Mystery, Thriller & Suspense

Her Dark Silence

Jason Kaspar

Living a seemingly perfect existence in Charleston, brilliant novelist Clara Swanner secretly exists in the shadow of post-traumatic stress. For years, she has been haunted by a dark event of her past—an event that has since caused four of her friends to commit suicide.

When a new psychedelic drug gains a cult following as a treatment option, Clara thinks she has nothing to lose by trying it.

But when the treatment releases a flood of memories that Clara has spent years trying to escape, she uncovers disturbing connections between her friends’ deaths. As the lines between reality and nightmare begin to blur, she isn’t so certain that they killed themselves.

Determined to uncover the truth, and grappling with her own inner demons, Clara becomes entangled in the dark and deadly mystery that unfolds. The more she faces her past, the closer she gets to proving the identity of a killer.

And the more she realizes he’s already coming for her—and her family.

Age Rating: 18+

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Mystery, Thriller & Suspense

Her Dark Silence

Jason Kaspar

Living a seemingly perfect existence in Charleston, brilliant novelist Clara Swanner secretly exists in the shadow of post-traumatic stress. For years, she has been haunted by a dark event of her past—an event that has since caused four of her friends to commit suicide.

When a new psychedelic drug gains a cult following as a treatment option, Clara thinks she has nothing to lose by trying it.

But when the treatment releases a flood of memories that Clara has spent years trying to escape, she uncovers disturbing connections between her friends’ deaths. As the lines between reality and nightmare begin to blur, she isn’t so certain that they killed themselves.

Determined to uncover the truth, and grappling with her own inner demons, Clara becomes entangled in the dark and deadly mystery that unfolds. The more she faces her past, the closer she gets to proving the identity of a killer.

And the more she realizes he’s already coming for her—and her family.

Age Rating: 18+

1: Chapter 1

June 7, 2021

Charleston, South Carolina

Clara registered her son’s distant shriek through a fog of sleep, opening her eyes to see only darkness.

She pulled the sleep mask off her face, then reached to her nightstand and fumbled to turn off her white noise machine. It went quiet, yielding to the slap of rain against the window momentarily lit by a flicker of lightning.

Her son called out again downstairs, his young voice unintelligible. Clara rubbed her forehead, thinking that her husband must be struggling to pull off the morning routine alone. She started to sit up, but stopped short with a grunt as a puppy leapt atop her stomach, racing to lick her face. She pushed him away as her husband rushed into the room, saying, “Thor! Off the bed! Off!

The puppy leapt off the edge of the mattress, landing with a thud beside her husband as he approached the bedside. Jeremy was already showered and fully dressed in business attire as he stopped beside her.

“Hey,” he said softly, “how did you sleep?”

Clara sighed, struggling to sit up. Her head was pounding, ears ringing in a high-pitched dial tone. She felt the exhaustion of sleep deprivation, a full-body headache of sorts, and wearily pulled the weighted blanket off her shoulders. “Had a heart attack around midnight, then drank to catch a few hours.”

Jeremy sat on the bed beside her, gently pushing the hair out of her face.

“Sorry, babe.”

Before Clara could reply, her son Aiden bounded into the room. The four-year-old’s face was alight with excitement, his energy barely contained.

Grinning, she braced herself to receive his tight hug. “Good morning, buddy.”

“Dad said he’s making homemade pizza tonight.”

“That’s great.”

Her son released her, and Jeremy said, “Aiden, why don’t you go let Thor outside?”

“Sure,” the boy replied. “Mommy, I want to help you make coffee. Don’t start without me.”

“I won’t, buddy.”

Aiden darted out of the room with the puppy loping after him, and Clara met Jeremy’s concerned gaze.

“I’ll be right down,” she said.

His eyes softened, and he leaned down to kiss her forehead.

“Take your time. I’ll meet you downstairs.”

As he rose and left the master suite, Clara looked to the window. The sky was a rolling tumult of storm clouds unleashing torrents of rain on the landscape below.

She inhaled deeply, then released the breath in a beleaguered sigh. Sliding her legs off the bed, Clara wearily rose to begin the day.

***

Jeremy was turning off the stove by the time she arrived downstairs, her bare feet crossing the hardwood into the palatial kitchen. She saw he’d already prepared three portions of eggs and avocado, and Aiden was setting an airtight container of coffee beans on the granite countertop.

Clara and Aiden made coffee, the boy dutifully helping as Clara ground the beans and filled the French press. Then the family ate together in the dining room as the puppy disappeared under the table, circling their feet in anticipation of scraps.

Jeremy was a vision of crisp professionalism, his blond hair neatly combed over a pressed button-down and sober necktie. Clara felt like a vagrant by contrast, still in her pajamas with her hair pulled into a hasty ponytail. But no one cared what she looked like at work, and Clara didn’t usually put on makeup until a dinner out or weekend foray demanded it.

After breakfast she saw her husband and son off in the three-car garage, buckling Aiden into the kid seat in Jeremy’s Maserati and kissing them both goodbye. She watched from the kitchen door while Jeremy backed out of the garage and into the pouring rain.

Clara hit the button for the garage door, waiting as it closed. She turned to hear the puppy whining, his toenails clicking on the hardwood in feverish anticipation.

“I’m coming, I’m coming,” she said, rounding the kitchen island to see him spinning and hopping in ecstasy.

She filled his bowl with puppy chow, then set it down as he dove in and began eating, tail wagging furiously.

Then Clara opened the door to the garage once more, checking that the rolling door was closed and taking a lustful glance at her own car.

The gleaming red Cadillac CTS-V looked like a luxury sedan on steroids. The spotless hood had a raised bulge to accommodate the supercharged engine. They quite literally didn’t make them like that anymore, she thought, grateful that she’d spent years enjoying what would likely be the last manual transmission 8-cylinder in the Cadillac arsenal.

She closed the door, locking it and testing the handle. Then she walked past the three ground entrances to her house—front porch, side door, and back porch—to make sure deadbolts were engaged. Satisfied, she activated her security system in home mode.

Leaving the puppy to his breakfast, she carried her coffee thermos up the stairs to the third floor and opened the door to the large spare bedroom she’d made into her office. A row of four windows overlooked the backyard, allowing her a full view of the pool and hot tub before spreading into the landscape of the other extravagant homes in the gated community.

But Clara’s interest was drawn to the walls without windows, each adorned with whiteboards covered in scrawling dry erase notes and cork boards filled with neatly aligned notecards bearing cryptic handwritten headers.

She walked behind her vintage chestnut desk, positioned in a corner facing the door, and sank into her chair with a wistful sigh.

This was Clara’s happy place, her sole refuge in a world that felt increasingly alien and distant. It was the only place she was ever truly relaxed, surrounded by every artifact and treasured possession of her twenty-eight years of life and happily lost amid the work that had come to mean everything to her.

She heard Thor loping up the stairs after her. Clara’s only concession to the puppy lay in the corner of her office: a dog bed in which he spent most of the day curled up, asleep. He dutifully took his position there now, laying down his head to watch her. By now he knew the routine. Clara would sit at her desk all morning, rising only to use the restroom. No eating, no work breaks.

She tapped a key and watched her desktop monitor glow to life. Clara didn’t check email—that would come later, when her morning shift had elapsed and she reluctantly addressed the drudgery of business particulars. She opened a Word document on her computer desktop and scrolled to the bottom of the file, finding the spot where she’d left off and briefly consulting the cork board. Scanning for the next notecard in the sequence, she found the header she’d written in marker: ELISE CONFRONTS BRENDAN.

That was her current scene, and she’d battle with it from now until lunch—or at least, she should have.

Instead she found her fingertips stationary on the keyboard, her mind a gridlock of fatigue. It wasn’t a matter of time available, and certainly not discipline. Clara had enough of both to power through any challenges with her current manuscript. But the lack of sleep over the past month had siphoned her energy and ability to comprehend, much less write, her manuscript. If she were an office drone, that might not have mattered much to her overall performance. As an author, it was a devastating blow. There were no rote tasks in writing a novel; it was a meticulous, step-by-step process where every word and intuition mattered, and any author limitations were in plain view on the page.

Which in her case, was currently blank.

Pushing her chair back from the desk, she grabbed her phone. Checking the time, she swiped to her recent calls and tapped the contact marked KYLE SOLER.

The call connected, and she heard Kyle’s familiar drawl. “What’s up, girl?”

Clara smiled at the sound of his voice. His accent went beyond merely Southern, diverging into the deep backwoods lilt that implied pickup trucks and deer hunting, but neither applied to Kyle—these days, he preferred hunting of a different sort.

She answered, “Not much. Another rough night. How are you holding up?”

“Come on now, every night is a rough one for me. That’s why they invented alcohol. Still feel like you’re getting worse?”

“Definitely. I don’t know what’s going on, but I don’t feel like it will turn around on its own. And I don’t want to be drinking every night in front of Aiden, you know?”

“Yeah,” he said, “I hear you. So there’s something I wanted to tell you about. Don’t get your hopes up, but I talked to Alan Smith yesterday.”

“How’s he doing?”

“He’s doing good, real good. Living in Virginia Beach, a couple hours from me. He works at the Jeep dealership, and that’s why I called him—my Pathfinder’s got 180,000 miles and I’m tired of having to fix something every two weeks, so I asked if he could give me the good-ol’-boy special.”

“Can he?”

“Oh yeah, he was thrilled to help out with a trade-in. So anyway, I asked how he was getting on. He said back in January, he got some crazy medical treatment from a doctor in Savannah. Says it turned his whole life around, and if any of our boys were hurting, to pass it along.”

Clara smirked. “Kyle, you’ve ridiculed everything I’ve ever tried besides drinking.”

“You do it right, and drinking’s all you need. I just know you’ve been having a tough time lately, and you were the first person who came to mind.”

She grabbed a pen. “Sure, I’ll check it out. What’s the name?”

“Jannesson.” He spelled the name. “Dr. Marcus Jannesson.”

She scrawled a note and said, “Thanks, I’ll check it out.”

“All right, girl, I got a client coming in now. Time for me to get medieval. Get back to your latest masterpiece.”

He hung up before she could say goodbye, and Clara turned off her phone and slid it into a desk drawer. Rolling her chair back to the desk, she let her hands settle on the keyboard and faced her book once more.

But the words wouldn’t come.

It was a cruel twist of fate, especially to her. Clara had never encountered the slightest hint of writer’s block. Nor was that her current problem—if she’d been able to average even five hours of sleep a night, she wouldn’t have been able to stop writing. Right now, she just couldn’t think.

The timing couldn’t have been much worse. This manuscript was particularly important, her magnum opus—or one of them, anyway. Clara had made the leap into professional author status with surprising quickness, her trio of thriller novels gaining a solid following in the last two years. Her latest release had made her a USA Today bestselling author, and her publisher was confident that the next installment would be a ~New York Times~ best seller.

But Clara considered the success to be largely hollow, less a credit to her abilities as a writer and more to her publisher’s heavy-handed restrictions on what she could and could not write. They were concerned with how every book would fit into a smug marketing plan that was almost entirely reliant on flaunting both her background and a deceptively attractive author photo.

Clara, by contrast, was concerned with her long-term development as an author. And with each thriller she wrote, she sensed more complacency creeping into her writing. She was getting too comfortable, penning action scenes that were becoming second nature. So she’d decided to push her boundaries, taking on a passion project to write a story that had been burning a hole through her. It was no thriller, but a literary novel about a mother, about parenting through tragedy and, ultimately, redemption.

She turned her gaze to a printout of an email between her agent and publisher, detailing the publisher’s reservations about her current novel, signaled by a low advance and stern insistence that it must not stifle the schedule of her thriller series. Clara had pinned the email to her board to fuel herself for the current manuscript—she wanted nothing more than to knock this book out of the park and then shove that fact in her publisher’s face.

But along with her eagerness to challenge herself came an effect she hadn’t anticipated. There were simply too many unanticipated turns in the storyline, and every time Clara thought she knew how the book would turn out she’d uncover a new wrinkle, requiring her to expand the story in complexity and, more significantly to her submission deadline, length.

With a deadline looming in ten days, she was fighting the clock—but still, the words wouldn’t come.

She considered the awful truth behind her situation. Plot considerations aside, the novel had a built-in barrier to its completion, one that Clara hadn’t anticipated. This particular story allowed her to pour more emotion and trauma into the writing than her thrillers ever had, bringing with it a resurgence of symptoms she’d largely suppressed for the past year—most notably, insomnia. After long ago battling her disease without success, she’d stopped trying to fix herself completely. Her husband had thought she was completely better, but Clara knew the truth. Her disease had simply dwindled to a constant drumbeat in the background of her mind, and she’d fed it with constant work and distraction to get through the day in the hopes that she would sleep each night.

Clara rose from behind her desk, passing a sleeping Thor on her way down the stairs. By the time she reached the second floor, her transition was complete: now she was no longer an author, but a mom tending to her family’s needs. She collected clothes hampers and began feeding the contents into her front-load washer. Once the first load was running, she made her rounds through the house to pick up Aiden’s toys and put them away. These mechanical actions seemed the only productivity she’d achieve that day, tasks of manual labor that required only the slightest trace of cognitive involvement. Typically, writing was her refuge from reality. But when she couldn’t write, Clara instead resorted to these domestic tasks with grudging resignation.

After nearly an hour of cleaning, she deemed the house orderly enough for the time being. She’d accomplished something that morning, at least. Then she returned to her office and took a seat before her computer, finding the cursor still blinking against the file. The story was no further along than when she left it, the morning’s coffee proving insufficient to set her mind into motion. She closed the file in frustration.

Clara opened a web browser instead. Clicking the search bar, she looked to the note on her desk and typed in three words.

Dr. Marcus Jannesson

After hitting the search button, Clara opened the first link that appeared on her screen.

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