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...
- 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, October 23, 2014
Monday, October 20, 2014
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
Monday, October 13, 2014
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.
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.
Tuesday, October 7, 2014
This is event is for the cover reveal of the upcoming sixth book in The Captive Series and will take place on Facebook on October 21st at 5:00 PM EST. Broken is a prequel about Atticus before he was king. At the time of the reveal a giveaway will begin that will run until the first 5 people get the answer right. The winners will each receive a $5 Amazon GC and signed paperback of their choice. I tried to pick a time for all time zones but remember the giveaway has no set ending time. In order to join the event please go to https://www.facebook.com/events/653362984761086/
Monday, October 6, 2014
Al finished hanging the chains; he wiped his hands on his pants as he took a step back to inspect them. They would do for now, he was hoping to find some more wood to nail on the outside of the shack, maybe some insulation or something else that would help to keep the smell of blood from drifting out. They had made sure to get the deer they had killed skinned and gutted as quickly as possible and they had done it away from the cabin so as not to attract anything unwanted. That might not be possible to do if they got a lot of snow this winter, and leaving tracks everywhere definitely wasn’t going to help keep them hidden.
“Now what?” Claire asked.
“Now I think we should take a look at the other cabins in the area, we need some more wood and other supplies to try and barricade this better,” he answered.
“You want to do that now?” Mary Ellen asked.
“Might as well, unless you have more pressing plans?”
Mary Ellen smiled as she shook her head. “My calendar is pretty clear for awhile. What about the kids?”
“I’ll stay with them,” Claire offered. Over the past couple of weeks she’d proven to be extremely accurate with a gun. She’d been the one to take down the deer and had helped Al to set up the rabbit traps they’d established in the area. Claire had told them that she’d started hunting with her father when she was nine years old. She and Jim had started to take Freddie hunting when he was nine also. Al was confident that she could keep the camp protected if something went wrong.
“Donald can stay here too,” Mary Ellen said.
“I’d like to take Donald with us,” Al told her. “Freddie knows how to use a gun too and Nancy is competent enough to shoot, along with Rochelle, if it becomes necessary. They have the trench and alarm system here to help protect them. We’re going to need someone else with us and I think Nancy will prefer to stay here.”
Though Nancy had calmed down a lot, and her jumpiness had eased, she was still a little too antsy for Al’s liking. Whatever had happened to Nancy before they’d discovered her had left her scarred and as timid as a rabbit. He hoped it got better with time but for now he would prefer to keep her in a calmer and less threatening environment than the woods surrounding them would offer her.
“Yeah probably,” Mary Ellen agreed.
“Do you want to stay here?” he asked.
“No, you’ll need more than just the two of you to keep watch out there. I’m coming.”
Al nodded and walked with her back to the cabin. They ate a quick lunch of rabbit and what was left of the chips before packing some water and a few granola bars to take with them. Al made sure his gun was loaded, and he had both of his knives, as Donald slung the backpack on and checked his gun. Mary Ellen slid a knife into her holster and grabbed her gun.
“We should be back before nightfall,” Al told Claire. “We’re just going to search the cabin on the other side of the one that Carl has already searched.”
“We’ll be here,” Claire said and lifted the rifle off the table. She gave them a grim smile as she rested it against her shoulder.
“If anything should happen here, get out, no matter what it takes,” Donald said.
“How will we find you again?” Nancy’s bicolored eyes darted nervously around them as she twisted her hands before her.
Donald reached out and rested his hand on top of hers, stilling her frantic movements when her skin began to turn red. Her eyes shot up to him and then she took hold of his hand and clasped it within hers. Al lifted an eyebrow as he looked at them. This was the first time he’d seen such an interaction between them and he wondered how long it had been going on. At least Donald was able to calm her though as the fear in her face eased.
“Go to the racetrack, if you can,” Al said. “That’s where we told Carl we’d meet them if something went wrong. We’ll find you eventually.”
Nancy still appeared uneasy as her eyes remained on Donald, he squeezed her hands before pulling his free. Nancy looked as if she was going to grab Donald again, her lower lip trembled as she lifted her hands but they fell back to her side. Donald gave her a hug before stepping away and walking out the door.
Al and Mary Ellen followed behind him as they made their way to the perimeter they had established around the cabin. Maybe one day, if they were lucky, they would be able to add onto the cabin or move some people into one of the surrounding cabins in order for more space. If their luck continued to hold out, they might actually be able to establish a life here.
Al stepped carefully over the fishing line that had been wound intricately through the trees. He grabbed hold of the next line, just beyond the first, and lifted it carefully to duck beneath it. Once on the other side, he searched the treetops. Since they’d been out here, they’d seen no sign of the sick, either The Lost Souls or the rabid ones, but searching up high was a habit he’d picked up from Riley. They’d been so isolated in fact, that he could almost believe they were the last people left on earth, but there were others out there, he was certain of that much.
The leaves and sticks crunched beneath his feet as they strode through the thick woods. This journey had been a little easier when he’d been younger, but he still made it over the fallen trees and rocks without slowing the others down. There were more freshly toppled trees in the woods due to the quakes, but the going was still relatively easy despite the added obstacles. Soft moss and bark fell apart beneath his palms as he rested them on an old pine caught up within a large maple.
He peered over top of the pine before ducking down to crouch walk under it to the other side. “So, you and Nancy,” Mary Ellen said to Donald as she scrambled under the tree.
“We’re just friends,” Donald replied. “She’s had a rough go of it. I’m not sure how she’s going to come out of all of this in the end, but I want her to know that I’m there for her and that she has friends in this world.”
Mary Ellen leaned against an old oak and took a sip of her water. “I’m sure she knows she has friends in all of us. She’ll get through the best she can, like the rest of us.”
Donald shook his head. “She’s not like the rest of us though. Some people just aren’t equipped to handle certain things. We can all experience the same exact thing, but it will be different to all of us because we process it in different ways. Some people are more capable of picking themselves up and continuing on than others. Some simply can’t do it.”
“You don’t think she’s going to hurt herself, do you?” Mary Ellen asked in a disbelieving tone.
Al didn’t find the idea that unbelievable though, it was a thought that had crossed his mind more than once. He’d already prepared himself for discovering Nancy’s body one day, or for her to disappear into the woods. “Some people rise up and some people fall,” Donald said quietly. “I don’t want her to fall.”
Mary Ellen stared at him as if he had just said that he could lay eggs. “We left the children and Claire back there with her.”
“She won’t hurt them and she won’t abandon them, I’m sure of that,” Donald assured her.
“How can you be so sure?” Mary Ellen demanded.
“I just am.”
“That’s not reassuring.”
Al took hold of Mary Ellen’s arm when she spun toward him. “He’s right, it’s when Nancy’s alone that I would worry about her most, but she won’t hurt anyone else, and I don’t believe she’ll abandon them.”
“You don’t seem at all surprised by what he’s saying,” Mary Ellen said.
“You know you’ve thought it too, it’s just frightening to hear it confirmed,” Al told her. “Come on, we need to get a move on if we’re going to get back to the cabin before dark.”
“Will be fine, it’s herself that we have to worry about Nancy hurting. Now come on.”
Mary Ellen looked about to protest further. She glanced behind her, but the cabin was no longer in sight. With a resigned sigh, she bowed her head. “Are you sure she won’t hurt them?”
“I’m positive,” Donald said.
“Alright, let’s get this over with,” Mary Ellen relented and started into the woods behind them again. “How do we stop her from hurting herself?”
“I’m not sure that we can, we don’t know what she experienced before meeting us. It could have been ten times worse than anything we’ve been through,” Al said as he stepped over a rotten tree stump. “All we can do is listen if she wants to talk, does she?” he asked Donald.
“No,” Donald admitted.
Al nodded as he tilted his head back to examine the tops of the trees again. He saw nothing above him except for a bird and a squirrel’s nest. A squirrel darted across one of the tree limbs and let out a little squeal as it leapt from one branch to another. A single blue jay took flight with a displeased screech.
They’d seen more wildlife since making it into the mountains but there weren’t as many birds as there used to be. It seemed that the quakes had effected them here also as they’d found some of their decomposing skeletons around the cabin, and in the woods. It was a relief to see that not all of the birds had plummeted to their deaths though.
The cabin that Carl, John, Xander and Riley had already searched came into view as he stepped around an outcropping of rocks. Al eyed the cabin for a minute but it appeared just as they had described, untouched with boards over its windows. He nodded toward the others and slipped back into the woods to edge around the cabin and toward the next one.
“Do you think Nancy will kill herself?” Mary Ellen inquired as they moved away from the cabin.
“I don’t know,” Donald admitted. “But I’m going to do my best to make sure she doesn’t.”
Al tilted his head back to search the treetops again. Amongst the thick boughs of an oak he spotted a hunting stand nestled within the leaves. The boards leading up to the four foot by four foot stand were all intact and it appeared newer than any of the ones surrounding his cabin. He contemplated climbing up there to take a look but he doubted he would see anything through the leaves of the trees. Keeping his gun down by his side, they moved further through the woods.
The woods gave way to reveal a home nestled within the center of a clearing. The cabin that had sat on this property had belonged to the McDonald’s the last time he’d been here. He didn’t know if they had sold it over the years, but the small cabin that he remembered had been remodeled or completely torn down. A second story and a sunporch had been added to it and the outside was now a cheerful yellow instead of red.
He doubted the property still belonged to Gale McDonald as Gale had used the cabin only as a place to get away, not a place to spend an extended period of time. Gale had also been cheap. He had stopped by numerous times every year to ask Al if he could borrow ammunition, fishing poles, bait, wood, and numerous other things. At first, Al had assumed that Gale hadn’t had the money for those things, but then one year he’d arrived in a brand new BMW instead of his old pickup. Al had never given him anything again after that.
Now, he stood at the edge of the woods studying a house that he didn’t recognize. None of the windows were boarded over and he could even see the hint of curtains beyond the glass. This was no longer someone’s hunting cabin but someone’s summer home, or perhaps even their year round home.
“This might be a better place to stay,” Mary Ellen suggested. “It’s bigger anyway.”
Al continued to study the home before gesturing to the backpack Donald was carrying. “It would probably be better to dropped that here until we know what we’ll find in there.”
Donald nodded and shrugged out of the straps. He placed the bag against the trunk of a tree before following Al around the cabin to the other side. There was a backdoor on this home where none had been before, but it was closed and the curtains had been pulled over the window.
“Front or back?” Al inquired when they reached the opposite side of the home. From here, he could just barely make out their cabin and it was more the cleared area in front of the cabin he saw than the actual building.
“Front,” Donald and Mary Ellen said together.
Al nodded and gripped his gun before him as he stepped out of the shelter of the tree line. He crouched low as he hurried to the farmer’s porch that now took up the entire front side of the cabin. He continued to search the windows as he stepped cautiously onto the first step of the porch. The creak beneath his feet caused him to wince but the door remained closed and nothing came flying out at them.
Mary Ellen’s breathing was heavy behind him as he climbed the three stairs to the porch. Al peered into one of the windows and searched the shadowed interior of the home. He nodded the ok to Donald when he saw no movement within. Donald took a deep breath and turned the knob, the door swung easily open to reveal the stairs directly across the entryway.
Al followed behind him as he entered. His gaze went to the sunken living room on his left, the room that he had been looking through the window at, and then the kitchen beyond. On his right was another living room and a small hall that Donald was already moving down. Al remained where he was; his gaze on the stairs and living room as Donald disappeared into a room off of the hall. Al could hear him moving around the room before he reappeared a few minutes later.
“Just a bedroom,” Donald whispered and disappeared into another room. He quickly reappeared. “Bathroom.”
“Keep watch down here,” Al instructed Mary Ellen.
She nodded and he began to creep up the stairs across from him with Donald on his heels. The hallway above was lined with photos of a family with three daughters, a sight that further confirmed his suspicions that this had become someone’s full time home. He opened the first door on his right and peered into a little pink room with two twin beds. Trophies lined the wall above both of the beds and a colorful array of red, orange, green, yellow, and blue ribbons filled another wall. As he moved further into the room, he noted that some of the trophies were for basketball and softball while others were for dancing.
He closed the door again and Donald nudged the partially open door across the way open with his toe. It was another girl’s room but this one was painted a deep purple color. Famous quotes that he recognized from Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, and Walt Whitman had been painted in white, yellow, orange, and red along the walls. A set of built in bookshelves took up the entire left hand wall and were filled from top to bottom with books.
The introvert, Al thought as he knelt to look under the bed.
He left the room and stepped back into the hall. They moved quickly through the bathroom and opened the door on the bedroom at the end. The parent’s room, he decided as he moved past the dark wood furniture and the massive California King bed. He and Donald searched the room and the adjoining master bath before retreating to the hallway.
Mary Ellen was still standing by the front door when they returned to the entryway. They took the steps to the sunken living room and moved on to the kitchen. All of the cabinets were already open and most of them were empty. Al inspected the supplies that had been left behind but they were only spices, an open bag of flour, and half a bottle of vanilla. Mary Ellen opened the fridge and shook her head.
“Nothing,” she muttered and closed it again.
“This place has been raided already,” Donald said.
“By the people that lived here or by someone else?” Al asked as he walked over to the backdoor.
“You don’t think we’re alone on this lake?” Mary Ellen asked worriedly.
“It’s possible we’re not,” Al told her as he made his way to the front of the house. He stepped onto the porch to study the cabin next door. It was about a half a mile away and almost directly across the lake from where his cabin was located. From here, he could also see the three other cabins that circled the lake but he saw no movement on their distant shores. But he couldn’t see any movement at his cabin either, not from this distance.
“I don’t see anyone,” Mary Ellen whispered from beside him.
“I’m not sure we would either. Come on let’s check the shed.”
He stepped off the porch and made his way to the backyard and the shed. Donald had his gun ready as Al pulled the door open and stepped to the side. He poked his head around when Donald gave a brisk nod to signal that it was all clear. Though most of the stuff appeared to have been picked over, Al grabbed some rope hanging from a hook and Donald took hold of a hatchet before closing the doors.
“We can tear the shed apart for the wood, but we’ll wait for the others return for that,” Al said.
Al was turning back to where they had left the backpack when an explosion of birds burst from the trees about forty feet away and to their right. His mouth went dry as the birds screeched and whirled in a circle into the sky. A chill crept over his skin as a feeling of foreboding slid through him.
“Run,” he whispered.
“What?” Donald asked and turned to look at him in confusion.
“Run,” he said again.
He didn’t speak again as he turned on his heel and fled toward where they had left the backpack amongst the shelter of the woods. Mary Ellen and Donald were close by his side. Maniacal laughter drifted from the woods behind them before they’d even made it to the backpack.