On the morning of June 21, 1983, a three-year-old boy disappeared into the forests of Shawnee, Colorado. But just before the sun set the boy was found not very far from home, dirty but unharmed, hungry but in good spirit.
The boy’s parents thanked god their son had returned safe. They sighed with relief that tragedy and the unthinkable had been avoided.
But what that young couple did not know as they hugged that thing they thought was their boy, was their true son had found a passage into a place of darkness. What they held tightly and made promise to never leave them again was something strange. What returned to them was only a copy of their son; something that crossed over from the dark place.
What returned was me.
And until very recently, I had intended on taking that secret to the grave. I never wanted to write any of this. But after what has happened—I have to.
For most of you, what you read in these pages will be regarded as a story of fiction. It will be seen as a tale spun by an overactive imagination, a lunatic, or a person seeking attention. And that’s fine, because this book isn’t for most of you.
This book is for those who will read these pages and know, bitterly, that my words are true. And you will know this because you are one of us--even if reading this book is your moment of epiphany. Some of these events will be all too familiar to you. These pages might force you to relive things—I’m sure—you try desperately to forget. You might even close this book right now and burn it, because like me you’ve spent too much time wishing it away; wishing it was nothing but a nightmare.
But you need to read on, because this might be the only warning you get. You need to know how dangerous this could get for you. These pages are the only clues I have to give. So I’m telling you everything I know… because I let it out.
It’s here, and it’s hunting. You’ve been warned.
Why write a horror novel? Fans of my previous works want to know what would make me turn from the fantasy adventure style of my Everflame series (my most successful series) and travel this “dark path.”
The answer is somewhat meandering. A part of me thinks to answer, “Well, haven’t I always been a horror writer? Are there not moments in all of my books that fit the genre?” Even if that is true, it doesn’t really answer the question in the direct way it deserves.
The direct and honest answer is because—like all of us, I think—I’m searching. I’m searching for myself in an ever-changing world, searching for a foothold to begin making a climb, searching for the answer to a question we all know and yet mostly find impossible to articulate. I believe we constantly search for the ability to fulfill our purpose; possibly the deepest satisfaction we can ever know.
So I’m writing a horror novel because I’m searching. I’m writing a horror novel about searching, among other things.
What helped me come come to this decision? What drew me to this path? I think I can point to one work that is both my greatest success and greatest failure as a writer: The Dean Machine
I call it my greatest success because to this day I think it’s my best story, the one I like the best, the one that means the most to me. And it was my greatest failure for commercial reasons. I confused too many genres, and created a story that couldn’t please anyone but myself. 😂 “Hey everyone, come read a story about a rescue dog, inspired by an actual rescue dog of mine… oh, and this will be a science fiction adventure… oh and it’s also kind of a psychological thriller… oh and some of it is definitely horror… like angry, eff the world, pages of rage horror. Sounds good, right?”
Yeah… No one wanted to read that, and the people that did were left mostly confused and disturbed. Book bloggers I gave advanced copies to pretty much all gave the same review that can be summed up in two emojis 🤯🤷🏻♂️
I remember doing a charity event where I gave out my books in exchange for donations to the rescue dog organization I agreed to help. I thought at the time it was a win-win, I get my book in the hands of readers and make money for rescue dogs. Yet, as the event went on I realized I was handing my book mostly to sweet old women with big smiles and bigger hearts, who were at an event to help dogs, and feel happy about doing good. By the end I was thinking, if they actually read this book, it’s going to destroy them. I had really fucked up the marketing of the book. The Dean Machine wasn’t a fun sci-fi adventure for those who love their rescue dog. It was a confusing genre mashup bred from anger. It was a horror novel written as an FU to an apathetic world that hurt my dog and took him from me too soon. It was a story that only worked for me, because it was really just for me.
My wife and I had adopted an old dog who had been through hell in a puppy mill, and suffered at the hands of ignorant, apathetic and evil people. We cared for him, loved him, nurtured him, and watched him blossom under our care. And then two years later he died because, despite all we had done for him, the atrocities he had suffered before us were too much for him to physically overcome. The damage had been done. There was nothing we could do.
So I poured my love, my sadness and my absolute red hot rage into a story I felt would honor him and the legacy of what he stood for. For me it will always be successful because of that alone.
Truly the book was my absolution, my penance for the perceived sin of not being able to save my dog’s life. And through that process, without realizing I had done it, I had written a book that could be classified as much horror as any other genre.
Really, there are moments in all of my books that are dark enough to be considered horror. Yet, I never allowed myself to walk that path completely. The Everflame series was about hope, redemption and the indomitable spirit that resides within us all. I wanted it to be accessible for readers of all ages and temperaments, almost like a superhero comic book. The Dean Machine was just a work of pure catharsis, something I needed to do. The Hands of Ruin series (though unfinished) is intended to be a sprawling epic about family, and how time connects and equalizes us all. Everflame: Mystic Wild was an attempt to recapture the youthful adventure the original Everflame series thrived in.
But my next book, the one I’m working on right now, it’s about the realization that some of the best things I create come from a very, very dark place. So, this book will be a horror novel about searching for, and finding myself. This book is about my life, and what happens when I go walking in the dark.
• • •
For a window into the dark places I go, check out The Dean Machine currently available on kindle at a temporarily reduced price.
I'm back... I think it’s time to make it known that I’m writing again. In fact, I’m roughly twenty-thousand words into a new novel. Social is where I will primarily post updates and goings-on relating to my work, so make sure to keep up with my Facebook and instagram accounts:
Facebook: Dylan Lee Peters - SF Author
(this is a new account, the old one was hacked).
I’ve decided it’s best to go forward as a Speculative Fiction (SF) Author. This is because my latest project should probably be classified as horror. It’s not anything like the Everflame series… you shouldn’t let your kids read this one.
What exactly is my latest project, you ask? At this time there’s not a lot I’m ready to talk about, but I will say the subject matter is… difficult. I should be willing to reveal much more of it in the coming days—my feelings on this seem to change like the wind. I realize you all need to know, and I’m a horrible person for keeping this secret for so long. But I also need time to get all of this down and ensure I haven’t forgotten a crucial piece of information. So much depends on that… I just hope I have the time.
You really should monitor my social accounts… and wish me luck working this all out.
Recently Everflame was featured on Wiki.ezvid.com in their video:
12 Immersive Fantasies With Fascinating Lore
Check out the video!
This website aims to be a more accessible wiki by using videos, which sounds like a great idea.
My wife and I were fortunate enough to attend a pass holder preview of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, the Star Wars themed area of Disney’s Hollywood Studios that will soon be opening to the public. As a lifetime Star Wars fan I had a lot of feelings about what I saw there, what I did there, and some advice I’m giving myself for when I inevitably return.
And that right there should probably tell you a lot about my experience. I will go back. But let’s get into this.
First, just being in the park is amazing. As soon as you enter Galaxy’s Edge you feel as if you’ve completely left Hollywood Studios. It doesn’t feel like a section of Hollywood Studios the way Toy Story Land does (another recent addition to the park). It really feels like you’re in a Star Wars theme park. And the visuals are amazing. They’ve done a masterful job of creating a landscape that is so unmistakably Star Wars it was hard not to feel like a little kid again.
Chewbacca walks around, interacts with guests, and so do Stormtroopers, Kylo Ren, and other officers of the First Order. We actually watched a First Order officer ream out a teenager (a guest of the park) for slouching. There are beep-booping droids seemingly around every corner and enough parked space vehicles to make you feel like smuggling some kyber crystals.
For me, the best part of Galaxy’s Edge was being there—just seeing it. And the moment it all really hit was when we made our way to the back of the area, turned a corner, and saw the full-scale Millennium Falcon before us. Or should I say above us? It’s massive.
And it takes you right back to that magical age, when long ago, in galaxy far, far away, you tried to use the force on a pile of rocks while Yoda coached you, or pretended to have a light saber battle with Darth Vader, or imagined you were blasting TIE Fighters at the guns of the Millennium Falcon.
The visuals of the park are enough to warrant the trip. I did have a few disappointments, but my overall impression is this: If you’re a Stars Wars fan, seeing this park is something you’re absolutely going to want to do.
Now before we get down to the individual attractions, I’ll give this disclaimer for anyone planning a trip to Galaxy’s Edge. GET RESERVATIONS.
Seriously, plan ahead and get reservations where you can. Probably the most disappointing thing about Galaxy’s Edge was the distinct lack of things to do. And this is compounded by the fact that certain attractions can become reservation only if enough reservations are made. You can’t even wait in a standby line.
In fact, this was my single biggest disappointment with the pass holder preview, specifically. If this is an event to use pass holders as guinea pigs, or to reward faithful customers with a sneak preview, it was disheartening that we couldn’t even get in Oga’s Cantina because of reservations. Probably the thing I wanted to do the most, after the Millennium Falcon ride, and it wasn’t an option for us.
But let my disappointment serve as a warning to you. If this was how difficult getting into the Cantina was at a limited guest preview it will be nearly impossible once the park is open to the public. Oga’s Cantina, the Droid Depot (where you build your own droid), and Savi’s Workshop (where you make your own light saber) are all attractions you can make a reservation for. Given the popularity of Star Wars, these attractions might be reservation only for years. I’m not kidding. Try to get a fast pass for Avatar: Flight of Passage sometime. The popular attractions at Disney parks stay that way for years, not months.
So don’t get locked out like we did. GET RESERVATIONS if you’re planning a trip to Galaxy’s Edge.
With that said, we also made a choice between a building a light saber or a droid, and chose the Droid Depot. This was mostly because we wanted to see our dogs interact with a BB unit, but also because a droid costs is $100 and a light saber costs $200. Yes, that’s right parents with multiple children, save your pennies. Galaxy’s Edge is not for those light in the pocket.
Normally, I don’t really complain about the price of things, and usually feel like finding happiness with things you can afford is the way to go. But again, this speaks to the limited number of things to do at Galaxy’s Edge. If you don’t want to drop that kind of cash be aware there are not a ton of other options to fill your time. In fact—where Galaxy’s Edge is concerned—your ticket to Hollywood Studios will cover a ride on the Millennium Falcon and that’s it. Everything else is food or merchandise. Plan accordingly.
But enough with the depressing stuff. I don’t want it to sound like I’m panning Galaxy’s Edge. I’ll repeat: I plan to go back. And there was an area where you can see the beginnings of a second ride I’ve been told will open in December. I just want you to have all the info I can give for planning your trip, especially if you want to do everything.
A couple of quick hits:
Food and drink: This is another area where Galaxy’s Edge really shines. With the exception of Oga’s Cantina there were plenty of places for a snack or meal. Kat Saka’s Kettle if your interested in popcorn that is sweet, savory, and also spicy; Ronto Roasters for quick meaty fare; Docking Bay 7 for more seating and food options; and the Milk Stand if you’ve been dying to try that blue milk that’s been a Skywalker staple for years. Given that Galaxy’s Edge is not a massive park, there were good options for eating.
Gift Shops: Costumes, costumes, kids toys, and more costumes. If you want to dress up, Galaxy’s Edge is your place. Resistance, First Order, Jedi, Sith, you name it. I’m not exactly sure why the gift shops were so skewed toward dress up merchandise, but they really were. I was hoping for a large selection of tee shirts, but nope. Costumes and kid toys. You want a Chewbacca tee, sorry. You want a $5,000 Stromtrooper outfit, bingo. You want a Yoda staff, you got it. Poe Dameron’s helmet, yup.
Now let me tell you what it was like to build a droid — Droid Depot
My wife chose the droid and built it while I watched, but the experience was no less entertaining. After making your way through the line—where you are given a part menu, and where you can view a display of the parts along the wall—you enter the construction room. Droid parts cycle across the ceiling like a dry cleaner for interstellar junkers, and there is enough beeping and booping sounds to spin BB-8’s head off.
You have the choice to make an R2 unit or a BB unit. Had it been my choice, I would have been boring and made a replica of R2-D2, but my wife chose to make a purple BB unit. She paid for the droid and was given a tray detailing which parts to look for on a conveyor belt. The conveyor belt is a novel way to pick your droid’s parts. It was fun and feels very authentic to Star Wars. Unfortunately, I have another warning—especially for those with children. You pay for the droid before you pick the parts from the conveyor belt, and you’re not paying for exact parts. So if they are out of the design you had your heart set on… tough luck. They ran out of purple BB-8 heads, so the all purple BB-8 my wife wanted to make had to be a purple and black droid instead. An easy thing for an adult to get over, maybe not for a kid. So just be aware.
Once all the parts were gathered, we were ushered to an assembly table where my wife worked on our little BB. Again, a really fun way to interact with what is basically a merchandise purchase. You even get to drill the head together. And once assembly is complete, a cast member activates the little droid, gives it a test run, helps you box it up, and then you're off.
But the experience doesn’t stop there. Your droid is now alive, and our BB unit had all sorts of beeps to tell us as we passed other droids in the park, and all sorts of boops to give when the First Order came too close. Our BB-8 became a member of our party. And if you really want to flesh out your new friend, Galaxy’s Edge has personality chips you can buy for your droid and pouch carriers for you to wear your droid around the park while it reacts to the world of Galaxy’s Edge.
As much as the little boy in me wanted a light saber, the droid is a far better buy in my opinion. It remains a part of Galaxy’s Edge and the Disney Resorts, as a whole. Our BB unit went crazy when we entered the lobby of our resort at Coronado Springs. He even woke my wife up in the middle of the night because she forgot to power him down. And then when we returned home to our dogs… yeah, our BB-8 is a lot of fun.
But the greatest moment of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and the reason every Star Wars fan has to put this on their bucket list:
Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run
A huge benefit of the pass holder preview was that the line for this ride was relatively short. We only waited about 45 minutes. One of the cast members at the Coronado Springs Resort said Walt Disney World will be shutting down a section of highway the day Galaxy’s Edge opens to the public, so you can get an idea of how popular this part of the park will be. Avatar: Flight of Passage is usually a 2-3 hour wait, and this line will surely be longer, even after months of being open.
But I really think the wait will be worth it for two very distinct moments. The first is the room you enter before the cockpit of the Falcon. You’re allowed a good five minutes to hang out in the room with the chess board. Memories of the iconic scene where C-3PO tells R2-D2 to “let the Wookiee win” flood your synapses with nostalgia. You can sit at the table and snap a pic. I felt like a total nerd, but a happy nerd. I was in the Millennium Falcon with a moment to breath and take it all in.
And the next distinctive moment was walking into the cockpit. I’m pretty sure I didn’t blink for five straight minutes. You enter with a crew of six; two pilots, two gunners, and two engineers. I was an engineer. Then you buckle in and get ready for take off.
Now an unfortunate aside from all my gushing. I have to be real for a minute. Disney wants you to get in line for this ride repeatedly. There are three positions (pilot, gunner, engineer) and each position gives a little variation on the experience. Also, how you perform at those positions influences the ride. This is where things get a little muddy. I have no idea how our ride would have been different if we performed better. Also, in no way do I want to pick on anyone, but one woman in our crew didn’t perform any of her tasks. She was nervous and buried her head for most of the ride. Did this make our ride worse? Our ride seemed overly bumpy, was that her fault? I really don’t like the idea that a ride I might wait hours for can be negatively affected by someone else. Also, the tasks themselves really took away from the overall experience. I wanted to look out the cockpit window as we zoomed from location to location and take it all in, but the flashing buttons to my right side I had to press for my engineer tasks constantly pulled my attention away. If I’m being honest and evaluating this ride objectively, I wasn’t all that impressed. There are far better rides in the Disney parks, not to mention the Universal parks. Smuggler’s Run might not crack the top 10 and it will definitely be the longest wait in all of Orlando.
But… it’s the FREAKIN’ MILLENNIUM FALCON!!!
LOOK AT THESE PICS!!!
For more pics of Galaxy’s Edge check out my facebook page.
And if you’re a Star Wars fan like me, check out my novels. They’re all heavily influenced by 70s and 80s sci-fi and fantasy just like Star Wars.
Thanks for reading, and maybe I’ll see you on my next trip to Galaxy’s Edge.
– Dylan Lee Peters
At the end of this month I will be giving one lucky person three signed paperbacks for FREE.
All you have to do to enter is provide an email address. Yup, that’s it. Sign up for my free newsletter at dylanleepeters.com and you’re entered. It’s really as easy as giving me your email address.
Already signed up for my newsletter? Then you’re already entered for the giveaway.
Not only that, but once you are signed up for my newsletter you will be automatically entered to win any giveaway I do in the future, as long as you’re still subscribed when the giveaway takes place. Not a bad trade off for one email address, right?
So what are you waiting for? Free books might be in your future!
This giveaway ends July 30, 2019. Enter NOW!
I posted this over a year ago, and I thought it was a good time to give it another run. Online reviews drive business in the modern world. At times, not having reviews can be more damaging than negative reviews. People want to see that a product is at least gaining opinions. So if you’ve read one of my books, PLEASE go to either Amazon.com or Goodreads.com and review it. Pretty please. Book reviews save lives, it's proven science. AND there are really good reasons to do it.
Reasons why you should review books you've read:
1. You’re tired of the entertainment industry rehashing the same old stuff.
Are you sick of getting a new Spiderman movie every five years with all new actors and the same old origin story? Can’t believe they’re trying to turn another TV show from the 80s into a movie? Can’t help but wonder why they never seem to give a chance to new and original stories? It’s because the people in this world with power and money are not necessarily great creators. They’re not even people who have great opinions. They are just people with a lot of money, and they don’t want to invest money in something that won’t be successful. So they stick to the same old stuff that has worked in the past, because all they care about is making more money.
Your review is the only way you can let those people know you’ve found something new, original, and worthy of their investment. Seeing a review is the only way those bigwigs will give something new a chance.
2. Do you believe in the Shop Small principle?
Independent authors are the “little guy” of the novel market. We aren’t backed by big publishing houses with a ton of money to sink into advertising. We don’t have big names that will help us sell books for years and years. It’s hard for us to get readers, because it’s hard for us to get people to notice us.
The only way the little guy gets noticed is if people give us reviews. It’s the same principle as with your favorite local eatery, and your favorite local boutique shop. Independent authors have the same struggles. Reviews are our lifeblood.
3. Did you read a book that was free?
Why do you think the author is giving their book away for free? I’ll give you a hint, it’s not because we think of ourselves as a non-profit organization just trying to increase the readership of the poor or downtrodden. We are not literary Jesuses. (Is Jesuses plural for Jesus? Or is it Jesi?). We are trying to get reviews.
It’s an unspoken social contract, just like the food sample booth at a festival. “Here’s a taste. If you like it come back and buy some, and please tell your friends.” Giving a review is an incredibly easy, quick and free way to reward someone who gave you something for free.
4. Did you really like a story/character and want to see it/them continue?
Authors usually won’t keep going with something they don’t think was very successful. Let them know if you want more. Don’t be shy. I mean, don’t get weird about it like that lady in Stephen King’s Misery, but you know what I mean. This is one of the instances where someone really wants your opinion. Take advantage of it. Review the book. You might very well be the reason a series goes one book longer, or the reason a character is resurrected for another book.
So, there you go. I asked nicely (did you notice the pretty please?), and gave you four good reasons why you should take a minute to review the books you read. Who knows, your review could help make a career, or your lack of a review could help end one. You have a lot of power. Use it!
And if you have read and reviewed one of my books, thank you. I will always be sincerely grateful for the time you took to do so, and you may have improved my life and warmed my heart in ways you’ll never know. Again, THANK YOU!
Oh, and here's a fifth good reason: IT'S EASY
You really don't even have to type words. You can just click the stars and you're done. Clicking the stars can even be fun. Here, I'll even get you started:
Here's the link to my Goodreads page
You can click all sorts of stars there!
And here's my Amazon page
Again, a great place to find things to give stars to!
And remember: Every time you give a book five stars an angel gets their wings. It's proven science!
I can’t really believe it’s been over ten years since I started writing about the Everflame, the bears of gray mountain, and all the rest. I’m thankful for my love of writing as well as the much needed creative outlet it brings to my life. Yet what I look back on and feel even more thankful for—and amazed by—is the people who have supported me along the journey.
No one in this world gets to do what they love without help and support from others. It is a fact both sobering and humbling. I don’t take it for granted.
And the journey hasn’t been smooth, either. I was a fool when I first uploaded the manuscript of Everflame to Amazon. I almost literally had no idea what I was doing. I wrote a book, didn’t bother to have it edited, and said, “here you go world, tell me what you think.” They did, and if I didn’t have thick skin then, I most assuredly do now. Some of the reviews I received felt like a punch in the gut. And the thing I had to come to terms with was that I deserved those punches. I deserved the criticism. I wasn’t a good writer then, and whether or not I am now I know one thing certainly: I’m a hell of a lot better.
But you know… I wouldn’t have gotten better if it wasn’t for you. Because if it wasn’t also for the reviews and support I received that told me how much people enjoyed the story of Evercloud and the Everflame, I wouldn’t have had the motivation to continue. I wouldn’t be here over ten years later ready to give you a new tale of the Everflame.
This is your book.
You made this happen.
So sincerely, truly, thank you all. I couldn’t have done this without you.
– Dylan Lee Peters
When I was a child I had a recurring dream for years. Even today, I can remember it with such vivid clarity that I feel it clotted in my stomach like a rag drenched in old frying oil. I feel it around my neck, squeezing.
The dream was quick. Not one of those all-nighters where you travel from place to place, long into the wee hours of the night. It came like a slap in the face, or like a jump into a cold lake… and yet it seemed so benign.
I dreamed a coil of thread.
It was just a simple spiral of thread, but it filled my entire frame of vision from top to bottom, from left to right, as if I were very very close to it. It was a tattered brown-red coil of frayed fibers, and it was all I could see. At first, it wouldn’t move at all, and I would peer into the center of the coil, the dark abyssal center, my vision panning forward so it seemed to widen and gape.
Then, suddenly, once I couldn’t get any closer, the coil would spin. It spun like madness, so fast I thought if I blinked it might be gone. But the coil never went anywhere, it just spun, the end of its thread being pulled somewhere out of the picture.
Eventually, it would feel as if I were the coil, moving a million miles an hour but going nowhere. Every aspect of my being was rushing, rushing, panicked, rushing. My breaths came quick, rasping, desperate, and I felt like I was falling, falling--falling forever.
It terrified me to be motionless and yet feel like I was racing so fast I would explode in a crescendo. All I could do was fixate on the dark center of the coil as it spun like a vortex, turning faster and faster and faster, while my chest grew tighter and tighter and tighter until I thought I would die or go mad. Then everything would just--
And this is when you would say the nightmare was over; when I would wake up. You would think that. A normal person would think it was all just a strange version of the classic falling dream, where the person wakes up just before they smash against the ground. For years, when I remembered the dream, I would tell myself that was where I woke up. I would tell myself that when the coil stopped spinning, the nightmare ended. Yet as I grew older I realized that was just a lie I told myself, because that’s not really what happened when the coil stopped, when the racing panic stopped.
You see, I was still there when the coil stopped, when the thread disappeared, when all that was left was the black vortex in the center. I was still there. Still trapped. Still dreaming. And the worst part of the nightmare, the part I sometimes repressed in later memory, was the feeling that I was dreaming of death.
I dreamed the panic of knowing an end was coming and then continued to dream that end. I experienced the blackness. I felt it. I breathed in the vacuum of nothing. I existed in that non-space where nothing exists, where the simple idea of nothing is too much of anything.
I remember feeling at that moment that my heart was a shadow, and it would never be more than a shadow again. I remember settling in that dark place. I remember existing there. I remember thinking I was dead inside.
Yet… I was so wrong about that dream.
What I never realized until now, until this very moment, was the power in living through the end. To absorb all the darkness and endure is to show strength indomitable. To be surrounded by such emptiness and still be full is power. To be riddled with fear but continue to find courage is might. To take the abuse of the world and still be left standing means I am made of so much more than can ever be taken from me.
In the darkness, I am light kept alive by a heart of flame.
Thanks for reading and please check out Everflame: Mystic Wild for kindle!
– Dylan Lee Peters
The evening before the night of the earth’s demise was beautiful. I found my mother watching the sunset while sitting on the long cushioned bench on our back porch. The golden sun and the light pink sky reflected off the surface of the small pond behind our house. Ducks played with each other in the water. They seemed happy and unaware of my mother’s presence. She seemed happy and unaware of mine.
I walked out onto the porch quietly. I always walk quietly.
The air was warm, but not hot. The breeze swept my hair into my eyes and I pushed it away. I looked at my mother, and she looked old. I guess I had never really considered her age before. We had celebrated her forty-seventh birthday about a month ago. We had celebrated my sixteenth just a week before that. She wasn’t old, really. But this evening she looked—well, she looked wise.
She looked peaceful.
Once my mom noticed me, she smiled warmly and waved me over to her. I sat down on the bench next to her and stared at the purpling sky. She stared at me in the way mothers stare at their sons, the way a sculptor might stare at her work. Is it finished? Does it need a final touch?
“Arthur, you look more and more like your father every day,” she said.
“I wouldn’t know,” I said.
My mother shook her head. “Okay, go ahead, be the victim. Be the poor young boy always afflicted by the absence of the father he never knew.”
“I was just kidding,” I said without joy.
She didn’t respond right away, but sighed and joined me in staring at the vanishing sun. I could sense something weighing on her mind. I wish I had been more willing to talk to her about it.
“Your life is not going to be like this forever, Arthur,” my mother said. “The world is bigger than high school, and I know it’s hard to see that now, but it is. It will be for you. You won’t always have to worry about—”
“It’s okay, Mom.”
She looked at me with deep concern in her eyes. It hurt for a moment because I knew she was blaming herself for things I had done, things that were my fault.
“It’s not okay, Arthur,” she said. “And I don’t think you think it’s okay, either. Maybe not having a father in your life has left you without certain… resources. If it has, that’s my fault, and I want you to know I’m sorry.”
“Mom,” I said in my annoyed voice. I didn’t want to have this conversation. I didn’t want to have to think about why I was awkward, or why I was different, or why every other kid I came across sniffed that difference out like a predator, pounced on it, and exposed it for everyone else to see and abuse. And I never ever again wanted to have to talk about what happened as a result of coping with that suffering, what I did. “It’s fine,” I lied. “Just let’s leave it alone.”
And she did. She left it alone.
The sun set and we went inside for the night. I sat in my room and read a book, and I don’t know what my mom spent her night doing. Everything was quiet until I got tired and fell asleep. Everything was normal until I awoke to hear my mother shouting.
“Get up!” I heard her cry. “Arthur! Get up!”
I sprung out of bed, pulled on a pair of jeans, and ran out onto the back porch. What I saw in the night sky was both the most beautiful and terrifying thing I could imagine. It looked like a thousand clouds of multicolored light were exploding in slow motion. I noticed my mother standing against the porch railing, and she looked overwhelmed.
“What’s happening?” I asked.
My mother just shook her head with her mouth hanging wide.
The colored clouds slowly grew all across the sky, blooming like a celestial fire. Immense billows of yellow, blue, green, and pink drifted and pulsed the way sand kicked up underwater does before it settles again and the water clears. Yet this wasn’t sand in the water, and the sky gave no sign of clearing.
The colored light grew more and more intense, and now a loud rumble came from the sky. I looked at my mother and the colors reflected off of her face the way a fireworks display might. We were mesmerized, petrified, and unable to explain what was happening other than to wonder if we were somehow in a dream. Though it was beyond obvious this wasn’t a dream. My body felt more awake than I can ever remember. It was as if every vein in my body was flushed with adrenaline.
Then, as we stood on the porch in the glow of the impossible, the clouds broke open, and the fires fell to earth.
“Should we run?” I shouted above the increasing barrage of sound coming from above.
“To where?” my mother asked, though I never heard her words. I merely read her lips, as the roar of the sky falling upon us was all that could be heard.
The ground shook fast and terrible, and we fell down on the wooden slats of the porch. It was like being underneath a rocket as it prepared to blast off. The world was nothing but tremor and dissonance. I yelled for my mother and tried to reach for her, but the last thing I saw was her face disappear into the blinding white light.
And I lost her.
And then there was nothing but black.
I can’t remember what came next.
• • •
“Hey, get up,” I heard someone mutter. My head hurt and my mouth was dry. I didn’t want to respond, but the voice came again with more urgency. “C’mon get up, please. We need to get away from the Nullwood. We’re way too close, and if they see you…” I could hear the fear in the voice, a girl’s voice.
“What happened?” I asked.
“Seriously, please get up,” the girl said with mounting panic. “We need to get out of here.”
I slowly opened my eyes to a vast blue blur that was painfully bright. I shaded my eyes as they adjusted, and soon realized I was sitting under a blue sky in the middle of the day.
“We need to get away from the Nullwood,” the girl repeated.
I shook my throbbing head and swallowed hard against my dry throat. In front of me was a girl in a wheelchair who wore black-rimmed glasses. Her hair was long and light brown, pushed back with a thin white headband. She stared at me with green eyes, and her lips were pursed tight. It was obvious that she was upset I was being so slow. Her arms were tensed and ready to propel her wheelchair, her hands hovering just above the top arc of each wheel.
“Quick,” the girl said and spun the wheelchair around. “Follow me.”
She started wheeling her chair away from me, but I was disoriented. My head still hurt, and my back hurt too. As I lifted my arms to stretch I realized I wasn’t wearing a shirt. In fact, I didn’t have shoes on either. I was only wearing a baggy pair of jeans. I looked behind me, wondering where my other clothes might be, and received another shock.
Stretching out before me was a forest of gnarled black trees, so thick you could barely see into it. I stood up and staggered back from the massive growth. The trees looked dead, and the forest looked out of place in contrast to the green grass and blue sky. It was as if the trees marked a border into another world, a dark world. I took a couple more steps away from the tree line and felt a chill. Had I been in that place? Is this what the girl had been calling the Nullwood?
The girl was still wheeling herself away from me, and away from the Nullwood. I gathered myself and then ran after her.
“How long were you in there?” she asked me as I approached.
“I was in there?” I asked incredulously.
“Yeah,” she answered. “I saw you running out of the Nullwood before you collapsed onto the grass. So how long were you in there?”
“I don’t remember being in there,” I said, and suddenly felt afraid to tell the girl more. Yet I kept talking as if I had no control of my own mouth. “The last thing I remember is the sky opening.”
The girl stopped wheeling herself forward and turned to me with one thin eyebrow raised.
Immediately, I felt like an idiot who had just told a stranger about a bad dream. The sky hadn’t opened up. I realized how stupid that sounded only after it came out of my mouth.
“That can’t be the last thing you remember,” the girl said. “That happened like a month ago.”
I was shocked and speechless. Here I was, just outside a ghoulish black forest I had never seen before, sometime after an event I was ready to convince myself was a dream, and I was now being told that it wasn’t a dream, and I might have been in the woods for a month without recalling being there.
“You really don’t remember anything after the sky opened?” the girl asked after a moment of awkward silence. A bit of sympathy had entered her voice for the first time.
I simply shook my head.
The girl started wheeling herself forward again. What else could I do but follow?
“My name is Anna Leona,” she said. “If you want, I can take you to where I’m staying now. There are clothes that’ll probably fit you, plus food and water. What’s your name?”
“Arthur Kage,” I answered.
“Well, nice to meet you, Arthur who doesn’t remember anything,” she said in a brighter tone, almost as if she were amusing herself. Yet the brightness disappeared instantly as she continued. “I promise I’m not a danger to you, Arthur… but before we go any further, you should know that you can never tell anyone you came out of the Nullwood.” Anna turned to look at me again with her serious green-eyed glare, though I could see compassion behind its intensity. “Never.”
“Okay,” I said. Though I really wanted to ask why. Not saying what I wanted to say was a problem I had, as well as sometimes saying things I didn’t want to say.
We continued to move away from the Nullwood, but I turned briefly to glance back at it again. It was massive, stretching as far to the right and left horizons as I could see. It looked like something out of a Halloween nightmare. Tall barren trees, black as iron, and twisted like dead roots.
When I looked forward again, the scenery was both brighter and somehow more depressing. The grass was green and the sun shined in the clear blue sky, but life was missing. We were walking through a neighborhood, but it was a ghost town. The pavement was a ruin and every home looked like it had suffered in a terrible earthquake. A charred home on the left had half of its roof caved in. Another house on the right had walls that had fallen away, leaving it looking like a giant dollhouse. Back on my left, an abandoned car was left crashed into someone’s living room.
“What happened?” I asked, knowing full well that this is what had happened the night the sky opened.
Anna stopped and put a finger to her mouth. “Shh. Did you hear that?”
“Do you want me to be quiet, or tell you if I heard something?” I asked, even though I knew people didn’t like it when I asked questions like that.
Anna frowned at me, but then her head snapped around and she looked down the street. “Quick,” she said, now lowering her voice. “Wheel me over to that broken brown house. We need to hide inside.”
I did as she asked. I was in no position to argue.
As we reached the house, I had to lift Anna and her chair up over a jagged lip of foundation, floor, and exposed framework. I never would have described myself as strong, but Anna was light and the chair wasn’t very bulky. Once we were up onto the cracked tile floor of the house, she wheeled herself behind a large brown sofa and waved me over frantically.
“Please get down and don’t make a single sound,” she said in a whisper. “I really don’t want them to hurt you.”
I did what she said, getting down on my hands and knees. Anna stayed in her chair but slouched down so she was hidden behind the couch. There was a dusty throw blanket on the couch. She snatched it and quickly threw it over us. I held my breath, not knowing what we were hiding from, but then I heard voices out on the street.
“Dinner still two hours off,” a male voice grumbled. “I prefer six o’clock to seven. We should change it to six.”
“Doesn’t matter,” a female voice replied. “We can’t go back until the perimeter check is complete, and I’m guessing we’ve got two hours or more before we get it finished.”
The man grumbled something unintelligible, and the woman laughed.
“Did you complain this much before the Demise?” she asked.
The man didn’t answer.
Anna slowly lifted her cover just enough to peer out. I was racked with curiosity, so I parted the blanket enough to see and ducked my head just slightly around the corner of the couch. To the left, the broken wall of the house granted me an unimpeded view of the Nullwood off in the distance. Then through the open front door of the house, I could see two people walking down the street in drab clothing, both carrying long black guns at their sides.
I had so many questions I wanted to ask at that moment. Who were those people? Did Anna know them? What were they checking the perimeter for, and what were they walking the perimeter of? But most importantly, why did two innocent teenagers need to hide from them?
Then Anna sneezed.
We both ducked quickly back under the blanket. By the bit of dim light coming through the fabric, I could see Anna’s face twisted in frustration, and she was silently mouthing swears.
“Did you hear that?” the woman asked out on the street.
“Sure did,” the man answered. “Look over there. We got a couple coming out of the Nullwood.”
Anna’s eyes shot open, and she slowly peered out of the blanket again. I followed her lead and looked out the broken wall toward the Nullwood. Sure enough, there were two people coming out of the black trees, but they were far enough away that it was hard to see much detail.
“Stop where you are!” the woman yelled, as she and the man raised their guns.
They jogged out toward the people emerging from the Nullwood, and after a minute it got hard to see what was going on. I certainly couldn’t hear what anyone was saying. A moment passed as I watched, and then there was some shouting.
“Don’t watch, Arthur,” Anna whispered.
I didn’t listen to her, but I should have. Gunshots rang out, and one of the people who came out of the Nullwood fell to the ground. The other screamed. Then came more gunshots and that person fell also. I tucked myself back under the blanket and tried to calm my breathing.
They shot them. They shot the people who came out of the Nullwood.
“They’ll shoot anyone that comes out of the Nullwood,” Anna whispered as if she had heard my thoughts. Her voice was laced with shame. “We have to stay silent and under the blanket until they go away.”
There was no part of me that was ready for this. Somehow I had landed, half-naked, in a new world, and I understood none of what was happening. I couldn’t even ask the first person I met to explain it for fear that making noise might get me killed, and killed for what, I didn’t even know. All I knew was that we were lucky those people had come out of the Nullwood just as Anna had sneezed. Those people might have saved my life.
We spent a long time in silence before Anna finally moved and peered outside of the blanket. I couldn’t move with all of the thoughts racing through my mind, and waited for her to report back. More minutes passed, and then she pulled the blanket off of us. Anna sat up in her chair, and I sat on the floor with my back against the couch. I hugged my knees into my chest and stared at Anna. She must have realized I couldn’t find my voice because she started explaining.
“A lot of people died the night the sky opened,” Anna said. “Fire and rock fell down on everything. That’s why these houses are the way you see them, and it’s like this everywhere. There are not a lot of survivors. There’s no electricity. It’s like the end of the world. David has the survivors calling it the Demise.”
“David?” I asked.
“He’s the guy who sort of runs things now,” Anna said. “Most survivors live in the high school with him. I guess he used to be in the military or something. He has a lot of guns, and he’s the one who decided to kill everyone who comes out of the Nullwood.”
I just shook my head in confusion. It was too much to comprehend. I didn’t even know what I wanted to know, or what question I wanted to ask. I guess the silence got awkward because Anna kept talking.
“The Nullwood was just there the morning after the Demise. No one knows why or how it grew, but it’s massive. Scouts have traveled north and south along its border to find the end of it, and can’t. No one will go into it though.”
“So, is this still…” I was afraid to ask my question.
“This is Florida,” Anna said. “Flagler County. Is this where you’re from?”
I nodded silently, completely awestruck. I didn’t want to believe it. I didn’t want to admit this had happened to my home. It would somehow have been easier to imagine I had been transported to another world, or another place. At least then I could dream of a way to get back to where I belonged; I could dream of a way to get back to the way things used to be. But this… I couldn’t reconcile this.
“How long did you say it’s been?” I asked.
“Some of the survivors have been counting the days,” Anna answered, and then looked down. “I haven’t. It doesn’t really seem to matter anymore, but… I think it’s been maybe a month since the Demise.”
“How have I lost that much time?” Tears welled in my eyes, but then shame kept them from falling. I couldn’t cry in front of Anna.
“You really don’t remember being in the Nullwood at all?” Anna asked.
“No.” I couldn’t remember a thing. “Where are we now? I mean, what parts of Flagler County are Nullwood now?”
“The Nullwood starts about where Belle Terre Parkway used to be,” Anna said. “The scouts say the tree line sort of runs north and south. I’m guessing you lived west of Belle Terre.”
“So you’ve been in the Nullwood for a month,” Anna said, looking as pale as I felt.
I nodded again.
“You can’t tell anyone,” she added. “Ever.”
“Why?” I asked, tears threatening to return.
“They’ll kill you, Arthur,” Anna said.
“I know that.” I was getting angry now. “I saw that. But why? Why? There might be millions of people still alive in the Nullwood who need help.”
“Some bad things come out of the forest,” Anna said meekly. “People are scared. No one knows what to do.”
“Bad things?” I asked. My anger faded because Anna seemed genuinely afraid.
“Monsters,” she said, and I could see she felt foolish saying it that way. “Mynahs, we call them. They come out of the Nullwood at night, and they kill people. Sometimes they take people. David says that people who go into the Nullwood eventually turn into mynahs. So he thinks we should kill everything that comes out of the Nullwood… even if it’s people.”
Stupidly, it only now occurred to me that I had come out of the Nullwood, and Anna had not killed me. She had helped me. She had protected me.
“You don’t agree with David, do you?” I asked her.
Anna shook her head and paused before speaking. “My parents always used to say that when people don’t understand something, they get afraid, and then they get dangerous. We don’t understand what happened to us, but that doesn’t mean that our decisions should be made in fear. It doesn’t mean we should kill people just because we’re afraid.”
A tear fell down Anna’s cheek.
I wanted to hug her, but I didn’t. I wanted to thank her. I didn’t do that either.
“Why were you near the Nullwood?” I asked.
Anna brushed her cheek with the back of her hand, and then grabbed the wheels of her chair.
“We have to get to Esteban’s Bar before the sun goes down,” she said.
“You mean that old bar on the beach that always has a special on crab legs?”
“It’s where I stay now,” she said. “Come on. Let’s go.”
• • •
The sun had almost set and only dim light remained, but even in the twilight the familiar sound of the waves breaking against the shore and the smell of salt in the air would have let me know where I was. My mother and I had come to this beach hundreds of times over the years. I grew up here. So it was devastating to see the state it was in now.
Restaurants I had eaten at dozens of times were leveled. Even the road along the beach was missing massive chunks, like a hurricane had swept through and eroded the land. It felt like a foreign place when contrasted with my memories. I used to read books on the other side of the dunes. I used to draw sketches of the crabs that came out of their holes to try to scavenge a meal. I used to watch people play in the water with their dogs, or walk along in the wet sand, hand in hand. I used to hear the music coming from some of the patio restaurants and bars. I used to smell the fried fish.
It was all gone now, but Esteban’s still remained.
I had never been inside Esteban’s. I was too young to drink, and my mother didn’t like crab legs. She said it was a dive, and I think one time she used the adjective scummy. Honestly, all I remembered about Esteban’s was that everyone except for my mother raved about their crab legs. Well, that and the old wooden sign they had over the front awning that had the name of the bar painted in big white letters. It was pretty ugly, really, but at this moment it was something familiar and comfortable to hold onto in a world that had turned into a nightmare.
At the service entrance to Esteban’s, Anna knocked on the red metal door. She said the front doors were barricaded, and the only way Jim and Kay would know it was her was to knock four times on the back service entrance. Anna had been staying with Jim and Kay since the Demise.
The door swung open, and a big guy with wavy blonde hair and a decent tan stood in our way.
“We were wondering where you had gotten off to, Ann– whoa, whoa, whoa.” The big guy reached for something just inside the door, and then the spade end of a shovel was thrust right up under my chin. “Who are you?”
“He’s obviously with me, Jim,” Anna said in annoyance. “Would you put the shovel down and let us in?”
Jim looked me over with caution before slowly lowering the shovel. “Who is this guy?” he asked.
“His name is Arthur, and I found him on the beach to the south,” Anna said. “He must have fallen and hit his head because he doesn’t remember anything. He doesn’t even remember where his shirt and shoes are.”
That sounded prepared, I thought.
“That sounded prepared,” Jim said.
“Would you just let us in,” Anna griped. “It’s getting dark out here.”
Jim stepped out of the way, and Anna wheeled herself inside Esteban’s. It was odd to see Anna regard Jim with such scorn. She had been gentle and compassionate with me. Her change in attitude was unexpected. I made to follow but Jim barred my way with one of his massive arms. He turned and stood over me, and I had to look up at him. Jim must have been at least six-foot-five.
“If you try to hurt her,” he said. “I will break you in half.”
Jim dropped his massive arm after his threat and shot me a fake smile. I wanted to say something witty and condescending to him. But I didn’t think of anything, and I probably wouldn’t have said it even if I had.
I walked past Jim into Esteban’s and followed Anna as she wheeled herself down a hallway. When I caught up to her we moved through a side door into a large room. It was the bar room, and all of the tables and chairs had been pushed up against the doors and windows as barricades. The sun was setting outside, so there was a small fire in an iron bowl sitting in the center of the room. A girl sat next to the fire, and she looked up at me as Anna and I approached. She had pretty blue eyes that stood out in the dim room, and suddenly I felt very aware that I wasn’t wearing a shirt.
“We’re taking in strays now?” she asked with a crooked smile.
“His name is Arthur,” Anna said. “Arthur, this is Kay.”
“He has amnesia,” Jim said sarcastically from behind me. He appeared out of the darkness and tossed me a white shirt. “Here. I’ll get boots for you in the morning.”
“Thanks,” I said and quickly put the white tee shirt on. It was much too big for me. I assumed it was Jim’s.
Jim sat down next to Kay and crossed his legs. He was barefoot, in red shorts and a white tank top. He looked like the stereotype of a good-looking blonde guy at the beach, sitting down next to his girl to roast marshmallows on an open fire. When he casually put his hand on Kay’s thigh and she barely reacted to his touch, I realized my guess wasn’t too far off.
“You really have amnesia?” Kay asked.
“You’re lucky,” she said. “There are things I’d certainly like to forget.”
Kay’s eyes grew wistful, and Jim put an arm around her shoulders to comfort her. Though he was very tan, his arms were pale in the firelight against Kay’s brown shoulders. She looked up at him and his tough facade melted at her gaze.
I realized everyone here must have lost quite a bit recently, and then I thought of my mother. My breath caught and I couldn’t believe myself. How was this the first time I had thought about my mother since waking up? Was I that terrible of a son? Before I could shame myself into stopping, I ended up crying in front of three strangers.
Silent minutes passed as the small fire flickered before us. Outside the wind whipped off of the ocean and against the front of Esteban’s. It howled as night fell, as if in response to my sadness.
The guilt of not looking for my mother immediately stung, and was compounded because I had been so cold to her during our last night together. Why couldn’t I just have had a real conversation with her? I never told my mother anything that would have mattered to her, at least not the way she would have wanted to hear it. She wanted to know that she had done all right by me. She wanted to know I appreciated her. In our last night together on the back porch, she was giving me another chance. Now, I might have lost my chance forever. What if I couldn’t find her again? What if she was…
I wiped my eyes on the back of my hand and then realized I wasn’t the only one crying. Jim was red in the face, and wet in the eyes, but he refused to let his tears fall. Kay leaned against him sniffling, staring into the fire, her cheeks wet. Anna’s glasses were on her lap, and she was rubbing the wetness from her eyes just like me.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m worried about my mother. I don’t remember anything that happened after the sky opened. I don’t know what happened to her.”
“She was all you had?” Jim asked.
He stood up and left the light of the fire, but only briefly, returning with four rolled sleeping bags. He dropped two next to Kay, tossed one to me, and then walked over to Anna. There he held out the last rolled sleeping bag.
“Can I help?” he asked her.
“No,” Anna answered curtly. “I wish you’d stop asking me that.”
“Sorry,” Jim muttered, seeming sheepish for the first time.
He turned and walked back to Kay, and then everyone laid their sleeping bag out. It was obvious they were finished talking for the night. I was hungry and thirsty but didn’t want to talk any more. In truth, I wanted to close my eyes and be done with the day more than I wanted to eat or drink, so I followed suit and stayed silent.
I’d never prayed before, but as I lay in that sleeping bag, in a world that had almost completely been destroyed, I prayed for dreamless sleep. I prayed for a never-ending dreamless sleep so I would never have to deal with this changed world, so I would never have to think about the things I had lost, and so I would never have to figure out what came next. I prayed because, in a world that had grown so dark, I didn’t know how I would ever find a guiding light again.
Laying on my side, I stared at the flame in the center of the room. I watched as it flickered and shrank, and as I did, I slowly fell asleep.
END OF CHAPTER ONE
Everflame: Mystic Wild will be released Summer 2019. To make sure you know when follow me on social media or sign up for my newsletter.
As always, thanks for reading! – Dylan Lee Peters