Below is a sample chapter from the new book in the Rescue Alaska Series – Finding Shelter.
I have nightmares. Sometimes they are real.
The storm raged outside the isolated cabin, whistling and humming through small fractures in the old timber walls, which I assumed had once stood sturdy, but over the years had aged and decayed, allowing wisps of air to leak through. Small windows were framed on three of the walls. It appeared as if at one point they might have featured panes of glass, although now they were boarded with thick sheets of plywood, preventing even a small amount of light from seeping through. I looked around the room and tried to figure out where I was, but nothing seemed familiar. A splintered table surrounded by four rickety chairs had been placed in the center of the room. If I had to guess, that was the area most used by the inhabitants of the small cabin. There were several tables and a few old lawn chairs set around the room, but there didn’t seem to be any electricity. I narrowed my gaze as I tried to take in the entirety of the scene, but the crackling fire and a smattering of oil lanterns that were strategically placed on scarred tables provided the only light in the small dingy room.
I felt a chill run up my spine as I slowly explored the room with my eyes. I knew there must be an opening somewhere, but so far, I couldn’t see a way in or a way out. This was a dream. This had to be a dream. Yet, I felt fully present.
I tried to take a step forward in an attempt to find a door, but my legs felt heavy. Based on the energy exerted for a single step, it felt as if they weighed a hundred pounds apiece. God, I hated dreams where I wanted to move or knew that I needed to run but could barely manage to walk.
Pushing through the anxiety that came with an inability to respond to my natural fight or flight instinct, I slowly looked around the room once again. I knew that I was here for a reason; now, I just needed to have the presence of mind to figure out what that reason might be.
Nothing stood out as being really important. There was an old woman working near what looked to be a small kitchen area. I was sure I’d never met her, and she didn’t seem to be in any sort of distress. I watched as she moved from one chore to the next, but nothing stood out as needing my attention or intervention.
I didn’t see anyone else in the old wooden cabin, but I supposed someone might be sitting out of my line of sight. Closing my eyes, I tried to enhance my other senses. I could smell the sap burning off the logs in the fire. I could sense the old log walls rattling and shaking with each gust of wind yet the sound they might make as they moved about was unavailable to me for some reason. I could feel the cold seep in through fissures in the wood. I opened my eyes as I realized that if I could get close enough to the cracks in the log walls, I might be able to peek outside and figure out where this cabin stood.
Once again, I tried to move forward, but as had been my previous experience, with each step I tried to take, the heavier my legs became. It was almost as if my legs were not my own.
Perhaps moving toward the wall wasn’t that important. My instincts told me it was night, and, therefore, there wouldn’t be anything to see even if I should eventually reach my destination. I paused as I tried to decide what to do. The old stone fireplace, which was located on the wall furthest from the door, appeared to hiss and snap as burning logs chased the worst of the chill from the room. Its warmth was welcoming, so I turned slightly and headed in that direction. This time, my legs cooperated.
As I neared the fireplace, I watched the old woman, gnarled and bent with age, dish whatever was heating in the pot on the old woodstove into a bowl with a cracked rim. She set the lid back on the pot before grabbing a spoon from the sink and disappearing down a dark narrow hallway. I hesitated as I focused on the hallway. I wanted to follow but was having a hard time getting started. Eventually, my legs cooperated. As I headed down the shadowy abyss, I had to wonder again about the context of the dream. The hallway I traveled was unlike any I’d ever experienced. This hallway was not only dark, but it seemed endless as well. As I ventured further into the void, the darkness seemed to repel the warmth and light from the outer room.
I stopped walking as I saw the child. I stepped forward and peered around the old woman whose movements I’d been following. I watched as the old woman walked into what appeared to be a bedroom. A young girl, who looked to be around twelve, was sobbing uncontrollably as the old woman approached. I was sure I’d never seen the child before, and I certainly had no idea why she was locked in the room at the end of the void, but while I didn’t know her name, I immediately recognized the terror in her eyes.
I could see her mouth moving, but I couldn’t hear her words. Her blond hair was stuck to wet cheeks stained with tears. If I had to guess, she was sobbing to be set free.
I waited to see what the old woman would do, but she didn’t respond. She didn’t make eye contact with the girl or offer comfort or sympathy of any kind. She simply set the bowl she’d brought on the table next to the old iron bed, turned, and walked back into the void.
I didn’t follow immediately. I took a minute to watch as the girl shoved the food aside, curled up into a ball, and cried even harder. Sensing the girl’s fear, I tried to reach out to her, but when I attempted to speak, I found that I had no voice.
I hated these sorts of dreams. I hated the feeling of helplessness that came from knowing someone was in trouble and wanting to help but being helpless to do so. I tried to reach out to the young girl, willing her to know I was there, but she simply lay on the filthy mattress, with the covers pulled over her head as she tried to hide from her pain.
Once again, I tried to step toward the child, but as I struggled to move forward, I felt myself being pulled back. Back to my small cabin in the woods. Back to the reality in which I lived during my waking hours. Back to the comfort and security that I knew the child in my dream might never again enjoy.
My heart continued to pound as I slowly opened my eyes. The room was dark but familiar. I was lying in my bed. Like in my dream, a storm raged outside, causing the walls of my rustic cabin to rattle as the wind whistled through windows in need of sealing. Sensing my restlessness, my golden retriever, Honey, had worked her way up from the bottom of the bed where she usually slept and laid her head on my chest. I ran my hands through her thick winter coat as my therapy cat, Moose, snuggled in beside me. Unfortunately, vivid dreams were a regular part of my life as of late, and the routine of waking in the middle of one to a pounding heart and cold sweats was an event the animals were becoming used to.
“It’s okay,” I said aloud as my wolf hybrid, Denali, moved to the bedroom door and began growling deep in his throat. Denali was my protector, and I suspected that although he couldn’t sense any real danger, he could sense my distress and duress, which disturbed him. “It was only a dream.”
Only a dream.
I rolled the concept around in my mind as my search-and-rescue dog, Yukon, jumped up onto the bed and settled into the spot at the foot of the bed Honey had deserted when she’d crawled up to my side. Had it only been a dream? There’d been a time when the reality I experienced during sleep and the reality I experienced during wakefulness were clearly discernable. But lately, it seemed that the border between my dreams and visions had muddied, leaving me feeling unsettled with every nightmare that invaded my subconscious mind.
Perhaps what I’d just experienced was a sleeping vision. I’d had them before, and each time I had such a vision, my inner voice had been trying to share something important with me. Something I really needed to pay attention to. When I’d first been “gifted” with the ability to sense and actually “see” those I was meant to rescue, my experience had been contained to that specific circumstance. An individual would become lost or injured, and the search-and-rescue team I volunteered for would be called in. I’d focus on the victim, and if I was able to make a connection, more often than not, I was able to help the rest of the team find the person they’d set out to find.
In the beginning, I’d considered my ability to be a gift.
But now? Now that my ability to see the thoughts and movements of others had begun to expand and mutate, I was becoming more and more convinced that my gift was actually a curse.
“Maybe we should just get up,” I said to the animals, who were never able to really settle back down after one of my abrupt awakenings.
Yukon jumped down off the bed where he joined my three-legged dog, Lucky, on the floor. I gave Moose a tiny shove so I could work my way toward the edge of the bed, which caused him to jump down onto the floor as well. Denali had already moved into the main room of my small cabin, which caused my husky mix, Shia, to follow him. Grabbing a heavy robe, I slid my feet into knee-high slippers and made my way out of the bedroom and into the main room. Tossing a log on the fire, which had burned down to embers as we slept, I opened the door of the enclosed porch and called my retired sled dogs, Kodi and Juno, inside. I’d tried to train Kodi and Juno to sleep inside the house, but since they’d been brought up as outdoor dogs, they really didn’t like spending a lot of time inside next to the heat of the fire. I worried about them as they aged, so I’d moved them from the barn to the porch this winter.
Once the log I’d tossed into the fireplace caught and began to heat the room, I turned my attention to making coffee. As I worked, I thought about the old woman in the cabin and the child, who seemed to be a captive. I wondered once again if the scene I’d experienced had simply been a dream or if it had been something more. If it had been a vision and not a dream, then whose mind had I been connected with?
In the dream or vision, I’d watched the old woman bring food to the girl in the bedroom, but I hadn’t been connected with her thoughts or intentions. Likewise, while I’d been able to see the girl in what I was sure was a locked room, I hadn’t felt overly connected with her. I’d been able to observe her behavior but not know her thoughts or experience her emotions first hand.
Maybe my gift was growing and evolving once again. That seemed to be the pattern as of late. At first, all I could do was watch the rescue victims who I was meant to help. Then as time passed, I’d developed the ability to actually read their thoughts and feel their pain, although that connection had initially been a one-way connection where I could sense them, yet they couldn’t sense my presence in their mind. Eventually, my ability to connect psychically rather than just observing the situation had led to my ability to intentionally and deliberately communicate with others at times.
Of course, the evolution of my gift hadn’t stopped progressing there. As time passed, my visions began to leak into my dreams, and many dreams that I experienced became so real that I often awoke crying and shaking.
I supposed as bad as that was, the worst evolution of my gift was the evolution that allowed me to connect, not just with the mind of helpless victims in need of rescuing, but with the minds of vicious killers as well. It was that ability, I was sure, that was causing me to slowly go insane. I suspected it was that ability that had led to the sleepless nights and unending headaches as well.
Once the coffee finished brewing, I settled onto the sofa with a tall mug and wrapped a warm blanket around my shivering body. Honey jumped up onto the sofa and laid her head in my lap. The other dogs settled on rugs in front of the fire. Apparently, this mid-sleep wakefulness had occurred so often over the past few weeks that they recognized the routine. Even Denali, who would usually have remained on high alert had I been startled from sleep before the first rays of light, had happily curled up and gone back to sleep. I had no idea where Moose had wandered off to, but he’d probably gone back to bed. He’d come to me at a time when I’d most needed his ability to center and calm my emotions, but now that the visions and dreams had begun to come so often, I suspected that I was wearing him out.
As I sipped my coffee, I tried to decide if there was something I should do about the dream. If it had just been a dream, then it seemed that now that it had passed, no further action was required, but if the dream had really been a vision…
Of course, even if it had been a vision, I hadn’t picked up enough information to help the girl. I knew that she seemed to have been held captive. I knew that she was frightened, but I didn’t sense that she’d been injured. I knew that she was being held in a small rustic cabin, although I had no idea where that cabin might be located. In my dream, a storm had been raging outside the cabin, and a storm raged outside the cabin I sat in now, so assuming that the cabin in my dream was an actual place and not a figment of my imagination, perhaps the cabin in my dream was nearby. I tried to hone in on the face of the old woman, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t bring her features into focus.
I wanted to help, but I really didn’t know how to do that. I supposed I could call my good friend, Police Chief Hank Houston. Houston knew about my ability, and if he had an open missing persons case relating to a young girl with blond hair and huge brown eyes, maybe what I’d seen could help him. Making the decision to call him once he’d arrived at his office, I uncurled myself from the sofa and headed into the kitchen for a second mug of coffee. As I wandered back into the main room, I noticed the light on my answering machine flashing. While most folks in this day and age had replaced their old machine with voicemail connected to their cell phone account, cell service where I lived was spotty at best during a storm, so I had both.
I pushed the button. “You’ve reached Harmony Carson; please leave a message.” I waited for the message to play. “Hey, Harm, it’s Harley.” Harley Medford was an actor and the benefactor of the Rescue Animal Shelter. Until he came along and donated both the building to house the facility and the cash to run it, Rescue hadn’t had a shelter, which is most likely how I’d ended up with so many animals. “I’m not sure if you remember, but I have a movie starting this month, so I’ll be out of town for eight to ten weeks. We discussed the fact that you’ll need to spend additional time at the shelter during my absence. I hope that’s still okay. Call me anytime on my cell phone. If I can’t answer, I’ll call you back when I can. Love you.”
As the message ended, I thought about my absolutely gorgeous, kind, and generous friend. There was a time when I was sure he was the man of my dreams, but since Harley had moved back to Rescue and I’d begun spending a lot of time with him, I realized we really were better off as friends. Close friends. Best friends. But friends all the same.
It was much too early to call Harley back, so I grabbed my cell phone, which actually had bars for once, and texted him to let him know that I’d gotten his message and would handle everything while he was away. Between my job at Neverland, the bar and grill my brother-in-law, Jake Cartwright, owned, and my time at the shelter, which was the enterprise nearest and dearest to my heart, I was going to be a busy woman. I just hoped the dream that had interrupted my sleep early this morning would resolve itself before I went completely insane.
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