Title: Girl in the Air
Author: Tyler Pike
Publisher: Tyler Pike Books
Genre: Magical Realism Action Thriller / YA Paranormal Thriller
Author: Tyler Pike
Publisher: Tyler Pike Books
Genre: Magical Realism Action Thriller / YA Paranormal Thriller
6'3" 200LBS, AIRBORNE AND ANGRY. ARE THEY SMART ENOUGH TO LEAVE HER ALONE?
A teenaged loner who sees more than she should, Alice Brickstone’s mission in life is to find out who or what killed her twin brother a decade earlier. All her parents will divulge is that he died on a family trip to an ashram in India, a place impossibly far from her remote ski town in Colorado. When she begins to see faces from her childhood nightmares, Alice buries her fear and pounces on the opportunity to hunt for information…and revenge. She works alone and observes no caution. Her simple mission is complicated when a strange Himalayan hermit shows up in the woods near her house telling her that she has paranormal abilities. Skeptical but determined to use any advantage to end the threat against her, she is shocked to suddenly become the hunted. There is only one way out—Alice must master her newfound skills and fly before tragedy takes over again.
GIRL IN THE AIR is the first book in a series of page-turning, fast-paced magical realism thrillers set in the Rocky Mountains. Be transported into Alice’s low-tech world of ancient yogic supernatural abilities, modern teenaged angst and post-modern world problems. Readers interested in Asian mythology will love discovering subtle allusions to the Mahabharata, and yoga practitioners will twist and writhe in their seats. If you like your heroes big like Jack Reacher, weird like Carrie, or scarred like Harry Potter, you’ll love Tyler Pike’s character, Alice Brickstone.
Buy GIRL IN THE AIR today and join Alice on her harrowing ride.
“It’s good, and wackily funny, and mostly ridiculously believable…An unstoppable magic realism action thriller.” – Tom Flood, Award-winning Author
For More Information
- Girl in the Air is available at Amazon.
- Pick up your copy at Barnes & Noble.
- Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.
It was five in the morning and completely dark outside. In late spring the sun wouldn’t rise over the ski mountain for another two hours. For a few little creatures out there, the day had already begun. There was a rustle in the leaves below her window, probably a deer mouse making her way to a nest somewhere. She heard a tiny peep that could have been a downy woodpecker chick.
She rolled over, lingering in the space between her nightmares and her morning zombie routine, and remembered it was Saturday. Her swim team only trained once today but it was usually a strong session. She would eventually have to stumble out of bed, gather her bag, eat something and cycle to the pool.
Laying there a moment longer, she listened for any sounds in her parents’ huge, empty house, but heard none. Her mom would also be hearing the morning noises from her meditation cushion in her yoga room.
What drove Mom to wake up so early, she wondered. Did she hear things when she meditated? Dad, for his part, would be dead to the world. It would take an act of God to wake him from the stupor of his hangover.
After finally motivating herself to roll out of bed, Alice stumbled downstairs with her swimming bag, grabbed four ice cream sandwiches and an energy bar for breakfast on the ride. She took down her bike off its hooks in the garage, clipped on her helmet and cycled down the driveway.
Her bike tires hit the gravel road. There would be no other cars up here this early and no other man-made sound of any kind. Above the crunching of her fat tires, Alice heard a tentative whistle from a hawk. It could have come from the edge of the Knifespur Wilderness where the old growth forest began. Then she heard vast expanses of pine trees rustled by a tiny breeze as it meandered, pushed by the warming dawn.
Some different sound reached her ear, like the wind had twisted itself into words.
“Fat girl,” she heard. “Regular routines. Easy target.”
She knew it had been her imagination but still the road corridor through the trees looked suddenly ominous, dark and claustrophobic. She pedaled a bit harder.
After a few hundred yards, she let her attention drift again and she heard a very distant whisper say, “I’m going to get you today, fat girl.”
She forced herself to focus on her breathing in order to shut her mind up. It was a survival technique she had learned through years of battles against her fears and memories. She had a bad habit of imagining worst-case scenarios. It’s like that mad impulse to jump when you’re standing on a ledge. She always imagined her brother dying by thousands of spiders, slow-moving steamrollers, or being dropped out of a plane, and she often thought that the same kinds of things would be waiting for her around the next corner.
She took both hands off her handlebars, finished her last ice cream and the energy bar, then sped up to ensure she got to the pool on time. The road passed only a few other houses before emerging onto the two-lane Colorado Highway 320. From there she had a straight shot downhill to town.
She was feeling more awake by the time she arrived at the pool where her swim team trained every morning and every afternoon. It was an Olympic-length, fifty-meter pool in a new aquatic center on the university campus. She should feel grateful her dad’s company had helped to pay for her swim team’s pool time. Her coach had some idea this scrappy little squad may someday rival the quality of the elite Denver swim teams. Fat chance, Alice thought. Kids up here were too focused on drugs, mountain biking and skiing, leaving few girls who even bothered learning how to swim. Only Alice and one other girl on her team were starting to post some times that rivaled some of the better swimmers based in Denver.
She locked up her bike and walked purposefully toward the entrance. The automatic doors slid open and the welcome smell of chlorine billowed out, triggering her anticipation of the pain of her morning workout. Alice put up with the monotony of long hours in the pool because swimming enabled her to temporarily escape from herself, or at least from her endless droning anxieties. She felt like the exhaustion released her from those, as well as some from invisible burden. Sometimes, in certain rare moments, the feeling of the water was more than therapy and recalled the ecstasy of a flying dream.
Hesitant voices of other teenage girls in her junior squad were already echoing in the huge expanse of the domed building. The pool was like a solid slab of blue glass lit from within by circular lights. She heard a splash and saw the first person dive in to break the perfect stillness of the water. The water lights cast circular shapes that danced and changed on the roof.
Alice made her way to the change room, put on her swimsuit and grabbed her cap and goggles.
On the way to the toilet, she caught a glance of herself in the mirror and paused. She was, undeniably, getting stronger. People started gawking at her when she sprouted to six feet tall as a fifteen-year-old and she drew even more stares when she pushed up another three inches this year and ate her way to two hundred pounds. She saw some of the fat had transformed into long, bulging strands of functional muscle. She was taller, broader and stronger than most men. Still flat-chested but, for a swimmer, that was not bad news.
She tried out a pose like she had seen bodybuilders do and was pleased to see a very large muscular “V” shape form in the back of her arms, but one of her arms had a painful zit on it. She tried to flex the muscles of her huge thighs but there wasn’t much definition and some fat pushed out from under the seam of her Speedos.
She went into one of the stalls, sat down to pee and recalled something her coach had said to her on the previous day. He had told her that if she posted a few good times in the swim meet in Denver next weekend, she could qualify for the western zone championships in California. There were four zones in the US and each one held championships attracting the best age-group and senior swimmers in its quadrant of the country. Since turning fifteen, a year ago, Alice became a senior swimmer and often had to compete against girls up to nineteen years old. She hadn’t bothered racing any long course meets and hadn’t yet posted a qualifying time for this year's western zone championships.
When he told her about next weekend’s meet, one of the last opportunities for her to qualify, a couple of her teammates whispered to one another and giggled.
As she sat on the toilet, she stared at the closed door, taking shallow breaths and feeling stressed. She replayed that scene over and over: Coach talking, girls laughing at her. Why were they laughing?
The quiet in the change rooms shook her out of her trance and she realized she must be late. She jumped up and accidentally dropped her goggles in the yellow water in the toilet bowl.
Coach ignored her as she rushed out to the pool.
She swished her goggles around in the water at the edge to wash the toilet water off before putting them on and dove into her lane to start the warmup. The cold water gave her a jolt and she launched into a slow freestyle, her arms arcing lazily, one at a time, hands soft. Already a couple of laps behind the other girls, she pushed into a few faster laps and was surprised to feel her body sitting much higher in the water than usual. She felt strong. She also felt angry. The presence of such a huge wellspring of anger made her suspect it would be a good morning in the water.
After she finished her warmup laps she bobbed in the water and looked carefully at the whiteboard. In anticipation of next weekend’s meet in Denver, Coach had designed the program today around some time trial sets at race pace. She loved that. She relished pushing her body way past the comfort zone. Her body was like a sledgehammer she could use to brutalize the water and deposit this anger she was feeling.
She noticed Madison had also been swimming very well today and had been on her heels the whole time.
When it was finally time to start the race-pace sets, Alice was feeling pumped. Coach had organized the starting platforms and touch pad timers to be in place today to simulate a race environment. He kept large databases with all their split times at practices and races.
Alice didn’t really care about that stuff. She just liked effort, strength and the raw feeling of speed in the water, the rest of the world blocked out.
When Coach called the 200 meter freestyle—her favorite event—Alice climbed her block and Madison took the next lane over. A few other girls were also training for the 200 and they filled the next two lanes.
Alice thought for a moment as Coach set up the timing system. Four laps in the pool. Coach wants me to swim each lap faster than the last. That means I am only allowed to put in a hundred percent effort in the last lap, or maybe the last two laps. What a bunch of crap. I’m just going to go all out the whole time. I don’t care what he thinks.
“Take your mark,” Coach said into a megaphone.
Alice placed one foot back, reached down and took hold of the front edge of the block. She leaned back slightly and tensed her body for a fast start.
When she heard the electronic start tone, a fresh wave of anger passed over her, forcing her to pause for a millisecond, enough time to see Madison already launching herself off the platform ahead of her.
Bang. She launched into the air with a ferocious explosion of her core muscles and legs. Alice hit the water and one of her goggle eyes filled with water. It would be just an annoyance but she would not be able to see Madison very well underwater in the next lane. She held her arms above her head, hands together in a streamline position, biceps against her ears, and gave five very powerful dolphin kicks underwater.
She surfaced and began her stroke. Her body lifted to the top of the water again and she felt even more powerful than she had earlier. She felt like she was swimming downhill. She felt anger and strength in equal parts.
She made her first turn and decided to see if she really could swim the second lap faster than the first. She refused to grant her coach the satisfaction that he was right she was going to ‘bonk’ after going out too hard and she would have to swim the last lap with nothing left in the tank. Her body responded and she practically flew through the water toward her second turn.
She turned and hammered the wall again with her powerful legs. In the stillness of her underwater glide, something changed and she felt herself entering into another realm. It was as though she had broken some kind of mental barrier and found quiet. Time slowed; she was separate from her body and there was a kind of spotlight on her. She had split into swimmer and the swimmer’s witness.
Okay, Alice, she said calmly to the swimmer, let’s lift a little more. Two laps to go, each lap faster than the last. Keep your stroke long and your legs pumping.
The swimmer responded, moving even faster through the water. The swimmer’s whole body was burning with the fire of lactic acid and her heart was pounding, but these details didn’t matter to the witness. The witness told the swimmer to go faster and accelerate into the last lap.
She turned tightly and began swimming longer and harder. Suddenly the split between swimmer and witness was destroyed and the silence obliterated. Anger returned. She was hurting and her technique fell apart. Vaguely aware of all that, Alice refused to slow down and increased her stroke rate, throwing her arms over madly. Tasting lactic acid, she hammered her way to the wall and hit the timing pad hard enough to break a few fingernails.
She stood and gasped for air. She lifted her goggles and couldn’t see anything but black dots. She gasped again furiously and felt sick. She retched but managed to avoid throwing up.
She was completely alone on the wall. It seemed a long time before she could breathe without making gasping noises like a dying person. She turned and saw Madison swimming hard into the wall, but she was so far behind. Wondering what was going on, she had a strange feeling she had swum too few laps.
She looked up at the pool deck expecting Coach to be laughing. She couldn’t even count out four laps of the swimming pool. He wasn’t laughing and didn’t appear to be preparing to come over and yell at her. He was just standing there staring at the scoreboard.
Phew, she thought. He didn’t notice.
Madison finally touched the wall, came up for air and looked straight to the scoreboard.
“Oh...my...God!” was all she could say, in between gasps.
A bunch of the other girls were starting to crowd around the scoreboard. Probably laughing at her, Alice expected. If she had any energy she would have slunk off into the deep water and disappeared, humiliated.
A couple of the other girls came over to Alice’s lane. “Alice, you just broke two minutes. You just swam a 1:58!”
Eyes wide as eggs, Madison turned back to Alice. “Oh my God, Alice, what the hell was that?”
Alice didn’t really know what to say. Her previous personal best in training was a 2:06: fast enough for a top three finish at the western zone championships. A 1:58? That was only three seconds off the state record. It was only five seconds off the world record.
Coach ignored her and stopped above Madison.
“Mad Dog, that was 2:12, a personal best. Nice swim. That would have earned you a second place in the zones last year. Lap one, thirty-five seconds, then thirty-four seconds, thirty and thirty-five on your last lap. That third lap was a screamer. Your kick came in well but your stroke rate was a bit too high. That’s why you bonked on the last lap. I’m confident that you could take three seconds off that time by lowering your stroke rate on lap three — long and strong. You’re right on pace for qualifying for the zone champs.”
Alice listened to Coach talking in this way to the other two girls but she knew nobody was paying much attention. They were all looking at her.
“You okay?” Madison asked over the lane rope. “I got a good start, way ahead of you, and then you caught me and were already about three body lengths ahead by the second wall. I’ve never seen you swim like that.”
“I don’t know...” That was all Alice could manage. Her body was starting to feel like it was made of cotton. She felt sick to her stomach again.
Coach moved all four girls into another lane to warm down and started another time trial with four more girls.
As she continued to warm down and loosen up, Alice tried to remember how she felt during the swim: the anger, the strange moment when she felt like she was two different people, the anger again. She was familiar with anger. It was like her best friend, but the other thing was new. The quietude she felt when she split into witness and swimmer did more than help her swim faster; it created a clean split between herself and her pain. All of her pain, not just her physical pain. She tried to recreate the split again but it didn’t seem possible anymore. She didn’t know how to get there. There was only the rhythmic sound of the splashing and the rush of water against her swimming cap.
Although she couldn’t split herself again, she noticed she felt different. Exactly how, she couldn’t place, but definitely different. She decided maybe she just needed to puke or something.
Her next race pace set was the four hundred meter free, but she swam slower than she usually did in that discipline. She was hardly winded at the end and coach gave her a look of complete exasperation when he read her split times out. She had a few more trials but loafed through all of them.
Alice warmed down, got out and showered. She wanted to be alone now. Her stomach was feeling better and she had her mind on breakfast and coffee. As usual, she definitely wanted to avoid conversation with any of the other girls, but as soon as she emerged from the locker room, she knew that was going to be difficult. They were all standing there waiting for her.
Madison was there and her little fan, Bess, and several others were there with her.
“Alice, congrats on that swim.” Madison was wearing her usual post-swimming gear: jeans and a sloppy t-shirt. She looked sincere and Alice could sense nothing to indicate she wasn’t.
“Yeah.” Bess pushed her hip to the side. “Your dad works at a pharmaceutical company, doesn’t he? You must be getting some fantastic ‘supplements.’ Where can I get some?”
She walked by the girls in silence, looking at the ground. The swim had left Alice feeling blank and empty, as though she left part of herself in the pool. It was like the girls and the pool were part of a dream and she was not even the dreamer. It was like she and the girls were all together in someone else’s dream.