Awaken: A Novel

Awaken: A Novel

by Denese Shelton


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Sierra is a successful real estate agent living a comfortable life. But she has a secret so painful that she has erected emotional walls around her heart that block anyone from getting close.

Then the dreams begin. In one, Sierra is running from the sound of dogs barking and men chasing her in the darkness; in another, she’s in a field, lashes coming down on her back; in many, she is a woman of faith named Dorothy, fighting for civil rights. Sierra tries to ignore the dreams and continue with life as usual—but the more she disregards them , the longer and deeper she sleeps, and soon the long nights begin to affect her work and sanity. Finally, she seeks the help she needs.

The more she works to understand the nature of and reason for her dreams, the more freedom Sierra feels in her own life. Doors to relationships with other people open. She meets a client that could be the love of her life. And soon, she has a decision to make: she can be who she has always been, living in fear; or she can be Dorothy, allow the dreams to show her who she really is, reconnect with God, and fill the void in her spirit.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781631523632
Publisher: She Writes Press
Publication date: 07/10/2018
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Denese Shelton has been writing most of her life. She likes to read. She likes to travel. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and a Doctor of Dental Surgery degree. She currently resides in Georgia.

Read an Excerpt


Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take."

Sierra Harper whispered the prayer as she lay in bed, hoping tonight would be the night when she would be dreamless — or if not dreamless, at least full of harmless dreams. This was the first prayer she remembered learning, and after a long hibernation, it had managed to push its way to the forefront of her mind and out of her mouth as she tossed her way through another sleepless night.

She let out the breath she was unconsciously holding and turned toward the window in her bedroom. The blinds were closed and let in only a sliver of light. She had closed them hoping the darkness would help block out images that would cause her to think about anything at all. Perhaps if her mind were blank, she thought, the dreams wouldn't come.

For a moment, she looked at the clock. It was 3:00 a.m. She didn't have a lot of time left to even attempt some rest; soon, she would have to get up and get ready for work.

"All right, I need to at least try to sleep," she said aloud, and she began to count sheep in her head. Although sheep were cliché, she hoped that the simplicity of the exercise would put her into a peaceful slumber.

Slowly but surely, Sierra's eyes became heavy. She was asleep ... and then she was awake.

* * *

Sierra was running. It was dark. The soil and rocks beneath her feet cut and bruised her skin with each stride, but she kept on running. She had to.

The night air was cold. Her lean body felt stiff from the chill, and her muscles wanted to lock up. She'd been running for so long. She could hear the dogs somewhere behind her, barking viciously, and the primal screams of the hunters. They were getting closer. She was running out of time, out of place, out of life.

"God, please, help me," she begged.

She couldn't remember what she'd done to incite this chase. She didn't know if she was a thief, a robber, or just disobedient. She had a vague recollection of an accusation, an argument, and a quilt. But nothing made any sense right now.

Sierra looked down at her hands and saw that she wasn't carrying anything but herself. Yet she sensed that the weight, the burden, of being, of existing in this life that she was running from, was beginning to take its toll. Her face dripping with sweat, she passed trees and figures in the abyss of the night that she could scarcely make out, and still she ran on.

The whiteness of her dress screeched against the sinister darkness of the night. If she were naked, she thought, the night would welcome her into its dark embrace. Her skin would make the perfect camouflage.

Her breathing was irregular. She was very tired but she kept on running. And then, suddenly, she wasn't. Something was burning into her neck, something that was getting tighter and tighter. Her feet no longer touched the ground.

They were kicking and flailing at the air, at the night, at the sound of laughter and cheers from a crowd. She couldn't see the people but she could hear them. She couldn't understand why they were so happy when she couldn't breathe.

Her eyes were tearing and felt as though they were going to explode out of her skull. She smelled smoke. A fire was burning somewhere. She felt the heat. Maybe it was more than one fire. She couldn't make it out when she was losing her breath — and then she was losing consciousness. Her legs no longer fought the darkness; now they were just swinging back and forth, brushing against the bark of the old oak tree.

* * *

Her eyes burst open. It was still dark, but the room was silent. The bed beneath her was soft, but something was wet. Her sheets were covered in her own sweat. Sierra sighed heavily, realizing that what she'd experienced was only a dream — but she was unable to relax. She was scared. Her dream felt real this time. More real than it had ever felt before.

She wanted to get up and wash her face or even get a glass of water, but she looked at the clock on the side of her bed and saw it was 4:00 a.m. In another hour she'd be forced to get up anyway, and she hated the idea of losing any more sleep than she already had. She'd been tired too many mornings lately. So she willed her mind to be still and her body to calm itself so that she could get back to sleep.

She closed her eyes and folded her hands, praying to God again for help, though she wasn't sure if He would hear or if He would even listen. A long time had gone by since last she'd prayed.

* * *

Later that morning, Sierra found herself on the phone with her older sister, Irene.

"Hey, girl, what's up?"

"Nothing," Sierra replied. "I'm just getting ready to go meet with these clients." And be just a little bored, she added silently.

But her feelings didn't matter. Sierra relied on a commonsense mentality that kept her life and thoughts in rational order. She could always trust in logic when feelings made anything unclear.

"How did you sleep last night?" her sister queried in a worried voice.

Exhaling noisily, Sierra admitted, "Same as the last couple of nights this week."

"What are you going to do?"

"What can I do? I have to sleep, and every time I sleep, I dream. No matter what, the dreams keep coming, and talking about them won't make them go away. So what's the point of talking about them?"

Before Irene could answer, Sierra added, "Hey, let me get ready to go to this meeting."

She desperately wanted to get off the phone and out of this conversation.

The dreams were bad enough. She definitely didn't want to start her morning with a postmortem of the night before and the reminder that she was helpless to stop the nightmares.

Irene sighed. "Okay, talk to you later. I love you." She knew her sister well enough to know when she had taken the conversation as far as Sierra was willing to go.

"Love you too. Bye." Sierra disconnected the call, making a mental note as she did to call her sister later. She knew Irene would worry herself sick if she didn't.

Sierra was almost sorry that she'd told her sister about the dreams in the first place. She didn't want to be reminded of them. But she'd had a weak moment a couple of nights before and felt the need to tell someone about the nightmares that had been plaguing her all week. Now she knew her sister would harass her about it until she lied and told her that the dreams had stopped just to get her off of her back.

Although Irene was only four years older than Sierra, she had always had the uncanny ability to make Sierra feel like a child. Even now, she made her feel much younger than the twenty-eight-year-old woman she was.

Irene had a husband and three kids of her own. She was a stay-at-home mom, and she loved it. "You would think she had enough people to mother in her life," Sierra said aloud. She sighed and shrugged. What are you going to do? That's Irene.

Sierra had to direct her thoughts back to work. For her, being a real estate agent wasn't just about selling a house but rather selling a dream. As an agent, she needed to make her clients feel as though buying a house she was selling would be the culmination of all of their hopes. Conversely, when selling a house, she needed to make her owner clients feel that she would be persuasive enough to get the best deal for them, no matter what. In either situation, she had to be cheerful and confident. And that was the attitude she was determined to project today.

She picked up her purse and walked out her door to head to the property. The cold winter air hit her face as she left her condo and entered the parking lot of her building.

It was January, and winter was not yet ready to mellow out; on the contrary, it seemed determined to continue to roar like a lion. This particular morning, Sierra welcomed the sting of the wind on her cheeks. It was better than a slap to the face to revive her senses, wake her up, and help her to focus on the task at hand. It also propelled her even faster to her car, which, thankfully, was already running. She loved the trigger on her key chain that automatically started the Lexus.

She liked her career, too — especially because she made her own hours. She was glad to be doing work that offered her so much independence and was still monetarily advantageous.

She had spent a brief period after college working for an ad agency and hated it. She'd realized then that she wasn't made for nine-to-five hours and cubicles blocking the sunlight from her days. She didn't want to have to answer to an incompetent boss who took joy in coming to her desk every couple of hours to ask her questions to which, as the boss, he should already know the answers, and then watch him promptly take credit for all of her ideas.

My brilliant ideas, she amended, remembering that very unpleasant period in her life.

Anyway, that time was far behind her and she had more pressing issues to attend to right now, like showing a house. She began to do a mental check for the property she was about to show as she got in her car.

Right after she quit her job at the advertising agency, Sierra had happened upon real estate as a potential career. A friend of the family was a real estate agent and seemed to like it. Sierra told the woman she was interested and began to shadow her at work. She quickly learned the ropes, and soon thereafter, she took the necessary real estate courses and passed both the Wisconsin and national salesperson exams. The same brokerage that she'd shadowed under was registered on her initial license form, and she had been working under them ever since. Running her company through the brokerage allowed her the freedom to be her own person. The percentage of her commissions they took had always, until recently, seemed a small price to pay. Lately, though, she had begun to consider obtaining a brokerage license herself.

She took her work very seriously, which was reflected in the fact that most of her waking hours were spent on the phone talking to perspective clients, on the Internet looking at all kinds of listings, and in her car scouring the city and the surrounding area to keep up with where new communities were growing. All updates on property listings went directly to her phone and notified her with a distinctive ring. She even had an assistant/secretary, Stefani, who helped her stay on top of the mounting paperwork and clientele. Sierra ate, slept, and breathed real estate. And she loved her work — or at least she had convinced herself that she did for the last four years.

Stefani had e-mailed Sierra this morning with the details about the couple whom she was going to meet. They were an older couple looking for a summer house along Lake Michigan. They had been referred to Sierra by their daughter, who had recently bought a house through Sierra. Apparently, the daughter couldn't stop singing Sierra's praises to anyone who would listen, including her own parents.

Sierra was grateful for the referral, though the idea of a summer house struck her as both pretentious and enviable all at once. When this thought crossed her mind, she shook her head. Lately, she'd had contrasting opinions about just about everything. She was careful to keep these unsolicited ponderings to herself.

* * *

Sierra met the couple at the first house and proceeded to show them property after property along Milwaukee's lakefront. She looked at the columns on the houses, the beautiful bricks, the sprawling entryways, the landscaping, the neighborhoods, and the foamy white waves crashing along sandy beaches still dotted with remnants of icy snow and was suddenly angry but didn't understand why.

An overwhelming feeling of uneasiness began to plague her. What's happening to me? she wondered. Then another unwanted thought arose. When was the last time she had done any volunteer or community work? I can't be responsible for the whole world, she told herself, and determined that she wouldn't be made to feel contrite about it. She then realized that she was arguing with herself. Again.

These internal scuffles had been happening with increasing frequency over the last couple of months. The skirmishes always ended in a draw, and she knew that today would be no different. So she put her mind back on the task at hand.

She looked around as she showed two more houses in the same neighborhood. She noticed the barren trees, which seemed burdened by the various snow masses weighing them down. Still other trees, those not as laden with precipitation, danced in the wind like electrified skeletons.

Sierra found half of her mind wandering like this for most of the day. Concentrating on real estate was hard when all she could think about was the disturbing dreams she'd been having. She was used to experiencing anxiety every once and a while and not being able to sleep. She'd even had nightmares before. But her usual fare were the kind of nightmares where you show up at some public function naked or you're falling from some tall building, or maybe even that your teeth are falling out. These new dreams were different. They felt so real that when she woke up she always felt a sense of terror — and relief. Sierra gently traced her fingers around her neck as a vague tightness briefly returned to her throat.

She couldn't understand what was going on and, more important, didn't know how she could make the dreams stop. She had become too distracted lately. The lack of sleep was making her feel crazy. She had bags under her eyes and had been yawning for the past three hours. She didn't normally believe in drinking coffee every three hours, but for the last couple of weeks these constant caffeine boosts had become essential to her life. She really wanted to know what was going on inside her head. She needed to find out before her nights completely took over her days.


The sun was scorching hot, the kind of hot that made people think that the devil had decided to air out Hell. The wind was from the south and carried no oxygen. Sierra could feel sweat dripping from every pore in her body. Her mouth felt like sandpaper. She looked down at her hands, and all she saw were blisters and blood. Her hands were so sore and so weak that she was unable to bend her fingers. How did she get here? She looked all around her and all she could see for miles were fields of fluffy whiteness. She was in a cotton field.

All about her, people were steadily working. Everywhere she turned, she saw people working the field. They all looked tired. She heard some kind of humming all around her, but she couldn't make out what it was or where it was coming from. Children as young as six and men who looked as old as seventy were picking the cotton. She had a bale over her own shoulder, and her bale was definitely not as full as everyone else's.

Suddenly, she heard a loud crack. She felt the skin on her back open up, and a mixture of blood and sweat traveled down her spine like a river. The pain was excruciating. The crack of the whip had been violent and quick. Sierra turned and saw the menacing face of the overseer who had delivered the harsh blow.

"You lazy nigger, your bag is 'bout empty compared to everybody else's. Let this be a warning, and get to work."

Sierra heard the sound in the air again, like thunder, before she felt that whip again peel off her humanity. The river of blood on her back split into tributaries as the final lick came down. She stood frozen for a second and then started to scream. Everyone in the field began to stare, and that's when she heard it. She realized they weren't humming; they were singing. She knew this song. "Steal away, steal way, Lord. I ain't got long to stay here."

Sierra looked up and saw the kind eyes of an older woman who had come close and was standing over her. The woman was singing the song with the others as she looked directly into Sierra's eyes, and a sudden peace coursed through Sierra.

"I ain't got long to stay here."

Sierra hoped for her sake this was true.

* * *

Sierra looked in the mirror at her bloodshot eyes and down at the eye drops in her hand. She hoped they would work, because she knew she looked as if she had a hangover. That wasn't the case, of course; it had just been another sleepless night. Due to the nightmares, she couldn't get even two hours of uninterrupted sleep. She'd been spending most of her nights tossing and turning and hoping for peace.

Several more weeks had passed and the dreams persisted. She wasn't sure how much more she could take and still maintain her sanity.


Excerpted from "Awaken"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Denese Shelton.
Excerpted by permission of She Writes Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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