Title: Dream Wide Awake
Author: CJ Zahner
Genre: Psychological Thriller (with a flare of the paranormal)
When detective Jack Daly married one of the Callahan sisters, he was aware of their abilities. What he didn’t count on was his children inheriting their mother’s sixth sense. Now his world spirals out of control as his six-year-old daughter, Mikala, begins dreaming while she’s wide awake.
When three boys go missing in their hometown, Mikala dreams of them. Jack attempts to use her dreams to locate the boys. Is he risking her life? He is vaguely aware of a government program called Project Dream, which recruits children who have clairvoyant tendencies. Officials shepherd the intuitive kids away to a secret school somewhere out west in a Nevada desert.
Will officials find out about Mikala?
Shrewdly Fastidiously, Jack works to save the boys while struggling to keep his daughter’s sixth sense a secret.
He felt her eyes on him before she spoke.
Her breath warmed his cheek. She stood so close remnants of last night’s snack—her mom’s favorite, watermelon gumdrops—mingled with mint toothpaste and reminded him she was a little Lisa, only fearless.
He kept still. Held the sweet smell for a moment and waited for the familiar poke. The prod came. One miniature finger pecking three times, knocking at his shoulder.
“Daddy? Are you in there?”
He loved that she pictured him inside his own head. Yet, he hated it, too.
“Yes, Mikala.” He stretched his legs, careful not to wake Lisa. “I’m in here.”
“Marky is close now.”
His eyes snapped open.
“How close, sweet pea?”
“In my room.”
Jack Daly sat up and swung his legs over the bed, feeling for his shorts on the floor with his toes. He placed his feet in the leg holes, stood, and pulled them over his boxers.
“I can see the movie better,” she said lowly, shuffling her pink, puppy slippers backward to give him room.
“Quiet, darling, let’s not wake Mommy,” he whispered, but the request was in vain. The covers rustled as Lisa rolled over. She tugged a pillow over her head to muffle their words. She didn’t approve of their morning chats.
“Okay,” Mikala whispered softly from the doorway. A ray of moonlight cheated its way through the corner of a window blind and fell faintly on her eager form. She stood hands raised, fingers wiggling.
He whisked her up in his arms, her one-size-too-big flannelled pajamas bunching over wiry arms and legs, and her long blond locks cascading over tiny shoulders. He turned and backed out of the room, closing the door behind him. When he released his hand, the doorknob clunked to the floor, and the door drifted ajar.
“Damn it,” he whispered, tucking Mikala close as he leant to look for the handle. “Oops, sorry, sweetie.”
“It’s okay, Daddy.”
Normally, he refrained from swearing around the kids, but his procrastination had thrust him into a parental slip of the tongue. Shirking home-upkeep chores naturally accompanied tough work cases. Plus, he hated odd jobs. Twirling a screwdriver and dipping a paintbrush had never been his forte. He hoped the knob-less door didn’t remind Lisa he hadn’t patched the wall in the boy’s bedroom or touched up the kitchen backsplash. Their homey little tri-level needed a makeover.
For lack of vision, he swirled one foot over the hall carpeting until he felt the knob against his foot, and then he kicked the nuisance to the side and glanced down the hall toward the fluorescent yellow lights of the cartoon clock in Mikala’s bedroom. 4:44. The time was always about the same when the dreams called her from the night. His fingers found the hall light switch, and their world lit up.
“Let’s go downstairs, so we don’t wake your brothers.”
“We don’t have time for coffee.”
He smiled. She knew the routine. Milk and coffee in their favorite mugs at the kitchen counter. He shouldn’t be amused. He knew what was coming, but despite all, her youthful wisdom still grabbed him.
“Okay, sweetie.” He sat down at the top of the staircase, and her little frame collapsed into his lap. One of her arms landed squarely around his shoulder. “You said Marky is in your room?”
“Yes, he played the movie, bigger.”
Her voice tickled his eardrums. He loved its young, high-pitched tone that hadn’t kept time with her six years. He savored the youthful shrill, knowing when she grew older, like Lisa, the years would age her sweet voice, and life would cloud her innocent interpretation of the dreams.
He yawned and thread the thick, caramel-colored hair garnishing his forehead with his fingers, smoothing an annoying clump to the side. The tuft bounced back defiantly. He frowned. “Can you see the other little boy, yet?”
“Yes, but I didn’t look at his face. I wanted to wait. So I am safe with you.”
“You’re safe, sweet pea.”
“I’m scared.” Her fingernails pressed into the skin on his shoulder.
Her dreams seldom frightened her. He could lead her away from the bad parts, talk her around the murder, so she didn’t experience the horror. He wasn’t completely sure about all this. Her psychologist said she didn’t seem damaged in the least from her nightmares, but then they hadn’t been completely truthful about everything. These weren’t really nightmares. “Why? You aren’t normally afraid.”
“Because I recognize the room in the movie.”
He turned to face her. “It’s familiar?” He scratched an itch at the back of his neck with his free hand.
“What do you recognize about it?”
“It’s Danny’s room.”
He stopped breathing.
Doubting his daughter’s words had long escaped him. Since she first explained about the movies—dreaming wide awake, she called the phenomena—their accuracy had dissolved any disbelief. But this couldn’t be. She must be wrong this time. Marky, the boy in her dreams, relayed movies of strangers. Visions that remarkably resembled abductions in their hometown.
Years before, he merely suspected she inherited her mother’s gift. Now, he knew. She was Lisa’s replica. The one difference? Mikala was strong-willed like her aunt Rachel, grounded at age six. Lisa couldn’t handle the dreams. Mikala could more than handle them. Like a miniature newscaster, she announced each scene to him until she came too close to the scary parts, and he nudged her by them.
An investigator promoted from the police force three years ago, the fact his own daughter had a sixth sense was anything but coincidental. After all, his occupation and this curse of a trait so alive in his in-law’s family is what had led him to Lisa.
But this was different. Now the gift—curse—befell his daughter.
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Why is your featured book a must-read?
Dream Wide Awake is a psychological thriller you won’t figure out until the last page. Readers are saying: “I picked this one up and could. Not. Put. It. Down.” – Alex S. “Could not put this one down! Think you have it figured out?...You don’t”
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CJ Zahner is a digital-book hoarder and a lover-of-can’t-put-down books (always starved for a good thriller). In 2015, after her only sibling was diagnosed with early-onset dementia, Zahner walked away from full-time grant and part-time freelance writing jobs to become a novelist. Now shereads, writes, and runs in Erie, Pennsylvania and Raleigh, North Carolina. She is the proud mother of three children and even prouder grandmother of one. She has been married to her soul mate, Jeff, for over 30 years.
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