Copyright © 2016 Michelle Bryan
All rights reserved.
Cover Design by Rachel Bostwick
This book is a work of fiction. People, places, events and situations are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or historical events, is purely coincidental. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means without the written permission of the author.
Sam awoke with a start, unsure of what had stirred him from his sleep. The predawn light filtered through the dirt-encrusted attic window, creating a pattern of dancing shadows across the wooden beams of the ceiling. He stared at them in sleepy confusion. Had he really heard something or had he dreamt it?
Bolting upright from the musty mattress, his eyes focused on the hatch leading to the floor below. That was no dream.
This bang was much louder. The heavy chest he’d pushed over the hatch to help keep it down actually shifted a couple of inches.
Someone or something was trying to get in.
The next blow woke Amy and she instantly rolled off the cot at his head, landing on her knees beside him on the mattress. Her tilted, gray eyes were wide with fear.
“Sa…” she began to whisper but Sam quickly covered his little sister’s mouth with his hand. Raising an index finger to his own lips, he shook his head.
Don’t make a sound, Ames, he thought, hoping desperately she got the message in his panicked eyes. Amy nodded behind his hand and he knew she understood. Silently he rose to his feet and inched toward the chest, heart pounding and praying fervently that the floorboards of the old attic wouldn’t creak with his movement. Sitting on the chest and adding to the weight, the next push from below was nowhere near as effective in moving the barrier.
“Give it up, Steve man. Obviously it’s stuck. Probably nothin’ good up there, anyways.”
The disembodied voice floated up through the floorboards with the clarity of glass. Sam couldn’t agree with it more.
Yeah. Give it up, Steve.
“I’m telling you, there’s someone up there. I know I saw a light glimmering up there last night. And that means they gotta have supplies.”
This was followed by a rapid thumping underneath, as if whoever was standing under the hatch was pounding it with their fist. “We know you’re up there. There ain’t nowhere to go. You may as well give us what you got and maybe we’ll let you live. Or maybe we’ll just feed you to the freaks.”
Laughter followed the threat and Sam felt the ice-cold tendrils of terror squeeze his heart. Why was this happening? Why has the world gone berserk? A slight sob reached his ears and he looked over at Amy. She was still on her knees on the mattress, her face scrunched up with the effort of trying to stay quiet. She didn’t quite succeed. Tears dripped down her cheeks as the tiny whimper escaped. It almost made Sam cry too. Almost. But at fourteen he was supposed to be a man now, and for Amy to see him cry would be her undoing. He knew that. He had to stay strong for his little sister.
The laughter finally faded away along with the footsteps, but Sam remained on the chest for a good ten minutes more. He wanted to make sure they were actually gone. The slamming of the heavy front door shook the old house and rattled the tiny window. Was it a trick? With crippling hesitation Sam slide off the chest and shuffled over to the grimy glass. He could make out three figures standing on the sidewalk below, heads swiveling from side to side as they watched for the “freaks” in the car-infested street. They were leaving.
Falling back against the bare beams of the attic wall, he closed his eyes in relief. The reprieve was short lived however, as Amy’s low keening reached his ears and he knew she was on her way to a full out meltdown. He crossed the room in two strides and knelt beside her on the mattress, pulling her into his arms.
“Hey, it’s okay,” he whispered soothingly as he stroked the curly black hair so similar to his own. “It’s okay, Ames. They’re gone.”
“It’s… not… okay…” she cried into his shoulder. “I… want … my daddy. Where’s… my… daddy?”
“I don’t know, Amy,” he sighed gently, “but I sure as hell wish he was here too.”
It had been just over five weeks since that strange cloud had covered the city. Five weeks since they’d last seen their father. He’d left for work that fateful Saturday morning. Called in for overtime on his day off and leaving an extremely pissed Sam to watch over Amy all day, instead of playing ball in the park with his friends like he had planned.
He wasn’t about to take her to the park with him like last time. Although his friends didn’t have any issue with Amy and her Down syndrome, other kids at the park weren’t always as understanding. She had cried a lot the last time over the cruel comments she’d overheard, and he didn’t have the heart to put her through that again. He’d just have to resign himself to the fact that the day would be spent most likely watching that stupid DragonHeart movie she loved so much. Yup, just what he needed, to watch that again for about the hundredth time.
The senior Samuel had kissed Amy on the top of the head and tousled Sam’s hair as he passed by them eating cereal at the breakfast table. He promised them pizza for supper. The pizza, nor their father, had ever arrived.
The cloud had come instead.
Sam had been sitting on the couch texting his buddy Jon and whining about being stuck with his sister, when all of a sudden the phone’s screen flashed a couple of times before going totally blank. The F-bomb that dropped from his lips was instinctive and he glanced up, hoping it hadn’t been overheard by Amy. That was all he needed, for her to rat him out again to their father. He’d gotten in big trouble for that the last time. But instead of finding Amy gawking at him in disapproval, he was surprised to see the house in almost total shadow. Was it that late? The early evening sun that had been streaming through the window with the intensity of a fireball only a moment ago had abruptly disappeared. Curious, Sam had gotten up off the couch and gone to the open window to investigate. The sun was gone, totally obliterated by a gray, heavy cloud cover. And not just the sun. The whole street seemed to have been swallowed up by the mist. He could barely see two feet past the window. Weird.
At first he thought his eyes were playing a trick on him as the misty vapor seemed to come alive with sparkling, floating crystals. What kind of mist was that? He’d never seen any fog look like that before. Like any typical fourteen-year-old boy he’d stuck his hand into the fog, wondering if he could catch what looked like tiny, glittering fireflies darting about. As soon as he touched the mist though, he drew back. It had a strange, sticky wetness to it that just felt… wrong.
Shivering slightly, he watched it a little longer, mesmerized. It crept slowly through the window, its wet tendrils covering his face, almost caressing with its slick touch. The crystals seemed to swarm in front of his eyes, hovering there as if studying him back. He breathed some in; he could feel them go down his throat and he started retching at the oily taste in his mouth. Coughing and gagging, he finally spat them out and watched as they floated back out the window to be re-absorbed by the mist. What the heck…?
A car horn blared loudly in the fog and he nearly jumped from his skin. He laughed at himself, feeling a little foolish at his fright. But then the blast was followed by another… and another.
The whole street, still covered by the strange mist, became awash with the sounds of blowing horns, and slamming doors and yelling. Sam peered through the gloom, wondering what was going on. Was there an accident of some sort? He wished the haze would disappear so he could see what was happening. It would be the most excitement he’d seen all day. Whatever it was, it had to be better than watching that stupid movie.
Suddenly an unholy scream pierced the air, and the hair on the back of Sam’s neck stood on end as if he’d just been hit with an electric shock. The echo of the scream didn’t even get a chance to fade before it was joined by another. The screams perforated the mist, muting every other sound. Frozen in place, Sam was vaguely aware of how glad he was now that he couldn’t see the street, for the screams were unmistakable sounds of terror and agony.
The windowsill slammed shut with a bang barely missing Sam’s fingers, as Amy blocked out the terrifying noises.
“Crap, Amy. You nearly took my fingers off,” he yelled at her, but more out of shock than anger. She simply stared out the window with saucer wide eyes.
The woman’s face hit the window so hard her nose broke on impact and blood splattered the clear glass. Her eyes were glazed, wild with fear and her lips were moving frantically as she screamed, pounding her hands against the glass.
Amy’s terrified screams blended with the woman’s. Powerless to move, brother and sister watched in horror as a hazy shape materialized out of the mist over the woman’s shoulder. It lurched closer to the window and morphed into a man in a business suit. Or rather, it must have been at one point, but the man’s face was no longer normal looking. It was ripped to shreds like raw meat. Pieces of flesh flapped like waggling fingers as he moved steadily toward the woman. And his mouth! His mouth was this yawning void from which protruded a gray, worm-like creature. It was like something straight out of some horror movie. Sam couldn’t help the scream that tore at his own throat as the creature clamped down on the woman’s neck and ripped it apart like it was tissue paper. Blood arched in the air, as if in slow motion and then rained down on the glass, obscuring both the woman and the creature from their sight.
Sam stumbled backward and hit the floor elbows first, pain shooting up his arms. The pain seemed to awaken him from his stupor.
“AMY, BOLT THE DOOR! BOLT THE DAMN DOOR!” he screamed from the floor and Amy obeyed without hesitation, moving quicker than he had ever seen her move.
Just as the bolt snapped down on the lock, the door buckled as something outside rammed it hard. Amy screamed as she backed away. Scrambling to Sam, he pulled her into his arms and they huddled together on the living room floor. Amy curled into a fetal position and her hands covered her ears as she tried to block the horrible sounds coming from outside.
It felt like hours, but finally the screams died out and an eerie silence fell over the normally bustling street. Sam tore his eyes away from the blood-splattered window and looked down into Amy’s pale face. She too had gone eerily silent… her eyes vacant and empty. Sam wondered if she had maybe gone into shock.
“Ames?” he questioned apprehensively. No response.
“Amy,” he yelled louder, giving her a little shake. Her eyes blinked furiously as if suddenly realizing Sam was there.
“Daddy?” is all she said, but Sam understood.
“I’m sure he’s okay, Ames. He was working in his office, so he was inside. Whatever happened to those people, it happened outside. We were inside and we were okay. Dad will be too. I’m sure he’ll be home soon.”
The water shut off two weeks later and the power shortly after that, but still no sign of the senior Samuel. Sam and Amy had taken to sleeping in their father’s hobby room in the attic since the power went out. Even though Sam had bolted every door and drawn every curtain tight to block out the sight of the roaming “zombies” as Amy had started calling them, the house just didn’t feel safe anymore. A couple times, they had been awakened by the sounds of someone or something trying to force open the door. Other survivors, who had been locked safely inside for weeks had been forced to take to the streets to try to find supplies. A shortage of food and water had them making the choice between starvation or becoming zombie fodder. Sam knew it would be only a matter of time before someone would find them up here in the attic and take their supplies. Maybe even worse. Only just two nights ago, they’d heard the unmistakable sound of breaking glass. The outside had finally gotten in. And as young as he was, he knew the odds. It was survival of the fittest now. Everyone for themselves. This morning’s rude awakening had been a prime example of that.
Amy shivered in his arms and he hugged her tighter. She still seemed unable to stop her crying, and Sam knew he had to do something to distract her before she totally lost it.
“Why don’t you try Dad’s radio again, Ames,” he suggested quietly. He felt her nodding against his chest.
Their father had been an amateur ham radio operator in his spare time. Both Sam and Amy had spent countless hours playing in the attic and listening to their father talk to people from all over the world. Sam had forgotten about the radio, but after moving into the attic the sight of it had raised their hopes, if only for a brief moment. So far they had been met with nothing but silence. They had listened for hours at first, but the battery was running low and Sam only let Amy turn it on for a few minutes at a time now. But even those few moments of nothingness kept her spark of hope alive, so he never said anything. Once the power died completely however, he was scared of how it would affect his sister’s well-being.
She pulled away from him, still sniffling and flicked the power switch. The radio squawked to life with static. Amy focused her attention on the rotating knob, slowly going through the frequencies just like Sam had taught her. Glad her attention was not on him at the moment, he covered his face with his hands and breathed deeply into them as he tried to get himself under control.
As careful as they had been, someone now knew they were here. Which also meant their home wasn’t safe for them anymore. But what could they do? Where could they go? For about the millionth time Sam found himself wondering why the hell their father wasn’t here to take care of them. Why hadn’t he found his way back already? He could feel that familiar pressure building in his chest as the sense of helplessness threatened to overwhelm him, once again. He was only fourteen, for crying out loud. He didn’t know what to do.
“Sammy!” Amy cried urgently and Sam’s eyes popped open in fear.
“What? What’s wrong?”
She pointed to the radio with a trembling hand.
“I think I heard someone. Listen.”
She turned the knob slowly and a garbled voice crackled to life.
Sam nearly bowled her over as he fell on his knees in front of the radio. He turned up the volume and tried to tune in the frequency better.
“…for anyone out there. My name is Roy Harding. We’ve set up base in the Grand Hotel on Leclaire Boulevard. We offer safety for any survivors out there. Again, the Grand Hotel on Leclaire Boulevard. This message is for anyone left alive out there. The Grand is a safe haven.”
Sam and Amy stared at each other in stupefied amazement. Then Amy screeched shrilly, “Say something, Sammy.”
“Right.” Sam fumbled with the mic, nearly dropping it in his excitement.
“Hello,” he yelled. “Can you hear me?”
His plea was met with dead air. Impatiently, he clicked the button on the side of the mic. Was he doing it right? Why hadn’t he paid more attention when his father insisted on teaching him this stuff?
“Hello. Can you hear me?”
He waited, holding his breath. Then, like a voice from the heavens, “Yes, I hear you. Who is this?”
Sam’s eyes closed tight as he fought against the tears of relief that threatened to spill out. They were not alone. Shakily he responded.
“Sam McKinley. We’re stuck in our house… me and my sister. We don’t know what to do. Please help us!”
“How old are you, Sam?” The voice was kind and filled with compassion. It nearly did him in. He had difficulty swallowing the lump in his throat.
“Fourteen. My sister is twelve. Our dad never came home and…” he trailed off, not knowing what else to say. Fortunately, the voice did not care.
“What’s your address, Sam? We will come—”
The voice broke off abruptly as the power button on the radio winked out. Sam stared at the dead radio in disbelief.
“Hello?” he yelled into the mic, refusing to believe what just happened. “Hello? Are you still there?”
His pleas were in vain. There was no answer.
“No!” he screamed in frustration, banging the now useless mic on top of the radio. Just as quickly as the anger came though, it was gone again and he dropped the mic in defeat, breathing heavily from his exertion and disappointment.
Silence dragged on for a few minutes before Amy quietly asked, “What are we going to do, Sammy? He sounded real nice and you never got a chance to tell him where we are. He can’t come get us. What are we going to do?”
Taking a deep breath, Sam made a decision. He raised his determined gray eyes to his sister.
“We’re going to go to him.”
It didn’t take them long to gather their few supplies and cram them into their old school backpacks they had found in the trunk. Now that the decision had been made, Sam was eager to get on the road. He knew the general direction they should be traveling. The Grand Hotel was not that far, maybe a day’s worth of walking. All they had to do was to stay out of sight from the freaks and the crazies. Easy, right?
With a broken blue crayon he’d found on the floor, he scrawled a message on the attic wall for their father. When their father finally did make it home, he would need to know where they’d gone.
Listening for a few minutes at the hatch, Sam heard nothing out of the ordinary. It was now or never. Taking a deep breath, he pushed the chest aside and opened the door. The foul stench of rotting food and the backed-up sewer hit them like a slap to the face as soon as they hit the floor, and they both retched. Sam’s first instinct was to run for the door since the last thing he wanted to do was linger in the stench, but he had one more thing to do before they left.
Passing by the busted-out patio door, he headed for the fireplace and picked up the iron poker hanging on the rack. Wasn’t much of a weapon, but since his father was never a believer in owning a weapon of any kind; the poker would have to do. Handing it to Amy, he instructed her, “Stay here,” while he headed to his bedroom. The solid Louisville Slugger standing in the corner was his target. Grabbing it, he tossed it about in his hands for a bit as he looked sadly around the familiar room. A huge sigh escaped him, the only sign of the overwhelming sense of loss he was feeling at the moment. But he knew they had no other choice but to go.
Amy was still standing right where he left her.
“Let’s go, Ames,” he said, pulling his backpack over his shoulder, but Amy didn’t move. Sam stopped in his tracks, as the look of terror on his sister’s face sent ice shards flowing through his veins. He followed her stare to the patio door, spotting the creature hovering outside the gaping hole. The pink housecoat and kitten slippers indicated that it may have once been their next-door neighbor, Mrs. Bailey. The blood-splattered clothing and torn flesh of her face however, told them this was no longer the kindly old lady they once knew. Her head swiveled, nose in the air like some hound dog trying to locate a scent.
Sam's mouth went bone dry. The urge to grab Amy and run was overridden by his terror, rooting him in place as the head turned unnaturally their way. The worm-like thing erupted from the old lady’s mouth- an indication it had found what it was looking for.
“Sammy!” Amy cried pitifully as the creature barreled through the broken glass. Sharp shards ripped away more of its skin, but it didn’t seem to care. It had picked up Amy’s scent and was intent on only one thing. Wet, gurgling sounds hit Sam’s ears, drowned out by his sister’s piercing scream. The scream broke him out of his paralysis and he moved without thinking. Jumping between the creature and his sister, he swung the bat with every ounce of his strength at the flapping tentacle. The wood connected with the old lady’s jaw with a sickening thunk. She flew backward through the air, flipping over the coffee table and landing in a heap on the living room floor. Sam didn’t give it time to get back up. Lunging at the downed creature, he started swinging with the bat. Again and again at the creature’s head, until it pulverized into a crimson mush. Hot blood splattered his neck, his cheek, making him gag. But still he kept swinging.
“Sammy… Sam, stop,” Amy yelled, grabbing his arm and stilling the next swing. He stared at her, dazed for a bit, unsure of what just happened. A high-pitched keening reached his ears and it took a moment for him to realize the strange sound was coming from him. Amy pried the bat out of his stiff fingers, dropping it like a hot poker and held his face tightly in her hands.
“Sammy, stop it. Stop it. You’re scaring me.” Her loud sobs punctuated every word. He was scaring her to death and couldn’t help it. Biting his lip hard enough to draw blood, he finally stopped his wailing. Still shaking uncontrollably, he grabbed the hands cupping his face and rested his forehead against hers.
“I’m okay, Ames. I’m okay. I’m okay.” He wasn’t sure if he was trying to convince her or himself. Eyes closed and heads together, they stood like that for a moment. Taking comfort from each other’s touch. Finally, his breathing slowed and his trembling stopped.
“We should probably go now,” he whispered. He felt her nod in agreement. They needed to move before any more creatures stumbled their way or those people from this morning came back. They needed to get to the safety of the Grand Hotel.
With his stomach rolling in revulsion, Sam retrieved the bloody bat from the living room floor. He wiped it clean on the couch and slung it over his shoulder like he was about to step up to the plate. But this was no ballgame. This was an out-and-out fight for their survival. He knew he needed to keep the bat handy because he would undoubtedly need it again. It was a full day’s walk between them and the Grand. They would probably come across more of those creatures. He just hoped he could somehow keep them both alive.
With his other hand, he reached for Amy. Gripping her small hand tight, brother and sister walked determinedly to the front door and took the first step towards their unknown destiny. Together.
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If you want to learn more about Sam and Amy’s story, please check out the full length novel
coming February 2016
OTHER BOOKS BY MICHELLE BRYAN
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[+ STRAIN OF DEFIANCE+]
[+ ASCENSION: NEW BLOODS BOOK 2+]
[+ THE WAYSTATION: NEW BLOODS SHORT STORY+]
About the Author
Michelle Bryan lives in Nova Scotia, Canada, with her husband, son and two crazy felines. Besides her family her other passions in life consist of chocolate, coffee and writing. When she’s not busy being a chocolate store manager or spending the day at her computer, she can be found with her nose stuck in any sort of apocalypse book. Please visit her on Facebook, Goodreads, and Amazon or follow her on Twitter @michellebry101. She would love to hear from her readers, so feel free to leave comments or ask questions.
Trapped. Hunted. And all alone. The nightmare beginsâ€¦ Fourteen-year-old Sam McKinley and his kid sister, Amy, are left unprotected in a dying world. After the alien invasion, thereâ€™s no one to turn to. No one to help. Or so they thought. When Sam hears a voice on the other end of their shortwave radio offering salvation, it ignites a tiny spark of hope. This may be a story about survival. But itâ€™s only the beginning.