Rising Shadows by Bridget Blackwood
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Rachel Ryan wakes up with no knowledge of where she is or how she got there. Thrown into a world she thought only existed in myths, she finds more questions than answers. Shape shifters, faeries, and vampires hide in plain sight among humans. There’s a war quietly brewing in the shadows. Rachel stands between mankind and those creatures that live in the darkness. Enhanced with power she doesn’t understand, she’ll tip the scales, but who is the real enemy?
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EXCERPT - CHAPTER 1
I wake in a colorless room, both the tile floor and the walls are white, the glaring lack of color is made noticeable by the sunshine streaming through the bars of a small window above my bed. Why room bars? An IV pole is pushed against the bed frame and a tube tethers me to the bag via a catheter imbedded in my left hand. After peeling off the tape, I gently draw the foreign object from my body. I hate needles. My eyes shut, and I attempt to remember the last place I was. Nothing. I draw a blank. Why remember? My scalp is tender; I ache all over. Was wreck? My entire body feels beaten. Not debilitating pain, but like the day after a hard workout.
I catch a deep breath and try to stand. After a few tries, I succeed on shaky legs and head for the chart dangling at the foot of the bed. Patient name Age female No living relatives. No other information is available to help fill in the blanks.
I flip through the many reports stapled together but can’t make sense of the medical jargon. I replace the chart with a sigh. The short walk to the door isn’t far, but takes a lot out of me. Locked. I pull on the door a few times, but it still won’t budge.
“Hey! Somebody open the door!” I bang on the door with the flat of my hand but
nobody comes. I feel on the verge of an anxiety attack. Okay, don't panic. The IV I pulled out must have contained a sedative because I can barely keep my eyes open. Back on the bed I lay down and fall asleep.
A gentle touch rouses me. There is a woman, tall with fair hair and faded blue eyes. I think she’s a nurse. I allow her to inspect my hand where I pulled the IV out. It’s amazing how we trust people in uniform. Inmates wear uniforms. A person walks into your room dressed in an orange jumpsuit with Department of Corrections on the back, you don’t get friendly. A woman in scrubs walks in and I’m all ready to do anything she asks. She picks up the abandoned IV catheter.
“We inserted that for a purpose,” she scolds. I meekly duck my head as she shames me.
“I’m Rachel. Can you tell me how I got here?”
The nurse looks at me bewildered. She grabs my chart and looks at the last page. Rolling her eyes and scoffing she mutters, “Again? How many times are they going to start over?” She puts the files back and looks at me. “I’m Janice and I’ll be your nurse today.”
“What do you mean start over?”
She waves a dismissive hand my way. “You’ll have to talk to the Doctor. Lucky you, we’re headed to him right now.”
Janice opens my door and an orderly brings in a wheel chair. We pass dozens of numbered doors identical to mine, each has a short inset window. When we reach an office door, she leaves me sitting outside next to an overstuffed leather sofa.
A gaunt man with large horn rimmed glasses steps out and greets me enthusiastically, "Hi Rachel! How’re you feeling today?"
He seems genuine, I’ve no cause to be rude. His oily red hair is unkempt and in need of a trim. Harvey Morris, M.D. is stitched on his rumpled lab coat.
"Fine, I suppose. Sore, my head's throbbing. I can't remember anything,” I admit.
His pleased look dissolves. He takes off his glasses to polish them on his sleeve and responds, "Hmm…that must be bothersome." The words sound guilty.
Is he joking Having no memory bothersome.
“The nurse mentioned something about starting over? She said I should talk to you about it.”
He averts his eyes. “I really couldn’t say. I’ll speak to her about it.”
This is getting weirder by the second. What are they hiding from me?
My eyes dart nervously around "Could you tell me where I am?"
"You're at the Richland Institute,” Morris offers. "The Richland Institute is a research and education center created to encourage select individuals to cultivate their latent potential and further the evolution of the human race." The speech sounds scripted.
Evolution? Like monkeys and Darwin?
Exasperated, I ask, "What can I do to serve evolution?"
"We all perform our part,” he answers cryptically.
That’s a bullshit answer. Gonna need more info than that.
"Why does my part necessitate bars on my windows and a bolted door?” Hostility creeps into my voice. Clutching the arms on the wheelchair, I try not to lash out at him. God grant me the strength yell.
Dr. Morris apprehensively shifts from one foot to the other worrying his hands together behind his back. "Miss Ryan you don’t need to get agitated. Today is very busy. We must hasten, or we'll be late."
Screw that! I’m not going anywhere with him.
“I want to go home. Who do I need to talk to so I can leave?” I ask.
“I don’t think that would be wise. You would be leaving against medical advice,” he tells me.
“I don’t care! I want out of here now! Give me the papers and I’ll sign them.” I yell at him.
He frowns. “After the test we have scheduled for today, I’ll speak to Mr. Richland on your behalf.”
I want to get up and walk out but I can’t. My legs are weak. What did they do to me? The test he spoke of, what if it does something worse to me? My fingers nervously pull at the gown over my thighs.
He turns me around and heads to the elevator. We get out on the sixth floor and stop outside a steel door. A bank vault? Guards stand sentry on either side carrying big ass guns.
Those guns look like they pack a serious punch. Note to self, don’t get shot.
Doctor Morris flashes a security badge and a guard punches in a string of numbers on a console. The keypad chirps and the door opens. With an ominous moan, it hefts its own weight swinging outward. Inside is a tiled chamber similar to the ones in my room, but these are rusty brown instead of a snowy white. Dr. Morris helps me out of the wheelchair and stepping over the large mouth of the door. He leaves me. I jump as the behemoth door seals with a bang, I hear gears pushing locks into place. The motion was a reflex and on my shaky legs almost brought me to my knees. I put a hand against the wall to steady myself.
Crouched in the corner is a man. He has an average build, tawny skin and a mane of dark dark hair. If I had to guess, I would say he’s South American.
It startles me when he looks at me and cries, "No, not again!"
He begins to rock back and forth twisting on his hair. What the hell is wrong with him? Why is he freaking out? Is he afraid of me?
Too many questions, I want answers.
“Sir, do you know me?” I ask.
I take a few steps towards him, which sends him into a panic. He looks ready to climb the walls to escape. Oo-kay. Never mind. I can take a hint. He doesn’t want me anywhere near him.
I retreat to the opposite side of the room. Putting my back to the wall, I slide down to sit. Drains are in the floor. Overhead are sprinklers. A window takes up a good portion of one wall; from the ceiling to about waist high. Men dressed in expensive suits assemble on the opposite side. Are they here watch me shower? Perverts.
A voice shatters my thoughts. I look back at the voyeurs. The speaker is an elderly man, with grayish hair cropped fashionably close to his head. A charming smile plays across his lips, his voice is smooth but it makes my skin crawl.
"Rachel meet Alonzo”, he points to the man trembling in the corner. “Dr. Morris informs me you misplaced your memory again. My name is Stuart Richland. You haven’t been in this part of the facility before. We call this the testing tank. Here is where we analyze the truth of the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’. Does brawn beat brains? Is the lion truly mightier than the lamb? We want to test survival abilities. It is unfortunate that only one of you will live, but many have died in the pursuit of scientific discovery. You should consider it an honor."
I struggle to my feet and cast myself at the viewing window. "Are you nuts?! Get me out of here! You can’t do this to me, it’s illegal. It has to be!"
No one is disturbed by my pleas. The men talk amongst themselves ignoring me. Mr. Richland crosses his arms over his chest. "The test will begin in five minutes. I advise you to collect yourself."
What’s going on? I’m about executed and this man What the hell have I gotten myself into? I glance over at Alonzo. He’s praying. What were we supposed do Beat another death? There is no way I can beat a grown man to death all by myself. I’m 5’7’’ and could stand to lose a little weight, but there is no way I’m going to win a fist fight against a man. Banging on the glass I beg for my life.
"Let me out! What am I supposed to do? He’s going to kill me! Please don’t let me die!"
Tapping the side of his head with his index finger Richland replies, "Everything you need is in here.''
Smug son of a bitch. Shit. Can I kill even save life? My gaze drifts back to my rival. Alonzo is bent over on his hands and knees weeping. He sobs over and over in a strange language.
I rub my eyes. Alonzo is blurry. My eyes must be playing tricks on me. A large form is suspended over him. No, the form is part of him. Like an aura wavering out of sync. I blink several times to clear the phantom from my vision. Doesn't help. Alonzo gapes at me with fearful eyes, but the shape that rises out of him is eager. My mind tries to reconcile the insanity going on around me.
A computerized voice announces "Testing commences now."
Alonzo wails. He contorts his body backwards in an unnatural position that has him arching off the floor. His hands grab the shirt covering his chest as he forcibly rips it from his body. Fingernails rake down his ribs to his stomach taking bands of skin with them. They tear off like wet paper towels. Bones move under muscle. His nose and mouth elongate and reshape into a muzzle. Rolling over to his belly, Alonzo’s eyes reach mine. The pupils have changed to a burning yellow. Sharp teeth split his lips. Black fur sprouts out from between the mauled tissue.
I think I’m gonna puke.
In a blur Alonzo springs into motion. His fist catches the right side of my jaw. The force takes me off my feet and drives me backwards into the wall. Tiles come free from the impact. A copper tang fills my mouth. Blood. I spit and watch the crimson stain spread across the floor. I know what discolored the tile. Old blood, lots of it, soaked into the ceramic and grout.
Slumped over against the wall I observe Alonzo in awe as he melts away and the phantom emanation takes over. I want to look away, but I can’t. I’m looking at a werewolf. I scream, I can’t stop the sound. Alonzo was medium in both size and stature, but the werewolf is tremendous. Somehow I manage to scramble out of the way before he can descend
upon me again. I stand and stare at him. The wolf is enjoying himself. He has been let out of his cage and now he intends to have a little fun. Alonzo has assumed his place as the aura. He’s quiet. The wolf will shield him.
What supposed do How expected win? I must control my fear and find some advantage over the creature before me. I attempt to separate the man and beast. If I can see him as vulnerable I’ll fear him less. After all, furry or not, it is still Alonzo.
Remember the man so scared of you he cried, Rachel.
Shuddering he drops to one knee. Alonzo and the wolf are stretching apart. The beast is
breaking off in one direction, Alonzo the opposite. It looks painful for them, but at the moment I don't much care.
Hurts huh? Good. Payback is a bitch named Rachel.
I put my hands out in front of me and imagine I’m rending seams. Howls and screeches
fill the air. Flesh, muscle, and bone crack and tear. The two beings fall away from each other. I pulled Alonzo’s wolf half into corporeal being. I can’t explain how, it shouldn’t be possible.
Blood is spattered along the walls and coats the floor. My hair is matted to my face with tears and blood.
I can’t help but find some satisfaction in watching my aggressor come undone. The wolf dies immediately. It needed Alonzo more than Alonzo needed it. A parasite. The weakening man lay at my feet. I’m surprised at the gratitude in his eyes. How many times did he kill his challenger? How many lives has he been required to take to assure his own survival? By my hand, his wretched existence is done, and he’s grateful.
Icy water cascades over me. Numb, I observe the blood fade to pink and escape down the drain. Violent shivers shake my body. I think I may be in shock.
The vault door reopens, and two men in hazmat suits come in with a body bag. They put Alonzo’s body inside. His two bodies, as he’s now two separate forms. Together they drag the heavy burden from the room. Another person in hazmat gear advances towards me. Janice. I back away. In her hands, she holds a scrub brush and soap. After harshly removing my hospital gown Janice scrubs me with soap and the brush. She looks disgusted. I’m disgusted, too. Considering where she’s employed, I want to ask her who the real monster is. You can’t scour blood off of people while bodies are carted away and maintain your humanity. I glower at her until she averts her eyes. Heartless bitch.
Buck naked in front of an audience is not my idea of fun. God, this is so embarrassing. A clump of Alonzo washes off me. Bile rises in my throat. Janice jumps back as I vomit. When I stop heaving, I take stock of my body and find more pieces of Alonzo. Flesh and hair. What the fuck! I’ve got werewolf in my hair! Get it off, get it off! I wrench the scrub brush out of Janice’s hand and scour my body. When I am finished, my skin has angry red marks from where I rubbed it raw. I’ll never feel clean again.
Once I’m freshly dressed in a new hospital gown they take me to a board room, lined with expensive paintings. An elongated glass table is in the center of the room ringed by oversized black leather chairs. Richland convenes at the head of the table. As my chair is wheeled inside, the men from the viewing room, the Armani squad as I nicknamed them, stand up and clap. I’m speechless. I just committed murder.
Richland gets up last and says, “Well done Rachel! Quite the performance today.”
I can’t restrain my outrage, “Screw you, asshole!”
The gentleman on Richland’s right frowns at me. “Apologize to Mr. Richland,” he barks out angrily.
Hysterical laughter bubbles up out of me. This whole thing is absurd. Surely, I will wake up any moment. Dr. Morris looks at me concerned. My laughter turns to tears. Overwhelming defeat settles in.
“It’s alright, Mr. Gates.” He smiles at me indulgently, “She’s over excited. Since you’re still suffering memory loss, I’ll give you a swift education. Mr. Lopez was a werewolf. There are countless like him. At this time, we’re uncertain how many species of preternatural beings exist. Vampires, werewolves, exotic cats, even dragons have been witnessed. Creatures you believed only lived in your nightmares are living among us. They lurk in plain sight. We chose you to help us bring down the demons. The doctors injected you with a virus to augment your natural psychic gift. On scans, your brain shows improvements, but until today you had yet to manifest anything trans mundane. We call what you achieved today Arcana. With science and psychic sensitives like yourself, we have created a way to fight all that’s corrupt with the world.”
His lecture gives me a headache. I rub at the cutting pain behind my eyes and wearily and ask, “Ripping men apart with my mind, is that the extent of what I can expect from Arcana?” I must have lost it. I’m talking like this is normal.
Richland has no answers to give. Dr. Morris is more forthcoming. “I’m not certain if we've seen all you can do. By nature, the virus is always mutating. You may never reach full potential, or you could've already topped out.”
They turned me into a monster. Tears are rolling down my face, but I don’t make a sound. Dr. Morris looks away, and I refuse to make eye contact with anyone else. I hate that they made me cry. Please, let me wake up.
“Perhaps Miss Ryan should rest now,” Dr. Morris interjects softly.
I don’t want to rest because I am already asleep. This isn’t real.
An orderly takes charge of the wheelchair. Down the hallway to my room we pass the same doors as before, but this time I see people looking out from the windows. Every face conveys a story. Fear and anxiety for their future. Curiosity of me. Defeat. How long do you live like this before you accept it?
In my room, which is really a cell, a tray is resting on my bed with a ham sandwich, bottled water, and a shiny red apple. My stomach growls with hunger. Can you be hungry in a dream? Who am I kidding, this is no dream. It’s a waking nightmare.
At least I’ll get some food in my stomach before I sleep. The food is tasteless, but I devour every bite. Once my stomach is full, and I set the tray down on the floor, and crawl under the covers. In sleep, I pray I can forget again. In my dreams, I hope I’ll be free. If this is the real world, my dreams have to be better. Futile thoughts. If I can sleep at all, I’ll replay all the horror I’ve been a party to.
Bridget Blackwood is a hopeless romantic and a fan of happily ever after. She grew up in East Texas where she met and married her high school sweetheart. Together they moved to Southern Illinois, it's been home for over a decade now. Bridget began telling stories at an early age, she writes in self-defense because the characters in her head are loud and bossy. A social butterfly by nature, Bridget loves to talk and laugh. When she isn't writing she enjoys watching horror movies, playing video games, and not cooking.