The Ghostlands, Part 1: Erie Energy
Her brother thought she would just disappear. Shy, weak Anastasia had only ever been a burden. She wouldn’t be missed. She wouldn’t survive. He never imagined she might thrive. Or that she might discover the secrets that could tear his world apart.
**From Amazon Bestselling authors CN James & Amy Joy**
Anastasia lives in a wondrous future world, protected from the ghosts outside by an energy barrier that surrounds her home of Erie Energy. The daughter of affluent parents, she lives atop of one of the city’s premier towers. She should be prepared to settle into a safe, comfortable life like everyone else. But Anastasia isn’t like everyone else. And she doesn’t feel safe anywhere.
Anastasia doesn’t come close to fitting the definition of a useful member of society. And her Name Value shows it. If it drops any further, she won’t find a job after graduation, and she’ll surely be traded to another city. But no one ever listens to Anastasia. Her father’ s always working. Her mother works far away,visiting only as a hologram on weekends. Her teachers don’t seem to care. She can’t talk to her classmates. Her only brother is too focused on himself to ever notice she is there–that is, unless she can help him win the election for City Overseer.
Her boyfriend is gone. Traded away, along with his family, and never heard from again. He would have listened and understood. He was her only true friend. But now no record of him exists. And no one will give Anastasia any answers.
Her panic attacks are increasing daily. Anastasia can feel herself unraveling. And now the ghosts–the ones they swear don’t ever enter the city, the ones whose speech they say is unintelligible–they are following her, visiting her, sending her ominous warnings.
When it all comes crashing down, her brother arrives, telling her he has proof as to the whereabouts of her missing boyfriend. But to find him, she’ll have to venture into the wilderness of the ghosts, and discover within herself a strength she never knew she had.
In this, their fourth full-length novel, bestselling authors CN James and Amy Joy deliver their most haunting novel yet.
“This story has a little of everything in it, including mystery and romance. Just when I thought I knew what direction it was going in—it changed direction, and when I thought I knew how it was going to end—it fooled me. I read the entire book in one day and can’t wait for Part 2!” — Amazon Reviewer
“The lead character, although seen as weak due to her shyness, shows an inner-strength and bravado she never thought possible, while trying to solve the mystery behind the disappearances, proving that those with inadequacies are not as useless as the government portrays them to be. I very much enjoyed this highly imaginative, dystopian science-fiction novel and will be seeking out other publications by C.N. James and Amy Joy. I recommend The Ghostlands to all those who enjoy paranormal tales of underlying inner-strength and uncovering corporate lies in our already fractured society.” — Rosie Malezer for Readers’ Favorite
“It was extremely imaginative, with poetically written imagery. It vividly created an original world with interesting and unique characters, exciting drama, bittersweet romance, all sorts of danger and threats, and even gore. Ghostlands has it all. I am not much of a reader and typically only read a few pages before falling asleep each night, but I found myself wanting to find time during the day just to keep the story going and see what happened next. I can’t wait for the next book!” — Amazon Reviewer
“Two things struck me as I read The Ghostlands: First, that every time I thought I had figured out where the story was going, it veered off on an unexpected tangent, yet still connected to the overall theme. Second, I couldn’t put it down! I ended up spending some very late nights where I repeatedly decided, “OK, just one more chapter” – and kept on reading, because I absolutely had to know what was going to happen next.” — Amazon Reviewer
“This is an exciting read with an interesting premise and main character. The ending left me in anticipation for the next chapter in the series. I highly recommend.” — Goodreads Reviewer
Anastasia, the only Anastasia, knew that having to go to the doctor again meant that she had failed. Seated at her school terminal, she could feel her palms clamming up; she could feel parts of her body shake and twitch uncontrollably as she did her best to hide it from the other students; she could feel herself blushing. She didn’t want to go, not again. She couldn’t bear to hear more bad news.
The clock was moving too quickly, despite her preoccupation with it. Every second was a second closer to the inevitable. She took another deep breath, just as the doctor had instructed her to do. Every breath was intended to ease her nerves, calm her mind, but it wasn’t working. It rarely did. Instead she found that breathing deeply only helped remind her of the reason she was breathing deeply in the first place.
Class should have been a distraction—just listen to the teacher and forget. Forget about the doctor’s appointment after class, forget about the fact that Uz hasn’t tried to contact you in two years. Just forget, Anastasia, forget.
She shifted her gaze to the classroom window. In the distance, outside the invisible energy dome that protected the city, the ghosts hung ominously in the air. She wondered what it was like in the days before the ghosts, before the dome, before Name Values, before friends and families were divided by city trading. Before the war that started it all.
Watching the ghosts provided no real distraction, and her mind came back to Uz. Today marked two years since she had last seen him. Two years since Erie Energy traded him and his parents to The Sydney Corporation. Two years since their last kiss. Two years of total silence. She should have heard something from him by now. She inquired time and again, but no one would talk about it. She searched for him on social networks, city databases, but nothing ever came up. It was almost as if Uz had never existed—except for one thing. She glanced at the empty terminal next to her. After all this time, Uz’s place in the classroom remained vacant.Uz was an empty chair, a space in the hallways, a lunch uneaten. She’d picture him looking back at her every time she glanced at his empty desk terminal. She’d see him in the hallways between classes, hidden in the voids that shift, swell, and disappear again. She’d try to imagine what his new school must be like. Did they have a terminal for him when he arrived? Did he have to share with someone? Did the other students like him? Did he have a new girlfriend? She pushed the thought from her mind. They had grown up together. They knew one another better than they knew themselves. In each other’s lives, they were irreplaceable.
Uz. His named played over and over again in her mind, and sometimes she’d let it roll silently off her tongue; she liked the way it buzzed in her mouth. Uz: a name with such little Name Value. Of course, it was all his parents could afford.
Her name, on the other hand, had been very expensive. Before she was born, Anastasia was one of the most desired names in the world. It had last belonged to the City Executive Overseer of a jewelry and mineral company that, at the time, became the most successful city in the world since the rise of the ghosts. The name was nearly sold to a family on the west coast, but Anastasia’s father was able to haggle a deal. He was good at that. He paid more than the Name Bank value, which was common for such desirable names. But with such a reputation came a great deal of pressure, and that pressure to keep her Name Value up made Anastasia feel perpetually anxious. And ever since Uz left her life, her Name Value had continued to decline by degrees. She knew it was her own fault, but she just couldn’t bring herself to do anything about it.
Anastasia pulled at her necklace. After class she’d have to hear about her Name Value, her disorder, and how much trouble she was in. And this preoccupation—this inability to focus when her mind was saturated with worry—was exactly what her doctor wanted her to work on. She could hear his scratchy tenor voice reciting one of his mantras: “Clear your mind and focus. Think about one tiny thing and then one more, then one more, until you have control of your thoughts. When you control your mind, you come off as confident to a potential client, colleague, or even a new boyfriend.”
All around her, the other students shut down their screenpads, pocketed them, and rose, while Anastasia stared off, thinking of Uz. A few chuckled at her as they exited, but Anastasia didn’t hear. They were gone before she realized that class was over.
Her stomach churned. The time had come. Now she would visit her doctor.
“You know Anastasia, a very long time ago they used to have a single word for your condition,” Doctor Tobias began, shifting in his chair as he spoke. Anastasia was seated across from him, but she didn’t move. She knew she should have said something—anything. Doctor Tobias held onto the lingering pause giving her a chance to speak, but she couldn’t think of anything to say. She knew she was in trouble. She wanted to cry; she knew this missed opportunity would be reported, dropping her name ranking by a few more points.
Eventually, Doctor Tobias gave up and continued. “A long time ago your condition was considered somewhat normal—at least according to those of us in the medical field. In reality, people like you were considered second-class citizens. Not officially, of course, but it was an unspoken, implied part of the social order.”
Doctor Tobias always leaned forward over his desk when he spoke; his face was small and lean, his eyebrows fluffy, and his long, thin nose appeared to have been specifically designed to accommodate glasses more so than the average person. His eyes were a faded, melancholy blue, and Anastasia thought they always held a hint of sadness regardless of his mood.
“What’s the word?”
“Good girl, Anastasia. You spoke. However, I was expecting you to ask that question earlier in our conversation. You really need to think more quickly, my dear.”
“What’s the word? What did they used to call my condition?”
“They had one word for it—just one. Isn’t that odd? Modern medical science wouldn’t dream of being so unspecific.”
“What’s the word?”
“Are you growing impatient, Anastasia?” He smiled, looking over the rims of his glasses.
Anastasia grimaced, then nodded.
“Use words please. You need the practice.”
“I feel frustrated that you won’t just tell me the word.”
“Very good; you were able to express your actual feelings without guilt or hesitation. This is what every good leader or salesperson must do in order to be successful and keep their Name Value high.” Doctor Tobias stopped and tapped a few notes into his screenpad. Then he looked up and said, “They used to call people like you shy. Isn’t that the prettiest sounding name you’ve ever heard for your chronic introversion? Of course some doctors used to call it ‘social anxiety,’ but we know now that social dysfunction subset chronic introversion is so much more than an overly active nervous system.”
“Shy, like a quiet sigh,” Anastasia whispered to herself, enjoying the breathiness of saying the word aloud.
“What did you say?”
Doctor Tobias slumped and shook his head. “My dear Anastasia, you have been coming here to see me off and on since you were five years old. I expect more from you. Now, I have helped hundreds, possibly thousands in my career overcome their chronic introversion. Larry, for example, he was much like you in school and now he’s a driver for KomBust Engines. Thomas—I’m sure you’ve heard of him—he’s now the City Operations Manager for Boyle Medical Supplies, and he’s in line to take over the city after Jenna steps down as City Executive Overseer.
“Don’t you see? You can beat this disorder. Many have already done so, time and time again. You just have to believe that you can. You have to want to. Sometimes, I get the impression that you have no desire to follow in your father and brother’s footsteps. They are both well respected drivers for our company. They only want what’s best for you. I only want what’s best for you.”
“I know. I just don’t like talking to people all the time.”
Doctor Tobias dragged his hand over his bald spot. Then he sighed and shook his head. Eighteen years ago, your father purchased your name for ten million. Do you know what it’s worth today?”
Anastasia shook her head, then quickly corrected her behavior when she saw the look of reprimand on Doctor Tobias’ face. “No,” she said softly.
“Four million. Do you know what that means?”
“No,” she said again.
“In the last two years, your Name Value has dropped sixty percent. Sixty percent, Anastasia.”
She wanted so badly to hang her head and let the hair fall over her eyes to hide her embarrassment. But she sat there, as upright as she could, knowing it was the right thing to do, trying to keep the tears from her eyes.
“Look, in two months you graduate. If you don’t get your Name Value up by then, you won’t be drafted into a good job, and that will reflect in your Name Value for quite possibly the rest of your life.”
Doctor Tobias paused to allow Anastasia time to process the weight of his last statement.
“Do you have any idea how badly I want to tell the Name Bank that you are showing improvement?” He paused again, stood up and said, “I can’t, Anastasia; I can’t. It’s my job to report your status, and as long as you continue to say things like that, I won’t be giving them good news.
“If it drops much further people like . . . like . . . what where their names again?” he said, flipping through pages on his screenpad. “You know, that friend of yours—the ones who lost nearly everything and were traded to The Sydney Corporation a couple of years ago?”
“You mean Uz?”
“Yes, yes, yes. Uz was their child, that’s right. His parents were Dick and Mara. Could you imagine having to live your life being called ‘Dick’?” Doctor Tobias shuddered, then continued. “Anyway, if you aren’t careful, by the time you die, people like that will be able to purchase your name. Do you really want a beautiful name like Anastasia marred like that?”
“That’s not fair. They were good people.”
Doctor Tobias frowned. “I’m sorry. I know Uz meant a lot to you, and perhaps I should have used another example, but I’m sure you get my point. Even though they were good people, as you say, they failed us. They failed Erie Energy. That trade was more than justified. I know deep down, when you look past your feelings for Uz, you understand.”
Anastasia sat there quietly and Doctor Tobias frowned. “Anastasia, please, talk to people. You need to stop living in your head and live in the world. You need to listen, engage, predict, respond, and be ready to sell your ideas, your thoughts, your reasons.
“In fact, come to think of it,” he said, jotting a few notes in his screenpad, “I have an assignment for you. I want you to start at least one conversation each day this week. Then I want you to write down who you talked to, and how the conversation went. Then the next time we meet, I want to see what you’ve written.” Anastasia began to protest, but Doctor Tobias raised a hand to stop her. “You can do this, Anastasia. Now, before you start your conversation, I want you to repeat this to yourself: ‘They are safe. They won’t hurt me. They want to hear what I have to say.’”
Doctor Tobias paused. “On second thought, cut out the ‘They won’t hurt me,” part. I don’t want you using any negative language to battle this problem.”
“Good, good. Now, there’s one more thing: you need to start these conversations with people you’ve never spoken with before.”
Anastasia swallowed hard, then said, “I’ll try.”
“It’s long past time for trying, Anastasia. Now, you must do. Two months, that’s all. You have to show me you’re making progress so I can finally send the Name Bank some good news. And don’t forget: besides this assignment, I need to hear from your teachers. You need to be so impressive in class that they report you to me and to the Name Bank.
“So Anastasia, please, for your sake, don’t be . . . shy.”