William C. Tracy is a North Carolina native and a lifelong fan of science fiction and fantasy. He has a master’s in mechanical engineering, and has both designed and operated heavy construction machinery. He has also trained in Wado-Ryu karate since 2003, and runs his own dojo. He is an avid video and board gamer, a reader, and of course, a writer.
In his spare time, he wrangles three cats. He and his wife enjoy putting their pets in cute little costumes and making them cosplay for the annual Christmas card.
You can visit him at williamctracy.com.
On a bright August day, the sun disappears.
Sam van Oen barely escapes freezing to death in his house, as his watch stops and fire ceases to burn. He is pulled into the Nether—a nexus between ten diverse alien cultures—where he meets two maji who can control the musical foundation of the universe. While coping with anxiety attacks prompted by his new surroundings, Sam must learn to hear and change the Symphony, and thus reality, in order to discover what happened to his home.
Sam is surrounded by aliens, both strange and familiar. Soon, he meets sister and brother twins, also new to the Nether, who support him during his anxiety attacks. Sam finds he is attracted to both of them, and does not want to choose.
But more freezing voids like the one that started his journey are appearing, and Sam’s chances of getting back are fading. The Assembly of Species is threatening to dissolve and the maji are being attacked by those they protect, while rumors grow of an ancient, shape-changing species of assassins, returning to wage war.
The Dissolution is coming.
Sam was reading when the sun dimmed.
As he looked up from his book, he caught the sky outside his window shading into twilight. Overhead, the light blinked off, then on and the music playing on his laptop—Beethoven’s 7th—croaked a discordant jumble of notes before the screen went black. A breath of cold air left goosebumps on his arms.
“What the—” Sam pushed up from the chair as the overhead light faded again. His breath caught in his throat, like he had swallowed a lump of ice. His room was not large, made smaller by the piles of boxes making up his collection, and now shadows rose between stacks of waist-high containers. He wormed through them in the dim light, heart racing. Was this really happening, or was he having an attack? Why now? It took two tries to pick up his grandfather’s pocket watch from where it rested on an end table beside his bed. His hands shook, and the thump of his heartbeat nearly overpowered the rhythmic ticking transmitted through his palm. He focused on the mechanical beat—let it inform his body with the regular beat of time.
Calm down. Stillness evaded him, left him unsteady. Everything is going dark in the middle of the day. At least the watch was working. He made sure to keep it wound, and kept it safe in his room.
While watching the darkened sky, his other hand fingered the lid of a small shoebox. His collection of boxes contained grass clippings, shells, sand, and other things, bought by friends and customers of his aunt. They reminded him of favorite sights and smells. However, the shoebox contained things more precious than the rest: half a belt, stiff from water damage, and the heel of a woman’s left shoe, sheared off cleanly.
No. Can’t think of them now. They’re gone, and I can’t change it. He shivered at another gust of cold air. His room felt like late January instead of August. He eyed the window, but the thought of opening it—letting in the places he didn’t know—made his hands sweat. His hand left the box, moving to the windowpane. He hissed and shook his fingers. The window was colder than the house, which meant outside must be too. He breathed out and raised his watch to his ear, listening to the steady beat.
Is this all in my head? He hadn’t heard a transformer blow, and there was no storm. It was so quiet his rough breathing was like a train. He rubbed his arms, and a quick touch on his laptop’s case nearly numbed his finger. His cellphone was powered down and wouldn’t restart.
Aunt Martha will know what to do. Get to safety. Sam weaved through the precise stacks of boxes, trembling. She would be in her sewing shop. Sam wiped sweaty hands on his shorts before pulling a coat from the closet and socks from a drawer. He dropped his watch in a pocket of the coat, but kept one hand on it. If the power outage kept up, he couldn’t log in for his shift in technical support. What will they think? Will they fire me? He couldn’t get his ethics essay done either, and he had to email it in by tomorrow night for the ethical theories class at his online community college.
The chill air in the hall made him regret the shorts, but he shrugged his coat on, then leaned against the wall, pulling his socks on carefully. If the seams were going the wrong way, they’d just distract him, and there was too much going on already. He closed his eyes. Don’t shut down. Keep moving.
The dark wood-paneled hallway was cold even through his socks, and Sam made a detour to the front door to get his sneakers, adjusting his feet in them, making sure the laces were the same length. It took two tries with his shaking hands. The dark was deepening outside, and by the time he got to the other end of the house, he was using his sense of touch more than sight to navigate.
He met Aunt Martha coming from the small one-room addition that served as her workshop. She held a flickering beeswax candle in her hand. It’s not just in my head.