Authors: Aileen Harkwood
a dreamrunners society novel
© copyright 2013 Aileen Harkwood
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Portions of this book were originally published in a different form in the short story “In Her Dreams” by Aileen Harkwood.
Excerpt from Wild Gold © copyright 2013 Aileen Harkwood.
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A few years ago I wrote and published a short story titled “In Her Dreams,” featuring The Dreamrunners Society, a secret group whose members all have the same psychic ability. Each can send a living, breathing twin of him- or herself anywhere in the world, while their true body sleeps. To introduce the Society, I chose the story of Lara—a woman who doesn’t know she possesses the gift, who is kidnapped by the Society’s most dangerous enemy—and Jack, an experienced runner tasked with rescuing her.
“In Her Dreams” was originally targeted for submission to a specific publisher, using their guidelines for content, tone and length, though it ended up being published elsewhere. I always knew there was more to Lara and Jack’s story, much more, and by trying to squeeze it into a length and guidelines that weren’t mine, I felt I had cheated them out of the chance to tell it.
A few months ago, I decided to give them that chance with the novel you’re about to read,
. If you previously purchased “In Her Dreams,” you have already read brief portions of this book, though you may notice some changes in the characters, style and certain events from the original. I can only chalk this up to artistic license, which is a fancy way of saying I changed my mind. The premise and operating rules for The Dreamrunners Society remain the same, though greatly expanded here.
I’ve loved telling Lara’s and Jack’s story in this new, fuller version. Writing it was like getting to watch one of my favorite movies over again for the first time. I hope you will enjoy it just as much as I have.
Table of Contents
Lara picked her way over the hundreds of bodies that scattered the ground, smoke and a noxious chemical that burned her eyes still rising into the night air. Only a few of the bodies were complete, with arms, legs, a head. Most were pieces, many no longer recognizable as human.
A wave of dizziness rocked her on her feet
Not again. Not another of these.
When would the dreams stop?
She knew she dreamed, but understood it didn’t make what she saw or experienced any less real.
She reached out for the trunk of a nearby tree to steady herself. It stood strong, miraculously unharmed by the multiple blasts that had shaken this place, its leaves shivering in the winds born from fires consuming the ruins of one, two, she counted as she scanned the scene, five buildings total.
Her palm met something warm and wet covering the tree’s bark. Instinctively, she jerked her hand away. What covered her skin wasn’t blood, not entirely. Other stuff was mixed in. Tissue.
She doubled over and her body tried to wretch, but apparently it wasn’t possible to vomit in a dream or, at least, not this one.
Why was she here? Why did she dream of violent acts like this? Suicide bombings. Protestors who set themselves on fire. Drug dealers who beheaded dozens in a single night. What purpose did it serve to expose her to it? She was never able to stop the violence. Instead, her dreams forced her to play the role of mere witness to it, sometimes several nights in a row without relief.
If she was capable of waking now—which she knew for certain wasn’t possible until the nightmare decided to release her—she could flip open her laptop, go online to CNN, Yahoo! or CBS, and if the BREAKING NEWS headline wasn’t there already in bold, red letters, it was only a matter of hours before it appeared.
She knelt down to wipe her hand on the grass, realizing she stood on a manicured lawn. The gore would not come off. Instead, she turned her hand over and watched as the blood and tissue sank into her palm, cringing at what she knew would come next.
Dark, paralyzing agony dropped over her, enveloping her like a lead radiologist’s blanket, crushing her under its emotional weight as easily as would have the wall of the burning building that toppled in front of her at that very moment.
Lara hurt with it. She rocked under its assault. She wanted to go home.
She heard a moan, recognized it came from her throat, and suddenly wondered at the eerie silence around her. No cries. No shouts for help.
Had no one, not a single person here, survived?
Fighting her way back to a standing position, she turned around in a circle, studying her surroundings. A sliver of moon gave less light to the scene than the flames billowing and gutting the ruins, but she knew immediately she wasn’t in one of the places to which she was normally transported. Gently rolling hills covered in verdant deciduous trees stretched to the horizon, so this wasn’t the Middle East. The deserts of northern Mexico had to be eliminated for the same reason. She saw nothing exotic nearby to suggest Africa, India, or Southeast Asia. The bodies were mostly Caucasian, though she glimpsed someone with black skin and another two with brown or olive skin several yards away.
Something recognizable about the layout of the buildings tugged at her. The fresher smells that eventually wafted in from a nearby stream were familiar. She’d swear the tree beside her was a striped maple. The place resembled a college campus that could be just hours away from where she lived in Maryland. With shock, it dawned on her.
This was home.
Something grabbed her ankle.
She screamed and jumped, frantically pulling away while at the same time looking down to see what had hold of her.
The hand that clamped itself over Lara Freberg’s sleeping face was sweaty and smelled of formaldehyde. She jerked awake in an instant, completely disoriented.
She’d been deep into one of her nightmares. Explosions. Fires. Hundreds slaughtered. Something grabbing her ankle.
Where was she? Was she still in the dream? No one ever touched her in the nightmares.
“Hurry up,” a man said in the dark.
She was in her bed, at home in her Baltimore condo.
The crushing weight she’d felt in her dream, which she’d intuited as the emotional weight of the violence perpetrated on innocent lives, was actual, crushing weight in real life. A strange man knelt on top of her.
My God, what’s happening?
Lara tried to scream, but the hand over her mouth dug into her face in an explicit warning. The man’s knees pinned her thighs to the mattress, while his free hand easily captured both her wrists and forced her still.
She bucked against his restraint on her.
“Come on, come on,” the man said.
Was she talking to her? What did he want?
No, he directed his words toward someone else in her bedroom she couldn’t see. Why was it so dark? She always left a light on in her bedroom, so that when she bolted up out of one of the dreams, she’d immediately know she was safe, and not back where she’d been, amongst the carnage. Where was her bedside lamp? She couldn’t even make out its shape in the pitch black. Had they knocked it over? Turned it off at the wall switch?
They shouldn’t have been able to get in here. She paid for a security service, as did everyone else in the complex. She had extra locks, and security doors protected both front and back entrances.Who were these two? What did they want?
Then it hit her, the answer obvious. Her heart, already racing, sped up to a painful degree.
Frantically, she fought harder. She tried to throw off the man who smelled like dead things, but tangled up in her bedcovers, with his body weight pressing down on her, she was trapped to the bed.
“Forget it, Lara,” Formaldehyde man said. He pushed down; shoving her head so hard into the mattress she could feel each spring through the padding. She feared her jaw might break from the strain. That horrible smell coming off of his skin reminded her of fetal pigs in eighth grade biology class. Bile rose in her throat. She began to gag.
,” the man said to his accomplice.
Lara’s eyes had adjusted to the darkness in her room. She still couldn’t make out her attacker’s face, but she could tell the man on top of her was lean, fit, and had a short, professional haircut. The other man, what she could see of him in the shadows, looked similar. Why would men like this break into her apartment to rape her?
Something glinted in her peripheral vision, the needle at the end of a disposable syringe. She watched the accomplice holding the syringe come closer. A tiny squirt of liquid from the tip of the needle sprayed her bare skin.
Lara thrashed anew, her thoughts frenzied. She didn’t know what they wanted with her, or why they were here, but she imagined the worse, that she had only hours, if that, to live. She sobbed without being fully aware of it. What was next? What would they do to her? Would they torture her first? Cut? Stab? Blind? Skin?
She couldn’t fight them. She didn’t have a chance at all. Seconds later, the needle jabbed her, a sharp, slicing pain. Coldness followed as the substance was forced into her arm by the syringe’s plunger.
Her head swam. Whatever the man had given her produced an immediate lethargy she couldn’t battle. Her arms and legs became too heavy to move.
Her attacker got up off of her, deciding she was no longer a threat.
“All right,” he said. “Let’s get her in the van.”
He grabbed her roughly and slung her over his shoulder. She tried to lift her head, but her neck muscles wouldn’t cooperate. Her eyelids slid shut. She exerted every bit of willpower she had left into pushing them open again. If the men moved into the light she’d be able to see their faces. If she could stay awake long enough she might see their vehicle. Maybe she could figure a way out.
Her eyelids drifted downward again, the call to sleep too difficult to resist. Whatever had been in the syringe muted her sense of fear. She no longer cared she was taken from her bed.
It was just before she blacked out that she saw a third man in her bedroom, near the closet. Her head swung like a rag doll as her captor made an abrupt turn toward the bedroom door, but even looking at the world from upside down, she couldn’t miss him.
He was transparent.
“Wow,” she whispered, spotting her own shadowed reflection in her closet mirror, visible right through his body.
His presence suddenly caused the room to grow brighter. She had the wild notion he gathered the shadows from the darkest corners of the room to create a body for himself, while his skin flared with golden light, and he became more substantial by the second. He materialized his way into the room. It made no sense, but that was precisely what she saw.
Odder still, neither of the other men in the room reacted to the brilliant, rich light he gave off. He towered over them, yet they appeared not to notice he was there. Powerfully built, he was naked to the waist, barefoot and clothed only in a well-worn pair of jeans. Gradually his face and body defined themselves until she could almost make out the line of a strong, knife-edge jaw and the shimmer of moonlight haloing his black hair.
Fierce indigo eyes gazed directly into hers. A jolt of recognition raced through her.
Lara gasped in shock. She knew him. She was sure of it. An intense rush of
tingled down her spine. Who was he? How did she know him? Wait…did she know him, really?
Drugs, Lara. This isn’t real. He’s not real. You’re imagining him
Blue eyes held her attention ruthlessly.
Hold on! Don’t let go
, he spoke.
speech. She heard his words in her mind!
I need you to stay conscious
“Who are you?” she whispered, her voice slurring.
“The ones who own you,” said the man carrying her.
Oblivious to the third man’s presence, her abductors thought she was talking to them. That simple phrase,
the ones who own you
, sent an entirely different type of shudder down the back of her neck.
I can’t get to you if you black out
, the ghostly figure told her.
His immense shoulders tensed, bracing for action. His palms shoved outward at nothing, as if he pushed against an invisible barrier, leaned into it with everything he had, and was inexplicably held back.
Stay with me! Stay awake!
Lara tried to obey, but the drugs overpowered her. It was a futile effort. Most bizarre of all, at the exact moment she lost consciousness, the golden man’s shadowy form faded with it.