Monday, May 29, 2017

Sample Chapters from Earthweeds

Here you can read three short excerpts from Chapter 1, 3 and 4 of the first book in the post-apocalyptic series: Earthweeds.

Excerpt from Chapter 1

A curved ribbon of dirt split the forest and formed a thin, uneven path to the lake. At the end of this path lay a man from the city. His body rested in a seated position at the base of a maple tree, his back pressed against the trunk. One lifeless eye stared blankly at the peaceful lake; the other eye was gone. The right hand grasped a rolled-up piece of paper that now trembled in the breeze. The other hand still held the gun.

    Two brothers, a high school student and a college student on summer break, stood over the dead body for several minutes, studying it. After camping in the woods for over a month, this disturbing scene was the most interesting thing to happen all summer.
    “I guess this ends our vacation,” said Shane, the older brother.
    “Geez, man, the guy is dead,” Sam spoke in a half-whisper, as if worried someone else might overhear him. “Think of someone besides yourself and your vacation.”
    “I didn't mean it that way.”
    Shane's younger brother, Sam, crouched down and took the piece of paper from the man's hand, trying not to touch the skin of the dead fingers. He unrolled it and read aloud: “If anyone finds this, I saved another bullet in my pocket for you.”
    
    “That's weird,” Shane said, resting his hands on his hips.
    Sam squinted up at his brother against the morning sun. “Why would he save a bullet for us?”
    “I guess he's saying whoever finds him will want to kill himself too.” 
    “Why?”
    “I don't know,” said Shane. “Why don't you ask him?”
    “Weird,” Sam whispered. He stood and pushed his bangs out of his eyes.
    The dead man wore a business suit and tie. His shirt was immaculately pressed and clean. This was no hunter. This man came from the city to end his life outside in the open air, here at the lakefront.
    “Do you suppose this lake meant something to him? He came up here to look at it before he... you know, cashed out?” Sam asked, but it was more of a statement than a question. He took another step back away from the body. The paper clung to his hand.
    “Maybe we should put his body in the jeep; take him back. Animals might drag the body away. They might eat it.” Shane rifled through the man's clothes for a wallet and ID, but his pockets contained only a quarter and two dimes. 
    “I don't think so. We shouldn't touch it. This might be a crime scene. Maybe the cops should look at it as it is.”
    “You watch too much TV.” 
    “Maybe. But don't move the body. Okay?”
    Shane was happy to comply. He certainly wasn't looking forward to carrying a dead body anywhere.
    They passed the man's Prius on the way back to their campsite and peered through the windows. The seats were empty and clean. A new box of bullets sat on the dashboard, minus two. Sam still held the man's crumpled note.
I saved another bullet in my pocket for you.

    Sam neatly folded the note and slipped it into the pocket of his shirt. Then he reconsidered and slipped it under the windshield wiper of the man's car. 
Let the police find it, he thought.
    The boys pulled up the tent and loaded their gear into the jeep. Surrounded by the deep green of the forest, Sam stopped to look around one last time. The trees, rich and abundant with life, filled the air with clean oxygen while their leaves chatted back and forth in the wind. He took a deep breath of fresh air, maybe the last pure air for awhile.



Excerpt from Chapter 3



A low muffled bang broke above their heads. The boys recognized the sound of the front doors slamming shut. They froze and listened as a chair scooted across the floor. Another noise, muted footsteps; they strained to hear who or what might be in the lobby. They hadn't thought to lock the front door! If one of those creatures had managed to get inside...

    Softly they crept back up the dirty staircase. Sam was happy to leave the musty smell behind, but feeling foolish now – at least one of them should have stayed upstairs to guard the door.
    Have to think smarter, or soon we'll be dead... or gone.
    At the top they could see shadows move across the wall, but nothing more. Then a voice muttered words in an irate tone, and a second voice answered. It sounded like a girl. The voices were too low to make out specific words, but at least they were human.
    “People,” whispered Sam.
    Caught between the horrors of the basement and the unknown voices in the lobby, the boys stood motionless for a full minute. Shane was first to move, taking up the front again, and stepped over the top stair and into the lobby, gun raised at eye level. Sam noticed sweat trickling down his neck.

    At the lobby table sat a boy and a girl, university students. They were intently pouring over a map. When they saw Shane, they jumped up, startled, and spilled a chair. The girl pulled out a large knife, and the boy grabbed a shotgun, which he immediately brought to his waist and leveled at Shane.
   “Take it easy,” Shane said, lowering his own gun.
    The other two boys appeared behind him. He motioned for them to lower their weapons too.
    “Look, we're in trouble, same as you,” Shane said. “We're not a threat to you. Just didn't know if one of those things had come in.”
    The boy lowered his shotgun. He had short black hair and wore a skin tight t-shirt with a cartoon that said: I'm not drunk, I just act that way. “I'm Ken. This is Tina.”
    The girl had long blond hair. She was beautiful. That's all Sam noticed. That and she had a great knife – a ten-inch hunting knife and a leather sheath on her belt. She wore a blue flannel shirt that roughly matched Sam's, a pair of pink sneakers and tight bluejeans. He felt a tiny spark at his fingertips, and fought to suppress it.
    “We heard the shots,” she said.
    “Yeah. My girlfriend and I came over as soon as we heard. Been trying to find more people.”
    Tina flinched at the word 'girlfriend' like it wasn't entirely mutual, but she said nothing. She sheathed her knife. A small feather dreamcatcher also hung from her belt.
    “You seen any more of those lizards?” Jason asked.
    “Yeah, we've been running into them for a couple days now,” Ken explained, sparing a glance out the window. “We killed four already, over on the South Side. We came back to check the dorms, and that's when we heard your shots. What about you?”
    “We've only seen two, so far,” Shane said.
    “Three,” Jason corrected.
    “But the basement is full of cocooned people. Must be forty or fifty of them. All lined up, like some animal is saving them for a rainy day.”
    “It's messed up,” Jason said. “Total freak show.”

    Shane looked back toward the stairs. He closed the basement door and turned the lock.
    “I don't think three of those things could have done all that,” Jason added. “Must be more of them around here.”
    “What do you mean: done all that?” Ken asked.
    “I mean, three lizard mothers couldn't have cocooned fifty people. I don't think so, anyway. Must be more of 'em out there somewhere.”
    Ken shared a look with Tina, and then stared back at the others. A bemused look crossed his face, like he knew something they didn't.
    
---

    “So who is cocooning them?” Shane asked. “Who, or what, is doing all this? What could put a million people into cocoons, in basements, and cause them to hatch as a totally different... thing?”
    “Some serious genetics bull going on here,” Jason said. “It's the damn government!”
    “We don't know who, what or why,” Ken stated flatly. “We just saw them hatch. No idea what's causing this.”
    “The government, it's a covert lab experiment gone wrong,” Jason ranted. “Or maybe it's the Russians!”

    “Why didn't we get... you know,” Sam asked. “Why are we still human?”
    “Because we weren't around, or awake, to get stung,” Jason offered.
    “Maybe some of us are immune?” Sam said. “Like a virus.”
    “And what stung them?” Shane asked. “If that's the running theory. Some giant insect from Mars?”
    “We saw something big in the sky,” Sam said.
    “We didn't see anything like that,” Ken said.
    Jason shook his head. “Ain't seen nothin' up there.”
    “I watched a dozen classmates go into the cellar of my dorm and fall asleep,” Ken told them. “I watched them just go, like in a delusional state. They crawled into a ball and slept. Then the cocoons formed. After about a week, they hatch as... whatever these are. But I had no urge to join them. I wasn't affected by whatever made them do it.”
    “And I was away,” Tina said. “I was locked in the...” she paused. “I was in a hospital for evaluation. And after all this, Ken came and got me out. The staff had been gone for days. I was just locked in a room.”
    “You were locked? In a hospital?” Sam asked. He imagined a straight-jacket and padded walls. This was probably no ordinary hospital. He sent a look to Shane, who sent it back: loonies, be cool.
    “So we're immune,” Shane said to relieve the awkward moment. “Or we were away at the right time, when the green cloud was sprayed, or whatever. Good news. But we won't be alive long if those people all hatch.”
    “We should find other people,” Ken said. “I mean the whole world can't be like this. It's just this area, right?”
    “Sure,” Sam said, trying to sound positive. “But where? Any ideas where to start looking?”
    Ken pointed to the map. “Maybe a bigger city. Chicago. Or New York. Better chance of finding people.” He paused, then added: “Human people, that is.”
    Shane shook his head. “No. That's the opposite of what we should do. We need to get out of the city, go to the country.”
    “He's right,” Sam agreed. “Pittsburgh is bad enough, a few thousand lizards ready to hatch. Maybe a couple hundred thousand. But imagine Chicago with three million lizard creatures. New York with six million lizards. All trying to eat us.”
    “We need to get away from people. Far from any city.”
    “But we won't get answers in the countryside,” Tina countered.
    “For right now, answers take a back seat to survival.”
    “Regardless of where, we gotta move now,” Ken said. “More of them are gonna hatch soon. By tomorrow, I'd guess. They have a six to eight day gestation period. This is all just by my observation. No science to it. But, it seems a week is all they need to transform.”


---
Excerpt from Chapter 4


As the jeep sped up, the noise attracted a band of lizards who broke off from the pack. They scurried after the jeep at a frighting pace. Jason fired the rocket. It sailed upward and whooshed into the distance, past the throng of creatures, and exploded at the other end of the street. The noise engaged the reptile swarm, including most of those chasing them – all except three. Three of the lizards stopped and considered the pack running after the explosion. Then these three unique animals turned back to the jeep. They jolted again, like prehistoric crocodiles with the speed of a gazelle.

    The jeep turned a corner on two wheels and sped up Fifth Avenue toward the exit to the turnpike.
    The three lizards scurried after them, and it was clear they would overtake the jeep in a matter of seconds. Sam drew an arrow and tried to steady his bow. He released the string and let the arrow fly free, but it missed, deflecting off the pavement. He wasn't as sharp at this as Shane.
    Jason raised his gun, but knew he couldn't fire. They couldn't risk the noise.
Sam drew another arrow and pulled it back taut in the bow. It made a sharp whisk sound as it flew, and sunk directly into the skull of the lead creature. The beast fell dead, and its mates stumbled over its body. This bought them a few precious seconds. The beasts recovered quickly, remarkably, and pursued the jeep with even more vigor.
    Shane drove faster, regretting his decision to drive. He needed to be the one shooting arrows.
    Sam drew another arrow and fired, but it just grazed a lizard's leg. This didn't slow it down at all. A useless effort.
    There was no more time for arrows. Both creatures were at the jeep. Tina screamed, and Jason yelled for Shane to "stop driving like a grandma! Move it!"
    A lizard jumped up. Its front claw found traction on the jeep's bumper, where it raised its body onto the jeep, its jaws wide open. In seconds it would sink its teeth into Ken. This outcome seemed inevitable.
    Then Sam reacted without thinking. He raised his hand and shot a wide arc of electricity forward and outward, fueled by the adrenaline coursing through his body. He opened his fist and the arc widened, intensified. For a split second, the air sizzled with iridescent blue fire. It scattered the darkness like a camera flashbulb for an explosive blink of an eye, then went out.
    Both lizards flew back a hundred feet, stunned by the electric charge. They did not get up. 
    The jeep sped on, and put distance between them and the university campus. Everyone looked at Sam, surprised and scared, but also relieved. They watched the stunned creatures get smaller and smaller, left behind, as the jeep entered the highway and departed the infested city. The group also watched Sam.
    But no one said a word.


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