“We’re taking a huge gamble on your say so,” Gavin said, not looking at Rafe.
Gavin had just joined him for a meet in Rafe’s high-clearance, mud covered pick-up. While Rafe studied the photo of the delicate, wary-eyed brunette in the dossier propped against his steering wheel, Gavin sat in the passenger’s seat, staring at the narrow streets of downtown Battle Forge, Virginia.
“You know I’m right,” Rafe said.
Rafe wasn’t that thrilled with the vehicle he’d been given for this assignment. The mud he didn’t mind, but the bible-rifle rack combo and Confederate flag branded him as the stereotypical half-brained Southern redneck. He only hoped the look helped him blend in with the locals in this depressed Blue Ridge town with its shuttered fabric mill. He was afraid Gavin had gone overboard when setting up his cover and that he now stood out, as much a caricature as the truck’s mud flaps and their charming cartoons of a little boy with his pants down, peeing on the words, TIME TO GO TO WORK.
“What choice do we have? We have to go with this,” Rafe added. “You’re running out of time.”
“We’re all running out of time,” Gavin corrected him. “You, me and 1,367 men, women, and children back at The House.”
“No pressure, right?” Rafe said with a sarcastic grin.
He closed the dossier with the photo of the girl; set it on the bench seat between them. He’d parked on a claustrophobic one-way street fronted by 19th century brick buildings in various stages of dilapidation. The road ran downhill toward the community’s more active commercial neighborhood, where lunchtime was starting to draw a crowd at the only decent café in a thirty-mile radius. To the west, the town climbed a hill in stages, parallel streets like terraces clinging to its steep sides. At the top, the depressing walls of the old Brickleburg Sanitarium, now a private hospital, loomed over all, a colossal cement vulture.
When his boss didn’t respond, Rafe glanced his way. Gavin was tall. Not as tall as Rafe, of course, but the sheer presence of the man always made him seem as if they were the same height. Gavin’s shock of white blond hair and sharp European features, coupled with eyes like the North Sea on a winter day, and the shallow gouge near his left cheekbone that disappeared into this hairline—souvenir from a bullet in the face—gave him the look of a high class criminal. He was a man who made decisions no one else was willing to make, made them quickly, without wasting time on regret.
Rafe’s eyes narrowed in concern. Gavin’s stare had grown unfocused. His jaw tightened, an indicator of some intense effort.
It was all the warning he got.
Battle Forge suddenly disappeared. It was as if a black tarp the size of the entire town was instantly thrown over them. Beneath this horizon-to-horizon shadow, an alternate landscape took shape, replacing the town he saw with another location entirely. Objects formed in the dark, each glowing with dull gold light. Clouds of that same yellowish metallic light sprang up and drifted around the pickup truck like ground fog. An historic stone mansion surrounded by park-like grounds emerged from the gloom, supplanting Battle Forge with buildings that resembled a college campus. In a wooded distance, winding lanes with cottages and larger homes all embodied the air of comfort and safety, individual havens for the people who lived there.
Rafe immediately recognized the mansion, the buildings, the grounds, the homes, all of it. Except none of it should look like that, not doused with that golden murk that distorted details, blurred edges, replaced reality with something else. Rafe knew what the light was, understood what it meant, he was dreamrunning. But how? How had he been abruptly pulled into a run without having initiated the dangerous and energy-draining journey himself? No one simply fell into The Fields, that gold-tinged alternate plane runners traveled at will. Where had Battle Forge gone? Why was he here, looking at his own home? And why was it the middle of the night? Nothing going on, everything peaceful, not even a dog barking.
A moment later, a missile screamed out of the dark, lanced toward the stone mansion, and blew it to hell. The building went up in a blossoming orange cloud of brick and glass and stone. Even before his mind could grasp what he witnessed, three more smoke spewing missiles crossed Rafe’s vision and the buildings nearest the mansion, one of which he knew to be an orphanage housing over 200 children, were incinerated by missile strikes.
So hot were the flames, so appalling the noise that Rafe forgot the distorting effect of the golden light that characterized this odd, alternate view of the world. Stranger still, he realized he wasn’t standing in the open as he expected, but still sat in his truck with his boss, as the place that had been his refuge for more than two decades was wiped off the map. He threw a quick glance at Gavin, whose eyes were closed in deep concentration. The sense of the surreal, like being at a drive-in, one where the movie played around them in 360-degrees, didn’t diminish the horror as debris began to rain down around them. They actually hit the truck, thumping and pinging and crashing, causing the vehicle to shake and lurch while the monstrous hail storm of concrete and splintered lumber, broken bricks, and torn metal, rained down.
When a body part Rafe couldn’t identify hit the windshield and then slowly smeared the glass with blood, it was all he could do to keep the animalistic, back-brain terror under control. His hand went to the truck’s door handle, but froze when he turned and saw a boy, a young man really, running from the burning orphanage. The boy was ablaze, fire whipping out behind him like an angry mane, consuming his clothing, while he clutched two toddlers, one in each arm, and struggled to carry them from the building to safety.
I’ve got to get out there!
His hand, having momentarily released the door handle, went for it again, ready to yank it open, so he could leap out and run toward the orphanage. He couldn’t let them die.
I’ve got to help!
“Rafe,” It came out as a low, strangled croak from Gavin, but the sound was sufficient to break the spell.
Within seconds, the scene and the black shadow over them, as well as the sights and sounds of the place, dissipated, leaving them sitting in his truck on a bright summer afternoon in a town hundreds of miles away from where he’d just been. There was no sign of the red smear on the windshield, nor dents in the roof of his truck from debris.
“Christ,” Rafe said. “Why didn’t I know you could do that? Was that real? Is that happening? I’m mean…” He grasped for a hold on reality. Where he’d just been it was night. Darkness meant it wasn’t happening right now. Not yet.
“It’s a vision,” Rafe said. “You dragged me into a fucking premonition.”
“Yes. I did,” Gavin said.
Gavin knew what he meant. When would it happen?
“You know these things never come with a definite sense of the timing,” he said.
“But you must have an idea—”
“Within the week. If we don’t succeed here,” Gavin said. “That’s why I need you to be certain. Is Amelia Manning the one?”
“Oh, yes,” Rafe said. “No question. She’s the one. I can smell it on her, the dream signature. Even from here.”
It was his boss’s turn to express surprise.
“You what?” Gavin asked him. “You know that isn’t possible.”
“Don’t try to tell me what’s possible and what’s not,” Rafe said. “Not after what you just showed me.”
BEYOND HER DREAMS will be available later this year from Dapple Gray Books. Would love to hear your feedback. In the meantime, check out the first book in the trilogy, IN HER DREAMS, available now on Amazon.com