Surviving is never easy, especially for Arie: a seventeen-year-old girl who ran away from home after a harrowing betrayal ruined her life. Now she’s a science experiment harboring a massive secret and running from those who want her power for their own vendettas. Stuck in a violent game of cat and mouse, Arie spends every moment evading Mr. Sark—the man representing the organization that would do anything to get their hands on what she’s hiding. Sark is driven, cruel, and desperate to prove himself, and every day he gets closer and closer to unraveling everything Arie is trying to protect.
One mistake on Arie’s part drags a civilian named Erika into the game. Arie is horrified to find Erika involved in Sark’s bloody hunt, and grapples with how to save them all. But Arie can’t do this on her own. She needs some help if she’s going to survive the secret looming over her head.
Walls crumble and lines between friend and enemy are blurred as Arie struggles to decide who to trust while trying to protect her secret and those she loves, knowing not everyone—including herself—can survive.
- Music is a huge part of my existence, and always proves to be extremely instrumental in shaping the stories I write. This playlist is the compilation of songs that influenced Surviving on a Whisper—some of them helped put me in the mood, some inspired characters, while some lyrics gave me the idea for specific scenes.
Songs by chronology in the book:
- Unwell by Matchbox Twenty
- Broken (feat. Amy Lee) by Seether
- Just A Dream by Carrie Underwood
- Bring Me to Life by Evanescence
- Broken by Lifehouse
- My Immortal by Evanescence
- No Promises (feat. Demi Lovato) by Cheat Codes
- Demons by Imagine Dragons
- Dark Side by Kelly Clarkson
- I Know What You Did Last Summer (feat. Camila Cabello) by Shawn Mendes
- This is Home by Switchfoot
- Feels Like Home by Edwina Hayes
- Haunted (Acoustic Version) by Taylor Swift
- Heart of Stone by Iko
- The Moment I Knew by Taylor Swift
- Forever and Always (Piano Version) by Taylor Swift
- Call Me When You’re Sober by Evanescence
- What Can I Say? (feat. Sons of Sylvia) by Carrie Underwood
- To Build A Home by The Cinematic Orchestra
- Moving On by Michael Giacchino
Overall mood songs:
- The Middle by Jimmy Eat World
- What I’ve Done by Linkin Park
- Love the Way You Lie Pt. III by Skylar Grey
- Whatever It Takes by Lifehouse
During the rewrite I listened to a lot of Of Monsters and Men, especially Organs, Little Talks, King and Lionheart, Slow And Steady, and Dirty Paws
Oh, and pretty much the whole The Dark Knight Rises score. Hans Zimmer is amazing.
- Anniversary Edition
The anniversary edition of Surviving on a Whisper is more than just a rerelease with a couple extras in the back—it’s a complete rework of the original book. SoaW was first released in 2013, and received both positive and negative reviews. After several years, I realized I was beginning to get more bad reviews than good ones, and started paying attention to the recurring themes in what my readers were saying. By that time a few years had passed, and I had grown so much as a writer and a storyteller. I knew I could take the criticism and make SoaW so much better.
Once I finished the last books in the series, I went back and overhauled the entire first book, rewriting the entire thing and revising it several times over, until it became a book I was truly proud of and felt did Arie justice. The new version—dubbed the anniversary edition to celebrate five years since the original was released—came out in 2018. While a few copies of the original manuscript remain in circulation, the anniversary edition of Surviving on a Whisper is now the official first book in the series.
- Chapter 1 Sneak Peek
I’ve always wanted to see Chicago. Sears Tower, Buckingham Fountain, Cloud Gate—the whole nine yards. I’d always imagined if I ever got the chance to go, I would’ve gone with my older brother. Out of the two of us, he was more adventurous, and his enthusiastic spirit would’ve given me the confidence to push myself out of my comfort zone and make something memorable. We would’ve had so much fun.
I’ve always imagined that if I ever saw Chicago, it would be on a trip with my best friend in the world, not while I was running for my life.
My heart pounded painfully in my chest as I weaved my way through the crowd, trying to be fast but still casual. Blending in was key: my pursuers couldn’t catch me if they couldn’t find me. The consequences of failure were too high and I had to treat every chase as life or death, as if they even saw me they could unravel the mystery that followed me everywhere.
The pier was crowded with people enjoying the carnival that had come into town. Brightly colored candy wrappers littered the ground and the air was tainted with saltwater and popcorn. Teenagers wearing dark red shirts called from the game booths, half-heartedly asking for players. Children were screaming in delight as parents shouted after them, not wanting to lose them in their excitement. For me, it was a giant pinball machine, a maze that I was forced to get through while eluding those who wanted me dead.
In short, it was a nightmare.
I had to be grateful for the pandemonium, though, at least a little. Without it providing cover, I wouldn’t have a chance at escaping, and I would’ve been caught a long time ago. It was a price I had paid for months now: get swallowed by chaos to keep from getting eaten by monsters. It didn’t always work—I found myself in the clutches of demons way too often—and sometimes I was afraid that one time I’d let the chaos swallow me and lose myself completely.
Stop, I ordered myself, bringing my attention back to the present: to the soles of my ragged tennis shoes against the harsh pavement and the stench of too many humans pushed together. Stay focused.
I knew the monsters that were chasing me were close behind, but that didn’t stop me from scanning every face I passed, doing so nonchalantly while keeping my head partway down. It seemed that half of the city had decided to show up to the pier today. It was a nice day considering it was late November in Chicago, but there was a definite chill in the air. Tonight was going to be cold. I shivered at the thought, the chill penetrating my secondhand black hoodie. My thrift store outfit was complete with worn skinny jeans and white knock off sneakers, allowing me to remain inconspicuous. My face, while well known by my pursuers, was plain and unremarkable, and my greasy brown hair was in a hasty ponytail. I was the definition of forgettable, and my survival counted on that.
I took an unsteady breath as I surveyed the area around me. People. People everywhere. No exit, no entrance, no fence to jump over or ditch to hide in.
They’re coming. They’re behind you. They’re going to catch you.
I whipped my head around, scanning the crowd. My height allowed me to see over a lot of heads, but the advantage only brought more panic. There were people everywhere and any one of them could pop up and surprise me. Any one of them could be against me. In fact, every one of them would be against me, probably, if they knew the secret I was hiding and protecting with my life.
The thought threatened to suffocate me in a mass of strangers, but I forced myself onward. Step after step, person after person. I couldn’t see an exit but that didn’t mean there wasn’t one. There had to be one. I would make one.
A family in front of me passed by, the two young boys running for the shooting game booth, allowing a break in the crowd. Through it, I saw a parking lot.
Stuffing my hands in my hoodie pocket, I started for the exit. A familiar man entered my line of sight several yards away, blocking my path to the parking lot, and I skidded to a stop. Felix saw me in the same second. Our eyes locked for a moment, then he smiled and headed for me, and I twisted myself around and bolted the other direction. It took me further into the crowd, but at that moment I didn’t care. I weaved in and out of people, putting as many bodies as possible between Felix and me.
Get away, get away, get away, I have to get away.
Through the carnival music and toddler wails, I heard an employee calling for a single rider on the Ferris Wheel. Panic had overtaken every thought, the need to hide consuming everything, and I dashed ahead to take the spot. I didn’t even wait for the worker; I just scampered past the line and sat myself in the empty seat, locking the bar over me and the stranger next to me. The pimple-ridden worker shot me an annoyed look before pressing a button on his console, and then I was drifting up into the sky.
My new vantage point allowed me to see everything, and my eyes automatically searched the ocean of people for faces I recognized. A small triumphant smile played on my face when I caught sight of Felix making it to the spot where he’d seen me moments earlier. He was rifling through the crowd, his own smile fading into frustration when it seemed I had disappeared.
Take that, Felix.
The guy sitting next to me cleared his throat, snapping my attention to him. I gave him a quick once over, analyzing what I was up against. While successful so far, any escape plan that forced me to talk to strangers lost points in my book. I was supposed to be forgettable, after all.
The rider next me wasn’t all that memorable himself. He looked about nineteen, short and stocky, with dark buzzed hair, chocolate brown skin, and a diamond in each ear. He glanced at me, then the crowd I’d been anxiously scanning, like he was trying to see what I saw.
I stole another look at the scene below us, to make sure I didn’t lose Felix. With any luck, he would think I got away, and they’d leave the pier.
“Nice day, huh?”
With a start, I turned back to the stranger. “What?”
He didn’t betray any emotion in his expression, though there was a hint of something in his eyes. Amusement, maybe? “I said, nice day, huh?”
“Uh, yeah.” I finally caught my breath from my escape. “I guess.”
The guy sat back in the seat, sprawling like he were making himself comfortable, though it was impossible to be comfortable in the hard plastic bench. He spread his arm halfway out on the back of the bench, and I instantly sat up straighter, inching away from him. If he got any closer…
“Funny,” he said, watching the people again, oblivious to my discomfort. “You don’t seem to be enjoying it.”
My eyebrows pulled down in distaste as I eyed his arm. “Enjoying what?”
A brief recap of the day played in my head—a day full of found hiding places and frantic running—and snorted.
He glanced at me again, in question. I didn’t offer anything else, and after a second he returned to watching the scenery. I stared at his arm for a minute, as if willing it to stay put, before I decided it wasn’t moving for the time being. I had other problems, anyway.
My hands fidgeted in my lap as I searched the crowd again. We were higher up now, and the people on the ground had gotten smaller, but I could still make out specifics if I stared long enough. It took me a moment, but eventually I found Felix again, stalking his way through the crowd. People tended to part for him once they saw him, since his brawny build and malicious eyes weren’t exactly friendly. Those people were smart to move for him; I knew exactly how nasty he could get.
I watched Felix cut through the throng once, then twice, circling the area. When he came up empty a fourth time, he met up with two other men—Vega and Zed from the looks of it—and the three of them went to go break the news of my escape to their boss.
My toes curled as I saw them make their way to the parking lot and converse with a fourth man. Though they were farther away now, just larger than specks on the asphalt, I’d recognize him anywhere: immaculate bronze hair, icy blue eyes full of disdain, arrogance oozing from every molecule. He held himself well, powerful and proud like an accomplished adult, but he wasn’t that much older than me. His face was all angles, harsh and cold and completely unforgiving.
Sark used to not care about me. He used to not even know I existed, and I lived my peaceful, mundane life as an average person. But then, one day someone gives you an experimental formula, moderately changing your biology, and all of a sudden you’re a freak show hunted by everyone—most notably, a guy named Mr. Sark.
At least, that was my experience.
Felix, Vega, and Zed all made their way to their boss, but since Felix was the second-hand man, he was the one that broke the news to Sark. I could almost feel his frigid fury from here.
I shivered in spite of myself. Even though I hated Felix, it was hard for me not to feel bad for anyone caught on the wrong side of Sark’s wrath.
“Why are you a single rider?” the guy sitting next to me asked suddenly, making me jump. He glanced at the silver bracelet around my wrist; I pulled my sleeve over it. “You single?”
As much as I didn’t want to be stuck up here for another five minutes with this stranger, it was better than the alternative. Although, sometimes, I’d almost prefer the torture to social situations.
I made a face without looking at him, disgusted. “You really that desperate?”
The guy snickered and extended his hand. “I’m Charlie.”
One of my hands clenched into a fist at the pang that went through my heart. Of course, Charlie was just a name, a name of thousands of people in the world. Just because I knew one too once didn’t mean I had to get all weepy about it. At least, that’s what I told myself.
I appraised him with a raised eyebrow. “I’m not impressed.”
Charlie raised his hands in mocking surrender, and I was glad his arm moved farther away from me. “Just seeing what I’m up against. You’re not like a lot of the girls I’ve met today.”
I couldn’t help an eye roll. What a stupid line. I turned my focus back to Sark and his crew, willing them to leave. “Gee, thanks.”
He shrugged coolly. “I know a runaway when I see one.”
Every nerve in my body snapped to attention. I angled myself to face him, annoyed when a small smirk played on his mouth, like I’d done exactly what he wanted. I didn’t care. Random girls at the carnival were forgettable. Single rider runaways were not.
“You got a name, Runaway?”
I wrinkled my nose. I couldn’t stand him calling me that, even for the next four minutes of the ride.
“Erin,” I answered, using my go-to fake name. “Care to elaborate on your observation?”
The corner of his mouth pulled up. “I’m right, aren’t I?”
“Not necessarily. But I can’t say I’m flattered someone would think I’m homeless.”
“Ducked head, second-hand outfit, jumpy eyes. I know the drill.”
I snorted again. Nothing about my life fit into any drill, at least not anymore. I looked over his baggy jeans, white tank, and thick black jacket.
“I’m no runaway,” he went on when I didn’t. “If that’s what you were thinking. Sorry to disappoint.”
I rolled my eyes. “You’re breaking my heart.”
“My little brother got busted in a drug deal awhile back. Only made it two months before the police caught up to him.” I couldn’t tell if his snide tone was for me or his brother. “Looks like you could’ve given him some tips.”
“I’m not a druggie,” I muttered, annoyed I took the bait.
We began our descent and I lost sight of Sark. The sun glinted off the top of a strip of cars, momentarily blinding me, and I had to squint. When I got back to the top of the wheel, I would plan my escape. I would get out.
I have to get out.
“Do I get a couple of guesses then?” Charlie asked me. “We’ve still got another circle on this thing, you know.”
“My boyfriend was making out with some other girl behind the dart booth,” I said, unable to keep the sarcasm out of my voice. “I ran to the Ferris Wheel to drown my sorrows. Not that exciting.”
Charlie clicked his tongue in disappointment. “Nah, I’m thinking something else. Robbery?”
“International art thief?”
“Creative, but no.”
“Oh, I know. You’re one of those mobster’s girlfriends.”
“You got me.”
Our bench dipped down low, then paused for a second to let someone else on. I automatically ducked my head, turning my face away from the crowd and holding my breath. Sure, Sark had been in the parking lot just moments earlier, but he could’ve decided to check the area one more time.
Go away, go away, go away, leave me alone.
Charlie smirked at me, like I’d proven his point. I rolled my eyes again, like it was the best comeback and not a pathetic cop out.
“Okay, next guess,” he said once we had rounded the bend and were drifting up again, the pandemonium below fading into a distant humming.
I wasn’t listening. I scanned the hordes of people again while tracing my best route of escape. I could do this. I could make it. Sark wouldn’t get me today.
“I think I got it: it’s your family, right? Your parents?”
Again, my spine straightened like I’d been electrocuted, and the back of my neck prickled.
Charlie nodded, gaining enthusiasm from my reaction. “Your dad?”
I pursed my lips and analyzed him again, warning bells going off in my head. It wasn’t the secret, but it was definitely personal information. Either Charlie wasn’t as innocent as he seemed or he was really good at guessing games. Was he a new hire of Sark’s? A new plan, a new trick, a new trap?
Finally, I said, “That’s very specific.”
He shrugged, but his casual posture didn’t match the hard glint in his eyes. “Yeah, well, those of us who know that life can sense when someone else is in the same mud.”
I raised an eyebrow. “And you know that life?”
His expression darkened. “My little brother didn’t get into drugs for nothing.”
“Ah.” I nodded once.
We both turned and watched the sky, and I caught myself distracted, wondering what Charlie was thinking about. I wondered what his dad was like. Certainly not anything like mine, though the idea set off a pained kind of comfort in my chest.
“How did you stay clean if your brother couldn’t?” I knew it was more of a personal question, but if he had any tips on staying sane, I would gladly take them.
Charlie just shrugged again, but he wouldn’t meet my eyes anymore. “Somebody has to.”
I nodded again with a new respect for him. I knew that life. Most days I wanted nothing more than to just give up the fight, but doing that would mean turning myself in and giving up the secret I’d abandoned everything to protect—a secret that could kill millions. I had to keep that secret safe.
Somebody has to.
Our bench had passed the top of the wheel and we were descending back into the lively carnival atmosphere. I tapped my hands against my legs with anticipation, my eyes darting everywhere, looking for an enemy. I was going to run, I was going to hide, and I was going to be fine.
Calm down. Stay focused.
“Here,” Charlie said. I turned to see him holding a twenty dollar bill out to me. “For a cab ride outta here.”
I stared at the money a moment, uncertainty tightening in my gut. Nobody gave money to forgettable people. Nobody forgot the people that owed them a debt.
Charlie pushed it closer to me. “I don’t need it. My friend’ll feel so guilty that he didn’t come with me on the Ferris Wheel and I had to sit next to this girl that wouldn’t stop sobbing over her cheating boy. He’ll owe me dinner.”
I grinned and took the money as our ride came to a halt. “Thanks.”
“We screw-ups gotta stick together.”
The second the worker lifted our restraint bar, I was up and out of there.
“Good luck, Runaway,” I heard Charlie mutter before I let myself get swallowed by the crowd.
I managed to make my way to the entrance of the pier, holding my breath nearly the whole time, so I was almost wheezing when I finally broke free of the last group of people. The constant thrum of voices and carnival rides melted into the background, replaced by the squealing and honking that came with Chicago traffic. I wrinkled my nose as I walked over to the crosswalk where a pack of tourists and couple joggers were waiting for a red light. I hated big cities, especially downtown anywhere, but it was so much easier to get lost in. Plus, Sark hated spectacles. It was easier to cause a scene, therefore forcing Sark into the shadows, when there were a million people everywhere.
Glancing at the people next to me to assess any threats, I took a deep breath and longed for a secluded house on a beach in the middle of nowhere.
The crosswalk beeped at us, and I forced myself to keep a casual pace as I crossed the street: behind the joggers but just in front of the tourists. Average and forgettable.
The back of my neck prickled either from my nerves or because someone was staring at me. Swallowing my budding terror, I looked behind me without stopping, surveying the scene I was leaving behind. There wasn’t anyone I recognized stuffed in the crowd.
Stay calm. Stay focused. You’re going to make it out. Not that the disgusting hotel room I had for the night was anything to look forward to.
Oh well. We can’t have everything. At least it wasn’t a park bench.
I turned to face forward again, almost to the other side of the street now. My eyes scanned the sidewalk up and down to check for any hostiles. I missed him on my first pass, but caught him on the second.
Felix. A half block down to my left and headed for me.
My heart skipped a beat, then started pounding erratically. I wasn’t to the sidewalk yet, but I turned right anyway, prepared to make a run for it.
I stopped dead in my tracks. Vega was a half block down on my right, heading for me.
Biting my lip so hard it bled, I whipped back around. Sure enough, Zed was watching me from across the street, carnival goers bustling around him. He caught my eye and waved.
I was surrounded.