- Erica Stevens
- 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.
Thursday, December 18, 2014
Just wanted to let everyone know that if you have signed up for the mailing list there is an upgrade going on. You will be receiving a notice from Constant Contact to confirm your subscription. This will help to keep the emails from being shuffled into the junk or spam folders. You can also easily opt to be removed from the list if you would like. :)
Monday, December 15, 2014
She’d witnessed a lot of things over the past couple of months. She’d watched three of her friends die, one of whom she’d killed herself when he’d tried to eat her. Planes had crashed from the sky, holes had opened within the earth, lava had flowed forth, humans had turned into cannibals and mindless beings that only seemed to have basic functions. The whole world had been turned upside down, inside out, rotated on its axis, and kicked in the ass but none of it compared to what emerged from in between the buildings of what she assumed was the maintenance area. None of it could have prepared her for what she was witnessing now.
Everything within her went cold and seemed to drop to her feet. It felt as if her bladder emptied out, and she would have thought she’d pissed herself if it hadn’t been for the fact that she was as cold as a naked man in Antarctica. At least her pee would have been warm, but then maybe her body had caused it to freeze on its way down. She didn’t feel it trickling down her leg though, but then she didn’t feel much beyond her spinning brain.
For all she knew she was a disembodied head and the rest of her had ceased to exist. She didn’t find the idea as implausible as she would have five minutes ago. In fact, if she’d been able to move her hands she actually would have checked to see if her body was still there, but her limbs were a part of the body that was no longer in her control.
She wasn’t even sure if the others were even around her anymore. For all she knew she was standing in a completely different realm. One that was beyond anything she ever could have imagined and had nothing to do with the world she had always known. Her eyes still seemed to be working though as they sent rapid images into her brain but maybe they had been fried out by the light, or perhaps they had completely malfunctioned.
The horses had run to the fence at the other end of the track, they remained oddly silent though as they crowded close together. As one, they turned and ran back toward them. Riley wanted to scream at them to go away, to go back to the other side. They seemed to be what the thing that had appeared was looking for as it changed direction and started toward them.
But it wasn’t a thing. No matter how much her brain was screaming at her, no, no, no! It was also registering everything and it knew exactly what it was before her. It was also screaming at her, yes! Every thing that had happened over these past couple of months, that there had been no answer for, and no understanding of finally made sense.
Weeks ago, she’d accepted the fact that they would never know what had caused it all and that the answers wouldn’t do anything for them. They couldn’t. No matter what the answers revealed, it was impossible for them to help in any way. The answers wouldn’t bring back her family; they wouldn’t bring Carol, Lee, Bobby, Josh, and countless others back to life. They wouldn’t transport her into her home again and they wouldn’t make it all better.
She had been fine with never knowing, she’d actually begun to realize that the answer would probably only make her angrier. The answers would only bring more why’s with them; she’d accepted the simple, because it was, explanation. There was nothing anyone could tell her that would make her understand, so what was the point of knowing?
She didn’t feel angry now though. She was strangely empty inside and yet filled all at once. They were the oddest sensations to have hit her at the same time, but there they were colliding like atoms inside of her.
The horses piled up against the grassy hill beneath them. John, the first to find his feet again, took a step away from the animals that were beginning to crawl over each other like ants now. With John’s movement, Riley felt tears well up in her eyes as she stared in dismay at the distressed animals beneath them. The mounds, she finally understood the mounds as one animal toppled and another climbed on top of it.
Tears slipped down her cheeks but she didn’t understand them. She hadn’t cried for the man she had killed today, she hadn’t even cried for Josh, and yet she was openly sobbing for the animals beneath her. Openly sobbing for the world, she realized as the light that seemed brighter than any ray of sun continued to approach the hill. Except unlike the sun, this light didn’t burn her flesh or heat her iced skin. It wasn’t a cold light emanating from it, not like the moon bouncing off of the snowcaps on a January night would have been, it was simply just a light.
It wasn’t a very healthy looking light either as it had a greenish/yellowish hue that reminded her of puss and illuminated a circular area of about thirty feet on each side of it. She would have given anything not to be able to see every excruciating detail that the light revealed but it was impossible not to, especially when she couldn’t tear her eyes away.
Even though they were pressed as close as sardines and climbing over top of one another, the horses still didn’t make a sound. Neither did Riley though, unless everyone else could hear the forceful thub-dub of her heart knocking against her ribs. From the infield of the track the thing continued to approach at a relentless yet leisurely pace.
There was no rush here, there was nowhere for the animals to go. Nowhere for any of them to go, not with this light filled creature walking the earth.
“Death rode a pale horse,” John whispered from beside her.
Though she’d already known it, though her brain had been screaming no even as the knowledge was taking root, his words solidified it in her mind. Yes, it was, it was Death come to take them all.
She would have expected a proud thrust to its shoulders but instead it seemed as indifferent to its surroundings as a fly. Or perhaps they were the flies, or the horses were, or the entire world was, and this thing was the swatter.
It wore no clothes and yet Riley didn’t get the impression that it was naked, or at least she didn’t see any of the goodies. It was more like a Ken doll, all sexless, but minus the hair. There was no skull and bones like she’d seen in some drawings and paintings, no fancy clothes, no armor. There was simply a sexless, alien like creature approaching them.
She almost laughed out loud as she recalled the middle aged man from the restaurant when they’d been in the stadium. Aliens, he had insisted and perhaps in some way it actually was an alien. It certainly hadn’t been born of this earth. But then she realized that it had. Death had been as born to this earth as she had been. It had been created and been doing its job thousands of years before she’d ever been born. It had been placed here by something far more powerful than she was.
Perhaps the idea of aliens had been created by someone that had seen this being on some distant day, a day so long forgotten that the idea of its actual existence had been laughed off by many over time.
As it came closer, she could make out the bones beneath the smooth, pus colored flesh. The flesh may have been murky in color but it appeared as smooth and unblemished as marble. No bruises marred it; no wrinkles lined its face or body. She didn’t know why but she got the distinct impression that the flesh would be as hard as marble to the touch, and as unyielding as the creature sitting straight on the back of the horse.
Death finally drew close enough so that she could actually make out its features and she could see that it did have bones beneath its skin. Flesh covered its skull, but she got the clear, distinct impression of the skull beneath the flesh that had been molded over it. The contrast was the strangest thing to see. The flesh almost seemed as if it were made of Play-Doh or clay, especially since the face superimposed onto the skull was perfect.
Death had a thin-bridged nose, full white mouth, and cheekbones that Michelangelo would have been jealous of. It was a face that would have made both men and women jealous of its beauty and strength. A face that would have made artists weep and musicians sing. It was not the face that belonged on something that was helping to bring about the destruction of their world.
The horse it was riding though had seen far better days, months ago. Every one of its ribs stood out, its high shoulder bones were clearly visible, and its jagged hips were harsh points. Its head was bowed as if it carried the weight of the world upon its back and she supposed in some ways that it actually did. The horse was grayish in color but a sickly yellow swirled throughout its mottled coat. Riley wondered if the horse had been that color the entire time or if the color had been leached from it by Death. Or perhaps Death’s presence had leeched into the horse. She wondered how it was even holding the weight of Death upon its back as its knees buckled briefly before it continued forward once more.
The horses below them stopped moving, she thought most of them were already dead as the spectral figure approached them. The silence that descended over the night was as complete as a graveyard at midnight. Nothing moved, even the breeze that had been drifting through the night stopped as the entire world seemed to hold its collective breath.
The figure slid with fluid grace off of the horse. Riley’s breath hitched in as the horse it had been riding crumpled to ash as soon as Death was free of it. The solid horse that had been there just seconds before was now as gone as the minutes that had passed before this one. One white hand, so large that it made Shaq’s look small, grabbed hold of the mane of the horse that had made it to the top of the pile.
As soon as the hand clasped hold of the hair, the horse stopped its movements. White began to seep through the horse’s dark mane, bleeding out to spread down through the deep brown coat. The color spread down the neck, though its front shoulders, and into its back. It continued to turn the once brown horse the same yellowish white as the one that had crumpled before it. Every part of the horse changed shade until the only part that had any color left was its black muzzle. Then the horse gave a snort, a white plume of air escaped its nostrils, and the contrasting black muzzle faded away to match the rest of it.
Ice, she thought as the creature pulled the horse down from the top of the pile and climbed elegantly on its back. Though it was completely white and yellow, the horse still appeared as healthy as it had when it had won the climb to the top of the pile. Not only did Death bleed the color from its rides but it also drained the life from them over time.
Of course it would, she thought. It was Death after all; it eventually took the life from everything and everyone.
With its new mount secured, Death’s head tipped back. Though she’d stopped breathing, her heart had continued to pump but now she was certain that even that stopped as eyes the purest blue she’d ever seen landed upon them. This is it, she realized. They’d come this far, survived situations that had taken so many other lives, but no one, no one escaped death.
And it knew that they were here.
Riley inhaled deeply; she didn’t even bother to grab for her gun. What would be the point? She didn’t want to go quietly into the night but she also wasn’t going to run away screaming or firing like a lunatic at something that she’d never be able to avoid anyway. Apparently, the others felt the same way as none of them made a move.
Those eyes burned with arctic ice as they stared up at them. Riley stood and waited for it to ride off the track, come up the hill, and suck the life and color from them just like it had the horse. Instead, it simply sat and stared at them. Without a word, it turned the horse with ease and walked it back across the infield of the track and toward the chain link fence.
Riley was half expecting a wave of ice to come from its hands and rip the fence apart or to shoot a wave of ice back at them to kill them all. She wasn’t expecting for a small tunnel of yellow light to appear before Death reached the fence, wasn’t prepared for Death to disappear into the night as if it had never been there in the first place.
The normal darkness of the night seemed absolute after the light Death had brought with it. Her eyes strained to see any details within the dark. The moon had seemed to provide far more illumination when they had walked over here, but now she could barely detect any of its light. Blinking, she was finally able to bring the centerfield back into focus as sounds began to drift into her ears once more.
The crickets began to chirrup again, in the distance she could hear some of the luckier horses still moving about in the night. Finally tearing her gaze away from the fence, she looked down once more at the pile of animals beneath them. The air began to stir again, a breeze drifted over her flesh, but instead of chilling her further this breeze seemed to breathe life back into her body. Finally free of her strange paralysis, she looked down herself and was relieved to find that she hadn’t actually pissed herself.
The breeze stirred her hair; the blood began to pulse through her veins again, melting the ice that had encapsulated her. As she watched, the ashes of the horse that had crumpled were picked up in the air and spun around the track. She tried to follow their progress through the air but she lost them almost immediately in the dark.
Tears continued to burn her eyes as she looked back at where Death had vanished. They had been in the presence of Death and they were still alive. They hadn’t been judged by it, of that much she was certain. If they had been judged she knew that at the very least she would have been found lacking. She’d killed a man today, and not only did she not feel bad about it, but she would do it again even if it meant Death would place its icy hand against her face next. That man had gotten what he deserved, but murder was a sin, where was what she deserved? She’d also killed Lee, she had killed others and yet she was still standing here.
How was it possible that they had looked Death in the eye and yet remained?
“I dreamed of this,” John murmured. “Weeks ago, before we ever met Donald, I had a dream about my father and me. The horsemen came to us in it. Tonight, I had a dream about a voice, it brought me here.” Riley turned to look at him; he was as pale as Death had been. She didn’t know how to process what he was saying and apparently neither did he as his eyes were filled with horror. “The voice told me that there was still beauty in the world, we just had to look for it. I had to… I had to come here after that dream. I had to look.”
“We understand,” Carl assured him though she knew that none of them did. Even with all the answers there were still countless questions, but there always had been in the world. Whenever one mystery was solved there was always something else to figure out, or some new thing to conquer.
“But what did it mean? Is there beauty in Death, is that what it meant?” John demanded.
She wanted to tell him it was only a dream but she couldn’t. She knew better than that. “Some people have feelings, some people have dreams,” she whispered. “You’re not crazy.” John’s shoulders slumped in relief. “And as strange, horrifying, traumatizing, and completely insane as seeing that was, it was also beautiful. In its own way.”
Xander rested his hand on her shoulder; she grabbed hold of it, desperately needing the connection with him. “It was,” he agreed.
John nodded but there was still dread swirling through his eyes as he turned back toward the track. “Debra, Debra knew what was out there. Knew that they would come for us.”
“They didn’t come for us,” Carl said.
“One of them did,” John said.
“No, it didn’t come for us; it came for a new ride.”
“But why?” Riley’s voice was hoarse; it felt as if she hadn’t had anything to drink in weeks as she turned to look at them. “Why didn’t it take us? Isn’t that what Death is supposed to do? Isn’t it supposed to judge us and take us?”
Carl’s eyes were troubled when they met hers. “No. Death doesn’t pick who it takes or when, that’s for fate to decide.”
“Well why hasn’t fate decided on me then? The things I’ve done, Lee…” her voice trailed off, she couldn’t finish the sentence.
“That’s not the way it works,” Carl murmured. “If that was the way it worked no child would die from cancer, only the good would survive, and there would be no evil in the world, but that’s not the way of the world, it never has been. I don’t even think God has a say over what happens, not once we are set free upon this world. Technology, bombs, GMO’s, pollution, animal extinction, murder, and all the other things that we’ve created are because we had the free will to do so. I’m sure there has been plenty of good and plenty of bad that He never foresaw us creating because of free will.”
Riley stood and stared at him, uncertain if he was channeling the Dalai Lama or if the chain smoking landscaper had always been a lot more perceptive than he appeared. Either way, he made her turn away to look out at the field again as she thought over his answer.
“Why now?” Xander asked. “Why would God chose to end the world now, because that is what we’re dealing with, isn’t it, the apocalypse?”
“Why not now?” Carl replied and lit a cigarette. “Let’s be honest, we’ve all been taking a giant crap on this planet, and each other, for centuries. I know I was pretty sick and tired of turning on the news every morning. It was never good.”
“What do we do now?” John asked. “Is there any point? Are they just going to keep coming until we’re all dead?”
“I think they’re done, or almost done anyway,” Carl said. “The earth has been scourged, the plagues have been unleashed, food is scarce, we’re fighting a war for survival every day, and people are dying at a rapid pace. They’ve accomplished what they were sent here to accomplish. At least that’s what I’m going to believe because to believe anything else is to accept death and to give up. I haven’t made it this freaking far to give up now.”
“Neither have I,” Riley whispered.
“If we survive what is still out there then we’ll repopulate the earth, the human race will continue, and the next time this planet and its people need a smack down it will get one,” Carl continued. “I think it’s time to get back to the truck. We’re leaving as soon as the sun breaks.”
“Yes,” Riley said but she had a difficult time tearing her gaze away from the empty racetrack.
Finally, she turned away. Xander kept hold of her hand and John took a staggering step to the side. Carl grabbed hold of his arm to steady him. “You’re burning up,” Carl muttered.
Riley’s heart plummeted as she spotted the sweat beading across John’s brow. He managed a wan smile as he shrugged and rubbed at his neck. “I’ve always been hot,” he quipped but there was no humor in the etched lines of his flushed face.
I’m a HUGE Johnny Cash fan, always have been and always will be. His song, When The Man Comes Around, was part of the inspiration for this series, especially the very beginning of it. It is creepy, unnerving, and yet beautiful and mystical. This is also the song that John thought Debra was talking about in book 3, when Debra started to recite from the Book of Revelation before killing herself. If you haven’t heard the song, I suggest giving it a listen, even if you don’t like country music. To me this song is the theme of The Survivor Chronicles and helped to set the tone for it.
When The Man Come Around Video:
Monday, December 8, 2014
She could feel the beat of her heart slamming against her ribs; feel the pulse of her blood in her fingertips as more gunfire rang out from the camp. A scream built in her throat but she fought it back as she forced her feet to move faster. All she could think about was getting to her daughter; Rochelle’s name ran repeatedly through her mind as she forced herself to speeds she’d never thought possible.
Her foot got caught up on a tree root; she tripped and nearly fell but managed to keep her balance as adrenaline drove her onward. Screams and shouts echoed from the camp as she reached the back of the cabin and ran toward the front of it. Donald grabbed hold of her arm, jerking her back before she could bolt out into the open.
“What are you doing?” she protested loudly as he pushed her against the side of the cabin.
“Wait!” he commanded sharply.
She didn’t want to wait though, she jerked on her arm but he didn’t release her as he poked his head cautiously around the corner of the building. Al caught up to them and stopped on the other side of her. “He’s right,” Al huffed. “You don’t want to get shot.”
More gunfire rang out as a scream pierced the air. “We have to help them!” she cried.
She jerked her arm away from him as Donald pulled his head back. “Let’s go, but cautiously,” Donald advised before ducking out around the building.
Mary Ellen stayed low behind him as she rushed forward. “Coming from behind!” Donald shouted as they ran toward the others.
Claire was on the other side of the clearing with Freddie at her side. They barely glanced back at them as they were busy firing at the sick people coming at them from the woods. One look at their flaking skin, tattered clothes, and the flesh of the gray naked one was enough for Mary Ellen to confirm that it was the same group from earlier. Her eyes darted toward where Nancy stood by the lake but she didn’t see Victor or Rochelle anywhere.
Thoughts were barely able to form in her mind as she frantically searched for her daughter. Continuing toward the others, she finally spotted Rochelle around the corner of the cabin and to the left of Claire. She was firing at one of the sick ones that was approaching her but there was another one coming at her from the side.
“Rochelle look out!” The words were screamed so forcefully that her throat instantly became raw.
She fired wildly at the creature stalking her daughter as she continued to run. Bullets slammed into the earth around the one hunting Rochelle, they were all wide of their mark. She swore her heart stopped as the creature launched at Rochelle and brought her down. Time began to slow; everything around her burst into crisp detail as the world dropped out from under her.
There had been many times in her life when she’d been afraid, but all of those paled in comparison to watching that thing pounce upon her daughter. Speed she didn’t know she had burst from her as a shout of rage tore from her brutalized throat. She raced across the clearing and flung herself onto the back of the monster on top of her daughter.
The sight of her daughter’s blood made her see red as she clawed and beat at the thing under her. It reminded her of a snake laying out to absorb the sun as the heat of its skin burned against her hands. The thing had a temperature high enough to fry its brain, something that she was certain had already happened. She’d thought that its skin would feel slimy or even scaly like a snake’s. Instead it felt like any other person with dry skin would feel. If that skin was also fiery, festering and infested with maggots in some areas.
How could they still mostly feel like a person but be so demented and wrong? She wondered as she succeeded in wrapping one arm around its neck and the other around its forehead. She released a ferocious shout as she jerked back on its head with far more strength than she’d ever thought she could possess. Her teeth grated together as she continued to pull back, nearly bending the creature over backward before finally succeeding in tearing it away from her daughter.
It fell on top of her as she sprawled onto her back but she refused to let it go as it squirmed and squealed on top of her. Its arms and legs flailed as it thrashed about in an attempt to break free of her hold. Mary Ellen struggled to breathe against the weight crushing her into the earth and the elbows jamming into her ribs, but there was no way she was ever going to let it go with Rochelle still so close.
Donald appeared above her, she tried to focus on him but her vision was going blurry from lack of oxygen and the crushing pressure on her chest. He tried to grab hold of the thing on her but it kicked and flailed, knocking his hands away and tearing into his forearms.
“Turn your head!” Donald shouted at her when blood began to spill down his arms.
Mary Ellen turned her head but she could still see it when Donald placed his gun against the thing’s temple and pulled the trigger. Even with her head turned, blood splattered on her face and clogged her lashes. Her ears rang from the shot, her eardrum had to have been blown out but it didn’t matter right now. Donald placed his foot against the thing’s shoulder and grunted as he shoved it off of her.
She blinked back the blood coating her lashes and wiped her arm across her face to try and clear her vision. It was still a little difficult to see but she pushed herself into a seated position. Air wheezed into her lungs as she searched frantically for Rochelle. Her daughter was staggering to her feet near the cabin, her arms and legs were scratched, she was the color of paste, but she appeared otherwise unharmed.
Mary Ellen launched to her feet and ran toward her. Wrapping her arms securely around her, she pulled Rochelle against her chest and hugged her tightly. She would have given anything to just sit and hold her daughter right now but there were still more of those things within the woods.
“Get in the cabin,” she ordered briskly.
“I can help,” Rochelle protested.
“No, I need you to get inside.” Mary Ellen brushed the hair back from her face and kissed her forehead. “Go!” she commanded and pushed Rochelle toward the cabin as more gunfire erupted.
Rochelle took a couple of stumbling steps away before turning and bolting toward the cabin. Victor was standing on the porch, terrified and small as he watched the violence unfolding before him. Mary Ellen spun away and took aim at one of the things standing within the trees. They were like a horde of locusts, she though. They were everywhere at once and looking to destroy everything that they came across.
One of the sick people in the trees started to come at her, she waited until it was in a more open position before pulling the trigger. She managed to hit it in the arm but it didn’t change course as it continued to bear down on her. From beside her, Al planted his feet and pulled the trigger, hitting it in the chest and knocking it back.
“Don’t forget to aim for their chests,” he told her in a clipped tone.
Mary Ellen nodded but when she went to pull the trigger again nothing happened. She cursed loudly and tossed the empty gun aside. Grabbing hold of a thick stick near her foot, she swung it up and caught another one of the sick humans under the chin as it came at her. Its head shot back, teeth exploded out of its mouth but the fact that it would now have to gum her flesh in order to eat her did nothing to deter it from its course.
A bullet caught it in the head; its head snapped back with so much force that it was knocked onto its ass. Its arms and legs flailed on the ground, strange sounds escaped it before it finally went still. Mary Ellen pulled her knife from its holder at her side as two more of them emerged from the woods. Even with the weapon in hand, she was becoming increasingly certain that they were going to be overrun as Claire tossed aside her rifle and pulled out a handgun. Nancy released a startled cry as one of them knocked her off her feet and pounced.
“I got her!” Donald shouted and raced across the clearing toward her.
Mary Ellen gripped the knife tightly in her hand. Another one began to approach her at a leisurely pace that unnerved her far more than if it had just launched at her. Fried fever brain or not, this one was a hunter and it had targeted her for its prey. Her sweaty palms caused her to adjust her hold on her knife as she backed cautiously away from it.
Al’s shoulder pressed against hers, he lifted his gun and shot at another one coming at them from the left, but there was another one directly behind it. Were they multiplying? The insane notion hit her, she knew it wasn’t possible but she couldn’t shake it. Sweat coated her; her clothes clung to her skin as adrenaline pounded through her. She watched her hunter and waited for it to try and eat her.
Another shot sounded from behind her, causing her to jump as a bullet caught her hunter in the shoulder. She glanced behind her to see Rochelle standing only ten feet away with a gun in her hand and a determined look on her face. Mary Ellen wanted to be mad at her for putting herself in danger, but it was impossible to be when she was also so unbelievably proud. She may have been a coward when she’d been with Larry, but she certainly hadn’t raised one.
Rochelle ran over to her and handed her another gun. “Go back to the cabin,” Mary Ellen told her and fired at one that was running toward Freddie. The creature spun around and began to howl when her bullet tore into its side.
“No,” Rochelle replied stubbornly.
Mary Ellen gave her a stern look but she didn’t argue with her, there was no point in it and now wasn’t the time. The sick were dropping around them but there were still four of them left and three of them had retreated to the woods. They moved so swiftly through the shadows of the forest that she had a hard time tracking them through the trees. Claire stepped forward and blessedly silenced the one still screeching on the ground.
Now there are three, she thought.
Everyone moved closer together as they tried to track their hunters through the woods. Mary Ellen’s eyes slid up to the tops of the trees as movement drew her attention to the branches but she didn’t see anything amongst the leaves. “We have to get them,” Donald said quietly.
“I think they’re going to come for us,” Mary Ellen whispered.
She’d barely gotten the words out when the three of them burst out of the woods from numerous directions. Mary Ellen raised the gun and aimed for the chest of the one closest to her. She pulled the trigger but the shot was off and took it in the shoulder. The next one hit it in the thigh. Its movements were hindered but pain didn’t seem to register to it as it continued forward at a rapid pace. The next shot hit it in the gut; its arms wrapped around its stomach as it doubled over and took a few more steps before its knees hit the ground.
The other two darted back into the woods and disappeared amongst the foliage. Mary Ellen’s hands shook as the one she had shot in the stomach continued to writhe on the ground and emit sounds of pure agony. She despised the sounds of misery from it but she found herself riveted upon the barely recognizable human before her.
Donald stepped forward and put a bullet through its forehead, finally putting it out of its misery. Mary Ellen stared at it for a minute more before lifting her head to search the woods for the others as quiet descended over the clearing, a quite that seemed strangely loud after all of the noise. She became acutely aware of the ringing in her ears; it was all she could hear above the loud breathing of those around her.
Her head fell back, her gaze ran over the treetops again. Her fingers twitched on the trigger as she waited for them to come back at them. The urge to scream was building in her chest and a growing pressure caused her bladder to clench. Those things were out there somewhere but they were outnumbered now and she had a feeling they weren’t as reckless as their friends had been, that they were plotting something.
She didn’t think she could take much more of the tension; her nose was filled with the heightened odor of those around her as their terror seemed to come off of them in waves. Turning, she searched behind her, but she didn’t see anything there. A flash of something drew her attention to the trees. She’d just spotted the two edging toward the cabin roof when a gunshot rang out from behind her, followed quickly by three more. She almost pissed herself as she jumped, a startled shriek escaped Nancy, and the bodies tumbled from the trees to land on the roof. The two bodies rolled down the pitch and fell off in front of the porch.
Mary Ellen kept her gun raised as she spun toward the cabin and the direction that the gunshots had come from. She’d been expecting to see that the others had returned, that they had parked the truck somewhere else and walked in when they’d heard the gunfire. Instead, four people she didn’t recognize emerged from around the corner of the cabin. Their guns were raised as they approached the dead lying before the porch.
“We come in peace,” one of the women said and the younger man in between the two women snickered.
The older man lifted his head away from the scope of his rifle and frowned. The man lowered his rifle as he stepped forward. “Al?”
All of their heads turned toward Al. Confusion marred Al’s brow before it cleared and he began to smile. “Rusty?” he asked in surprise.
Mary Ellen stared at the man that Al had called Rusty. He appeared to be in his mid to late sixties. His eyebrows and short beard had a reddish hue to them but the hair on his head was completely white. His round face and blue eyes lit up when he grinned at Al. “Yeah.” He walked across the clearing and stretched out his hand to take hold of Al’s. “It’s good to see you.”
“You also. Where did you come from?” Al inquired.
He gestured toward the drive. “I still have my cabin down the road. We had to leave our house in the city once everything fell apart. We were still trying to escape from the damage of the quakes and tsunami when people started to fall ill. They overran the city so quickly.” The twinkle left his blue eyes as he gestured at the two dead near his feet and gave a sad shake of his head. “We were hunting in the area when we heard your gunshots. I hadn’t realized that anyone was here but we don’t move out much from my cabin. It’s safer that way.”
“I understand,” Al said. “Glad you were in the area.”
Rusty glanced at all of them before focusing on Al again. “Do you remember my children?” He stepped back and waved the other three forward. “This is Rusty Jr. and my daughters Phoebe and Leah.”
“R.J.,” Rusty Jr. said and extended his hand to Al. R.J. appeared to be in his mid-thirties he had shaggy reddish hair that framed his rugged face. Phoebe had light blond hair and appeared to be in her late twenties while Leah was also a redhead and looked to be about twenty-five.
“I remember,” Al said and shook R.J.’s hand.
They all introduced themselves but Mary Ellen could feel the hesitance in the people around her, could feel it in herself as she nudged Rochelle away from the strangers. Al knew who these people were but they didn’t, and she wasn’t in a very trusting mood lately. She wondered how many bullets were left in her gun as she studied the family across from her.
What was she becoming? She thought but then her gaze drifted briefly to Rochelle and she knew what she had become. A woman that would do anything to ensure the safety of her child and the people gathered around her.
Al turned toward them. “Rusty and I used to hunt together,” Al explained. Mary Ellen stared blankly back at him before focusing on the strangers across from her again. “We’ve known each other for twenty five…”
“Thirty,” Rusty chimed in.
“Thirty years,” Al finished.
Mary Ellen nodded, Donald shifted closer to Nancy. Claire still had her rifle pressed against her shoulder and Freddie pushed behind her. Rusty didn’t seem concerned about their defensive postures though as he looked them all over before focusing on Al again. “You’ve made a stand here?”
“We’re trying to,” Al said. “That’s the first time the sick have come through here though.”
“Nutters, that’s what we call them,” R.J. said.
“Charming,” Mary Ellen murmured as Victor stepped out of the cabin and onto the porch. There was no color in his face as his wide eyes took them all in. Mary Ellen waved him over; she wanted him by their side just in case. He climbed down the steps and hurried over to her other side but she pushed him behind her.
R.J. shrugged and shoved his hands into his pockets. Claire hesitated but she finally lowered her rifle. “Helps to distance us from them, it’s easier that way,” Rusty explained.
She supposed that was true but it still seemed like such a cruel term for them. Her gaze drifted to the bodies scattered around them and she shuddered. Yes, they were definitely a little nutty, she decided and Nutter really wasn’t any worse than creature, it, or thing.
“I understand,” Nancy chimed in.
“They come through every once in awhile,” Rusty said. “We’ve been here for almost two months and this is the third time we’ve seen them in the area. Though this is the largest group of them.”
“If the food is running low in town, they’ll start spreading out,” Phoebe said with a shudder.
“That is a good possibility.” Rusty rubbed thoughtfully at his beard as he thought that over.
“I think they’re starting to die,” Mary Ellen said. “There was another one, in the woods with them, it was sicker than the rest. They killed it when it became clear it wasn’t going to make it.”
“Mom,” Leah said and then shuddered. Her gaze drifted toward the trees as tears brimmed in her eyes.
Phoebe rested her hand on her sister’s shoulder. Mary Ellen stared at them but they didn’t elaborate and no one pushed them on it. They all had their horror stories that they didn’t want to share. “Maybe that means we’ll finally be able to get into the town,” R.J. said hopefully.
Mary Ellen’s head shot up at those words, her heartbeat kicked up a little as she focused on R.J. “What do you mean?” she inquired sharply.
“It’s overrun with Nutters,” Rusty said. “We were living next to another group of ten people. They were determined to try to get into town and find supplies. They wanted us to go with them but we’d already traveled along the outskirts of town enough to know that it was overrun. Nutters are smart and they’ve been in charge in there for awhile, I’m sure they’ve set traps by now.” Nausea twisted through Mary Ellen’s stomach, her eyes lifted to the darkening sky. “We never saw another member of that group again.”
“Oh God,” she breathed as she stared at the empty drive. The other group had gone out with ten people and never come back. They’d only sent out five, half that number.
“What is it?” Phoebe inquired.
“There are five more of us. They went into town this morning to look for more supplies. They should have been back by now,” she answered as her gaze drifted to the sky again.
Rochelle took hold of her hand and squeezed it. Mary Ellen pulled her closer and held her against her side; she knew her daughter would be devastated if they didn’t return. They all would be. All of the losses they had suffered had been heartbreaking, but she wasn’t sure they could recover from the loss of five of them.
“I’m sure they’re fine,” Leah said quietly but Mary Ellen heard the hollowness in her tone.
“Have you seen anyone? Have you heard anything? Do you know how this all started?” Nancy inquired anxiously. Donald rested his hand on her arm as that frantic look came back into her eyes.
Rusty’s eyebrows rose as he stared at all of them. “You haven’t seen one of them yet?”
“Seen one of what?” Donald inquired.
Rusty ran a hand through his white hair, causing it to stand up in little spikes around his lined face. “We’ve only seen one, thankfully. We were holed up at a horse farm in Goshen. It came that night.”
Tuesday, December 2, 2014
I'm happy to announce that Broken, book 6 in The Captive Series, went out for its first round of editing last night. At a little over 100,000 words it is officially the longest in the series by almost 25,000 words. Atticus really had a LOT to say though! With the holidays upon us editing will probably take longer than normal but it is still looking good for a late April release! Though I will be moving it up if I can. :)
Monday, December 1, 2014
“There is still beauty in the world.”
John didn’t know where the voice came from as he turned to search the woods behind him. The darkness continued to reign supreme though and the forest kept whatever secret it was that it was holding. He supposed he should be afraid that there was a voice whispering to him but he was pretty sure he’d met his capacity for fear. Even now something worse than death could be ravaging his body so voices weren’t really his biggest concern.
“There are still secrets.”
“More secrets than beauty,” he said to the voice and then felt like an idiot for talking to himself.
“Maybe that’s one of the secrets,” the voice whispered.
“Maybe what is?”
“That there is more beauty than secrets.”
He’d never liked riddles, and he especially disliked them when he was standing at the edge of a forest staring into the gaping maw of nothing. Ridiculous, he thought, but he didn’t say the word out loud.
Was it so ridiculous? He wondered as he ran his fingers through his hair. What did he know about anything; perhaps the voice was right. He was really losing his mind if he thought a voice that was whispering to him from the woods was actually right, he decided. He glanced around but the others were all sound asleep around him.
From the corner of his eye, he thought he saw a flicker in the woods but when he turned to look the flicker was gone. “What if we’re only able to see the ugly from here on out?” he inquired.
“Then you’re not looking hard enough.”
“Oh for crying out loud,” he muttered. There were a dozen swears running through his mind that he would have rather have said. He just wasn’t so sure that cursing at a strange voice, coming from the woods, was the best idea. It might be the most absurd thing he’d ever experienced but he couldn’t shake the feeling that the voice had something to say to him and he was hesitant to piss it off.
“You just have to know where to look.”
There was that flicker again. It danced amongst the trees like a firefly dancing between lily pads. He’d thought the voice was odd but that flickering was as strange to him as a man with six heads would have been. “Am I supposed to look in the woods?” he inquired.
“You’re supposed to look where you’re willing to look.”
Oh the wonderful freaking riddles again. If the voice had been corporal, and in front of him, he may have just strangled it even if it did have something to reveal. John frowned as the flickering grew brighter. It was no longer a lightning bug dancing within the woods but more like a lantern being led onward through the dark.
“I hate riddles,” he muttered.
“Riddles are some of life’s greatest mysteries. When one is solved yet another one can unfold.”
“Sometimes mysteries are just plain annoying,” John retorted before he could think.
The voice didn’t take offense though as it released a tinkling laugh that drew his attention away from the lantern swaying in the distance. His mother’s laugh had been like that, carefree and girlish both rolled together. A pang of longing stabbed his chest. He had the unreasonable urge to cry as the image of his mother swelled so clearly within his mind that for a disconcerting moment he thought she was there before him. He almost reached out to touch her but even as the image burst forth, it was fading away. It had been weeks since he’d recalled her face so vividly, heard the sound of her laugh so clearly, and doing so now caused tears to burn hotly in his eyes.
What was this voice? Was it a savior or was it the devil coming to torment him?
John shook his head and took a step back. “That they are,” the voice agreed. “And some of them are just waiting to be solved.” The lantern within the woods grew into a bonfire that would have burnt the trees around it, if it had been real. This bonfire wasn’t red though, it had an odd yellowish hue to it that wasn’t healthy or vibrant. Instead of being a welcoming yellow like the sun, it was more like snot. “Some are so close to being solved that you can almost touch them. You just have to look.”
John tore his eyes away from the woods to search for the voice. What was it talking about? Did he look for the voice or did he follow the light that was moving toward the center of the racetrack?
“Not here, you can’t look here,” the voice whispered. “There is nothing to see here.”
“Then where?” he demanded growing more impatient as the strange fire began to rage higher.
“You have to open your eyes to be able to see.”
Oh just wonderful, even more riddles. How on earth was he supposed to open his eyes to see when his eyes were already open and he could see perfectly fine? John continued to stare at the yellowish fire spreading throughout the woods. It was the strangest fire he’d ever seen as its flames never scorched anything around it.
“The answers aren’t what you’re expecting,” the voice whispered.
“They never are,” John muttered as his eyes remained riveted upon the glowing ball of energy.
“Do not be afraid of them.”
John frowned as he finally tore his attention away from the fire and sought out the voice again. “Who are you?” he demanded.
The voice seemed to have decided to choose silence though as the light grew and shrank in a pulsating wave that reminded him of a lighthouse beam flashing through the fog. A breeze tickled the hair at the nape of his neck and cooled him in a way that he hadn’t been cooled since all of this started.
“I am your friend. Wake up now.”
John woke with a start. He almost fell over as he’d fallen asleep propped up against the barn door with his gun in his good hand. It was the last thing he had planned on doing but sometime during the night, exhaustion had claimed him. He lifted his head and blinked against the black of the night enshrouding him. A shiver slid down his spine as the breeze drifted over him again and he tilted his head back to look at the sky.
Pain lanced through his neck. He lifted his hand to rub at the kink that had formed there from his awkward sleeping position. Awe filled him as he took in the stars twinkling above him while he worked on his neck. There really was beauty in the world too, he thought as he studied the constellations.
Inwardly, he searched himself for any sign of the sickness. His hand was throbbing like a son of a bitch but he didn’t think he had a fever and he definitely didn’t feel like eating anyone so he guessed that was a bonus. He was thirsty though and his clothes were sticking to him from the heat and his sweat.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”
Unlike the other voice, he knew exactly where this one was coming from as Riley was sitting at the corner of the barn with her elbows resting on her knees. “You should have woke me up,” he said quietly.
“You needed your rest.”
“So do you.”
She shrugged and dropped her elbows off of her knees. “But I’m the one that is still awake.”
John glanced around him and realized that the others were asleep too. How she had managed to stay awake, sitting in the darkness, was beyond him but she appeared more alert than when he had last seen her. “Did you fall asleep?”
“No. There’s no sleep for me, not tonight.” She said the last two words so low that he barely heard them.
John frowned as he pushed himself further up against the barn. He winced as his hand was jarred and his stiff body protested the movement. It didn’t matter how uncomfortable he was though, the sight of those stars in the sky was enough to make even the worst aches disappear as a smile pulled at the corners of his mouth. He found the Big Dipper amongst them before turning his attention back to Riley.
“You did what had to be done back there, with those men, you should try to sleep,” he told her.
“I know that but it’s more than what happened earlier, it’s more than losing Josh even.”
He winced at the reminder of Josh. Things had gone bad so quickly, and they had lost another friend, one that had been far too young to die. “Then what is it?” he asked her.
Her fingers tapped against her shin as she frowned thoughtfully at the sky. Finally, she tore her attention away from the stars and to him. “It might sound crazy.”
“You could tell me that the ocean is red and I would have to go look at it to make sure. Nothing is crazy anymore,” he told her. “There’s little you could tell me now that I would find shocking.”
“Didn’t you know that the ocean really is red?” she asked with a tired smile.
“I didn’t but I’ll be sure to look. Tell me.”
Riley sighed, rose to her feet and stepped away from the barn. “I’m not saying I’m psychic, or anything like that, because I’m definitely not. But sometimes I just get these feelings that something isn’t right,” she said quietly. “Like I’ll be driving down the road and I’ll just know to slow down before rounding the next curve, or coming across the next U-turn area on the highway. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the feeling is right and there’s a cop there.”
John frowned as her words made him recall that horribly bad dream. “You’re seventeen, how many speeding tickets could you have gotten in your lifetime?” He was trying to sound light but it was impossible to keep the tension from his voice.
Riley gave a little chuckle as she walked across the front of the barn; she stretched her back as she moved. “You’ve seen the way I drive, right?”
John thought over that response before answering, “Touché.”
“I still have nightmares about it,” Carl muttered.
John glanced over at where Carl sat around the corner of the barn; his back was against the tire of the truck. His chin was resting against his chest but he slowly lifted his head to blink at them. “I didn’t mean to wake you,” Riley apologized.
Carl yawned and rubbed tiredly at his eyes. “It doesn’t matter; an hour of sleep does a body good anyway.”
“So you’re having a bad feeling about tonight?” John pressed.
Riley glanced around before focusing on him again. “I’m not sure it’s a bad feeling, so much as I can’t shake the feeling that something is out there.”
“There’s always something out there lately,” Carl said.
Though he knew Carl’s words were right, his thoughts were focused on that haunting dream. He could still recall his mother’s laugh as he glanced at the shadows bouncing over the barns surrounding them. Slowly, he turned to look at the woods beyond the barns, but he didn’t see any unearthly fires burning within the trees.
“No, this is something else, something different, and it’s coming this way,” Riley whispered.
The hair on the back of his neck stood up at Riley’s cryptic words. He was becoming increasingly certain that something was beckoning to him from somewhere in the night, that the answers were out there. He just had to know where to look, or actually he had to start looking. His heart leapt into his throat at the thought, but once it took root in his mind it was impossible to shake. Putting his good hand on the ground, he pushed himself to his feet and brought his gun before him.
“What is it?” Carl asked.
John searched for a firefly in the dark, a lantern, something like what he had seen within his dream but the night remained as dark as ever. “I just…” Just what? Had a dream with a voice and a bonfire? Carl would get the biggest kick out of that and he wasn’t much in the mood for his sarcasm or laughter right now. Not when he was becoming increasingly certain that there were answers to be found, if he ended up looking like an idiot so be it, but he had to look. “Thought I heard something.”
Carl turned to look around him before shrugging and facing Riley again. “Well I hope that whatever it is waits until the morning.”
“I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Riley said.
John wanted to throw her a deck of tarot cards; if the world hadn’t fallen apart she could have made a fortune off of people at county fairs. He could picture her waving her fingers over a crystal ball as she revealed someone’s future. She really had a way of drawing things out and making them sound ominous.
“I’m going to go check out the track,” he said quietly.
“Why?” Carl demanded but he was already rising to his feet.
“I just have to.”
“Are you having “feelings” now too?” John wanted to smack Carl for the finger air quotes that he put around the word feelings, but he would have been just as skeptical if the roles had been reversed.
“You can stay here,” he muttered.
“No, a stroll around this place, at night, sounds like a great idea right now or the beginning of a really bad horror movie.”
John ground his teeth together as he glared at him. Carl didn’t acknowledge the death stare though as he pulled out a cigarette and lit it. “I’m going with you,” Riley volunteered.
“We can’t leave Xander here by himself,” John said.
“I’ll wake him,” Riley said.
She walked past John and over to where Xander was propped up against the back tire of the truck. She rested her hand on his shoulder. He woke with a start and stared around in confusion as she spoke with him. He wiped at his eyes and nodded while Riley spoke quietly with him. He nodded, glanced around, and rose tiredly to his feet.
Carl opened the door to the truck to retrieve a flashlight. “Will it be ok to leave the truck?” Xander asked.
“It should be fine,” Carl said but he still grabbed the keys from the ignition. “Do you really want to do this?”
“I don’t want to just sit here right now, that’s for sure,” John said as he scanned the night again. They’d seen nothing other than some wandering horses since arriving here but he was certain there were answers to be found amongst the shadowed buildings. There were also numerous places to hide but if there was someone out there that was going to try and eat them, they would have already tried to do so.
Their footsteps were nearly silent as they walked down the paved road in between the rows of barns on this hillside. At the bottom of the road was a hill that went down to an oval track encircled by a white fence. The large grandstand building was to the right of the track; the moonlight gleaming off of its darkened windows didn’t make it appear at all inviting though. In the center of the track a handful of horses were grazing on the grass while others slept in the field.
“Where are we going?” Riley asked from beside him.
“I don’t know,” John muttered. He just knew that his eyes were open and that a voice had promised him answers. It was absolute insanity, he knew that, and if someone else had said it to him, he might actually have considered tying them up, but he was becoming increasingly certain that there were answers to find here.
Going on the memory of what they’d seen from the road and his instinct, he was drawn irresistibly to the left and the other track that was there. They walked past a cluster of more barns on their right, with a large one in the center of it. The flashlight beam bounced disconcertingly over the pavement. The strain the bobbing light placed on his eyes was making his head hurt but he continued on.
Nearing the other track, he started picking up on a strange noise, one that he didn’t immediately recognize. “Is that hoof beats?” Carl inquired.
John felt the color leech from his face. Of course there could be hoof beats, there were horses all around them but the mention of hoof beats brought him back to the dream he’d had so long ago that had involved his father. That dream had also left him rattled and confused upon waking but it hadn’t left him with the certainty that there were finally answers to be found like this dream had. His step faltered slightly and he froze for a second before hurrying to catch up with the others again.
“I think they are,” Xander muttered.
The barns and buildings on their right began to fade away. John frowned and tilted his head back to look at the clear night sky again. His stiff neck protested the movement and his attention was drawn back to the area around them, as the hoof beats continued to pound across the ground. The buildings fell away to reveal another oval track at the bottom of a hill. Like the other track, there were horses within the center field of this one but they were running toward the chain link fence on the far side of it. Before they could crash into the fence, the animals all skidded to a halt and spun around to come back toward them. Some of the animals fled across a grassy hill on their right but more than a dozen of them ran across the grassy center of the track.
He had no idea what had spooked the animals, or what was driving them to run from one end of the dirt track to the other but he couldn’t shake the hideous thought that this strange running was the precursor to the awful mounds they had seen throughout their travels.
“What are they doing?” Riley whispered.
Carl clicked the flashlight off, but strangely, the night around them didn’t dim. With the flashlight off, John was able to see that the strange light of the night wasn’t coming from the moon. The illumination was coming from the area in between the two tracks where a water truck and an assortment of other vehicles were parked by a large building. It took him a minute to realize that the building must have been the maintenance area for the racetrack.
Even though the vehicles and building were oddly lit up, he couldn’t see what was causing it. Whatever it was seemed to be moving toward them though as the light was encroaching upon the track. The horses had already reached the other side of the track again and were now fleeing back toward them.
Though they ran from end to end, the only sound the animals made was the pounding of their hooves across the dirt. The horses didn’t whinny, they didn’t cry, they didn’t scream like he knew they could. John looked down as the horses stopped at the bottom of the hill beneath them again. Their sides heaved, their nostrils flared, and though they were a good hundred feet away, he saw their eyes rolling in their heads as they pressed together against the grassy hillside.
“What the…?” Xander’s voice trailed off as that strange light continued to press forward.
John found his hand inexplicably shaking upon his gun. His dream had promised answers, it had promised beauty, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that his subconscious had been lying to him. Perhaps it hadn’t been his subconscious talking to him after all; perhaps it really had been something more. Riley had her feelings and maybe he had his voices. It seemed his voices might have been coming from demons though.
He was definitely losing his mind, he decided. He wanted to get the hell out of here, but he found himself unable to move even a centimeter as he waited for the source of that light to reveal itself.
And then the light moved into view. The world seemed to do a complete one eighty as he stared down at the sight before him. He would have pinched himself, he would have asked the others if they were seeing what he was seeing too, but not one part of his body would respond to anything he wanted it to do. What had revealed itself was so completely unbelievable that it shattered everything he thought he’d ever known about the world. It took every belief he’d ever had and threw it out the window. He was afraid it also took a part of his mind and completely shredded it of all the sanity that it may have still possessed.
What revealed itself was so awful that John knew Hell had been unleashed upon earth, and yet, as the voice had promised, there was such a strangely captivating beauty about it. He found himself unable to tear his eyes away as it continued across the field to the horses below them. He was mesmerized by it as the horses began to climb over top of one another in an attempt to escape the creation baring down upon them.
A part of him wanted to cry, another part understood everything that had happened. Understood every awful event and horror that had been unleashed since the quakes had started on that long ago day at seven twenty-two in the morning. He had his answers and though they weren’t the ones he’d wanted, weren’t even the ones he’d been expecting, it all made perfect sense to him now.