Randy Mason's Falling Back to One is a debut novel and a winner in the 2018 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Here's what you'll find inside:
Wrapped inside this gritty New York story laced with darkness and suspense is a most unexpected, richly layered tale of transformation and healing.
When thirty-six-year-old Detective Sergeant James Baker finds himself at a dangerous crossroads — facing suspension or even the end of his career — he agrees, under great duress, to an unorthodox therapy: being the acting legal guardian of a convicted juvenile offender. Banished, like an outcast, to the high school where the teen will be a student, he’ll be overseeing security — far away from the general criminal element.
But seventeen-year-old Micki Reilly is not what he expected: she’s female, far more violent, and claims to have no memory of her past. Cynical, Baker is determined to be rid of her as quickly as possible while she, full of dreams of a new life, sees him as her only chance. Remaining together out of necessity, they battle each other on every level, the shrouded bridge between them rarely seen and often missed. But the stakes are far higher than what they first appear, leaving both lives in jeopardy — until a tragic decision finally rips away the veil.
Set against the backdrop of the 1970s, a time of pulsating change and social upheaval, Falling Back to One is the story of a man’s struggle for salvation and the fragile thread of hope he alone offers a severely abused child. With complex, sharply drawn characters that are flawed, human, and heartbreakingly real, an unusual relationship gradually unfolds, winding its way through unique twists and turns to an unforgettable conclusion.
Read the excerpt below, then buy the book.
Even the stars themselves were dying. Beautiful as they were—brilliant sparkles of pure energy shining through light-years of space—they were each destined to one day disappear, some in a spectacular explosion, ultimately pulling whatever was around them into a lightless, lifeless void. As if they’d never existed. Several of the ones she saw glittering right now were already gone—they just didn’t know it yet.
She lowered her gaze and turned her head away. But in that last hour of darkness, there were miles to go with nothing to do except stare out the dirty, wire-meshed window. So as the minibus continued to roll down the highway, she went back to watching the shadows streaking by, black against black—a cool shiver creeping slowly up her spine. Less than four months ago, as if for the very first time, she’d opened her eyes in the gloom of just such early morning hours. Slouched in a boarded-up doorway, she’d been sleeping in an alley. Black against black had been the shadows there, too, one sliding into the other—a huge two-dimensional mass. Until her eyes had adjusted.
Garbage was strewn everywhere, a collage of anything and everything people used and threw away. A twisted bicycle frame. A broken sink. An old tire. Torn black bags with garbage cascading out. There were planks of rotting wood and pieces of plastic. And glass—lots of glass—that reflected the minimal light seeping down from the street at the other end.
Something rustled nearby, and she flinched, grimacing as stiff muscles objected. But it was only a cat, and she watched as it poked its nose inside the debris. But when it crossed through a patch of moonlight that had casually slipped through an absent roof and glassless window, she jumped to her feet, pulse racing, eyes wide. It wasn’t a cat.
Time stammered and dragged. Alone with the rat. Which was blocking her way while the space turned darker. The moon, continuing its descent, was falling out of alignment with the building’s gaps and holes. And though she wanted to keep her eyes on the enormous rodent going in and out of the trash, its tiny nose sniffing and nudging every object in sight, she found herself looking around at the deepening shadows: strange, ill-defined forms in a strange and unfamiliar place. For she had no idea where she was or how she’d gotten there. No idea how to get home.
Not a single image came to mind. Not a single memory. Nothing. She breathed in: not even her own name. Breaking out in a thin film of sweat, she jammed her hands into the pockets of her jeans—all empty. And nothing on the ground looked like it could’ve belonged to her. She paused, eyes fixed on the assortment of broken glass littering the pavement, bits and pieces in different shapes and sizes, moving away, getting smaller and smaller. She felt light-headed and very tall. Weightless, like she was floating. Like in a dream.
A gunshot ripped through the night, and then another, piercing the muffled haze. There were shouts and more gunshots, like little pops. Finally a police siren wailed—stunningly loud.
It wasn’t a dream.
But the rat was gone.
Steps cautious, she moved down the alley, hearing voices as she neared the end. And once she’d reached the street, she stuck her head out just enough to have a clear line of sight. There was no one to the left, but, further down and to the right, three teenaged boys in faded jeans and denim jackets were hanging out on the corner and smoking. At first she thought they were arguing, then realized they were teasing each other, following their jokes with playful slaps and punches. She glanced behind her, but the alley only swallowed itself up in the darkness of a dead end.
She settled back to wait for the boys to leave, the night air not warm enough for merely a T-shirt, her hiding place smelly and gross. But just as she was about to take another look outside, something brushed against her leg, and she jumped, tripping over a box full of rusted metal parts. Heart in her throat, she hugged the wall, but heard nothing—absolutely nothing. And then the stillness grew, pulsing and pressing, until she plunged into the light, every muscle in motion, every nerve on fire. The boys were shouting from close behind: “C’mon, let’s get ’er.” “Yeah, we gonna have us some fun.” “Hey, momma, whatchu runnin fo’?”
She flew down the cracked and ravaged sidewalks, randomly turning corners, the background a washed-out, meaningless blur. And though she tore through several areas that were teeming with people—people selling drugs, selling themselves—heads barely turned. Block after block the pavement disappeared beneath her, and she heard, as if from a great distance, the heavy, labored breathing that was her own. She felt the pounding of her feet and the motion of her body running—like it could run that way forever.
But her pace began to falter. And when she reached an especially dark street, where all but one lonely lamp had been shot out, she ducked into a narrow alley. Deserted and forgotten, relinquished to the night, the buildings on either side of her were completely dark—crumbling, burned-out shells of brick and cement. But with their damaged, aging walls as protection, she slowly picked her way through the blackness and the rubble, trying not to make a sound, trying to control the ragged rhythm of her breath.
After what seemed like hours, she emerged in the back and found a fire escape ladder hanging down, her sneakers tap-tapping ever so lightly as she clambered up the rungs. And when she reached the first landing, she went to pull the metal steps up behind her, only to stop: the noise would give her away. But it wasn’t until she paused a few flights later that she thought to strain her ears for sounds of her pursuers. Perhaps they’d given up. For all she knew, she’d been running for blocks with no one behind her. She started to smile. And upon thinking she might be safe, she nearly succumbed to a fit of nervous giggles. Safe? She was considering breaking into a condemned building where rats traced mazes in the yard below.
She peered into the gaping window before her, but it was too dark to see anything, the night still blanketing the city, the moon having disappeared from the horizon. And with the world gone black, and the streets now quiet, she sat with her back against the wall, the rough bricks cool and solid behind her sweat-soaked shirt. But her hair felt unpleasantly damp, and her eyelids were drooping. Hugging her knees to her chest to fend off the encroaching chill, she stared across the roofs, fighting to stay awake.
Hardly noticeable at first, the sky began to glow: a soft smudge of dusty pink, a faded ribbon of aqua lazily melting into deeper shades of blue. Minutes passed in tranquil pastels. And then the cloudy sky bloomed, her dull gaze widening as fiery streaks of color blazed above the buildings. But as the sun rose higher, the vivid hues retreated. And when she looked through the window again, pale morning rays were illuminating the interior.
High above walls covered with graffiti, bare bulbs dangled from a ceiling of chipped and peeling paint. The floor was littered with matchbooks, empty cigarette packs, cigarette butts, candy wrappers, crumpled magazines, beer cans… Her eyes settled on the red vinyl sofa in the middle of the room, its yellow foam stuffing—turning orange—pushing through several large rips in the material.
She climbed through the window only to hesitate: the building was falling apart; the very floor she was standing on might give way. But then she looked at all of the stuff lying around: proof that plenty of people had been there. Not letting herself think about the dust, the dirt, or whatever might be crawling all over the floor, she went to the sofa, cleared a space, and lay down to sleep.
But only a few hours later, a shadow fell across her eyes, which fluttered open to a large fist wrapped around the handle of a knife. Slowly, her gaze shifted upward from a pair of worn, torn jeans to a mane of dirty blond hair that fell slightly below tensed shoulders, two penetrating blue eyes staring back from a rugged, stubbled face.
That was how she’d met Tim Reilly.
The bus hit a nasty pothole, jarring her out of her reverie. In the blush of dawn, they’d reached the southern section of the Bronx. One after another, decaying, abandoned buildings passed by, some with fake windows painted onto panels of wood to replace the missing panes of glass—like that really looked any better. An eerie sensation crept over her: these were the very streets she’d come from.
“We’ll be there in about thirty minutes or so.” It was the only thing the guard had said to her since they’d boarded the bus, though he and the female driver had been flirting since the trip began.
Micki was the only passenger…