Authors: Ernest Dempsey
©2013 Ernest Dempsey
OTHER BOOKS BY ERNEST DEMPSEY
The Secret of the Stones
The Cleric’s Vault
The Lost Canvas
The Dream Rider is a work of
fiction, conceived in the mind of Ernest Dempsey. All names, places, events,
and descriptions in this story are completely fictional. Any similarities
between actual people, places, events, or descriptions are entirely
all my friends and family who continue to push me forward, especially the ones
who told me if I quit writing they would kick my butt.
thanks goes out to my editor and writing consultant, Madonna Fajardo Kemp,
without whom my writing would be far less refined.
A huge thank you to my friend
who captured my imagination of this story with his amazing concept
art and the design of the book’s cover.
dose of gratitude goes to someone I’ve never met, Mr. Winn Coslick. I’ve only
communicated with him over texting and email, but he read my original script of
this story and gave it the thumbs up. If he’d said otherwise, I may not have
written it. So thanks, Winn for believing in the idea.
want to send out special thanks to one of my VIP readers, Tina Sorrentino
Brownbear. Thank you for helping me out. I appreciate it so much.
to my friend Andy
thanks for turning me on…to
For all of my students, past and
present, you can accomplish amazing things.
You only have to believe.
I quickened my pace, struggling to make my way through the
sidewalk flood of pedestrians. I wondered where all the people had come from as
I continued my vain attempt to press forward. Bodies bumped and jostled me,
pushing me in the wrong direction. It seemed the more I struggled, the harder
they pushed back, making progress nearly impossible. It felt like being in
Times Square on New Year’s Eve, but with more people.
I’d noticed the three men in long, black coats follow me
out of the office building. The two that were my size, about six feet tall, 170
pounds, with short black hair. The other guy was much bigger, probably by four
or five inches and at least eighty pounds heavier. His shaved head gave him an
additionally intimidating appearance, like Mr. Clean but sinister. I couldn’t
see the men’s eyes through their dark sunglasses, but I could feel them staring
through me as they stalked in my direction.
A momentary glance back told me they were gaining on me.
For some reason, the people were parting like the Red Sea for the ones chasing
me, but I couldn’t understand why. A woman screamed and pushed her way through
a wall of other bodies, disappearing into the chaos. The men had closed the gap
to less than twenty feet in only a few seconds, and I could see them more
clearly than before.
I tried to remember what had happened prior to exiting the
building but nothing stuck out in my mind. Come to think of it, I didn’t even
know what building I’d been in or why. It was as if the entire day hadn’t
happened. I kept trying to get away, but I couldn’t make any progress. The tall
apartment buildings and skyscrapers loomed overhead, making the feeling of
claustrophobia that much greater. I looked back again.
The rush of people still parted, clearing a straight path
between my pursuers and I. Then I saw what the men were holding in their hands.
The black handguns by their sides explained why the crowd had been in such a
hurry to get out of the way. A second later the men’s hands slowly began to
raise the weapons, aiming them in my direction. My eyes grew wide with panic
and I began to stumble backwards.
I turned and started running down the clearing sidewalk,
hoping I could outrun them. I could feel the barrels of the guns on my back,
almost as if they were right behind me. I tried to run back and forth in a
pattern, praying I made a more difficult target. I
still didn’t know why they were after me or who they were.
I heard the first gun shot as if it had happened in slow
motion, like a cannon firing next to my head. A half-second later a corner
piece of the stone building next to me exploded into a hundred fragments. The
other weapons joined in, faster now, as the men in the trench coats blasted
away at me. Half confused, half terrified, I kept running, pumping my leg as
hard as I could.
The first bullet ripped through the outside flesh of my
right leg, sending me stumbling to the ground. It was a stinging, burning pain,
and left a bloody hole in my pants and leg. Up until then, I’d never been shot
before. And it is a pain that I will, most certainly, never forget.
I looked down at the wound but made myself keep going
despite feeling the pain and the thick, crimson liquid oozing down my leg. As I
pushed my way forward, a million questions ran through my head. One in
particular stuck out.
Why were these guys trying to kill me?
I was just a college
student. I never had problems with anybody. I looked back at the men in the
trench coats. They were walking slowly now, but still firing their weapons.
Glass storefront windows shattered around me and car windshields cracked with
spider webs, hollow holes in the middle.
I dragged myself off the concrete and started to limp away
as fast as I could, but another bullet found it’s way through the calf muscle
of my other leg. I dropped to my knees and groaned in agony. My hands tugged
against the concrete, straining to pull my body’s weight along. Suddenly, I
felt a sickening thud in the upper part of my back. It felt like
I’d been struck by a sledgehammer
. The force of the impact
knocked me forward onto my face. The concrete was cold on my skin, a strange
contrast to the warm liquid leaking from my body in three places.
Three pairs of black boots crunched across the glass and
rubble, coming to stop next to my face. The men were standing over me, looking
down like I was nothing more than a rabid dog they were disposing of. The one
with the shaved head grinned, revealing stained, crooked teeth. The other two
just watched as he aimed the gun at my head.
There was nothing I could do but lay there. I couldn’t
feel my legs, which meant the last bullet had severed my spinal cord. I knew I
was about to die but didn’t close my eyes. I couldn’t understand why these men
were doing this. I’d never seen any of them before. But I wouldn’t give them
the pleasure of seeing me flinch, whoever they were. I didn’t beg. I didn’t
even ask why they were doing it. I’m not sure why. I just didn’t.
My head twisted and I stared down the barrel of the gun as
the sunlight silhouetted the enormous figure of the man who was about to kill
me. My head rolled to the side and for the briefest of seconds, I noticed a
young woman with long brown hair standing still while everyone else panicked.
She was a vision of serenity amidst the chaos. She watched with a strange
curiosity as the bald man stood over me. I returned my gaze to the tip of the
weapon just in time to see him squeeze the trigger. I heard the gunshot, again
like it was in slow motion and, felt the bullet hit my skull.
Then everything went black.
My alarm clock went off, playing a familiar Pearl Jam song
from the 1990s. The noise caused me to nearly jump out of my bed, and I had to
blink several times to make sure I was okay. I looked around the room and felt
my head for a second, then my chest. My heart was pounding fast, and I was
sweating through my t-shirt. My skin felt clammy. But I was alive.
I rubbed my eyes and stretched my facial muscles, making
sure that I was awake. It had just been a dream
I massaged the bridge of my nose for a
second then swung my legs over the edge of the bed. The floor was cold, like it
was most mornings in the late fall. For some reason, the third floor of the
dorm had cold floors during that part of the year. I had always thought heat
was supposed to rise. Maybe it just skipped the floor and went straight to the
I stepped into my slippers to warm up my feet and skidded
over to the simple computer desk sitting near the window. I flipped open my
white Macbook and watched the screen come to life, casting it’s eerie glow into
the otherwise dark room. While I waited for the Wi-Fi to connect, I glanced
outside the foggy window. The sky was overcast, covered in thick rolling clouds
like a giant, swirling, cappuccino of gray. It would probably rain, which was
fine. Typically, I didn’t mind the rain. I’d grown to enjoy it most of the
time, except on a day like today when I had to walk to class on the other side
My email dinged a few times, alerting me that I had
received some messages during the night. A quick look at the screen told me I
had two new messages. One was from my friend Nate, and another from my mom. I
talked to my mother almost daily on the phone. It wasn’t like she was on the
other side of the world, my family only lived twenty minutes from campus, and I
spent nearly every weekend with them just to get away from the dorm. Most of
the local kids living in the dorms did the same thing. If not for a ridiculous
policy about freshman being required to stay in the dorm, I would still live at
I minimized the email box without reading the new messages
and stepped into the bathroom. It was my daily routine. If I didn’t get in
there and get a shower before 7:20, my suite mate would beat me to it. He
didn’t have class until 9:00 so I wasn’t sure why he felt like he needed to get
ready at 7:40. While the water heated up, I thought about my life. I don’t know
why. Maybe the nightmare had made me have one of those life-perspective
My father, Jack McClaren, came from a long line of
Irish blood; my mother from the Pacific coast of Mexico.
She and her
family immigrated to Texas when she was little, eventually moving to the
southeast where she met my dad in college, the same one I was attending.
I lived in the same area my whole life, just outside of
Chattanooga, Tennessee. The locale was replete with activities like kayaking,
hiking, climbing, camping, live music, great restaurants, with only a fraction
of the traffic of our neighbors to the south found in Atlanta. The city had
risen from the ashes of the industrial age and been transformed through a
decade-long renaissance. It had once been described as one of America’s
dirtiest cities in the 1980s, a fact that angered some of the local power
The city’s leader’s set to work on creating a different
kind of town, getting rid of the old factories that polluted the air and water,
constructing new buildings and restoring old ones. The Tennessee Aquarium
created a new hub for tourism in the city and the area near the river transformed
from a seedy place to a regular hang out for tourists and citizens.
I loved the area. The city wasn’t the problem in my life.
I was the problem. I’m not one of those people who
in self-pity, although I have been that guy at one point. I just know my
strengths and weaknesses. And I’m not too stupid to realize I have way more of
the latter. I played trumpet in the high school band but was always one of the
last chairs. In sports, I was pretty good, even made some outstanding plays in
all of them:
. But I was nothing special.
In fact, a few hours before my nightmare-filled slumber, I’d had an intramural
flag football game. With less than thirty seconds left, the quarterback threw
me the ball. I was wide open in the end zone. Dream scenario. Except when the
ball hit my hands, I bobbled it and watched in horror as it fell to the grass
at my feet. We ended up losing the game by four points. I had six catches that
game. But they didn’t matter. It was the end that mattered. I always had
trouble making the big play when it counted most.
My grades were average, too, always around the range of Cs
to Bs. At one point, one of my professors said to me, “Finn, you could be such
a good student. If you would only apply yourself.”
I can still hear his odd Portuguese accent now. I always
nodded when he and others said things like that to me. It was a line I’d gotten
used to hearing over the years. I didn’t have the heart to tell them they were
wrong. A perfect example is that I spent several hours studying for his
mid-term and ended up getting a 79 on it.
I’m not a defeatist. I just know my limits. And I also
know how much effort I am willing to put in. Some might say I’m lazy. I don’t
know if that’s it. Maybe it’s a little apathy. I guess I feel like I’m going to
end up just getting average results, so why bother putting in a lot of effort?
Girls had never really paid me much attention. There were
a few in high
that had been interested, but I
didn’t care much for them. I figured I had to have some standards, at least.
Since arriving to college, I had met some cool girls, and we hung out pretty
often. Again, my semi-defeatist mindset kept me from pursuing them. I figured
they wouldn’t be into me. Maybe I was missing the signals. It was safer just to
assume they weren’t into me.
My life had been one big Sunday drive through the
countryside, completing every task half-heartedly. I didn’t push to do anything
special so I never accomplished anything special.
I stepped into the shower as my thoughts returned to the
present and the terrifying nightmare I’d just experienced. The, soothing,
steamy water washed over my light brown skin and dark hair. It did wonders to
ease my mind. I couldn’t remember ever having a nightmare where I was killed.
Despite the hot water, chills went through my body at the recollection. It had
seemed so real. I’d had bad dreams before filled with snakes, spiders, rabid
dogs, and any number of other terrible fears and phobias. This one, however, was
different than anything I’d ever experienced.
I hopped out of the shower and threw on some clothes, my
usual jeans and t-shirt. Since it was cold out, I put on a jacket then sat back
down at the computer. When I looked at the screen, though, I realized something
wasn’t right. The background picture and all the other desktop images were
gone, replaced by a black void. I pressed the power button, thinking I may have
accidentally turned the machine off, but nothing happened. I looked under my
desk to make sure I hadn’t kicked a plug or knocked something off the night
before. Everything looked normal, though. I wondered what was wrong with the
I got back in my chair and stared at the monitor. The
cursor began inexplicably moving across the black screen, spelling out words.
It was like someone had taken control of my computer from a remote location.
I looked around frantically, as if the perpetrator
performing the prank might actually be in my room. Of course, no one was there.
My eyes darted back to the screen and read the completed message.
“Everything is not what it seems
Fear crept over me.
Who was controlling my computer?
I wondered if
Nate was playing some kind of trick on me, or maybe one of the other guys on my
“Who is doing this?” I asked out loud. I got up and went
over to the window to check outside. There was no one in the quad between the
dorms except for a few early birds who wanted to get to their classes way ahead
Nothing out of the ordinary.
I moved back over to my computer screen but the message
was gone. Everything was back the way it was supposed to be. The background and
desktop images were all exactly where they had been arranged before. I clicked
the mouse a few times to make sure the dark screen wouldn’t come back.
I frowned, confused about what was going on. First the
crazy dream and now someone hacks my computer. A small part of me wondered if I
was still dreaming. I considered pinching myself on the arm. Then I remembered
feeling the pain in the nightmare when the bullets hit me. Pinching myself
wouldn’t prove anything.
“I think I’m losing my mind,” I said to myself quietly.
Twenty minutes later, my friend Nate Holland and I met
just outside the administration building and started the long walk to the Psychology
building on the other side of campus. My college was set in a picturesque
valley, nestled at the foot of one of the many area mountains. In the spring,
the air smelled of Bradford pears, dogwoods, azaleas, and honeysuckle. The
barren skeletons of trees gave way to bright green, new leaves. In the summer,
the area became muggy and hot, and the foliage turned a darker greenish color.
When autumn came, the mountains were alive with fiery orange, glowing yellow,
and fruity red colors. Many of the leaves had already fallen off the trees,
save for the few oaks that clung to the last of theirs. The maple just outside
my window still blazed with a bright orange, though, one of the last maples to
lose its foliage for winter. Late fall became blustery at times, not fully
giving way to winter yet.
A slight gust swathed through the campus, causing Nate to
pull the collar of his coat up over his neck.
Nate was one of my closest friends at the university. I’d
met him early in the semester, and we’d hit it off immediately. He loved sports
and video games, so we had those things in common. Plus, we were taking a few
of the same classes, and it was good to have a study partner.
He came from a small city in the Pacific Northwest called
Walla Walla, Washington. I teased him constantly about how the name of his
hometown was so fun to say. His father had been a fisherman most of his life
before retiring to the quiet little location. His mother was still a
schoolteacher in an elementary school near their home. Nate was studying
Psychology out of pure curiosity, while I majored in it. It happened to be one
of the classes we had in common.
“You doing okay, Finn?” he asked, brushing back his
semi-long blonde hair. “You seem a little off today.”
I shook my head but didn’t reply immediately. Not wanting
to sound insane, I wasn’t sure what I should tell him and what I shouldn’t.
“I’ve just got a few things on my mind,” I said, blowing
off the race of thoughts going on in my head.
“I guess so,” he responded, not pursuing the line of
question any further. “Look, if it’s about last night’s football game, don’t
worry about it. You had a lot of good catches, played solid defense. It happens
I bit my lower lip and tried to force a grin. The dropped
pass that would have won the game played through my memory for a second.
“Nah,” I rebutted his theory. “I’m fine with that. Just
thinking about other stuff. It’s no big deal.”
We reached a long staircase that led up the hill to the Psych
building and started the laborious ascent.
I figured I might as well ask him about the strange
occurrence with my computer screen from earlier. “Hey, were you messing around
with my computer this morning?”
He was visibly caught off guard by the random question.
“What do you mean?” he frowned.
“I mean, like, remotely. Were you screwing with my
computer from your dorm room or down in the commons?”
There was the crazy part I was trying to avoid. And it got
the look I’d expected it would.
He laughed as he answered. “No, man. Hacking your
computer? Even if I knew how to do that stuff to mess with you, I wouldn’t do
it at 7:30 in the morning. So, someone was messing with your stuff?”
“I don’t know,” I blew it off in an attempt to look less
mental. “My computer was acting funny earlier, like someone else was
He raised his eyebrows. “What happened, exactly? Mouse
moving around on its own or something?”
“Nothing,” I lied. “The screen went black, and I couldn’t
get it to come back on. That’s all.”
I wasn’t about to tell him the message that had mysteriously appeared on
He shrugged. “It happens sometimes. My computer shuts down
for no reason then the screen comes back on without warning. Technology is
great when it works. When it doesn’t—” his voice trailed off.
I forced a quick laugh at his last comment even though it
did little to settle my nerves. Someone had broken into my computer and it
wasn’t Nate. But if not him, who? I ran through the short list of people I knew
on campus and in the dorm. I didn’t think I had pissed anyone off recently.
Being average had its advantages. It meant that I never really had any enemies.
I guess it also meant that no one really found me super-interesting, which
explains why my list of acquaintances was so short. A strange feeling came over
me as I realized I’d run through the same rationale during my dream. I shook it
off and kept walking. A swirl of fallen leaves rushed by us as we continued our