Read The Whispers Online

Authors: Daryl Banner

Tags: #Romance, #Fantasy, #New Adult & College, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Paranormal & Urban

The Whispers (8 page)

BOOK: The Whispers
3.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“Ten or twenty??” I blurt. “There are others alive?”

“Yes, of course! They always find their way to us. I hear most of them come from the land on the other side of the
.” She says the word with such bright, sparkly fascination. “Big metal flying machines deposit them here, though they are most unfortunately deposited, like you, in the middle of the
parts of our realm. Please,” she says with a wave of her hand, “come with me. I insist.”

Big metal birds? Others have flown here, too? Like us?
We’ve been lied to
, I realize.
We’ve all been lied to. They’ve known about the Dead’s existence this whole time.
Maybe the seven or eight are scientists from our side of the world, coming here to gather samples. They have to be; there’s no other explanation.

“Jennifer …”

“Yes,” I say at once, ignoring John’s quiet protesting. “Yes, of course, I read of you. This is how the Dead are supposed to be. The Beautiful Dead. Never eating, never sleeping.
is what we came here for.” I face the others. “Cities of happily-living Dead. Sound familiar? Civilized societies of Living Dead. Hygienically-aware Dead.”

dead,” the woman offers politely, “but really, it’s sort of the same.” She frowns, considering if it is.

“Jen, please.”

Despite every misgiving I should share with the others, I keep a tenacity about myself and confidently go with the woman. I came here with but one purpose, and that was to prove the existence of the Beautiful Dead. My first few minutes here proved that very thing, though they weren’t so beautiful, and now I have the opportunity of a lifetime.
time. This woman may be my bridge to the wealth of knowledge I’ve so desperately sought after my whole life; I would be a fool not to chase it.

“The other people, the ones who are alive,” I go on, asking. “Are they scientists? Are they just visiting?”

“Oh, I’m afraid I don’t know, dear. They don’t say much, if I might be blunt as a stone,” the woman confesses. “The great metal bird leaves them here and flies away. Always arriving, they are, never seeming to leave. Mmm, it’s difficult to find food for your kind in our land,” she adds sadly. “It is a bit of a wonder how they survive their stay in our land.”

That sounds odd, the part about them being left here. None of it makes sense. “You don’t look like the Undead we’ve encountered,” I remark. “Why are you different?”

“We care about our appearance and quality of life,” she explains cheerfully. “The
who live in the trees and
like a pack of animals, they deserve what they get, I’m afraid. They are sensitive to certain metals, we’ve learned, though we can’t quite deduce why. That’s why our gates and walls are made of metal!”

“That’s reassuring,” I say, glancing back at East and Dana and John who seem less than enthusiastic to agree.

“You will find yourself quite welcomed, and I say that with no due irony or ulterior meaning,” sings the woman, who seems to gain a merry bounce in her step. “We
those with noise in their bodies. The noisier the better,” she remarks, giving a sly look and a wink at John. “Oh, how strong and
you are,” she tells him with a giggle, then her face turns sad. “Believe it or not, eternal life can be quite boring.”

I risk asking the question that I’ve let burn inside me since the moment she mentioned seven or eight others. “Have you found any
Beaters today? One who might have glowing red cheeks?
glowing? A somewhat full-figured woman with artificial purple eyes?”

“Artificial? Why, everything’s artificial about all of us! Even you!” She laughs at the notion. “Unless we care to walk about wearing absolutely nothing, we are always lying to the outer world about what we’re truly made of. In fact, I dare argue that we make no less than a hundred different efforts a day at hiding precisely what we are from others. Oh,” she sings with a sad shake of her head, “if the others only knew how insecure I am about the fleshy bags upon my hips, or that I desperately wished I had a little forever-daughter named Geneva whose hair I could braid, or that my one true desire is to be owned and ravished by the lovely and handsome man named—Oh, but now I’m telling you too much!”

And not telling me enough.
“So, have you seen her?”

“Oh, a woman with purple eyes and glowing cheeks? No, I’m afraid not,” the woman confesses, stepping over the skinny trunk of a fallen tree as we walk.

The news weighs heavily upon me. The rest of the trip through the woods is filled with more and more of the woman’s endless chatter. She tells me all the most important things I need to know about this city we’re traveling to, a city called After’s Hold with tons and tons of merrily-living men, women, and children. I miss about ninety-seven percent of what she’s said, far too distracted with the fact that Mari is still out there somewhere, lost.

But the pale boy said she’s alive. Was that a sweet lie meant to pacify me, or was it true? If that’s the case, then he is the only one who can help me find her.

The fog gives way to tall metal walls quite abruptly. With it being so dark and hazy, I had no warning that we were approaching our destination at all. “Here are the gates of the great city of After’s Hold,” the woman says, presenting them. The great ugly things creak as they slide apart, revealing a long road lined with buildings and storefronts vanishing in the infinite distance.

We enter the great city, collectively startled by the change in scenery from the gloomy woods. The streets are paved like those in the countryside, not metal-plated as the university’s are. They are cracked, too, and hugged by the likes of tall, daunting buildings that seem to stare down at us as we pass. The woman talks on and on, introducing each building as we go, but I don’t pay her much attention, too overly stimulated by the sights. Did the Dead build this city, or is it a great, stony relic from the past that still stands? Most of the buildings are made of brick and wood, and many of the windows are missing, which creates a curious aural effect as the wind blows and snakes in and out of them. Judging from the darkness of them, I have to presume there’s no electricity here. I wonder if they even have running water, what with their being dead and terrified of it and all.

“And just down that road, you’ll find the park! One of many, in fact, though I fear it will be considerably less
than the ones you’re used to. Oh, and over here, you’ll find a row of abandoned buildings that once served a purpose. They’re quite fun to stroll about in, if you’re feeling
. Down this way, you’ll see—”

Really, she could be telling me the secret to life and I’ll miss every word. Somewhere down the street, I spot two others strolling along. Are they Living or Dead? I can’t tell. By the window of a store with a large dark blue awning, there’s a quaint group of three peering inside and commenting to one another, a small child among them arguing about a toy she wants.

“Don’t mind them,” says the woman quietly as we pass a cobblestone courtyard where a circle of Dead sit at a table, their game of cards interrupted as they stop to watch us. “They’re just staring at you because of all that loud noise you’re making in your chests.”

I bring a protective hand up to my heart, yet again.

“You must be quite exhausted,” murmurs the woman as we happen on a large, paved plaza lined with what appear to be various hotels and apartment buildings, if I had to guess. “We have countless places for you to rest your handsome, strapping Heart Beater heads,” she says, her eyes landing on John, and not so subtly. “Do you prefer the Courtland Condos down that way, my sleepy Livings? Or maybe the Hildaberry Hotel & Spa back from where we’d come? Or perhaps the Moonrise? Escobar’s Eatery & Bed? The apartment complex on 5
, the apartment complex on 6
, the apartment—well, there’s complexes all the way up to 40
, really, but so many of them are empty—or would you like to try—?”

“That one,” I say, pointing to the building nearest us.

Everyone turns their attention to the building that so drew mine. It’s a warped, strange-looking thing, half its bricks appearing red, the other half an offish grey. There is a sickly, leafless tree in its courtyard, its thorny branches seeming to reach for us.

“No,” the woman says sadly. “No, you won’t want to stay there.”

“Why not?”

“It’s a cursed place. Not even the Dead will occupy its rooms. Really, I can recommend twenty other places that are far, far more suitable for—”

“We’ll stay there,” I insist, growing more adamant the more this woman protests.

Dana comes to my side. “Don’t disturb the spirits any more than you already have,” she warns me. “I would heed the warning from a person who knows—”

“You heed warnings from
,” I spit back, annoyed at Dana’s unsolicited advice.

“Why do they say it’s cursed?” asks John, coming forth. East stands at his side, nearly joined to his hip as if John had become his almighty protector.

The strange woman faces John with pleasure, smiling at him longingly. Then, she shakes her head. “Oh, my handsome Human, it’s a sad, sad story. Too long to tell, too old to truly know. It’s said that a great green flame swallowed this building from its foot to its crown,” she tells us, her voice wriggling with dramatic air. “I can’t fathom what would make a flame
, but it is not a sight I care to envision. Years later, the half that’d burned was rebuilt. Still, no one dares. Haunted, they say. Haunted!” The woman laughs suddenly. “The Undead! Calling it haunted! Can you imagine?”

“We’ll stay there,” I decide.

I ignore the baffled stares from my companions. Don’t they see the benefit in staying somewhere that even the Dead are afraid of? We’ll be safe. Superstition itself will protect us from the prying eyes of the Dead—or the other Living. Besides, I’m secretly wondering if this building has made the Histories, creeping into my notes somewhere.

“The Winter’s Retreat it is, then,” says the woman with a halfhearted moan and a flick of her wrist. “Please, make your way. I fear I won’t follow you too far in.”

John and I share a look, then I lead the way through the courtyard hugged by the calmly reaching trees. East and Dana draw behind us close as can be. I feel the tension between John and I, even despite our unusual circumstance. I’m certain he still feels the sting of my slap across his face, which I felt was deserved. The words he uttered still repeat over and over in my head like a pair of goldfish circling a bowl, their tiny little world, passing by that same plastic rock formation a hundred times.

When we step through the creaky doors of the so-named Winter’s Retreat, the woman holds open the double doors and allows us into the lobby, which I’m rather surprised to say is quite well-kept despite its lack of light and haunting reputation. Maybe the ghosts here were all expert housekeepers in their past life?

The smell reminds me of a lodge my parents took me to when I was only ten or so, a lodge in the snowy north. I remember the smoke and the fire, and the crisped chunks of meats we ate off the ends of sticks, and all the sweets. None of it made me enjoy the winter setting; I
the cold and secretly dreaded the trip. Maybe that place was called Winter’s Retreat, too. Long after my mom had gone to sleep, my dad stayed up with me by the fire and shared stories of his youth and how
father used to take him fishing in the ice lakes.
“Almost fell in the hole,”
he’d said with a hearty laugh.
“Imagine if I had? Oh, the cold there was so merciless, you felt like your very bones were collecting ice. But the fish we caught, oh, the tastiest I’ve ever known! Mm, and the memories we made! He died soon after, as I told you before. Pity you never met him.”
His light eyes connected with my little child ones.
“Lesson I learned that day is, you must suffer for your joys, Jennifer. There is no happiness in the world without the suffering it takes to attain it.”
He knew I hated the winter and the trip, and I think that speech of his was meant to settle somewhere in my heart. Strange, how I’ve disregarded his advice all my life … until now, in this very moment.
You must suffer for your joys, Jennifer …

“Yes,” whispers Dana at my back. “Yes, yes, yes. I feel the spiritual essence so strongly here. A cold essence. There is much pain in this place. There is much regret.”

“There is much bullshit dropping out of your mouth,” I retort just as quietly.

“I will be just down the street,” the woman declares with another demonstrative sweep of her hands. “There are at least ten rooms per floor, and you are welcome to stay in whichever you please. Mind the spiders; there may be a legion or two. Oh!” The woman slaps herself in the head. “I’ve not even bothered with the courtesy of names! Please forgive me! I am Truce. What may I call you?” Her eyes rest on John, likely only caring for

BOOK: The Whispers
3.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Gourdfellas by Bruce, Maggie
The Seven Whistlers by Christopher Golden , Amber Benson
A Pinch of Poison by Frances Lockridge
Devilish Details by Emery, Lynn
False Witness by Aimée and David Thurlo
Abbeville by Jack Fuller
Death of an Outsider by M.C. Beaton