Morning Kindle-ites! I got a very exciting email this morning from the talented Mr. Scott Nicholson. Not only does he have a brand spanking new Post Apocalyptic novel out (squeeee.) It is going to be on SALE for only $.99 today through Friday. So…if you love Scott’s work (much like myself) and want to see what unthinkable thing he has managed to do with solar storms, now would be the best time to do it. Anyways, here is a little about the book AND an excerpt. Happy Reading!
Praise for Scott & After: The Shock.
“Nobody thrills like Nicholson does. Nobody.” – J.A. Konrath, Origin
“Always surprises and always entertains.” – Jonathan Maberry, Patient Zero
“Scott Nicholson knows the territory. Follow him at your own risk.” – Stewart O’Nan, A Face In The Crowd
“Like Stephen King, he knows how to summon serious scares. My advice? Buy everything he writes.” – Bentley Little, The Haunted
A massive solar storm erases the world’s technological infrastructure and kills billions. While the remaining humans are struggling to adapt and survive, they notice that some among them have…changed.
Rachel Wheeler finds herself alone in the city, where violent survivors known as “Zapheads” roam the streets, killing and destroying. Her only hope is to reach the mountains, where her grandfather, a legendary survivalist, established a compound in preparation for Doomsday.
Other survivors are fleeing the city, but Zapheads aren’t the only danger. Rogue bands of military soldiers want to impose their own order in the crumbling ruins of civilization. When Rachel discovers a 10-year-old boy, she vows to care for him even at the risk of her own life.
And the Zapheads are evolving, developing communal skills even as they lay waste to the society they will eventually replace.
AFTER: THE SHOCK
(Book #1 in the AFTER series)
By Scott Nicholson
There were three of them.
She’d stopped naming them a week ago. It had been an amusing distraction for a while—and the Good Lord only knew, she needed distractions—but then they’d all started blending together, the Black-Eyed Susans, the Raisinheads and the Meat Throats.
Now, though, Rachel Wheeler couldn’t resist looking through the grimy drugstore window as she waited, crouched in the litter of baby powder and cellophane.
The one on the right, sitting on the sidewalk bench surrounded by a mountain of bulging plastic bags, was missing his left arm just below the elbow. The wound was swathed in a filthy towel strapped in place with duct tape, stained dark brown at its blunt end.
Stumpy was waiting for a bus that would never come. Rachel couldn’t tell if he was a Zaphead. He might just be another of the schizophrenic homeless, one of the underclass that hadn’t even noticed that the world had ended. Although gaunt, he didn’t appear particularly motivated to kill, obsessed instead with swatting away the flies that swirled around his stump.
He was fifty feet away, and she could outrun him easy. All she had to do was run as if her life depended on it. It wouldn’t be much of a challenge because her life had depended on it for days.
A hundred yards down the street, The Beard, the guy staggering back and forth, was almost certainly a Zaphead. His expression was hidden by the unkempt hair, but he was hunched and his fists were clenched, rage curling around whatever strange energy burned inside of him.
Okay, Beard, you’ve solved my little dilemma of whether I should head south or head north.
The mountains were her destination, and they lay to the northwest, but she wasn’t willing to risk The Beard.
The word “destination” sounded odd in her thoughts, because of the root “destiny.” Such abstractions were laughable now, but laughter was the only weapon against the fear that sapped the strength from her legs. And she needed her legs.
Oh, yes, Lord, give me stumps for hands, but please don’t mess with my legs.
In this scary new world, in this After, you had to run, dragging your guilt and fear and all the dark weight of Before.
Even if she’d wanted to head south, where not even hope was an option, Chain Guy had other ideas. He was moving through the smoky haze between a Volvo sedan cattycornered in the intersection and an abandoned police car, its doors flung open like the wings of a spastic, grounded bird as it perched with two wheels on the curb.
Chain Guy was dressed in a torn leather jacket, despite the late-August heat—and in Charlotte, the August heat grabbed your throat and scrubbed you with salt water—and he carried a knapsack. Clearly, he was one of the higher-functioning lunatics. The chain in his right hand trailed out on the asphalt behind him, its faint clink the sole soundtrack to a scene that had once featured rush-hour traffic.
She ducked lower in the drugstore window, clutching her backpack more closely. The pack was bulging, and she’d needed the dried foods she’d collected, but now, the comfort items felt more like indulgences that would slow her down and maybe get her killed.
Really, toilet paper and tampons, Ray-Ray? Why not grab some hemorrhoid cream and Viagra while you’re at it? You can’t beat these prices, so you might as well stock up.
She wondered if she should wait it out, to see whether The Beard and Chain Guy squared off. Maybe while they were busy, she could slip out and head down a perpendicular street. It was likely that one or two Zapheads would be on the prowl, but she didn’t want to stay there until dark. The store’s front door was smashed in, and other scavengers might show up for this unbeatable, once-in-a lifetime, going-out-of-business sale.
The sun was still high, but barely visible through the smoke that curled from the downtown high rises. She suspected a bonfire was raging in the football stadium, too—the wind carried the stench of charred meat.
Chain Guy wrapped loops of his weapon around his forearm until he had a four-foot length. He swung it back and forth, gradually picking up momentum until he was whipping the chain in a circle over his head. He was still about forty yards from The Beard, who still paced back and forth, apparently oblivious to the coming storm.
As the chain whirred like a slow helicopter blade, a dog bounded out from behind the police cruiser, snarling and yapping. He was a German shepherd—lean, dark and hungry. The dog made a beeline for Chain Guy, evidently smelling something he didn’t like. But the dog must have sensed the reach of the chain, because he halted and lowered himself onto his forelegs, haunches reared as if poised to attack.
Get ‘em, boy, Rachel silently cheered, thinking the distraction would give her an opening. She squeezed the straps of her pack, testing the weight and calculating how much it would hinder her speed.
The dog’s lips peeled back as he growled. Chain Guy’s expression didn’t change. He spun the chain faster, almost daring the dog as he headed for The Beard. The shepherd danced forward a few feet and snapped, but Chain Guy kept walking, not breaking stride. The dog apparently didn’t like being challenged, so he made a run for Chain Guy’s ankles.
The chain lashed out of its orbit and descended with stunning speed, the blow so sudden that Rachel wasn’t even sure she’d seen it. Then came the thwack as metal hit meat, the chain flaying the dog’s rib cage. It emitted one garbled yelp of pain and collapsed. Chain Guy still wore that blank, businesslike expression as he brought the chain around for another blow. This one took out a leg and the shepherd crawled away like a broken spider.
The sickening attack reminded Rachel they weren’t playing “Ring Around the Rosie” here. It was dog eat dog. And, they definitely weren’t playing. If it came down to it, she’d rather Chain Guy eat the dog than eat her.
If Chain Guy looked to his left, he might have glimpsed her hiding behind the shards of glass in the storefront. Her curiosity was slightly more compelling than her fear, and every bit of information might mean the difference between survival and its opposite. She wasn’t sure what the “opposite” was, but it was worse than death.
Chain Guy maintained his pace, but he let the chain slow again above his head. Stumpy hadn’t moved from his bench, and The Beard still seemed intent on whatever crack in the asphalt had consumed his entire attention for the past minute.
Or Jesus. Jesus in the oil stain, the rainbow warrior, the light of wisdom.
Rachel bit her lip to keep from giggling. Don’t lose it. Only crazy people lose it, and you know what happens to crazy people.
Something tumbled from the shelves behind her, near the prescription counter.
She hadn’t checked the aisles after seeing the corpse of a child, although the place had seemed dead. But “dead” had a new meaning now.
She tensed, but didn’t bolt, because the real threat of Chain Guy outweighed the imaginary threat spawned by a jar falling to the carpet. The Zapheads weren’t known for subtlety, so there was zero chance of one of them creeping up on her. No, a Zaphead would roll forward like a Cadillac out of hell, fueled by the frenzy zapping and hissing in its brain.
Chain Guy was busy bearing down on The Beard, so she crawled to the left a few feet and peered around a display of Hallmark cards. A hand stretched out on the floor beside the prescription counter, the fingers twitching.
Could be a Zapper in the last throes of internal combustion.
The hand curled once, twice, and then she recognized it as a beckoning motion. A Zaphead wouldn’t beckon. It would go for what it wanted, not lure you closer.
Somebody—a human—was down. And here came the litmus test of After: Did the old codes still apply? Did she still have to love her neighbor? Did she have to treat everyone as a child of God?
Maybe God wouldn’t notice just this once. Maybe she could just sit right here near the door and then make a run for it, gasping prayers.
Better to ask for forgiveness than for permission, right?
However, forgiveness probably wasn’t a question one wanted to ask of God. Not now, in the After. Rachel tried to look away, she really did, but the hand made another beckoning motion. It looked frail, the fingers knotty and thin. It was not the kind of hand that would wrap around your throat and drag you screaming into the darkness.
Outside, the chain clanked against the asphalt, as if Chain Guy was working out the kinks and getting ready for business.
The hand gave one final gesture, this time just the index finger, motioning Closer, closer, closer with an intensity that only silence could fully project.
Still, she resisted the impulse to help, the love-thy-neighbor credo that had been drummed into her from childhood, sitting bedside with her cancer-stricken mother, volunteering at the Humane Society, joining the Wellspring Fellowship’s Happy Helpers, and taking counseling classes at UNC-Charlotte. Little Ray-Ray had been on track for a golden-rule life of selfless service. In the Before.
However, she’d been sidetracked.
She wasn’t even sure there was a track anymore, because the train had jumped off into a dark, directionless territory.
Rachel looked away from the hand and eyed the door. She could probably get twenty yards down the sidewalk before Chain Guy broke his fixation and noticed her, and maybe that would buy her enough of a jump on him. Her legs were young and limber and strong, built by a cycling addiction. She could outrun him.
The wheeze came from behind the prescription counter. She jerked around her neck, and the hand now balled into a fist, as if tapping some last reserve of energy. The whisper came again, weak and broken.
Goddamn you, God.
She checked on Chain Guy, still closing in on The Beard, who swayed in obsessed circles. Stumpy sat on the bench as if waiting to feed pigeons. It was just another busy weekday in downtown Charlotte.
Just another day in After.
“Help.” The voice of the hand’s owner gained volume, and she hissed a “Shhh” in response as she crawled down the aisle. The last thing she needed was for Zapheads to show up, pissed off that they hadn’t been invited to the party.
She’d long ago—well, days ago, but it had seemed like years—decided that it was selfish to pray for survival and deliverance, but it was righteous to pray for the strength to help others. She’d also promised to live for Chelsea, to spend all the years that had been taken from her little sister—taken by Rachel.
But she couldn’t think of that now, or she would become paralyzed, accepting her fate. Deserving death. Deserving it because each breath was a selfish act in a world where she had destroyed something beautiful.
As Rachel drew closer, a rank, sour odor assailed her. She’d smelled her share of corpses, with their heavy, sweet fecundity—decay had become so pervasive in After that only a truly sharp odor had a chance of piercing it. Whatever lay behind the counter had achieved that rare status.
The arm pulled itself into the gap and she crawled faster, chafing her knees even through the blue jeans she wore. Her backpack was off-balance, banging against her right hip, and she had to navigate an obstacle course of stuffed animals, jars of nutritional supplements, soft drinks, and other artifacts of a lost culture.
It was darker back here, removed from the sunlight, but not so dark that she had to dig out her flashlight. She wasn’t sure she wanted a clear look, anyway, because the sour odor suggested something had turned inside-out.
“Help,” the man’s voice said again, and she answered, “Okay.”
God, I’m trusting you here, and if you’re leading me to a horrible, painful death, I swear I’ll never speak to you again.
Then she reached the counter and felt concealed enough to rise into a crouch and duck-walk the final ten feet around the counter. The man was curled on his side in a fetal position, wearing a white coat that suggested he’d been the pharmacist on duty at some point, back when duty mattered and pulled a weekly paycheck. Resembling a lighter-skinned Gandhi, he was bald and old and wore rounded glasses with wire frames. A pool of vomit explained the stink, and the flies had already migrated from the child’s corpse to check out this new taste sensation.
“You’re…one of us,” he said.
“Yeah,” she said, wishing she could summon that caregiver confidence expounded upon in her counseling textbooks. “Are you hurt?”
He gave a pained smile, and a wet fleck of vomit appeared in the corner of his mouth. “I hurt just fine, thanks.”
“Let me help you.”
She reached to check the pulse in his neck, but he shook his head. “No, don’t save me. For the sake of…all that is holy…let me die.”
Great. So he wants me to play Dr. Kevorkian here. Too bad.
She touched his neck, and he didn’t resist. His carotid pulse was a weak flutter. It was a wonder that he even had enough strength left to speak.
“Don’t save me.” His face curdled with an emotion somewhere between anger and defiance.
“Why did you ask for help, then?”
He rolled his eyes down to his other hand, the one that was curled into a fist around something. “I wasn’t asking for help. I was offering it.”
His reply startled her. He didn’t look like he was in a position to help anything but the maggots. His breathing grew shallower.
“How many are outside?” he asked.
“Two or three,” she said. “I’m not sure about one of them.”
He opened his hand, which held an orange prescription vial. “Nembutal,” he said. “The easy way out.”
So, he was the one playing Dr. Kevorkian. She’d seen Nembutal in the animal shelter, where it was used to end the suffering of sick pets. He let the vial roll from his hand and he gave it a weak nudge along the floor, toward her.
“Antiemetics, too,” he said.
“Huh? What’s that?”
“Don’t want to vomit it out before it has a chance to work.” His words were slurring now. “I should take the old sawbones advice…of ‘Heal thyself’…to heart, huh?”
She wondered how many of them he’d swallowed. Probably far more than enough, if he knew his trade, and he had the look of experience. In a matter of such importance, he’d be dead certain about the dosage levels.
“I’m not ready to die,” she said.
“None of us were,” he wheezed. His eyelids fluttered.
She checked his pulse again, and she could barely detect the blood making its last sluggish rounds through his circulatory system. At any second, he’d fall unconscious, and then his brain would begin the slow process of turning off the lights until the party was over.
“Do you…want me to pray with you?” she said. She didn’t want to ask if he was saved, because that seemed too judgmental for this most personal of moments.
“I’m…good,” he said. He nudged the vial toward her. “Here. My final request.”
His hand bore a wedding ring, and she wondered about his wife. Had he “helped” her escape from After? Had he guided her into the next great uncertainty? Maybe he’d even tricked her, grinding the pills into powder and spiking her sweet iced tea.
Take it. May as well let him die feeling helpful.
“Thank you.” She collected the vial and he grinned and closed his eyes. She slipped the vial into a side pouch of her backpack. A moist whistle came from his throat, and then he grew quiet.
Outside, in the street, Chain Guy bellowed in that inhuman manner that meant he was about to indulge in his Number One Priority, following his purpose, as did all beings under God’s high heaven. Even Zapheads.
She sat with the suicidal pharmacist for another minute until his pulse stopped, and then crawled back to the front of the store.
See the book for Kindle and Kindle Fire:
Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AP6YRFS
Learn more about the AFTER series and research links: http://www.hauntedcomputer.com/after.htm