I can’t even remember the first time I learned about death. Because of my limited memory back then, I don’t recall it. It must have been a shock for me. And still, how sad and how scary it is that in every moment of my life, which I can think on, I’ve always been aware of death.
The fact is people don’t handle death well; it is absurd to suggest otherwise. Some people say that because it exists it must also be accepted … but it really can’t be. It is too terrible a thing to simply be accepted. A society based on death has no hope. Even I, who believe there’s a chance for life after death, despise death. The pain and the loss, the fear over how it’s going to end can taint even the happiest of times … of memories.
Of course, some people deal with it in a particularly deranged way. They think that if they can cause premature death to happen to other people that that infliction of death will give them a sense of power over it. It’s an illusion, but it makes them feel better. It restores in them the sense of self-determination that death stripped away from them long ago. Unfortunately, it does this with disastrous consequences.
Such as it was for a small colony known as 52, for it was a time in its history when the already dead seemed like the lucky ones. For my uncle Leader Monrage decided one night to unleash on the unsuspecting population of Colony 52 deadly creatures known as the nebula reapers. Had he realized the extent of the horror he would inflict? With a man like Leader Monrage, it’s impossible for me to know for sure all of what he was trying to achieve — but it was indeed horror that he caused.
It was a particularly dark night. The sky was overcast, and the only objects that consistently illuminated the streets were the scant lights, which cut through the darkness. Fewer lights were needed in the city thankfully, as the buildings within its limits were built so closely together and the streets made narrow. People tried not to think about the reason there wasn’t enough power to illuminate a greater area. Still, it helped how dependably the lights came on every night.
Nora Montgomery was doing her homework by the window. Air conditioning was expensive, so she left the window open. Nora’s apartment was on the tenth floor. It wasn’t unusual for the occasional cargo ship or air taxi to fly by at that height.
Given that the streets were so narrow, people traveled at different altitudes to keep traffic moving. Of course, after 23:00 most vehicles weren’t allowed in the residential zones. Right then, it was 22:35. Of course, while the noise reduction would allow Nora to sleep later on it wasn’t going to help her get her homework done. Even so, sometimes just watching the vehicles as they passed by was a nice distraction.
It was not so helpful when the wind picked up. Nora assumed it was an approaching storm. Nora believed it was a storm because the wind was preceded slightly by a deep rumbling noise. Usually the atmospheric regulator managed to allow for the rain to come without any disruptions such as storms, but occasionally they popped up anyway. Nora groaned. Even though the wind was subtle at first, it did jostle some of Nora’s loose papers around. But then, suddenly, there was an odd, low, moaning sound, and all of her papers began to stir.
“Shoot!” Nora exclaimed.
She rushed to the nearby window and shut it tightly. Then, a sound, which Nora had never heard before, came from a small device on her desk. She turned toward her desk with a curious expression. For a moment, Nora just stared at the device. The meaning of the noise didn’t register. She knew the device had a purpose, but … something at that moment drew her attention back to the window. Nora’s eyes lighted upon a movement toward her left. There she saw an air taxi making its way slowly down the street.
Behind the taxi something was quickly approaching. It seemed a crash was inevitable. Nora at first thought to scream, but seconds later she lost her breath entirely. The taxi was by then in the process of being engulfed by a semi-transparent, milky-white form. The creature appeared to be sliding through the taxi. The driver ejected just in time to avoid the form; she continued to hover mostly upward but slightly forward with a jet pack. Suddenly, though, the creature lurched straight up and consumed the woman. Nora gasped and stumbled backward. She fell against her desk as she viewed the woman struggling inside the middle of the form. Then, the form became opaque.
After that horrid occurrence, the lights went out. Nora reached for a flashlight she had stored in her desk. She was afraid to turn it on, afraid of what she would see. She could hear the sound of dogs barking in the street. People’s voices began to clamor there as well. It had to be a stunt of some kind; she couldn’t have just seen what she thought she saw.
No one even spoke the name of the nebula reapers. Certainly, a reaper couldn’t be out in the streets somewhere — preying on people — consuming them. Could one have gotten out of its electric cage? If so, how would they recapture it? Were other reapers soon to come?
Suddenly, there was a knocking on Nora’s bedroom door. She turned on her flashlight and headed over to open it. On the other side of the wooden structure was the ashen face of her father. Her mother came up from behind him and hugged Nora.
“Thank goodness. I knew you usually left the window open!” her mother shouted.
“What’s going on?” Nora asked.
Nora’s voice was a little lower, a little more mature than one would expect from someone so young-looking. Then again, Nora was seventeen years old, hardly a baby, at least in her mind. But her large, innocent eyes tended to make people treat her like a child. She had tried to cut her dark brown hair into a medium, and, therefore, more sophisticated cut, but it didn’t help enough. So, it wasn’t particularly surprising that her parents would react this way. It didn’t mean that things were really so bad.
“Seriously, what’s wrong?” she asked again.
Her parents looked at each other.
“Let’s turn the radio to the news station.” her father finally spoke.
He walked past Nora and headed to her desk. Nora and her mother filed in behind him. Nora’s mother, Rebecca, placed her hands on Nora’s shoulders.
There was a strange noise coming from the radio. It was the combination of static and a high-pitched tone. Nora’s father, Clam, tried to fine-tune the station. Eventually, he got a faint signal. They could hear just the smallest rumbling of a human voice. After a few more moments of refining, the voice was as clear as it would get. Nora couldn’t help but wish the voice hadn’t been found at all.
“This is a pre-recorded message from the Government Emergency Service. An official statement will soon follow. Please secure all of your windows and doors. Do not open them no matter what you hear. Stay tuned to the radio. If you’ve changed your batteries as often as you were mandated to by law, you should be able to leave the radio on for as long as needed until an official statement is released. This message will be repeated …”
“Are we just supposed to keep listening to this message over and over again?” Rebecca asked.
“We might miss something, Becca.” Clam responded.
“Can’t we at least turn it down?”
He shook his head no. Becca turned to Nora, determined, it would seem, to drown out the repetitive noise from the radio.
“Did you see anything, Nora? I mean, we thought we did … at the window.”
“Let’s not talk about that right now, Becca. Maybe you should sit down.”
“I’m fine.” she insisted.
Suddenly, there was a buzzing from their apartment’s intercom system. It signaled someone was at the front door of the apartment building.
“Oh my, what’s that?!” Becca cried out.
“I’m sure it’ll stop.” Clam responded.
“But what if it’s one of our neighbors?” Becca countered. “Wait! That noise comes from the buzzer outside the building, which would mean the person’s outside. But wouldn’t a neighbor have a key?”
Clam headed to the intercom. Once he got to the front door, he pressed the button to speak. “We’ve been told not to open the door. Please go back to your home.” he uttered into the device.
There was static emanating from the intercom. Then, there were some mumbling noises. Finally, a brief moment of silence was broken by more mumbling.
“Why doesn’t that person stop?!” Becca called out.
“And what if one of the neighbors lets them in?” Nora questioned.
“All right. I’m going to seal the front door. Get me some tape.” Clam concluded.
Just then, Nate’s bedroom door opened, and the young boy came out rubbing his eyes. Almost instantly, Becca’s demeanor changed; she grew calm and protective.
“Nate.” She rushed to him. “What are you doing up?”
“I heard a noise.” Nate muttered.
“Nora. The tape?” her father repeated.
“Yes.” Nora replied. She headed for the utility room to retrieve her father’s tool kit.
Nora stared at the box for a moment. How normal it all had seemed when she had last seen this toolbox.
“Nora!” her father called out.
Nora grabbed the dusty toolbox and ran it over to her father. She figured her father could find the tape in the box faster than she could. When Nora got to her father, she handed off the box to her dad. She noticed for the first time that his hand was shaking. Clam found his special industrial tape rather quickly. Then, he started to apply it to the door cracks.
Nora wrung her hands and looked over toward the kitchen space. There, she saw that her mother had made some hot chocolate for Nate. She rather wished she could be protected from the truth — that she could be convinced everything would be all right. However, she knew her mother’s actions were as much about her mother’s feelings as her brother’s; it made her mother feel better to make her brother feel better. Nora then turned her attention back toward the door.
“Was that — the elevator?” Nora asked.
“I’m almost done!” Clam called out.
Nora approached the peephole in order to look out into the hall. From the side, she could see to the end of the corridor with the aid of the auxiliary lights, which lined it. She could tell that the elevator door was open. Only, from what Nora could make out, there was no one there.
“That’s strange.” Nora whispered.
She looked down and over at her father. She saw that he was making progress to cover the final crack of the door.
“The elevator opened, but there was nothing inside.” Nora informed her dad. Then, she turned back toward the peephole. “Wait, there is something. It looks almost like a dark haze of smoke.”
“Smoke is coming down the hall! It may be a fire! What will we do?!” Nora then froze for a moment. “Dad, it’s coming! Wait! Is that a form there? Dad!!”
Nora looked down at her father with a horrified expression. She saw him finally seal the remaining crack of the door just as some force rushed down the hall past their apartment. The sound of the air as it crackled penetrated her ears. It was like a backdraft almost. Clam stood and placed his hands on Nora’s shoulders.
“Stay away from the door.” he told her. “It’s going to be a long night.”
Nora and her father suddenly heard the sound of a window breaking from down the hall. Nora and her father looked at each other then stepped away from the door. The family of four waited there in the dark — huddled together — waiting for some kind of news. Nora was really expecting a message to come over the radio at any moment … but there was nothing. Nora was very afraid when silence overcame the station.
“What’s that?” her mother asked. “What happened?”
Suddenly, there was a fluttering of static. Then, the music came back on. After the first song played, there was station identification. Nora’s family all looked at one another in shock. What was this? Had someone accidently played an old recording? How could the radio disc jockey be so calm under these circumstances? Even if he had been told to act as though nothing was wrong, how could he pull it off this well?
“Is that it?” Nora asked her stunned parents. “Are they really not going to tell us what’s going on?”
It was only a second after she got out the last word that the lights came back on. The other three people in the room began to look around. Their posture eased and slowly they began to stand. Nora couldn’t help but feel a little betrayed. That reaction lasted until she realized her own feelings were silly. After all, her family’s sitting around the radio wasn’t going to make the announcer come back on. Still, as the others seemed to scatter and slowly return to their normal day’s activities, Nora couldn’t help but feel abandoned.
“That was it?” Nora kept playing those words over and over in her mind.
Yet, thinking that way made her feel suddenly guilty. She should want it to be normal; that was what was best. And that was reality, right?
There was an awkwardness at the breakfast table. Nora could tell by the look in their eyes that her parents and her brother were unsure. And yet, the morning played out just as it had a thousand times before. Everything around them said it was fine. So, even though something deep down said it wasn’t fine, the seeming normalcy won out. Yet, Nora was so frustrated by her family’s lack of acknowledgement of the past night’s events she chose not to put her usual effort into getting ready for school. After not having slept the night before, why should she be made to go at all? And why, for that matter, was school in session anyway?
Unfortunately, Nora’s simple act of defiance didn’t seem to be noticed by anyone. And the television lineup, the trip to the bus stop, the day at school proceeded as though nothing had happened. Even though one girl, who lived close to Nora, didn’t show up for school that day, no one made mention of it. Nora seemed to be the only one who would look over periodically at the empty chair. Aside from a few flashes of fear in the eyes of those around her when an unexpected noise occurred, there was nothing to indicate that anything had changed.
When school was over, Nora was so riddled with anxiety that, after she walked her brother home, she decided to go for a walk.
“Where are you going again?” he asked her.
“Just for a walk.” she responded. “I’ll be back before dinner.”
Maybe after a walk, Nora could slip back into normalcy again. Still, the streets seemed filled with that same odd feeling she had had all day. However, the thought occurred to her as she was walking that there may be one place she could go that would be different. Years earlier she had lived in another neighborhood – a poorer neighborhood. That part of town abutted the underground communities where some people lived. When her father finally got that promotion, she and her family had moved. Even so, she never forgot where she came from. Maybe it was just childhood nostalgia, Nora thought, but she could remember being truly happy there. And yet, she’d never be capable of walking there and returning home before it got dark. She’d have to take the bus. It occurred to Nora that she hadn’t mentioned going that far to her brother. Though, chances were good that her parents wouldn’t approve of her plan if she were to go back to tell them about it now. What was more, Nora wished to go there alone. Nora bit her lip. This might be her only chance. If she headed home first, there wouldn’t be time today, and Nora just knew if it didn’t happen now it wouldn’t happen at all. So, as the bus heading in that direction pulled in front of her, she could feel her legs approach and step onto it. It would be the most fateful decision of her life.
Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2016
Leader Monrage’s merciless plot has come to fruition — unleashing unspeakable evil onto the universe. The first to feel its effects is a small, isolated colony known as 52. Nora Montgomery had been living a pretty normal life — normal in her view at least. But then, the nebula reapers descend — turning her life upside down and exposing secrets of the world — a world she thought she knew. Together with a young man named Jack Callahan, she must try to claw her way free from the tightening noose that threatens to take all of their lives.
Two different dreams contributed to two of the scenes in this book. One was of the air taxi in Chapter One. The second was about the confinement exercise.
Book One of the Nocturne’s Reaping® series, Prelude, serves as a prequel to the events in Book Two, Dirge. It will also fill this role for the rest of the books in the series.