyone liked Reece once he got talking. He rapped a knuckle on the door. “Excuse me, good people! I know it’s late but we’re in bad need of assistance.” No reply. “Had ourselves an accident back up the road. Damnedest thing, you wouldn’t believe – car on its roof, and we got a man down.”
Nothing. Caleb worried, “Think they heard us coming, hid away?”
“Why’d anyone hide from a couple harmless musicians?” Reece said. Caleb’s eye tracked down to the gun belt. Reece curled his nose: even if they did see La Belle Riposte holstered there, it was an instrument as exquisite as his trumpet. And they were in Texas – who didn’t have a gun? He knocked again. “Hate to be a burden, but my friend here lost a lot of blood – can’t even stand right now.” Still nothing. “We’re decent people, like yourselves – just trying to get back home.”
Caleb shifted. “We could try another one?”
“Another house?” Reece raised an eyebrow to indicate the hundred miles of nothing surrounding them. He called out, “We don’t need to stay long, just got to patch up my friend – get him some water, fresh bandages. I gotta insist on that much at least.” One last pause. “We’ll make our own entrance if we have to.”
“Better y’all go on your way!” a gruff voice finally answered – a big man.
“Gladly, with the barest assistance!” Reece answered amiably.
“Get on! What you’re looking for’s not here.”
“All the same, if you could open up, it’d save –”
The door swung in on a man with a double-barrelled shotgun. “I said –”
Reece spoke over him fast: “No need for that, sir, we didn’t come looking for trouble. Name’s Reece Coburn, horn-maestro, as reviewed in Two Shoots Magazine, and this here’s my associate Caleb ‘Low Bone’ Gray – heard of him?”
The man’s mouth hung open in surprise, his threat trapped there. He was large with over-indulgence, someone that could knock you down with a swat if it didn’t give him a heart attack. His ruddy face was partly hidden by a tangled beard, and he had on a faded check shirt, leather suspenders clipped to mud-caked jeans. Over his shoulder, in a doorway down the hall, was another man, as lean as the first was wide, snub-nosed, warty-faced, with shirt and jeans as tatty as a scarecrow’s. Unarmed and nervous.
“What?” The shotgun farmer recovered slowly from Reece’s friendliness, eyes darting to the green hair and back. “No, listen here – get on back down that road or I’ll –”
“We would kindly get on,” Reece said, “but see, Caleb and me with our tender frames, we’re not up to carrying this burden far.” Reece scuffed a foot to draw attention to Stomatt. The farmer looked at the bleached-blond oaf splattered black with dry blood.
“The hell –”
Reece stepped into the kitchen, pushed the shotgun down with one hand and drew his pistol with the other. Stunned the farmer with his speed, as his companion exclaimed, “Jesus!”
“Stay put, friend, and relax,” Reece said, grip tight on the shotgun. “I got no intention of hurting you, I mean it. Water, medicine, shelter, that’s all we want. Our priority’s keeping him alive. Anything else is a bonus we won’t assume.” Moving around the farmer, Reece sped on, “You can’t have heard of us – two parts of the Cutjaw Kids – otherwise you’d know we’re decent people, only ever hurt them that deserve it.” The slim man threw an instinctive glance back, into the next room. Blocking that doorway for a reason. Reece slowed down. “We interrupt something?”
The farmer went rigid on his shotgun, for a second seeming like he might pull the trigger just to shake Reece off. Reece warned him against it with a casual wave of the pistol.
“Caleb, you haul Sto in here?”
“I’ll try,” Caleb answered honestly, and gave the farmer an apologetic look as he started to manoeuvre Stomatt’s bulk through the doorway.
“Listen,” Reece said. “We got problems enough of our own not to interfere with yours. But I think you oughta let go of this gun now.”
The farmer didn’t shift. Caleb huffed upright from struggling with Stomatt. “Want I should cover him, Reece?”
“Wish you didn’t have to.”
“Go to hell,” the farmer said.
“That’ll be a yes.”
Caleb drew a pistol from inside his boiler suit. “Got him.”
The farmer gave him a sceptical glance. People tended to go one of two ways with Caleb; kind-faced, softly-spoken, hunched with self-consciousness, he struck people as either slow enough to take advantage of or too quietly calm to trust. After a moment, the farmer settled on the latter, and finally loosened his grip on the shotgun. Reece took it. “Now what’s the fuss?”
The slim one straightened up. “You ain’t coming through here, no way –”
The man flattened himself against a wall as Reece pushed past into the next room. The farmer called out, an explanation or a dismissal. Reece didn’t hear it. A woman on the far side of the room gasped, but she wasn’t his concern. Dead centre, with the other furniture cleared to the sides, was a girl no older than seven, sat on a wooden chair. Her arms, legs and chest were bound by thick leather belts. Her black hair hung in locks over hazel skin, the white of her eyes haloing big dark irises that fixed on Reece.
Reece glanced at the woman for an explanation; young but built big, in the same farming slacks as the men. Likely the farmer’s daughter. She cringed at the pistol, too scared to speak. Reece turned back to Slim, who raised his hands.
“Ain’t what it looks like! She’s the devil, I swear!”
“What is it, Reece?” Caleb asked.
“Like y’all ain’t involved?” the farmer snarled.
“What in hell kind of –” Reece spun back to the girl. “They hurt you? Jesus – what’d they do –”
He crouched, about to grab her bindings, when Slim pleaded, “No, don’t!” He flinched at Reece’s pistol but continued, “Look at her eyes!”
Holding his gun steady, Reece checked the girl again. Her gently dark skin was marred around the extremities: grubby at her neck, dark under the eyes and nose, scratched. She had on a white t-shirt and denim dungarees, all stained – fallen in mud a few times. Her gaze hadn’t left him since he entered. Eyes massive in her face. The irises, now he looked, were red as blood.
“You see it, don’t you?” Slim said.
“Don’t bother, Donny,” the farmer growled from the hallway. “Think they come rolling in here by chance? With all that thing’s been saying?”
“Dammit,” Caleb said, “let’s see.”
Reece frowned as Caleb pushed the farmer into the room. “That thing?”
“Ho-ly hell,” Caleb gasped, over the farmer’s shoulder.
“She ain’t right.” The farmer’s daughter found her voice, a squeak. Terrified as slim Donny, getting busted like this.
“We wanted to help her, man!” Donny insisted. “But she says things –”
“Get yourself up against that wall,” Reece said. “The pair of you. And you” – to the woman – “untie this goddamn child.”
“I ain’t staying.” Donny made a move. “Not if she’s loose.”
“Please,” the girl said, weakly. Donny winced. “Help me …”
Reece said, “None of y’all are leaving. Didn’t I ask you to untie her?”
“Don’t you dare,” the farmer rumbled, before his daughter could budge.
“You miss the part where we got guns on you?” Caleb asked. “Shit, I’ll do it –” He stepped forward and the farmer lunged for the gun. The pair of them twisted over it, the farmer’s weight bearing them to the ground. Donny sprang for the door and tripped, the stumble making Reece’s shot hit the wall where his head should’ve been. The farmer shouted murderously, grappling with Caleb, and the daughter screamed, as Donny dived out the room and Reece’s second shot hit the doorframe.
A third shot sounded, muffled by Caleb’s scuffle. The farmer’s angry shout spiked and Caleb yelled, “Get this fat bastard off me!” But Reece was running through the hallway, as Donny sprawled spider-like out across the drive. Reece aimed as he reached the door, but hit a patch of Stomatt’s blood and slid, landing on his rear. He scrambled upright and saw a last slither of Donny’s angular joints slipping into shadow. Man moved like a damn greyhound.
Caleb grunted around the farmer’s bulk and the daughter’s screams turned to fierce curses. Caleb insisted, “Ma’am, you saw him attack me! Woulda killed me!”
Reece trotted back to the living room to find the farmer inert on the carpet, blood pooling under his chest. His daughter was shuddering in a crouch as Caleb stood over her, gun at his side. “Stop screaming, please – I didn’t want to have to do it!”
And in the middle of the chaos sat the red-eyed girl, eyes locked on Reece again. Afraid. Reece holstered his gun and took a knee. “It’s gonna be alright, cher. We’ve got you.” The farmer’s daughter kept whimpering, no no no.
Rapid footsteps came over the entrance boards and both Reece and Caleb spun with pistols raised. It was Leigh-Ann, running in with a MAC-10 submachine gun and a deadly look on her face. Reece yelled, “Dammit Leigh there’s a kid in here!”
She shouted, “What in hell are y’all doing?”
The shrieked question stilled the room, even the farmer’s daughter going quiet. The trio of gun-toting criminals looked at each other, the dead farmer and tied-up girl. Reece stood, in silent admission that this had got well out of hand.
Leigh-Ann laughed. “Shit, boys, this your idea of getting help?”
About the Author
Phil Williams is an author of contemporary fantasy and dystopian fiction, including the Ordshaw urban fantasy thrillers and the post-apocalyptic Estalia series. He also writes reference books to help foreign learners master the nuances of English, two of which are regular best-sellers on Kindle. He lives with his wife by the coast in Sussex, UK, and spends a great deal of time walking his impossibly fluffy dog, Herbert.