Whispers in the Dark

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Whispers
in the Dark  
 

She’s a preschool teacher. He’s kind of a zombie.  It would never work.

Karen teaches post-apocalypse preschool, safe inside city walls. She never intended to get caught outside.

Leo is technically alive, but perpetually zoned out: Mindless. He can see emotions as colors now, though, so at least there’s that. Like the other Mindless, he feeds on the emotional energy of humans. Then he meets Karen – her unique energy jolts him partly awake, and he’s hooked. He protects her but when she’s rescued, he lands in a cage.

Karen wants to go home, but she also wants to spy on her sketchy host, which brings her into contact with Leo.  He’s recovering, and surprisingly sweet, and he’ll protect her in any way he can.  

Leo doesn’t expect her to even talk to him, much less help him. But she does – and that emotion she has when she looks at him?  He doesn’t know what to call it, but it’s not fear.

Karen can go back to her life – if she abandons Leo. She can’t stay with him, she can’t take him home… but without her, he’s dead.

He saved her.  Can she save him?

 

Winner: Fool for Love contest, VA Romance Writers, Dark Paranormal category (2015)

Finalist: First Impressions contest, American Christian Fiction Writers, Speculative category (2015)


 

CHAPTER ONE

 

Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.

That sentence had whispered its way into his head a few
days ago and had been floating around ever since. Gradually growing louder,
clearer. He almost understood what it meant. At least he thought so. He used to
be able to think.

Whatever had happened to him had also affected a lot of
others, judging by the blank faces and vacant stares of the figures shuffling
aimlessly around the building where they congregated. Huge main hallway, big
rooms with glass windows and doors. From what he could tell. From the ones that
remained intact. Some of them almost whole, with rows of strange objects
sitting still and silent in the flickering light. All in muted variations of a
dull gray.

It wasn’t always that way. Sometimes, he could distinguish
between the bright and dark shades. Sometimes he could see the colors, even
feel the emotions… but they always faded away. The dying remnants of energy
within him powered a sputtering spark of need.

He wanted the colors to come back. The world looked so dead
without them.

He didn’t have any colors inside him, either. The grayness,
the emptiness – he ached to fill the gaping void. Thought and instinct churned.
There were no emotions here. He needed to go out and get some. He had done so
before, hadn’t he? Those around him were also restless. He started away from
the building, aware of many of the others joining him. Or maybe he was joining
them. Following a well-worn path towards the sources of emotions. Time to bring
the world back to life.

#

Time to bring the world back to
life. Yeah. It had seemed like a good idea. Karen was starting to doubt, but
her younger sister remained convinced. So far, reason had failed to make a
dent; typical teenager. If Katrina was going, then Karen would have to.

On the one hand, she could get books for her class; the
kids she taught needed to know there was more to life than this fortified city.
That if they kept on fighting and fixed the Mindless, there was a huge world
out there waiting to be explored. All she had to do was hike to the old
library, grab some books, and come back. Easy, right?

On the other… Facing the wall enclosing the city, mentally
prepping to leave the safe zone, it didn’t seem so easy.

“Isn’t it a little late to be starting out?” Karen asked.
She surveyed the other faces in the group. Katrina was beaming, bouncing on her
toes while the guys fussed with the weapons they carried and re-adjusted their
backpacks.

Her boyfriend Jake hefted his shotgun and smiled
indulgently. “We’ll be fine, hon. The plan allows for a delay, remember?”

“Oh, well, if the plan says so.” What could possibly go wrong?

“There’s still plenty of time,” Katrina chimed in. “The
rain barely lasted an hour. Even if it takes us twice as long as we think to
reach the library that still gives us hours to go before we have to be home.
You know you want to go.”

True. She weakened a bit before
rallying. “Yeah, well, I also want to come back,” Karen pointed out. “And I
need for you to come back with me, so forgive me for being a little cautious,
okay?”

“But we have to!” Katrina grinned. “How else are the guys
going to find out what’s-his-name’s theory of whatever-it-was?”

“We need that research,” Jake said. Like she didn’t already
know that. “And the library has it.”

“Katrina,” Karen said, in vain hope. “Be reasonable. Can’t
you just tell them how to find the gap?”

“Nope. I found it. And I want to go.”

“Calm down, Karen,” Brian said, fidgeting.

“You do not get to calm me down,” Karen snapped at him.

“You agreed to this, Karen,” Katrina said, lower lip
sticking out slightly.

Karen sighed. She could usually wear Jake down, if it was
just him, but Katrina was harder to dissuade. “Yeah. I just don’t like
that we’re behind schedule before we even start.”

“Well, we could go tomorrow,” Ramesh suggested.

Jake shook his head. “No, we can’t. Karen’s gotta to do her
daycare.”

Low blow. “Hey! Don’t call it that.
It’s preschool.”

Katrina turned to give her sister a quick hug. “It’ll be
great, Karen. Just wait and see. God’s going to do something; I can just feel
it.”

Sure he was. Karen managed not to wince.
Much. “Yeah, well, just let him handle things, okay, Kat? Don’t do anything
stupid.”

Katrina grinned. “Never. Come on, we’re wasting daylight –
let’s go!”

Karen sighed, accepting defeat. “Okay, fine.”

#

He walked through the gray
deserted streets. Earlier, water had fallen from the sky, and now his clothes
were heavy, clinging to his skin. It didn’t matter. This path was familiar; he
had walked this direction before. Towards the larger buildings where the
sources of emotion could sometimes be found. They were easy to follow – glowing
against the gray – but hard to catch. If they could be found at all.

They reached a crossroads, and he paused, considering. In
amongst the buildings now, their route didn’t matter. Turning or going
straight, they were just as likely or unlikely to find the energy. He turned to
survey the options. The others shuffled to a stop around him, but they didn’t
matter. They were empty – no energy in them, no colors.

The choices all looked much the same. The buildings sat
abandoned and uniformly gray. Off to one side, the sun slipped out from behind
the clouds and a beam of light touched one of the tall towers, reflecting
brilliantly. Sparkling. Enticing.

Any way would be right, but this way was more right. He
began walking again, towards the beacon. The others didn’t follow, and he
stopped, looking back. It was good to be with a group. He needed to be with
them, even if they didn’t have any colors. Being alone was death. The others
milled in place at first, but then began gravitating towards him, willing to
shamble down this new path. Why not? It didn’t make any difference.

The world had brightened once the water had stopped
falling, but not enough. Still gray. No amount of sunshine could penetrate
that. He looked at a building as they passed, walking closer to it. Lots of
rectangles piled on top of each other. He reached out to touch them, rough under
his fingertips. He used to know the words for these things. Of all the things I’ve lost… the thought
whispered. He ignored it. Not important when he had a hunger to feed.

Time passed. He didn’t know how long they’d walked before
he first caught a trace. The soft orange glow of fear flickered, riveting his
attention. Not very strong. Not very close, but tantalizing.

Energy, color, emotion. Life. The hunger stirred.

#

Karen approached the old
downtown library. Majestic stone punctuated by tall windows stretched to fill a
city block. “This is awesome,” she whispered, only slightly out of breath. You’d think chasing preschoolers would keep
a girl in better shape.

“It’s a lot bigger than I expected,” Jake admitted. “We’ll
need to split up.”

“I wasn’t planning on browsing biology textbooks, anyway,”
Karen muttered.

“No point in you doing that; you wouldn’t have a clue.”

Gosh, thanks. She swallowed the objection.
He didn’t mean anything by it.

They entered the lobby through half-broken doors, penetrating
the entryway before drifting to a stop, spreading out, looking around. Getting
their bearings. Beginning to relax.

The library had an old-fashioned elegance, befitting the
dignity of books. The central area housed the deserted circulation desk,
abandoned tables, and rows of forlorn computers. It was open under a high
ceiling, a balcony surrounding it on the second floor. Bookshelves sat
promisingly on three sides, on both stories.

The heat of the day hadn’t quite penetrated, leaving it
cooler in here than outside in the spring sunshine, and dimmer as well, but the
tall windows let in plenty of natural light. The directional signs remained,
still intact. The whole place looked remarkably undisturbed, dust sifting
peacefully down from the second floor to lightly coat the wooden tables and
dull the red cushions on the seats.

The Mindless has obviously never been here. Not surprising;
they couldn’t think, let alone read.

“Don’t try to take more books than you can carry,” Jake
directed, keeping his voice low, with a significant look in her direction.
“Meet back here in ten minutes. Non-fiction’s this way. Brian, Ram, you guys
get started with those journals; I need to find a few actual books.”  He went straight ahead while his two friends
curved off to one side.

Karen spotted the travel section, not too far from where
Katrina was eagerly scanning fiction. She absently holstered her pistol and
smoothed her hair back as she neared the shelves. So many books… a treasure
trove, far more than she could take. She chewed her lip, entranced by the
variety. Whatever she picked, she would have to carry on the long walk home,
but so what? Her normal world was one of limited resources; the need to narrow
her choices was a wonderful problem to have. “Okay, Kat,” she said, too quietly
to be heard. “I’m not too proud to admit it. This was a great idea.”

#

The buildings here were large
and solid, closely spaced together. They muffled the reception, dimming the
faint glow of fear. When it disappeared entirely, he paused, but then continued
anyway. Past another building, the sensation returned, a little stronger. Was
the color brighter now, or had the rest of the world faded more?

The next building caught his attention, and he slowed. The
energy came from inside. At this range, he detected multiple sources, but he
paused, distracted. This place felt… important, constructed from large squares
instead of small rectangles. Stone, he thought, the word arising from his
fog-bound memory. Of all the things I’ve
lost…

As he stared, the others continued, heading up the large
stone steps. He followed, chasing the tantalizing sensation, the slowly
brightening glow. Just as he entered, he heard the first yell. It was followed
quickly by more shouting, and by gunfire. The emotions became much stronger,
orange flickers blooming into waves of blood-red fear, floating in the air like
a mist. It fed the hunger, revitalized him, and he shambled faster. A female
ahead of him fell; he stepped around her. Another scream, cut short. The red
brightened, briefly, before the black energy of death burst out and roared
towards him like a tidal wave. Strong, so strong. He slowed, sighing, as it
washed over him, splashing into the parched place inside.

Another red-tinted scream, another dark burst followed; closer,
more intense, even better. As the black energy faded out, he looked around. He
saw red and blue and green… and many things brown. A deep, vibrant, alive
brown. This was what he needed, what he had been missing.

The fix wouldn’t last. He had never gotten enough, and what
he had always faded away. The floating fear blended in with the colors of the
library now, but he could still sense it. More targets, more sources. He pushed
forward, seeking them out.

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www.amazon.com/dp/B06XX9MCRV

Author

Pam Jernigan

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