This month marks my the fourth anniversary since I first went into self-publishing. Both Ascension and The Four-Year-Old Guardian were originally released in June 2011. Since then, I’ve managed to put out five other books. Not too shabby considering I work a full-time job and I’m categorically lazy when it comes to writing.
The other book I put out in 2011 was The Shadow Walker, the first of what I thought was going to be a trilogy. The sequel,The Shadow Within, was released in 2013 and I immediately started working on the third and final book. It didn’t take me long to realize this trilogy was destined to become a quadrilogy. I finished the rough draft of the third book (once called World of Shadows, now tentatively called The Shadow Without), then… nothing.
Two years have passed and while I’ve made considerable changes to that rough draft, it has taken far longer than I anticipated. Part of this delay is due to the fact I focused on finishing and releasing The Blood Contract then immediately started working on its follow-up, AfterLife. After giving it some serious thought, I decided I had done the fans of the Unseen Things series an injustice in making them wait so long. As a result, I’ve decided to renew my effort to finish The Shadow Without and get it released this year.
To reward my loyal readers for their patience, I’ve decided to share the opening chapter here. This is still a rough draft, mind you, so while I’ve gone over it a few times, it may not be without errors and there’s a possibility it will change some before publication. I believe in its current form, it helps answer some questions about the fallout after the end of the second book, while setting the stage for things to come.
Also, both The Shadow Walker and The Shadow Within will be free for Kindle devices and apps this Saturday the 13th through Monday the 15th, so if you haven’t had a chance to pick up your copy yet, this is the perfect chance.
As always, thanks for reading!
(Please note, both The Shadow Without and Twin Shadows will feature dual first-person views, indicated by the name at the beginning of the chapter).
I sat on the edge of the bed in my hotel room, feeling the weight of the world perched on my shoulders. Alternating waves of pink and green neon light washed in from the outside, penetrating the thin blinds covering the windows. It lent an eerie glow to the small space, making it seem otherworldly.
As well it should. This place, inside and out, was foreign to me. I could walk the streets of Las Vegas for an hour and still be amazed at my surroundings. The lights, the traffic, the atmosphere…it was unlike anything I’d ever experienced.
It was as good a place as any to do what I knew needed to be done.
I turned the bottle of pills I held in my right hand, so I could read the label. The medicine was prescribed to help fight anxiety and panic attacks. I had other plans for it.
Knowing it was futile, I tried to grip the childproof cap with my left hand, cursing when my fingers refused to cooperate. I twisted and turned, attempting to hold the bottle between my legs so I could use my good right hand, but I couldn’t get a tight enough grip.
I sensed movement in the shadows at the periphery of the room, where the neon failed to illuminate, and I knew time was running short. I made another desperate attempt with my ruined hand before letting out a guttural yell and smashing the bottle against the edge of the nightstand. A crack appeared in the orange plastic so I struck it again and again, until there was a hole big enough for the pills to spill out onto the dingy carpet.
Feeling around in the dark, I grabbed a handful of the medicine and held it before me. I knew this was for the best, but still, I hesitated. Memories flashed through my mind: finding Jess lying in a pool of her own blood only minutes after I’d agreed to let everyone know about our relationship. After all, if she was right, it was only a matter of time before people started questioning who the father of her child was. I remembered her perfect skin, torn, a jagged red smile marring her throat. The Watchtower, set aflame. The realization Thomas was still inside and the only person who truly understood what I’d gone through in Shading was lost. Then, just as I was starting to process it all, a helicopter roared overhead as if to mock me, followed by an explosion and screams from The Irenae. Our only way off the island was destroyed.
In one night, I lost everything.
I wandered around in the dark of night, barely aware of anything other than the pain taking hold of me. I felt drunk on misery, twisted and chewed up on the inside. Somehow, I made it to the beach where Allison had washed up, and it was there I found the blade embedded in the sand. It took me a moment to process what I was looking at, for my traumatized mind to piece together what it meant.
I fell to my knees, both wracked with guilt and bolstered by new determination.
At first, I thought perhaps Allison Bramer had been in The Watchtower with Thomas. I found out later they only found one body inside and one below, and that belonged to one of my guards, Slack. Seeing the blade cinched in my mind what I’d always known to be true: Allison was a murderer, sent to be our undoing. I’d had her in my grasp the entire time, but let Thomas’ affections for the girl color my judgment.
“Never again,” I said, my voice hoarse. Without giving it another thought, I popped four of the pills in my mouth and grabbed a beer. It was warm and bitter, but I chugged it down, letting it carry the medicine with it. I put the unfinished drink on the nightstand and waited.
“I let her kill them,” I said, the effects of the pills and alcohol already conspiring together to make me dizzy. I wanted nothing more than to lie down and close my eyes, but instead I stared at my left hand, the twisted digits bent at sharp angles a constant reminder of my failure.
We took a day off to mourn our dead, but knew we had to do something fast or we risked dying out there. Supplies were finite, and without The Irenae and the continued support of the government (assuming that had been Agent Boehler’s helicopter), we were left on our own. No communication devices, no way to travel off the island, no ties to the outside world. Thomas, Jess, Slack and Patch might have been murdered outright, but the rest of us were left to die slow, horrible deaths.
I wasn’t particularly handy with tools myself, but fortunately we had a rather generous talent pool on the island. Dr. Murray, in addition to being a gifted physician, knew a bit about working with wood, some knowledge passed down from his father. One of the girls they had working in the kitchen, Sadie, turned out to be an engineer and Stormy, the captain of The Irenae, was fortunate enough to survive the attack on her ship, even if her deckhands hadn’t been. Together, with the assistance of every able-bodied person on the island, we constructed a make-shift canoe using tree branches, duct tape and wire from the ruined communication room.
We did a test launch, traveling from Patterson Bay to the other side of the island and back. The vessel held up better than expected and even though we had yet to test it in deep waters, I made the executive decision to chance it. With some supplies in tow and Stormy to help me navigate, we set out on the ocean, promising the others we’d send help after we found the mainland.
I swallowed hard, my head swimming. Even though I was sitting, I felt as if I might fall down. The world spun around so fast, it was all I could do to keep the pills from coming back up.
After being adrift for several days on the ocean, convinced we were lost, we finally found our way to the mainland. Stormy was appropriately smug, though we were both malnourished and highly dehydrated. Our supplies hadn’t lasted the duration of the whole journey, but I was in much better shape than she. Until I laid eyes on the mainland, I feared I might have to give her to the ocean she loved so much.
It took some time to convince the locals I could be trusted. They asked for Thomas, and when I let them know the fate that had befallen him, they looked at me with mistrusting eyes. Finally, I met Mr. Morijo, a local businessman who not only offered his condolences but promised to send a ship to pick up the others. He provided us a hot meal and a place to stay. I gladly took up his offer, and in the morning, asked for even more.
“I need a boat to America,” I said, finishing up the last of the sausage and eggs he’d made for breakfast.
“That’s no small trip, friend,” Mr. Morijo said, patting his lips clean with his napkin. “That is hardly a regular journey for us. I would be at risk to lose a ship, my crew, not to mention catching the attention of the Coast Guard, which I most certainly do not want.”
“I understand,” I said.
The older man fixed a scrutinizing gaze on me. “And what is so important in America I should do this thing for you?”
The next morning, I was on a small boat with a crew of three other men, headed toward Florida.
Though the journey took several more days, it was much easier going than travelling via raft had been. We had food and drink aplenty, so that wasn’t an issue. The other men spoke little English, but that was all right. I wasn’t feeling very talkative myself. I just hoped Mr. Morijo was able to uphold his agreement to rescue those still trapped on Madison Island.
Giving in, I laid back, letting the bed cushion my fall. My hand came down and hit the remote, turning on the old-fashioned console TV in the corner of the room. Through the haze clouding my senses, I saw her on the television, talking to a reporter. The volume was down, so I couldn’t hear what she was saying, but it was her.
“Allison,” I croaked. But no, it wasn’t Allison at all.
Unable to keep my head up to see the television, I sank further into the bed. The lights from the television and my altered consciousness made the darkness of the ceiling move and writhe, like a living, breathing thing.
I felt it closing in on me, the edges of my life growing darker, darker. I knew if I closed my eyes, it would be all over. I’d pass on in my sleep, never to wake again. It was a better end than Thomas and Jess were given.
Tears streamed down my cheeks as I felt myself fading. I wanted to hold on, to stay lucid for the moment it happened. I owed it to them.
After reaching Florida, I immediately sought out Allison, which turned out to not be so difficult. She had become a local celebrity of sorts when she came back, but where her popularity started out with her being questioned by the media why she had stayed in Jamaica—which was nothing short of a lie—she had since become very politically active. Watching her on TV, smiling during interviews and talking about her hopes for the future, it was all I could do to keep from throwing something through the screen.
I tracked her down at a rally, surrounded by others showing their support for Christopher Stone, an independent candidate. I bided my time, trying to appear nonchalant while absently fingering the blade in my coat pocket, reminding myself it was still there. As far as I was concerned, Jess and Thomas would only be avenged once Allison paid the ultimate price.
After the rally, I followed her down an alleyway, into a building that looked to be empty. It couldn’t be more perfect. I was prepared to go to prison for enacting revenge—ready, even, to pay the ultimate price—but if I was able to do it in private without getting caught, all the better.
I found her standing on a landing overlooking a production floor that was currently shut down. Closing my fist around the hilt of my knife, I crept forward, even as I wondered if I should stab her in the back or make my presence known so she would know who it was who had brought justice.
I didn’t get a chance to find out.
“This is my parent’s factory,” she said, her back still to me. “We operate it on weekdays, but not the weekends. Trying to keep costs down with the current economic crisis and all. It’s not good for the employees who were counting on the hours, but it’s better than having the whole thing shut down, don’t you think?”
She turned to me and I felt my pulse quicken. A few steps and one thrust of my blade and it’d be all over. But I hesitated.
“Oh, God,” I moaned, wailing to the pervasive darkness as I lay on the hotel bed. “Why did I hesitate?”
I knew the answer before I asked the question, but it didn’t make it any easier. After watching her for so long at the rally, I had failed to notice the slight bulge of her belly.
“I’m starting to show, aren’t I?” she said, rubbing her stomach. “Little guy is growing so fast.”
“Is that…?” I couldn’t bring myself to ask the question. The answer was irrelevant. I had a mission to accomplish.
Besides, she took my child from me. This is simply poetic justice.
“Yes, it’s Thomas’. It’s a shame little Malcolm will never get to know his daddy.” She cast her gaze down, as if filled with sorrow, and it was all I could do to keep from laughing.
“You killed him. Not only Thomas, but Jess and Slack.”
“I did what had to be done,” she said, remorse gone from her features. “You’re not the only person who lost someone. In the process, my poor, dear sister Allison was taken from me.”
She’s just talking crazy, I thought. Trying to confuse me. I need to kill her now while I have the chance.
“What are you talking about?” I asked, my grip so tight on the knife handle I thought it might break and splinter.
“Two souls, trapped in one body. Allison had control for the longest time, except for when she didn’t. Then I took over. By the way, I don’t think we’ve had an opportunity to meet. My name is Megan.” She offered her hand as if expecting me to take it. Instead, I stared at her in wide-eyed disbelief.
“Megan?” I said, trying to process what she’d said. I had spent days chasing what I was sure was nothing but a ghost. But if what she said was true….
“Allison didn’t know she did those things?”
“Not a clue,” Megan said. “When she blacked out, I took over. I tell you what, I had to accomplish a lot with the little bit of time I was given. But I kept my eye on the goal. I was promised if I followed through, I would be able to take control permanently. My masters didn’t let me down. Tell me, Leonard, what is your goal?”
“I’m here to kill you,” I said without hesitation, but when I tried to swallow, I found nothing but dryness in my throat. My hand flexed around the hilt of the knife and I wished I had the advantage of distance a gun would offer over that of a blade.
No, I thought. This is how she killed Jess. She deserves no better.
I took a step forward, waiting for some reaction from her other than the smile that seemed plastered to her face. If she were one of the Uracai, I had no way of knowing what she was capable of. I remembered my own father, shot full of holes yet still on the attack. There was a good possibility she might be too much for me to handle. If so, I was prepared to die, so long as I took her with me.
I took another step and another. She made no move to defend herself or to flee. Nothing. This is too easy, I thought, but knew that was never the case.
As I came within striking distance, the smile slid from her expression. “Really, Leonard? You’re going to kill a woman with child? Is this what humans do?”
“If you’ve got one of those shadows in you, you’re not human and neither will that baby be,” I said, trying to convince myself as much as her. The hilt of the knife seemed to burrow into the flesh of my palm but I squeezed tighter, tighter….
“That’s no way to talk about the son of your friend,” she scolded. “Speaking of friends….”
There was movement in my periphery, and before I could process it, I was flanked on both sides. Trying to capitalize on what little advantage I had left, I lashed out with the blade. Before it struck home, someone to my right moved quickly, blocking the blow.
The blade penetrated the stranger’s hand, sticking there, lodged in flesh and bone. It belonged to a teenage boy.
I stared in horror as he yanked the weapon from my grip and, without flinching, pulled the blade from his hand. Blood spilled from the open wound, but he casually wiped the knife off on his pants before tossing it to the ground.
Someone grabbed my left hand and squeezed. Pain shot through my arm and I yelped before I could stop myself. The attacker continued to crush my hand and I heard the sound of bone snapping in their grip. I dropped to my knee, unable to stand the pain.
Gritting my teeth, I looked up to see my assailant. She was a young girl in her late teens, with perfectly sculpted blond hair, bright blue eyes and the kind of face that automatically put her in the popular cliques. A pink scarf was tied around her neck, giving her an air of innocence. Her expression was anything but, however, as she stared down at me with cold indifference. I had the distinct impression she felt absolutely nothing about the pain she caused me. No pleasure, no regret.
Desperate, I reached up, trying to do something to stop her, but the young man at my side grabbed my right arm. Fortunately, he didn’t put the squeeze on me like the girl had. I was fairly sure he would have been able to snap it off.
“You don’t seem to like that,” Megan said, looking down at me. “I can make it stop. All of it. Can you imagine what life would be like free of pain?”
“No,” I said through my teeth. “Life is pain.”
“Perhaps for you humans.”
Megan motioned to the girl gripping my hand and she let go and took a step back. I cradled my damaged hand, looking in horror from it to the girl as she slowly unwound the scarf. She kept her eyes locked with mine as she revealed the jagged hole marking her throat. The skin around the wound was puckered and frayed like a hole in cloth.
“Tell me, Brittney, did that hurt when it happened?” Megan asked. “Oh, I’m sorry. I forgot you can’t tell me anything.”
Megan beamed down at me as I struggled to keep from crying out at the pain shooting through my hand. The bones felt crushed, splintered and it was impossible to move my fingers.
“You could have all of this, but I don’t think you’re worthy.” She leaned down, gripping my face in her hand. “And when this child comes, the whole human race will fall and you’ll be helpless to keep the world from crumbling all around you. Just like you couldn’t save Thomas or that pathetic excuse for a girlfriend, Jess.” She released her hold on me and, unable to keep my balance, I fell back onto my butt.
“The world belongs to us, now, Leonard. Feel free to warn everybody you think will listen, but I caution you to be mindful of who you tell. After all, you have a history. Just ask anyone who remembers Shading.”
She stepped around me and her friends followed. For the first time, I noticed there had been two others in the room, another teen girl and a boy.
I couldn’t even make it past two of them, I told myself, forcing the thought through the pain flooding my mind. I’m outnumbered and out powered.
“Just remember,” Megan said, pausing at the door for a moment, “our kind is everywhere. You can’t see us, you can’t fight us. And every time one of you falls, one of us rises.”
Her words hung in the air long after she’d gone.
“I can fight you,” I said, the hotel room circling around me. “I can.”
I felt the darkness drawing me in and I pushed back, not ready to go yet. The pills and the alcohol were too much for me to handle and coldness embraced me, dragging me down…down….
Despite the haze surrounding my mind, I was fully aware when my heart slowed, barely beating at all. I struggled to breathe, but it felt as if something was inside my throat, preventing any air from moving. My attempts to sit up were unsuccessful. My limbs were dead weights determined to drag me down further in the darkness.
The shadows at the edge of the room moved. At first, I thought it was my eyes playing tricks on me, as my sight blurred then righted itself. I refused to give in, focusing everything I had left on my vision. The shadows were definitely moving, and now I saw the whites of one of their eyes. It was bright, so bright it seemed impossible to behold, yet there it was, staring at me.
The thing slid from the wall to the floor, where I lost sight of it. Disappointment bubbled up through the mire. I’d waited so long to see one of the things that had altered my life so drastically, I wanted to be able to stare it down. Squeezing my eyes shut, I thought it might be all over, but my lids snapped open as I felt…something move up my leg.
The creature was lying flat on my chest, its eyes burning into mine. Despite it all, I smiled. “I see you.”
I felt my heart beat its last as the thing shot forward, grabbing my lips and forcing itself into my mouth. I thought I might choke or suffocate, but the need to breathe was no longer there. I felt all of my bodily functions shut down, one after another, like rows of lights in a factory. With a great sigh, my mind purged all thoughts simultaneously, in a great rush. Even removed as I was from mind and body, I felt something within, like a light bulb filament flickering, set to die out.
My vision faded. It was almost all blackness, absolute nothingness. At the last moment, a surge of white light rushed out, forming a sort of tunnel before me. Everything I was, my entire being, was ripped from me, scooped from my body, leaving it hollowed out like a pumpkin on Halloween night.
There was no light at the end of the tunnel. The tunnel itself was light—my light—and I watched it extend out from me.
I was only barely aware of movement and shouting as a figure emerged from the dark and placed something on my chest. Someone else approached the right side of the bed. I knew who they were and why they were there, but the knowledge was disconnected, inconsequential.
Someone somewhere said something and a surge of electricity coursed through me, frying me from the inside. The shadow within screamed as it raked at my insides, its ethereal claws passing harmlessly through my innards. Another burst of energy, another unworldly howl, and I felt my heart beat as I snapped back into my body.
The white tunnel of light before me narrowed, becoming a pinpoint. The shadow creature forced its way through my mouth, a look of horror in its bright, unblinking eyes.
“Clear!” a female voice shouted. This time I had no trouble hearing her.
I felt another surge flow through me and I jerked, twisted. I tried to tell her it was enough, that I could handle it from there, but the words wouldn’t come.
The last shock severed the creature from me altogether, and I watched it snake away, a mere sliver of what it had once been.
My victory was short-lived as something was forced into my mouth. I swallowed out of instinct, not having the energy to fight it off. The effect was immediate and I started gagging.
Someone grabbed my head and forced it one side, just in time to place the bucket to my mouth. I heaved once before expelling what felt like everything I’d ever eaten all at once. When I was sure I was empty inside, I heaved again and again. My esophagus burned, my body shook with the effort, but I kept at it until I was absolutely sure I was done.
Finished, I leaned back, exhausted. Someone wiped the vomit from my lips. I was too tired to insist otherwise. They offered me a drink of water and I sipped. Even the cool liquid burned on the way down.
“Drink up,” a female voice said, offering me more water. I tried to focus on her face, but my vision was still blurred.
“Are you okay?” another voice asked.
My lips moved, but I couldn’t get the words past the pain I felt in my throat. Instead, I nodded.
“You’d better take this,” the first voice said. She forced a pill into my mouth and I took another gulp of water, wincing as I felt it travel all the way down.
The figures came into focus as Sophie kneeled next to Tara, who had set aside my vomit bucket and was placing a cool cloth against my forehead.
“You’re a damn fool,” Sophie said, packing up the portable defibrillator. “I hope it was worth it.”
I felt drained, a pathetic shell of my former self…a shadow. But I was more than that. I was no longer alone.
Looking around the room, I saw four pairs of burning white eyes staring at me, one of which belonged to a shadow that was significantly smaller than the rest.
My shadow, I thought.
Despite it all, I grinned.
“I can see you,” I croaked, pushing aside the pain and feeling of nausea. This was my moment of triumph and I would relish it. I’d lost everything to these things.
I can see you, I repeated in my head. I’m going to hunt every one of you bastards down and there’s nowhere you can hide. Not anymore.