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The Darkness Outside
A Gripping Suspense Thriller Full of Twists and Turns

Sixteen-year-old Lois and her mom, dad, and thirteen-year-old sister have signed up for a top-secret competition, hoping to win a life-changing prize. They will be locked in a state-of-the-art bunker with nine other families. Once inside, they will embark on a virtual trip to the moon. During their "journey," their every move will be judged by anonymous evaluators. Families that don't have what it takes will be quickly eliminated.

Lois thought losing the competition was the worst thing that could happen to her.

She was dead wrong.


"Full of twists and turns that even I didn't see coming. A great read which will keep you turning the pages from beginning to end." - Donna, Goodreads ★★★★★

"WOW!! I was totally blown away. The characters are perfect. The world building is great. LOVED IT!!!" - Winter, Goodreads ★★★★★

"Never a dull moment. Will keep you on the edge of your seat all the way through!" - Deborah, Goodreads ★★★★★

"One of the best books I have read. Great story and an ending that you will never see coming!" - Christine, Goodreads ★★★★★

If you like fast-paced novels with mystery, suspense, adventure, twists and turns, and clean romance, you'll love this unputdownable page-turner that will keep you guessing until the very end!

Read all of J.W. Lynne's books for FREE with Kindle Unlimited.

An excerpt from The Darkness Outside



I want to scream. I want to fling myself down and beat my hands against the ground. This isn't how things were supposed to be. This isn't how this story was supposed to end.

It feels like a lifetime ago that my family and I embarked on our simulated mission. I wish I'd known what would happen next. I wish I could go back in time and grab my family and run far away ... all the way to the moon. But, of course, that's impossible.

And now it's too late to run.


It seems as if the entire world is asleep. From the window of my family's suite on the one-hundredth floor of the Atlantis Tower, the campus of FrontierXploration appears completely deserted. It is lit only by little lights along the walkways and the glow of its grand buildings that seem to be made entirely of glass. In the distance, I see only darkness. We are far from civilization. During the day, the land around the campus looks like an endless sea of trees. My mom, dad, sister, and I were brought to this remote place two weeks ago to begin preparations for a top-secret mission. A mission that begins today.

There is a knock on the door of our suite. The four people on the other side don't wait for permission to enter. They just barge right in, dressed in their white head-to-toe isolation suits. Ever since our arrival here, everyone who has had contact with us has worn full-body protective suits in order to ensure that we don't acquire any contagious diseases right before our mission. The people in the Iso Suits are our pre-mission instructors. They have spent the past two weeks attempting to train us to be astronauts. My instructor, Simone, is a petite woman with dark skin, dark eyes, and an always-pleasant demeanor.

"Good morning," Simone says to my family and me. "How are you all feeling?"

"Excited," we say, practically in unison.

Simone laughs. "Stupendous!"

The instructors present each of us with a handheld tester device.

"We need to check you for infectious diseases," Simone says to us, her tone suddenly uncharacteristically serious.

I place the thick plastic straw between my lips and breathe out slowly and steadily. My family and I have been tested like this countless times in our lives, but this time is perhaps the most important. If any of us tests positive, all of us will be instantly eliminated from the mission and sent back home. My device beeps, and I hand it to Simone.

I hold my breath as the instructors watch their screens, waiting for our test results.

And then my dad's instructor says, "Negative."

My mom's instructor nods. "Negative."

My sister's instructor smiles. "Negative."

Finally, Simone says, "Negative. Let's get you guys out of your PJs and into your suits!"

It's suit-up time!

I practically skip to my bedroom. I strip off my pajamas and stare at the items that I laid out last night in preparation for this moment. The first is my Maximum Absorption Garment (AKA: an adult diaper). It looks more like thick underpants than a diaper, but it is going to feel weird to wear it. I haven't worn a diaper since I was a toddler, and I really didn't think I'd be putting one on again at sixteen years old. But wearing the MAG is required, and it actually might prove necessary. Once we have suited up in our spacesuits, we will not be allowed to remove them until we have reached a safe point in our make-believe flight to the moon.

I don my diaper and my socks. Then I get to work pulling on my undersuit. It is similar to two-piece thermal underwear, but it is made of a much thinner and softer material than any clothing I've ever worn. I'm not sure exactly what it is made of, because that information is proprietary, but it is supposed to keep our skin feeling comfortably dry even if we sweat up a storm, which we probably will, given what we are about to experience. The undershirt contains sensors for the monitors that will keep track of my vital signs throughout the mission, but they are so unobtrusive that I barely sense they are there.

During this mission, we will be monitored more intimately than I want to think about. Everything will be recorded, from our heart rates to our conversations to our bathroom activities. Every morning and night a "personal assistant" powered by artificial intelligence will ask us probing questions about our most private feelings. The AI "assistant" is capable of detecting whether or not we are lying, and we have been instructed not to lie to it. And so, essentially, we will have no privacy. The only things that will be confidential are whatever thoughts we can conceal completely inside our minds.

Nine other families are signed up to join us on this mission. But they aren't merely our comrades. Technically, they are our competitors. During the mission, FrontierXploration will periodically eliminate families from the simulation based on secret criteria that they have not disclosed to us. At the end of the thirty-day mission, a family or families will be selected from those that remain to take a real-life two-year trip to the moon and receive a four-million-dollar cash prize. They will be among the first families ever to live on the moon.

Even though people have been living in lunar colonies for a long time now, no one under the age of eighteen is currently allowed to live on the moon—because archaic international space laws prohibit it. Very recently, several companies were granted a special exemption. FrontierXploration was one of them. Soon, these companies will be authorized to send a limited number of families with kids ages thirteen and older to the moon, where they will be integrated into established lunar colonies.

It hasn't been announced yet how many families will be sent at first, but changes like this tend to be implemented exceedingly slowly. My guess is that each company will only have approval to send one or two families. If these families succeed on the moon, it will pave the way for others to follow, but it will likely be many years before families are sent to the moon routinely. And so, winning this competition will likely be my family's only chance.

There is actually a good reason to allow families to live on the moon. Under current laws, everyone who is recruited to work on the moon has to be childless or willing to give up being with their kids for the duration of their contract. For many people, that isn’t a sacrifice they are willing to make. One of the biggest challenges for the lunar colonies has been to recruit enough experienced top-notch medical professionals to handle any type of healthcare need that arises. And so, the first families sent to the moon will be the families of medical professionals. FrontierXploration figures that the best way to ensure that these families are successful in lunar life is to make them prove their mettle here on Earth.

We will be compensated for our participation in this competition. The pay is five hundred dollars per person for every day we survive in the simulation. But I don’t care about that money. I don’t even really care about the two million dollars. There is only one reason that I agreed to do this mission.

My mom has dreamed of going into outer space ever since she was a little girl. After high school, she was accepted into an elite astronaut program, one of the best in the country. Unfortunately, a few days before she was supposed to start, she found out she was pregnant with me. Due to the physically demanding nature of the program, she couldn't continue. Instead of becoming an astronaut, she became a pediatric intensive care unit doctor, but I know part of her wishes she'd pursued her childhood dream. I can see it in her eyes every time she looks up at the night sky.

My dad has been captivated by space travel from the time he was a kid too. He and my mom first met in an astronomy club back when they were in middle school. He was accepted into the same astronaut program as my mom but, when she found out she had to withdraw, he withdrew too. Instead, he went to nursing school and became an emergency room nurse.

At least a couple of times a year, my mom, dad, sister, and I visit Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History, and we frequently take trips to watch celestial events in the night sky. These are some of my happiest memories. Going to the moon as a family would be a dream come true. And, by agreeing to embark on this mission, we might eventually get that chance.

But first, we have to survive the next thirty days locked in a simulation game with a bunch of strangers—where we will be observed by faceless evaluators who are judging our every move—knowing that every day in the competition could be our last.

Now that I really think about it ... that sounds like hell.

* * *

I take a preparatory breath and head back into our suite’s living room, where our instructors have everything ready to help us don our spacesuits. We practiced this process multiple times during our training, and now it is expected that we will require little, if any, assistance. It has been stressed often by our instructors that it is important for us to be as self-sufficient on this mission as possible.

“Here you go, Lois,” Simone says, handing me a gray-and-white spacesuit that currently looks more like a futuristic nightgown.

She watches with vigilant eyes as I pull it over my head. I slip my feet into the boots that hang down on either side of the bottom, then I grab the zipper on my inner right calf and slide it up my right leg and down my left leg, transforming the “nightgown” into a form-fitting flight suit.

Simone gives me a nod of approval and passes me my helmet. It is identical to ones that real FrontierXploration astronauts wear, except that it has an additional feature, added to enhance the experience of our simulated mission. This helmet contains a virtual-reality function that will transform everything I see through it into what FrontierXploration wants me to see. Once my helmet is in place, it will remain so until I am locked inside their simulated world. I won’t see the real world again until my family is eliminated or we complete the mission.

Suddenly, I have a tremendous urge to run outside and see the real world one last time. But an impulsive action like that might get me eliminated right here and now. And so, I take one final glance out our suite’s window, and then I slide the helmet over my head.

Instantly, everything around me transforms. Our instructors are still here but, instead of their ugly Iso Suits, they now wear sleek blue uniforms bearing the FrontierXploration logo—which looks like a rocket blasting off in a fiery plume of smoke. The walls of our suite are now soothing green rather than glaring white, and the view from our window shows the campus lit in a stunning rainbow of colors. Beyond the buildings, a launch pad sports a gleaming rocket that appears fueled up and ready for flight.

The rest of my family have now donned their helmets too, and they are looking around as if seeing the world for the first time. We are now living in a fantasy. The instructors are the only people here who are still completely in reality.

I lock the base of my helmet to my spacesuit, and my suit powers up.

“Ready for safety checks,” I announce to Simone, trying to sound confident.

“Go for it,” she says.

I run through the checks of my suit’s monitors and communication system. Then I check the suit for leaks by inflating it the same way I would in an emergency where the rocket experiences a loss of interior pressure. Everything seems to check out just fine.

“Safety checks successfully completed,” I report.

“Stupendous!” Simone says, with a wink.

I glance over at my family again and smile. Everyone seems so happy. In their suits, my mom and sister look like identical twins. They both have short curly dark-brown hair and golden skin. I look more like my dad—with straight light-brown hair and fair skin.

My dad is now performing his leak test. My mom and sister have already completed their safety checks and are chatting away with their instructors. For the past two weeks, our instructors have been the only people outside our family who we’ve been allowed to socialize with. Our personal phones were confiscated as soon as we arrived at FrontierXploration, and our access to the internet has been strictly limited. Once the mission begins, we will be completely cut off from non-essential communications, in order to keep our focus solely on the mission.

My dad finishes up his leak test, and his instructor gives him an approving nod.

And then a disembodied female voice says through our helmets’ communication system, “Collins Family, please proceed to the launch pad!”

My family’s personal backpacks sit waiting by the door. Mine, with its big purple image of the Orion Nebula. My mom’s, covered in constellation maps. My dad’s, decorated with glow-in-the-dark Star Wars comics. And my sister’s, sporting a cartoon chipmunk wearing an astronaut helmet. These backpacks contain the only items that we will be bringing with us on the mission. There isn’t much in mine. Just a pair of socks, an undersuit, two FrontierXploration sweatsuits, and a few photos of my friends and family from back home.

We grab our backpacks and follow our virtual-reality-enhanced instructors out the door.

* * *

We exit the Atlantis Tower through the dimly-lit back of the building, where an Astro Bus is waiting for us. The bus is completely black, except for the twinkling stars scattered all over it. Every few seconds, the FrontierXploration logo appears and then fades away on the side of the bus, almost in time to my breaths.

There are real Astro Buses that transport real astronauts from the quarantine facility to the launch pads, but I have a feeling this isn't one of them. Although the bus that stands before us looks absolutely authentic, it is possible that, without the help of virtual reality, it is just one of the black-painted school buses that they use to give tours of the campus to elementary-school kids on field trips.

But we're not supposed to think the way I am thinking. We were told by the people at FrontierXploration that we must treat this mission as if it is completely real. We are supposed to suspend our disbelief when we notice something that doesn't quite fit with the illusion. We must never even hint that what we are experiencing isn't reality. I know I am going to have trouble with this rule. It is my nature to question everything I see.

Suddenly, I notice something that makes my heart race with anxiety. In the shadows flanking our path are two dozen large men with impressive-looking rifles. Their black jackets have a subtle stamp of the FrontierXploration logo over the left chest.

FrontierXploration takes the security of their rocket launches very seriously. To this day, they have never had a security issue delay a launch, which is impressive considering how many launches they've done over the years. Twenty-four hours before every launch, the entire day campus goes into strict lockdown with only essential workers allowed to be present. Security drones fly around and check every office and restroom and closet to intercept anyone who doesn't have lockdown clearance. And there is a human team, just like this one, to ensure that the astronauts make it safely to the launch pad.

But this is only a simulated launch. The armed men I see are probably merely virtual. As an experiment, I make eye contact with one of them. Disconcertingly, he seems to register an awareness of my gaze. Either this is a pretty sophisticated virtual-reality program, which I'm sure it is, or the man is real.

As he stares into my eyes, I can almost hear him say, “Don't even think about running, kid. It's too late to change your mind.”

I don't know if that is what the man is actually thinking, or if he's even really here. But I do know that, whether there are men with rifles flanking me or not, it is too late to change my mind.


Read more of The Darkness Outside by J.W. Lynne at Amazon.com!

About this novel:

Genre or genres of literature:  sci-fi (science fiction), speculative fiction, suspense, thriller, mystery, coming of age, action and adventure, ya (young adult), clean romance
Point of view: first person
Gender of protagonist: female
Page count: under 250 pages

THE DARKNESS OUTSIDE is a unique must-read book for teenagers and adults who enjoy novels similar to best sellers like THE MAZE RUNNER (by James Dashner), ONE OF US IS LYING (by Karen M. McManus), THE INHERITANCE GAMES (by Jennifer Lynn Barnes), THE SELECTION (by Kiera Cass), THE MARTIAN: Classroom Edition (by Andy Weir), WE DREAM OF SPACE (by Erin Entrada Kelly), SHATTER ME (by Tahereh Mafi), LEGEND (by Marie Lu), ENDER'S GAME (by Orson Scott Card), THE 100 (by Kass Morgan), READY PLAYER ONE (by Ernest Cline), UNWIND (by Neal Shusterman), THE 5TH WAVE (by Rick Yancey), UGLIES (by Scott Westerfeld), THE TESTING (by Joelle Charbonneau), MATCHED (by Ally Condie), DELIRIUM (by Lauren Oliver), THE DARKEST MINDS (by Alexandra Bracken), THE UNKNOWN (by J.W. Lynne), or ABOVE THE SKY (by J.W. Lynne).
Are you doing a reading challenge or book bingo?
Here are some of the most popular 2023 prompts that fit this book:

A book with a big plot twist
A book about a family
A book set in the future
A book written from the point of view of a character under age 18 (She is 16 years old.)
A book that has a prologue
A book written in first-person present tense
Main protagonist's name starts with L (Her name is Lois.)
Book title starting with the letter D
A book with a four syllable title
A book with a three word title
A book with a female author
A standalone novel

THE UNKNOWN: Eight kids learn the shocking reason why they were kidnapped.

ABOVE THE SKY: A girl lives in a world where touching her soulmate is forbidden.

KID DOCS: An experimental program turns kids into doctors.

WILD ANIMAL SCHOOL: A girl falls in love with a boy at an exotic animal ranch.

WHAT HE DIDN'T TELL ME: A traumatized girl meets a boy with a horrible secret.

IF I TELL: A teen wonders if her father is a serial killer.

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