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My name is not really Erica Stevens, it is a pen name that I chose in memory of two amazing friends lost too soon.I was born in New York and moved to Mass as a child. I spent my time growing up between NY and Mass so I have some interesting times when sports games roll around. I was fortunate enough to marry my best friend over two years ago and I don't know what I'd do without him. I have a large, crazy, fun loving family that just loves to laugh. My parents are the strongest people I know. I have an older brother and sister, and a younger sister, who have blessed me with many nieces and nephews and great nieces and nephews. I am nowhere near as old as the great nieces and nephews make me sound. I love to read and have wanted to be a writer since I was nine years old. I also write more adult romance novels under the pen name of Brenda K. Davies.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Survivor Chronicles: Book 4 (Chapter 20, Mary Ellen)


Mary Ellen,

 

   Her breath was loud in her ears as she sprinted across the clearing on Donald’s heels. The laughter continued to issue from the woods as the birds above them screeched and flew higher into the sky. She would have given anything to be one of those birds, to be able to take flight and flee the laughter that would haunt her nightmares for the rest of her life. Her heart hammered in her chest, her feet were moving so fast that she nearly tripped over them as they plunged into the forest.

   She’d thought that the shadows of the trees, and the thick trunks that provided them some cover would make her feel better. They did nothing to ease the terror pulsing through her veins though. Leaves and pine needles kicked up from underneath him as Donald skidded to a halt and grabbed his backpack from where he had left it.

   “Go!” he panted when she hesitated to wait for him.

   She didn’t need any more encouragement as she turned and fled into the woods. She was trying to be as quiet as possible but it was impossible with the leaves and sticks crunching beneath her feet and the tree branches slapping at her hands and face. Al was trying his best to keep the branches from hitting her but there were too many for him to keep them all away.

   A branch slipped from his grasp, she threw up her hand to try and deflect it but it was too late. It slapped across her face with a resounding thwack. Her hand flew to her face as she took a staggering step back and tripped over a tree stump. Her arms pinwheeled but they did nothing to help her keep her balance. Sprawling inelegantly to the ground, the breath rushed out of her as she fell on her ass. It wasn’t the lack of breath that caused her panic to escalate though, but the fact that her gun had been knocked from her hand when it had caught the side of a fallen oak.

   Struggling to catch her breath, she rolled to the side to search for the weapon that she desperately needed. She could already feel a welt forming across her face but that was the least of her worries as she continued to come up with nothing. She’d managed to close her eye in time to keep it mostly protected from the branch but it had caught the corner of her lid and it was already swelling. The hindrance to her vision was making her search even more difficult.

   Donald knelt at her side, grabbed hold of her arm and helped to lift her to her feet. “My gun,” she panted.

   He glanced quickly around before leaning over to grab something from under a pile of pine needles and leaves. She caught a flash of metal before he wrapped her fingers around the cool butt of her gun. Relief filled her but she knew it wouldn’t last long; it couldn’t when those things were in the woods with them.

   Donald wrapped his hand around her elbow as he propelled her forward. He threw out his hand to push back the branch that had caught her in the face and shoved it out of the way as they ran forward. Mary Ellen was having a difficult time seeing from the increased swelling and the sweat that ran down into her good eye. It didn’t matter, she’d run blindly through these woods as long as it was in the opposite direction of them.

   Looking over her shoulder though, she realized that they weren’t running in the opposite direction of the sick ones. The laughter had trailed off but birds were still rising from the trees behind them, they were flying in the same direction that they were running in. She didn’t think those things knew where they were but it felt like they were being pursued. Except now the birds were fleeing the trees closer to them.

   Her lungs burned as her heart lumbered and her fear rose to higher levels. She wiped at her eyes again in a poor attempt to ease the sweat clogging her lashes. “We’re leading them back to the cabin,” she gasped.

   “They’re not following us, they’re just moving,” Donald said breathlessly from beside her. “They’d be on us already if they knew we were here.”

   Al came to an abrupt halt before a tree; he grabbed hold of Mary Ellen’s free arm and pulled her up against the tree. She could barely see the boards in front of her. It took her a minute to understand what it was that she was looking at as he hissed in her ear. “Climb.”

   “They climb too,” she protested.

   “Even if they’re in the trees the height will give us an advantage and we’re not going to outrun them. Climb Mary Ellen,” he commanded.

    She tucked her gun into her waistband, grabbed hold of a board, and began to pull herself up the tree. She glanced up at the stand above her but she could barely see it amongst the thick leaves and branches of the tree. Blinking back the sweat in her eyes, she focused on the boards in front of her as she climbed steadily higher into the massive oak. Reaching above her, she placed her hands on either side of the hole in the stand and lifted herself onto the platform.

   Pressing her back against the trunk of the tree, she reached up to wipe away the sweat rolling down her face again. She blinked in surprise at the blood that coated the back of her forearm when she pulled it away. The branch hadn’t just caused her skin to swell up but had also split it open. Donald climbed through the hole behind her and dropped the backpack onto the wooden platform.

   Kneeling at the edge of the platform, he dug into the bag as Al joined them on the stand. It was cramped with the three of them up there, but there was still at least a foot on each side for them to move around a little. Her gaze went to the wood beneath her feet, she didn’t see any cracks or rot in it, but that didn’t mean that it was safe. She doubted that the person that had built it had done so with the intention of having three people standing on it.

   “Get against the tree,” Al commanded.

   “Are we going to shoot at them?” she whispered.

   Al stared at the two of them before shaking his head. “You’ve both gotten better with a gun but we don’t know how many of them there are. We can’t risk being overrun or even worse drawing more of them here.”

   Mary Ellen shuddered at the thought and glanced at the ground below them again. “Only fire if it becomes necessary,” Al whispered.

   “Ok,” she agreed tremulously.

   Donald pulled something from the bag, rose to his feet and approached her. She didn’t know what he intended until he wiped the blood away with a cloth. With the blood gone she was able to see better though her eye was still half swollen shut.

   “It’s not deep,” he whispered as he tied the cloth around her head and knotted it tightly. Her hand went up to it, she tried to figure out what it was that he had used as her fingers ran over the material and knot. “Bandana.”

   Mary Ellen nodded but she didn’t dare speak as a burst of eerie laughter echoed through the trees around them. A loud cry from above caused her head to tilt back as a squirrel leapt from the tree beside them into the leafy bowers over her head. Its tail curled over its back, it screeched its displeasure again before running from one branch to another. Mary Ellen wanted to tell it to be quiet but that would be like telling the wind not to blow.

   With the blood wiped away she could see better but her eye was still swollen. She pulled her gun from her jeans and tried to catch her breath. She’d let her guard down these past couple of weeks, she’d mistakenly begun to think that perhaps they could be safe here. Now she knew that she’d been wrong and though she was terrified, she was also furious.

   They’d started to make a home here and these insane, rotten and inhuman things had intruded upon her illusion and completely destroyed it.

   She was so focused on her anger that she hadn’t realized that the laughter had stopped. Her muscles tensed, she straightened away from the tree as she gripped the gun so forcefully before her that she was sure it left an imprint on her palm. Her teeth ground together as she counted the seconds and braced herself for the people she knew would be appearing beneath them any moment now.

   Al turned in a tight circle on the stand; his eyes searched the tops of the trees surrounding them. The hair on her neck stood up as she turned to survey the trees around them too. The leaves were so thick she wasn’t sure she’d be able to see something approaching them until it was too late. Until their attackers were leaping through the trees and coming straight at them with the intention of ripping their skin away and devouring them.

   She couldn’t think of anything more horrific and all she could picture was a spider reeling back on its hind legs before launching itself at her. She’d never actually seen a spider do that before but she’d seen the videos of the spiders that could do it and they terrified her. A shudder ran down her back, her gaze remained pinned on the tree across from them as she became even more certain that those things were going to come from the trees.

   Her arms began to shake; it was taking everything she had not to start firing at the leaves across from them as they blew in the slight breeze tickling her hair. The leaves rustled, her finger tightened on the trigger as she focused on an area where the leaves began to shake more forcefully. Those things were there, she was certain of it. Right there, waiting, watching, and silently laughing as they prepared to launch their attack. Time seemed to slow as her vision became pinpointed upon that area and the shaking leaves.

   Her breath froze in her lungs as the leaves finally parted and a chipmunk darted out. The small creature froze when it spotted her; its blown out cheeks worked as it chomped on whatever it had in its mouth. Surprise seemed to register on its tiny face before it turned and scurried back into the leaves.

   Mary Ellen didn’t know if she wanted to laugh or cry as her trembling arms dropped down. The relief that filled her was short lived though as the loud crack of a branch snapping beneath them reached her. Unwilling to turn her back on the tree behind her, she glanced down as four of the sick humans stepped into view.

   She became completely rigid, unable to even breathe as she watched them move. They had stopped running and seemed now to be on the hunt for something. A sinking sensation slid through her as she recalled the cut on her head. Could they smell her blood, were they tracking them through her?

   Her gaze briefly met Donald’s as more of them crept into view. She should have stayed on the ground, she should have run in a different direction, if they were following her blood it was only a matter of time…

   Donald’s eyes narrowed on her face, he gave an almost imperceptible shake of his head at her. She glanced at the blood still smeared across the back of her forearm. If they were following her scent though, wouldn’t they have already spotted them huddled on the stand as close to the tree as they could get?

   Her attention returned to the tree behind them. She was certain she was going to see a rotting face, surrounded by leaves poking out at her. In her head she could clearly picture the deformed and rotten face leering back at her before it decided to pounce. Not even the chipmunk had reappeared though. Another loud crack drew her attention below her again as six more of them appeared.

   There were so many of them. She was glad that Al had insisted that they climb into a more advantageous position; it may be the only way they’d be able to shoot all of them if it became necessary. Her heart rate skyrocketed as the people beneath them swept through the area below them. The look of them reminded her of a corpse in various stages of decomposition, but they couldn’t be decomposing, it was impossible. She knew that they were all still alive. A leper was still alive too, she reminded herself. But a leper was also sane, or at least she thought they were, she wasn’t exactly an expert on the disease and she’d certainly never met anyone with it.

   There were clumps of hair missing from a few of the people beneath them; the rest had only tufts of hair left. She could see the skull on two of them, and one man was completely naked to reveal the sickly grayish hue that covered him from head to toe. There were pieces of skin missing from some of their faces, dried blood was caked on a few of them, and one was missing half of its left foot so that it hobbled awkwardly as it walked.

   Watching the hobbled one, she realized that more than whatever illness was running rampant through the person was affecting its movement. Its leg wasn’t grayish, it was an ugly red color that suffused its entire foot and ran up to the middle of its swollen thigh before disappearing beneath the tattered and stained denim shorts it wore. A massive infection was also working its way through that one, she realized. Its ungainly movement caused it to trip and sprawl face down on the forest floor.

   The one on the ground pushed itself into a sitting position but it didn’t move any further. Its back heaved with the breaths it took as its head bowed down. Pity filled her for it. It would eat her in a heartbeat but it had once been a human being and she realized now that it was dying. The infection from its severe wound and the sickness had taken their toll on its body. This one wouldn’t be going any further anymore. Its cohorts seemed to realize the same thing as their heads swiveled toward their downed companion.

   A sick feeling rolled through her stomach as the others began to close in on their sick friend. She knew what was coming and yet she couldn’t bring herself to look away as they began to circle the downed one. This was what the weaker embryos of the sand tiger shark felt like in the womb, she realized as she helplessly watched the healthier ones close in on their weaker member. The extremely sick on didn’t seem to realize what they were doing though as it didn’t lift its head to look up at them and it didn’t attempt to get up again.     

   The others moved so fast that she didn’t have time to close her eyes before they were on top of it. She wanted to lift her hand to cover her mouth as vomit surged up her throat but she didn’t dare move. She closed her eyes but the crunching sounds of the slaughter filled her ears. There was nothing she could do to drown out the pain filled squeals of the one they attacked. Nothing she could do to muffle the sounds of fists against flesh, of a ripping sound that brought forth images of intestines and limbs being torn from the body. Images she knew she would never be able to shake.

   It seemed like hours but was probably only minutes before the cries of the one they had turned on faded away. She didn’t know why but tears began to slide down her face. It wasn’t until the sounds of the murder blessedly stopped that she finally opened her eyes again. The sun was lower in the sky as it filtered through the leaves and warmed her face and tears in a soothing way; it was a sensation that was completely out of place after the horror that had just unfolded and it only made her want to cry harder.

   Bracing herself, she looked toward the remains sprawled across the forest floor. The other sick ones had retreated away from what was left of the bloody carcass. They were covered in blood but the amount of flesh and bone strewn across the forest floor, and their flat stomachs made her realize that they hadn’t eaten their fallen.

   She frowned over that realization as she tried to ponder why they’d left his flesh behind. They’d eat every healthy person, they’d eat The Lost Souls, but they wouldn’t eat the ones that shared the same illness as them. It was good to know even they had their standards, she thought with wry amusement.   

   She exchanged a look with Al and Donald as the sick humans grouped together. She didn’t hear words coming from them but there seemed to be some sort of communication as they gestured at the woods. She didn’t dare move but now that they had stopped to regroup beneath them, she was becoming increasingly aware of the fact that she was exhausted. Her legs were trembling from exertion, her feet throbbed, but she remained as still as stone as the sun continued its descent in the sky.

   She had no idea what they were going to do if those things didn’t move away and they were forced to stay up here all night. There was no way they could stay up here without eventually drawing attention to themselves. Donald had food and water in his backpack, but she was already beginning to feel a growing pressure in her bladder. For the first time since she was six, she may actually pee her pants again, but that was a problem for later. Now she was more worried that one of them would tilt their heads back and focus upon them.

   That worry was short lived though as they finally seemed to decide what they were going to do next and began to move into the trees. Mary Ellen remained completely still as she watched their backs fade away in to the trees. A flock of birds took flight but this one was smaller than before as night had begun to settle in.

   Mary Ellen wanted to find relief in it but her heart was beginning to race as she lifted her eyes to the trees in front of her. She couldn’t see the cabin from here, not through the foliage, but she knew where it was.

   And that was directly where the pack was heading toward.


 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Captive Series Book 6 Cover Reveal!

This book is a prequel about Atticus before he was king. The flower on the cover is Belladonna AKA Deadly Nightshade. I chose this flower because though it is beautiful and its berries are pretty, it is highly poisonous. This flower shows that what's on the outside is only a cover for what lurks beneath the surface.

Sometimes what rises from the ashes of a Broken man, is a monster...

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Survivor Chronicles: Book 4 (Chapter 19, John)


John,

 

   John was trying to decide if he wanted to go anywhere near Carl as his friend continued to shoot daggers at him with his eyes. Another rattling bang followed by the maniacal laugh of those things made his decision for him. He scurried in a crouch through the shadows to the opposite side of the door that Carl was standing beside. He squeezed in next to Xander and a high metal shelf stacked from floor to ceiling with tires.

   John kept his back flat against the wall as he strained to hear anything outside of the beat of his own heart in his ears as silence descended. Beside him, Xander slid his hand into Riley’s as she pointed to Carl across the way and then down at the floor. Carl frowned at her as she knelt down and made another gesture with her hand to indicate that she was going to peek around the doorway. Xander kept hold of her hand while she rested her free palm on the ground and poked her head around the door to look in the store. She ducked back again and rose to her feet.

   Lifting her hands, she shook her head in a gesture that John took to mean she had no idea where they were or where they had entered from. She held out her hand, pointed around to all of them, and then made a walking gesture with her index and middle finger across her palm. John knew what the gesture meant but the last thing he wanted to do was go through that door and try to escape this store.

   John shook his head as Carl knelt and poked his head around the side of the door too. He stared out there for a few minutes before gesturing to Josh. The teen bent down beside Carl who whispered something to him. Josh shook his head but Carl rose to his feet, took hold of his arm and said something more. John watched as the color faded from Josh’s face, he nodded and looked over at them. Before John knew what was happening, Josh was darting across the massive door to join them. Riley and Xander flattened themselves against the wall to make more room for him but he hurried past them to rise beside John.

   John held his breath as he waited for a reaction from outside of those doors. Carl knelt again and rested his hand on the floor. He slid his head around the door before dashing across the opening at a low crawl to their side. Somewhere in the store something rattled and clattered to the floor, John could hear it spinning across the linoleum but the rest of the store remained still.

   The hair on his arms stood on end as he began to get the distinct impression that they were being hunted, that those things somehow knew they were hiding somewhere within the shadows of this store. All he could imagine were velociraptors creeping steadily toward them, minus the giant claw clicking across the floor.

   He bit on his bottom lip to suppress a curse as he twisted the gun in his hand and leaned his head against the metal shelving housing the tires. His gaze slid to the doors, and the massive glass wall across from them that led into the large garage bay. He hadn’t tried the doors but he’d peeked into the area enough to know that the garage doors were closed. There had been another regular door across the way from the bay doors though. He couldn’t shake the thought that that door could be opening even now to admit new monsters into the building.

   He couldn’t tear his eyes away from the garage area as Carl stepped in front of them and huddled in like he was the quarterback. “I think we’re going to have to make a move,” he whispered.

   John glanced at him before focusing on the glass wall across from them again. “If they come into this area we’ll be able to take them out,” Josh said. “We have the advantage of surprise.”

   Carl gestured to the doors across from them, the same ones that John was riveted upon. “The doors in there could be open; they could be coming inside even now. If they pin us in here, we’re in trouble.”

   John muttered a curse as he shifted his gun again and wiped the sweat from his brow. “We might be able to make it to the backdoor,” Xander said. “Do you have any idea where they came in from?” he asked Josh.

   Josh shook his head; he’d taken on the hue of Kermit and looked as if he was trying not to vomit as his eyes darted wildly back and forth. “It sounded like they might have come in from the front but I didn’t see.”

   Xander’s face drained of color, his hand briefly went to his head before he moved closer to the rest of them. They were all so close that John could feel Xander’s breath as he spoke. “It was them,” Xander whispered. “They’re the ones that emptied the store of the rotten food, and set it up so that it would be a tempting place to come into. There’s a lot of supplies still left in this store because it’s their hunting grounds.”

   John imagined he looked much like Josh now as his stomach threatened to empty its contents onto the ground. Those things were so damn smart and apparently getting smarter with every day that passed. “Why didn’t they come in here for us sooner?” Riley hissed.

   “I don’t know. Maybe they move between all the stores in this area, maybe they were hoping we would take up residence in here. They might also just check it once a day, but we need to go, now,” Carl insisted.

   Even as he said the word ‘now’ John saw a shifting of shadows through the glass windows across from them. “Yes, we do,” he breathed.

   Carl followed his gaze to the doors and nodded briskly as more shadows began to shift and coalesce amongst the large garage bay. If they didn’t move now they were going to get pinned in between both groups. As of now, he didn’t think those things were certain that they were in the store, he had a feeling they would be moving with a lot less care and a lot more excitement if they did.

   He wanted to move with a lot more speed right now but he stayed low and followed carefully behind Carl, Riley, and Xander. Glancing back at Josh, he took a step back to allow the younger kid to move past him into the sport’s section. He took one last look at the glass wall of the automotive center just as the first sick person crept into view. Sliding quickly around the door, he held his breath as he waited to hear the unearthly howl that always seemed to accompany those things when they were on the trail of their prey.

   He rested his head against the wall and took a steadying breath before following the others at a low crouch. They reached the area where the raft had inflated to cover most of the aisle. Carl crept around it and stayed against the back wall. It was the most direct route to the door they had entered through but John had a feeling they weren’t going to make it there that easily.

   Even as the thought entered his mind, something else rattled to the floor. Though the building echoed, and it was difficult to pinpoint the location of the sound, he knew it hadn’t come from more than a hundred feet away. At the front of the group Carl froze and Xander crept up to sit beside him. John couldn’t hear what they were saying but the two of them changed direction and led the group into an aisle filled with toys. John glanced at the assorted dolls, stuffed bears, and dinosaurs that he was pretty sure were watching them.

   Images of Chucky haunted him, he glanced away from the soulless black eyes of the dolls above him as he paused in the middle of the aisle with the others. He glanced toward where they had entered the aisle but thankfully it remained clear. His head tilted back as he caught Riley searching the tops of the shelves.

   Relief filled him when he saw that they also remained clear. His palms were sweating on his gun, the forceful beats of his heart could be felt against the inside of his ribcage as it pounded out a frantic rhythm. The others slid around the corner of the shelf and into the electronics section. John adjusted his grip on his gun and quickly followed behind them. 

   They had almost made it to the middle of the electronics aisle when John spotted the shadow coming at them from the direction of the home goods section. Carl moved far faster than John had thought possible as he changed directions and darted toward the circular counter area in the middle of the electronics. There was only one small opening near where they were and three cash registers set up on top of the counter.

   John knew there was no way he and Josh were going to make it behind the counter in time as Xander rolled in behind Riley. Riley’s head popped back out, her eyes were wide with worry as she gestured frantically to him. John shook his head at her, grabbed hold of Josh’s hand and jerked him toward one of the DVD aisles instead. Josh hesitated for a second, apparently torn about which way to go but he gave way to John’s grasp.

   John wanted to press his back against the rack in an attempt to hide himself even more but he would only knock the DVDs to the floor. He bit his bottom lip as he struggled to get his breathing under control before he laid down on the floor and wormed his way toward the front of the aisle in order to look out.

   Memories of being trapped within the gas station assailed him as he met Riley’s gaze across the way. They’d gotten out of that mess, he assured himself; they’d get out of this one too. His gaze drifted away from hers as the first of the pack stepped into view. John felt like he’d just flipped over the handlebars of his bike and slammed chest first into the ground, as all of the air went out of him.

   His fingers flattened on the cool linoleum, his chin pressed against it as the creature’s head swiveled back and forth. And creature was the only word he could think of for this once human being fifty feet away from him. Its head moved like a snake that was on the hunt as it passed within feet of the counter that the others were hidden behind. It had a large gash on the side of its head that had peeled back to reveal the bone of the skull beneath. Its eyes had sunken into its head, making it seem like a walking skeleton moving through the store in search of the prey that it had lured in like a Venus flytrap.

   Its head turned toward John but he remained immobile as he watched the creature walk by. Eyes that had once belonged to a human, and had color, were jaundiced now and appeared to belong to a walking corpse. Even the irises had taken on a yellowish hue. Its skin had taken on a grayish tint that made him think of a dress a serial killer would have created out of human flesh.

   Not zombies, he reminded himself, or at least not zombies in the way that they had always thought them to exist. These things didn’t come back to life and they hadn’t climbed out of any graves. They didn’t do any of those things but they sure as hell were looking more and more like walking corpses every time he saw them.

   Nothing that was human should look like that and still be alive. He wanted to slink into the shadows and look away from the monstrosity that was creeping through the store, but he was afraid to make any movement at all. He couldn’t even remember the last time he’d breathed as his lungs began to burn. Exhaling slowly through his nose, he barely took another breath through his lips.

   Another one stepped out behind the first. This one was in even worse condition, he could clearly see its upper and lower teeth on the right side as part of its face had peeled away to reveal them. This one moved toward the counter and rested its hand upon it. The tips of its bony fingers could be seen poking out through its jagged and peeled back skin.

   Were they becoming walking skeletons? He couldn’t seem to shake the thought as those bony fingertips made a clicking noise against the top of the counter. A bead of sweat slid from his hairline, down his temple and across his cheek to his eye. Though it stung his eye, he didn’t even dare to blink in order to clear it away. Another annoying trickle began to make its way down his skin as the incessant clicking continued.

   He didn’t know why they were making noise now, when they had been so quiet before, but he didn’t like it. He could feel Josh’s leg against the bottom of his foot but the kid was like a statue behind him. John’s gaze darted to where the others were hiding behind the counter but he couldn’t see them within the shadows. All the one clicking its fingers would have to do is lean over the counter in order to see them, but it continued onward.

   His forehead furrowed as that clicking continued and another one stepped into view from behind them. The noise… Something wasn’t right. He was trying to figure out exactly what it was when a flash of motion to his right caught his attention. His first instinct was to try and push himself even flatter to the floor but he knew immediately that would be the wrong move as something rushed out of the darkness at them.

   Too late he understood that the noise had been meant to keep them focused on that creature and not on the ones stalking steadily closer to them.

   Josh leapt forward in an attempt to get away at the same time that John rolled onto his back and lifted his gun. The index finger wrapped around his trigger froze as Josh’s lurching body blocked whatever shot he may have had. Josh let out a startled cry when a hand wrapped around his ankle and jerked him back. His body fell on top of John’s, pinning the gun in between them. It pressed against his stomach as Josh kicked desperately at his attacker.

   “You have to get off!” John grunted. He tried to rid himself of the weight pressing him into the floor but he was unable to dislodge Josh. If Josh didn’t get off of him they were both going to be sitting ducks, there was no way to keep their location a secret anymore.

   Josh attempted to roll to the side but the creature that had grabbed his leg leapt forward and pounced upon him. Finding himself at the bottom of the pig pile was a sure way to guarantee his death, but that was exactly where John was. The weight of the bodies on top of him was making it increasingly difficult for him to breathe as he struggled to get his gun free.

   Yellowed eyes that still faintly held the brownish hue they’d once had, briefly met John’s. Those eyes seemed to make the world fade away from him as he was confronted with the most terrifying reality of all.

   Within those eyes was Hell.

   It wasn’t the Hell of spitfire and brimstone, with Satan ruling court, that many had always considered it to be, this was the real Hell. This was a person trapped within a body and mind that was no longer theirs. A person who was unable to control themselves or no longer cared about their actions. This was a Hell on earth the likes of which no one had ever dreamed of before in books, or legends, or paintings, except for maybe the Devil himself.

   Those eyes continued to hold his for a full minute before the person reared back. John flung his free hand up in an attempt to stop it from attacking Josh. He pushed his palm into the thing’s cheek. The skin beneath his hand was mushy and brought to mind a rotten peach and bugs beneath the surface as he pressed hard against the creature’s face. Teeth clacked together as they snapped at him like a rabid dog, John’s grip on it was loosened when it suddenly jerked its head to the side and his hand slipped.

   Before John could react the thing’s teeth sank into the fleshy part of his hand. A startled shout escaped him but it quickly became one of pain as teeth pierced through his skin, clamped down hard and tore free a chunk of his hand. Disbelief lanced through him as he stared at the bloody mess left behind, than rage tore through him. Fisting his brutalized hand, he pulled it back and drove it savagely into the hideous face above him.

   His flesh flew from the thing’s mouth; its eyes were full of rage when they came back to his. Above him, Josh continued to squirm as he tried to get away from the thing on top of him. It reeled back again but this time it didn’t come for John as it sank its teeth deep into Josh’s shoulder. The boy cried out in agony as those teeth clamped hard into his shoulder and the creature jerked back. John’s stomach twisted as the crunchy and wet sound of flesh being torn from bone and skin filled the air.

   Josh swung back as he tried desperately to beat at the attacker behind him, but he failed to hit anything other than air. The motion allowed John to finally get his hand free as the hellish creature swallowed the chunk of flesh he had torn from Josh. It lurched back at them, pinning Josh down like a crow on carrion as it went back for the hole it had already created in his skin. There was a time when he would have hesitated, but that time had long since passed as John swung his arm up, pressed the gun against its temple and pulled the trigger.

   Blood and brain splattered over the DVDs across from them, John could feel the wetness of it on his face, but he didn’t bother to wipe it away. The sound of the shot echoed through the store but it didn’t matter, they had been found out long before he’d fired his weapon. The body fell limply over Josh, a dead weight that they both struggled to get out from underneath. Another shot sounded in the store, followed quickly by three more.

   He’d never been so happy to see Carl in his life as he appeared over top of them. Carl grabbed hold of the body on top of Josh and hauled it off of him. There was no color left in Josh’s face as he sat back. His head wobbled like a bobble doll’s on his shoulders as he looked dazedly around. Xander was bare chested as he stepped forward, pulled back the sleeve of Josh’s t-shirt and pushed his shirt forcefully onto the blood seeping from the hideous wound in his shoulder.

   “Hold it there,” he commanded and lifted Josh’s limp hand to press it against the shirt.

   Carl and Xander hauled Josh to his feet as Riley held her hand out to John. “Are you ok?” she demanded.

   Blood trickled from his brutalized hand and dripped onto the floor. Desolation filled him at the thought that the bite might have just signed his death certificate, that even now something might be invading his body, changing it and warping it into something unrecognizable. There was no way he was going to die in this place though and at the hands of those things. “Yes.”

   “We have to go,” she said urgently.

   A part of him still felt as if he were staring into Hell but he took hold of her hand and climbed to his feet. He spotted the two creatures that had been in the lead at the counter lying on the ground, but he didn’t know where the third had gone. Josh had his arm draped around Carl’s shoulders as they hurried through the back aisle of the electronics section past the large screen TVs.

   From somewhere nearby the laughter of the hunters pursuing them rang through the store. 

 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Newest Giveaway!

The newest giveaway has been posted on Erica Stevens FB page. Go on over for your chance to win a $25 GC and paperback of choice!
Erica: https://www.facebook.com/ericastevens679

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Survivor Chronicles: Book 4 (Chapter 18, Xander)


Xander,

 

   Xander stepped out of the Ford in the Walmart parking lot and surveyed the stores in what he assumed was the downtown area. He turned away from the Walmart and stared down the hill toward the back of a fast food restaurant. Across the road were even more stores that would come in handy if they got a chance to explore them today, though he didn’t think that was going to be likely as the sun was already descending from its peak.

   He searched for any sign of life along the road, and stores, but since they’d left the camp, he hadn’t seen another human, sick or otherwise. They had to be around here somewhere though. The gas station hadn’t been completely raided but supplies had been taken from it. They’d managed to salvage some more chips from the store, a couple bottles of water, and cigarettes, but for the most part they’d walked away with very little. They’d contemplated going to the other gas stations in the area, or the diner and pizza place, but they’d decided to check out what other stores there were in the area that Al had marked first.

   “Dunkin Donuts,” John moaned. “If we have time we’re going in there to get more coffee.”

   “There will be coffee in Walmart,” Carl told him.

   “It’s not the same,” John replied.

   Carl lifted an eyebrow at him. “It’s not like they have magic beans.”

   “I’d trade you for them,” John informed him with a straight face.

   Carl looked as if he was tempted to throttle him but he turned away to look at the building. Xander was trying not to laugh as he shifted his attention from the street to the massive store. “There’s an automotive center in there too,” Josh said. “We should stock up on tires, oil filters, belts and anything else we may need for the automobiles in the future.”

   “Are we really going to go in there?” Riley inquired. “That’s a lot of ground to cover.”

   “I’m not sure we can pass it up, they probably have everything we need in there,” Carl said and pulled his cigarette from his mouth.

   “We don’t know what else could be in there though,” she muttered. “And what if it’s just as picked over as the gas station?”

   “There are a lot more supplies inside this store than the gas station, the chances that it’s been completely raided are slim,” Carl answered.

   “What about the grocery store across the street,” John suggested. “It’s smaller; it would be easier to search.”

   “And it’s not going to have automotive, outdoor supplies, hunting equipment or clothing,” Josh said.

   Xander remained silent as he studied the tinted windows at the front of the store. He didn’t like the idea of going in there either but Carl and Josh had a point, everything they needed could be inside of this one store. “I think it will be safer to search this store than to go through two, three, four, or maybe even five more places,” he said.

   Riley stared at him before turning her attention to the store again. “There are so many places to hide in there,” she murmured.

   “For us too at least,” Xander said.

   Riley cursed, shook her head and turned away from the building. “Well, let’s check it out.”

   They approached the front of the store and peered in the windows but it was impossible to see past the first ten feet of vending machines and shopping carts stacked there. Xander walked over to the glass doors and pushed against them. One of them was locked but he was able to pull the other sliding door open.

   “Wait.” Carl placed his hand on his arm before he could go inside. “We’ll check the other doors first.”

   They walked around to the other front doors, most of them were locked but a side door and a door to the outdoor gardening section were unlocked. “Let’s check the back,” he suggested.

   They moved the vehicles behind the store and parked them near the metal exit door. Xander was the first to approach the door, but the knob didn’t twist beneath his hand. “Step back,” Carl instructed.

   Xander stepped aside as Carl grabbed a rock from beside the dumpster and stepped up to the knob. He lifted the rock and smashed it against the door handle five times before it finally gave way beneath the force of his blows. “Well if there is anyone in there they now know we’re coming,” John said. “I’m just going to state for the record that I don’t like this.”

   “Noted,” Carl said but he pulled open the broken door and gestured for Xander to go.

   Xander didn’t like it either, but he still poked his head cautiously inside. His gaze ran over the shadowed recesses of the vast store. Light from the front windows spilled into the store, offering dim illumination even all the way back here. It took his eyes a minute to adjust but when it did his gaze traveled up and down the aisles in front of him. Before him were rows of boots, and just beyond, he spotted what he thought was the jewelry counter. He kept his gun in his hand as he stepped guardedly into the building.

   Carl and John moved in behind him, followed by Riley and Josh. Riley’s head tilted back as her eyes shot to the rafters and the tops of the shelves. Xander followed her gaze but he didn’t see anything amongst the steel beams running across the ceiling above them. There was an overwhelming sense of abandonment surrounding the store that he didn’t understand but he couldn’t shake the feeling of it. Outside of this store was where the chaos of the sick, and the devastation of the quakes existed, inside this store appeared to be a world miraculously untouched by the insanity.

   It made absolutely no sense to him but trying to figure it out made his head hurt. He adjusted his hold on his gun as her searched the rafters again, was this going to be another ambush like the grocery store had been? But at least in the grocery store there had been a sense of people having been inside of it before; there was none of that now.

   “Bizarre,” Riley murmured as she stepped forward and ran a finger over the toe of one of the boots. Her finger left a clean spot through the trail of dust gathered on the boot. She lifted her finger before her and inspected it before wiping it on her jeans.

   “Do you think this is another trap?” John asked.

   Xander shook his head as his gaze ran over the ceiling again. “I don’t know what the hell this is,” he muttered.

   He crept down the aisle with Carl at his side. Reaching the end of the aisle, he poked his head out to glance up and down the cavernous store. There were numerous hiding places within the shadowed aisles that went in a multitude of different directions. He caught no hint of movement within the store as he strained to hear any sound.

   “Where do we even start?” Riley whispered.

   “The food,” Carl said. Xander focused on the grocery area to his left. “But I don’t smell anything rotting and if this store has been untouched…”

   His voice trailed off, there was no reason to finish the sentence, they all knew what he’d been about to say. If this place was as untouched as it appeared, they should be able to smell the rotten food, no matter how big the building was the scent would have been detectable anywhere within it. Xander looked to his right to the electronics, sporting goods, and then the tire center but he didn’t see anything threatening that way either.

   “Josh, maybe you should stay here,” Riley suggested.

   “By myself? Absolutely not,” he retorted.

   “Someone should watch the door,” John said.

   “There are more doors up front, and more entrance ways in through the automotive center that we didn’t check, plus I’m sure there are other doors we don’t even know about. Watching this one isn’t going to accomplish much. We’re better off having more eyes on the lookout as we move,” Carl said.

   “Are we going to search the store first?” John asked.

   “I don’t see the point of that,” Xander said. “If there’s something in here they’ll be able to stay ahead of us the entire time we’re looking for them. They could also set a trap. We’re just going to have to stay alert.”

   Carl nodded. “I agree.”

   Xander took a deep breath, glanced around the store one more time, and stepped out of the aisle. He crept down one of the five or six main aisles that crisscrossed the store toward where the food was shelved. Past the shoe department was the infant’s department and women’s sleepwear.

   He kept waiting for something to rush out at them, to attack them, but the store remained still. They were only twenty feet away from the grocery section but he still didn’t smell anything rotten in the building. He couldn’t shake the crazy thought that everything within this store had become strangely mummified. That they would reach the groceries only to realize that they had all been preserved by some strange new threat that had been unleashed by the quakes and would turn them into stone like a mortal looking upon Medusa.

   They stepped into another large aisle that ran perpendicular to the one they’d been in. Xander glanced up and down but though some of the boxes and cans had been pulled from the displays set up in the center of the aisle, there were still a number of them left. Across from him was the cleaning supplies section. He could see that it had been just as picked over as the displays but that there were still supplies lining the shelves.

   “What is going on here?” Riley asked.

   “I don’t think a lot of people in this town survived.” Carl lifted his hat and ran a hand across his forehead before settling it back into place. “I don’t know if they’ve become The Lost Souls, the rabid freaky ones, or if they simply died from the quakes and gas that the quakes released. Either way, I’d guess that the population of this town is nowhere near what it used to be. There would be nothing left in here if it was.”

   “How could it be in better condition than most of the towns that we’ve passed through and yet have a smaller population?” John inquired.

   “I don’t know but where the coast seems to have been leveled by natural disasters, this area was leveled by the sickness.”

   “Why wouldn’t the survivors take more from here?” Riley asked.

   “Maybe they only took what they could fit, maybe they left some for others, or maybe they were killed before they got a chance to come back,” Xander answered. “They might just come back once a week to stock up on supplies if they think that no one else is around to raid them.”

   “Or this could be a trap,” she said.

   “Or that,” Xander agreed. They all turned to stare at the food again. “I don’t think there’s anyone in here with us now though.”

   “Why?” Josh asked.

   “Those things aren’t patient. If they were in here with us, they would have come after us already.”

   Riley frowned thoughtfully before speaking. “That’s true.”

   “I don’t care what the hell is going on, we should just get some food and get out of here,” John said.

   Josh nodded eagerly. “I have to agree.”

   Xander walked over and pulled an abandoned cart from the infant section; he picked up the clothes sitting in the seat of the cart and dropped them on a box for a crib. Riley pulled another one from the sports bra area. Carl and John had walked toward the front and grabbed two more. One of their carts gave an annoying clicking noise every few feet.

   “Every time,” Carl muttered and lifted the back wheels of the cart off the ground to stop the noise. “There’s no fruit left in the produce section and all the bread and muffins are gone. They did leave the cakes and cupcakes though.”

   “No taste,” John said and dropped a box of cereal into his cart.

   “Did they take all the perishables?” Riley asked.

   “It seems like it,” Xander said as he sniffed at the air again. This place should have smelled horrible but all he detected was the scent that all department stores seemed to have. It was a scent that he could never place the source of, but that he recognized immediately upon entering one. It was like walking into a high school, they all smelled the same.

   “Josh, you should stay up here. Follow along with us at the top of the aisles and keep watch for anything unusual,” Carl said.

   Josh looked a little uneasy at the suggestion but he nodded and shifted the gun in his hand. “Do you want to split up?” Xander asked Carl.

   Carl shook his head. “It would go faster but we’re better grouped together. Separating is just offering smaller, easier targets if something does attack.”
   That was about as pleasing a thought as jumping into a bonfire, Xander thought as he nodded his agreement. He pushed his cart toward the frozen food and dairy section. He stared at the completely empty shelves in disbelief; this store was beginning to make him feel as if he’d just entered a time warp. The shelves that were normally filled with eggs, cheeses, yogurts, and other assorted products were completely empty; there wasn’t even a single package of cheese left.

   On his right, all of the frozen pizzas, meatballs, lasagnas, and other frozen dinners were gone from the darkened freezers. “This place just gets weirder and weirder. What did they do with it all?” Riley asked.

   Xander pondered that question as they walked past the empty aisles. “I think they threw it all out,” he said as they turned into the paper aisle.

   “Toilet paper,” John said with a grin and began to happily toss it into his cart before turning to Xander. “What makes you think that?” 

   “There’s no way they were able to eat all that food, not if Carl’s smaller population theory is correct. But let’s say that he’s wrong and they were able to eat all of that food, there would be no food left in here if that were true. I think they took what they could eat and threw the rest of it away before it could go bad and possibly contaminate other food, or attract animals and other unwanted things.”

   “I think you’re right,” Carl said and tossed some paper towels into his cart. “It makes a lot of sense anyway.”

   They waited as John grabbed two more packages of toilet paper before moving onto the next aisle. Josh followed along the aisles with them as they moved up and down until their carts were overflowing with supplies. They pushed the carts to the broken door they had entered through, emptied them into the back of the truck, and returned to the store.

   “More food or other supplies first?” Xander asked.

   “Let’s get some other supplies first. If we have enough time after we can grab more food and we can always return tomorrow,” Riley said.

   Carl stopped by the jewelry counter on their way to the clothing section and grabbed a handful of watches from the display case. He shoved them into his pockets before following them. They moved quickly through the clothing section, grabbing as much as they could fit into the carriages and guessing at the sizes of the others at the cabin. Next they went through and gathered supplies from the shampoo, soap and toothpaste aisles before hitting the first-aid section. They stocked up on Band-Aids, peroxide, bandages, alcohol, and any other disinfectants they could find. Carl tried the door to the pharmacy but it was locked and the window had a metal gate over it.

   “We’ll have to come back and see if we can break it open,” Riley whispered.

   Carl nodded his agreement but he was scowling as he stepped away from the locked door. The thought that they had been lured into the store nagged at Xander but he shook it off as they left those aisles behind. He told himself that they had been in here for too long already for this to have been a trap. He was beginning to relax a little more after they dropped the clothes off and started to grab sneakers and work boots.

   “Too bad they didn’t have some winter supplies,” John said as he dropped two boxes of sneakers into his cart.

   “I think we’re going to have to go through homes to find those,” Carl told him.

   John made a face and shook his head. “I hate going through people’s houses even more than I hate entering these giant stores.”

   “I have to agree,” Riley said. “I feel like I’m invading their privacy or something.”

   Xander squeezed her hand as they turned their carts into the sporting goods section. He understood her feeling but if the people were gone, was it even private anymore? Even if the answer was no, it didn’t make searching through people’s things any easier.

   “Whoever has been coming in here must be pretty well supplied already,” Josh said as he peered into the long glass case in the center of the sports section.

   Xander moved closer to the case to look at the guns inside of it. “They’re all hunting rifles,” Carl said as he walked around the display. “Three thirty aught six’s, four two-seventy Winchesters, four twenty-twos, and five three o’ eight Winchesters. There was more here before though.” He pointed to the empty spots inside the cabinet.

   Xander stepped behind the counter but he didn’t know which rifle was which. The key to open the display cases was still dangling from one of the locks. “Why did they leave all these guns?” John asked. “I can understand not being able to take all of the food but why wouldn’t they take more of these?”

   “This is a large hunting community,” Carl said as he continued to study the rifles still in the case. “They know how to take care of themselves, how to hunt, and fish, and trap. The population may not be as small as I’d thought. They may actually be finding their own food supply right now. They didn’t take many of these rifles because they didn’t need them or maybe they only took what they could carry out of here. Either way I doubt there will be much ammunition left here though.”

   “There’s not,” Xander said as he pulled out two boxes and placed them on top of the case. “Both cases of twenty-two bullets.”

   “Of course they are,” Carl muttered and shook his head. “Better than nothing. We’ll still take some of these rifles. We might be able to find more ammunition elsewhere.”

   Xander nodded and grabbed two of each rifle within the cases and handed them to the others to load into the carts. They moved through the rest of the section, picking through the remains of the lanterns, tents, and knives that had been left behind. Riley proudly hefted a crossbow she found beneath a raft that had blown up when it had been knocked off the shelf. Xander grabbed a boxed raft off of the shelf and a couple of oars. He put them in the cart and turned to lift the blown up raft so that Riley could climb underneath it. She came back with a few boxes of arrows and another crossbow.

   “Those will come in handy,” John said as he eyed the weapons in Riley’s hands. “Less noise.”

   “I’m not so sure you should be allowed to touch them, you might shoot yourself,” Carl said.

   “I’m doing just fine with a gun.”

   Carl shook his head. “Ok but if you shoot yourself in the leg I’m leaving your ass behind.”

   John gave him the finger, put the bow back in the cart, and turned away from them to examine the rest of the supplies on the shelf. “Let’s unload and then hit automotive,” Riley suggested.

   It was almost three o’clock when they returned to the store and headed for the automotive center. “At least we’ll be able to make it back to the cabin before dark,” John said.

   “Why do you always have to say something when we’re still in the middle of everything,” Carl muttered from where he was searching through the tires. He pulled out two large tires and rolled them over to set them against the wall. “It’s like you want us to be attacked.”

   “Yeah yeah,” John said dismissively as he dropped some oil filters into his carriage. “Maybe saying it out loud will have the opposite effect this time Mr. Superstitious.”

   “You really do just want someone to attack us,” Riley told him and dropped a couple cans of fix a flat in her carriage.

   Xander had to pull out his flashlight in order to read through the manual he discovered behind the counter. He searched through the cars listed on the pages until he found the truck and belt sizes they would need for it. Turning, he searched through the shelves for the right belts. He’d look for supplies for the other cars afterward but the truck was the most important vehicle they had.

   A distant sound barely even nudged at his consciousness as he finally succeeded in locating the belts they would need. Josh slipped around the corner of the doorway from where he’d been keeping lookout by the sports section.

   “Someone just entered the building,” he said in a low hiss that drew Xander’s attention away from the shelf. “I’m not sure where they came in from though.”

   Carl flattened himself against the wall next to the garage-sized door that led to the main store and gestured for Josh to do the same. Riley was on the opposite side of the door, her back pressed against the wall as she held her gun before her. Xander remained frozen as he strained to hear anything else within the store, but the eerie, otherworldly hush that had enveloped it since they’d entered had descended once more.

   John appeared from behind a row of tires with a cart full of antifreeze and wipers. Carl’s face was thunderous as he pointed at John and then made a slashing motion across his throat with his hand. ‘I’m going to kill you,’ he mouthed to John when he stopped walking.

   John’s eyebrows drew together as he frowned at Carl in confusion and held his hands up in a questioning gesture. John’s head shot up when something clattered to the floor with a loud rattling noise inside the store. Xander hurried to Riley’s side as silence descended once more.