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White Horse (Seven Seals Redux, #1): White Horse – Chapter 25

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TWENTY-FIVE

Sarah hung up the phone and walked out of the meeting room. She yawned as she rolled a chair between Max and the professor. She sat down and placed her elbows on the long, cluttered work surface, her tired head held up by one hand.

“What did they say?” Professor Dillon asked, turning to look at Sarah as he took his glasses off to rub his eyes.

Sarah filled the professor and Max in on her discussion with Jack, then said, “We should hear from them in the morning when they come up with a plan.”

 “I’ve got more bad news,” Max said as he ran his thumb and index finger down his mustache, smoothing it out. “Based on emails that I’ve been getting from other stations, the Earth’s ozone layer may be thinning. One report even said there could be less oxygen, not enough to affect our breathing, but enough to let more radiation into the atmosphere. It could have something to do with the red sky and those sparkly particles.”

“I thought the particles were spores,” Sarah said, turning to look at Max, who was staring at her. His eyes seemed three times bigger than normal behind the lenses of his glasses.

“The red dust cloud encompassing Earth was probably a combination of things,” Max said as he yawned. Then in a voice Sarah was better able to understand, he said, “Spores, oxygen-eating substances and who knows what else.”

“Martian red,” Georgie yelled over from the other side of the dome as Dawn shuffled a deck of playing cards. “The red dust cloud was the color of Mars.”

“I think they’re terraforming the Earth,” the professor said, pushing his chair away from the computer. “That makes sense because they are setting themselves up at nuclear power plants. Their species must thrive on higher radiation.”

“I think you’re right,” Sarah said as she stood and walked over to one of the windows in the dome. She looked into the night sky; a fuzzy pink halo circled the full moon. “Before I find someplace to rest my bones, does anyone have an idea where we go from here?”

“Aside from getting sleep,” Max said, setting down his pen. “We need to stop those alien bastards before they do any more damage to our planet, and to us.”

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White Horse (Seven Seals Redux, #1): White Horse – Chapter 24

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TWENTY-FOUR

“The spiders are going that way,” Willis said, pointing toward the west from the backseat of the school van.

Tony steered the van in the direction of the spider drones, now appearing as little black dots in the rose washed indigo sky.

“It’s almost as if they’re leading us right to them,” Clare said from the passenger seat. She strained her neck to see the cluster of drones as they occasionally disappeared behind leafless tree branches.

 Jack leaned toward the front seat. “You’re right. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.”

“It means we’ll find the aliens,” Tony said, speeding down the narrow drive of Blue Star Hill, kicking up dust as he occasionally veered off the blacktop and onto the gravel shoulder. When he reached the main road, he turned south, into open country.

“At least there are no zombies,” Willis said, clenching his thirty-thirty.

“I wonder where all the zombies went,” Clare said, running her fingers through her bob then replacing her camouflage cap.

“I don’t know, but we only have a couple more hours of daylight,” Tony said, turning on the van’s headlights. “So hopefully we get to where the drones are going before we lose sight of them.”

They drove on while the peach colored sun, set lower on the horizon.

Clare reached into her vest and retrieved a cell phone. “Here, Jack,” she said, handing the phone over the seat. “You and Willis can use this one, Tony and I can share his.”

“Looks like the drones stopped moving,” Tony interrupted, slowing the vehicle next to a harvested soybean field. The pack of black dots was fading into the inky sky several miles in the distance.

“Looks like they’re over South Haven,” Jack said.

“Why would the aliens be in South Haven?” Willis asked. “All it has is a little lighthouse and marina.”

“There’s a nuclear power plant south of it,” Clare said, opening the glove box. She pushed aside the owner’s manual, an envelope, and a flashlight. “I was hoping there was a map in here.”

“Shit, that’s right,” Jack said. “Palisades Nuclear Power Plant.”

“Do you see any spaceships?” Willis asked, eager to catch sight of anything from another world.

“Nope,” Tony replied.

“I’m not relishing the thought of having to go toward a nuclear power plant,” Clare said. “I don’t know how long it will be online without human intervention and a nuclear meltdown begins.”

“I heard there’s a strike force there called VIPER team, and it’s run by an assassin,” Tony said in a matter-of-fact tone.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” Jack said, exasperated. “Not only do we have to worry about the aliens and a nuclear meltdown but we have to worry about a strike force, too? Why would a nuclear power plant hire an assassin?”

“It’s because of the potential for terrorist attacks on nuclear power plants, but they didn’t know he was an assassin, they just knew he worked in the military and passed their security clearance, so they hired Gus Jordan. He gave the security guards elite strike force training and was developing VIPER teams at all nuclear power plants.”

“I never knew there was anything like that around here,” Jack said, shaking his head.

“I guess Gus fought in Afghanistan and Iraq and he believed the jihadists would have an easy time taking over nuclear power plants if the security guards weren’t able to put up much of a fight,” Tony said, looking down at the gas gauge. “We’re going to need to stop and refuel soon.”

“There’s a gas station just ahead,” Willis said. “Then we can drive to my house if you want to since we know where the spiders are going.”

“Okay, show me the way,” Tony said.

“The gas station is at that yellow flashing light,” Willis said, pointing over the seat.

Just ahead was an old family run carry-out and gas station. Time was not kind to this almost nonexistent village. Buildings of early century businesses were torn down, leaving only a church, cemetery, and country store.

Tony pulled next to the first of two pumps, the one without an out of order sign on the handle. “Lights are on.”

“I’m going to see if they have a map inside?” Clare said as she got out of the van with her revolver in hand.

“I’ll go with you,” Willis said, getting out next to her.

Clare turned toward Willis. “That bandoleer won’t do you any good without your weapon. Where is it?”

“It’s in the van.”

“Go get it, you don’t go anyplace without it.”

Willis went back to the van, grabbed the thirty-thirty lying on the seat and returned to Clare, who was waiting for him. They walked up to the store’s window and looked inside.

“I don’t see anything,” Willis said, his nose inches from the glass.

“Me either. Follow me.”

Clare slowly opened the door; a bell clanked. No people welcomed them to the country store. Clare walked toward the checkout counter while Willis walked past short aisles of snack foods, bread and canned goods toward the humming coolers. He took an armful of pops from the cold metal shelves and walked up next to Clare.

“I found what we needed,” Clare said, pulling a Van Buren county map and a South Haven city map from a rack.

Tony was re-hanging the handle on the gas pump when they exited the store. The doorbell clinked again for no one to hear.

“Go that way towards Bloomingdale to get to my house,” Willis said, snapping open a Mountain Dew.

Willis guided Tony to Great Bear Lake and Sarah’s long driveway.

“You have quite the hideout here. The zombies probably don’t even know it’s here,” Tony said as he backed the van toward the front door.

Jack looked over at Willis, who had his head down, and shoulders hunched forward. “What’s wrong?”

Willis shrugged, shook his head as if everything was fine then said, “I feel bad leaving Jibber and Miss Foo so far away.”

Jack did not reply. He was having second thoughts about his decision to leave the dogs.

“It’s getting dark, let’s get inside,” Clare said as she got out and walked to the back of the van.

The air was light gray and still. The shadows were gone as they began to take supplies into the house.

Jack turned on the kitchen light and walked over to the refrigerator. He opened the door and laughed. “Your mom drinks that cheap beer?”

“Yeah, I guess,” Willis said, walking to the bathroom.

Jack grabbed one of the cold beers and began his tour of Sarah’s house. He walked past the bathroom to a room that looked like an office. A kitchen table with a computer was in the middle, piles of papers and books were stacked around it. A couch served as a tabletop rather than the seating area.

“Is your mom in college?” Jack asked as Willis walked out of the bathroom.

“She’s writing a book.” Willis pointed toward the primer coated drywall covered with handwritten notes created with markers. Colored index cards and assorted pictures were pushpinned into the gypsum.

“Interesting,” Jack said, walking to the writing on the wall for closer inspection.

“I’m tired,” Willis said, making a sandwich. “I’m going to my room.”

Jack followed Willis upstairs while Tony and Clare went through all the rooms making sure no surprises lie in wait.

Willis plopped onto his bed with his gun at his side. He looked up at Jack and smiled. “I never thought I’d ever be lying in my bed with a gun beside me.”

Jack gave a quick nod then walked past the upstairs bathroom and laundry room to the bedrooms further down the hall. One was obviously Georgie’s and the other Sarah’s. He smiled when he walked into the feminine room. Just then, the cell phone in his pocket rang.

“The cell phones and the electricity are back up, at least temporarily,” Sarah said. “How are you guys doing? Where are you at?”

“It smells nice here?” Jack said as a broad grin formed on his face.

“Oh, hi Jack,” Sarah said, surprised she was not speaking with Clare. “Smells nice where?”

“Well,” he began. “It’s a place where you should be right now.”

“What are you talking about, Jack? You better get to the point because we may lose service at any moment.”

“I’m in your bedroom.”

Sarah paused, and then said, “You’re at my house? In my bedroom?” She changed the subject. “How’s Willis?”

“He’s fine,” Jack said, walking out of Sarah’s room and back down the hall. “I think he fell asleep already.”

“What about the spider drones? I thought you were following them. You didn’t follow them to my house did you?”

“We think they went to the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant,” Jack said. “Since it’s dark, we’re exhausted and don’t even have the foggiest idea what we’re going to do yet, we decided to stay here overnight. Have the professor and Max found anything new yet?”

“Well, actually they did find something and since you mentioned Palisades, it fits right in.”

“What’d they find?”

“Other crafts have entered the atmosphere and they are located around nuclear reactors. There are reactors across America, with four being here in Michigan. They’re also in Europe, Russia, Japan and other places.”

“Maybe we’re starting to get somewhere,” Jack said. “At least we’re finding clues.”

“I’ll let the professor and Max know that the drones are at Palisades.”

“Okay, call me when you find out anything new. Right now we need to rest and see what our next move is. I’ll call you when I know what we’re doing.”

“Great, I’ll call you with anything new that we find out,” Sarah said. “If Willis is awake I’ll talk to him.”

Jack walked into Willis’s room. “Your mom’s on the phone.” He handed Willis the phone and walked downstairs where Tony and Clare were looking at a map they had spread over the dining room tabletop.

Tony pointed to a spot along Lake Michigan. “Here’s Palisades. It’s a secure facility, fenced, monitored, and not to mention the possibility of an elite VIPER team with assault weapons.”

Jack sat down at the table and crossed his arms. “There’s no way we have a chance against an assault team.”

“Maybe they’re all zombies,” Clare said. “If that’s the case it should be fairly easy to go in.”

“I just spoke with Sarah and she said there are more alien crafts and they are locating themselves around nuclear reactors. Why would they do that?” Jack asked.

“I don’t know,” Clare said, walking over to the window overlooking the front porch. “Nuclear power uses uranium or plutonium. Maybe they need that to power their ships or maybe they’re going to shut down the plants or maybe they want to allow the reactors to get supercritical and discharge radiation.” She shivered.

“Destroying us makes no sense,” Tony said, looking up from the map, “because they’ve already turned most of us into zombies. They haven’t shut the plants down because we have electricity and they haven’t let a meltdown begin.”

“Another big question is why weren’t we turned into zombies and why are we being led to the aliens by the spiders?” Jack asked.

“Like Max said, they want something from us,” Clare said softly in thought.

Tony’s facial muscles tensed. “And we’re doing exactly what they want.”

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White Horse (Seven Seals Redux, #1): White Horse – Chapter 23

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TWENTY-THREE

“Quiet,” Sarah commanded with a loud whisper. She leaned toward the closed meeting room door, angling an ear so that she could hear any deadened sound.

No one moved. Muffled metallic clanks from someone ascending the spiral staircase penetrated through the door. Then the sound of Willis calling for Sarah broke the tension in the room.

“It’s the boys,” Jack said, unlocking the door.

 “Wait, what are you doing? Those infected people could still be out there,” Clare said as she pushed between Sarah and Jack, pressing her body against the door so that Jack could not open it.

“Those things must’ve left because nothing is stopping the boys from moving around out there,” Jack said, his hand still gripping the doorknob.

Clare stared at Jack for only a moment before nodding in agreement. She backed away as Jack slowly opened the door and looked around the observatory deck. “Boys, in here.”

Willis and Georgie ran to the room as Jack opened the door wide and walked out, his eyes darted around the dome looking for signs of movement, zombies, or spider drones.

“Where’s Mom?” Willis asked, stopping as people began to pour out of the room.

“I’m right here,” Sarah said as she walked up to Willis and Georgie, giving them a hug.

“Where’d all the zombies and drones go?” Max asked, walking to the computer he had been working at before all the commotion started.

“You won’t believe what we just went through,” Georgie said, so excited he was almost jumping. “Those spiders protected us from the zombies.”

“What?” Professor Dillon questioned with a frown. “The spiders protected you? How?”

Willis began, “We were hiding in the breakroom, after trying to get cigarettes, when we saw the spiders trying to get in the front door. We slid the cigarette machine in front of the door and hid, but the zombies were able to break in and attack us. We escaped through the window and when we got outside, we were just about to be swarmed by more zombies when the spiders came down from the sky and formed a barrier around us so that the zombies couldn’t get to us.”

“And then the zombies ran away,” Georgie eagerly added to the story.

“This whole thing makes no sense,” Sarah said. “I thought the aliens had released the spores and created the zombies and spider drones.”

“Well let’s think about it,” the professor said, sitting next to Max. The chair squeaked as he turned to face the group. “We know there is an alien craft and we know they likely released spores into our atmosphere, infecting most people. We know the blue light from their ships would draw the infected people toward it. They were then taken up into the ship and then sent back down, having turned into things similar to zombies.” The professor crossed his arms. “Clare wasn’t far off when she said there could be both bad aliens and good aliens. Based on how the spider drones have behaved, I’d say they were from the good aliens, but I don’t know where their spacecraft is.”

“Or maybe,” Max said, turning toward Professor Dillon. “There are only bad aliens and they have a reason for keeping us alive.”

“There’s a lot that doesn’t make sense,” the professor said holding up his bandaged hand. “I was scratched or bitten by one of those damned things and I’m still okay.”

“That’s what you say,” Max said, grinning as he turned back to his computer screen.

“Where do we go from here?” Jack asked. He walked to the top of the stairway and looked down toward the lobby. Nothing was moving except for some flies and wasps that found their way inside through the broken front door.

“I think we should send out a scout team,” Tony said as he inspected their gear.

“But where to?” Clare asked, re-zipping a duffel bag. “We can’t just go out blindly. We need at least a direction.”

Tony went to the window that overlooked the back of the property. “There’s a few of those spider drones standing in the yard. All we have to do is follow them, and they’ll lead us right to the aliens.”

“Assuming the spaceship has landed,” Clare said, walking toward the window that Tony was looking out.

“What do we do when we find them?” Jack asked, turning around to face everyone.

“I don’t know,” Tony said, picking up his rifle. “We’ll figure that out later.”

“We’d better take some of our gear,” Clare said, pointing toward the strongbox and duffel bags. “Who’s going with us?”

“I’ll go,” Willis said, raising his hand as if volunteering for a school project.

“No, you’re not,” Sarah protested. “You’re staying right here with Georgie and me.”

“Mom, I’m seventeen,” Willis said frowning. “I can help them.”

Sarah looked at Jack as tears began to well up in her eyes. She knew Willis was a young man, and it was only natural for him to want to take on adult duties. Georgie stood silently next to her.

“I’ll go too,” Jack said, smiling at Sarah as if they were going for a leisure walk. Then he looked at Willis. “But you’re going to need to learn how to handle a weapon and defend yourself.”

“I’ve got just the weapon for him,” Tony said, getting a Winchester thirty-thirty short rifle with bandoleer out of a gun case. He handed it gently to Willis as if he were about to go through a knighting ceremony where he would swear an oath of obedience, receive his sword, and be ready for battle.

“My God, Tony,” Jack said, impressed. “It’s like you have your own armory.”

Clare walked over to Sarah and gave her a hug. “Don’t worry; we’ll take good care of him. We’re just going to observe the aliens, not get into a confrontation.”

“I know,” Sarah said, pulling Georgie close with her other arm.

Clare walked over to Willis and gave him a quick walk-through on using the thirty-thirty Winchester. She covered everything from not pointing the muzzle toward anything you do not plan to shoot, to loading and handling a firearm.

Georgie walked over to the window. “The spiders are moving.”

“We gotta get going,” Tony said, picking up one of the duffel bags. “I’ll leave the rest of this gear with you guys.”

Willis walked over to Sarah and held her tight. “Don’t worry, Mom, I’ll be okay. When this is over, I’ll clean my room.”

Sarah laughed. “Yeah, right.” She held him tight, not wanting to let go. “If anything happens to you I’m going to be very angry.”

“When I come back you owe me a bacon cheeseburger.”

“It’s a deal,” Sarah said, finally letting go. “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” Willis said, standing as if he were having second thoughts.

Dawn walked up to Willis. “Be careful,” she said in a soft feminine voice.

Willis smiled. Dawn smiled back. They stared at each other until Willis finally said, “Hey, no big deal. We’re only scouting.”

Jack walked over to Sarah as Tony, Clare and Willis began down the stairs. He pulled her close and tight. “I won’t let anything happen to him.” He gently kissed her on the cheek.

Sarah felt a rush of warmth spread throughout her body. His lips were warm and soft on her skin.

Jack released her, looked into her eyes as if he were going to say something, then walked away, following the others down the stairway and out the broken front door.

Father stood next to Sarah, Dawn, Georgie, Max and the professor. He cleared his throat. “I’ll pray for their safe return.”

Max stood, walked into the meeting room and returned with a thick dusty book. He blew fine, dry particles from the book’s exterior before opening to the back pages. “I don’t know much about religion, but the Bible says something about the Apocalypse. Doesn’t it Father?”

Father pulled the black beaded rosary from his jacket pocket and wrapped it thoughtfully around his hand. “The Book of Revelation talks about the Apocalypse.”

Max flipped back and forth through brittle pages that have not seen daylight in years. He sneezed once, twice, three times as disturbed powdery allergens puffed into the air. “When I was a kid, I remember reading about beasts, dragons, horsemen and a killer lamb.”

Max had everyone’s attention.

Father rolled a chair next to Max and sat down. “There are different interpretations of Revelation. It was written by John the Apostle, probably during Nero’s reign.” Father paused. Everyone was looking at him except for Professor Dillon, who seemed uninterested as he continued working at the computer. “Without going into a long drawn out history lesson, let’s just say everything in the Book of Revelation likely happened back in the first century, two-thousand years ago, but that was probably just a dress rehearsal for the real thing to come.”

“So, do you think this is the beginning of the Apocalypse, the end of time?” Max asked, repositioning his thick-lensed glasses that had slid down his nose.

Father shrugged. “Could be.”

Professor Dillon looked away from the monitor, rubbing his eyes, and turned toward Father. “I’m a man of science, I don’t believe in all this apocalyptic, superstitious, mumbo jumbo.”

“I’m beginning to believe it,” Sarah said as she began descending the stairs. She walked over to the broken door and watched as the van pulled out of the parking lot with her first-born son.

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White Horse (Seven Seals Redux, #1): White Horse – Chapter 22

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TWENTY-TWO

Willis backed away from the breakroom door, stumbling into Georgie, who was inches behind him. “Move it,” Willis said as he closed the door. “Help me move the cigarette machine in front of it.”

They stood the rickety machine upright and slid it in front of the door, its feet leaving black streaks on the cream-colored linoleum.

“If something is coming through that door, it’ll have to work at it,” Willis said, looking around the L-shaped room for somewhere to hide.

 Then two loud gunshots echoed through the building, like firecrackers in a metal garbage can. Willis and Georgie jumped.

Willis walked past the window barricaded with a pop machine and around the corner of the odd shaped room. “Quick, in here,” he said, opening a bifold closet door.

Willis and Georgie went into a small storage room. Old musty coats hung on a wall-mounted rod. Metal hangers rattled as they pushed them aside and closed the slatted wooden door.

“I’m scared,” Georgie said, looking through the slats of the door. All he could see was a wall across from the closet and a cork bulletin board with various papers pinned to it. One sheet said something about a fair minimum wage, and another had a picture of the observatory with dates of public viewing sessions.

They stood quietly in the small coat closet. All they could hear was their breathing and an occasional swish of polyester fabric from them brushing against winter snow jackets.

Then there was a loud bang at the breakroom door, like a body or another heavy object being thrust against it. Willis and Georgie looked at each other in fear as the bang grew into more bangs. The scraping sound of the cigarette machine being pushed an inch at a time across the dirty floor made it clear it was not going to keep the zombies out.

“The zombies are breaking in,” Georgie said, backing into the dank coats.

Willis looked at Georgie. Slivers of light from the slats lay across Georgie’s face. He could see tears filling his little brother’s eyes. “We got to get out of here. If they can get through that door, they can get through this one.”

“There’s no place to go,” Georgie said, watching Willis as he gently pushed open the closet door and slid it to the side, where it folded with a clunk.

“We can go out through the window,” Willis said, walking toward the pop machine blocking their only exit.

Before moving toward the window, they looked around the corner toward the bedlam at the breakroom door. Arms of possessed people reached through the gap, grasping at the air. Their fingers were stiff and bent like claws as the door continuously pounded the back of the antique cigarette machine.

“How did they find us?” Georgie asked.

“I don’t know but let’s get out of here.”

Willis ran toward the window and put his back against the wall, pushing the pop machine with his arms and a leg while Georgie pulled from the front. The vending machine moved enough for them to squeeze through to the closed window. Willis pushed the curtains aside and began tugging on the sill.

“It’s locked,” Georgie said as he unlatched it.

Just as Willis thrust the window open, the cigarette machine moved again, this time allowing the zombies to inch their bloated bodies in through the narrow opening.

“Hurry, open it!” Georgie yelled.

Willis pushed out the screen and helped Georgie through, shoving him forcefully out the opening, causing him to fall forward onto the cold and brittle weeds of an abandoned flower bed. Willis frantically began climbing through, pressing his feet against the back of the pop machine for leverage, as Georgie stood and began pulling on Willis’s upper body.

“They’re right behind you,” Georgie shouted, tugging on Willis so hard he thought he would pull his brother’s arms off.

A man, the size and build of a linebacker, grabbed Willis’s leg and began pulling in the opposite direction.

“Kick it!” Georgie screamed.

Willis kicked with such intensity, he felt the zombie’s fingers bend backward from the force of his shoe sliding down his pant leg. If he were not in such a state of desperation, he would have been sick, like the time he saw quarterback Joe Theismann’s shin break in half, while being sacked by New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor. For a moment, Willis thought he was going to have to lose his jeans to escape, but the zombie’s bent fingers were unable to keep their grip on Willis’s leg.

Just before a second zombie reached Willis, he was able to scurry out the window, falling next to Georgie. He stood, and they both backed away from the opening as the two zombies attempted to climb out. They turned to run around the building toward the side door when crazed people came around the corner. They turned to go the other way when another group of frenzied people was heading for them from that direction as well. They froze.

“We’re surrounded,” Willis said, putting his arm around his trembling younger brother. “We’ll have to run into the woods.”

They were getting ready to run into an almost impenetrable bramble of prickly wild raspberries and sharp thorny wild olive bushes when spider drones descended from the sky. They formed a barrier around Willis and Georgie, causing the zombies to stop, tilt their heads as if in a state of confusion, then retreat.

“Are the spiders going to kill us now?” Georgie asked, closing his eyes.

“I don’t know, but they’re not doing anything yet,” Willis said, releasing his grip on Georgie. “I think the zombies are afraid of them.”

Georgie opened his eyes, rubbed tears away, and watched as the zombies lumbered away from the observatory and into the woods.

Willis pulled a lawn ornament stake from the flowerbed and walked to the corner of the building facing the parking lot. Two tall men dressed in black were getting into a large black car. “Who the hell are they?”

Georgie walked up next to Willis as the black Cadillac drove out of the parking lot and down the driveway. “Visitors deciding it’s not a good day to star gaze?”

Willis laughed. “Strange, whoever they were.” Willis felt the sharp point of the copper hummingbird stake. “Grab something to use as a weapon, we need to go back inside and check on Mom.”

Georgie looked around and picked up a smooth rock with lightning-like patterns, one he recognized as being from Lake Michigan. He had found several of these when they walked along the windy beach of the Casco Township Nature Preserve last summer.

They continued around the observatory to the broken front door.

“The spiders are gone,” Georgie said, looking around.

Willis looked into the now blue sky, only a hint of pink ash remained. “Good.”

Glass fragments crunched under their feet as they entered through the demolished front door. The shattered pieces, spread halfway across the lobby, felt like slippery ice under their feet. Except for the scratching sound of glass against tile, it was quiet as they approached the spiral staircase and began climbing to the upper level.

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White Horse (Seven Seals Redux, #1): White Horse – Chapter 21

Cover for White Horse (Seven Seals Redux, #1)

TWENTY-ONE

Sarah ran to the railing of the observatory’s overlook and glanced toward the main entrance. “Those spider things are trying to break in and the kids are downstairs,” she shouted as she began running down the stairway. She stopped abruptly halfway down the spiral steps when the front door glass broke, shattering fragments across the lobby floor.

“Hurry, everyone in here,” Professor Dillon said, directing everyone into the dome’s small meeting room.

Sarah saw the spider drones entering through the broken glass door. “Willis, Georgie hide!” she yelled. Realizing she had no time to make it to the breakroom, she ran back up the stairs to where everyone was cramming into the safe room. Max was still at the computer.

 “Max, let’s go,” Jack said, following Sarah inside the room. “Hurry, they’re coming.”

“I can’t, I almost have this figured out,” Max said, tapping keys and scribbling notes.

Jack saw the spider drones floating up into the dome, hovering a few feet from Max. Just before a spider touched Jack, he slammed the door shut and locked it.

Dawn was in tears. “Max, why didn’t Max come in? And what about Willis and Georgie?”

Clare went to Dawn and held her tight. “It’ll be all right,” she whispered softly.

Worried about her sons, Sarah was almost in tears, too. She looked around the tight quarters. Computer terminals lined one wall, gray metal file cabinets lined another. From a small window on the back wall, light spilled onto a small table with chairs around it in the center of the space.

“Max, are you all right?” Jack shouted through the door.

There was no answer.

“Max, talk to me,” Jack said again.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine,” Max said, in a tone more suited to annoyance rather than a drone attack.

The professor stood next to Jack at the door. “Max, what’s going on?”

“They’re just looking at me,” Max said. “They seem to be looking me over like they are curious about me.”

“Can you come to the door?” the professor asked.

“I don’t know. I can’t tell if they’re dangerous or not. I’m afraid to move.”

“Can you communicate with them?” the professor asked.

 “Communicate? What do you think I am, a damned robot?” A pen could be heard slamming onto the notepad. Max looked at two of the spiders who were directly in front of him while the others circled him and floated around the room. He held out his trembling hand. “Hi, my name is Max.”

“What’s going on now?” the professor asked.

“Nothing, they’re still just looking at me. Well, at least I think they’re looking at me. I don’t see any eyes.”

“Try and stand,” the professor spoke again through the door.

“I’m kind of afraid to,” Max said. “But before I stand and get torn apart by these things I think I did find a clue.”

“What did you find?” the professor asked, his voice less tense.

“It appears that the alien craft has been to Earth before. The data is similar to data collected during the Roswell UFO crash in 1947. I don’t have the foggiest idea why they’re here now, though.”

Sarah approached the door, squeezing between the professor and Jack. “Max, if you can stand and they won’t harm you, can you go check on Willis and Georgie?”

“Sure, I’ll do that,” Max said, his voice cracked. “I’m going to stand now.”

Max slowly stood, pushing his chair back. “They’re still just looking at me. I’m going to move toward the steps.”

There was silence as Max slowly walked toward the stairway. One of his shoes squeaked on the tiles, probably from the professor’s blood that they had not cleaned as well as they should have. One light foot after another, he began to descend the spiral staircase. Then he suddenly stopped. “Oh my God,” Max said, his voice quivering.

“What?” the professor asked, his anxiety returning.

“I saw something move outside, and it wasn’t a spider, it looked human.”

“Was it a zombie?” Sarah asked as tears began to stream down her face.

“If it’s a zombie, I’m joining you guys,” Max said, continuing down the steps. “I don’t see it now.”

A few of the spider drones surrounded Max while a few stayed in the dome just outside the locked room. Other drones were floating around the lobby, close to the closed breakroom door.

Max was just about to take a shaky final step onto the lobby floor when he saw a zombie standing just outside the broken glass of the front door. At first, it did not notice Max and seemed a little confused. But when another zombie came up behind the first, they both stepped through the opening, onto shards of glass.

“They’re zombies!” Max yelled, turning to go back up the stairway. His legs were so wobbly he thought they would not support his weight, and that he would collapse helplessly in front of the zombies, leaving a bag of bones for them to gnaw on. “Boys, stay hidden, there are zombies in the building,” he yelled.

Jack opened the door and ran down the steps to help Max, who was shaking uncontrollably as he climbed the metal risers on his hands and knees. Jack got under his arm and began pulling him up the flight of stairs. Max’s work boots kept catching on the lips of the steps. “Max, lift your feet,” Jack shouted.

The two zombies, no longer confused, were heading straight for Max and Jack. Tony was now coming down the steps with his rifle in hand. He stopped midway, aimed at the lumbering bodies, and fired.  One shot to each forehead dropped them like a naive student passing out from guzzling too much hard liquor. Tony took Max’s other arm and together he and Jack had Max back up into the dome and then into the security of the crowded room while the spider drones roamed the observatory, and another set of crazed people staggered through the front door.

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White Horse (Seven Seals Redux, #1): White Horse – Chapter 20

Cover for White Horse (Seven Seals Redux, #1)

TWENTY

“Hey, wait for me,” Georgie yelled, running after Willis.

“Well, hurry up then,” Willis said, running down the steps, then across the lobby to the breakroom. Their footsteps echoed through the vaulted ceiling as if they were doing wind sprints in the school gym.

They came to a stop when they entered the stuffy room and found the vintage cigarette machine against the wall behind the door; looking similar to a snack vending machine, except that it was shorter. The blue front panel had a picture of a brown camel with the slogan, PLEASURE TO BURN next to it. Pull knobs stuck out below pictures of various brands of cigarettes. Georgie stood next to Willis as they contemplated how they were going to get cigarettes out of the ancient contraption.

“It stinks like sweat in here,” Georgie said, pulling the neck of his T-shirt over his nose.

“Max is right, we’ll have to break into it,” Willis said, noticing the tape covered coin slot. He began pulling on some of the knobs, hoping a pack of cigarettes would magically drop into the shoot below, but none did. “There’s only a few packs of cigarettes left in this thing.”

“How do we break into it?” Georgie asked, his voice muffled through the shirt being used as an air filter.

Willis looked the machine over, walking from side-to-side. “Here, help me pull it out.”

Georgie released his shirt and helped Willis pull the four-legged apparatus away from the wall. Cobwebs and dead spiders were pulled away from the painted drywall behind it.

“Damn it,” Willis said, looking over the enclosed back. “There’s no way into this thing without some tools or a key. Help me tip it over.”

“Can’t we just press A2 and EET and reach in and get the stuff?” Georgie asked as if he was a skilled thief.

“That won’t work with this,” Willis said, brushing away a cobweb that had stuck to his jeans. “But you can try to get into it if you want.”

Georgie pulled a quarter from his pants pocket, pulled the tape away from the slot, and dropped it into the opening. The coin clinked as it fell inside as if it was ricocheting through an internal pinball machine. He pulled knobs and banged his fist on the transparent plastic panel. “It’s not working.”

Willis slid a chair from the small table to the front of the machine, then they each took a side and tipped it forward so that the face rested on the seat. Willis unplugged it and kicked at it a few times before a pack of Camel’s fell to the face.

“Put your hand in there and see if you can grab anything,” Willis said to Georgie.

Georgie took his jacket off and reached in through the bottom lip. He was able to bend his arm enough for his fingers to jar two packs of cigarettes loose; they fell into the shoot. Willis took them and put them in the pocket of his sweatshirt.

Georgie pulled out his arm; the skin was red from scraping the sharp metal inside the mechanical slots. “I hope you’re not going to smoke those,” Georgie said, putting on his jacket. “Your lungs will turn black and rot.”

“Do you think I’m stupid, or what?”

Before Georgie could reply whether he thought Willis was stupid or what, they heard a banging on the main door of the observatory, like someone was hitting it with a metal bat. Willis and Georgie froze momentarily from the loud echoes, each looking at the other’s startled expressions. Willis walked to the breakroom entrance so that he could see the front door.

“What are you doing?” Georgie whispered, staying close behind Willis.

“I want to see who it is,” Willis said, slowly poking his head through the opening of the breakroom door, looking toward the main entrance. “Oh shit, those spiders are trying to break in.”

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White Horse (Seven Seals Redux, #1): White Horse – Chapter 19

Cover for White Horse (Seven Seals Redux, #1)

NINETEEN

Several dull gray metallic objects with eight spiderlike spindly legs floated around the outside of the observatory. Sarah jumped with fright as the sound of one of them landed on the dome and moved around the top of the structure with a tinny pitter-patter. She looked around the ceiling of the curved vault for any possible entry points. Everything appeared to be watertight.

Everyone looked at each other, eyes wide, as one after another landed on the dome. Taps and bangs were echoing through the building, as it seemed they were testing for an entry point. From the few glimpses that Sarah could see of them through the windows, they did not look strong enough for fighting, but rather their purpose would be more for gathering information. Soon the entire observatory was surrounded with the sounds of the drones trying to peck their way inside.

 “What’s going on?” The professor yelled as he climbed the steps to the dome.

“Quiet, don’t move!” Jack said, in a loud whisper.

Sarah looked at the professor who had stopped on the top step. His face was a pasty color and damp with sweat. He wobbled as if he was going to fall back down the staircase, but instead he grabbed the railing with his shaky hand and held it tight.

Then it was quiet, like the eye of a hurricane.

“Did they leave?” Willis whispered, toward his mom.

Sarah shrugged, putting a finger to her lips to remind Willis not to speak.

Jack stood up and looked out the window that faced the back of the property. “Those damn things have landed and are just standing out there in the yard, dozens of them. They know we’re in here and have us trapped.”

Everyone stood up and looked outside. The drones were less than a yard-tall standing with flexed legs in the uncut dry grass and leaves surrounding the building.

Clare walked over to the professor as he took the final step onto the landing. “Dad, you should sit down,” she said, moving a chair around so that the professor could set back down in front of the computer, where he had been working earlier.

“I’m fine, damn it,” the professor said, the chair straining under his weight as he lowered his hefty body onto the cushioned seat and turned toward the computer.

“How are you feeling?” Sarah asked, careful to keep her distance, unsure if he was turning into a zombie.

The professor looked back at Sarah. “You don’t have to be afraid of me, I’m not infected, if that’s what you’re thinking. I just have the flu or something.”

Max walked back to his work area from the window where Father Mitch and Tony were watching the crafts surrounding the building. “I think those spider things are drones for those alien bastards,” he said, setting next to the professor who was already working at his desk. “We need a plan. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to come up with anything in my calculations that would stop those things . . . unless,” he paused.

“Unless what?” Jack asked.

 Max did not say anything while he read the message on the screen. “According to this email from a group in West Virginia, their GBT radio telescope is picking up objects surrounding the Earth and one of them is close to us,” Max said, leaning back in his chair, looking up at the dome’s broad shutter. “I need to open the dome and look through the telescope, but I can’t do that with those doohickeys out there.” He took a pack of cigarettes from his breast pocket. “Damn it, my last cigarette,” he said, pulling out the last filter tip. He crunched the pack and threw it to the back of the table.

“Those cigs will kill ya,” Tony said, keeping watch on the drones. “I knew I should’ve picked up a carton of ‘em at the gas station.”

“Why did you want to get a carton of these cancer sticks if they’re going to kill me?” Max asked as he lit the cigarette with a click of his Zippo.

“I don’t want any smokers flipping out with a nicotine fit,” Tony said, giving Max an accusatory stare.

Jack walked up behind Max and leaned in over his shoulder. “Are you on to something?”

“I don’t know yet,” Max said, taking a long drag, then blowing the white smoke into the air away from the computer.

“Stop messing with me, I’m fine,” the professor said, pushing Clare’s hands off his shoulders. He slid his chair next to Max. “What are you finding?”

Max looked at Professor Dillon, who was wiping sweat from his forehead with the sleeve of his camouflage jacket. Max glanced down at the dressing on the professor’s hand, still dry, and frowned. “I thought you were sick.”

“I’m all right; let me see your calculations.”

Max thrust paperwork in front of the professor and pointed at the screen. “According to this message from the Green Bank folks, it seems that the aliens are waiting for something. They’re holding their positions.”

“The spider drones are just standing there like they’re waiting for something, too,” Father Mitch said, looking out the window. “I wonder what they’re waiting for.”

“Something to happen down here, or something from above,” Max said, guessing.

“Maybe they want us,” Sarah said, walking toward Jack.

“What do you mean? Why would they want us?” Jack asked.

“Like alien abductions?” Willis asked, sure he had found the correct answer.

Georgie and Dawn giggled.

Sarah sighed. “Maybe, I mean now that we know aliens really do exist, I’m sure alien abductions have actually been happening.”

“But why don’t they just beam us up to their ship, then?” Jack asked. “Why bother with spiders and zombies?”

“Maybe these aren’t the same aliens,” Max said, looking over his shoulder at Jack.

“These are the bad aliens,” Clare said, taking off her camouflage cap and running her fingers through her hair before replacing it snuggly.

Max tapped the ashes of his last cigarette into a glass ashtray. “Can someone break into that old cigarette machine downstairs in the breakroom? It still has a few Camels inside. I’ve meant to fix that antique but just haven’t gotten around to it.”

“I’ll do it,” Willis said, already making his way down the stairs.

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White Horse (Seven Seals Redux, #1): White Horse – Chapter 18

Cover for White Horse (Seven Seals Redux, #1)

EIGHTEEN

“That’s a mighty ambitious plan, Max,” Jack said, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. “But how do we infiltrate them? Especially since I haven’t even seen an alien. I think they’re still up in their spaceship.”

Max groaned as he repositioned his thick glasses. “How the hell do I know?”

 “I’ll keep going over Max’s data,” the professor said as he jotted down figures from the monitor onto a notepad, immersed in data collection and deciphering. “I’ve been away from the computer for a few days, so it may take a while. But there has to be a clue in here somewhere.”

Max walked over to the printer and retrieved papers he had printed out earlier. He sat them on the desk next to where the professor was concentrating on calculations. “It’s all going to be just our best guess,” he said, looking at Jack, before sitting back down next to Professor Dillon.

“Is there anything we can do right now?” Sarah asked as she fussed with the chair’s pneumatic seat-height adjustment lever. It was either too high or too low.

Before Max could answer, the professor leaned back in his chair, took his glasses off and rubbed his eyes. “I’m so tired I’m having trouble focusing my eyes.”

“Maybe you should take a nap, Dad,” Clare said as she and Tony sat next to each other on storage containers.

“Yeah, I think I’ll lay down in the breakroom,” the professor said, putting his glasses back on and standing.

“Oh, Professor, looks like you’re bleeding through your dressing,” Sarah said, looking at the blood soaked adhesive pad on the top of his left hand. “I think that the zombie at the gas station got you good.”

The professor was startled when he looked down at his hand. Blood was oozing from under the bandage and running down the side of his hand in streaks. It dripped to the white tile floor, leaving a splatter of red polka dots.

Sarah grabbed a stack of tissues from a half empty tissue box and handed them to the professor. If she had hospital gloves, she would have used them to apply pressure to the wound herself, but knowing an infected person caused the injury, she decided against it. “Press these against the wound, Professor, to stop the bleeding.”

The professor placed them on top of his bloody hand and began walking toward the spiral staircase. “There’s a supply room next to the bathroom; there should be dressings in there,” he said.

Clare rose quickly and stood next to the professor as he descended the steps slowly, wobbling slightly forward then backward. “Don’t pass out on me, Dad.”

“I’m coming with you,” Sarah said, walking right behind Clare, who was trying to walk next to the professor to support him, but his bulk stretched almost from rail to rail, keeping her to the rear. Each wobbly step the professor took caused the one-piece spiral staircase to vibrate.

While Clare followed the professor into the bathroom, Sarah found the supply room. “I’ll be right there. Keep firm pressure on the wound so that it stops bleeding,” Sarah shouted. She grabbed the first-aid kit sitting on a shelf next to rolls of toilet paper and window cleaner. She could not help but wonder if the zombie had infected Professor Dillon.

The professor and Clare were standing next to the sink when Sarah entered the washroom. She sat the kit on the counter and opened it, breathing a sigh of relief when she saw a pair of gloves sitting on top of the supplies.

“Put your hand over the sink,” Sarah said as she donned the gloves. “Did it stop bleeding?”

The professor lifted the pile of tissues away from his hand. “I think it stopped,” he said, removing the saturated bandage, dropping it into the sink.

Sarah cleaned the inflamed skin tear, applied antibiotic ointment, and dressed it with a dry gauze. “Good as new,” she said. “Don’t forget to put pressure on it if it starts to bleed again.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’ll be fine,” the professor said, falling slightly into Clare, standing next to him.

“Okay, Dad, time to lie down,” Clare said, guiding him out of the bathroom to the breakroom across the lobby.

With her gloves still on, Sarah put the bloody pad into the trash and rinsed the sink, looking for any signs of blood she may have missed before throwing away the soiled gloves and washing her hands. She walked across to the breakroom where Clare was covering the professor with a multicolored crocheted blanket. The professor was lying on a lumpy couch, already snoring.

“Max isn’t a very good housekeeper,” Clare said chuckling as she took an empty Honey Bun wrapper off the arm of the couch and brushed away crumbs. Her foot accidentally kicked an empty pop can that was sitting next to the Davenport, it rattled across the floor. “Honey Buns and Coke and Max is still as skinny as a rail.”

Sarah giggled. “This must be where Max has been sleeping.” She looked around the room and noticed one of the vending machines was pushed in front of the breakroom’s window. She was able to reach in back of it and peek behind the drawn curtains, out onto the back lawn of the facility. Even with the pop machine in front of the ground floor window, it did not seem like enough protection to keep the zombies out.

“Smells like it, too,” Clare said, holding her nose as she opened the microwave door where a shriveled, dry and overcooked hot dog sat on a plate. She tossed it in the overflowing trashcan where it settled on top of a coffee filter filled with dry grounds.

“I think you have this under control, Clare. I’m going back upstairs,” Sarah said, leaving the room.

“Dad should be okay,” Clare said, tucking the blanket behind the professor’s shoulders, looking as lumpy as the couch. “I’ll leave the door open a crack so we can hear him.”

They went back to the upper level where Father Mitch and Max had just finished wiping the blood from the floor and from around the keyboard where Professor Dillon was working. From the open entryway, Sarah looked down toward the lobby. “Hey, Jack.”

Jack swiveled his chair toward Sarah. “What?”

“If those things were to break into the observatory, how would we keep them from climbing the stairs and reaching us?”

Jack stood and walked next to Sarah, gently brushing her arm. He held onto the railing and looked down into the open space. “Well, let’s hope they don’t get in.” He smiled at her.

Sarah returned a nervous smile then walked over to Willis and Georgie, still examining the telescope with Dawn, who was showing them how the apparatus operated. “How are you guys doing?”

“This is cool,” Willis said. “Can we look through it tonight? I want to see Mars.”

“I want to see the alien’s spaceship. I bet it has spiders and laser guns,” Georgie said

“That’s stupid,” Willis said. “You watch too many sci-fi movies.”

“No, it’s not,” Georgie protested. “Look at that.” He pointed to the dome’s sky window.

Sarah looked to where Georgie was pointing. There, floating in the sky, were basketball-sized spheres with spiderlike legs attached around the circumference of a metallic looking body. “Oh my God, Jack, look at that!”

Jack turned away from the railing and looked up at the sky window. “What the hell is that?”

Max dropped what he was doing and ran to a side window where he could get a better view. “Looks like there are several of them floating above the trees,” he said, his eyes darted about behind the Coke bottle glasses. “I wonder if they’re drone scouts.”

“Everyone, away from the windows, don’t move and don’t talk,” Jack whispered, motioning for everyone to sit down. “They may be able to pick up sounds.”

Everyone sat down on the cold floor; gazes fixed on the windows.

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White Horse (Seven Seals Redux, #1): White Horse – Chapter 17

Cover for White Horse (Seven Seals Redux, #1)

SEVENTEEN

“Hilarious,” Max said, embarrassed. He pulled up his loose fitting work pants and turned around to buckle the belt. The bones of his elbows moved inside the long sleeves of the matching beige shirt like a classroom skeleton draped with a cloth for protection. He turned back around. “What the hell, Professor.”

“Didn’t you hear me?” the professor asked, looking at Max’s wrinkled work uniform. Max always dressed like he was the janitor of the observatory, or like he had just come in from working in a garage, rather than a scientist.

“I heard you,” Max replied, annoyed with the question and the fact that strangers were staring at him. “But I was a little busy.”

 “Why were you buckling your pants out here, anyway?” the professor asked, only for the benefit of the onlookers. He did not want Max to look like a deranged man who got off on exposing himself. Sure, Max could be a little eccentric, to say the least, but the professor regarded Max with the utmost esteem and knew Max would have a good explanation. There was no sense having everyone think he was too much of a weirdo right out of the gate.

“Because without electricity, there isn’t any running water. I was just making my way out here to use the hand sanitizer there on the wall.” Max pointed to the dispenser as he walked up to it and pushed the lever. A glob of gel fell into his hands. He turned around, rubbing his hands vigorously as Tony, Clare, Willis and Georgie came in through the side door. “I wasn’t expecting you to have a gun-totin’ posse with you.”

“Let me introduce you to my posse,” the professor said. He introduced everyone in the room as Max grumbled under his breath with nods of acknowledgment.

“I’ve got work to get back to,” Max said as he walked toward the tower. “And I hope you brought a lot of gasoline because I’m almost out, that’s why I had the generator off for a while. I’m not fond of venturing out into zombie land.”

“We have some, and we can get more if we need it,” Tony said as he canvassed the interior. Breaking into the place would be easy with a firm kick to the old wooden side door or a rock thrown at one of the old-time cylinder glass windows. “I think we should secure this place as best we can.”

“I’ll start bringing in some of our gear,” Clare said as she walked to the modern main entrance glass door and unlocked it.

“I’ll help you,” Sarah said. She followed Clare outside while everyone else went with the professor and Max up the winding stairs of the tower to the dome.

Sarah took a deep breath of outdoor air. It was thick, or maybe it was dusty. It did not seem crisp and clean, as it should on a chilly autumn day.

Clare opened the van’s cargo doors. “We don’t need to take much in, we may need to leave quickly,” she said to Sarah, who was standing next to her.

Sarah watched as Clare moved canvas bags and hard-sided boxes around before pulling out a couple duffel bags. On the floor, pushed up next to the backseat, was a soft gun case.

“Anyone claiming that gun?” Sarah asked, pointing toward a long cloth gun carrier.

“You mean that 12-gauge?” Clare asked. She unzipped the fabric bag and handed the hunting gun to Sarah. “It’s probably a good gun for you. You don’t have to be a good aim because of the spreading shot, but what you’re shooting at will need to be in close range.”

Sarah took the pump-action shotgun. “It’s heavy.”

“Yeah,” Clare said, helping Sarah put the gun strap over her shoulder. “It’ll stop whatever you’re aiming at, though.”

Jack walked over as Sarah adjusted the shotgun ammo strap already filled with red shells. “Do you know how to use that thing?”

Sarah felt rather silly; she was not used to having a gun over her shoulder. “I think a shell goes in here, you cock it and then pull the trigger.”

“I think you got it,” Jack said, looking at Sarah as if a romantic Bonnie and Clyde connection had just been made.

“Put this in your car,” Clare said, picking up the gun carrier. Noticing Jack was looking at Sarah with ridiculous goo-goo eyes, she shoved a strongbox into his chest, causing him to spring back to reality. “Let’s get inside.”

Jack carried in the box of ammunition while Clare carried in a couple duffel bags. Sarah kept the shotgun on her shoulder as they went in through the observatory’s front door, locking it behind them.

“Jack, get up here,” the professor yelled, from the tower.

The tower’s metal staircase echoed as they climbed it to the dome. When they reached the top, they sat the gear against a wall and marveled at the astronomical equipment. To Jack, the observatory area seemed larger than it had appeared from the outside. The painted black dome sat atop the work area and sheltered the thirty-four-inch telescope in the center of the room. Several tables with computers surrounded the scope and created a warm glow against the dark colored furnishings. There were a couple doors that may have led to a closet or possibly a small room, he thought as he walked over to the professor and Max, who were looking at a computer screen.

“This is what Max and I have been watching,” the professor said, pointing at a monitor. The sphere of a planet filled most of the screen; a pea-sized red object was next to it. “This is Mars and next to it is a red, gaseous anomaly that occasionally hides behind the planet. We inadvertently found it while we were checking for NEOs.”

“What’s an NEO?” Jack asked, suddenly feeling like the professor was wasting his time explaining the data to him.

“Near-Earth objects, things like asteroids or comets that come close to Earth,” Max said as he flipped screens. “Look here. At first we thought it was just an aberrant gaseous asteroid, but the behavior was just so unnatural that we focused on it, just to figure out exactly what it was.” He pulled up a video. “This was recorded two months ago. If you watch closely, you’ll notice it makes intelligent maneuvers.”

Everyone leaned in close. They watched as the object made a right angle maneuver, shoot a beam of light to the surface of Mars and then shoot another beam of light toward Earth, before disappearing behind the red planet.

“Wow, that’s amazing,” Sarah said, placing her hand on her chest as if she had lost her breath. “And you said you told NASA?”

“We did,” the professor said, leaning against the counter layered with papers and folders. “We copied our images and video and sent them a report. We never heard anything back. I then called to do a follow-up, but a NASA official told me they weren’t able to capture the image themselves, that it could just be an optical illusion.”

“In other words,” Max said, throwing down his pen, causing it to lodge between a coffee cup and a plate dotted with old dried ketchup. “They blew us off.”

“Or,” the professor added. “They believed us but didn’t want it to get out to the public. Maybe they thought that if they told us it was bunk that we’d drop it and move on to our usual asteroid hunting and not cause public chaos.”

“I suppose that makes sense,” Sarah said, not believing that it truly did make sense. Keeping things secret from the public was not an American thing to do unless it was a matter of national security. “But apparently you didn’t drop it, so what else did you find out?”

The professor began. “You’re right, we didn’t drop it, we continued to keep the scope trained on the area, waiting for it to reappear and last week it did. It came back around to the front of Mars and began heading directly toward Earth. I once again called NASA but was unable to get anyone to talk with me. I then got a call from Sister Kate, who wanted me to come out and celebrate Father’s birthday,” the professor said, looking over at Father Mitch. “I took Sister up on the offer because the frustration of NASA not listening was causing my blood pressure to rise.”

“He was looking like a lobster,” Max said, leaning back in his chair.

“I’m glad you came over, Professor, or I might . . .” Father trailed off, reaching for the rosary in his pocket.

“You might be zombie meat,” the professor said. “Anyway, while I’m at the school I lose communication with Max, and you know the rest.”

“Here’s something else AND the most disturbing thing,” Max said, leaning forward again, his bony elbows on the table. “You better sit down for this because I captured these images shortly before I lost power. Keep in mind it takes around six months for one of our spaceships to travel to Mars. Whatever intelligence is controlling this ship, it is far superior to ours.”

The group gasped and murmured among themselves. On the screen was, what appeared to be, a diamond shaped spacecraft. Max cycled through images then played a video that showed a blue glow building at the base of the ship before a blue beam shot from the bottom bulbous with a flash, filling the screen with a blue static charge before then going black.

Max turned his chair around to the shocked group; his fingers laced behind his head. “The power has been sporadic here but when it was on I heard mention of a contagion causing people to act like zombies. So I hope you brought food, too.”

“We’re fine for now,” Jack said, rolling his head side-to-side, trying to release the tension in his neck. “We brought food and gas, but I still don’t get what’s going on.”

The professor sat in front of a monitor and keyboard, next to Max. “One hypothesis, based on what we’ve experienced, is that the aliens want to take over the planet by infecting susceptible people and turning them into vicious zombies so that they’ll kill the uninfected.”

“Why don’t they just nuke the planet?” Tony asked. His biceps bulged as he placed his arm around Clare’s shoulders.

“Well, obviously that would make the planet uninhabitable,” Max said, shaking his head in disbelief that someone would ask such a question.

“The big question,” Sarah said as she took the shotgun off her shoulder and sat it on top of the counter behind her. “How do we stop them?”

“That’s why I wanted to get back here to the observatory,” the professor said as he clicked items on the screen. “I think there must be something in the data we’ve collected that will give us the answer. I’ll keep going over it until I find something.”

“I was using the generator a lot when the power would go out, searching for answers,” Max said, watching the professor read through the information the telescope and computer had collected. “But when I went into town to get food and fuel and saw those crazed people, I knew I’d have to hold out here for who knows how long. So I had to back off on some of my research.”

“So we have no answers on how to stop the aliens?” Sarah asked, watching Willis and Georgie walk around the long white telescope, mounted inside an open truss high up in the dome on something that looked like a tuning fork. Wires, gears, and knobs surrounded the base; a stepladder was positioned nearby.

“You mean KILL the aliens,” Jack corrected, rolling a couple chairs out from the counter for him and Sarah to set on.

“Not right now, I don’t,” the professor said, focused on the monitor.

There was silence.

Max slammed his fist on the table, causing a cup of cold coffee to spit a couple brown drops onto the crusted plate next to it. “We need to infiltrate these alien bastards.”

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White Horse (Seven Seals Redux, #1): White Horse – Chapter 16

Cover for White Horse (Seven Seals Redux, #1)

SIXTEEN

The van with Professor Dillon, Tony, Clare and Dawn turned its blinker on as it exited Interstate 94, west of Kalamazoo toward Owl Observatory, not far from Lake Michigan.

“Why do they keep putting their blinker on?” Willis asked, crinkling a bag of potato chips closed. “There’s no one to see it.”

“We must be close to the observatory,” Father said, ignoring Willis’s observation. He slowed the car and followed the van onto a desolate secondary road, leading into a forest of towering Grand Junction oaks. While Southwest Michigan did not have mountains like the Rockies, it did have some sizable hills that hosted a few small ski resorts and their destination, the Owl Observatory. Old Nelly climbed the incline of Mount Blue Star without a sputter.

 “There’s a sign pointing toward the observatory,” Jack said as Father steered the car down a paved driveway that wound around the hill of sand and gravel atop Coldwater-shale toward the peak. The trees had thinned when they rounded the last curve, revealing what appeared to be a cross between a Dutch civic building and a lighthouse. Gables flanked the two-story round structure that rose from the center of the brick building, but instead of lamps and lenses to guide sailors at the pinnacle, there sat a white metallic dome, housing the thirty-four-inch robotic telescope.

“That look’s old,” Georgie said as Father parked a couple spots over from the van. “It doesn’t look like the ones I’ve seen on TV.”

The 1850s building showed its age. Areas on the facade had mismatching bricks and mortar from previous repairs, and a rusted lamppost light outside the main entrance had a pane of glass missing from its fixture. However, the silver dome housing the telescope was modern, and the tower that supported it showed signs of recent reinforcement.

“It’s an oldie but a goodie,” Jack said as he got out of the car and stretched. He looked at the sun that was now high in the pale pink sky. A tepid breeze barely moved the leaves on a nearby walnut tree—last to get their leaves and first to lose them.

Everyone exited the vehicles; car doors slammed shut. Sarah stood next to Jack. “There’s something missing,” she said.

“It’s the birds,” Jack said. “There aren’t any birds.”

As the professor walked onto the concrete sidewalk toward the observatory entrance, he called over to Jack, “Let’s see if Max is here, that’s his Mustang over there.” He pointed toward a partially restored white 1964 Ford Mustang convertible, with a long hood and short deck, parked at the far end of the lot. “He always parks way over there so visitors don’t bang into his car.”

“Nice pony car,” Jack said as the group followed the professor to the front door.

The professor pulled on the door handle of the single tempered glass door, but it would not open. “Must be locked, let’s check the side door.”

Dry brown leaves crunched under their feet, releasing a moist soil smell of decaying leaves as they brushed through them to the door on the side of the building.

“Damn, this one’s locked, too,” the professor said. Then he reached into his jacket pocket. “I think I have a key to it.” He pulled a key ring from his pocket loaded with various sized keys.

“Are you a super of an apartment building on the side?” Jack laughed, watching the professor fumble with the keys as they jingled against each other. Then he noticed the large square bandage on top of the professor’s left hand. “What happened to your hand?”

“Huh? Oh, that happened when I was fighting that zombie at the gas station.”

Jack looked at Sarah, who was moving in for a closer look, then back at the professor.

“I know what you’re thinking,” the professor said. “We put antiseptic on it to kill any germs. I’ll be fine.”

When the correct key slid into the lock and turned with a click, the professor pushed the door open. He walked in and flipped the light switch; nothing happened. “The power’s out,” the professor said. He isolated a key on the ring and handed the bunch to Tony. “There’s a generator in the shed, can you get that running?”

“I’m on it,” Tony said, carefully holding the shed key so that it would not fall back into the chaotic mix. Clare and Dawn followed him to the shed, a bus length from the building.

“Come on, Georgie, let’s get the flashlight from the car,” Willis said, making a swooping gesture with his arm for Georgie to follow him as he ran to the car.

“Come right back, you two,” Sarah yelled after them.

Enough light spilled in from the windows and entrance door that the professor, Jack and Sarah could see well enough to walk into the casual lobby area. A few wooden chairs and a plaid fabric Davenport were arranged for conversing in the middle of the main room. Plastic lilies were centered on a Dutch baroque style side table against the far wall. Rooms and open doors expanded the space, but the center of attraction was toward the back of the meeting area where the tower joined the foyer, drawing the eye to an iron spiral staircase winding majestically up to the observatory dome.

“This is quite some place,” Father said, walking to the tower’s entryway. He looked up toward the dome, where the staircase ended. “There’s a light up there.”

“Max!” The professor shouted as he walked to the base of the stairs. He looked up at the warm yellow glow. “Max, it’s Professor Dillon.”

Just as the lights flickered on and a distant hum of motors echoed down the turret, a door in the back of the foyer opened. Jack reflexively took the Kimber from his back waistband and aimed it at the sound. In the doorway of the bathroom was a wild-haired, unshaven, scrawny man with thick round glasses, buckling his pants.

“What the hell is going on?” The man said, raising his hands when he noticed the pistol pointed at him. Without the buckle prong secured in the belt hole, his over-sized khaki janitor style pants dropped to his knees, revealing Scooby-Doo boxers and thin shaking legs.

“Max, good to see ya,” the professor said, choking back a laugh. “You better pull up your pants, there are ladies present.”