Introducing: Malik and Nicole

GRAY HAZE, my current work-in-progress, is an epic fantasy/sci-fi/horror novel, the first of a trilogy that I hope to publish in the next five years. I am about 10% finished with the second draft. Hurrah! Time to introduce the four protagonists: Osric, Amora, Malik, and Nicole. Why? Because you gotta start promoting early, right?  Kidding; I’m doing this for fun. 😉

Last week’s post covered Osric and Amora. Here, I’ll introduce Malik and Nicole.


Nicole theme

Nicole Hayes was born on May 7th, 2015, a few minutes after her twin, Osric, in Albany, New York. She is 5’9, blond, lean, with a heart-shaped face and bow-shaped mouth. She graduated Berklee College of Music in 2037 and is a concert pianist, dating a man she met at school who later became a famous vocalist in virtual reality (and real life). When her boyfriend comes home at the end of his world tour, she realizes she is no longer in love with him and contemplates ending their relationship — but her plans are turned upside down when he proposes in front of his friends and staff backstage.

On her way home to Fog Creek the next day to take care of her sick mother, Nicole discovers her engagement ring is a fake, and that the proposal was posted online as an amusing prank.

All Nicole wants is to find love and stability. But with the world tilting toward chaos and blood-lust, her odds are slimming. Can she ever learn to trust again?

Excerpt (2nd draft, unedited):

She played with her engagement ring after ending the call. While admiring it under the dim light, she noticed something peculiar… She peered closer at the inner ring, where it appeared the silver shine was peeling along the edge. She brushed it with her fingernail, and silver flakes drifted upon the comforter.

“Oh, my gosh.” Her jaw set tight. Zach had given her a fake ring. A toy.

Tears rolled down her temples. She sat up and chucked the ring across the room. It clanked against the wall and soundlessly hit the carpet. What the heck was Zach thinking? What game was he playing? Was his eagerness to find her an earlier flight borne from his desire to please her, or his desire to be rid of her?

Why, why, why would he propose with a fake diamond? He could afford the real thing. He said he loved her. She couldn’t think of any reason why he would propose in front of all his friends if it wasn’t real.

Was she a… a distraction? A front? A trophy? Did he ask her to marry him to make himself look good, or to present a juicy story for the press? Was it a publicity stunt?

She wanted to call him and ask him all these questions, but she couldn’t. Not until she thought it through a bit longer. She didn’t want to jump to conclusions…

No, she wouldn’t ask any direct questions yet. She pulled out her flat phone and sent: “The ring is a fake.”

An agonizing half hour later, he replied, “I thought it suited you. Enjoy your time in Fog Creek.”

What? It suited me?

Then it struck her: she was absolutely loathed by his fans. The VR junkies hated her. She never knew why, but she didn’t think it mattered. Jealousy was the most likely explanation, and it was inevitable, considering the types of fans he attracted. But Zach always cared about his fans. He cared deeply about his public image. If his fans hated her, then how could he justify keeping her around? If he was suddenly available, open to a new relationship, his fans would froth at the mouth. He would be more popular than ever.

Nicole sobbed into the back of her hand. She had not expected him to be so cruel. He had always been so nice, so sweet, to the point where she couldn’t bear the thought of breaking his heart. How had she not seen the shadows lurking under his bright exterior?

He didn’t break up with her like a gentleman. He made a mockery of her, proposed to her in the presence of twenty-or-more witnesses, with a fake ring in hopes she would realize on her own that he hated her guts.

What a slimy coward!

Gray Haze; Chapter 8: Emergency Landing


Malik theme

Malik Hayes was found on August 29th, 2022 at just a few weeks old in New York City. Since his birth parents were never found, and he had no birth certificate, his birthday was recorded as the day he was discovered on an adoption agency’s doorstep. The Hayes family adopted him when he was one year old. He is 6’8 and has dark, umber skin. His preferred hair style is no hair at all.

At the beginning of Gray Haze, he is an 18-year-old high school senior set to graduate at the top of his class in a month. Malik — the teacher’s pet, people-pleaser, and athletic juggernaut — has accrued his fair share of friends and enemies. When a gang of students beat him in the streets a mere two blocks from his house, resulting in a broken arm and other injuries, Malik’s adopted parents aim to fight for justice in a court case that threatens to bleed their savings dry. Malik, however, has bigger problems, namely, what is he going to do after high school?

In a nation where only a few universities are left, he is lucky that all of them approved him for admission. But what if he wants something different? How can he choose which door to walk through when virtually every door is open before him?

Top it all off with his visions of demons crawling out of the earth and the voices commanding him to “open the door,” and Malik is more lost than ever. Little does he know that he is soon to be found, and his destiny is the greatest of them all…

Excerpt (2nd draft, unedited):

“What are you grinning at, Mal?”

Malik’s head shot up as Kun and company traversed across the street to meet him, two blocks from his house. The sun disappeared behind an army of clouds.

He pocketed his phone and adjusted his backpack, still moving. Kun held a two-by-four, and his friends wielded similar weapons.

Mr. Pickering waved while he planted flowers in his front garden.

Malik picked up his pace, but he was met by the other half of Kun’s group, appearing behind a large willow. He wasn’t afraid of them, but he knew they wouldn’t bring weapons unless they meant business. Unless they planned on using them.

“Guys, stop,” he said, looking around at their hungry faces. “In a month, we’ll never have to see each other again. There’s no reason to hold a grudge.”

“Oh, we don’t hold a grudge,” Aisle said, sweeping her red hair over her shoulder, now streaked with neon green. “We just want to see you bruised and bloody.”

Now Malik’s heart pounded. Ten kids against him. No one around but that creepy old man. A variety of four-letter words poised on his tongue. “Why?” he dared ask.

“Because you’re so big and strong,” she drawled, stepping forward to look straight up at him. She was even smaller than Maria. “And it’s time you were knocked down a peg.”

“You’re not afraid of expulsion?”

She shrugged and looked casually at her nails. “We have bigger plans that don’t require a high school diploma.”

Kun snickered. “Start with the legs.”

Malik didn’t have time to react before the first swing, a metal bat to his knees. He keeled forward, crying out. Then he roared, prepared to fight for his life.

He lunged at Kun so fast that the bully couldn’t lift his piece of wood to defend himself. Kun crashed on his back, wind knocked out. His friends pulled Malik by his arms before he could throw a punch.

Malik tracked their movements and tried to block most of their swings, but they hit home too often, and he was losing coherency. Berd caught him in the face with Kun’s board, and the pain rippled through his skull. Malik dropped on his hands and knees, gasping through a swollen face. The molars beneath the impact radius were loose, and copper coated his tongue.

They took advantage of the precious seconds he was on the ground to beat and kick until every nerve in his body flared hot with agony. He panted and pushed himself up, snatching Aisle’s bat and swinging it at Berd, right in the gut. Berd grunted, air whooshing from him as he fell forward. Everyone else stopped. Aisle smirked with satisfaction as Malik staggered to his feet, holding his fractured arm to his stomach. They all gloated in silence to watch him turn toward his home. His feet shuffled over the smooth road, and his ragged breaths slowed. He swallowed blood and bile and limped home.

Gray Haze; Chapter 4: Broken Bones

Which character do you find more interesting? Tell me about your wip and favorite protagonists in the comments! 🙂

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