Awakening: Part 2 of the Hinterlands SeriesCharlotte Grey / Romance & Love
Part 2 of the Hinterlands Series
by Charlotte Grey
Copyright © 2015 Charlotte Grey
All rights reserved.
Cover photo by konradbak of Canstockphoto
Cover design by Charlotte Grey and MJE
All rights reserved. This book may not be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form. The author acknowledges the trademark status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work.
You couldn't mourn your own death. The idea was preposterous. In death, you were supposed to be able to watch your friends and family and know that they were all right. You were supposed to watch them move on and find peace with your passing. You were supposed to look forward to the day you got to see them again.
Bottom line? You were supposed to be happy.
Shannon had spent a week in this dreary, dead little world. Surely she was buried by now, and her family was trying to move on. A week of death. A week of pine needle tea, colorless, windy nights, and English lessons with a little boy who was far more confused about their situation than she was.
Sato was a fast learner, and within a few days he could name almost every object in Ben's living room. She had no idea how to explain grammar to the boy, so most of their communication involved charades, pointing, and flash cards. Shannon hoped he was young enough to pick up English naturally, but then again, second-language acquisition was probably different for dead people.
That was another thing. How on earth could she find a way to explain death to a five-year-old who didn't speak her language?
During their English lesson that morning, he motioned for food as usual, pretending his left hand was a bowl and bringing his right hand to his mouth.
“You're dead, bub,” Shannon said for the umpteenth time. “Dead as a doornail.”
Ben opened the front door and walked in with a fresh bucket of water. “Did I just hear you tell a small boy he's dead as a doornail?”
“What? It's not like he can understand me yet. And I have no idea how to explain any of this to him. Could you imagine if you hadn't been able to communicate with me? I'd probably still think I was dreaming.”
“Still, isn't there a less morbid way of doing this?”
She shrugged. “He thinks he's hungry. Did I mention I'm not great with kids?”
“You were great the night you rescued him,” Ben smiled.
She blushed. “I don't know. That was just some kind of weird instinct kicking in. Save the kid because he's a kid.”
Taking care of a dead kid wasn't exactly difficult. In fact, he almost always refused to go outside, even when Ben and Shannon tried to show him around the town. They managed to lure him out once with the prospect of swimming, but when he saw the ghastly townspeople, he hightailed it back to Ben's home.
“Did you and your wife have kids?”
Ben frowned. “Perhaps with a few more years, she'd have been able to conceive. As it stands, it's for the best. The life of a widow is difficult enough without children. I do hope she remarried.”
“I'm sure she found somebody.”
“Phthisis didn't run in her family as far as we knew. I can only hope she lived a long and happy life.”
“Well, that's good, right?” Shannon didn't have the heart to tell him tuberculosis was incredibly contagious and couldn't be inherited.
“At any rate, that's long in the past,” Ben clapped his hands together. “What have you and Sato been working on?”
She pointed to the flash cards that she'd made out of yellowed paper. They weren't fancy, but they worked. Shannon had drawn a letter of the alphabet on one side, and a picture of an object that started with that letter on the other.
“These are quite good,” said Ben.
She shrugged. “Nah, they're just quick drawings. “Let's face it; I don't know anything about teaching. I just... I don't know how else to figure out a way to communicate with him. I can't expect a five-year-old to teach me Japanese.”
Sato kicked his feet impatiently and mumbled something in his native language.
He nodded. Sato may not have understood the meaning of the phrase, but he was a smart kid, and he knew that it roughly translated to 'we're done, and you can play now.'
Shannon handed him a piece of paper and a box of colored pencils. Standing up, she stretched her arms toward the ceiling.
“Long day?” Ben asked.
“They all are.”
She brushed the dust from her new white dress and took a seat at Ben's table. She missed her favorite jeans, but so far she hadn't managed to find any women's pants, and the old-fashioned men's trousers hugged her hips uncomfortably. This light, airy garment was the best option she'd found, and it allowed her to move as she pleased.
“I'm guessing you didn't have any luck getting that girl to snap out of it,” she said.
“I had to give up before nightfall, but I led her home on the off-chance she happens to awaken tonight,” Ben answered hopefully. “I'm not expecting anything, of course. We've only been at this a week. We'll be here quite a bit longer than that.”
“Look, about the whole being stuck here thing. I was thinking maybe we could do something major to bring some life back into these people. Figuratively speaking, of course.”
“I'm thinking we should just... leave them outside at night for a couple minutes.”
Shannon had wanted to tell him her idea for days, but she knew she'd receive backlash. Maybe now he was frustrated enough with their lack of results that he'd be willing to try it.
“What if something happens?” Ben asked apprehensively. “You wouldn't be gambling with their lives, but their souls. When we die, we at least have this place... whatever it is. If their souls are taken away, what's left?”
“I know it's not fool-proof,” Shannon said. “But what's the alternative? They sit here and rot for the rest of eternity? For all we know, they're going through hell in their minds. Or what if they're trapped in their bodies and they can see exactly what's going on?”
“In that case, we need to rethink this entire operation. Alma knows my deepest secrets.”
“In all seriousness, I think you're mad.”
“What we're doing isn't working.”
“We have eons! You've been here a week!”
“And? You think these people want to wait eons for us to figure this out? I thought you were done sitting around!”
“I am done,” his voice was eerily calm. “But this just sounds wrong. If you attempt to carry out this experiment, I'll –”
A knock sounded at the door, and Shannon jumped to her feet. Was this a person? A real person? Had a week of tripping up their routines, of pushing and shoving and screaming in their faces finally paid off?
Shannon swung open the door. “Hi! You must be really confused. I'm –”
“Nope. Not confused.”
The tall man shouldered his way past her, not even bothering to make eye contact. His eyes, golden brown, glanced around the room, highlighted by thick brows that furrowed into a bored expression. He adjusted his suit collar and straightened his white rose boutonniere.
He looked nothing like the townspeople. Most of them had a gray tint to their skin, and their clothes were muted and dull. But this man was vibrant and alive, and his suit was modern and tailored perfectly to his slender but muscular frame.
“Who are you?” Ben demanded, instinctively shielding Sato from the intruder.
The newcomer sifted his fingers through the basket of pine needles. “I'm asking the questions. Not you. Is that clear?”
His voice was deep, and the Irish accent rolled off his tongue.
Ben braced himself. “This is my house. I demand an explanation.”
“Oh, you demand an explanation?” he picked up one of Ben's journals and began thumbing through it.
Ben tried to snatch it away, but the man dodged him and pushed him back powerfully with an open hand, barely looking up from the page. As Ben stumbled backward, Shannon caught him by the shoulders and helped him steady himself.
“Stop!” Shannon ordered. “Who the hell do you think you are?”
He set the journal back down. “Stop meddling in my world.”
“Your world?” Ben asked.
“Yes,” the man said. “You're in one tiny part of it, and you're not getting out any time soon. Got it? I was nice enough, after all this time, to drop Shannon in here so you'd have some companionship. But it seems that's not enough. Suddenly you have goals. You want to wake people up. That's not how this town operates. So stop. I'm not big on asking nicely.”
“No,” Shannon gulped.
“No?” the man echoed. “What, you can't accept this, Shannon? Do you need to consult Dr. Terrance? How do you even know you're dead? Maybe you've just finally... snapped.”
That was impossible. She was doing great. As long as she kept her mind off of the living, everything was fine. She just couldn't think about Mom, Dad, Bridget, or anyone else.
“Stop trying to mess with me,” her voice quivered, betraying her.
He touched the boutonniere and reached his hand toward the fireplace. The