For more information about the author, Meryl S. Fortney (a.k.a. R.S.F) or her work, visit The Pax Integral. And as always, thank you for reading!
Hey guys, Ryan S. Fortney again! I wanted to slap this little excerpt over here to see what people think of it, so lemme know! Here it is.
Meryl screams visceral, one word erupting from her mouth, “RUUUUUN!!!!” Her voice pierces through the slobbering moans of the dead–we’re scrambling around with our feet and our weapons and the oncoming horde is at fever pitch.
The street leading outward from Allentown may as well be uphill and a hundred damn miles long.
I just woke up.
I just got out of bed.
It never fuckin’ ends.
Aiming a few rounds behind, “WHERE THE HELL ARE WE GOING?!”
“AWAY!” Rob pats my shoulder and the bottom of his weapon taps the bone, the firing of a bullet sending a deafening ring to my ear.
Elbow jabbing him, “FUCK!”
Meryl’s up ahead checking for unlocked cars and a set of keys as we continue to move. Seconds later we’re piling into a jet-black Charger–She’s at the wheel, I’m shotgun, Ed and Rob squeeze together and we’re squealing away.
But as we careen onto the open road something else emerges in the rear-view. A gigantic big rig with mounted weapons and a steel shutter windshield–enormous Z across the grill.
I curl up a fist and slam the glove box, “COME ON, GIVE US A GODDAMN BREAK!” Screaming at the glass.
A hail of bullets rain down in an intervention we hadn’t fuckin’ asked for. She grips the wheel tight and swerves around, dodging an abandoned vehicle and another ridiculously long burst of ammunition, but there’s just too much shit littering the road.
Everything flashes before me and we’re barely missing the back-end of an almost flattened Prius, going end over end, defying gravity and only one thing buzzes around inside of my head.
If I lose her today, right now, it would be the end of me.
Hands and arms against the roof, holding balance desperately, she glances a steel eye at me and as all four wheels come pounding to the pavement, she’s concentrating again, on the road to New Jersey.
It’s me again, author Ryan S. Fortney, with a sweet deal happening over at Smashwords (and only Smashwords) for the month of July!
From now (July 8th) and until the end of this month, PaxCorpus (along with many other titles) is 49% off! That’s 1.50 USD. That’s cheaper than a box of bullets!
Check it out here and use the coupon code SSW50 if you happen to be interested.
If you’re unfamiliar with what Smashwords is (for whatever reason), it’s an amazing place for indie authors to post and publish their work and in-turn have their book/s distributed across a myriad of networks. Thanks to SW, Pax is available pretty much everywhere. You know, except for Google Play, which requires a whole bunch of hoop-jumping, but I’m getting there!
And, just to whet your appetite, I’ll be mean and post a snippet from the rough draft of the sequel to the book which I am offering at a discounted price! HAHA
A few weeks earlier
Remember, you’re here for a reason.
“Alright ladies and gentlemen…” A specially designed Kevlar radiation suit dangles loosely from my body as I twist around to gather my unit’s attention, “This is our last trip to Harrisburg.”
Make absolutely sure you find proof that she is dead.
“We’re running low on reserves, so we’ve gotta be sure to find what’s left of the untainted supplies.” The eight-person APV trembles over the debris of Interstate Eight Three — fully armored with amazing suspension.
This is Ed’s dream vehicle, ever since we ditched that shitty cash-truck back on the outskirts of Allentown.
“You’re each equipped with an M4A1. With the flick of your wrist,” my fingers snap over a latch, “you go from semi-automatic to fully-automatic.”
Expecting combat in the middle of an irradiated wasteland?
“I don’t exactly expect to encounter any z-force, but the unlifers and the bastards that still teem from the Rift of Manhattan could be anywhere out there.” I sling my weapon over my shoulder and slide both hands down to a double-holster, switching off the safety of both handguns, each a Colt 1911.
“Dante?” Ed’s haggard voice buzzes over the small comm-speaker from the ceiling of the vehicle, “we’re approaching way-point zero.”
Nuhm De’Ara’s body. I know.
I speak to the voice inside of my head. The voice that is not my own.
“Alright, suit up!” Commanding all around as I slide a helmet down over my head and fasten each clasp and zipper that gives protection from the deadly waste outside.
“Sir!” Jacobson, one of my unit turns to me, “how much time do we have, again?”
“Right,” holding a hand in the air, “listen up! We’ve got exactly thirty-minutes. No more, no less. Be here or be left behind.”
Of course, I never made it a habit to leave anyone behind. Circumstances like these, though, with heavy radiation eating away at your clothing, there’s no time for weakness.
Our ride comes to an unnoticeable halt and the back-hatch opens outward to reveal my nostalgia, one more time.
A gust of putrid, warm air bursts in and we pour out onto the pavement. Buildings stand half erect and crumbled. The sky is orange and vomit green. The capitol building, where we had once staged all of our business, now a pale shadow of what it used to be, much like the rest of the city.
And there it is. Turning around, weapon sights ahead of me and through a scope — Harrisburg hospital, where it all came to an end.
As always, thank you for taking the time to read this and/or my work. If you happen to grab a copy of Pax, don’t forget to leave a review once you’ve finished it!
I guess it’s kinda been a while since I’ve been around the scene saying or doing things – and I have my reasons – but I’m back on the frontlines, with a vengeance! Which brings me to the reason for my appearance on this website…
Good news everyone!
You may have read about my debut novel, apocalyptic-horror-thriller, PaxCorpus, here and, well, if you’ve read the book, it’s pretty obvious that Dante, Meryl, Rob and Ed aren’t done yet. (not by a longshot)
For the past couple of months I’ve been working on the sequel, titled Escape Velocity, which I hope to finish by either the end of the year or end of first quarter 2013 (the year everything goes to hell in PaxCorpus!). This continuation will stay true to the original story, along with its horror roots, but this one’s heavier – if you know what I mean – it’s more involved. There’s more at stake. There’s the horror side with the zombies and the monstrous alien bastards and then, of course, the terrorists, which continue to push the story more toward horror-science fiction.
With EV, they’re more than just terrorists, though. They’re a cell of anti-human, homicidal maniacs (okay, maybe that’s pretty much the same as Pax) but with their leader supposedly dead, the defected brother of Dante, Jack, now spearheads the movement from his “throne” smack-dab in the middle of the ZeroFactor fortress in Manhattan.
The tricky part is that this “fortress” is in extreme proximity to the Rift of Manhattan. More on that in the story itself.
With literally weeks left to survive, and after an attack on their shelter in Salem, New Jersey (with other Pax units around the world – what’s left of them – in the same situation, or worse…); Dante and Meryl have only one option left – strike at the heart of ZF and uncover their plans for continuity or risk absolute extinction.
As Dante would say, “This isn’t the road home. This is a road littered with questions that will inevitably lead to an answer.”
Aside from that, I’m also working on a slightly sarcastic short-story called, “Blue Blood,” dealing with day-zero survivors fighting off hordes of the undead, holed up in an Allmart in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. This sequence takes place around the same time frame of the original fall of Manhattan. (see: PaxCorpus)
To see the recently released book trailer for Escape Velocity, go here.
And for more information regarding my work, my hobbies, things I just like to talk about and to find more out about me (of course), visit www.paxcorpus.com.
Thanks for reading! Stay vigilant.
-Ryan S. Fortney
The Lord of Dream and Metal, by Zinna Kingsley
Description: A Dark Lord from a world of dream, a dimension much lighter than ours, has caught a whiff of Earth—a dense “metal world” whose rich energy he covets to feed his insatiable blood addiction—and he is on the move to conquer and absorb us all!
Who is there to stand against the Lord of Dream and Metal? Only a scattered few . . . some through high technology, others through worlds of dream . . .
It was one of the busiest weeks this geomancer could remember. Felora swept her red-brown hair back and rewove it into the embrace of her coiled serpent, a wooden helix adorned with jewels and odd markings, the only thing she ever wore.
The witch leaned over and cupped dry dirt in her hands. There was no bartering in the market square today: all eyes watched her as she poured the sand over her foot. The few remaining specks she threw over her shoulders.
No one in the marketplace moved. Virtually the whole town was present, for here she would pronounce what they faced for the new year. This had been done for hundreds of years and she was always right—irritatingly so at times, but still always right. Many of the non-farmers were only interested in the personal questions she would answer later in the day, but all were respectful.
She stood silent for a moment as if lost in thought, poised and alert. She was sun bronzed and beautiful, embodying a peacefulness and sureness all the villagers could enjoy or envy. Her eyes, reflecting centuries of wisdom, contrasted with her smooth skin and youthful vitality; only the very young or those with centuries of practiced discipline could express such life. The town revered her, they listened to her and prospered.
The woman was shorter than most and looked up to near everyone, all but the children. She now looked up at the farmer standing directly in front of her.
“You’ve had a good year. This year will be different; the ground will not be so abundant. You planted more root crop than we had planned, more than the soil wanted. Jaffa, why would you do this? Sevo, Baila, you did the same …” On through the morning, clearly and precisely, she reviewed the year, asked questions, sought solutions and made plans for the following year. She was intermediary between the ground and the village.
She always took time for personal questions as well, as much respected as a seer as she was a geomancer. But today she faltered at times, pausing to frown with increasing frequency as the morning wore on.
Near noon Felora watched blackbirds as they flew south. She stood a long moment in silence, then whispered “leave” quietly as if to herself.
Although all had heard her, no one moved. Turning toward them, she raised her arms and looked around, hollered “Leave now! Don’t stop to take more than you can easily carry, what you can gather in a few minutes. Be out of here over the horizon. Now! Now! Scatter! Don’t leave in a pack!”
“Felora, what comes our way?”
“Death comes. The crows are rarely wrong. This is no natural danger, this is death like the Zeloshim, or one of the Lords.”
The man opened his mouth to reply, but she put her fingers up to his face. “No, don’t speak his name. Just go.”
“And you, will you come with us?” a small child running up with a basket called to her.
“I must stay, child. I’m sorry.”
Many wept as they left, many hugged her goodbye and scurried out with bowed head and fear in their eyes. Her word held much weight, and within two hours the town was deserted. A small few stayed behind, refusing to leave her side. She continued to talk and work with them as if no trouble were on the way.
The youngest one she called over after lunch. Holding the child against her, she whispered “You must go find Jaffa and tell him one more thing. He must save me for the one who will come looking for me. He must find me here: I will be hidden in the earth. This talisman will find me.” She held her wooden serpent in her fist and bit off its head with her teeth. She spat the head onto the child’s opened palm.
“Tell him this head will search me out and find me. This is very important, that he find me, and that he save me for those that will come for me.”
“Will those that come be your friends?” The child looked confused, trying to follow what she was saying.
“Yes, my closest friends. So you must do this favor for me. Repeat to me the message.”
When Felora was sure the girl knew the message she bid her leave in haste. “You’ll find him at the Southern Cross Mountains. You can come back after you talk to him, but waste no time now until you’ve caught up with him. Now go.”
“Will I have time to come back and be with you?”
“We must make the time, love. If you have trouble finding me when you come back, stay here and talk to my friends. I will talk to you again, if not with this body, and they will help you to hear and see me. Now go, go quickly.”
The child was barely out of sight when the sky darkened. The three villagers who had stayed stopped talking and looked around.
They were under a shadow about one hundred yards across, yet no clouds were in the sky beyond high wisps of cirrus. One villager attempted to walk to the edge of the dark circle, but he never made it. The air shimmered and seemed to boil. The townspeople appeared to jump up only to hit the ground writhing and twitching, screaming in pain. One fought it, howling, blinded by agony but searching for escape, crawling through the spasms that would grip her, writhing and glistening wet with blood like a mewling newborn kitten lost from its mother.
Light mist rose up from each of them, a fine spray of red rain. The red swirled and eddied up, rising and seemingly dancing with one another, eventually disappearing somewhere above.
The geomancer stood silently, untouched. She held her serpent coil in her hand, her hair blowing loosely in the unnatural winds. Her skin was spotted by the red mist, dripping blood in places like rain on a windowpane.
Behind her a form emerged from the shadows. She took no visible notice of the man-shape growing behind her, but after it had formed she spoke.
“You have improved your technique a great deal, Dark Lord, since last we met.”
“And you, too, have grown. This is a meager meal for me, and that must be your doing.”
She turned to face him. His shape, neither sharp nor extra large, did not take altogether human form. He looked as much like a column of rock or the angles of a pile of lumber as he did the body of a man. Small dust devils, swirls of darkness, would form and flow down off his body to spread and fade into the shadows on the ground.
“You seek my destruction.” The woman spoke her doom in the same clear voice she spoke all her predictions.
“You are correct, as usual. Your death is my gift to your coven. I give them fair warning that their time is numbered. They must hide or die as soon as I have found this.” Without warning the Dark Man threw a ball of light into the air in front of her, within which was an image of Corak as a child.
“I have met these metal beings, and you will help me find their home. I am sure you have knowledge of them, now that you’ve seen one.”
Felora laughed. “You are much better at death than I, and you can easily kill me, but you presume too much to think that you can read my bones. You are right to show me the image, I have the knowledge you seek. But I will give you bellyache, not knowledge, if you try to absorb me.”
She threw her coiled serpent down and crushed it into the earth with her foot. “Look behind you, little man.” She laughed again, and laughing still, struck the ground again atop her coiled hairpiece. She spread her arms out from her sides as if embracing the world, and seemed to rest there, a smile on her face. Wind rose and swirled around her.
The shadow thing had turned at her suggestion and cursed loudly. His face turned through a soft black mist rising from his own shadow form. The mist sparkled upward as if catching some secret or inner light in that darkest of shadows, but on entering into the concentrated stare of his eyes it lost its luster and began to pull back into him. He knew it was a futile gesture, her ploy to gain a moment of time for some unknown reason or just to spite him, but no one had ever managed to draw him at his own game like this. The little that was human in his dark visage took on a look of rage as it turned back to the witch.
The ground shook. The bones and desiccated skin, all that remained of the loyal villagers, shook apart and crumbled to speckled powder. The ground started to glow and crack with heat until flames grew up along the perimeter of the main shadow, but no mist rose from the woman.
The storm continued until she herself, silent with eyes closed, unbroken and with joy written on her face, began to turn red, hot with inner fire. Her skin split and white waves of heat rolled out of her repeatedly. Suddenly her body novaed in a giant white flame, then fell with unnatural speed as dust to the earth. A moment of calm ensued, to be followed by a storm remembered and talked about for many ages hence.
At her passing, at his inability to absorb her, his semi-human form, enraged beyond endurance, lost all semblance of humanity. Pure night tumbled out across the field of shadows, rose up and spread as black flickering and bobbing shapes. The clear afternoon sky filled with swirling dark clouds and lightning. A growing funnel of blackness, bubbling with arcane animations, tunneled up from the town square into the darkening sky.
The storm destroyed miles of homes. Although none but the coven would find out what truly happened there, no one ever came back to live in that village, now a dry blackened crater, a scar visible from the Southern Cross Mountains a hundred miles to the south.
The Lord of Dream and Metal, by Zinna Kingsley
The Horror Of The Shade, by Peter Meredith
Description: In all the deepest pits and in all the rank, vile dungeons that make up the illusion of Hell, no fiend is more feared than the dread demon, and for good reason. These pitiless monsters feed on bile and blood, they lap up the screams of the damned, they corrupt and destroy and they hate with an unrelenting fury.
And to release one upon the world is the ultimate in black sin.
When Commander William Jern and his wife Gayle are given an opportunity to move into one of the spacious Colonial homes on the Village Green, they jump at the chance. But the Jern’s new dream home quickly becomes an icy nightmare, as death stalks them relentlessly. It comes unheralded out of the night, and like all of us, they are fearfully unprepared. Yet regardless of his state of readiness, William Jern must face terrors beyond imagination in order to save his daughter whose body had become a frozen vessel for a horror summoned out of the great Void.
With the help of his son Will, a boy struggling to find the courage to be a man, and an old woman, who has foreseen the terrifying manner in which she will die, William undergoes the ultimate test to see how far a father will go, to save his child.
Adrina was forced to stare into the black pit of the demon’s face. She would stare and stare until she was used up and what happened after that, she was deathly afraid to find out. She hoped she would die before that could happen, but she was certain the demon would not allow it.
She could only stand there and see what the demon wanted her to see, and think what the demon wanted her to think. For the moment, it wanted her to see the surprise it had for her. She was allowed to see the smoke of its body flowing up and around it, and nearer to the interior, she saw it came together to form a streaming liquid gruel. In the foul gruel, there were shapes and it hurt Adrina, deep in her chest to see these. An arm, a face, part of a torso. These would form out of the vile fluid and then sink back in.
The face was the worst.
She knew the face. Pain would grip her heart when she saw the face, screaming in silent agony. It was the face of her granddaughter Emily. The demon had Emily’s soul and was letting it surface so that Adrina could feel her pain too. The demon was enjoying this, but it was a malicious evil joy and it was horrible to feel that sort of joy.
The demon drew them slowly toward it. Everything was being gently pulled into that black pit. Even the smoke and gruel that made the demon’s body flowed continuously up and into the black void.
The air around them coursed into the thing and it was like a wind at her back. It was gently pushing her, so that she leaned back away from the demon. Adrina could feel the heat from her body running off her, streaming into the voracious pit. She could see her breath flow to the demon.
The pit was feasting. Feasting on Tomas, feasting on the priest, but right now it was gorging itself on Adrina. Not just the heat of her life, the demon had opened her mind like a can of peaches and was savoring each morsel of pain, of fear, and especially of sin.
Because the demon wished it, Adrina suddenly remembered the first time, her mother sent her to kill a chicken for their evening meal. She had been seven years old and a little scared, but wanted to prove herself. Adrina had gone to the coop and grabbed up the largest bird and had carried it to the old tree stump. The small axe lay in the grass. The head of it was stained with rust and blood and there were little pieces of old flesh on it. The axe looked like a dead thing itself. Adrina grew afraid to touch it, worried it would move, worried it was not quite dead, and that if she reached for it, it would bite her.
On the stump, the bird squawked in irritation and Adrina jumped. She screwed up her courage and bent to grab the axe.
It was warm.
Her hand drew back and she cast a look over her shoulder at their tiny shanty, but her mom wasn’t about. The axe had felt warm, as if it were alive.
No. It was just a thing, a thing lying in the sun. But it felt like an evil hungry thing that enjoyed the death it caused. What else would it enjoy? Fear gripped her and Adrina nearly ran inside with the chicken. However, she knew her mother would be angry. She would just do it and not think about it.
Swallowing hard, Adrina grabbed up the little hand axe, and discovered not only that it was warm, but it also had a nasty smell about it. Ignoring the smell as best she could, she laid the chicken down, as she had seen countless times and brought the axe down hard.
The ungainly axe turned in her hand and hacked into the chickens back and shoulder. Blood exploded out of the bird and it bounced about in her grip, squawking in terrific pain. Adrina was confused at what had happened and felt unexpected pity at the pain she caused. But pity or not, she had to finish, and she stepped down lightly on the bird to hold it still. The axe was hot, drenched in blood now and as she raised it a second time, she saw it was smiling a gory, blood-dripping smile. There had been no notch in the axe before, but now, one was plainly visible and it looked to be a wicked, hungry, toothy grin.
Horrified, Adrina swung the axe down a second time, but again the axe, slippery with blood, turned to the side. This time she struck its back dead center and she had to pry the axe out of the bird that still squawked terrifically, drenching Adrina with its blood. The axe did not want to let go of the bird, it seemed to have a hold of it and Adrina had to work it back in forth in the frenzied bird before it would come out.
The wide grin was larger and bloodier.
Adrina knew what else the axe liked more than death, and that was pain. Death could happen in an instant but pain lasted longer. Seven-year-old Adrina threw the axe from her, terrified. She let go of the chicken and it tried to run, but it veered off sideways, falling over. The axe lay grinning in the sun enjoying the spectacle, while the chicken took a long time to die, flopping about in delectable agony. Adrina stood drenched in blood and crying…
She was back in the almost silent room with the mumbling priest and the demon. Her stomach rolled over, she was going to be sick. Still she stared at the silent black nothingness in the demon’s face, while her throat started to work up and down. Yes, this was good…the demon wanted her to throw up, but not just yet. It enjoyed the gorge coming up in her throat and the heaving of her stomach.
It was like chamber music playing in the background at its cruel banquet. Adrina tried to fight it, but it was no use, next she then tried to force herself to vomit. However, the demon enjoyed this too much; vomiting was like death.
It ended things.
Not only that, there was always a moment after getting sick, where she would feel just a little bit better, even if for a second. Kind of like the feeling, she had at the end of being raped. Maybe sometimes it is more than just a feeling of relief.
“Wasn’t there just a bit of pleasure in it?” The thought that came to her, unbidden couldn’t have been hers; it had to be the demon’s.
“No, you liked it!” It had to be the demon. It had to be.
“No, no, I didn’t like it, it was…” Adrina cried aloud.
She wanted not to remember the rape. However, the demon wanted it from her, and as she stared, she was powerless to stop it. The demon could force itself into her mind, so that she felt wide open, like an open book… open as her legs had been the first time with Claudio Butolask.
“No!” she screamed. However, the fiend sucked the sound directly from her throat, and she barely even heard herself.
Her legs had been pried open brutality with a harshness that seemed unnecessarily sadistic. The nails of his right hand dug deep and cruelly into her flesh making her bleed. Her mind screamed but she was afraid to make even the slightest noise, she had been warned. And she believed he would keep his promise.
Butolask had held the long knife between her legs and had asked which she wanted in her, him, or the knife? He told her if she chose him, she would have to ask nicely…
“Mother! Mother!” There was someone calling to her from a great distance. It sounded like she was at the beach and the wind whipped away the shout, before it could reach her ears. A hand grabbed her roughly and tried to pull her around, but the demon’s gaze from across the room was like a magnet and there was no denying it. Her body turned, but her head and neck didn’t, they twisted horribly as she was forced to stare.
A hand came down in front of her vision, mercifully blocking the sight of that foul unending void. Her mind was suddenly closed to the void, but the demon was still all about her demanding more, hammering at her. It had just been enjoying the time she had killed her first son, Stephan. Oh yes, that was a long, slow agonizing memory. Adrina was being forced to remember every terrible detail of it and the demon wanted to make sure she wouldn’t forget Stephan’s wife, yes she was dead too.
“Mother! Look at me!” She felt slow and stupid and old. Every one of her sixty-eight years pressed down on her as if they were bricks. She had no strength to turn around, to face away from the demon. It was almost too much even to stand and her legs began to shake.
Suddenly and mercifully, the presence of the demon, beating at the edges of her mind lifted. She was no longer its focus; it had looked away.
Adrina fell to the floor, on her hands and knees and vomited. She vomited again and then retched repeatedly. The vomit drew her eyes to it with ghastly fascination. The half-liquid runny mess drained toward the demon as if it was running down hill. It reached the base of the smoking fiend and started to drip upward into the smoke. Adrina began to gag uncontrollably at the sight, unable to breathe.
Tomas grabbed her up in his arms from behind and lifted her off the floor, turning her away from the demon. He held her briefly, but as she began to breathe easier, he spun her around and yelled into her ear.
“You are ok. Can you hear me?”
She looked into her son’s face. His eyes were so terrifically red and blood shot that they seemed almost inhuman.
She shook her head viciously back and forth, trying to clear it of the visions and the horrific feel of the demon rampaging through her mind. These slowly slipped away to haunt her just below the surface, but at least she began to think for herself.
It was then that the priest screamed, “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean it! Please! Please, I didn’t mean it!” His face wore a look of fearful desperation and his eyes seemed to spin madly in their sockets. “No! No! Please I didn’t mean it! Take her instead!” He got up from his knees and swaying like a drunk, he came at Adrina.
Tomas gave him a quick shove away from his mother and Father Menning fell to the floor still screaming and begging for forgiveness. As they watched in horror, he started tearing at his own eyes frantically and blood stained his fingers.
“Mother, what do we do?” Tomas was desperately afraid and his eyes stayed glued to the priest as he mutilated himself. She knew they had almost no time before there was nothing left of the priest. After that, it would be one of them. And Adrina knew that the demon would go for her again, she still had so much pain left to agonize over.
“I don’t…I…don’t” she said hesitantly. There was one thing she could do, but the consequence was too great, and in her mind, she saw again the gun in her hands and the blood spraying the wall. Deep down she had known that she could save herself by purposely looking into the future, but the penalty for that unnatural act would be the life of her son. Killed by her own hand.
There was always a penalty.
This was why she hesitated. Save herself or her son. There was no hope for the priest or poor Emily. She could look into the future or…
“Run,” she said to Tomas, but said it so quietly that she could barely hear her own voice. Adrina fought a losing battle against her fears. There was no way she could run; she would have trouble even making it to the door in the state she was in. He was the only one with any chance of getting out alive.
“What?” Tomas looked like he had shouted it, but this too she could barely hear. She looked at Father Menning and he was no longer clawing at his eyes, they were gone, but now he was turning a fantastic shade of deep red. There was almost no time left.
Again, she said it too quietly, barely above a whisper and he bent his head down so that his ear was next to her mouth. “Run please,” the words left her mouth without strength.
She knew what would happen if he left her. The demon would own her soul for all time and the very thought sapped her will.
“You need to speak up!” he shouted and Adrina knew that if he did not start running in the next couple of seconds, he wouldn’t make it, but she was so afraid to be left alone with the demon, that she hesitated and the seconds passed.
Her entire being shook with fear, but somehow she summoned the strength to yell.
But then there was no more time. She knew it.
Adrina had taken too long. Her eyes were drawn to the priest and he was now a repulsive purple color. Her son would never make it out of the house alive. She had killed him with her cowardice and there was nothing left to do but to save herself.
The Horror Of The Shade, by Peter Meredith
Description: The Uncanny Valley is a collection of 16 unsettling tales that draws inspiration from old-school science fiction, horror, and dark fantasy series such as the Twilight Zone.
“A Chance in Hell” – Life is about to get worse for one troubled youth after he breaks into a house he thought was empty.
“Greet the World” – A company employee is told he’ll die if he tries to resign.
“Nox Noctis” – What would happen if one day all light ceased to exist? The characters in this story are about to find out.
“Scents of Life” – A husband has a late-night encounter with a mysterious woman cloaked in disarmingly familiar fragrances.
“The Uncanny Valley” – The war between man and machines is the least of one survivor’s problems in this post-apocalyptic future.
These, and eleven more tales, will launch you on a journey from the comforts of normalcy to a valley in which nature refuses to tread.
Today the lights went out.
It was brief, almost imperceptible, the way the lamps dim when you start up a vacuum and the voltage drops in the electrical current. There’s nothing unusual about those instances. They happen all the time. But this was worlds different and a million times harder to explain. At 12 p.m. on a clear sunny day in September, the lights dimmed.
I’m pulled over on the shoulder of the highway, trying to gather my wits. Trying to make sense of what just happened. My brain replays the events in sequence: I was on my way back from Capriotti’s with eight sandwiches for my co-workers at the office. The car was pregnant with odors of melted cheese, beef, sweet peppers, cole slaw. I wasn’t in the mood for a hot sandwich. I had a taste for pad Thai or some spicy Chinese dish, maybe General Tsao’s chicken, but the office was full of bread heads and sandwiches won the vote.
My stomach was staging a coup. I still had another seven minutes in traffic before I would be able to eat. I remember lifting the armrest and reaching my hand inside to get my Zippo lighter. It was one of the newer butane gas types with the blue flame, but when I opened the lid it still made the familiar clinking sound that Zippo lighters are known for.
I had just lit a Marlboro Light, lowered the window a crack, exhaled the smoke, snapped the lid shut with a flick of my wrist. What happened next? I remember glancing in the mirror at the stubble on my face. Two day’s worth. I’d wanted to grow a beard the last few years but my wife wouldn’t let me. Truth is, I’d tried several times to let it grow out against her wishes, but I always ended up shaving it.
There’s that one stage of growth between bare skin and beard where the face looks shabby, unshaven, grungy. I knew of people, celebrities and whatnot, who actually strove to achieve that look. Not me. I couldn’t stand it. What I remember thinking as I glanced back at myself in the mirror was that I should have shaved today.
And then before I could move onto the next thought – it happened.
Everything blinked three times. Three pulses of pure darkness in quick cessation. Even closing my eyes, I wouldn’t be able to simulate that darkness. It was pitch black, darker than the pupils on a pale corpse, the antonym of ‘Let there be light.’
I knew at once the phenomenon wasn’t an internal sensation. Right after it happened, two cars in front of me slammed on their brakes. They skidded into the median. I found myself swerving like a madman through a cloud of smoke and veering taillights. Tires screeched at me from all angles.
Somehow I avoided a collision and made it onto the shoulder. I put the parking brake on, gripped the steering wheel with both hands. I planned to stay frozen in that position for a while to catch my breath, wait for the pounding in my chest to subside. But a jolt of pain shot through the inside of my left thigh. In the chaos of a few seconds I’d dropped my cigarette onto the seat. My hand swept the cigarette onto the floor and I snuffed its fire out beneath my foot.
That all happened seven minutes ago.
The sandwiches are now on the floor, on the passenger side. They don’t concern me. What I want to know is what the hell just happened? I put my sunglasses on and inspect the sun to see if it looks unusual. Nope. Looks like the same old sun to me. Okay, I’m going home. I shift the car into drive, glance to my left, merge into the traffic that is snaking around at least one accident. There is no way I’m going back to work after something like this.
I turn on the radio. Since I never listen to the radio, the station is tuned to static. I twist the dial, careful not to smash into the Ford Explorer coasting in front of me. No one is mentioning it. Maybe that’s because their studios are indoors. If this had happened while I was inside, I wouldn’t have thought anything of it.
I tune to the local station for the traffic report. Sure enough, the reporter is having a fit: accidents all over the highway, toxic spills, smoke. Okay, that settles it, I’m going home. I’ve never experienced anything supernatural, never seen a miracle, never had an out of body experience, never heard God speak to me. This was … something. How do I put it in words?
I stop myself. There should be a logical, scientific explanation to this. Maybe something passed in front of the sun. If that was the case though, wouldn’t there still have been light: from the stars, reflected off the moon, not to mention all the man-made light sources? Whatever the cause, this was a total absence of light. In three clips.
I give up trying to rationalize it. I’m no physicist. I’m just a tired, hungry and overworked accountant, and I’m going home to my family.
On the way home I eat one of the sandwiches off the floor. Fortunately, Capriotti’s wraps their sandwiches like virgin geishas, each one bundled tight under several layers of paper. None of the sandwiches are soiled from the spill. But my co-workers aren’t going to be happy with me regardless, since none of these sandwiches will ever make it to the office.
At the thought, I pull out my cell phone from my front pocket. I say “work” at the prompt. Since I have my mouth full, the technology doesn’t recognize my voice. I chew my food, swallow it down, and try again. This time does the trick. I wait through the rings for my boss to pick up.
When she answers I tell her that I’ve been in a car accident. I figure if you’re going to tell a lie, you might as well make it a good one. And I don’t want to explain to her what just happened.
“Really? My gosh, are you alright?” she responds in a close approximation of concern.
“Yeah, but there’s blood on the side of my face and I’m not sure where it’s coming from.”
“Goodness. Okay. You’re not going to be coming back in to work later today are you?”
I can’t believe she just asked that.
“No, actually I was thinking about going to the hospital.”
“Yes, that’s fine, you go ahead,” she replies as if I had just asked for permission. “Don’t worry about our lunch. I’ll send someone else out to get something.”
“Right. Sorry about that. See you tomorrow I guess.”
I press end on the phone and sever my connection to that enormous chunk of my life. For the rest of the day at least, I am no longer Ed the accountant. Now I’m just Ed or sometimes ‘honey’ or, depending on my wife’s mood, I’m ‘stupid.’ On that note I say, “home” and the phone dials our number.
“Hello?” answers my wife in a sleepy voice.
“Don’t tell me you slept through it,” I say.
“Slept through what? What are you talking about?”
“We’ll talk about it when I get home. I’m afraid it might happen again while I’m driving and I don’t want to have an accident. Turn on the local news station.”
“Alright. Is everything okay?”
I tell her again to turn on the news and I hang up. Shit. I forgot to tell her that I’m on my way home. Oh well, I’m only a minute away now. I’ve just turned onto the exit ramp. I’m waiting at the light just two blocks away from our house. The air conditioner is blowing at max but my palms are sweaty. The front of my white dress shirt has a brown stain where greasy mushrooms trampolined off it earlier. That alone would have been a good enough reason to go home early. There’s nothing like walking through a stuffy conservative office with an unshaven face and a big brown stain on your belly.
The air feels heavy, like I’m being watched.
And with a pop the lights go out again.
Was there a pop? I thought I heard a pop but I may never know for sure. I can’t see anything. My head is jerked forward and the top of my nose hits the steering wheel. Pain. I raise my head. My car has been struck hard, from behind. My eyes are watering.
I can’t see a thing.
Even the instrument panel on the dashboard fails to give off light. I feel my car rolling forward. I brake harder than I have to and wave my hand in front until it touches the gear shifter. Now the car is in park. I can hear a horn blaring somewhere in the darkness. Perhaps someone’s forehead is pressed against the steering wheel. I begin to hear the sounds of panic:
–a woman screaming
–a dog barking
A gunshot. That didn’t take long.
Description: For fans of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Scott Sigler, from a #1 bestselling Kindle author.
An infection that consumes and changes people…
When an alien entity lands in the remote Appalachian Mountains, a clairvoyant psychology professor, a drunken dirt farmer, and a disillusioned tycoon must team up to stop it before the infection spreads.
But with Windshake’s annual spring festival coming, the town is full of visitors, unaware of the unnatural menace creeping toward them from the woods, or that the shambling people with the green, glowing eyes are aching to make contact…
Sylvester Mull cradled his .30-06 in the crook of his left elbow, his trigger hand gripping the wooden stock. He ducked under a low pine branch, one of the few scraps of greenery in the mountains this time of year. He was hunting out of season and wore brown camouflage coveralls, but still felt as exposed as a peacock in a turkey pen. The damned deer seemed to be getting smarter and smarter, or maybe he was just getting dumber.
Last year, he’d only bagged a couple of bucks, a four-pointer and a six-pointer. Not even worth hanging those scraggly-assed sets of horns on the wall down at the Moose Lodge. But he didn’t hunt for the glory of it, like a lot of those beer-bellied Moosers did. He liked to put meat on the table cheap, or free if possible. Of course, they weren’t exactly giving away ammunition these days, what with them damn liberals putting the pressure on the gun industry.
But hunting was only half the reason he lurked in the woods. The joy was in getting away out here on the back side of Bear Claw, where the car exhaust didn’t burn your eyes and the only noise was the northwest wind tangling with the treetops.
Blow on, wind. Just push the ass end of winter right on out of these parts.
The last snows had been late and deep. It might only be his imagination, but he couldn’t remember the weather ever being so bad. Seemed to have gotten worse over the last few years. And them damned geniuses on the news kept on about global warming when any fool could plainly tell it was getting colder.
Used to be, by this time of the year, red buds would be hanging on the tips of the oak and hickory trees and the briars would have little sprigs of bright green leaves up and down their spines. But today, everything was the color of mud and barn stalls, dreary from the rainstorm that had hit the mountains last night. The wind had pushed the storm away, though another sprinkle had started around noon. The first stubborn flowers had poked through the dead leaves, bloodroot, trout lilies, and slim, pale stalks of chickweed. In the protected hollows, mist hung like gun smoke over a battlefield. The mist was easy to hide in, and maybe, if he was lucky, a buck or doe might just pass right under his nose.
Sylvester had built this stand last fall, when the hunting season had about petered out. Dead pine branches stacked against each other, a few logs strung together with twine to hold the mess up, and a little leaf-covered tarp tied overhead to keep him dry. With his brown clothes and hair, he blended with the environment. And he ought to, as many years as he’d hoofed through these woods trying to rustle up some meat. He didn’t wear one of those flaming orange hats that they sold in the sporting goods section down at the Kmart.
That was one of the dumbest things Sylvester had ever heard of. Might as well carry a neon sign that said, Hey, deer, come over here and get blown to hell. Prevented accidents, they said. Well, if a fellow couldn’t tell a man from an animal, he had no business in the woods with a gun anyway.
Sylvester crouched in the stand, his feet hot in his boots, and listened to the forest. Nothing but wind and the soft splash of the rain, but that was okay. Plenty of time to think. Because hunting was timeless, the past pretty much like the present, whether in season or out. He could just as easily have been a brainless caveman waiting to spear a hairy elephant or a space alien with a zapper ray-gun, like in the movies. The hunter and the hunted, that’s what it all came down to.
A bad day of hunting beat the hell out of the best day of work. He’d called in sick down at Bryson’s Feed where he drove a delivery truck, and it wasn’t the first time he’d skipped to go after deer or pheasant or squirrels.
Hell, he had been sick, in a way. Sick of that yackitty-assed wife of his, Peggy, and those snot-nosed brats she’d laid on him, who sat on their sorry asses all day staring bug eyed at them video games. All crowded in the nasty trailer that Peggy was too lazy to clean. Who wouldn’t want to escape from that?
He didn’t escape in beer the way most of his fellow Moosers did, even though the thought was mighty tempting. He only had to look around on a Friday night at those sad-eyed middle-aged losers to remind himself how fast it all went away. Their last good years were draining through their livers, the alcohol fogging their fat heads and blurring their eyesight. He wasn’t even sure why he had joined the Lodge. Probably because you had to own a necktie to get into the Lion’s Club.
Most of his friends belonged to the Lodge. Billy Ray Silas, for one. They’d gone hunting and fishing together for the last twenty years, and once every six months they packed up and headed to the top of Blackstone Mountain for a week-long camping trip. Of course, they spent three days of pump’n’pay at a whorehouse in Titusville before they even unloaded the truck. But Sylvester always brought something back, a good twenty-inch rainbow trout or a ten-point buck, and, once, a black bear.
And when he returned, his lips chapped from the wind, Peggy would be all lovey-dovey and they’d actually get along for a few weeks, doing the horizontal hoedown at least every other night. But that was before he’d found out about Jimmy Morris, his loyal Lodge brother.
Seems Jimmy had been wearing out his sheets whenever Sylvester was gone, riding his wife before Sylvester’s truck exhaust had even dissolved over the driveway. And Peggy must have felt guilty, because after his camping trips, she had been doing all kinds of imaginative bedroom sports. Or maybe Jimmy had just taught an old dog some new tricks.
To hell with them both.
Sylvester felt the comforting weight of the .30-06 across his arm. A good gun was all a body needed, a long, true blue barrel and a worn woodstock. And some deep forest, which was getting harder to find since all the old local families had started selling off their land. Even his old man had peddled off pieces of the Mull birthright. The old farmstead had gone to seed, and if Sylvester ever did inherit a chunk of acreage, it would take years of work to get it yielding again.
Besides, Chester was never going to die at this rate. All that damned moonshine must have mummified the bastard, because he didn’t seem to be slowing down any. Chester didn’t lift a finger around the farm, but he still managed to get down to the Save-a-Ton and load up on TV dinners and chewing tobacco.
The last time Sylvester had visited him, a few weeks back when a late winter snowstorm had melted down enough for the farm road to be passable, the old man had been curled up under a blanket, his dog at his feet, and a jar of rotgut at his elbow, as happy as a rooster in a henhouse.
A twig snapped in the distance, jerking Sylvester out of his reverie. His senses sharpened as if his ears had telescoped out and were swiveling back and forth like secret-agent radar dishes. Leaves shuffled somewhere to his left, about a hundred yards away, just over a ridge.
Must be a big son of a bitch, judging from the racket.
Sylvester peered at the edges of a laurel thicket. A deer couldn’t get through there, the branches were too knotted together. And the top end of the ridge was too steep. Even a mountain buck couldn’t climb those granite boulders that jutted from the earth like gray teeth, especially with rain still soaking the loam beneath the leaves.
So it would have to come around the lower end of the laurel thicket, and Sylvester had a clear line of sight to the spot where it would most likely emerge. Now it was an enemy, as surely as the Japs or Injuns were in a John Wayne movie. It wanted to keep its meat attached to the bones, but Sylvester wanted to field dress it and slice it into steaks. It would die before it even knew it was hunted.
The back of Sylvester’s neck tingled and sweat popped out around his scalp line. It wasn’t a nervous sweat. Sylvester was locked in. This was his reason to roll out of bed in the morning, his dope, his religion. He had something to kill.
Sylvester wasn’t complicated enough to try to understand why he gained so much pleasure from hunting. An anthropologist might have chalked it up to some primordial survival instinct still swirling in the genes at the base of the human backbone even after all these millennia. A psychologist might have decreed that Sylvester was still trying to measure up against the judgments of a harsh father-figure. A Mooser would have said that killing was more fun than a fart in an elevator.
But Sylvester was untroubled by the many facets of the equation. Because the equation was simple: the hunter versus the hunted.
He pressed the gunstock against his cheek and pulled back the safety. It slid smoothly and easily, loose from years of being lovingly oiled. Sylvester aimed down the barrel to the tiny wingtip of the sight and lined the gun up with the spot where the footfalls were headed. He breathed shallowly to hush the roar of his own blood in his ears and to steady his hands.
He saw movement through the drizzle, a quiver of laurel branch, and his finger grew taut on the trigger. He knew the exact degree of pressure he could apply before the hammer fell, and he was halfway there. Then his eyes saw a spot of brown, a more reddish brown than the surrounding dead leaves and tree trunks. His finger notched to about three-quarters.
Another step, just show me the white fur target on your chest, and I’ll park your ass in the deep freezer back home.
And suddenly the animal stepped into the clearing, and Sylvester’s finger was squeezing out the last millimeters of the trigger’s resistance when he saw that it wasn’t a buck that had lurched between the trees.
In that same micro-second, although it seemed to stretch out so long it felt like minutes, Sylvester pushed up with his left hand as the roar of the igniting charge filled his ears. Sylvester’s mind collected several observations in that slow-motion instant: the smell of the gunpowder, harsh and cloying; the slight kick of the gun butt against his shoulder, like that of a baby jackass; the mist lifting as if someone had sucked it up with a king-sized vacuum cleaner; and the sound of the bullet whistling through the treetops overhead, carving a slice in the sky before digging into the mountainside somewhere hundreds of yards away.
The sweat was back on his scalp line, and this time it was nervous sweat. He’d almost shot somebody.
He leaned his rifle against the stand and looked at the figure that stumbled between the trees. Whoever it was didn’t seem to have heard the shot. Sylvester’s hands trembled. He looked down at them as if they were someone else’s.
He stepped from the stand and looked down the ridge. The figure staggered and fell.
Sweet holy hell. I didn’t shoot the son of a bitch, did I?
Tears of panic tried to collect in the corners of his eyes, but he blinked them away. He ran toward the fallen heap of flesh, hopping down the ridge, slipping on the rotten rug of leaves. They’d lock him up, sure as hell. Never give him another hunting license. Kick him out of the Lodge, maybe.
The huddled form was rising, wobbly but still alive. “Praise to Thee,” Sylvester muttered to the wet gray sky, not really giving a good goddamn whether or not anybody was up there to hear him.
He saw that it was a man he’d almost shot, a short man whose dark hair hung in wet mop strings. His back was to Sylvester, but he looked familiar. Those square ears jutting out from under a red ball cap gave him away as surely as if he’d handed Sylvester a picture ID.
“Ralph,” Sylvester hollered, reaching to touch the man on the shoulder.
Ralph Bumgarner was as dumb as a hitching post, but even he knew better than to stagger around in the woods in a deerskin jacket. With a white wool collar to boot. Must be drunker than a Republican judge.
“I almost shot you, you crazy fool,” Sylvester said, and his words almost flew back down his throat.
Because Ralph had turned.
Because Ralph’s eyes were glowing green, the color of lime Jell-O, but shiny, as if a Coleman lantern was burning inside the cavity of his skull.
Because Ralph’s face was ashen, pale, and dead, his flesh bulging against his skin like white mud in a Ziplock baggie.
Because Ralph planted his hands on Sylvester’s shoulders and pulled him closer, and Sylvester’s bones felt as if they had turned to Jell-O themselves, because he couldn’t run.
Because Ralph opened his mouth as if he were going to plant a big soul kiss, and Sylvester got the feeling that there was a lot more to it than homosexual attraction.
Because Ralph’s breath was maggoty and putrid, blowing from the black swamp of his gums, promising a French that was a hundred times ranker than the ones he’d gotten from the Titusville whores.
Because Ralph’s tongue was in his mouth, slick as a slug but with the scaly texture of a dead trout, and a flood of cold slime gushed into Sylvester’s throat.
Because the slime was changing him, joining and separating his cells, breaking him down, altering his metabolism.
Because Sylvester felt himself dying but had a feeling that simply dying and getting it over with would have been the best thing that ever happened.
Because now he was dead.
And ready to hunt.