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Excerpt - NIGHTMARE'S EDGE by Bryan Davis

Today's Wild Card author is:





and the book:



Nightmare’s Edge (Echoes from the Edge series)

Zondervan (May 1, 2009)

ABOUT THE BOOK:

In the final installment in the Echoes from the Edge series, the three Earths are headed towards imminent destruction, and only Nathan’s father knows the secret to saving billions of people from the celestial collision. But he is trapped in a dream world where nightmares are reality and the collapse of the cosmos is at hand.

When Kelly sacrifices herself on Nathan's behalf during a rescue mission gone bad, Nathan is faced with two formidable tasks: save Kelly, and repair the cosmic fabric before the three dimensions collide. With the fate of the universe hanging in the balance, and the murderous stalker Mictar dogging his steps, Nathan must save the three Earths … or risk everything trying.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:




Bryan Davis is the author of the Dragons in Our Midst and Oracles of Fire series, contemporary/fantasy books for young adults. The first book, Raising Dragons, was released in July of 2004, followed by The Candlestone, Circles of Seven, and Tears of a Dragon. Eye of the Oracle launched the Oracles of Fire series and hit number one on the CBA Young Adult best-seller list in January of 2007. Book number two, Enoch's Ghost, came out in July and will be followed by Last of the Nephilim in the spring of 2008.



Bryan is the author of several other works including The Image of a Father (AMG) and Spit and Polish for Husbands (AMG), and four books in the Arch Books series: The Story of Jesus’ Baptism and Temptation, The Day Jesus Died, The Story of the Empty Tomb (over 100,000 sold), and Jacob’s Dream. Bryan lives in Western Tennessee with his wife, Susie, and their children. Bryan and Susie have homeschooled their four girls and three boys.



Bryan was born in 1958 and grew up in the eastern U.S. From the time he taught himself how to read before school age, through his seminary years and beyond, he has demonstrated a passion for the written word, reading and writing in many disciplines and genres, including theology, fiction, devotionals, poetry, and humor.





Visit the author's website.



Product Details:



List Price: $12.99

Reading level: Young Adult

Paperback: 352 pages

Publisher: Zondervan (May 1, 2009)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0310715563

ISBN-13: 978-0310715566



AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Nathan ducked under a low-hanging branch and pushed a dangling python out of the way with his bandaged hand. It hissed, startling him for a moment. With its beady eyes and flicking tongue, it seemed so real, as did everything else in this dim jungle. Yet, Cerulean, the blue-haired, blue-skinned, blue-everything young man who marched ahead on the narrow path, paid no attention. After all, if this place was a realm of dreams, even the forest was imaginary, though the thick foliage of over-arching trees darkened their steps with deep shadows.



With just a slender candle in Cerulean’s grip lighting their way, how could two awake people know how to find another one of their kind in this dark land where images conjured by frightened sleepers seemed as real as their own skin and clothing?



Nathan shivered and hurried to catch up with Cerulean, Earth Blue’s supplicant from the Misty World. Still keeping his eyes focused straight ahead and the white candle out in front, Cerulean stayed quiet. Nothing seemed to phase him. Earlier, he had ignored the twelve talking chipmunks dressed in purple tuxedos. They had been funny at first, chattering about their political ambitions and the proper way to shave an elephant, but when a six-foot-tall electric razor buzzed into the forest, Nathan dove out of the way as it flew past him, chasing a three-headed elephant into the forest. Cerulean merely helped him back to his feet and pressed on.



“So,” Nathan said as they marched past an old man wrapped in golden chains floundering in a quicksand bog, “this dream world really isn’t all that dangerous once you get used to it. Why did you insist on just the two of us going? What’s the risk?”



Cerulean didn’t even blink. “Not everything is a dream. Jack is here somewhere, is he not?”



“True. But what other real things could enter this world? Even you had to get Kelly to go to sleep to create a portal. No one else knows what to do.”



“When there are no wounds in the cosmic fabric, the dream world can only be penetrated by a person’s mind or by a supplicant. With interfinity at hand, however, and many holes throughout the cross-dimensional plane, I suspect that passages abound.”



“How can you tell the difference?” Nathan asked. “I mean, if that poor guy in the quicksand was real, shouldn’t we try to rescue him?”



Cerulean smiled, finally breaking his stoic countenance. “As the elephant has taught you, dreams are as real as you allow them to be. Once you train your mind, you will see through them. Whatever is left is reality.”



As he passed by a leafy vine that hung from a branch, he gave it a shove, making it swing. “This jungle is a dream setting for all souls who feel lost. They struggle through vines, snakes, quicksand, and many other obstacles of their own making, thus illustrating their lives of desperation. Since Jack was no longer in the Earth Blue bedroom, I thought perhaps, even though he is blind, he might have found his way here.”



“Sounds reasonable,” Nathan said, “at least as dreams go.”



While following a meandering path for several minutes, they entered a suburban neighborhood, shaded by thundering storm clouds overhead. Now walking on rubberized streets, they passed a headless woman on a bicycle who was trying to find a place to insert her iPod earbuds. In front of a mansion-like house on a perfectly manicured lawn, a man in a clown costume juggled a woman, three children, and a briefcase. As if on a treadmill, he ran in place, huffing and puffing, but getting nowhere.



Nathan stared at them, knowing they couldn’t possibly be real. When they faded into ghostlike images, he shuddered. This was just too weird.



Soon, they entered the darkest place yet, a cemetery with old tombstones rising at odd angles from grave plots. Bones littered the weed-infested grounds. A large raven perched atop one of the burial markers, staring at Nathan as he passed by.



“Inscription,” it croaked. “Read. Read.”



Nathan paused and leaned closer. “You mean on the tombstone?”



“Yes! Read! Read!”



Cerulean grabbed his arm. “No. It is not wise to heed the words of the dream creatures.”



“But if they’re not real, what could it hurt?”



His bright blues eyes sparkling in the candle’s glow, Cerulean inhaled deeply. “A vision stalker is close. I fear that he has manipulated the environment, and our safety is compromised.”



“Just reading the tombstone won’t hurt.” Nathan took the candle and shuffled to the side of the grave. With the raven still leering at him, he held the flame close to the stone. The inscription, spelled out in deeply etched block letters, read, “Here lies Kelly Clark, murdered in her sleep by Nathan Shepherd. Even now she is unable to rest in peace as her killer shines a light over her bed.”



“What?” Nathan slid back. “How could it know?”



Cerulean stared at the raven. “Three possibilities. Kelly sees us in her dream, so she created the inscription even as you drew close. Yet, I think that is unlikely since she doesn’t see you as a threat to her life. Still, stranger things do happen in dreams. Second, a stalker could have manipulated this place, and he is trying to intimidate you to keep you from proceeding. Third, and perhaps the most dangerous of all, is the possibility that you are becoming part of the dreamscape. Amber spoke of this when she heard about Jack’s entry. If Patar sent Jack here to keep him alive, then he likely expected the poor man to become part of the dream world, a living phantom who wanders in people’s nightmares. He would be alive, yes, but only Patar would know how to extract him without killing him.”



Nathan pointed at himself. “Then can I leave safely? I mean, I’m not becoming part of this place yet, am I?”



Fixing his gaze on Nathan, Cerulean shook his head. “You appear solid, so one of the other two options is more likely. I suspect that a vision stalker is present.”



Nathan peered behind the tombstone, but nothing was there. “Who? Mictar?”



“He would be powerful enough.” Cerulean took a quick step and grabbed the raven by the throat. It choked out a squawk and flailed its wings under the supplicant’s grip, vainly trying to claw his arm. “Where is your master?”



“New inscription,” it croaked again. “Read!”



Cerulean shook its body. “You have a voice. Tell me who sent you.”



“Read! Read!” The raven broke free, and in a scattering of feathers, it flew into the darkness above.



As a black pinion floated to the ground, Cerulean took the candle back from Nathan. “Come. We must hurry. The longer we stay here, the greater the danger.”



“Shouldn’t we read the inscription again?”



Cerulean held the flame high and wrapped a hand around Nathan’s arm. “It is of no consequence. If the message has been written by the stalker, it is likely to be a lie. If it is a product of Kelly’s nightmarish fears, it will only work to heighten your own. And if you are becoming part of this world, deep emotions will only hasten the process.”



“Not knowing will drive me crazy.” Pulling against Cerulean’s grip, Nathan squinted at the tombstone, but it was too dark to read. “Taking a second won’t hurt.”



Cerulean held fast. “The risk is too high. Your uncharacteristic insistence demonstrates that the effect this place is having on you is escalating rapidly.”



“But I have to know.” As Nathan pulled against the strong grip, the supplicant’s blue hair grew fuzzy, looking like reeds waving under restless waters. “Let me go.”



“Nathan!”



The shout sounded like a thunderclap. Nathan spun toward it. Ahead on the path, a man stood with his fists set against his hips. Tall and lean, he appeared to be dangling a plastic bag from his fingers.



Nathan blinked. “Is it Mictar?”



“No,” Cerulean said, loosening his grip. “It is Patar.”



Patar walked three steps closer and halted. Now about five paces away, his face bent into a deep scowl. “You should not have come here. It is far too dangerous.”



Nathan glanced between Patar and the tombstone. He pointed at the inscription. “I need to know what is says. Kelly might be communicating with me.”



“As you can see, Cerulean …” Patar’s voice grew distant, warped, like he spoke from the midst of a cave. “He is already being absorbed.” The stalker’s slender form now seemed foggy, distorted, more like a dream than reality.



Cerulean nodded. “I can see that now. He is showing signs of fading.”



“I’m fading?” Nathan pointed at Cerulean, then at Patar. “You two are the ghostly looking ones.”



“It’s only going to get worse,” Patar said. “His mental defenses are withering, and Kelly’s nightmare is reaching a climax.”



A sudden gust of wind blew back a blanket of clouds. A full moon, at least five times its usual size, hovered in a purple sky. Its glow illuminated the cemetery, allowing a clearer view of the dozens of gravesites.



“Shall I take him out immediately,” Cerulean asked, “or should I find Jack first?”



A low rumble sounded at Nathan’s side. At the gravesite where the raven once perched, a hand pushed out of the earth, then a second hand and a head. Finally, an entire body, short and feminine, climbed up and shook dirt from her shoulder-length hair. She looked straight ahead and called, “Nathan? Are you here?”



“Kelly?” Nathan stared at her. “It really is you!”



Wearing a knee-length nightshirt, she brushed off the soil, revealing letters on the front, “Sanity is Overrated.” Then, extending her arms, she staggered toward him, feeling for obstacles in her way. “Nathan? Where are you? I hear your voice.”



As she drew closer, he stiffened. Kelly had no eyes, only vacant sockets. Could she be the Earth Blue Kelly, somehow resurrected? Or was she Kelly Red, a recent victim of Mictar’s cruel electrified hand? Yet, wasn’t she just part of a dream? She looked real enough.



Kelly stopped and touched Nathan’s cheeks with her cold fingers. “There you are. Why didn’t you answer me?” She shivered and rubbed her arms. “I’m cold and scared. Will you get me out of this dark place? I can’t see a thing.”



Nathan reached for her hand but then jerked back. “You’re just a mirage. I can’t take you anywhere.”



“You are correct.” Cerulean lifted his candle higher. “Stay in the light, Nathan. Do not be deceived.”



“This is no time for joking around,” Kelly said. Bouncing on the toes of her sock-covered feet, she shook harder. “You can’t leave me in this horrible place. It’s so cold, so terribly cold. Please take me home.” She reached out and groped for him. With missing eyes and dirty face, she seemed like a pitiful waif as her voice broke into a lament. “Nathan … please … I’m scared.”



“I’ll get you out. Just hang on.”



Her chilled fingers wrapped around his bandaged hand. She was solid, real, not a hint of fading.



“Oh, thank you.” She leaned her head against his shoulder. “I told you never to leave me, not even for a minute. I felt so alone. So scared. I have no idea how all that dirt got on me. It was like I was buried in a grave.”



For a moment, dizziness flooded Nathan’s mind, but he shook it off. “Just stay with me. Cerulean will get us out of here.”



“Nathan!” Cerulean warned again. “If you continue—”



“Let him go for a moment.” His voice fading even further, Patar poured out the contents of his bag into Cerulean’s hand. “When I wrestled with my brother, I recovered Jack’s eyes from his energy reserves. You will find him approximately one hundred paces ahead. Restore these and get him and Nathan out of here with all speed.”



Nathan squinted at Cerulean’s transparent palm. Two eyeballs, perfectly formed, with nerves and moist tissue attached, lay there. Nathan nearly gagged, but he stayed quiet.



“Because Nathan broke the portal mirror,” Patar continued, “you will not be able to travel to my world to play the violin at Sarah’s Womb, at least not right now. You can, however, travel to Earth Yellow to gather other options.”



“Yes,” Cerulean replied. “Nathan’s mother is playing ‘Foundation’s Key’ as we speak to see which mirror is the correct portal. While we were waiting, we decided to try to find Jack, since he entered the dream world from Earth Blue. I was unsure of how the dreamscape would affect Nathan, so this was a test.”



“And he failed, as usual. His desire for revenge against my brother outweighed his wisdom. He had the power to escape with the mirror intact.”



“Nathan,” Kelly said, her fingers growing warmer within his hand. “Don’t let him talk about you like that. You did the best you could. You were under a lot of pressure.”



“You’re right. I don’t know why they’re saying those things.”



“Then don’t listen. We’ll find our own way out.”



“Go now,” Patar said, “before that rotting cadaver becomes more real to him than life itself. He will soon bond with it beyond all hope of reason.” With that, Patar faded out of sight.



Cerulean put the eyeballs back into the bag and stuffed the open edges into his waistband. Then, lifting the candle, he pulled Nathan’s arm. “Jack’s up ahead. Let’s get him and flee this place.”



Leading Kelly by the hand, Nathan went along with the pull, following Cerulean, now a blue ghost in his sight. “Did you hear that, Kelly? We can follow him. We’ll be out of here soon.”



“Thank you, Nathan.” She staggered along, her empty sockets still wide. “I knew you wouldn’t leave me here.”



With the moon shining brightly, the going was easier. It took only a few seconds to find Jack sitting on the ground, leaning against a tombstone. Although Cerulean was now as transparent as thinning fog, Jack seemed solid enough.



Running his fingers through his thick beard, Jack looked around with his empty eyes. “Who is here?” he asked.



“He is losing his grip on reality as well,” Cerulean said as he crouched next to the tombstone. “I will have to work quickly.”



“He looks fine. He’s not fading at all.” Nathan turned to Kelly. He almost said, “Right, Kelly?” forgetting for a moment that she couldn’t see anything. Still, even without her lovely brown eyes, she looked—



“Take this.” Cerulean handed Nathan the candle. “Watch me through the flame.”



“Oh. Okay.” Feeling dizzy again, Nathan held the flame close to his nose and peered around both sides. Cerulean pulled the eyeballs from the bag. Then, singing unintelligible words at a high pitch, he laid his palm over Jack’s empty sockets and pushed the eyeballs into place. Keeping his hand there for a moment, he continued singing while blue light seeped around the edges.



With every second, Cerulean grew more solid while Jack stayed the same. Nathan looked back at Kelly. Her face seemed fuzzier, distant. Still holding his bandaged hand, she angled her head as if listening.



“What’s happening?” she asked.



“Everything’s okay.” As he spoke, her features clarified again. “Cerulean is repairing Jack’s eyes. We’ll leave in a minute.”



Nathan turned back to Cerulean, lowering the candle to see him better. Now ghostly blue again, he helped Jack to his feet.



“Can you see?” Cerulean asked.



“Very well, thank you.” Jack pulled a rumpled fedora from beneath his jacket and straightened it out. “I can see everything well, except for you.” He put on his hat and turned toward Nathan, his restored eyes glistening. “Nathan! I’m so glad to see you.”



“Same here.” Nathan gave the candle back to Cerulean and shook Jack’s hand with his relatively uninjured left. “Now let’s all get out of this place. I have to figure out what happened to Kelly and get some eyes for her, too.”



“Nathan.” Cerulean pushed the candle closer. “You and Jack will come with me. You must leave Kelly behind.”



“What?” Nathan shook his head hard. “I can’t leave her here.”



Kelly’s arm locked around his. “No, Nathan! No!”



Cerulean pulled Jack and Nathan together and held the candle’s flame near their eyes. His voice mellowed to a soothing chant. “Stare at the flame. It is the light of reality. The images around you are mere phantoms. Bring what is real back into focus, or you will not return to the ones you love. Nathan, think of your mother. She waits for you in the Earth Blue bedroom. You must go back and search for your father. The real Kelly is there as well. We must awaken her from this nightmare, so the two of you can go to Earth Yellow and save two world populations from annihilation.”



The flame’s glow spread over Cerulean’s face, making his features clearer by the second. He compressed Nathan’s chin with his hand, forcing him to keep his stare locked on the flame. “You must let her go, Nathan. She is not real. Night is over, and dawn is breaking.”



“No, Nathan!” Her voice spiked into a wail. “You promised to stay with me. This place is cold and dark, and I’m scared.”



Ever so gently, Cerulean pulled on Nathan’s chin, drawing him forward, his voice now hypnotizing. “Release her, son of Solomon. All will be well. You will see the real Kelly in mere moments. We will awaken her, and she will escape this torture.”



Heaving and exhaling shallow breaths, Nathan pried Kelly’s fingers loose and pulled away.



“Nathan!” she cried. “What are you doing?”



He turned. Kelly, now ghostly and floating backwards, pressed her hands against her cheeks. “I’ll be alone again. All alone in this cold, dark place.”



“I … I can’t leave her. She’s—”



Cerulean twisted him back. His voice sharpened again. “She’s … not … real!”



His mind now swimming, he repeated the words in a breathy whisper. “She’s not real.”



Cerulean blew out the candle. As the light faded, Kelly’s voice faded with it. “I’m so cold … so cold.”



Seconds later, light flooded Nathan’s vision. He blinked, trying to focus. Cerulean stood in front of him, Jack at his side and the Earth Blue bedroom all around. His mother stood behind them, her violin in playing position, while Amber, the Earth Yellow supplicant, held a square mirror in front of her. On the floor, Kelly lay on a mattress, shivering.



“So cold,” she cried out. “So cold.”



Nathan dropped to his knees. He grabbed her arm and gave her a hefty shake. “Kelly! Wake up! It’s just a bad dream.”



Her eyes shot wide open, glassy and wild. “Nathan! Don’t leave me!”



“I’m here!” He scooped her up and cradled her. “I won’t leave you. I promise.”



She wrapped both arms around his. “But you did leave me! I begged you not to, but you left anyway!”



Cerulean crouched on Kelly’s opposite side. “Invaded nightmares are the most vivid of all, and now you understand the danger. When we go to Earth Yellow, it will likely be worse. The veil between nightmares and reality is thinner there, and Mictar will be watching for you.”





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