I write dark things...
As promised, now that I have my illustrious Depths of Memory Street Team assembled and on the warpath (okay I don’t have them technically going to war, but they have to wear coordinating face paint at all times) it’s time to share the first chapter of The Dream Sifter.
I hear your cheering in my head, isn’t that nifty? Well let’s call it nifty for the sake of argument.
* * *
Guardian Graeber stood cloaked in the shadows of fading dusk outside the walls of the Zebio Sept’s three-story masonry home. The scanner in his hand indicated the source of his focus resided under this roof. Although the Sept had locked things down like a fortress for their post-dinner meditation, as was proper and correct, the one hazard they could never protect themselves from stood on their doorstep.
Some thanked him. More had cursed him. The hunt used to drive him…yet he cared less and less every day.
Graeber slid the scanner back into place on his belt and pulled a lever next to the door. Chimes echoed within the halls of the Zebio Sept, alerting them to a late caller. The approach of light footfalls echoed from within, and then the harsh slam of the door bolt thrown open no doubt indicated the mood of the person on the other side. The thick, wooden door with its steel reinforced frame swung open.
“I hope your purpose will make up for the timing of this…” the butler’s brusque words fell short. No doubt as he came face to face with a Guardian, the servant’s thoughts drained from his minuscule brain. All Guardians wore distinctive variegated clothing made of perfect tones for blending into the native environment. The overlapping dark blue, green, gray, and brown colors shifted with just the slightest movement of the material. No one would have mistaken him for anything but what he was: an enforcer.
The matching cloak and raised hood obscured Graeber’s face, but there could be no doubt as to his purpose.
“I doubt altering my timing would offer the Sept any degree of solace.” The butler’s face drained of color in reaction to the hard, dispassionate edge in the Guardian’s voice.
“My pardon, Guardian. It’s not my place to interfere.” The butler stepped aside and bowed low, no doubt desperate for the protector’s focus to pass over him. He never asked what this concerned; it could be only one thing. Graeber glided into the house and headed straight for the main hall, knowing the entire Sept assembled there at this hour. The butler closed and bolted the front door before trailing a short distance behind him.
At the end of the corridor Graeber reached an ornate double archway beyond which lay the main hall where the entire extended family consisting of the Sept proper had gathered for their post-dinner meditation.
He knew from his research that Zebio was a mid-sized Sept, consisting of a handful of first-degree children to the Chieftess, her sisters and brothers and their children, and various extended aunts and uncles related by blood or marriage. All of them skilled artisans in the family trade–earthenware, ceramic, and pottery creations.
He cared nothing for their craft, but it helped to study the trade of a given target as it indicated their aptitudes. For instance, potters would be good with their hands and have excellent attention to detail, and could be brawny through the upper body if they worked at the wheel. Therefore today’s target would be a simplistic capture, no strain upon his skills.
A pity, that.
Most of the adults within the room sat in chairs, either around tables or in clusters, while others gathered on the floor with children on their laps or leaned up against them. Most of the small ones tried to make an effort at the meditation, but the practice was a learned one, and they were as yet unskilled.
The Az’Un had grown to learn the importance of daily calming exercises for maintaining optimal health, and the members of Zebio Sept appeared to be ardent practitioners.
The butler rubbed his hands together next to him, eyeing the assembled thirty-odd members of the Sept. Then he gulped and took a step back, away from the watchful scrutiny of the Guardian.
Graeber threw back his hood and surveyed the room, testing the undercurrent, prepared in case his prey might attempt to flee.
A collective gasp rippled through the space as the Sept members took in the newcomer–and processed what his arrival–heralded. A few members trembled, some paled, while others slunk down in their seats, as if hiding was even a possibility.
“Who’s that man?” little Solla asked. It took a child’s innocent inquiry to stir a verbal response from the stunned gathering. She didn’t know the impropriety of disturbing the meditation or staring at a Guardian.
“Hush, child,” Chieftess Taura replied, her surprise over the newcomer obvious in the strained lines etched on her face and the sudden taut muscles of her body. She straightened her back in her plush chair and flattened out her skirt before folding her hands in her lap. All of the faces in Zebio Sept turned toward the Guardian. Wide eyes and whispered words bared the naked anxiety of the crowd. Murmurs rose in volume, and mothers cradled their small children to their breasts.
“Silence,” said Chieftess Taura. “Remain still.” She shot a chastising look at the butler, who then took a seat near the hallway.
Even with her shock at this turn of events, Taura wasn’t about to question Graeber or protocol. Her sharp gaze schooled all present, and those who’d moved quickly retreated back to their seats. No one in the Sept would go against his or their Chieftess’ will. “Zebio Sept welcomes your protection, Guardian. Please do what must be done.”
Her tone belied the spoken welcome, but it didn’t concern him. Graeber had a job to do–as long as no one interfered, everything would go smoothly.
Graeber pulled the scanner from his belt again and moved around the room. He touched every person one by one, each flinching at the brief contact. Some burst into quiet sobs at the contact, unable to contain their terror. He paid them no heed, intent only on his quarry.
In this case, the scanner only served to confirm what his honed senses detected in subtle amounts–an off stench he’d come to associate with the plague. After a lifetime scouring the planet for any living thing infested with the abomination, Graeber had to force himself to continue through the entire Sept to make sure he missed nothing.
He finished his circuit of the room and approached Taura, showing her the display on the scanner.
“This one has an active infection.” His deep and steady voice unaffected by the consequences this revelation implied and the emotional havoc it would wreak upon the entire Sept.
Taura’s eyes widened, followed by silent tears as she struggled to keep her composure. “Zebio asks for your help in this matter, Guardian. Please bring cleansing to our family so we may sleep in peace again.”
Taura rose and walked toward one of the windows in the corner and appeared to gaze out upon the street. Facing away from the group Taura’s shoulders shook in silent sobs as her fingers gripped her arms.
“I’m happy to oblige, Chieftess Zebio.” Graeber slid the scanner back into his belt.
As he pulled his hand out of his vest, Graeber grabbed an object from a satchel hanging on his belt. Moving faster than most would be able to track, he spun, flicked his wrist, and let fly a small metal dart at Terem, Taura’s youngest son. The willowy sixteen-year-old cried out as it hit him in the side of the neck with an audible thunk. Terem’s eyes met the Guardians with a shock that morphed into a murderous rage. He tried to stand, to back away, but the tranquilizer’s immediate potency prevented even these simple tasks.
With the Guardian’s target now singled out, everyone shied away from the boy, huddling along the walls and crying even harder. Danger and death marked Terem.
Graeber walked up to the teen with the grace of a predator, not a trace of fear evident in his posture.
“How dare you? I’ve done nothing wrong!” Terem slurred, his words forced out through now uncontrolled lips. He slid flat onto the ground, unable to hold himself upright.
Graeber squatted next to him, contemplating the boy. “Did you think no one would notice? Did you think that you were somehow immune and thus didn’t need the drugs?” he snarled. He plucked the dart from Terem’s neck and slid it into a vest pocket.
Shocked gasps replaced the earlier screams as the Guardian’s admonishment rippled over the assembled family. Terem’s illness wasn’t due to the plague medicinals failing. No–for whatever reason he’d chosen to cease taking them, signing his own death warrant, and placing his entire Sept at risk.
Terem tried to defend himself. He grunted, whined, and shook his head, pleading his case. He looked around the room but the answering gazes from his Sept held no compassion, no sympathy. His betrayal had endangered them all. Guardians didn’t make mistakes, and no one would start questioning them now.
Graeber took out a large black fabric bag and pulled it down over Terem’s head past his midsection. He raised the boy over his shoulder. The body was now simply a limp, anonymous form.
“Your Sept may rest easy now, for no others among you are ill. Dwell in peace.”
He walked from the room and down the hall, not waiting for a response from the shocked family. It took the butler a moment to catch up and he followed along at a respectful distance. Graeber turned as he opened the front door, inclined his head, and then disappeared off into the shadows of night.
Echoing through the streets, he heard the far-off sounds of Taura Zebio mourning her youngest son.
* * *
Click here to add The Dream Sifter to your Goodreads list.
As promised yesterday, here’s an excerpt of my upcoming release, The Dream Sifter, the first book in The Depths of Memory trilogy. This trilogy is a genre-mash of sci-fi/fantasy/mystery/thriller/horror. I haven’t yet set a release date, but am in final edit rounds. Enjoy!
* * * *
The far-off murmur of chanting voices and rhythmic drumming sounded from the mid-morning meditation. Still drowsy from the crèche medicinals and comfortable in the water, she closed her eyes and relaxed into the sound, intending to wait out Mala’s return with the food. The drumming and chanting grew in volume, Rai nodded off into a trance-like sleep.
And with sleep, came a dream.
Rai stood in a forest full of ancient trees, so tall the crowns were lost beyond her vision. The smallest shimmer of light shone through the dense canopy, not enough to burn away the thick morning fog lying in the valleys. A melodious trickle pointed the way to a nearby stream. Gliding deep into the large grove, she took in a landscape dotted with immense ferns growing out of rocky outcroppings and long-dead fallen trees. Some trees were split into great building block sections, as if they were massive tables and benches laid out for a feast. The moist humus squished between her toes. Rai felt like a mere trog bug dwarfed by her surroundings.
Blisters wore at the soles of her bare feet, and her clothes, a long brown cape over a simple dress, and areas around the knees and forearms of her clothing were caked with mud. Her waist-long red curls contained bits of fern and dirt within their tangled mess. She gasped at the cool, humid air, trying to slow her breathing, then stilled in fright when the rustling fronds of ferns moved in the distance.
The sound of muted voices grew, echoing off the ancient trees. The meaning of the words escaped her, but their tone was all too clear. They were coming to punish her, but where could she go? The voices became a thundering force pushing down upon her, relentlessly pressing her to either run or face their malicious fate.
Filled with terror, Rai ran away from the voices. The forest fought her, fern fronds whipped her in the face, branches ripped at her clothing, and gnarled roots caught at her toes and twisted her ankles as she fled. She caught glimpses of hooded figures in her peripheral vision and her fear drove even faster. Running through fog and fern the voices pursued, getting closer with every step. She stopped to gauge her path through the dense fog and the voices abruptly ceased. The entire forest stilled. Something brushed through her hair, took hold, and pulled. Rai let out a frantic scream, striking her fists against her unseen attacker as she fell backward . . .
Mala’s voice delivered Rai back to consciousness for the second time that day. Rai laid in the bath, Mala leaning over her, Mala wrenching Rai’s wrists in the air between them, her grip burning against Rai’s skin.
“Stop it!” Mala cried out. Her grip on Rai’s wrists tightened.
Shaking in residual fear, Rai relaxed her arms and tried to regain some composure. “Yes, Mala, I’m fine.” A red mark on Mala’s chin stood out against her tanned skin. “Oh, I’m sorry! Did I hurt you?”
“Be still, Rai. It was just a bad dream.” Mala released her grip and stepped back, and then straightened her skirts. “You must be more tired than usual from the crèche. It happens sometimes. Still, for your own safety, don’t nap in the tub.”
Rai sat up, bristling over her mistake. “It won’t happen again.”
* * * *
I hope you enjoyed this snippet. Let me know what you think!
If you’re a reviewer and would like to get on the list for an ARC, just let me know.
Most of the time my life is fairly normal. I don’t mean this in a bad way. My life is awesomesauce, and I adore it.
Occasionally, things ratchet up unpredictably, and I have my epilepsy to blame. This is one of those moments.
The other day I was riding the train home. I’d felt normal all day, no warning signs, nothing felt off, everything was par for the course.
I was reading a book on my phone, surrounded by passengers. Again, nothing out of the ordinary. This is a boring story. Yes? I could describe the boringness of the ride and the passengers around me, but trust me, the only thing of interest was the book I was reading.
The first thing that’s non-boring? I can’t read because the words all scramble up. And although the book is super-awesome, it’s not *that* amazing. I also notice an incredibly clear feeling in my body. It’s like a bell has gone off in my head.
And I know ‘it’s’ happening. That’s the only warning I get. It’s always the same, at least for a focal seizure. Note, these aren’t absence or tonic-clonic’s. I’m right there, conscious, and aware, the entire time. I’m just along for the ride. And by the way, I don’t get to pick the ride, it picks me, and it’s always different. Imagine getting on an amusement park ride, but never knowing what will happen past the first turn, yet the ride’s gonna last thirty seconds to two minutes.
You may not realize it, but there’s this pin in the undercarriage of your reality that holds everything in place. Mine just fell out and hit the floor, and the separate dimensions of my lenses slip and slide over one another, distorting what I used to hold to the status quo. Welcome to my life.
I turn off my phone, cause you know, I can’t read moving words. Everything’s moving in super slow-mo, which is fantastic, because that means those two minutes will go by even slower. The train stops at a station and a lady steps on board, and I fixate on her ears, which are misshapen. She’s obviously an elf, dwarf, or something, and everyone else knows it.
I hide my face in my hand. I am not going to react. None of this is real.
The train starts to move, and I look out the window. A group of teens is walking by, and one of them carries a full head mask with hair on it. I look up to his head. He no longer has one. It’s been replaced with a blurred, black void.
I hide my face in my hand. I am not going to react. None of this is real. How much time is left?
I look out between my fingers at the balding man across from me. He’s been diligently reading a book on military history. He takes the opportunity to extend his neck and smile at me in a fetchingly reptilian sort of way.
I hide my face in my hand. I am not going to react. None of this is real. How much time is left? Please. Please be done now?
The man next to me coughs, and the woman standing next to him says something to him, and then looks in my general direction. Have they noticed that I see everything?
And then life suddenly clears as we reach the next train stop, just as enigmatically as it started. My head aches like I was run over by the train, I feel nauseous, dizzy, irritable as a wolverine, and I’m cursing myself for not having any water on me for taking my aftercare meds.
I look around, and am happy no one appears to have noticed me behaving oddly. That’s one of my biggest concerns: when my medications fail me, I won’t be able to control my reactions. The other is that people will misinterpret seizure activity for mental illness. I can’t control others desire to rush to judgement. All I can do is contribute to awareness and education, and hopefully add in a bit of humor in the process.
This is an excerpt from Living with Shadows, my collected stories about living with Temporal Lobe Epilepsy.
I sat inside reading a book, likely a Madeline L’Engle story, I read those over and over back then, when I lost focus on it. I kept trying to read, but the words wouldn’t stay together, or I couldn’t keep my mind on the task, I was simply and suddenly too agitated. I was 15 or 16 at the time, I’m not exactly sure.
And I felt the nudge. This is all too familiar to me now. You don’t ignore the nudge. There was something it wanted to show you.
I told my mother I was going outside for a while, and I wandered into the backyard. We had a wonderful backyard in the house on Cornell Street, full of flowers, bushes, trees, a small garden with fruits and vegetables. But today, I felt fuzzy and out of focus. I stumbled off the back porch, down the back sidewalk and into the middle of the lawn. I was nudged again into the shade of the massive birch tree. I veritably collapsed onto the ground, drawn to lay myself out and bask in its shade.
Lying there, at first all I felt was the itch of the grass on my skin, and the warm summer breeze blowing across my skin. A bumblebee buzzed by, unconcerned with my presence. Perhaps I had imagined the nudges? But no, I’d learned to be patient. The nudges came, the physical sensation of being pushed, or kicked, or well, nudged. And then the odd awareness of ‘something’ coming, and I’d perk up. Whatever the puzzle piece, I had to pay attention. I had to make sense of it. It was essential. I’d learned this. I didn’t know why, but I knew, if I was ever to make sense of what was going on, I had to pay attention.
Suddenly, my consciousness shifted without warning. My mind left my body and spread out like butter across the surface of the birch tree above me. Before, I’d noticed how it swayed in the breeze. Now, I swayed along with it, dancing as it did with the other trees in the vicinity. I felt the commingled pollen amongst the trees; saw the little messages passing as wavelengths of energy. I read those messages, understood them, and laughed aloud.
The sun broke through the clouds, and the tree sighed with appreciation as it lapped up the rays eagerly, the energy flowing into the heart of the tree, storing to feed and nurture the future seeds. I fed on the sun, took it into myself. Water sucked up from the extensive root network reached to the tip of every leaf. I felt the tree breath out, and I breathed in its breath. I felt like a speck of disconnected dust next to this massive creature, dug as it was into the earth and interwoven across the skies to its brethren.
As the moment began to fade, dissonance crept in. I tried to cling to the tree. I’m with it one moment, and the next it’s shattered into a million pieces, and I’m nauseous, confused, dizzy, and my tongue tastes metallic. Sometimes I forget where I am, or what I was doing beforehand. The degree of disorientation varies. I get up, and go back inside. I was clumsy afterwards, but not for too long.
It’s inevitable on the pleasant moments, I don’t want them to fade, but I always try and hold on. It doesn’t matter, they last a set period of time, I don’t get to pick. I’ve learned this over the years.
This is a short except from The Madness Path, the second book in my Chosen Few series. Yes, I’m working on five books at once. Enjoy!
* * *
Just when you think everything is coming together, everything is perfectly set on course, the bottom inevitably drops out, two steps before the finish line. When you’ve fully invested yourself, heart and soul, body and mind, financially and socially. You’d wrapped everything into this one venture, put it all on the line. Now it laid in a pile of shattered dreams. Or is that your mind, there on the conference room table in a movers box? No, that was just her job, and most of her social life, rent into shreds.
This never happens when you’ve gone half way. No. That’s not how these cards get dealt. It takes your full, absolute commitment before the hammer will fall. Otherwise, what’s the point? You’re not primed. You’re not ready. It takes full and absolute dedication to your goals before you’re able to be shattered into a million tiny shards of ruin.
It’s the moment the cosmos tells you your dreams don’t matter one iota. That everything you’ve clung to for so long is without merit. And it’s the moment you’re utterly destroyed and reborn, all in an instant. Stripped of all that was, stripped of the assumptive yoke you’ve thoughtlessly given yourself over to, at this moment, this singular instant, your eyes have a grain of clarity.
Whatever happened to Erin out in those woods, she knew this moment was a culmination of that raw, elemental power. Something now took root in her, shook her foundation to the core, and cracked open the base. Although she’d lost her job, and for all she knew she’d be out on the street in T-minus two weeks, this moment was worth every second.
Right now, she felt so alive, so fully drawn into her own skin it crackled with anticipation, and she might just burst. Was she scared? Sure, her heart was beating at a million miles an hour, but the colors around her were so vivid and alive in a way she’d never seen before. No, that’s not true, they’d been like this in the forest. With him. But now, that same clarity was here, and yet she was all alone. Or was she? The air itself vibrated around her. Was this real, or illusion? But then she caught the scent, his scent. Musky, earthy, fresh and green, a hint of wine. Her lips curled as she panted anticipatorilly. She sprinted out the door, box forgotten. Where she was going, it wouldn’t be needed.
The hunt was on.
Copyright © Viva-licious 2009. All Rights Reserved.