The Awakening

Rachel A. here. We’re so excited for next week’s release of The Enlightening, the second book of THE LIGHTNING CONJURER series! In the meantime, please enjoy this sample of the first book, The Awakening. If you like what you see, purchase links are below. To order a signed copy, contact us here or through our Facebook page! 

 

Prologue

The rain seemed interminable, crashing down on the slanted roof of the small wooden house tucked safely behind rolling green foothills. There, nestled in the seat of the Rocky Mountains, torrential rain was a rare occurrence before dawn; yet on this particular April morning, dark gray storm clouds obscured the pale sunrise. Inside the cabin, a young woman sat quietly in the dim light that filtered in from a small, sooty window. Wrapped in a scratchy blanket on a plain wooden chair, her bare legs tucked beneath her, she watched the fat droplets rolling down the window. As her eyes darted across the glass, the drops of water appeared to move in synchronized patterns along with them, dancing across the window, leaving delicate trails of swirling water streaming behind them.

She shuddered slightly from the draft coming through the window and pulled the rough blanket closer around her bare arms; the fire she had lit the night before was mostly embers now, and, with no electricity in the house, the pouring rain made for a cold spring morning. Thunder rumbled somewhere in the distance.

The woman glanced at the calendar nailed to the wall across the room. It had been just over three years ago that she had awoken in this house, without any idea or indication of where – or who – she was. She had only the clothes on her back – a dirty white sweatshirt and torn, faded jeans – and a small, dark blue pendant around her neck, nearly the exact same shade as her peculiarly-colored, heterochromatic eyes. At first glance they both appeared a deep sapphire blue, but a discerning look in just the right light revealed one eye to be just a touch darker than the other – so deep in hue it was nearly purple. They claimed a striking contrast to her pale, porcelain skin and raven black hair, which tumbled below her shoulders in cascades that she could never fully tame. Her age was somewhat indiscernible – on some days, with a hint of chagrin, she thought she might look as young as twenty; on other days, particularly after nightmare-addled sleep left dark circles stamped under her eyes, she supposed herself closer to twenty-five.

She absentmindedly fingered the pendant at her throat as she watched the rain fall. The first day she had found herself in that cabin had felt like a dream, a persistent remnant from a deep and troubled sleep before she had awoken in a strange bed, alone and confused. She’d stumbled around in a heavy fog, desperate for some fragment of a memory to return. There was no phone in the house, though she wouldn’t have known who to call if she had found one. The cabin was sparsely furnished, with no photos hanging nor any decoration of any kind. Its paneled walls were a deep mahogany; their dark austerity made the modest house feel even smaller than it was. Though stark and near-empty, it did not feel as though it had been abandoned, or even neglected; only a thin layer of dust covered the bare floors and the few pieces of furniture within. The house was in adequate shape, with a working well and, to her relief, running water.

Clean running water, a bed to sleep in, a fireplace to warm herself beside; these small triumphs were what had helped the young woman persist in those first few months. She persevered, learned to survive on her own, and eventually, she even thrived, but still no memories of her past returned.

While her previous identity continued to elude her, one key instinct forced its way through her mental haze from Day One: Don’t attract attention. Don’t let them find you. It was a feeling that emanated from her very bones, chilling her from the inside out, and if she knew only one thing in this world, she understood inherently that the feeling was not paranoia, but fact.

As her pensive indigo eyes surveyed the gray forest outside through curtains of rain, she wistfully remembered her first sight upon stepping outside the unfamiliar house three years prior. The sun was so bright she had to shield her face, having not gone outside for what felt like several days. When her vision focused, she saw dozens of obsidian eyes etched into the snow-white bark of the aspen grove behind the cottage. She gave a start; the sight, the feeling as though she was being watched, was unsettling at first. But then a familiar word came to her. Aspens, she remembered. Both cheered and reassured that she could place a name to them, that some memories from before that day had persisted beyond whatever it was she had been through, she took their namesake as her own and began the daunting task of re-entering the world.

Aspen started, abruptly pulled back into the present as a bright streak of purple-white lightning splintered across the sky, momentarily transforming the dark forest into stark silhouettes of gray and white. As she shivered again from the cold draft seeping through the window, the embers in the fireplace behind her glowed brighter.

 

Chapter 1

I looked up at the gray sky warily. I was by no means a materialistic person, but of the three earthly things I loved in this world, my smooth, soft, deep brown leather jacket was one of them, and rain was not something that paired well with conditioned leather. Still, it was cold and damp outside – something I’ve never tolerated well – and it was the only jacket I had. With one last pleading glance upward, I locked the front door of the log cabin that I had called home for the last three years, then walked around to the side of the house, just past the shoulder-level pile of firewood I kept stocked through the spring. There, I greeted my second beloved item, which was leaning beside the neatly-stacked logs: a 1969 Honda inline-four-cylinder CB750 motorcycle, which my only friend, Evelyn, had gifted me a couple winters back. Her husband had passed away a long time ago, and, at seventy-one years old, with no family of her own, she and I had forged a natural bond over the years. She was also my closest neighbor; though at three miles away – up a winding, two-lane county road – “close” was a bit of a stretch.

I took a moment to admire my cherished motorcycle, its fresh coat of blue paint catching the light from the parting clouds, the chrome on the twin exhaust freshly-buffed and shining. I strapped on my vintage steel WWII helmet as I straddled the bike, then punted the kickstand, the electric start roaring to life.

Safely tucking my third and most-beloved possession – my blue sapphire necklace – into my white t-shirt, I zipped up my leather jacket all the way to my chin and revved the engine. All 736 cubic centimeters thundered to life as I shot away from the house, making my way up the winding back road that led to Evelyn’s. My hair flew behind me as I tore past towering evergreens which sheltered lush foliage that, for at least a few months, would remain thriving and green. I breathed in the smell of wet earth and ionized air and pulled just a bit more on the throttle. The forest was a green and brown blur as I flew past it.

In the city, I always drove at exactly five miles below the speed limit to avoid being pulled over and having an officer ask for identification. But on this particular drizzly April morning, I felt free to fly across the smooth, damp asphalt while the rest of the world remained sleeping in their warm, dry beds. As for me, I was headed over to cut more kindling for Evelyn’s fireplace; I knew she appreciated the crackling of a warm fire on a cold day, and since she lived alone like me, I was glad to help. And, if I were to be totally honest with myself, I didn’t really want to be alone that particular morning.

I pulled off the road and made my way up her winding driveway. It was early, just before 6:00 a.m., so I cut the engine and walked my bike the last third of the way up, leaning it against the side of the faded green shed outside her house. I opened the shed door and grabbed a slightly rusted axe, hoisting it over my shoulder, then walked over to the big stump where I had stock-piled the logs I’d cut the month before. My sturdy boots squished in the rain-soaked grass, but thankfully the clouds were clearing and the morning was slowly beginning to warm by the dim light of the late-waking sun. Taking one of the logs and carefully balancing it on the stump, I pulled the axe behind my head and swung down, hearing the satisfactory thunk as it easily hocked through what was now two halves of a log. I stood one of the halves on the stump again – thunk! – and repeated the process.

Chopping kindling is tedious, laborious work that I always enjoyed. When you have a false identity, a past you can’t remember, and you’re living off the grid, life is, unsurprisingly and unrelentingly, dull. I possessed no identification of any kind. Because of that, I couldn’t open a utility account and therefore didn’t pay for – or use – electricity or gas. Neither did I have a bank account or a telephone. The cabin I lived in, whoever it belonged to, didn’t receive any mail and, from a financial standpoint, I mercifully never received demands for rent or mortgage from anyone. I did have bills, though. After the great bike-borrowing fiasco of 2016, I quickly learned that any food or supplies I needed would have to be paid for. Evelyn had taught me that lesson the long-winded way. But it’s not exactly easy to get a job without having identifying papers, such as a Social Security card.

I pulled a shard of wood from my hair, blowing the long, black strands away from my face. I’d have given anything to go to work that morning, but Gina had forbidden me from coming in once she’d realized I’d worked eleven days straight without a day off. But she didn’t understand – more than money, the restaurant provided me with some semblance of normalcy, of socializing in a strictly-limited capacity. Apart from Evelyn, I really had no friends. It’s not that I was unpleasant or off-putting – at least, not to my knowledge – it’s just that, beyond the fact that I had a natural instinct to avoid most people, even if I had allowed myself the indulgence of fostering another friendship, anything that I shared about myself would just be a lie, which felt unscrupulous. When you’re a person who hates being dishonest, living a lie is a perpetual state of cognitive dissonance. Hence my desire to simply not let anyone in; having no friends meant having no one to lie to.

After an hour or so of splitting wood, my hands were cold and raw. I glanced toward the house but saw no lights on yet. The pile I had accumulated was big enough to provide kindling for the month. I carried the pieces of wood over to the porch, trying my best to neatly stack them as close to Evelyn’s front door as possible without making too much noise. When I was done, I walked back down the driveway towards my bike, tugging at a splinter in my finger. I had a list of items I was saving money for, but sullenly conceded to myself that gloves would probably need to be added to that growing list.

I sighed heavily. I was feeling anxious – that uninvited, disconcerting kind of dread that would sometimes rear its ugly, unfounded head. I had barely slept at all the night before, which was by no means a rare occurrence, yet that morning I felt unreasonably tense. I was desperately seeking something to distract myself with, but on that morning, I was unwillingly subjected to a rare day off from work, Evelyn was still asleep, and the library wouldn’t be open for two hours. When I reached my motorbike at the end of Evelyn’s gravel driveway, I stood there a moment, eyes closed, taking a few deep breaths of fresh air to center myself.

The thought of going back home to the relentless silence seemed unbearable, so I strapped on my helmet and decided to just ride. The air was crisp with the smell of fresh rain and the clouds were parting to reveal glimpses of the pale early morning sky. I took the road that wound tightly above Evelyn’s house and the hills, slightly more cautious on the throttle than before. My chest still felt tight but the lively wind whipping around me, the clean smell of the forest, and the gorgeous views of the mountains lifted my spirits. The curves of the road coiled around and between the undulating hills, and my bike and I swayed along with them. I approached a hard curve and leaned left, the motorcycle tilting with me. The exhilaration from the ride momentarily replaced some of my anxiety, and, for the briefest moment, I felt exultant.

Then everything happened at once.

My eyes filled with blinding white light as a deafening blare filled my ears. The breeze carried an acrid, burning stench to my nose and I realized in horror that a semi-truck was careening down the road straight toward me, clearly out of control. The road was narrow, and the steep, rocky side of the hill prevented any escape to my right. But the truck was veering wildly into my lane and I instantly realized that I had nowhere to go. So I did the only thing I could do: I slammed on my brakes – which only made matters worse. The back wheel locked up, sending the bike skidding across the asphalt until it slid out from under me, throwing me to the ground. I slid two bike lengths across the road, barely registering the pain tearing across the entire right side of my body as I looked up in horror. The truck was rushing straight at me. I shielded my face, doing all I could to not squeeze my eyes shut, knowing this was the end.

Suddenly, the truck’s horn was replaced with another ear-splitting noise as a howling gust of wind came barreling through the narrow cut of road, scattering dirt and debris in all directions. My hair was blowing wildly, slapping against my stinging cheeks. It was as though a tornado had materialized out of thin air. The force was staggering; and yet, as I cowered there in the street – curled up in the fetal position, bracing myself to be swallowed by the ferocious gale – I somehow remained rooted to my spot. I watched in wide-eyed shock as the tornado tore past me, hitting the side of the truck with such might that, for the briefest moment, it teetered preposterously on only its left-side wheels – and then suddenly, horrifyingly, slammed to the ground as it was overthrown, spraying bright orange sparks across the asphalt. It skidded only perhaps a dozen yards on its side, its momentum rapidly dampened by the force of the raging wind, before coming to a smoking halt barely a bike’s length in front of me.

A moment later, the wind was still and all was quiet, save for my heart slamming loudly in my ears. I scrambled to my feet, pain searing through my body. The truck, the skid marks, the trees, my fallen bike – all spun around my head as the ground seemed to lurch violently beneath me.

My knees buckled and the world went black.

***

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