It was hot and dark, the air shot through with electricity. Heat lightning trembled, illuminating the scene in brief slashes. He stood before a great wooden door set into a mud-brick wall. The timbers of the door were smashed in.
He pushed aside the shattered fragments, stepped through the opening—and all at once, like a jump cut in a horror flick, he was inside the house, entering a room.
Now he was on the other side of the room, sitting on the earthen floor, back to the wall, legs splayed out. A flash lit up the room—
And now he was eight years old, on the floor of an enormous closet, screaming—
Finn awoke panting, covered in blood.
Gradually, he became aware that it wasn’t blood.
Of course it wasn’t.
It was nothing but a thin film of his own sweat.
He lay still on his back, slowing his breath until it settled into a quiet, normal rhythm.
Then opened his eyes.
Finn had been working on a technique Carol told him about. He would let himself walk through the dream, and when he got to the point of sitting in that childhood closet in eastern Oregon, he was supposed to picture something peaceful, so that when the scene lit up he would be somewhere else.
Like a field of butterflies, or an Alpine mountaintop.
“Those are just my examples,” she’d said. “Your ending has to be something you come up with yourself. Something that bubbles up from your own subconscious, so it has a chance of showing up naturally when you’re in REM.”
It was like finding an organ donor with compatible blood types, she’d explained.
A compatible fantasy.
Finn had settled on Vieques, a little island paradise off the eastern tip of Puerto Rico. Every day, he spent a few minutes sitting still and conjuring up an image of himself diving into the clear turquoise water under an azure sky. The clearer and deeper he could cut that particular neural groove into his brain, as Carol explained it, the more likely it became that it would start firing in the middle of the night, when he needed it.
That image was his anti-nightmare.
So far it hadn’t worked.
He felt in his backpack and pulled out the black canvas bag again. Undid the heavy zipper, withdrew the phone. Powered it up.
There were two people on the planet Finn knew he could trust; staying in touch with both was the only reason he had brought his own phone.
He keyed in a text message to [email protected].
After a moment a reply message appeared.
have you slept?
He shut off the phone.
The absence of reply would be his reply. Carol would understand that. Carol understood Finn. Maybe better than he understood himself.
Admittedly, not that high a bar.
The two rarely exchanged more than a few words on email.
They rarely exchanged more than a few words in person, for that matter. Mostly their overlapping existence lived in shared silences. Like radio signals beamed through space between two distant planets, both far from any known sun, held in mutual orbit in the outer rings of some unnamed solar system.
have you slept?
No, he had not. Not longer than a half hour, anyway, which was about how long it took him to hit REM.
Until that summer, the childhood event in the Snake River cabin gun closet had been sealed in a time capsule somewhere deep in his neurology, shut in and cauterized to keep it from infecting the rest of the organism. It had been explained to him by the same navy psychologist who taught him the term “lacunar amnesia.”
“The mind knows how to wall off a traumatic event,” he’d said, “encapsulating it to protect the rest of the system. Much like the body cordons off an abscess.”
Up till that summer Finn had been completely unaware of the entire event, and yet—again, like an abscess—its toxicity had been leaking out for years, bleeding into his everyday existence. Unexplained symptoms. Reactions that made no sense. He just soldiered on.
It was Carol who pointed that out.
“You adapted. Toughed it out. Never gave it a thought.”
Until that summer, and Mukalla.
Finn had seen a good deal of death in the course of his military career. Like all special operators—like all people thrust into the face of war, for that matter—he had learned to inure himself to its horrors. But what he saw when he walked into that Yemeni farmhouse opened a crack in the time capsule. When that crack finally split wide open a month later, those childhood memories came pouring out.
And now he was cursed.
However hard he tried, he still couldn’t fully remember what happened that night in Mukalla.
Yet try as he might, he couldn’t forget what happened that day in the Snake River cabin gun closet.
Order at least two copies of Cold Fear or Steel Fear (soon to be a streaming series) for the Holidays and receive a limited offer to have your gift recipients receive a personalized cameo style video emailed to them directly from the authors and there’s more.
You’ll also receive an exclusive live Zoom SNEAK PREVIEW where the authors will reveal glimpses into their next book, Blind Fear (spring/summer 2023 release).
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ABOUT THE AUTHORS:
Brandon Webb is founder of SOFREP and the New York Times bestselling author of The Red Circle and Benghazi: The Definitive Report. A former U.S. Navy SEAL whose last assignment was Course Manager for the elite SEAL Sniper Course, he was instrumental in developing new curricula that trained some of the most accomplished snipers of the twenty-first century. Webb has received numerous distinguished service awards, including the Presidential Unit Citation and the Navy Commendation Medal with a “V” for “Valor,” for his platoon’s deployment to Afghanistan following the September 11 attacks.
John David Mann is coauthor of more than thirty books, including four New York Times bestsellers and five national bestsellers. His writing has won multiple awards and been featured in American Executive, Financial Times, Forbes, Leadership Excellence, Huffington, Wired, and CrimeReads. His bestselling classic The Go-Giver (with Bob Burg) has sold over 1 million copies and won the Living Now Book Awards Evergreen Medal for its “contributions to positive global change.”
John and Brandon have coauthored ten books together. Steel Fear, the debut novel in their Finn series, was nominated for a Barry Award and hailed by Jack Reacher author Lee Child as “an instant classic, maybe an instant legend.” Cold Fear is the second book in the series; the third, Blind Fear, comes out summer of 2023.
Visit Webb & Mann here.