Sunday, January 27, 2013

Six Sentence Sunday – Lilith

            Jacob grinned at her.  The merriment overlaid on the tension on his face startled her.  “You’re not afraid of ghosts, are you?” he asked, his voice teasing.
            “Demonkind exists.  Why shouldn’t there be restless spirits too?” she responded.
            His grin widened. 
Available from Amazon and Smashwords

Friday, January 25, 2013

First Four Friday – Willow in the Desert

Chapter 9

                The last dredges of sunlight hadn’t quite faded from the sky when Gordon, shielded against its deadly fury in a hooded cloak, knocked on the guardhouse door.  He clutched the dark, concealing fabric over the lower part of his face against the ruffling wind.  He knew he should have waited for full nightfall before venturing out, but the thoughts racing in his head were insistent.  He was practically dancing with anxiety as he heard footsteps approach from within the small building.

Available from Amazon, Barnes &Noble, and Smashwords. Also available in paperback.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Six Sentence Sunday – Willow in the Desert

Elijah weighed in, perspiration making his dark face shiny.  “Forget the guards.  We need to evacuate the town.”
Carli stiffened.  “No offense, Elijah, but this is our place.  We’ve staked our claim, and I’m not giving up to any of those bastards without a fight.”

Avaliable from Amazon, Barnes &Noble, and Smashwords. You can get it in paperback too.

Friday, January 18, 2013

First Four Friday – The Willow and the Stone

Chapter 18

            The Old One said, "Come in, Chosen."

            Carli's mouth gaped wide with astonishment.  The voice had the chirping, clicking quality of the aliens but spoke her language clearly.  Then she remembered Moonface saying something about talking with the alien that had chosen her.   

Available from Amazon and Smashwords

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Six Sentence Sunday – The Willow and the Stone

"Hush!  He wasn't hunting no damned rabbit.  That smile—"  Dawn shuddered "—and the way he was holding the gun ... he held it loose down by his hip, but his finger was on the trigger, and it was aimed right at Trippe."   Her eyes grew dark with fear.  "We're going to have to sneak out when we leave the farm.  I don't think they'll let us go."

Available from Amazon and Smashwords

Friday, January 11, 2013

First Four Friday - Lilith's Return

Chapter 5 

Lena’s rental Buick came with a built-in GPS.  It made it easy to find a Catholic church within two miles of the hotel the Segreto was staying in.  She drove through light traffic to the picturesque Our Lady of Mercy Chapel.  The white building seemed to glow in the soft dimness of dusk. 

Releasing Summer 2013

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Six Sentence Sunday - Lilith's Return (WIP)

Colwyn’s demonic talent of feeding on pain, relieving the sharpest of human suffering, only added to the peace so desperately needed by those left behind.

Colwyn’s arms were crossed over his chest again as he skewered Alex with his stare.  She stared back, one eyebrow lifted in challenge.  The tension was thickening by the second. 

Lena rolled her eyes.  “Sorry to interrupt yet another episode of ‘Don’t Go Demon Hunting Without Me, Dear’, but I have plans for tonight and I want to get your approval on these shots.”

Releasing Summer 2013

Friday, January 4, 2013

Willow in the Desert is Now Available

It’s out!  Willow in the Desert, the sequel to award-winning The Willow and the Stone can now be purchased from Amazon, Barnes &Noble, and Smashwords.  You can get it in paperback too.  Read on to find out about the book and enjoy the first chapter:

Six years ago, an alien invasion nearly decimated the human race.  Carli Dixon and Leo Black Elk lead a small band of survivors against the insectoid extraterrestrials, determined to win Earth back for mankind.  In between attacks on their enemies, they rest in the tiny desert village Freetown, one of the last outposts of human civilization.  Here, people have realized some semblance of the lives they knew prior to the invasion. 

But the seemingly lifeless Black Pyramid that sits in nuclear-blasted San Francisco isn’t as harmless as they thought, and death is heading east to Freetown.  A new menace has been birthed in the dark, dead pyramid, one that could finally finish off  humans once and for all.


Royce Cummings sat on a splintered park bench, eating a slab of ham and a small pouch full of grape tomatoes with his bare hands.  The ham was pure salty goodness, plenty to be grateful for.  He was happy to be eating meat, meat not scavenged from another animal’s kill or gained at the risk of life and limb.  Royce made sure to be grateful, because superstition warned if he wasn’t, he might go hungry again. Maybe downright starved like he’d been only a year ago.  Nope, a slab of ham and a couple handfuls of tomatoes were something to celebrate, thank you Jesus.

Still, a part of his brain that always felt the glass was half empty refused to adopt the good manners going without should have taught it.  That traitorous part of Royce’s mind couldn’t help wishing the ham nestled between two slices of pillow-soft white bread.  That it might be topped with a couple of squares of Swiss cheese and some spicy brown mustard slathered on thick.  Six years hadn’t cured his craving for store-bought white bread, for Swiss cheese, for spicy brown mustard.  For that matter, any kind of mustard.  Hell, he’d settle for that Dijon stuff they used to make the funny commercials about; the ads with snooty men in the backs of limos sneering over sandwiches.

Six years ago.  Was that all it had been?  His life before the Black Pyramids landed, before the Old Ones came and put mankind on the endangered species list, seemed to have belonged to someone else.  A different Royce Cummings whose biggest bitches had once been as mundane as missing condiments.  A Royce who had never laid awake at night, wondering if that creaking sound was an insectoid alien, come to sip his blood like some monstrous mosquito.  A man who had never pissed himself in the shelter of a dumpster, while the foul creatures stalked past, blessedly unaware of his presence.

At least things had gotten a little better since the invasion.  Out here in the Nevada desert, one could relax a little.  Here the glaring sun made things inhospitable to the majority of the night crawling aliens.  A man could make a new life, even.  This was exactly what he and about 300 other humans had done in their little town called Gander’s Gulch.

If you were someone weary of the constant fight to stay alive and Providence had put you on old Highway 762 near Cyrus Air Force Base, Gander’s Gulch was an oasis in the bleached desert.  Hell, it was paradise, lack of mustard notwithstanding.  Its prior inhabitants had been wiped out in the first wave of the alien attack.  All the pre-Pyramid Gulchers were presumed lost, having been harvested for food or slave labor by the creatures that looked like the progeny of mythical giants crossed with praying mantises.

Royce was one of the people that had taken the small, abandoned town and made it viable again.  A high fence surrounded the heart of it.  Its gates were closed and locked up tight during the fear-filled nights with armed guards patrolling just inside.  Fruits and vegetables were grown in the vast greenhouses at the west end of Gander’s Gulch, and animals were raised for food on the northern edge.  The tiny settlement got its water from an underground spring.  Today Royce and several of his fellow Gulchers were laying down new irrigation pipes from the spring to siphon water more easily to the town.  Little amenities went a long way towards contentment.

It was a life of hard work, of harsh climate, of few conveniences.  But it was life, and not a bad one at that.  Unlike their eastern neighbors in Freetown, Gulchers were content to defend their little bit of land from the occasional marauding Old One and live out their existence pretending the world hadn’t changed so much after all.   Royce had no interest in journeying a day’s walk down old Highway 762 and another day’s walk on the even older Route 14.  He didn’t want to live among warriors and shamans.  Let the Freetowners wage their crazy war against the Pyramids, shedding more human blood against the might of a greater alien technology.  People like Royce would take what enjoyment they could from what was left of their lives.

Yeah, a world without mustard wasn’t so bad, comparatively speaking.

Royce turned from his ruminations on what had been and what was.  He munched on ham, thank you Jesus, and listened to two younger men discuss the merits of the McClonsky sisters.  Spare and tanned and weathered at the ripe old ages of 26 and 29, the women in question were prime examples of what Gulchers looked like.  On post-Pyramid Earth, a sense of humor and willingness to work for the good of all were the new barometers of attractiveness.  The McClonsky sisters possessed both attributes in spades, and Royce had already had the pleasure of entertaining the elder one in an intimate manner several times.  She liked him too, and it had only been a few weeks since they’d decided to make their pairing a permanent arrangement.  He smiled to himself as the young men, Sam and Cal, plotted their schemes to lure the women into their clutches.

Sorry boys, but Shelly McClonsky is off the table.  We’ve already been assigned a private room.

Now there was a thought to make him beam, if Royce had been the beaming type.  A room all to themselves, just him and Shelly.  Sure they’d still be in the same building they already lived in and near the safety of all the rest of the Gulchers, but their new quarters would be out of the dorms.  Nice and private.  They could have been already moved in three days ago, but Shelly was making the room nice and wanted to surprise him.  Tomorrow night, she’d promised, and worth the wait.

Fuck the mustard.  He, Royce Cummings, had Shelly McClonsky for a bedmate.  Life was damned good.  The glass was half full.  Maybe even three-quarters full.

He finished his ham and tomatoes and washed them down with a canteen full of water.  A breeze lifted, sending nettles of stinging sand against exposed skin.  The now-familiar grit in the tightest of bodily crevices hardly registered anymore.  If Royce noticed it at all, it was the slightest of discomforts, one a man got used to quick if he didn’t want to go crazy.  It didn’t matter he was covered in loose clothing.  His long pants, sleeves, and floppy hat left only his hands and face exposed, but Royce would have a coating of sand on every inch of his body when the day was done.  Probably already did.  The fine particles got everywhere, even in places where a man wasn’t aware he had places.

The dry voice of the desert breeze was joined by a strange whir of scraping against shifting sand and the asphalt of the cracked Main Street .  Royce didn’t recognize the sound.  He was aware that the new noise had been there in the background for some time now, growing so gradually that he was only just becoming cognizant of it on a conscious level.  He frowned but felt no alarm until a high-pitched scream sounded from far away.

With the alacrity that comes from being prey for so long, he and the dozen other men on the irrigation detail were on their feet and feeling for their guns.  But it was daylight, the safe time.  No one was armed.  Instead, hands gripped the hammers and wrenches that were holstered in the low-slung tool belts many wore.

Cal’s lips skinned back from his teeth in an unconscious snarl.  “What the hell was that?”

Pierce Thomas answered in his dry croak of a voice.  Pierce was the eldest Gulcher in residence, ancient at 52 in this harsh day and age of the Old Ones.  “Sounded like someone screamed in the direction of the greenhouses.”

Shelly was working the greenhouses today.  She’d promised to pick a few strawberries for a special treat tonight.  “We’d better go check,” Royce said, hearing a tremor in his voice.

But there was nothing to fear.  Nothing came from the ruined west anymore, where radiation from a failed nuclear attack on the San Francisco Pyramid still made the area unlivable.  And it was daylight.  Neither the Old Ones nor their progeny the Becoming could be about.

The men started towards the western end of town.  Royce saw a wall of dust devils spinning in the air from that direction.  Sand storms were not rare here.  With irrigation no longer used to keep up artificially green lawns and gardens, the desert had worked hard to reclaim its landscape.  Even the highway disappeared for stretches of miles under layers of sand and scrub.  But this was no dust storm, not with the breeze only an occasional breath.  This was more like the blowup from the one stampede Royce had witnessed when the Gulchers’ cows had gotten loose and panicked in the middle of town.

There was something moving within the dust, and the whirring sound grew steadily louder.  It wasn’t the heavy thuds of cow hooves at all.  This was a finer, lighter sound, like the pad of children’s shoeless footfalls.

 It made Royce’s throat close with anxiety.  He halted, noticing out of the corner of his eyes his fellow Gulchers doing the same.  “What the hell is that?” he asked.

No one answered.  He wanted his gun, lying under his thin pillow in the dorm where all the windows were boarded up.  Whatever made up those shadows that shifted in that cloud of whirling sand was probably nothing of note, but he wanted his gun anyway.  And he wanted to be in the comparative safety of the blockaded dorm building, which had once been an elementary school in the pre-Pyramid world.

The shapes within the dust became clearer as they neared.  There were many of them.  It was impossible to tell how many in that roiling soup of sand, but there were a lot.  A shitload, as Royce would say had he the voice to speak.

Then Royce got his first glimpse of what it was kicking up the dry landscape.

Someone spoke, maybe Cal.  “Oh shit.  Those are aliens!”

Pierce answered, his voice climbing high on the register in terror even as he refuted the declaration.  “Don’t be stupid.  Aliens can’t come out during the day.”

But they were aliens.  Not like Royce had ever seen though.  These were different from the Old Ones with their smooth, creaseless, nose-less faces, their mouths replaced by long, thin siphons that punched easily into skin and vein and sucked one’s blood out.  These were movie monster horrors, their once-human faces running downwards as if they’d been partially melted and hardened again that way.  Sores erupted all over the reddened skin of the mostly naked creatures.  Many possessed misshapen versions of the Old Ones’ praying mantis arms, though a few had stumps with rudimentary hands instead.  None had siphons.  Instead they had great, grinning mouths, mouths filled with dagger teeth that gnashed as they came on, like they anticipating biting into Royce and his fellows.  The teeth, which would have made sharks proud, were made for tearing flesh and bone and gristle.

As if in a nightmare, Royce turned from the oncoming monsters.  His numb legs started a jerky, sluggish run for his gun, sheltered impotently in the dormitory three blocks away. He didn’t have to consciously tell his body to move, though it seemed the air had turned to thick, sticky molasses that dragged every step out for hours at a time.  His feet slapped the sand-covered road in slow motion.  His heart boomed in his ears, a bass drum in the sudden cymbal crash of yells and screams behind him as the men scattered in different directions.  His breath sobbed in and out, screeching like a badly tuned violin.  Beneath the hellish symphony whispered the dry whir of the mutant alien creatures gaining on him.

The buildings of Gander’s Gulch crept past, reluctant to fall behind as Royce ran for his life.  The old brick City Hall building where they held town meetings was the first to drift back.  Next he passed the post office, where three white trucks tinged with rust sat forever in its parking lot on cracked, flat tires.  Then the Episcopal Church, where so many had taken shelter to pray during the invasion and were captured by invaders who did not acknowledge the power of God.  The town library, its children’s section still festooned with faded posters that cajoled little tykes to read a book every day.  And at last the yellow painted brick school, now the Gulchers’ dormitory.  It beckoned to Royce to hurry, its boarded and barbed wire windows promising protection.

A million years might have passed, or so it seemed to Royce, as he fought to reach the dorm.  The sand-buried asphalt caught his booted feet with every step and sucked them into its surface like quicksand.  The pair of glass doors never came closer no matter how many steps he took.  And yet the screams of other people and the triumphant inhuman cries of their pursuers remained behind him.  At last he was on the cracked sidewalk, veering right to get to the school’s entrance.  The doors receded in the distance even as he ran and ran and ran towards them.  Then an age later his boots thudded on the brick steps, three of them, to the concrete slab just before the doors.  His hand closed around the metal handle of one and he concentrated on narrowing his gaze on that, terrified to look at the glass before him for fear of what might appear in the reflection behind.

Then he was inside, within the blessed confines of the building he called home.  Royce raced into the darkness of the dorm.  He grabbed his flashlight from his belt, switched it on, and ran for the gymnasium that most of the single men slept in.  It never occurred to him that the flashlight, fitted with rechargeable batteries kept alive by a generator run on rendered pig fat, might attract the monsters he attempted to elude.  Royce forgot that the monsters were out in broad daylight.  Six years had taught him light was life, a weapon against the sensitive eyes of the Old Ones.  Light was every human’s friend and defender.  He wasn’t able to unlearn that in the three and a half eternal minutes since the new threat’s appearance.

When he reached the former gymnasium which housed one hundred seventy men, Royce went straight to his bed.  There the gun waited, ready and loaded under his pillow, its metal somehow cool even in the desert heat.  Royce sobbed his gratitude to feel it in his hand, more comforting than any child’s teddy bear.

He could now get to one of the shelters, the easily defensible places where Gulchers had hidden days’ worth of supplies in the event of an emergency.  The closest one was in the basement of the school’s gym, down the stairs at the end of the hall.  It wasn’t far.  If he was careful, he’d make it okay.  He turned, his gun clasped close to his chest.

A sore-blistered alien pincer came out of the darkness, knocking the gun from his hand.  The firearm disappeared in the darkness beyond his flashlight’s beam, lost.

Royce’s brain operated as sluggishly as his run to the school had seemed.  It was still planning the best route to the shelter as the monstrous creature attached to the pincer loomed over him and shoved him down on his bed.  He was thinking how the steel barricade on the shelter’s door would not bow to the strength of a hundred Old Ones as the hideous thing tore his shirt open, displaying the double ladders of ribs on his whip-muscled frame.  He slowly realized his gun had gone missing, and he decided he would have to find it again before he went in search for Shelly.  At least he hadn’t lost the flashlight.  While his brain still refused to absorb what his senses said, he saw the thing leaning over him, its shark’s teeth flashing in the illumination as it bent to his abdomen.

His mind was just beginning to catch up with the here and now when the monster took its first bite of him.  Fortunately for Royce, disbelief had driven away his body’s ability to tell the rest of him it was in pain.  He only felt a slight tugging and a curious warmth as blood began to flow heavily, escaping its flesh cage.  He didn’t even scream as he was eagerly fed upon, the mutant Old One swallowing his flesh in unchewed chunks.

It doesn’t hurt because I’m in shock, he thought and died.


Thursday, January 3, 2013

Countdown to Willow in the Desert - One Day

            Gordon was horrified when he took in the situation at the main entrance to the base.  Carli, armed with nothing more than a flamethrower, was pinned behind the guardhouse that had once been the checkpoint for Cyrus’ comings and goings.  Her squad took shelter behind stacked debris several yards behind her, laying down fire when the mutants guarding the main gate tried to creep up on her position.  Many of the mutants were returning fire.  They had gotten hold of Kevlar vests and pushed large crates ahead of themselves as they inched closer to Carli’s hiding place.  The mutants seemed to be pretty poor shots, but Gordon knew Carli’s luck would eventually run out.  And probably sooner rather than later. 

            Gordon swore to himself.  She’d really put herself in a spot this time.

            With a wild series of clacks, Gordon sprayed gunfire, fighting to get to her position.  Taken by surprise, the mutants ducked behind the line of waist-high crates they used for cover.        The Becoming reached his friend, and in un-Gordonlike fashion, lit into her.

            “What the hell, Carli?  Why are you here instead of back there with your squad?  Have you got a death wish?  Where’s your gun?”

            She grinned up at him, as if they were playing cowboys and Indians instead of battling for their lives.  “Damned thing jammed up on me.  Fortunately, that mutant kindly donated his flamethrower.”

            She nodded towards a dead mutant lying a few feet away.  The misbegotten thing was a horror even now, its lips pulled back in a furious rictus, displaying all its fangs.  Gordon had the urge to turn it over so he didn’t have to see its terrible face.

            “Shit, woman.  You’re lucky they haven’t gotten to you yet.  Trade with me.  Wait; one sec.” 

            Gordon could hear the mutant guards trying to creep up on them again, and he leaned out from behind the guardhouse to blast through the half dozen monsters, catching them in their ugly faces.  His amazing accuracy was attributed to the fact they’d gotten close enough to hit easily.  He practiced often, but he wasn’t actually that good a shot.  Then he whipped around and fired from the other side.  Unfortunately, the ones coming from that direction were already fleeing back to the relative safety of their barricade next to the base’s entrance.  He only got two that time.

            Gordon sheltered behind the guardhouse once more to find Carli scowling at him.  “Now how would you holding the flamethrower work any better than me doing it?” she asked.

            “I’m more expendable.”

            Carli grabbed the collar of his hooded cape, hauling his face close to hers.  He had no choice but to look her in the eyes.  Despite her tiny size, her glare alone was enough to make Gordon want to shrivel. 

            “Get this through your head right here and now, Gordon.  You are not expendable.  For one thing, because we are fucked without you.  For another – because I damned well say you’re not!”

            Gordon’s surprise at her vehemence gave way to near tears.  Amanda’s news on Jeff had made him doubt the leaders of Freetown, but Carli’s obvious faithfulness gave him renewed devotion.  The non-Becomings were not his enemy.  Especially not her.

            Gordon smiled at the pint-sized fury, ridiculously happy given their present situation.  “But I am faster and I can take more damage and keep going.  Please, Carli.  Swap me,” he begged.  He wouldn’t let her get killed for all the world.

            “Aw hell,” she swore.  “I hate it when others are right.”  She offered the flamethrower, holding her other hand out at the same time to take the gun.

            They checked their situation, getting ready to run.  The mutants were still hiding behind their crates and stacked debris, their freakish heads peering around to see what was going on.  A quick smattering from Carli’s gun made them duck out of sight once more.

            Her radio headset crackled to life.  Gordon’s superior hearing picked up Elijah Webb’s voice, though he couldn’t make out exactly what was being said.  It couldn’t be good, and Carli’s grim expression proved that.  The civvies were only supposed to broadcast if they were under attack.

            “The hospital?” Gordon asked.

            “Right.  Hustle, squad!” she yelled. 

            As one, the group of fighters broke cover, laying down heavy fire.  The mutants shot back.  Screams of both human and monster filled the air as Carli and Gordon ran for it.  As soon as they joined the rest of the squad, the survivors ran for the hospital, leaving the main gate behind.  Apparently the exit was high on the mutants’ priority list, because they didn’t pursue the fleeing group.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Countdown to Willow in the Desert - Two Days

N.C. came out of the guardhouse to call to him, standing in front of the knife-wielding Becomings.  “Gordon, I really think you should get in here.  This is bad.”

“That’s not the plan.  Got your checklist for airbase defense?”

Gordon made himself hold N.C.’s gaze.  It was horribly uncomfortable to look so intently into another’s eyes, but it had the effect he’d hoped for.

His hectic expression calming a little, N.C. nodded.  “I got it, man.”  He stared out into the blind well of the dark and shuddered.  “Give us what time you can, but take care of yourselves too.  Good luck out here.”

He went back inside the guardhouse.  The gate began to close, locking the armed Becomings outside of Freetown.  They watched the desert, listening to the strange sound of the approaching attack close in.

Amanda said, “Wish these damned lights weren’t so bright.”

Gordon answered, “The humans need them to see by.  We’ll be okay.”

He didn’t feel as confident as he sounded, especially as the whirring sound resolved in the patters of scores of feet racing towards them.  And then the lead group of mutants hove into view, coming out of the darkness and into the circle of the floodlights.

Gordon stared.  The Gulchers didn’t do these things justice.  I can’t believe any of them were ever human.

A few Becomings screamed at the sight of the monstrous beings, as did the humans manning the two rickety towers erected inside Freetown’s fence.  Even Amanda shouted, “Mary, mother of God!”

Gordon forced his terror to the side.  “Fire!” he yelled as the front line of attackers came within range.

Shots blasted the air, taking out the mutants as they closed the distance, but there were more and more coming.   The dark seethed with movement.  Gordon’s team of thirty Becomings showered the onslaught of monstrous creatures with bullets, holding them off.  His gun grew hot in his pincers as he laid down fire, knowing the impossibility of fighting off so many.  They were only buying time for the Freetowners and the refugees of Gander’s Gulch to escape, however.  No one expected them to hold the town.

Too soon the shouts of those running out of ammo began to sound.  Gordon himself had gone through several rounds, and he was on his last.

He shouted into his headset.  “Becomings, we’re done here!  To the east gate for convoy defense!  N.C., prepare for west gate breach!”

Gordon and Amanda brought up the rear of the line as his people raced around the fence protecting Freetown.  The mutants concentrated their attack on the gate itself, however, leaving the Becomings to run for the eastern side as fast as they could.  As the two furthest along in their transformation, Gordon and Amanda’s enhanced speed quickly put them at the head of the pack.

N.C.’s voice shouted through Gordon’s earpiece.  “They’re coming through the gate!  Get ready, everyone!”

Gunfire lay like a blanket in the air from the west end of town.  Gordon tried not to think of his unarmed Becomings just inside the gate, reduced to fighting the mob of monstrosities with only knives and their bare hands.

After a couple minutes of running, he rounded the corner of Freetown’s fence half a dozen steps ahead Amanda.  The open eastern gate midway down was a welcome sight.  The escape convoy had already begun speeding out through the night towards Cyrus Air Force Base.

Even more welcome was the cache of ammunition waiting to reload their guns.  The rest of the arriving Becomings did so with orderly haste, another boon from Gordon’s drills.  Gordon tried not to notice he seemed to be missing half his group.  This was not the time to wonder if they’d run away into the desert or were dead.

The remaining Becomings assumed defensive positions on either side of the road coming out of Freetown, ready for any attackers that might have decided to follow them.

Gordon reported their readiness.  “N.C., we’re at the east gate!  Convoy is moving out, with five away!”  The stench of his gasoline, which they’d put extra into production just for this emergency, hung heavy in the air.

“Copy that!  We’re keeping them tied up at the west gate, but there are too many.  We’ll have to fall back.”

Amanda’s shout claimed Gordon’s attention.  “Here comes company!”

Gordon counted about two dozen figures coming towards them.  “We’re under attack!  Take them out!”

His group fired on the mutants, defending the escaping trucks and Humvees as they raced away.  The firing from within Freetown was coming closer, warning him that its fall was imminent.

Confirming his fears, N.C.’s voice crackled over the headset.  “All town defenses, fall back to the town center and reset!  Go!”

Gordon’s gun was spent, and he turned to run to the cache for a reload.  A weight slammed against him, driving him to the ground.  Something shrieked overhead and bright, vicious pain ground into one arm.

Gordon screamed in surprise, hardly believing his own eyes when he saw the fanged horror chewing on his forearm.  It was trying to eat him, unimpressed when Gordon’s other fist slammed against its head.

Becoming had gifted Gordon with twice his normal strength.  He still might as well have been beating the slavering monster with a butterfly wing for all the reaction his struggles got.

Gunfire splattered nearby, and the hideous thing tearing at Gordon splattered too.  It fell to the hardpacked desert ground, finally releasing his arm.

Amanda lowered her gun and ran towards him.  He waved her back.  “Defend the convoy!  I’ll be fine.”

“Like fuck you will,” she retorted but went back to convoy defense anyway.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Countdown to Willow in the Desert - Three Days

A man’s screams sounded outside Elijah’s closed door, bringing him out of his reverie.  He rose from his chair as his nurse and assistant Betty opened the door and stuck her head in.

Nearly toothless and twice as worn as a woman twenty years her senior, Betty would never be classified as a beauty.  A former prisoner in one of the Pyramids, she’d seen too much horror and deprivation to be made attractive from the steady diet and safety she now enjoyed.  But her wispy-haired head featuring a pockmarked face was beloved by almost a dozen toddlers whom she’d helped snatch from that very same Pyramid.  When she wasn’t working she was surrounded by little faces calling, “Ma!  Ma!  Ma!”  Her skirts were forever tugged on by tiny hands aching to pull her close.  No other woman in Freetown was so beloved.

Her gray eyes were rolling as the man’s screams continued.  “Some fool has been wandering the desert with no water.  He’s crazy from heatstroke and dehydration.  Good morning, by the way, Doctor.”

Elijah smiled as he came to the door.  He swung it open, giving him the full view of Betty’s scarecrow-thin body.  She still looked wretched after her escape from the Pyramid in Washington, D.C. two years ago, an escape he himself had had a hand in.  However, he knew she was healthy, because he personally made sure of it.  Betty had suffered more than her share, but she gave of herself without hesitation.  He could do no less for her.

Elijah gave her a hug, which she returned with a chuckle.  “Good morning, Betty.  It’s starting early enough.”

He released her, and she jerked her head towards the noise.  “I had Newton and Heath take him into Exam One.  They brung him in and they’re holding him down now.”

Elijah went back to the cabinet where he kept a few supplies.  His stethoscope, coming from its proper storage, went around his neck.  “Let’s get to work,” he said and followed his favorite nurse down the hall where the man’s shouts continued.

“Monsters!  Alien monsters!  All over the town!”

The frenzied words came clear as Elijah neared Exam Room One.  He grabbed Betty’s shoulder, stopping her a few feet from the room’s closed door.  “Is he violent?  I don’t want you in there if you could get hurt.”

“More like desperate,” she answered.  “He’s too wrung out to be dangerous, I think.  If we could calm him down, he’d probably collapse from exhaustion.”

Elijah nodded.  “Keep out until he’s settled anyway.  Prepare a room and an I.V. so we can get some liquids in him.”

As she hurried away, Elijah swept into the room.  Thanks to Gordon the whole building was well-lit, allowing the doctor the luxury of examining his patients without trouble.  Newton and Heath were on either side of a sunburned man rocking in a plastic chair.  Both Elijah’s fellow Freetowners looked relieved to see him.

Elijah laid a comforting hand on the stranger’s shoulder.  The man shook all over, his brown eyes wide and staring.  The scent of sweat-strong body odor rolled off him, overcoming the clean antiseptic smells of the room.  The stranger even managed to eclipse the ever-present stench of rendered animal fat.

The man looked as drained of juice as a prune, his skin shriveled on his skinny frame, making his face stark and sharp with the bones of his skull.  He looked like a horror movie mummy brought to life.

“Easy, fellow.  You’re in Freetown and you’re safe.”  Elijah looked up at the stranger’s escorts.  “Has he been like this the whole time?”

Newton answered him.  The big rawboned man bore a startling resemblance to Abraham Lincoln with shaggier hair that tended to fall forward to his nose.  “The moment the west gate opened this morning, he came hauling ass into town, screaming bloody murder.”

As Elijah grabbed a blood pressure monitor, the stranger screeched, “They’ll come here too!  They’ll kill you like they did Gander’s Gulch!”

Heath held the man’s arm out so Elijah could wrap the cuff around his skinny bicep.  As short as Newton was tall, he possessed plenty of muscle, honed as they all were by hard work.

Elijah asked the stranger, “What’s your name?”

He laughed hysterically, the wild cry ending in a sob.  “My name?”  Who gives a fuck about my name?  Aliens took over Gander’s Gulch!”

Newton said, “At least we know where he came from.”

“I got away.  I wanted to help, but there were too many.  I don’t know if anyone else escaped.”

Elijah’s stethoscope went into his ears.  He hoped the man was just suffering from heat stroke.  If Gander’s Gulch had fallen to a large group of marauding Old Ones, that meant a lot of people were dead.  Even those who might have escaped the town would be in no better shape than this fellow, should they be lucky enough to make it to Freetown.  On foot, the trip between the two towns took two days of unrelenting heat and sun.  The nights were as frigid.

Heath was suitably upset over the news.  “Shit.  You think a bunch of alien renegades have banded together, Doc?”

“It wouldn’t be the first time.”  Elijah freed his ears of the stethoscope, then the Gulcher’s arm of the cuff.  He went to a drawer in the nearby counter to fetch a light to check the man’s eyes, ears, and throat.

Newton’s deep voice held a world of sorrow.  “They got their act together at Gander’s Gulch.  Must have been a lot of attackers to have overwhelmed the whole town.  No offense fella, but I hope you’re just off your beam.”

The Gulcher only shook his head.

Elijah worked fast to check his patient out.  He wanted the poor refugee in a bed soaking up intravenous fluids as soon as possible.  “You didn’t get here overnight.  How long ago was the attack?”

Now that they were paying attention to his story, the man was calming down.  His voice rasped like sandpaper.  “Two days ago.  They attacked in the middle of the day.”

Elijah sensed Newton and Heath exchange a look over the man’s head.  Newton kept his voice even; as if afraid he’d send their visitor raving again.  “Couldn’t have, Old Ones can’t survive the daylight.”

The Gulcher wheezed what might have been either laughter or sobbing.  “Not regular Old Ones.  These were messed up.  Instead of siphons, they had big, wide mouths full of fangs.  Some were missing arms, some had extra arms and legs.  They were worse than Old Ones.  They were monsters.”