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Shattered Dreams: Banshee Series Book 3

Shattered Dreams: Banshee Series Book 3

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Death is coming…

Benton has always dreamed through the eyes of killers. But recently, his dreams have changed into an unreadable pattern of shapes and screams. Death is coming, he can feel it in his bones, but he can’t tell who’s next in line.

In a desperate attempt to organize his thoughts, Benton travels to a sleep center in a neighboring town. It’s a short distance, only a few hours along a deserted highway, but there’s nothing easy about the journey. The lonesome road is plagued with mystery and murder. Lost souls linger along the highway…furious, violent, and relentless souls. They’re constantly searching for others to join them in death. Benton can see them. They can definitely see him.

Getting to the center is torturous but what he finds is worse than anything he could have ever imagined. A violent storm is brewing. Demonic forces ride the raging winds and become a swarm that seeks to destroy all life it encounters. Their eyes are set on Fort Wayward and if Benton can’t warn the unsuspecting town, the demons will claim every last soul.

The storm is coming. The spirits are rising. And death lingers on the highway of the lost...

141 pages

Chapter 1

The sound of rattling bones hit his ears in a constant drone that kept Benton Bertrand tittering on the precipice of sleep. For a moment, he floated within the haze, his body desperate for oblivion. But the clash of raw bones grew louder. It filled his head, and in one startling moment, he realized that the sound was real. He snapped his eyes open, not daring to move. He blinked at the ever-shifting light above him. Ashen clouds sailed across the low Alberta sky. Each time they blotted out the sun, the temperature seemed to plummet as the autumn chill crept up from the earth below him. His sleep deprived mind struggled to remember where he was. He couldn’t recall why he was flat on his back with thick blades of prairie grass surrounding him.

Just when he resolved to sit up, one of the sources of the ghastly noise came into vision. The great horned owl peered down at him with blazing, unblinking yellow eyes. Benton held his breath watching the colossal bird as it dipped lower, bringing the razor sharp hook of its beak closer to the delicate skin of his face. The brittle sound of grass cracking echoed in his ears and he realized how close its talons were. The very tip of one grazed his outer ear. It wasn't rough, but still enough to slice cleanly through his skin. Benton flinched, and the owl shrieked at his movement, its wings spread wide. It snapped wildly, creating a sound in perfect mimicry of bone striking bone, the needle-like point edging ever closer to his eyes.

A thunderous crack broke over all other sounds. Benton slightly recoiled from the gunshot sound as the bird took flight. The flock that had surrounded him filled the sky with dark shadows against the gathering clouds, each one as silent as a ghost. Releasing a long sigh, Benton sluggishly lurched into a sitting position. He braced his elbows on his bent knees, and gingerly touched a finger to his left ear, flinching as the sting grew sharper upon contact. Blood smeared his fingertip as he placed his hand back on the grass.

“You okay?” Nicole called to him. He offered her a wave of both confirmation and thanks.

He remembered not to use his left hand, to keep her from seeing the blood, but he had completely forgotten about the scars that now covered his right palm. Flicking his eyes up, he was just in time to see Nicole stiffen and shift her attention down to the handgun she was holding. It wasn’t her fault that she had brought it along.

The fire that they had stumbled across wasn’t anything they could have predicted or prepared for. It existed only because of a symbol etched on the walls of a hidden room in a forgotten basement. She couldn’t see it and had passed through the unworldly flames without a problem. For Benton, however, the flames had felt like boiling oil. Something slick that had coated his skin and continued to cook his flesh, long after he had removed his hand from it. The double standard existed because he was a banshee. The result would have been the same if he had touched it for any reason. But he had been reaching for her outstretched hand, so she carried her guilt over it.

“I’m fine,” he called out once he found his voice. “Thanks.”

She looked at him. Or at least at his hand.

“It doesn’t hurt anymore,” he promised, his voice growing a little more intense than he would have liked. But at least it provoked a reaction, and she met his gaze.

“Have you got any feeling back in your palm yet?” she asked.

He puffed out his cheeks and drew his legs up closer, dangling his forearms over his knees.

“Nope. Please stop asking.”

“I don’t ask that often,” she protested.

Benton had completely forgotten that Dorothy, Nicole’s mother, was only a few steps to the side until she spoke.

“You’ve asked him that three times this week,” Dorothy said. “And that’s just the ones that I know of.”

It had been almost three months since Dorothy had been let in on the loads of crazy that made up most of Benton’s existence, but she still felt like a new addition. Admittedly, it was nice to have her in on it. Ever since he was ten, Benton had been on his own trying to warn the people that he dreamed about. People didn’t tend to react well to a random stranger telling them they were about to be brutally murdered. His attempts generally ended in one of three ways: him writhing in pain, him being completely ignored, or him becoming the focus of a police investigation when what he dreamed became a reality.

His ‘ability’ – as Nicole liked to call it – had ruined his life more than once, and outright destroyed his relationship with his parents. Things went a lot more smoothly when he had a Constable in the Royal Canadian Police on his side. Benton always worked with a name and the sudden knowledge of how to contact them; sometimes through a phone number or address, but more often an email. And Dorothy could do a lot more with that than he could have ever achieved. She could warn the people and protect Benton at the same time, and it felt like things were finally working as they should. They couldn’t save everyone, but they saved a few, and that was enough.

A more unexpected perk, however, was that he now had backup when dealing with the force of nature and neurosis, who was, Nicole Rider. The two women’s voices became background music, as a weary ache worked its way into his bones. He rubbed his hands over his tired eyes. The smooth scar tissue of his right palm was still an odd sensation, but not an entirely unpleasant one.

“Will you please back me up here?”

It took Benton a few heartbeats to realize that Nicole had shot the question at him. It effectively drew him back into the conversation to which he hadn’t been paying the slightest bit of attention.

He jabbed a finger in Nicole’s direction. “She’s right.”

Nicole’s victorious smile only lasted a moment before she asked, “You have no idea what we were talking about, do you?”

“Not a clue,” he assured.

“But you still picked my side?”

“Your mom doesn’t sulk for three hours when I don’t pick hers,” Benton said as he let his hands drop.

A sour expression twisted up her doll-like features before she turned to face him fully. The sunlight glistened off the barrel of the gun she still held, and it unnerved him a little how she seemed to have forgotten it was there. At least none of her fingers were near the trigger and it was pointed to the ground.

“Did you sleep at all last night?” she asked.

“I never sleep well,” he dismissed.

Her lips scrunched up just a little and he knew she wasn’t about to let this go. Heaving a sigh, he loosely gestured to nothing in particular.

“Think I got at least three hours,” he admitted.

“But you didn’t get a name?” Dorothy pressed.

“Oh, no, I did. I just decided to keep it as a surprise,” Benton snapped. He instantly regretted it. And not just because Dorothy could make steel melt with the fire, but she sure could pack in a glare. “Sorry. I’m just really tired.”

He rubbed his eyes again and tried, for what felt like the hundredth time, to explain the new breed of madness that met him in REM sleep. “It’s like a kaleidoscope of static. I know it’s there, but I just can’t...”

With a frustrated growl, he threw his hands up in the air.

“The whale recordings didn’t help at all?” Nicole asked.

Ever since he had told her, Nicole had been systematically subjecting him to every remedy she could find. Medication was out of the question. Not being able to wake up from hideous and violent nightmares was, in his experience, mental torture. It felt like he had tried every home remedy under the sun. None of it worked, and Nicole was beginning to take that as a personal challenge.

“Do you think it has something to do with the Dullahan?” Nicole asked.

The monster that killed by whispering the name of its victim. The one that had harvested people’s organs, for the sheer joy of it, had been the second paranormal creature Benton had encountered. It marked the only time in his life that his ‘host’ body had ever known he was there. Normally, as he slept, he seemed to slip into the bodies of the killers. Becoming them. The Dullahan had physically tossed him out of its mind. Benton hadn’t been prepared for that. The memory was still enough to send shivers down his spine.

“The Dullahan is dead,” he said.

“We never saw a body,” Dorothy noted.

You never saw a body,” he corrected. “Trust me. It exploded, and you guys walked around covered in its internal organs. You both smelled like road kill for days.”

Nicole scrunched her nose up and mumbled, “Gross.”

“Yeah,” he said with a near hysterical chuckle. “It was.”

“Even if that’s true,” Dorothy said, patiently ignoring him when he rolled his eyes and lolled his head back with a groan, “your encounter with it might have altered you.”

“I dreamed just fine after it,” Benton muttered.

“Maybe this is like banshee flu or something,” Nicole offered. She swiftly crossed the distance between them, knelt down, and pressed her hand to his forehead. “Do you feel sick? Maybe I should make you some chicken soup.”

Benton enjoyed the touch, but eyed the weapon in her hand with a nervous energy. He had been forced to live all over Canada. It never took long before all the things he said and knew led people to the wrong conclusions. After that, it was a quick downward slide into accusations and police investigations. They had learned the hard way to move before the gossip evolved into violence. Normally, they just went to a new major city. This was their first time in farmlands and the first time he was exposed to firearms. And he wasn’t too comfortable with it being so close. Nicole, on the other hand, didn’t give it a second thought as she shifted her hand to press her knuckles against his cheek.

“And maybe that’s why the owls are acting so weird. Like how dogs can sense when someone’s sick,” she said.

“I’m pretty sure they smell it,” Benton said. He jerked his leg out of the way, as the barrel of the gun neared it. “Can you be careful with that thing?”

She looked blankly at him and then at the gun. “The safety’s on and it’s empty,” she declared as she lifted the dull gray handgun in line with her shoulder. “See? The top bit is clicked back.”

“Don’t care. Still don’t trust you with a gun.”

A disgruntled scoff escaped her as she sat back on her heels. “I saved your life with a gun, remember?”

“You kicked a monster’s head until the skull cracked,” he deadpanned.

“Yeah,” she snipped. “After I shot it.”

“Remember our deal,” Dorothy snapped as she rushed forward to join them.

Dorothy had agreed to turn a blind eye to the illegal things they got mixed up in while trying to deal with paranormal murders on their own, but on two conditions; first, they had to tell her every detail, and second, never to speak of it in front of her again. A night filled with very awkward conversations had covered the first part. The second condition was proving to be a bit harder as the two teenagers got accustomed to having her around.

“We’ll have some answers after we get him to the sleep center at Peace Springs. There’s no use in speculating until we have the facts.” She waited for her daughter to stand up before she handed over what seemed to be a full clip. “Now, focus. We’re not leaving until you get five more.”

Nicole glanced to one of the few trees that actually spotted the plains. Dorothy had dangled a few bottles from the bending branches. A slight breeze made the glass bottles tinkle together like chimes. With confident hands, Nicole released the empty clip from the butt of the gun and tossed it to her mother, then slid the full one into place. Benton heard the safety click off and managed to clamp his hands over his ears before she fired. It took her eight shots, but she got the five. Preening in her victory, she clicked the safety back on and passed the gun to her mother. Dorothy looked proud.

“That’s my girl,” Dorothy grinned.

“I’ve been meaning to ask,” Benton managed to get out before his voice kicked up a pitch. “Why is there a gun? Seriously, we’re going to Peace Springs! It’s like a four-hour drive.”

“Yeah, but we have to go along Highway 43,” Nicole noted, feeling her shoulders shudder.

Benton shrugged. “That’s bad?”

The two women looked at each other and he just waited. After nearly half a minute of silent deliberation, they both seemed to remember in unison that he didn’t grow up in Fort Wayward. The vast population of the town not only grew up together and had the collective knowledge they all knew, but also shared a heritage. The majority of the population had connections to the Siksika Nation, with the few others having their roots with other tribes. So it was common for him to feel completely out of the loop and in need of an explanation for things that everyone else considered general knowledge.

“Wait right here,” Nicole said before she darted towards the car.

Benton gave Dorothy a questioning look but only got the soft shake of her head that told him she had no idea what her daughter was up to. They waited in silence until Nicole came back with her favorite picnic basket swinging in her hand. She shooed off a few owls that had come lurking back before she knelt down and opened the basket.

“This is Fort Wayward,” she said, as she placed the peppershaker down before Benton, with a flourish.

Benton glanced at Nicole, who had stopped her impromptu presentation for a few seconds.

“I’m with you so far,” he said.

“Good,” she smiled as she placed down the saltshaker. “This is Peace Springs.” Using a rolled up napkin she connected the two points. “The quickest point between the two is Highway 43. It’s not to scale. It's actually a bit curvy and goes into a valley.”

Benton closed his eyes. “I know the basics of a highway, Nic. But I’m still shaky on what any of this has got to do with guns?”

Nicole narrowed her gaze but it didn’t have any heat to it. “Well, if you stop interrupting me, I’ll tell you.” She swept her hand over the napkin and surrounding grass. “Nothing good has ever happened in this area. Bloody battles, missing bands expanding different tribes, lost settlers, ghost sightings. It’s pretty much the definition of a cursed land.”

Nicole fell silent, as if she had just explained everything, leaving Dorothy to continue on.

“The disappearances didn’t stop after the highway was constructed. The area is isolated with the natural terrain offering dozens of drop offs, blind curves, and thick bushes that makes it nearly impossible for search parties to find anyone. There are no highway lights through most of it. So unless you have a full moon and know the road really well, it’s pretty easy to misjudge a sharp turn and drive into a sheer drop.”

Benton huffed out his growing impatience. He could feel the urge to yell at them bubbling up inside him and did his best to contain it. Why would anyone need firearms because of poor road construction? The thought ran through his mind a split second before the answer followed. Fear. They were both trying to keep it from their faces, but the slightest hints were starting to show on both of them. He swallowed his comment and sat quietly as Dorothy continued.

“Peace Springs was established as a mining town. When the mines closed up, the town was financially devastated and never really recovered. The surrounding reservations aren’t much better off. Fort Wayward is the closest town with a decent hospital and fully stocked pharmacy, so they’re forced to make the trip over here for a lot of their medical needs.”

“A lot of our families have common relatives between the two,” Nicole added. “Just about everyone, on each side, has a relative on the other side. Plus, they have the only Walmart, government service centers, name brand junk food, and a movie theater. Travelling the road is kind of inevitable.”

“Why can’t we just go the long way?” Benton asked.

“Because that takes a few extra days,” Dorothy explained. “And most people can’t afford a car. Not to mention there’s still no reliable public transport that goes that route. A lot of people are forced to walk or hitchhike.”

Benton pressed the bottom of his palms into his aching eyes and blamed the fatigue on why it had taken him that long to catch onto what they were telling him. He had the carbon copy of hundreds of murderers embossed on his brain. Normally, he didn’t need this much information to spot a perfect hunting ground.

“I have this vague memory of Nicole telling me that there hasn’t been a murder in Fort Wayward in decades,” he said.

“There hasn’t,” Nicole affirmed quickly. “Highway 43 is way out of town limits. And most of the time, those who go missing are ‘officially’ filed as missing under suspicious circumstances or considered runaways. And those that are found are ‘officially’ accidents.”

Benton raised his hands. “Why do you keep air quoting officially like that?”

“Because I’m optimistic, not stupid,” Nicole replied.

A slight smirk crossed his lips but was quickly lost. “So the gun is for protection? Just in case?”

“The majority of the missing people are women,” Dorothy said, casting a quick glance at her daughter. “Teenagers of Native descent.”

Benton winced as his stomach suddenly turned into a pit of snakes, his eyes shifting to Nicole. The vague description worked for just about every girl in town, but with Nicole, it had a few other things working against her. She was stunning, stubborn, and had no sense of her own limitations.

She smiled, obviously trying to ease the worry crossing his features. “That is why mom and dad never let me go near the Highway of the Lost without being chaperoned, and armed.”

“And you’re not allowed to be armed unless you practice,” Dorothy noted.

“I just hit the five,” Nicole protested.

Dorothy didn’t seem all that satisfied, but she still nodded and checked her watch. “We need to get back to town. It’s almost time to go.” She motioned them to get ready.

Nicole quickly collected the items back into her basket and clicked the lid into place. For just a spit second, Benton could see how nervous she was to actually go. But then she smoothed a hand over her hip-length hair, fixed a sparkling smile onto her face, and surged to her feet. With the handle of the basket hooked over one arm, she reached out to help him up with the other. She must have been distracted, because not a trace of guilt crossed her face when his burned skin pressed against her palm. They ignored the angry, startled shrieks of the owls as they made their way to the car.

“Hypothetically, would you take it as concern or sexism if I suggested you don’t come along?” Benton asked, while there was still enough distance between them and Dorothy, hoping that the question wouldn’t be overheard.

Nicole hummed thoughtfully. “Mmm, I’m not sure. It would depend on the tone and wording you use. But either way, my response would be to remind you that I’ve saved your butt from two different monsters. You really don’t do well on your own. Also, I’m always right.”

“That’s debatable,” he muttered, unable to fight off a jaw-cracking yawn.

Ignoring his response, she reached into her basket, retrieved a slender thermos, and handed it to him without as much as a fleeting look.

“Spicy taco latte?”

“Of course!” she scoffed.

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