Shadow of Death by Gayle Katz
Echoes of the String Walker Book 1
Sidra is no longer safe on Earth. Will a faceless attacker wreck the last of her shattered life?
After her daughter dies and her marriage crumbles, this dimensional traveler only has her dog as a friend to share her grief. But her self-imposed exile turns into terror when she’s stalked by a shadowy man in black.
Desperate to hide her family’s powerful lineage, Sidra prepares for the worst. But the only way to stop her secret from being exposed is to break the one promise she swore she would always keep.
Can this last-of-her-kind, weary nomad defeat a relentless enemy before he claims her final breath?
Doctor Who meets The Twilight Zone in this spine-chilling science fiction thriller with intriguing characters, dark conflict, and edge-of-your-seat scares.Amazon
Excerpt from Shadow of Death © Copyright 2023 Gayle Katz
The day her daughter died was burned into her brain.
And I could’ve stopped it, damnit! Sidra cursed herself, open palms now two hard fists digging into the hollows of her temples. If I had known she wasn’t ready, it all could’ve been avoided. But how was I to know there would be an issue? I swear, I thought it was time for her to learn about the family secret. Honest. Had I known it would kill her… I… I—Oh, God. She was only eight years old! It was all my fault. I-I led my only daughter to an early grave, and I have only myself to blame…
At that hurtful admission, the floodgates finally burst wide open. Chest quivering and knees buckled, Sidra bellowed down at the kitchen table with all her might. She slammed both fists down with a hollow thud. But no matter how hard she cried her daughter’s name, the festering pain inside only worsened. The memories of her sweet baby girl—button-nosed, smile beaming—flashed like pages of an open picture book behind her eyes. Though Sidra still cherished every single moment they had spent together in those eight short years, it wasn’t enough. More than anything, Sidra wanted to go back and fix the awful mistake. To set things right, once and for all.
And only God knows how hard she tried to do just that.
Unbeknownst to virtually everyone in her life, Sidra was a direct descendant of a very rare kind of human. In her case, possibly the very last. Though the surname had changed over time, she came from a long line of women who all possessed the same special, but profoundly archaic, skill.
This skill: the inherent ability to achieve interdimensional time travel by sheer power of concentration and will.
Whether guided by an omnipotent alien force, some special genetic trait that mutated from the original human genome, or possibly both, Sidra could teleport her physical form to countless other dimensions of reality. Just as some microscopic elements can occupy two spaces at the same time, so could Sidra. A focused particle displacement, if you will. This meant she could visit alternate dimensions, fractured timelines, and even other civilized planets. No passport or gas needed. All Sidra had to do was stand still, carefully listen outside of herself to find the appropriate mantra, and then concentrate on when and where she wanted to go. Though the secretive technique had no real name, the practice was a combination of deep meditation and powerful magic. If practiced, the rewards could be tremendous. It didn’t matter the time or place Sidra wished to arrive, so long as it rested within the sophisticated electromagnetic lattice of the known multi-verse. Although her family’s unique gift had somehow remained a secret since the beginning, a singular title for the phenomenon was coined.
Sidra was a String Walker.
She had first been shown this gift by her mother, whose mother showed it to her, whose mother showed it to her—so on and so forth. As was tradition, she started by explaining the rule of total secrecy. No reason was ever given for this, but the strict warning was enough. Sidra’s mother then provided her with the family’s sacred book of star maps. But these weren’t the typical maps of constellations you would find in a typical astrology book. Spanning five thousand pages, the leather-bound behemoth held no title or script, only detailed ink etchings of constellations and their numerous metaphysical astral signs. If anyone outside of the niche group of women happened to glance at the pages of the valuable family heirloom, they would only see a bunch of incoherent scribbles and lines. Gibberish. Nothing more.
But to Sidra, those pages were keys to unlocking every door in the universe.
Growing up, she did well to hone her craft in the secrecy of her bedroom. It took years to get her mind tuned to just the right frequency and pitch, but she did it. By the time Sidra was in her early twenties, she had memorized all the star maps and charts to her favorite places. Aside from visiting different points in time, one of her favorite hobbies in those days was exploring alternate versions of what we know as Earth. She only had to hop a few notches down that string to see wildly different results. And according to the book, these notches were many. In fact, Sidra had yet to visit over eighty-six trillion alternate Earths simultaneously existing at any given moment. Some good, some bad.
Spending most of her twenties bouncing between dimensions, Sidra tried to balance her time. In a way, she used Earth—the “regular” version that she had grown up to know—as a sort of median. A resting point. Really, Sidra didn’t feel that she belonged to any one realm. Just as a lifelong sailor can never bring himself to settle down on just one shoreline for too long, her heart and mind were forever restless. The constant thrill of traveling so far abroad never wore thin for her.
Of course, that all changed when she met Richard and became pregnant. Once the ultrasounds came back that they would be having a beautiful baby girl, a new feeling of excitement arose.
Finally, Sidra thought the day of Maddie’s birth, the fresh young babe swaddled tight in her arms, I’ll have someone to walk the strings with now. Man, I was starting to think I really was going to be the only one left. Once I teach Maddie the importance of keeping her identity a secret, nothing will stop us. Together, I’ll be able to explore all these wonderful places for what will feel like the first time. All I have to do now is wait for just the right time to show her the way…
On Maddie’s eighth birthday, just as her mother had done before her, Sidra decided it was as good of a time as any for her first lesson. While Richard was off at work, mother and daughter stood at arm’s length from one another in the privacy of their living room. Maddie was her inquisitive self during the lesson as her pudgy fingers leafed through the stale, yellow pages of the family star book. With great patience, Sidra explained each vital step. Start to finish. Just to be safe, she planned on accompanying Maddie on her first walk. Thinking of the roaming unicorns and tree elves in her favorite fantasy world, she decided they would go there. The particle migration process was simple for those who already possessed the inherent skill needed. But as a direct female descendant of a long line of String Walkers, young Maddie was already primed to go the distance.
Or so Sidra had hoped.
Hand in hand, mother and daughter closed their eyes and hummed the sacred pitch. In a matter of overlapping moments, a vibrational resonance bent all physical matter around them, warping the very air. Then, like peeling strips of paint, the four walls, floor, and ceiling stripped away. What remained was a depthless chasm of empty darkness, the fathomless space between realities.
When Sidra opened her eyes again, body now standing in the lush backdrop of mossy woods, panic shot through her. Maddie, who was just standing at Sidra’s side not even a second ago, was now nowhere to be seen.
“Maddie!” Sidra screamed as she twirled around in a circle. “Maddie, where are—”
Suddenly, every fiber of her being shuddered. Something was wrong, terribly wrong. Worse yet, whatever was causing the molecular disturbance was happening countless jumps away—from Earth.
Hold on, baby! I’m coming! Her racing mind forced to calm, Sidra achieved the proper psychological wavelength and hopped back to her base reality.
Unfortunately, she was too late.
Crumpled in the fetal position, skin pale and long brown hair curtaining her sullen face, Maddie lay motionless on the floor. When Sidra materialized and saw her daughter wasn’t breathing, she tried like hell to resuscitate her. But after several minutes of chest compressions, Maddie was still not breathing. Even when she tried to use her gift to go back in time and maybe stop the whole event from even happening, it still didn’t work. For some reason beyond Sidra’s mortal understanding, the death of her daughter was no longer accessible. As if wiped from the static database of all physical consciousness, Maddie could only exist in old photos and dreams. By the time Sidra called for an ambulance, the worst had already happened.
At 3:16pm, the arriving paramedic officially declared Maddie as deceased.
Since experiencing that living nightmare, Sidra swore to herself never to use her special gift again. As far as she was concerned, her days as a String Walker were over.
“I can never take back what happened, no matter how badly I wish I could,” Sidra sobbed. Pulling from the napkin dispenser, she wiped away the shallow puddle of tears that had accumulated on her edge of the table. Looking down to a still slumbering Chippy, she then wiped her bloodshot eyes and continued speaking to her sleeping companion. “I tried using all the mystical spells and advanced tech I could get my hands on, but none of it worked. Not one could give my poor Maddie a second chance at life. Sure, the doctors here ruled the cause of death as a freak coronary aneurysm. Virtually undetectable. They said it was brought on by a previously undiagnosed heart condition. I want to believe it was all an awful case of unfortunate circumstance, but I just can’t shake the feeling that—”
Eyes darting to the digital clock in the right corner of the microwave, Sidra realized she had made a huge mistake. While steeped in mournful reminiscing of the unchangeable past, she had let the minutes slip by her like a fool.
So much for not being late.
Jumping up from her chair, sending a now frantic Chippy skittering off into the next room, Sidra gasped, “Shit! I’m ten minutes over on my lunch break! I gotta get back to the store quick!” As she bounded from the kitchen, car keys and purse clutched in her still shaky hands, Sidra sprinted out the front door. Seconds later, she peeled out of the driveway and disappeared back toward the heart of town. Only by the grace of God would she avoid the wrath of Mr. Dicker.
Meanwhile, laying face up on the kitchen table among the other letters, a single unopened envelope remained. Although its pale yellow pastel covering was ordinary enough upon first glance, there was a huge disclaimer that separated it from all the others in the pile.
Where Sidra’s full name should have been in the address on the envelope’s front were only two bold-faced words.
My profession is online marketing and development (10+ years experience), check my latest mobile app called Upcoming or my Chrome extensions for ChatGPT. But my real passion is reading books both fiction and non-fiction. I have several favorite authors like James Redfield or Daniel Keyes. If I read a book I always want to find the best part of it, every book has its unique value.