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Archive for the ‘Nocturne’s Reaping®: Prelude Chapters’ Category

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Intermezzo

Chapter 1

Many decades earlier, technology had advanced far enough to make space colonization a possibility. Of course, not everything could be anticipated. Most of these unexpected issues were able to be worked around without incident. There were, however, some major issues that weren’t able to be gotten around. Those “issues” were the nebula reapers: entities of strength, speed, and ferociousness. The nebula reapers attacked ships and their passengers and consumed them regularly. Fortunately, the creatures would hibernate periodically in clusters, and the first attempts at containing them in energy force fields seemed to work. There were many roving groups of these creatures, and one such group was spotted and contained close to the doomed planet of Colony 52.

Colony 52 hadn’t planned on using its force fields to contain the nebula reapers; it was just a fluke that seemed to work. At first, it was actually a source of pride for Colony 52 that they had stumbled upon a solution to the nebula-reaper problem that other colonies would later emulate. The colonists believed the containment field would be a solution – that the nebula reapers were merely a temporary inconvenience. After all, how long could they live in there? Only they didn’t die — at least not enough of them — and their presence started to scare off supply traffic to Colony 52. As the years passed, the resources of Colony 52 began to dwindle, and the fear of the nebula reaper’s looming threat increased. The colonists of 52 were no longer the vanquishers of the reapers. The reapers were winning — patiently waiting out their captors.

Then one day, disaster struck and an explosion from a then unknown source ripped through space. The cluster of nebula reapers on Colony 52 was freed. Tragically, it wasn’t long afterwards that most of the inhabitants of the tiny planet were gone — more than likely consumed by the nebula reapers.

What was more, this group of nebula reapers seemed to have learned from their captivity. This development made the nebula reapers particularly difficult to contain, and, therefore, a larger threat to the other colonies and their citizenry. Their increased level of aggressiveness, cunning, and even speed was unexpected and alarming. Each reaper also seemed to no longer have a problem attacking its own. Oftentimes, they no longer felt the need to travel as a group. However, when they did move as a unit, they found they had an ample supply of things to feed off of when contained.

Far away from the remains of Colony 52, there was a tiny planet known as Colony 29. It was a planet rich in resources. Because of this plentitude, the colony developed a large scientific community. It was not surprising, therefore, that when the news of the outcome of Colony 52 came to the attention of the Security Force that help from Colony 29 was sought. In particular, there was one man named Dr. Hayato Takahashi [Ha-ya-to Ta-ka-ha-shee], a leading researcher and the founder of the renowned Virtual Reality and Robotics Institute, who was approached for assistance.

Since the nebula reapers were no longer able to be consistently contained as a group, the Security Force was open to new ideas. And Dr. Hayato Takahashi had the most innovative concept of all the scientists on Colony 29 — arming the individual for ground combat. At least this way a person would stand a fighting chance against a rogue reaper. Dr. Takahashi had actually been working on the concept for years despite other people’s insistence that the nebula-reaper threat had been resolved. But Dr. Takahashi persisted. And, though he had yet to complete his work, there were rumors all over Colony 29 that a breakthrough was imminent — that was until Dr. Takahashi’s untimely demise.

Takara Takahashi [Ta-ka-ra Ta-ka-ha-shee] had been in a hospital bed for months. She had been in a coma that entire time. No one knew exactly why she was unconscious for so long. True, the concussion she had sustained was severe, but all of the tests showed that her brain activity was normal. It was particularly difficult to be a doctor on such a scientifically advanced colony and not be able to help a patient. Everything Dr. Thatcher had tried seemed to do nothing. Takara just continued to lie there day after day – so still … so very still. One of the nurses suggested Takara seemed as though she was waiting for something. But what? Another offered that Takara looked like Snow White with her long, straight black hair and wan complexion. The only part of that observation that had been helpful to Dr. Thatcher was the comment about Takara’s complexion. The severe paleness was a sign that Takara’s health was poor. Dr. Thatcher just couldn’t figure out the reason Takara’s health was no longer improving. Strangely enough, it wasn’t until the hospital ran out of room and had to move Mrs. Taylor, a rather talkative patient, in with Takara that a breakthrough occurred.

Mrs. Taylor was waiting to have surgery several days after her admittance. Given that Mrs. Taylor was something of a social butterfly, after visiting hours she would talk to Takara about a television program she was watching or about what the weather was like outside of their shared window. Then one day, as Mrs. Taylor was recovering from her surgery, Takara finally opened her eyes. Mrs. Taylor quickly pressed the nurse’s call button repeatedly.

“Hurry! It’s a miracle! She’s awake!”

The nurses arrived soon after; still, Mrs. Taylor felt as though it had been a long time. Mrs. Taylor had been afraid the girl’s eyes would drift shut again, and that the hospital staff would think Mrs. Taylor was just loopy from her pain medication. Fortunately, the girl’s eyes were still open when the nurses got to her. Oddly enough, as they looked upon Takara they noted that Takara’s eyes seemed to be fixated on the ceiling. Mrs. Taylor was rather insulted when one of the two nurses then pulled the curtain closed between Mrs. Taylor and Takara thereby blocking Mrs. Taylor’s view.

“There’s gratitude for you!” Mrs. Taylor exclaimed.

Not long after that, Dr. Thatcher arrived and went beyond the curtain. As he emerged moments later and seemed to be leaving the room again, Mrs. Taylor spoke, “See it’s all the talking I did. The girl just needed to hear a human voice.”

Dr. Thatcher wasn’t sure what to make of Takara’s stare. Her eyes were responsive to light, but she just stared unseeingly forward. Eventually, he snapped his fingers next to the side of her face; however, instead of her eyes moving to the side, they just started to water. Then, about a minute later, her eyes shifted over, and she looked squarely at the doctor. Next, her eyes slid from person to person until she had looked at every one of the medical staff who was staring down at her.

“Let’s remove the feeding tube.” the doctor mentioned.

Takara coughed violently as the tube was removed. Then suddenly, Takara sat straight up in bed.

“Father!” she screamed. “Father!!”

Takara then pulled her knees up to her chest and wept.

“Honey!” a nurse called out. The nurse placed her hand on the young girl’s shoulder.

Takara’s lip quivered as she looked back at the nurse.

“Where — where’s my father?” Takara finally got up the nerve to ask.

The medical professionals looked amongst one another.

“What aren’t you telling me?” Takara’s voice cracked. Her voice didn’t sound right to her; it sounded hollow. “Where is he?”

“Should I get her a sedative?” one nurse whispered.

“No. We can’t risk that.” The doctor leaned down beside Takara’s bed.

“I’m very sorry, Takara. There was an accident. Your father died.”

Takara’s brows furrowed in disbelief. Then, she buried her face in her hands and began quietly sobbing.

“She’ll be all right.” the doctor concluded. He looked at the nurses, who looked helplessly back at him. Dr. Thatcher hadn’t considered what would happen when Takara woke up. Dr. Thatcher had been so preoccupied by whether she would wake up at all that he hadn’t considered what would become of her if she did. When she came into the ER, Dr. Thatcher had seen her with her father — wheeled in on gurneys side by side. He had handled thirteen-year-old Takara’s case. Later, when he heard her father hadn’t made it, he somehow still viewed them as a unit. Now it occurred to him that the young girl was alone. There hadn’t been a single visitor. How could that be, and what would become of Takara now?

“Who’s been paying the bills?” the doctor whispered to one of the nurses.

He received an odd look from the nurse.

“I’m trying to figure out whom we should contact.”

“Oh.” the nurse looked at the girl. “I’ll go find out.”

The first nurse left the room.

“Would you like something to eat or drink?” the other nurse asked Takara. Then, she paused abruptly. She turned toward the doctor. “Is that okay? You haven’t updated her chart.”

“Yes. Only start her on a clear liquid diet.”

“Yes, Doctor.” the second nurse stated before she also left.

Doctor Thatcher waited anxiously for the first nurse to return. Eventually, Takara looked up at him through her tears. The doctor looked at her.

“I’m sorry you had to hear about it that way.” he awkwardly put forth.

Takara nodded.

Suddenly, the curtain was pulled back halfway. The first nurse had returned, and she was carrying in her arms a small brown bear with a purple ribbon tied around its neck.

“I wasn’t sure what you would like. I’ve always liked teddy bears, so I thought I’d give it a try.”

She offered the toy to Takara. Takara looked at it quizzically for a moment then reached out and took it.

The doctor looked at the nurse expectantly. She gestured with her head that they should talk off to the side.

“The bill’s been paid by her father’s institution. There is no other contact information. I’m afraid there might not be anyone who can take responsibility for her. After all, she’s had no visitors.” the nurse informed the doctor.

“Oh yes, she has.” Mrs. Taylor spoke up.

Mrs. Taylor was a bit surprised by the look on the medical professionals’ faces. But then she realized they must have thought she was asleep. She hadn’t really done anything to make them think otherwise. After all, they were used to her speaking nonstop when she was awake.

“At least I believe so.” Mrs. Taylor corrected. When the look on their faces suggested they were going to dismiss her account, she added that the man only came once — the first night Mrs. Taylor was in the room. “I never saw him after that. The strange thing was he left right away when he saw me. At the time I thought he had the wrong room, but then he had burst in here as though he knew for sure where he was going. Still, as I said, he never did come back.”

The doctor and the nurse looked at one another unsure of what to make of Mrs. Taylor’s story. If someone had come looking for Takara, then that could be a good thing. But then why would he come at night? And why would he leave and not return?

“Well, go ahead and call the phone number of the Institute. Maybe they can locate some sort of will or something. If we can’t find a suitable guardian for this girl … Well, let’s see what we’re dealing with before we go there.”

“Yes, Doctor.”

The nurse filed out. The doctor left as well. He figured there was no point in being around until things were settled. Still, Mrs. Taylor was surprised the staff would leave that young girl alone again.

Mrs. Taylor reached out to the curtain. It took some effort and some stretching to get a handle on the fabric; finally, she grasped the divider with two fingers. It took a couple of attempts before she was able to open the curtain wide enough to see the girl.

The girl was looking straight ahead. At first, Mrs. Taylor wasn’t sure the girl was aware that the curtain had been moved. But then suddenly, she looked over at the woman with curiosity.

“Hey, I’m going to be your roommate for a while. It must be very hard for you that you’ve lost so much time.”

Takara’s forehead crinkled.

“How long has it been?”

“Well, I’m not sure. It’s just that the doctors and nurses acted as though it’s been awhile.”

“Well, what day is it?” Takara asked.

“I’m not sure exactly.” Mrs. Taylor reached over and grabbed a newspaper from off her nightstand.

“March 29th.” Mrs. Taylor read.

“The last thing I remember was going to a New Year’s Eve party with my father …” Takara began blankly. “We went into a limousine afterward. I think there was ice on the road that night. Could that have been it … what caused this to happen to us?”

Takara touched her head with her hand suddenly. There was pain there. It started when she saw a flash of something in her mind she didn’t want to think about. Whatever it was, she knew it wasn’t something she wanted to remember.

Takara instead decided to focus on the memories she had from the time right before the accident. Then again, in a way it was more painful thinking of those last moments with her father. They had been attending a New Year’s Eve gala. They had been introduced to the large gathering below while standing at the top of a very large staircase. Takara had worn a long red velvet dress; her hair was pulled back in a braided updo. Takara usually wore her hair in a loose braid, but this was a special occasion. She had even accentuated her hair with red jeweled barrettes. Over her hands, Takara carried a white muff.

Takara’s father, a man of medium height, escorted Takara down the staircase. Her father was always a distinguished man with a kind smile and a pair of small spectacles on his face. This night he replaced his white lab coat for a dark gray suit. He usually worked so hard that Takara wasn’t able to have her father’s full attention very often. But this night her father had made time for her, and Takara couldn’t have been more thrilled.

Takara guessed that the dress she had worn that night must have been ruined in the crash. But that locket her father had given her for her birthday, was that also gone? She needed something to hold on to. Takara looked at the bear. She grasped it to her chest and lay back down on the bed. Takara felt exhausted. She had been unconscious for over three months; maybe she’d slip back under once more. Takara’s eyes watered and tears slipped down her face. Did she really want to stay awake? But then the question of what might happen to her if she did fall away again came to Takara’s mind. She wiped her eyes.

Takara realized that she didn’t have any real control over her future. Yet, if there was something she could do to improve her chances, she decided she would try. The first thing she wanted to do was to get out of this bed and eventually out of this hospital. Takara wanted to sleep in her own bed again.

“Teddy bear,” she whispered. “You’ll like my room. There are a bunch of stuffed animals there you can be friends with.”

Takara curled up in a ball on her side with Teddy wrapped in her arms.

“It will be nice to sleep …”

It was dark when Takara woke up again. Her first thought was one of wondering how long she’d been asleep. Her second thought was one of wondering what that form was that was looming by her side.

“Doctor?” Takara whispered.

Takara could see the man’s eyes glisten from the dim light streaming in from the outdoor street lamps. When there was no reply — only breathing — Takara began to freak out.

“Who are you?” she gasped as she lurched backward on her bed.

Takara turned away and began to scream as the man seemed to reach for her. Suddenly, the light by Mrs. Taylor’s bed came on.

“What’s going on? Are you all right, girl? I’m calling for a nurse!”

Takara could see the man retract from her bed. Takara squinted at him.

“Mr. Tyler?” Takara murmured.

Suddenly, the nurse entered the room and was redirected by Mrs. Taylor to Takara’s bedside. The doctor came in soon after, seemingly fearing the worst; instead, they found a strange, thin man of medium height with slightly disheveled, stringy, pale blond hair standing by Takara’s bedside. Despite the girl’s frantic look, the man appeared as though nothing was unusual. His striking business attire made him appear to be less than threatening. Still …

“Hello, you must be Takara’s doctor.” The man offered the hesitant doctor his hand. “I’m Mr. Tyler. I was a colleague of Dr. Takahashi at the Institute … I just received your phone call.”

“Oh, yes.” the doctor said, taking in the scene. “I just wasn’t informed by the nurse’s station that you had checked in.”

“Oh, I didn’t.”

The doctor had taken up Mr. Tyler’s hand; now, he released it.

“You wouldn’t happen to be the one who Mrs. Taylor saw in this room the other day – the one who came to see Takara.”

“Yes, that was me.” the man said, situating the vase on a nearby bedside table to his liking. “I lost my nerve I’m afraid to say. I didn’t know what to say to the child … assuming she could even hear me.” Mr. Tyler looked up. “So, is she ready to be released?”

“I’m afraid not.” the doctor said. “I’ve set up some tests tomorrow to make sure she is all right. I wouldn’t feel right about releasing her until I was sure she was ready.”

Mr. Tyler looked over at Takara.

“Yes, of course. Well, call the Institute again, and I’ll send someone to pick her up.”

“I’m sorry but do you have the authority to take her?”

“Oh, yes.” Takara was surprised when Mr. Tyler pulled something out of his breast pocket. “Here. I am the executor of the estate. I also went to the trouble of becoming Takara’s guardian.”

The doctor took the form and looked it over just to be sure. This whole situation left Dr. Thatcher with an uneasy feeling, but he couldn’t pinpoint a valid objection. He handed back the document. Takara watched the document as it was passed back and forth.

“Do I get to go home?” she asked.

“As soon as you’re released.” Mr. Tyler said without looking at her. He put the form back into his pocket. “As I’ve said, contact the Institute again, and we’ll pick her up.”

Mr. Tyler headed for the door.

 

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2019

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I finally got Dirge completed! It is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle format.

International links can be found here:

Summary:

Leader Monrage’s merciless plot has come to fruition — unleashing unspeakable evil onto the universe. The first to feel its effects is a small, isolated colony known as 52. Nora Montgomery had been living a pretty normal life — normal in her view at least. But then, the nebula reapers descend — turning her life upside down and exposing secrets of the world — a world she thought she knew. Together with a young man named Jack Callahan, she must try to claw her way free from the tightening noose that threatens to take all of their lives.

Two different dreams contributed to two of the scenes in this book. One was of the air taxi in Chapter One. The second was about the confinement exercise.

Book One of the Nocturne’s Reaping® series, Prelude, serves as a prequel to the events in Book Two, Dirge. It will also fill this role for the rest of the books in the series.

Chapter 1

I can’t even remember the first time I learned about death. Because of my limited memory back then, I don’t recall it. It must have been a shock for me. And still, how sad and how scary it is that in every moment of my life, which I can think on, I’ve always been aware of death.

The fact is people don’t handle death well; it is absurd to suggest otherwise. Some people say that because it exists it must also be accepted … but it really can’t be. It is too terrible a thing to simply be accepted. A society based on death has no hope. Even I, who believe there’s a chance for life after death, despise death. The pain and the loss, the fear over how it’s going to end can taint even the happiest of times … of memories.

Of course, some people deal with it in a particularly deranged way. They think that if they can cause premature death to happen to other people that that infliction of death will give them a sense of power over it. It’s an illusion, but it makes them feel better. It restores in them the sense of self-determination that death stripped away from them long ago. Unfortunately, it does this with disastrous consequences.

Such as it was for a small colony known as 52, for it was a time in its history when the already dead seemed like the lucky ones. For my uncle Leader Monrage decided one night to unleash on the unsuspecting population of Colony 52 deadly creatures known as the nebula reapers. Had he realized the extent of the horror he would inflict? With a man like Leader Monrage, it’s impossible for me to know for sure all of what he was trying to achieve — but it was indeed horror that he caused.

It was a particularly dark night. The sky was overcast, and the only objects that consistently illuminated the streets were the scant lights, which cut through the darkness. Fewer lights were needed in the city thankfully, as the buildings within its limits were built so closely together and the streets made narrow. People tried not to think about the reason there wasn’t enough power to illuminate a greater area. Still, it helped how dependably the lights came on every night.

Nora Montgomery was doing her homework by the window. Air conditioning was expensive, so she left the window open. Nora’s apartment was on the tenth floor. It wasn’t unusual for the occasional cargo ship or air taxi to fly by at that height.

Given that the streets were so narrow, people traveled at different altitudes to keep traffic moving. Of course, after 23:00 most vehicles weren’t allowed in the residential zones. Right then, it was 22:35. Of course, while the noise reduction would allow Nora to sleep later on it wasn’t going to help her get her homework done. Even so, sometimes just watching the vehicles as they passed by was a nice distraction.

It was not so helpful when the wind picked up. Nora assumed it was an approaching storm. Nora believed it was a storm because the wind was preceded slightly by a deep rumbling noise. Usually the atmospheric regulator managed to allow for the rain to come without any disruptions such as storms, but occasionally they popped up anyway. Nora groaned. Even though the wind was subtle at first, it did jostle some of Nora’s loose papers around. But then, suddenly, there was an odd, low, moaning sound, and all of her papers began to stir.

“Shoot!” Nora exclaimed.

She rushed to the nearby window and shut it tightly. Then, a sound, which Nora had never heard before, came from a small device on her desk. She turned toward her desk with a curious expression. For a moment, Nora just stared at the device. The meaning of the noise didn’t register. She knew the device had a purpose, but … something at that moment drew her attention back to the window. Nora’s eyes lighted upon a movement toward her left. There she saw an air taxi making its way slowly down the street.

Behind the taxi something was quickly approaching. It seemed a crash was inevitable. Nora at first thought to scream, but seconds later she lost her breath entirely. The taxi was by then in the process of being engulfed by a semi-transparent, milky-white form. The creature appeared to be sliding through the taxi. The driver ejected just in time to avoid the form; she continued to hover mostly upward but slightly forward with a jet pack. Suddenly, though, the creature lurched straight up and consumed the woman. Nora gasped and stumbled backward. She fell against her desk as she viewed the woman struggling inside the middle of the form. Then, the form became opaque.

After that horrid occurrence, the lights went out. Nora reached for a flashlight she had stored in her desk. She was afraid to turn it on, afraid of what she would see. She could hear the sound of dogs barking in the street. People’s voices began to clamor there as well. It had to be a stunt of some kind; she couldn’t have just seen what she thought she saw.

No one even spoke the name of the nebula reapers. Certainly, a reaper couldn’t be out in the streets somewhere — preying on people — consuming them. Could one have gotten out of its electric cage? If so, how would they recapture it? Were other reapers soon to come?

Suddenly, there was a knocking on Nora’s bedroom door. She turned on her flashlight and headed over to open it. On the other side of the wooden structure was the ashen face of her father. Her mother came up from behind him and hugged Nora.

“Thank goodness. I knew you usually left the window open!” her mother shouted.

“What’s going on?” Nora asked.

Nora’s voice was a little lower, a little more mature than one would expect from someone so young-looking. Then again, Nora was seventeen years old, hardly a baby, at least in her mind. But her large, innocent eyes tended to make people treat her like a child. She had tried to cut her dark brown hair into a medium, and, therefore, more sophisticated cut, but it didn’t help enough. So, it wasn’t particularly surprising that her parents would react this way. It didn’t mean that things were really so bad.

“Seriously, what’s wrong?” she asked again.

Her parents looked at each other.

“Let’s turn the radio to the news station.” her father finally spoke.

He walked past Nora and headed to her desk. Nora and her mother filed in behind him. Nora’s mother, Rebecca, placed her hands on Nora’s shoulders.

There was a strange noise coming from the radio. It was the combination of static and a high-pitched tone. Nora’s father, Clam, tried to fine-tune the station. Eventually, he got a faint signal. They could hear just the smallest rumbling of a human voice. After a few more moments of refining, the voice was as clear as it would get. Nora couldn’t help but wish the voice hadn’t been found at all.

“This is a pre-recorded message from the Government Emergency Service. An official statement will soon follow. Please secure all of your windows and doors. Do not open them no matter what you hear. Stay tuned to the radio. If you’ve changed your batteries as often as you were mandated to by law, you should be able to leave the radio on for as long as needed until an official statement is released. This message will be repeated …”

“Are we just supposed to keep listening to this message over and over again?” Rebecca asked.

“We might miss something, Becca.” Clam responded.

“Can’t we at least turn it down?”

He shook his head no. Becca turned to Nora, determined, it would seem, to drown out the repetitive noise from the radio.

“Did you see anything, Nora? I mean, we thought we did … at the window.”

“Let’s not talk about that right now, Becca. Maybe you should sit down.”

“I’m fine.” she insisted.

“You’re shaking.”

Suddenly, there was a buzzing from their apartment’s intercom system. It signaled someone was at the front door of the apartment building.

“Oh my, what’s that?!” Becca cried out.

“I’m sure it’ll stop.” Clam responded.

“But what if it’s one of our neighbors?” Becca countered. “Wait! That noise comes from the buzzer outside the building, which would mean the person’s outside. But wouldn’t a neighbor have a key?”

Clam headed to the intercom. Once he got to the front door, he pressed the button to speak. “We’ve been told not to open the door. Please go back to your home.” he uttered into the device.

There was static emanating from the intercom. Then, there were some mumbling noises. Finally, a brief moment of silence was broken by more mumbling.

“Why doesn’t that person stop?!” Becca called out.

“And what if one of the neighbors lets them in?” Nora questioned.

Becca gasped.

“All right. I’m going to seal the front door. Get me some tape.” Clam concluded.

Just then, Nate’s bedroom door opened, and the young boy came out rubbing his eyes. Almost instantly, Becca’s demeanor changed; she grew calm and protective.

“Nate.” She rushed to him. “What are you doing up?”

“I heard a noise.” Nate muttered.

“Nora. The tape?” her father repeated.

“Yes.” Nora replied. She headed for the utility room to retrieve her father’s tool kit.

Nora stared at the box for a moment. How normal it all had seemed when she had last seen this toolbox.

“Nora!” her father called out.

“Coming!”

Nora grabbed the dusty toolbox and ran it over to her father. She figured her father could find the tape in the box faster than she could. When Nora got to her father, she handed off the box to her dad. She noticed for the first time that his hand was shaking. Clam found his special industrial tape rather quickly. Then, he started to apply it to the door cracks.

Nora wrung her hands and looked over toward the kitchen space. There, she saw that her mother had made some hot chocolate for Nate. She rather wished she could be protected from the truth — that she could be convinced everything would be all right. However, she knew her mother’s actions were as much about her mother’s feelings as her brother’s; it made her mother feel better to make her brother feel better. Nora then turned her attention back toward the door.

“Was that — the elevator?” Nora asked.

“I’m almost done!” Clam called out.

Nora approached the peephole in order to look out into the hall. From the side, she could see to the end of the corridor with the aid of the auxiliary lights, which lined it. She could tell that the elevator door was open. Only, from what Nora could make out, there was no one there.

“That’s strange.” Nora whispered.

She looked down and over at her father. She saw that he was making progress to cover the final crack of the door.

“The elevator opened, but there was nothing inside.” Nora informed her dad. Then, she turned back toward the peephole. “Wait, there is something. It looks almost like a dark haze of smoke.”

Nora squinted.

“Smoke is coming down the hall! It may be a fire! What will we do?!” Nora then froze for a moment. “Dad, it’s coming! Wait! Is that a form there? Dad!!”

Nora looked down at her father with a horrified expression. She saw him finally seal the remaining crack of the door just as some force rushed down the hall past their apartment. The sound of the air as it crackled penetrated her ears. It was like a backdraft almost. Clam stood and placed his hands on Nora’s shoulders.

“Stay away from the door.” he told her. “It’s going to be a long night.”

Nora and her father suddenly heard the sound of a window breaking from down the hall. Nora and her father looked at each other then stepped away from the door. The family of four waited there in the dark — huddled together — waiting for some kind of news. Nora was really expecting a message to come over the radio at any moment … but there was nothing. Nora was very afraid when silence overcame the station.

“What’s that?” her mother asked. “What happened?”

Suddenly, there was a fluttering of static. Then, the music came back on. After the first song played, there was station identification. Nora’s family all looked at one another in shock. What was this? Had someone accidently played an old recording? How could the radio disc jockey be so calm under these circumstances? Even if he had been told to act as though nothing was wrong, how could he pull it off this well?

“Is that it?” Nora asked her stunned parents. “Are they really not going to tell us what’s going on?”

It was only a second after she got out the last word that the lights came back on. The other three people in the room began to look around. Their posture eased and slowly they began to stand. Nora couldn’t help but feel a little betrayed. That reaction lasted until she realized her own feelings were silly. After all, her family’s sitting around the radio wasn’t going to make the announcer come back on. Still, as the others seemed to scatter and slowly return to their normal day’s activities, Nora couldn’t help but feel abandoned.

“That was it?” Nora kept playing those words over and over in her mind.

Yet, thinking that way made her feel suddenly guilty. She should want it to be normal; that was what was best. And that was reality, right?

There was an awkwardness at the breakfast table. Nora could tell by the look in their eyes that her parents and her brother were unsure. And yet, the morning played out just as it had a thousand times before. Everything around them said it was fine. So, even though something deep down said it wasn’t fine, the seeming normalcy won out. Yet, Nora was so frustrated by her family’s lack of acknowledgement of the past night’s events she chose not to put her usual effort into getting ready for school. After not having slept the night before, why should she be made to go at all? And why, for that matter, was school in session anyway?

Unfortunately, Nora’s simple act of defiance didn’t seem to be noticed by anyone. And the television lineup, the trip to the bus stop, the day at school proceeded as though nothing had happened. Even though one girl, who lived close to Nora, didn’t show up for school that day, no one made mention of it. Nora seemed to be the only one who would look over periodically at the empty chair. Aside from a few flashes of fear in the eyes of those around her when an unexpected noise occurred, there was nothing to indicate that anything had changed.

When school was over, Nora was so riddled with anxiety that, after she walked her brother home, she decided to go for a walk.

“Where are you going again?” he asked her.

“Just for a walk.” she responded. “I’ll be back before dinner.”

Maybe after a walk, Nora could slip back into normalcy again. Still, the streets seemed filled with that same odd feeling she had had all day. However, the thought occurred to her as she was walking that there may be one place she could go that would be different. Years earlier she had lived in another neighborhood – a poorer neighborhood. That part of town abutted the underground communities where some people lived. When her father finally got that promotion, she and her family had moved. Even so, she never forgot where she came from. Maybe it was just childhood nostalgia, Nora thought, but she could remember being truly happy there. And yet, she’d never be capable of walking there and returning home before it got dark. She’d have to take the bus. It occurred to Nora that she hadn’t mentioned going that far to her brother. Though, chances were good that her parents wouldn’t approve of her plan if she were to go back to tell them about it now. What was more, Nora wished to go there alone. Nora bit her lip. This might be her only chance. If she headed home first, there wouldn’t be time today, and Nora just knew if it didn’t happen now it wouldn’t happen at all. So, as the bus heading in that direction pulled in front of her, she could feel her legs approach and step onto it. It would be the most fateful decision of her life.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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PART I

“The Life Before”

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

Chapter 1

It’s hard to know the instant when the beginning starts; it can start so simply, so unremarkably. Pieces to a puzzle can lie there forever — seemingly meaningless — then come together and change everything. The pieces themselves started long before my time. However, their being pieced together — that occurred a mere handful of years ago.

It began before I became involved in it all — back when the sky was clear and my dreams carefree. Yet, after everything that has happened since I had to know how it began. I had to seek out the truth. I found out it all started on the colony planet known simply as 9. On that planet lived two cousins. The younger one was known as Lark. The elder cousin was named Celeste. Celeste was known for her beauty and elegance; Lark was known to be both cute and friendly.

“Did you hear me, Celeste?” Mrs. Baker asked.

Mrs. Baker, a tall, hulky woman with a wholesome face, grabbed Celeste’s arm.

“Celeste?”

“I heard you. The truth is I overheard you talking with the police officer before. It’s not exactly surprising given that my parents didn’t come home last night. Frankly, I was more surprised that you let yourself into my house with a key.” Celeste lifted her blue eyes toward the woman defiantly. “But you see I have a club meeting today that I can’t miss. My parents didn’t pay all of this money for a private school, so that I could sit at home crying.”

Mrs. Baker stared back at her in disbelief.

“And what about Lark, Celeste? She’s at your home now.”

Celeste looked at Mrs. Baker blankly.

“Well, you’re the grownup.” Celeste countered. “You deal with her.”

The shock of Celeste’s tone was enough to cause Mrs. Baker to loosen her grip on Celeste’s arm. The wily girl then used the opportunity to wiggle free. Afterward, she continued on down the dreary street toward her destination. Perhaps it should have been a sign of what was to come that despite her parents’ deaths Celeste could be heard telling others that this was the last normal day she could remember having.

Then again, since no one seemed to know about her tragedy Celeste found it wasn’t hard to pretend it didn’t happen at all. Still, every time someone came to the classroom Celeste’s eyes would dart up. Maybe it would be in that moment that her world would come crashing in. Maybe it was then that everyone else would know the truth.

“Celeste. Hey, what’s with you?” Tammy, Celeste’s best friend, asked her. Tammy had turned around in her desk and was facing Celeste.

Celeste braced herself. This was an important moment. If Celeste acted too normally, what would Tammy think of her once she did learn the truth about Celeste’s parents? Perhaps if Celeste showed just a hint of sadness, Tammy would later think that Celeste was just putting on a brave face. So, carefully Celeste moistened her eyes with sad thoughts then lifted them to meet Tammy’s. She waited until a look of concern crossed Tammy’s face. Next, with a flutter of her lashes Celeste was back to normal, back to facing the day and her club meeting. After all, things were bound to work out, and Celeste’s parents wanted this life for her. She was going to give them their last wish. Tammy looked down briefly and considered.

“Oh, wait! I know what will cheer you up. The club meeting is today. Now, this is just between us …” Tammy began to whisper. “I’ve heard you’re a lock to be nominated for club president.”

Celeste’s eyes widened

“Really?!” Celeste exclaimed with enthusiasm.

“Not so loud!” Tammy advised gleefully.

Celeste looked around the room then back at Tammy. This wouldn’t do, Celeste thought. She couldn’t afford to be happy about this. And yet, if she didn’t seem happy then she’d be asked why she wasn’t.

“Well, I guess we’ll have to see what happens.” Celeste decided to say.

“Now, don’t pretend to be modest.” Tammy pointed out. “You have to think it’s a sure thing.”

Celeste smiled wryly.

“Maybe.” Celeste replied. “But maybe I’ve changed, too.”

Tammy lifted an eyebrow.

“Really? How so?”

Celeste froze. The answer was right there on the tip of her tongue. My parents are dead, she thought.

“All right, class.” the teacher began. “Let’s all turn around. It’s time to begin the day.”

Tammy made a face then grudgingly turned around.

It was surreal the way the day proceeded on as usual. Then when last period began without a summons to the principal’s office, Celeste considered herself lucky. To think it was actually fortunate that Celeste had had that encounter with Mrs. Baker. After all, if Mrs. Baker hadn’t caught up to Celeste before school she probably would have called the school. Then, Celeste wouldn’t have had this day — this day of normalcy that she hoped she could make last somehow. And then, there was the presidency of the girl’s booster club. That position came with a scholarship. And everyone knew that the girl who received it got into the prestigious Highland University if she wanted. Celeste had been working for that for two years — finding out which students had the power to give her the position and making sure that they knew she was the best person for the job.

“Celeste.” It wasn’t Tammy’s voice that Celeste heard, even though Tammy’s lips were mouthing her name. Celeste turned to face the door. A horrified look crossed her face as an ashen Mrs. Baker entered the room. Principal Tanner was by her side. That expected look of pity was chiseled on his face. And then, just like that, the last normal day of Celeste’s life was over.

Mrs. Baker and Celeste left the school together. Celeste lifted her eyes toward Mrs. Baker angrily.

“Why?” Celeste demanded.

“Why what? Why did your parents have to die?”

“Why did you have to come to my school?” Celeste lashed out. “You already told me about my parents. Why’d you have to bother me there? They were just about to announce the nomination for club president. Now, who knows when they’ll reschedule the meeting. The competition is fierce; the situation could change by then. It would have been official today. This is my future we’re talking about.”

Mrs. Baker’s eyes narrowed.

“You know, Lark lost her parents in that accident, too.”

“Of course. I was babysitting her at the time. That is why she was at my house last night. And I also know they would all be alive now if my uncle hadn’t suggested they go out to celebrate that business deal.”

Mrs. Baker was stunned silent for a moment.

“Is there anything else you need to say?” Celeste persisted.

“I have responsibilities to my family,” Mrs. Baker started. “I can help you and your cousin as much as I can. You know we don’t have a lot, but your mother was my best friend since kindergarten. And I’d do anything for her, but you need to do your part.”

“I’m sure that won’t be necessary.” Celeste returned.

“Not necessary?”

“I’m sure my parents provided quite nicely for me.” Celeste paused. “By the way, just out of curiosity, what did you mean by my part?”

“I meant you’re old enough to help with your cousin.”

“Help with my cousin — are you kidding me? I have too many responsibilities at school.”

“About that …” Mrs. Baker began. “First, I want you to know things will be all right. As I’ve said, I will help you.” Mrs. Baker paused. “You know, Celeste, I’m not aware of all of your parents’ finances, but I’ve talked with your mother …”

“What? What’s your point?” Celeste demanded.

Mrs. Baker hesitated. She placed her hands on Celeste’s shoulders.

“I think you need to be prepared. Your parents were having trouble paying for your school when they were alive. I doubt their estate has the money to send you to that school of yours. Whatever your parents have left you, it will most likely have to go to pay for your living expenses.”

“Oh, I see. My living expenses — which will be paid to you, I suppose?” Celeste countered in an enraged tone.

“Things have changed, Celeste.”

“Why? I’m almost of age. I don’t need your help. You just worry about your own family.”

“Well then, I guess I’ll just extend my offer of help to Lark in case she needs anything.”

“Do whatever you want. That’s not my problem.”

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

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