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White Horse (Seven Seals Redux, #1): White Horse – Chapter 6

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

SIX

Sarah kept her distance from the body lying prone in the ditch beside the cornfield. Its plaid flannel shirt was tight around its tortured neck, from Jibber having used it to pull the find to her master. The head was turned to the side, jaw lax, eyes open and glazed.

Jack directed the beam of his flashlight back and forth over the motionless body. The skin looked dead, sallow. When the light was directed at its mouth, Sarah could see particles of something brown stuck around the teeth.

“Is it dead?” Sarah asked, not moving, allowing Jack to do a close inspection.

Jack poked at it some more. “It’s dead, all right.”

 “I wonder if Jibber killed it.”

“No way,” Jack said, walking over to Sarah, flashlight in one hand, a club in the other. “We would’ve heard the fight, she found it dead out there.”

Sarah swallowed, placed her hand over her stomach and walked over to Jibber, who was sniffing the lifeless object. She knelt down and shined her thin beam of light around the head and over the limbs. “I wonder how it died.”

“What are you looking for?” Jack asked.

“I’m looking for any signs of what could’ve caused its death.”

“It turned into a zombie.” Jack suppressed a laugh.

“Yeah, you’re probably right. Being a zombie cannot be good for a person’s health.” Sarah giggled as she stood up. She looked down at the body. “I don’t think we should touch it though, in case it has something contagious. Taking its boots was not a good idea.”

Jack pointed the flashlight toward Jibber, standing on the other side of the body, admiring her catch. “What about the dog, she’s been biting it?”

Sarah shrugged as Jibber walked across the zombie and then rubbed against her pant leg. She backed away, not wanting anything smeared on her clothing. “Hopefully, I’m wrong and it’s just something to do with that blue light beam or the red sky.” She walked up to Jack and looked him in the eyes, her eyebrows raised. “For some reason, we still haven’t been affected.”

They looked at each other, silently knowing they would have to watch each other for signs of changes, signs that the other is beginning to turn into one of those things.

“Let’s get out of here,” Jack said, walking back to the pickup, his pace brisk. “If there were one of those things out here in the middle of nowhere there could be more.”

Sarah ran to the driver’s side door while Jibber jumped in the passenger side ahead of Jack.

“Are you sure that dog should come with us?” Jack asked, looking at the panting dog with its wet tongue hanging out of its mouth.

Sarah put the truck in gear. “Until I know she’s contaminated, she’s coming with us,” Sarah said firmly, looking at Jack. “You better get in.”

Jack found a shop rag in the door’s side pocket; he wiped Jibber’s face and threw the moist cloth out the window. He looked at his hands. “I don’t think there’s any way to keep from getting that shit on us.”

“There’s hand sanitizer in the glove box,” Sarah said. “I need it, too.”

They cleaned their hands with the soap-scented gel then rode in silence for many miles. The full moon was blood red as its light struggled to penetrate the scarlet atmosphere, like the moon with its light rays scattered after a volcanic eruption or forest fire. She looked over at Jack, who was now sleeping, his head bobbed slightly to the vibrations of the truck.

As they approached Jackson, Sarah began fiddling with the radio, hoping to reconnect with the earlier transmission.

“Here, let me try,” Jack said, having been awakened from the static. He placed his hand gently on top of hers.

Sarah paused for a moment before pulling her hand away from the warmth of his skin. It felt good, but she was not going to let on how she was feeling.

They were now entering the Jackson city limits. Sarah stayed on the highway, swerving slowly around an increasing number of dead vehicles scattered on the road. Movement caught her eye as they passed the Wild Rose Mall. “Is that people over there? I think I see something moving.”

“Should we drive over there and see if they’re people or zombies?” Jack asked, looking out the passenger window toward the moving shadows. “They may be the people we heard on the radio.”

“No, not until I get my kids,” she said, hands firmly on the wheel. “I don’t want to take the chance of anything happening and slowing us down. After all, they’re probably zombies anyway. Why would ordinary people be walking around the mall in the middle of the night.”

Jack nodded in agreement. “We will need gas, though.”

“I know we will, but we have enough to get us there. I’m not going to be happy until I get the kids.”

“What if . . .” Jack did not finish the sentence; he just stared at her.

Sarah looked over at Jack’s glum face. “What if, what?”

Jack was not sure if he should finish the sentence, unsure of how Sarah would react. He looked away. “What if the kids are affected by the light?”

Sarah did not say anything at first. “I already thought about that. I figure that if I’m not affected, then they’re probably not affected.”

Jack said no more. They would find out when they get there.

Jackson was now in the rear view mirror as Sarah exited I-94 and drove south on U.S. Route 127. She looked over at Jack, who was trying to go back to sleep. She knew that he could ask to be let out, but he was not acting as if he was going to leave. Surely, he would be better off without a mom, her kids and a family dog in tow.

Sarah’s eyes were heavy as they passed a roadside rest area. She thought of pulling over and taking a catnap, but she pushed the thought aside. There was not much farther to go.

A few miles from Larry and Bertha’s, Sarah attempted to wake Jack. “Jack,” she said, yawning. He did not move. The shallow rise and fall of his chest indicated he was in a deep sleep. “Jack, we’re almost there.”

Jack opened his eyes. “What?”

“We’re almost there.”

“What time is it?” Jack sat up and stretched, his feet pushing against the floorboard.

Sarah looked at the clock on the dash. “It’s almost three.”

“That little bit of sleep wasn’t enough.” Jack yawned. “You must be tired. Do you want me to drive?”

“Yawning’s contagious, stop it,” Sarah chided, yawning and rubbing her eyes. “I’m okay; it must be my adrenaline keeping me going. I’ll sleep later.”

“Speaking of sleep, your kids are going to be sleeping when we get there. So what’s the plan?”

“I don’t know.” Sarah took her cell phone from the purse around her neck. Its light illuminated her tired face. “I was thinking of calling, but there’s still no signal.”

Jack watched her put the phone back into her purse. “No plan? Play it by ear?”

She looked over at his face. His eyebrows raised in question, not anger. “What I want to happen is to sneak into the house, get the kids, drive back to Jackson and find shelter with that radio guy before we run out of gas, and the sun comes up.”

Jack laughed. “You’re not asking for much.”

Sarah smiled. “It could happen.”

“Maybe,” Jack said, with a skeptical smile.

“Hey, you asked me my plan and that’s it. Do you have a better one?”

“We’ll follow your plan,” he said, still smiling. “So what’s the setup?”

“I don’t know, what do you mean?”

“Who’s in the house, where are the bedrooms, do they have a dog, does your ex have a gun?”

Sarah let out an exasperated sigh. “This sucks, all I know is that Larry, his wife Bertha, and the kids are the only ones in the house. I’ve never been in the house before so I have no idea where their bedrooms are. But, unfortunately, I think they do have a dog. I’ve heard it bark in the background on the phone before. I think it’s one of those little poodle types.”

“We’ve got to do something with the dog especially if we’re going in and forcefully taking the kids. How old are they?”

“Georgie is fourteen and Willis is seventeen,” Sarah answered. “I don’t think he has a gun, I have it.”

“You have a gun?” Jack sat up straighter in the seat. “Where is it?”

“At my house.”

“At your house? You didn’t bring it?”

“I didn’t even think of it.” She shrugged.

Jack sank back in his seat. “This may be harder than you think.”

Sarah was now driving down narrow streets, following the shoreline of Spirit Lake. She slowed while navigating hairpin turns, her headlights reflecting on cold cottages. “The house is just ahead on the left.”

“Drive slowly by the house,” Jack said, his gaze attempting to pierce the pink tinged gloom of the neighborhood. Murky air covered the lake’s still water. “There’s no power here, either.”

“It’s that house, the two-story with the garage underneath.” Sarah pointed as the pickup idled slowly past a sickly building. “It’s dark inside.”

“Park over there,” Jack said, pointing to a vacant lot a couple houses up.

Sarah pulled on the other side of a pontoon boat, partially hiding the truck. “I need to keep it running, but don’t forget there’s not much gas. We can’t take long.”

Jibber tried to get out with them as they quietly opened the cab doors.

“Keep the dog here,” Jack said in a low voice, holding the billy club and flashlight.

“You stay here,” Sarah said to Jibber, gently closing the door behind her. Jibber began to bark. Sarah quickly opened the door; the dome light flicked back on. The dog was in the driver’s seat, trying to nudge past Sarah and the doorframe. She held the dog’s collar, trying to push her back inside. The mutt was determined not to be left behind. “If you want to come with us, you’ll need to be quiet,” Sarah whispered as if the dog was a five-year-old child.

Jibber’s tail wagged as if she understood. Sarah let go of the collar, the pooch stood quietly next to her.

The red waves in the sky were less pronounced, similar to a fire burning itself out. They walked as if on tiptoes to Larry’s house, making as little noise as possible as they dashed over damp lawns and paved driveways. Sarah was happy that she was close to her sons but was afraid of what they may find when they went inside the house.

“So let me get this straight,” Jack said, pausing behind a raft. “You’re kidnapping your kids.”

Sarah looked away, unsure how to answer. She knew that Friend of the Court would not look well on this, but did it matter with zombies running around. She whispered back to Jack. “I suppose we should knock on the front door first, that way the court won’t think we just broke in.”

“If you say so.” Jack grinned. “Let’s go.”

They went up wooden risers to the front door while Jibber sniffed around leafless bushes before deciding to urinate on a cracked ceramic garden gnome. Jack knocked. No one answered. He looked at Sarah with a cocked smile and knocked once more. No sound.

Sarah fidgeted with her hands before pushing the doorbell. They waited. Silence. She rang it again. The only sound was water lapping against the breakwall.

“I wonder why no one’s answering,” Sarah said, pushing the buzzer a third time.

“Maybe they all went to the blue light,” Jack joked, rotating his finger as he pointed toward the sky.

Then a barking dog could be heard deep inside the structure. Its barking grew louder as it approached the door. Jibber began to growl.

“This is taking too long, we need to get back to the truck before it runs out of gas,” Jack said, banging on the door. He bellowed, “Open up!”

Sarah giggled. “You sound like the police.”

“The only thing we’ve managed to do was wake up the dog,” Jack said, wiggling the doorknob. “It’s locked.”

“There’s a door by the garage, maybe that one’s not locked,” Sarah said as she turned and walked back down the steps.

They walked around to the side door, through a violet haze of cold air. Sarah crossed her arms, pulling her cardigan tight across her chest. The weather did not seem to affect Jack as he tried to open the other door.

“This one’s locked, too,” Jack said, turning toward Sarah. “What now?”

Sarah looked at the dark windows and then square into Jack’s eyes. She did not come this far just to walk away, leaving her sons behind. “We’ll need to break-in.”

“And I was the one in jail,” Jack said, amused.

“Very funny.”

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White Horse (Seven Seals Redux, #1): White Horse – Chapter 5

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

FIVE

The zombies behind them were lumbering around the corner of the jailhouse. The zombies in front of them were moving awkwardly around the stalling pickup as if the noise from the dying engine was evoking their curiosity. Sarah stayed close behind Jack as they crept forward, stones crunching under their feet.

“Here we go,” Jack said, looking briefly at Sarah’s terrified expression. He ran ahead, swinging the billy club, making blunt force contact with the heads of the possessed who were standing in the way, obstructing their path to the driver’s door.

Sarah would have held on tight to Jack’s coattail if he had one. Instead, she stayed back far enough to not accidentally be hit as the nightstick swooshed through the air. The sound of the club striking skulls was sickening and saddening, these people were normal only hours ago, sleeping soundly in their beds or soothing a crying baby.

The zombies stumbled, unable to keep their balance as Jack cleared a path to the cab. “Get in,” he shouted.

Sarah ran to the driver’s door, flung it open, jumped inside and slammed it shut, all in what seemed like slow motion rather than the few seconds it actually took. She put her foot on the gas pedal, giving the motor just enough octane for a high idle to keep it running.

Jack worked his way around to the passenger door, with Jibber barking at his side. Blood and mucus streaked through the air as his club cracked heads like a bat striking a pumpkin.

Sarah slammed the shifter into drive, one foot on the gas, the other ready to release the brake. Jack opened the passenger door. Jibber shot in ahead of Jack, who was yelling, “Go! Go! Go!”

“I can’t, there are people in front of me,” Sarah said, inching forward, not wanting to run over anyone.

“Backup then,” Jack said, turning and looking at the infestation behind them.

“I can’t, they’re behind me, too.” Sarah’s breathing increased as if the oxygen was being sucked out of the crew cab.

“Then run ‘em over, floor it!” Jack demanded, looking at a panicked Sarah. Her hands were shaking as she gripped the steering wheel. “They’re not people; they’re zombies and I don’t intend to die today. It is them or us.”

Sarah closed her eyes for only a moment, trying to make the nightmare go away. When she opened them, they were surrounded by bodies pounding on the windows and doors. The pickup rocked as Sarah sat there frozen, unable to decide what to do.

“Damn it, Sarah, if you’re not going to do it then get out of the driver’s seat and I will,” Jack said, reaching for the steering wheel.

Sarah floored it, not giving herself time to think about what she was doing. A thin man in a white T-shirt followed by a woman in a pink nightgown were the first to be swallowed by the charging truck. She did not look back as the tires squealed and occasionally lost traction on something lumpy and slippery. They bounced around from the bodies underneath the truck, acting like speed bumps. The pickup screamed out of the parking lot and down the road. Sarah took the entrance ramp to the highway so fast it felt like they were going to tip over.

“You can slow down now,” Jack said, pushing Jibber off his lap and into the backseat.

Tears streamed down Sarah’s face as she eased up on the gas. “I can’t believe I just ran over those people,” she said, her voice quivering.

Jack looked at Sarah as she wiped tears from her red cheeks with her sleeve. Slightly confused by her reaction, he said in a soft, reassuring voice, “You did what you had to do to save us.”

She wiped her runny nose with an old tissue stashed inside the armrest organizer and looked at him with puffy red eyes. “Yeah, I guess so,” she said as her voice cracked.

The only life on the highway was them as they headed east to get Sarah’s sons. Abandoned cars and trucks sat motionless in haphazard positions, causing Sarah to swerve in and out around them. Some were sitting on the shoulder, leading Sarah to wonder if some people had time to think about what was happening, while others just stopped in their lanes, causing cars to run into each other.

Jack laid the billy club next to his leg on the seat. “So what did you see when you followed those . . .” he paused, “things?”

Sarah kept her focus on the darkened road; her tears had stopped. “There was a light beam coming from the sky and it seemed to be drawing people to it. They would walk inside the blue light, and I could hear them make sounds like they were getting pleasure from it, like they were moaning like in ecstasy as if they were . . .” she let the sentence trail off.

Jack looked at her smiling. “Like they were what?”

She glanced at him with a frown on her face; she knew what he wanted her to say. “You know.”

He sat back on the cloth seat, clasping his hands behind his head. “Like they were having an orgasm?”

She looked over at him coyly. His five-o’clock shadow and broad jaw line were attractive to her. A tattoo of a beautiful bird with gold, red and purple feathers, rising from a fire, gracefully curved around the muscles in his arm. Sarah recognized it as a Phoenix, symbolizing rebirth. She looked up at him. “Yeah, something like that.”

Jack looked back at Jibber, who was sitting calmly on the seat, her panting less labored. “So, Sarah, where are we headed?”

“I’m going to get my kids, they’re with my ex-husband right now and I’d just feel better if they were with me.”

“How far away are they?”

“About a hundred miles, we’ll be there in a couple hours if we don’t run into any more problems.”

“Is your ex going to be okay with you taking the kids at three in the morning?” Jack sounded skeptical.

“Probably not, so I don’t know what to do about that,” she said, shrugging. “I guess I’ll solve that problem when I get there.”

They sat in silence for a while as they drove down the highway. Cars on the road were thinning out as they left the city. The sky glowed red in the darkness like embers from a fire as Sarah looked for signs of life, or death.

Sarah broke the silence. “Do you have a family, Jack?”

“Nah, not me, too busy,” Jack said, sounding as if it only slightly bothered him.

Just then, Jibber began to whimper, raising her head to look out the window.

“What’s wrong, Jibber?” Sarah reached over to pet the dog’s head, but it would not stop fidgeting.

Jack looked left and right out the windows. “I don’t see anything.”

“I wonder if she needs to pee.” Sarah slowed the pickup; the only vehicle in sight was a stationary, jack-knifed semi truck a half mile ahead.

Jack scanned the area before opening his door to let out the anxious dog. “I don’t see anyone; it should be okay.”

Jibber jumped out and vanished into the darkness.

“How much gas do we have?” Jack asked, sitting with the passenger door open, looking into the dried cornfield where Jibber had run.

Sarah looked at the gas gauge. “Just under half a tank, that’ll get us there but not back home.” A cool breeze penetrated the cab from Jack’s open door. Just in case he was wondering, she added, “I don’t want to turn the truck off because it might not start again.”

“Well, we’ll just drive it until we find gas or can’t drive it anymore. We might have to siphon gas if there’s no power anywhere.” Jack stepped outside, breathing in the crisp fall air.

“I don’t see any signs of power,” Sarah said, looking for lights in the distance.

Jack got back into the cab, rested his foot on the running board and turned the radio on. He scanned through the static until he heard a distant voice through the crackling. Jack tried to get a clear signal, but all they could make out before it was all static again was, “If you . . . shelter . . . Jackson . . . infected . . . stay out.”

“Shit,” Jack said, hitting the dash. “Did he mean there’s shelter in Jackson, or did he mean there’re infected people, stay out?”

“I don’t know, but we will be going through Jackson,” Sarah said, rubbing her tired face. “Maybe it’ll come in better when we get closer.”

“I hope so,” Jack said, picking up his club and stepping outside. “What’s taking that dog so long?”

Sarah got out and walked over to the shoulder of the road where Jack was standing. They stood side-by-side looking at the motionless field of dry cornstalks; only an occasional rustle of brittle leaves rubbing against each other could be heard as the breeze pushed over the landscape in waves. “It sounds strange, like something’s missing.”

“Crickets,” Jack said, turning toward her. “I don’t hear crickets.”

Sarah’s breath appeared as pink fog in the cold glow of the sky. She called out, “Here, Jibber. Here, Girl.” She heard nothing. “Here, Jibber.”

“We shouldn’t call too loudly,” Jack said, his voice low. “Those zombie things might hear us.”

Sarah nodded in agreement and walked down the curve of the shoulder to where the dog had run. The weeds were wet and slippery. She stopped when she heard the cracking of dry stalks getting closer. She backed up, not knowing if it was dog or demon heading in her direction. “It sounds like something is being dragged.”

Jack went back to the pickup and rummaged through the glove compartment. “Where’s the flashlight? Do you have the one from the jail?”

“Uh, I kind of dropped the one from the jail . . . while I was running for my life,” she said, reaching into her cross-shoulder purse. “But I do have a penlight.”

While Sarah pointed the almost useless bit of light in the direction of the sound, she backed toward the truck. Jack found a flashlight under the backseat and shined it into the field. “This doesn’t work worth a damn,” he said, banging the dim light against his hand.

The sound got closer. Sarah stood by the pickup while Jack went in the direction of the sound.

“Be careful,” Sarah said, with a loud whisper as Jack disappeared into the field. Her hearing was heightened as it searched for any sound that would give her reason to jump into the cab and lock the doors.

She turned her light toward the pickup to make sure nothing was coming up from behind them. That is when something in the grill of the truck caught her attention. Hanging in between the metal slits was a blood-soaked, jagged piece of pink nylon. A tuft of gray hair and a hunk of scalp were crammed around a headlight; parts of the people Sarah had run over. She bent over and began to dry heave.

“It’s Jibber,” Jack said as he emerged from the stalks. “She has something.”

Sarah stood and rested her hand on her sick stomach. She watched as Jibber dragged a large object from a row of corn into the moist ditch.

Jack approached Jibber and her prey. “Go, Jibber, get away!” he commanded, trying to get the dog to move away from the limp form.

Sarah moved away from the disgusting mess on the truck and up to Jack and Jibber. Jack knelt down for a closer look as Jibber released her grip from the clothing and growled. Sarah slid to a stop when she noticed the body. “Oh my God, is that a zombie?” she gasped, raising her hand to her mouth, her stomach reeling.

Jack stood and nudged the body with the bottom of his jail sandal. He looked back at Sarah. “I believe Jibber caught us a dead zombie.”

Sarah looked away in disgust while Jack began unlacing the work boots and removing them from the zombie’s feet.

“They fit good enough,” he said, smiling at Sarah as he tossed the jail shoes into the weeds and stuffed his feet into the oil-stained boots.

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White Horse (Seven Seals Redux, #1): White Horse – Chapter 4

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

FOUR

Sarah saw a tactical flashlight behind the glass of the front desk. She reached through the open sliding glass window and took the cold aluminum light from the desktop, then walked out the front door, past her rough idling pickup.

Several yards ahead of her were people heading toward the winery’s grape field, several blocks from the police station. She kept the flashlight off and matched the cadence and posture of the people ahead. The red glow from the sky gave enough illumination so that Sarah could see that people of all ages were being affected, even mothers with babies.

Then it occurred to her, how was she going to get back to the station without drawing attention to herself. She decided that she would solve that problem later as she continued to follow the crowd down the tar-bound street, over mowed lawns, and through parking lots. Apparently, staying on the sidewalk was not an efficient path to their destination. They walked past the winery to the sloping vineyard.

Sarah slowly veered away from the people until she found a place where she could hide and still see, to some degree, what was happening. A lawn’s manicured hedge provided the perfect hiding place next to the field’s rows of drooping grape vines. She knelt down and pushed aside the stiff branches so that she had only a partially obscured view of the field’s tractor lane, and the spot inside the vineyard where the people were gathering.

The sky grew brighter as a blue orb appeared above the vineyard. The already inadequate shadow of Sarah’s hiding spot was disappearing. The sphere hovered slightly higher than the water tower before shooting a brilliant blue cylindrical beam of light to the ground. Frenzied people began to moan and call out in pleasure as they pushed and shoved to get near the uniform ray of light, large enough to absorb bodies.

She watched as people entered the beam and then disappeared. What is happening to them? Are they getting beamed up to the orb or are they disintegrating? What is that thing, a spaceship? And why aren’t I affected and that prisoner?

No sooner had the people entered when some began to exit the same beam, looking more possessed than ever. Their posture seemed twisted and their gate was less fluid as they lumbered in Sarah’s direction, the rows of grape vines forcing them to exit the field in straight lines.

“I’d better get out of here, this is not looking good.”

Bent low, Sarah dodged between bushes, houses, and cars parked randomly in the street as she made her way back to the jailhouse where Jack and Jibber were waiting. She noticed the pickup was ready to stall when she reached the front door. Looking back to where she had come from, she saw people, if they were people, continuing their disorderly trudge toward her.

She burst through the door and shot down the hallway. “We got to get out of here!” she said, gasping for breath.

“Finally, you see it my way,” Jack said, trying to shake the cell bars.

Sarah approached the cell. The other two men were more agitated as they hit the cell wall violently with their bodies. Blood dripped down the white painted blocks, likely from clawed off fingernails. She looked at the lock. “How do I unlock it?”

“There should be keys or a button at the control desk,” Jack said. He looked back at his crazed jail mates. “You better hurry up before these guys decide that I’m more interesting than that wall!”

She ran to the door of the glassed-in control room. It would not open. It must close and lock automatically, she thought. The sliding window was open; it was her only way inside the room. She pushed a plastic chair under the window, stood on it, then reached through and sat the flashlight on the counter. As she climbed through the opening, she scraped her elbows and knees on the window track.

When she got inside the room, she shined the flashlight around as she opened drawers and scanned the walls and desktop for anything that looked like a way to open the cell door.

“I can’t find the keys!” she yelled back down to Jack.

“Look under the desk.”

She turned her gaze toward the front door. Past the panes of glass, she saw that the disorderly crowd was across the street and heading their way. Dropping to the floor by the desk, she felt every nook and cranny. She was starting to get panicked when she felt them. They clinked as she took them off the hook.

“I got them!” Sarah yelled. She opened the control room door and placed a small wastebasket next to the doorframe to keep the door from closing and locking, and then ran back down to where Jibber was still standing guard. There were several three-inch keys on a metal ring. She fumbled with them, trying one after the other.

“Come on, get it in there, we’re running out of time,” Jack said, looking back at the crazed men behind him who now were turning around. Blood dripped from their foreheads, down their faces, and onto the floor, as they stared at Jack. “Hurry up, Sarah!”

“Got it!” The key turned and the door clanked open. Jack took the ring of keys from Sarah and slammed the cell door shut behind him, locking the inmates in as they reached for him.

Jibber barked as they ran to the main door, but the mob was only feet away from it.

Jack looked down at the orange jail sandals flopping on his feet. “These damned flip-flops are not going to make it easy to run, but they have my shoes locked away . . . with my wallet.”

Sarah glanced down at Jack’s feet then up at the people beyond the door. She stopped dead in her tracks and gasped, “They’re like zombies.” She could not see them well, but she saw them well enough to notice that the skin on their faces was an ashen gray and their eye sockets were dark and sunken as if the fluid and blood in their shambled bodies had been partially removed.

“We can’t get out this way,” Jack said, grabbing onto the door handles to keep it closed. “Find something to put in these handles to keep it from being opened.”

“Doesn’t it have a lock?”

“It needs a different key than the ones on that key ring,” Jack said, using his weight to pull back on the doors. “We don’t have time.”

Sarah went back into the cage where she had seen a billy club on the counter. She ran back to the door and slid the short stout club into both handles. “This is going to fall out, we need something longer.”

The spooky others were outside the glass doors, pushing on them rather than pulling. “I don’t think they know how to pull,” she said. No sooner had she said that when the zombies began to pull and bang on the glass. Sarah looked at their faces; it was as if they lost their humanness and gained the anguish of a painful death.

“Stop looking at them,” Jack said. “Go to that closet and see if there’s a broom or something.”

Sarah moved quickly to the door that appeared to be a closet. Jibber was restless, holding back her instinct to run down the hall. Sarah found a janitor’s broom and placed it in the door pulls, alongside the club. They backed away from the door, pausing only for a moment to look at the invading bodies. Their faces contorted and drooling.

“You’re right; they are like frickin’ zombies,” Jack said, taking Sarah’s hand, his palm damp with perspiration.

“Their moans sound like they’re in pain,” Sarah said, looking at Jack’s concerned face. He frowned as his eyes darted between the broom and the things on the other side of the glass.

“We got to get out of here before they eat our brains or something,” Jack said, only half joking. He pulled Sarah away from the door and down the hall to where Jibber was already waiting for them. They could hear the bangs as force was applied to the broom and club lying loosely in the handles.

“Them eating our brains doesn’t sound like an implausible idea,” Sarah said, running next to Jack, letting her hand slip from his. “Look, Jibber found the back door.”

Jack tried to open the steel door; it would not budge. “We’ll need a small key to get out,” Jack said, looking at the lock. He put his ear next to it. “I don’t hear anything.”

Sarah looked at the keyring stuffed in the back pocket of Jack’s jeans. Large keys dangled out. Then she saw it, one small key. “There’s a little key on that ring!” She took the bunch from his pocket and held up one small brass key.

“Let’s hope that’s the one,” Jack said, taking the keys from her.

Sarah watched as Jack placed the key in the lock. It turned. He opened the thick door and then closed it.

“What are you doing?” Sarah asked, rolling her eyes. “We got to get out of here.”

“We need weapons,” Jack said, running back down the hall, toward the zombies beyond the glass.

“We don’t have time; we have to get to the truck before it stalls,” Sarah yelled back at him.

Jack tried to not let the sound of bodies thumping on the glass distract him. He entered the control room through the propped open door and went to the gun cabinet.

“The guns are locked up, we don’t have time to get them,” Jack said as Sarah ran up next to him.

Sarah saw Jack’s eyes land on the billy club holding the door closed. “Don’t take it, don’t even think about it.”

Jack did not listen. He ran out of the control room and stood in front of the doors, for only a moment, before sliding the club from the handles. “Let’s go, that flimsy broom won’t hold long.”

They ran back to the rear door where Jibber anxiously awaited. Jack opened it and slowly walked out. “It’s clear,” he whispered.

Jack was leading the way down a pea gravel path to the corner of the building when they heard the broom handle snap and the front door crash open.

“They’re coming,” Sarah whispered, petrified. If Jack were holding her hand now, it would be trembling. “We got to get to the truck.”

Sarah was close behind Jack, and Jibber was close behind Sarah as they followed the brick wall to where they could see the front parking lot. The sputtering truck was in sight.

“Shit,” Jack said, pointing to a white pickup surrounded by zombies. “Is that your truck?”

“Unfortunately.” Sarah grimaced.

Then they heard the back door, from where they had just come, open and slam into the side of the building. The sound of feet dragging through the gravel was getting louder.

“It’s like they can smell us,” Sarah said, drawing closer to Jack and the heat of his body.

“Time to go,” Jack said, holding up the nightstick. “Follow me.”

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White Horse (Seven Seals Redux, #1): White Horse – Chapter 3

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

THREE

After a quick squeal of devices powering off, an ominous silence filled Sarah’s bedroom. The only sound was the faint whir of her laptop’s fan and Jibber’s breathing. With the big baby of a dog still on her lap, Sarah dialed her sons again to warn them not to go outside, but there was no connection. She felt panic come over her for fear something would happen to Georgie and Willis.

“Come on, Jibber,” Sarah said as she pushed the resistant dog off her lap. “We got to get the kids. I don’t know how we’ll get them because Larry will give me a hard time, but I can’t just stay here, not knowing if they’re okay.”

Jibber jumped off the bed as Sarah put her wallet purse inside her large crossbody bag. She put her soft cardigan sweater on before putting the bag across her body. Then she stuffed it with a pair of underpants, a T-shirt and anything she thought she might need if she could not make it back home.

A faint red glow was filling the house, finding its way around the sides of the curtains and through any unsealed space as Sarah and Jibber slowly made their way through the pink darkness to the mudroom. She rummaged through drawers feeling for her one dim flashlight.

“Damn it, it needs batteries,” she said, twisting the top and tapping it against the palm of her hand.

She opened the drawer where she kept batteries in a box. She searched through sharp screws, loose change, and any piece of junk that needed a temporary home. She was not surprised when she could not find the D batteries she needed. “That figures.”

Pushing past candles and old cell phones fit for a museum, in the remainder of the drawer, it suddenly occurred to her that her nursing penlight would be a good substitute. She made her way to the bathroom where she kept a basket filled with nursing items removed from her scrub pockets when she got home from work. Moving aside a patient worksheet and her stethoscope, she pulled the penlight from a pocket organizer where it was tucked next to calipers and bandage scissors. She squeezed the clip and went back to the kitchen, the small beam of light was better than nothing.

She crammed a water bottle and a granola bar into her already overflowing vertical messenger bag. She took the pickup keys off the hook and looked at Jibber. “Are you ready? I know we’re not supposed to go outside, but I can’t just sit here.”

Her hand lay on the knob only a moment before opening the door in slow motion. Almost afraid to breathe, she kept thinking of the confused people in Australia and if they were infected with something, and the warning to not go outside. The sky had turned to a bright red with faint sparkles dispersed in the waves of the atmosphere. “It’s beautiful,” she said, with awe.

Sarah moved quickly to the pickup’s cab. “Come on, Jibber, get in.” Sarah did not have to ask twice; Jibber jumped into the cab of the pickup without hesitation.

Sarah put the key in the ignition, but it barely turned over. She tried again and still it would not start.

“Why the heck isn’t it starting? It was running fine when I parked it,” Sarah said as if the anxious pooch could understand. She was beginning to feel like she would never make it to her sons.

“Please, God, let it start,” she said, resisting tears as she turned the ignition again. This time, it started. She put it in reverse, turned around in the gravel, and headed down the bumpy driveway to the road. The truck sputtered as if it would stall if she let off the gas, so she kept one foot on the gas pedal and the other on the break as she negotiated mud puddles and avoided trees next to the two-track drive until they reached the road.

After a couple miles, they entered the village of Bloomingdale. People were walking down the sidewalk and across yards to the village park, next to the Depot Museum.

I wonder what’s going on, Sarah thought as she slowed down and looked over toward the park’s gazebo. Several people stood in the center, near the abandoned railroad station where trains in the 1930s had once hauled eighty oil tank cars a day from what was once thought to be one of the biggest oil fields in America, but the boom ended a decade later.

“There’s Lilly, what’s she doing here in the middle of the night, in her pajamas?” Sarah said to a restless Jibber, not staying still in the passenger seat.

She let off the gas and pulled over next to the telephone company. The pickup was idling, but barely. Jibber tried to follow her out of the cab. “No, Jibber, you stay here.”

Sarah got out, crossed the road and ran up to Lilly, who seemed to be sleepwalking. “Hey, Lilly, what’s going on?”

Lilly kept her gaze toward the same spot in the sky as everyone else, then answered with a bland, “Nothing.”

Sarah was taken aback, Lilly was always talking, never shut up and now she was blowing Sarah off. Following Lilly’s eyes, she looked up to see what everyone was looking at. Sarah only saw the so-called, Aurora Borealis.

“Is something wrong?” Sarah asked, keeping stride with Lilly, who was walking as if she was late for work.

Lilly did not answer; she continued to walk with the others until she was part of the mass, like ladybugs cuddled in a warm corner near the ceiling. No one was talking, making it easy for Sarah to hear the pickup beginning to stall.

“Lilly, come with me.” Sarah grabbed Lilly’s arm near the elbow. “I don’t know where you’re going, but it can’t be good.”

Lilly pulled her arm away forcefully and with a gravelly voice said, “Leave me alone, Sarah.”

She looked at Lilly’s eyes, they seemed to have an iridescent glow, but it could have been a reflection from the sky. Lilly turned and walked into the crowd of automated people.

Sarah could hear the pickup sputtering, taking its last gulps of gasoline. She did not want to leave her friend, but she could not let the truck die, it may not start again, and her kids were the highest priority.

She ran back to the truck, got in and placed her foot on the gas just before it pushed out its last puff of exhaust. “That was close.”

Locking the doors, she looked at the gas gauge, a little over half a tank. That would get her there, but not back. No power, no pumping gas at the gas stations.

“Let’s get out of here, Jibber,” Sarah said, putting it in gear. She drove through the four-way stop and headed out of town while people walked in the red darkness on this weird night. A night where they were going to get a trick rather than a treat.

“If I can keep this truck running we should be to the kids by two,” Sarah said, looking over to Jibber, who was now finally lying quietly on the seat. The truck sputtered as Sarah approached an intersection. Since the traffic lights were not working, she only slowed down, but then, she was the only one on the road.

“This is strange, Jibber. Where is everybody? I don’t see any other cars on the road. I know it’s the middle of the night, but you’d think there’d be other cars, at least a few.”

She could not keep her eyes off the sky; it was mesmerizing, hypnotizing, like snowflakes in the high beam of a car’s headlights.

“We’re almost to the highway and then we’ll make time,” she said to Jibber, whose ears perked up.

They entered the larger town of Paw Paw. Once again, lines of obedient people were heading toward some common place.

“This is like a horror movie. Where are they going?” She looked over to Jibber, who was now sitting up and looking out the windows.

“I wonder if we should stop at the police station. I’m beginning to think we should’ve stayed home,” she said, pulling into the police station parking lot. A vintage black and white police car sat at the far end; it made her think of the old Abbott and Costello show, Police Rookies.

Once again, she left the truck running; Jibber got out with her. The power was out here, too. She approached the front door without the benefit of streetlights. I hope we don’t get shot, she thought as she pulled the double glass door open, entering a darkened hallway. “Hello, is anyone here?”

With heightened senses, Sarah walked into the reception area; her sneakers squeaked on the tile floor. A backup generator seemed to be operating, putting out very little power as the emergency lights flickered. “Hello,” she called.

Her voice fell on silence. She walked further in, past a gumball machine and waiting area, when she heard a male’s voice. “Hey, back here.”

Sarah and Jibber walked past the windowed front desk, past the unlocked security door, and down the corridor to the back of the jail toward the voice. “Over here.”

Sarah looked around the corner; an inmate was talking to her from a jail cell that smelled of old piss.

“You got to get me out of here,” said a voice from behind the bars.

She walked up closer and saw a man about her age locked up in a cell. He did not look like a criminal; he was clean-shaven and had wavy brown hair covering the top of his ears. Two other men were in the cell with him. Oddly, they were standing and facing the back wall, oblivious to Sarah even being there. “Where is everyone?” she asked.

“They all just walked out, saying something about a red sky,” the man said, gripping the cell bars. “Looks like you and I are the only ones with any sense around here.” He pointed toward the men in the cell with him who were now trying to walk through the block wall.

“Where’d they go?” Sarah asked, keeping her distance from the cell so that he could not grab her.

“I don’t know, like I said, they just walked out.” The inmate tightened his grip on the steel bars. “You got to let me out, there’s something strange going on and I don’t want to be trapped in here, especially with these two characters.”

He looked honest, but she was not always a good judge of men, take Larry for example. “What’s your name?”

“Jack. What’s yours?” He smiled, relaxing his grip on the bars.

She did not answer right away. He was looking at her in an ‘I would like to get to know you better’ sort of way. Like they had just met in a bar and he sat down beside her.

“My name’s Sarah.” She paused and shifted her weight. “Why are you in jail?”

“Too many speeding tickets, nothing serious if that’s what you’re worried about. They’re supposed to let me out in the morning.”

Sarah sized him up again. Both arms had tattoos, but she could not determine what they were from the distance she was standing. “I need to find an officer first.”

“You won’t find one, they all left.”

“And you don’t know where they went?”

“I don’t know, but they all went.”

“Every one of them?” She hoped he knew more.

“Every last one, it’s like they all just dropped what they were doing and walked out the door.” He looked at Sarah. “You know, this thing has affected everyone but you and me; I wonder why?”

“I don’t know.” However, Sarah knew what he meant. For some reason, everyone was acting strangely except for the two of them and Jibber. She turned and began walking back down the corridor.

“Where are you going?” His voice echoed, bouncing off the concrete walls.

“I just want to see if there’s a police officer who’s not affected.” When she reached the front door, she saw people walking away; even a police officer was heading toward some common area.

“Sarah, you got to let me out. I don’t want to be trapped in here helpless. In case you haven’t noticed these guys aren’t exactly acting normal.” The two men were now beginning to claw at the wall as if trying to dig their way out.

Sarah walked back to where Jibber stood guard in front of Jack’s cell. “I’m going to follow them and then I’ll be back.”

“Let me out and I’ll go with you. I don’t think it’s safe to be out there by yourself.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll be right back.” She jogged back toward the front door. “Jibber, you stay here.”

Jibber lay down in the hallway in front of Jack’s cell, watching his every move.

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White Horse (Seven Seals Redux, #1): White Horse – Chapter 2

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

TWO

Even though it seemed safe at the moment, Sarah knew things were not right. She felt it in her gut, or maybe it was the way her skin tingled when she was outside. Either way, her instinct told her to stay out of the light emanating from the sky. As she began drawing the curtains closed throughout the house, she could not help but wonder if something was still reaching inside, penetrating through the vinyl siding and insulation, like a scanner’s X-ray searching for cancer.

Sarah went back upstairs with Jibber still at her heels. The television had spurts of static but was viewable. Doing what she does when there could be a tornado; she changed into sneakers and tied them securely. The shoes would stay on the feet if she ever needed to run.

Spreading out the top blanket so as not to get her shoes on the sheets, she climbed back into her favorite spot. She turned up the volume on the television as Jibber jumped on the bed, curling herself on Sarah’s lap as if she was hiding from loud cracks of thunder.

“You’re too big for a lap dog,” Sarah said, stroking the trembling dog to keep her calm. Jibber kept trying to nuzzle under Sarah’s arm as if it were burrowing into the shelter of a rabbit hole.

Programming was once again interrupted with the same newscaster, but this time, he was not smiling. “We are interrupting this program to bring you this breaking news. Reports are coming in from around the world about the strange lights in the sky. It seems that both hemispheres are being affected,” he paused, and then looked to the side. “We have this report from Adam Smith in Australia.”

The pixelated screen flickered, making the reporter’s limbs appear as if they were disconnecting from his body. “As you can see, it’s daylight here in Australia, underneath the red sky,” the reporter said, turning slightly. “If you look behind me on this city block of Melbourne, you’ll notice people wandering around as if confused. Not everyone is behaving this way, but many are. This all began when the sky turned a bloody red.”

“Adam, we’ve had a spectacular Northern Lights display here in the US. Do they know what’s causing this to happen in Australia?”

As Adam began to answer, a staggering man in a business suit who looked like he had a few too many malted barleys at the local pub bumped him temporarily off camera. Adam pushed his bangs away from his forehead and stood back in front of the camera. “Scientists here are baffled, they initially thought it was coming from the sun, but that appears to not be the case. It’s a mystery.”

“Adam, we’re going to leave you while we bring our local meteorologist back on the air. You be careful down there in Australia.”

The static on the small color TV set was getting worse. Sarah could barely hear the Australian reporter say, thank you. She turned the volume up even louder as she tried to make out what the meteorologist was saying. Through the video squiggles and the audio crackles she could only make out the words “exposed to something” and “Channel 3.”

“What? Exposed to something? Exposed to what? I can barely make out anything they’re saying, and I manage to pick out only part of a sentence and the station identifier. Isn’t that just my luck, Jibber?” Sarah said, reaching for her beer.

The television was now all static and unwatchable. She turned the volume down and took a cell phone from her purse. Even though it was approaching midnight and the kids would likely be sleeping, she was not going to let that stop her from calling them.

“Damn,” Sarah said, hitting the redial button. “Come on, connect this time.”

Her fourteen-year-old son’s phone rang unanswered. “Georgie, answer your phone.”

She then tried her older son, Willis. “The number you called is not a working number. Please check the number and dial again,” the recorded message said.

Sarah hated calling the regular house phone because both Larry and his new wife Bertha were nasty and obnoxious. Larry would always lecture her with his demeaning tone. He was a debaser while Bertha was always falsely accusing Sarah of one thing or another. Both Larry and Bertha had no problem with slander and perjury.

She dialed the house phone. Just before the answering machine came on, Sarah heard Larry’s nail scratching voice, “Hello.”

“I need to talk to Willis and Georgie.” Sarah wanted to get straight to the point so that she did not have to deal with Larry any longer than necessary.

He replied in his usual condescending tone. “Sarah, they’re sleeping. You can’t talk to them.”

“It’s important; I really need to speak with them.”

“No, you’re not. We have things to do early in the morning and I’m not waking them up.”

Sarah did not want to beg. “It’s important, something has happened.”

“Like what?” He always gave her a hard time.

“Have you looked outside or listened to the news?”

Sarah could hear Bertha in the background. “Who is that? Is that Sarah?”

Larry replied with a disgusted, “Yes.”

“Hang up on the bitch; there’s no reason for her to call in the middle of the night.”

The line went dead.

“I hate your guts!” Sarah said, pushing down hard on her Droid’s red button. She would have slammed the handset of a regular phone into its base if she had one. She felt like crying.

“Okay, Jibber, what do I do now? I want to go get them, but I know he won’t let me take them, he won’t even let me talk to them.”

Sarah turned the volume up on the television to see if there was any better reception. She flipped through the channels, unable to make anything out. Apparently, the satellites are being affected, she thought.

I better call Lilly and make sure she is okay, Sarah thought. She and Lilly hit it off right away when Sarah first moved to the area. They had a lot in common. Not only were their kids the same ages and in the same school, but they liked to go out occasionally to watch a local rock band and have a few too many drinks.

A sleepy Lilly answered the phone, “Hello.”

“I’m sorry to wake you up, but there’s something weird going on outside.”

“What’s going on?” Lilly asked, yawning.

“Look out your window and you’ll see.”

“Okay, hold on.” Sarah could hear Lilly get out of bed and walk to the window. “What the hell is that? What’s going on?”

“I don’t know for sure, apparently it’s not the Northern Lights like they first thought,” Sarah said. “Turn your TV on before it goes out and see if there’s any more news.”

“I can’t believe this, it’s really strange,” Lilly said, walking back across the room.

Sarah could hear the static of Lilly’s television and then the phone lost connection. She looked at her TV screen; it was almost impossible to make anything out. Just before it went black and the electricity went out, Sarah could hear a voice in the static say, “Stay inside. For God’s sake do not go outside!”

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

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

ONE

Revelation 6:1–2. 1 Now I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say, as with a voice of thunder, “Come!” 2 And I saw, and behold, a white horse, and its rider had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.

***

“What is that?” Sarah Van Dam whispered to herself as she stared off into the distant watercolor sunset. Mixed among a smear of peach and rose-colored clouds was a small blue dot. She leaned forward toward the pickup’s steering wheel as if doing so would bring the orb into better focus. Could it be a big balloon, one of those that car dealerships sometimes raised high into the sky to draw attention to their latest sale? Not likely, she thought, it was too high and too still. Maybe it was a bright blue star or a Halloween prank; it was that time of year after all. The highway curved. A long line of roadside poplar and elm trees began to obscure the object until it was no longer visible.

Sarah sat alone in the cab of her father’s old Dodge pickup. She had inherited it upon his death several months ago after he had died of lung cancer; surprisingly the smell of stale cigarette smoke still filled the cab. It was no wonder that this disease overtook his body; the murder of her mother and the lifelong companion of her father came at a high cost. It tore the family apart. Except for her two sons, Willis and Georgie, Sarah was alone.

She continued her drive home to West Michigan, the blueberry capital of the world. Before fields of blueberry bushes stretched across Lake Michigan’s countryside, there stood mighty Grand Junction Oaks, Walnut trees, and pines. Old-timers would grumble at how the blueberry industry destroyed the pristine landscape. Now it was Sarah’s home.

Dropping her teenage sons off at her ex-husband’s house was difficult. Larry Sallo had been convicted of domestic violence a few years back. Not only was he physically abusive to Sarah, but he was also mentally abusive. Lies would roll off his serpent tongue with such ease and persuasiveness that any remaining family Sarah had turned against her in support of Larry. Someday, she thought, Larry would get what was coming to him.

Sarah’s mind wandered between her kids and that strange blue light as she drove the hundred-mile trek back home; a distance that enabled her to start fresh, away from the people and places she knew.

Before long she was turning onto her long gravel driveway. She followed it a quarter-mile into the woods along a walnut tree ridge until it met her blue-gray colonial home. As she parked next to the side door, her Labrador-German Sheppard mix ran up to greet her.

“Hey, Jibber,” Sarah said, patting her on the top of the head. Jibber’s tail wagged enthusiastically as if Sarah had been gone for eons.

She opened the red steel door; Jibber wasted no time pushing her way in between Sarah’s legs and the doorjamb. “Slow down, girl!”

Sarah took her shoes off in the mudroom, hung the keys on a hook by the phone, and walked to the kitchen where Jibber was waiting, sitting with its tail brushing this way and that, as if sweeping dust on the hardwood floor. She looked briefly at her calendar notes on the refrigerator door before opening it and taking out a cold can of beer.

She grabbed a bag of salty potato chips from the cupboard and went upstairs to her bedroom, Jibber right behind her. “What’s gotten into you?”

Leaning back on the large overstuffed pillow that lay against the headboard of her canopy bed she began searching through the blankets for the TV’s remote control. Finding it rolled up in her quilted bedspread, she turned on the television and took a swallow of the beer’s cold bitterness.

As she was reaching for the laptop next to her in bed, a news broadcaster interrupted the laughter of a sitcom, on the local Kalamazoo channel.

Buttoning his suit jacket and adjusting his earpiece as he rolled his chair in close behind the broadcast desk, he spoke. “We are interrupting your current programming to bring you this important update. The brightest and most intense Aurora Borealis is currently taking place. This unexpected event, also known as the Northern Lights, can be seen as an undulating red and blue light show. Meteorologists report that there is nothing to be alarmed about, but they are looking into what is causing this quickly developing and exceptional phenomenon.”

Sarah watched as the reporter paused and turned in his seat while a director with a headset approached him, pushing a wheeled desk chair. He spoke quietly in the newscaster’s ear before walking back off camera.

The newscaster cleared his throat as the camera panned out. A middle-aged man, looking as though his game of golf was just interrupted, approached and sat next to the newsman. A young stagehand with jeans and a Mohawk placed a microphone on the man’s yellow polo shirt and then walked quickly off camera.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is meteorologist Andy Wilkins from Western Michigan University.” The newscaster turned toward the slouching man. “How are you?”

The meteorologist paused, hesitating as if he was afraid of the camera, and then said, “I’m fine, thank you.”

“What is causing these spectacular Northern Lights?” the newscaster asked, staring at the camera-shy man.

The meteorologist looked at the people around the camera, took a drink of the water that had been placed in front of him and turned toward the newscaster. “Charged particles from our Sun’s solar wind produce an aurora or light emission in Earth’s upper atmosphere. The magnetic field of the Sun’s solar wind collides with Earth’s magnetic field, and when conditions are favorable, we get a light show, also known as a geomagnetic storm.”

“I’ve never seen a storm this bright and intense, Mr. Wilkins. Would you say this one is setting a record for us here in Michigan?”

“Please, call me Andy,” he said, looking no more relaxed than when he first walked on the set. “I wouldn’t be surprised if this Aurora beats the great geomagnetic storm of 1859.”

“Andy, should we be worried? Are we in any danger?”

He shrugged. “In folklore, it’s believed that the Northern Lights are an omen foretelling disasters such as war or famine.” Drawing in the side of his mouth, he said, “But I don’t think we have anything to worry about. Although, ham radio operators may have trouble communicating because auroras can affect some radio wave frequencies.”

The newscaster let out a breath, smiled and said, “I’m sure we’re all relieved to hear that, except for the ham radio operators.” Turning forward toward the camera, he said, “Stay tuned to Channel 3 for further updates.”

Programming then switched to a Halloween Superstore commercial. Sarah got out of bed as an image of ugly rats flashed on the screen. “Come on, Jibber, let’s go outside and check this out.” She put on her worn clogs and motioned for the dog to follow her.

Sarah went downstairs, out the front door, and onto the front porch. She crossed her arms over her chest to ward off the chilly evening air as she walked to the north end and leaned against the railing. She did not need to have a clear view of the night sky, free of treetops, to notice that the sky was bright with red hues that seemed to squirm far overhead as if alive.

“Wow, look at that, Jibber,” Sarah said, pointing toward the mysterious rose glow as she knelt down to hug her faithful companion. “It’s so bright I can see deep into the woods.”

Jibber broke away from Sarah and ran into the yard where she began to pace and whine. A blush of pink was cast onto Jibber’s black coat as Sarah followed the dog into the dewy grass. “What’s wrong, Jibber?”

Sarah knew it was not normal for the Northern Lights to look this twisted and intense as if it was searing like a steak on the grill. An eerie feeling came over her as her skin began to tingle, and the hairs on her arms began to stand up, not from the cold air, but from what felt like static electricity. She looked straight up at the ribbons of red light, dancing like curtains blowing in the wind.

“This isn’t right, there’s something terribly wrong about this,” Sarah said as she grabbed Jibber’s collar, causing the dog tags to clink together. “Let’s get inside.”

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Azathoth: Azathoth by H. P. Lovecraft

Azathoth
“Azathoth” is the beginning of a never-completed novel written by American horror fiction writer H. P. Lovecraft. It was written in June 1922 and published as a fragment in the journal Leaves in 1938, after Lovecraft’s death. Azathoth is a deity in the Cthulhu Mythos and Dream Cycle stories of writer H. P. Lovecraft and other authors. He is the ruler of the Outer Gods.
This work is in the public domain in the United States.
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Azathoth

When age fell upon the world, and wonder went out of the minds of men; when grey cities reared to smoky skies tall towers grim and ugly, in whose shadow none might dream of the sun or of Spring’s flowering meads; when learning stripped the Earth of her mantle of beauty and poets sang no more save of twisted phantoms seen with bleared and inward looking eyes; when these things had come to pass, and childish hopes had gone forever, there was a man who traveled out of life on a quest into spaces whither the world’s dreams had fled.

Of the name and abode of this man little is written, for they were of the waking world only; yet it is said that both were obscure. It is enough to say that he dwelt in a city of high walls where sterile twilight reigned, that he toiled all day among shadow and turmoil, coming home at evening to a room whose one window opened not to open fields and groves but on to a dim court where other windows stared in dull despair. From that casement one might see only walls and windows, except sometimes when one leaned so far out and peered at the small stars that passed. And because mere walls and windows must soon drive a man to madness who dreams and reads much, the dweller in that room used night after night to lean out and peer aloft to glimpse some fragment of things beyond the waking world and the tall cities. After years he began to call the slow sailing stars by name, and to follow them in fancy when they glided regretfully out of sight; till at length his vision opened to many secret vistas whose existance no common eye suspected. And one night a mighty gulf was bridged, and the dream haunted skies swelled down to the lonely watcher’s window to merge with the close air of his room and to make him a part of their fabulous wonder.

There came to that room wild streams of violet midnight glittering with dust of gold, vortices of dust and fire, swirling out of the ultimate spaces and heavy perfumes from beyond the worlds. Opiate oceans poured there, litten by suns that the eye may never behold and having in their whirlpools strange dolphins and sea-nymphs of unrememberable depths. Noiseless infinity eddied around the dreamer and wafted him away without touching the body that leaned stiffly from the lonely window; and for days not counted in men’s calendars the tides of far spheres that bore him gently to join the course of other cycles that tenderly left him sleeping on a green sunrise shore, a green shore fragrant with lotus blossoms and starred by red camalates . . .

H. P. Lovecraft

Azathoth
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The Alchemist: The Alchemist by H. P. Lovecraft

Image of The alchemist

“The Alchemist” is a short story by American writer H. P. Lovecraft. It was written in 1908, when Lovecraft was 17 or 18, and first published in the November 1916 issue of the United Amateur. The Alchemist is Public Domain in the USA.

The story is recounted by the protagonist, Count Antoine de C, in the first person. Hundreds of years ago, Antoine’s noble ancestor was responsible for the death of a dark wizard, Michel Mauvais. The wizard’s son, Charles le Sorcier, swore revenge on not only him but all his descendants, cursing them to die on reaching the age of 32.

The Alchemist

High up, crowning the grassy summit of a swelling mound whose sides are wooded near the base with the gnarled trees of the primeval forest, stands the old chateau of my ancestors. For centuries its lofty battlements have frowned down upon the wild and rugged countryside about, serving as a home and stronghold for the proud house whose honoured line is older even than the moss-grown castle walls. These ancient turrets, stained by the storms of generations and crumbling under the slow yet mighty pressure of time, formed in the ages of feudalism one of the most dreaded and formidable fortresses in all France. From its machicolated parapets and mounted battlements Barons, Counts, and even Kings had been defied, yet never had its spacious halls resounded to the footstep of the invader.

But since those glorious years all is changed. A poverty but little above the level of dire want, together with a pride of name that forbids its alleviation by the pursuits of commercial life, have prevented the scions of our line from maintaining their estates in pristine splendour; and the falling stones of the walls, the overgrown vegetation in the parks, the dry and dusty moat, the ill-paved courtyards, and toppling towers without, as well as the sagging floors, the worm-eaten wainscots, and the faded tapestries within, all tell a gloomy tale of fallen grandeur. As the ages passed, first one, then another of the four great turrets were left to ruin, until at last but a single tower housed the sadly reduced descendants of the once mighty lords of the estate.

It was in one of the vast and gloomy chambers of this remaining tower that I, Antoine, last of the unhappy and accursed Comtes de C——, first saw the light of day, ninety long years ago. Within these walls, and amongst the dark and shadowy forests, the wild ravines and grottoes of the hillside below, were spent the first years of my troubled life. My parents I never knew. My father had been killed at the age of thirty-two, a month before I was born, by the fall of a stone somehow dislodged from one of the deserted parapets of the castle, and my mother having died at my birth, my care and education devolved solely upon one remaining servitor, an old and trusted man of considerable intelligence, whose name I remember as Pierre. I was an only child, and the lack of companionship which this fact entailed upon me was augmented by the strange care exercised by my aged guardian in excluding me from the society of the peasant children whose abodes were scattered here and there upon the plains that surround the base of the hill. At the time, Pierre said that this restriction was imposed upon me because my noble birth placed me above association with such plebeian company. Now I know that its real object was to keep from my ears the idle tales of the dread curse upon our line, that were nightly told and magnified by the simple tenantry as they conversed in hushed accents in the glow of their cottage hearths.

Thus isolated, and thrown upon my own resources, I spent the hours of my childhood in poring over the ancient tomes that filled the shadow-haunted library of the chateau, and in roaming without aim or purpose through the perpetual dusk of the spectral wood that clothes the sides of the hill near its foot. It was perhaps an effect of such surroundings that my mind early acquired a shade of melancholy. Those studies and pursuits which partake of the dark and occult in nature most strongly claimed my attention.

Of my own race I was permitted to learn singularly little, yet what small knowledge of it I was able to gain, seemed to depress me much. Perhaps it was at first only the manifest reluctance of my old preceptor to discuss with me my paternal ancestry that gave rise to the terror which I ever felt at the mention of my great house, yet as I grew out of childhood, I was able to piece together disconnected fragments of discourse, let slip from the unwilling tongue which had begun to falter in approaching senility, that had a sort of relation to a certain circumstance which I had always deemed strange, but which now became dimly terrible. The circumstance to which I allude is the early age at which all the Comtes of my line had met their end. Whilst I had hitherto considered this but a natural attribute of a family of short-lived men, I afterward pondered long upon these premature deaths, and began to connect them with the wanderings of the old man, who often spoke of a curse which for centuries had prevented the lives of the holders of my title from much exceeding the span of thirty-two years. Upon my twenty-first birthday, the aged Pierre gave to me a family document which he said had for many generations been handed down from father to son, and continued by each possessor. Its contents were of the most startling nature, and its perusal confirmed the gravest of my apprehensions. At this time, my belief in the supernatural was firm and deep-seated, else I should have dismissed with scorn the incredible narrative unfolded before my eyes.

The paper carried me back to the days of the thirteenth century, when the old castle in which I sat had been a feared and impregnable fortress. It told of a certain ancient man who had once dwelt on our estates, a person of no small accomplishments, though little above the rank of peasant; by name, Michel, usually designated by the surname of Mauvais, the Evil, on account of his sinister reputation. He had studied beyond the custom of his kind, seeking such things as the Philosopher’s Stone, or the Elixir of Eternal Life, and was reputed wise in the terrible secrets of Black Magic and Alchemy. Michel Mauvais had one son, named Charles, a youth as proficient as himself in the hidden arts, and who had therefore been called Le Sorcier, or the Wizard. This pair, shunned by all honest folk, were suspected of the most hideous practices. Old Michel was said to have burnt his wife alive as a sacrifice to the Devil, and the unaccountable disappearances of many small peasant children were laid at the dreaded door of these two. Yet through the dark natures of the father and the son ran one redeeming ray of humanity; the evil old man loved his offspring with fierce intensity, whilst the youth had for his parent a more than filial affection.

One night the castle on the hill was thrown into the wildest confusion by the vanishment of young Godfrey, son to Henri, the Comte. A searching party, headed by the frantic father, invaded the cottage of the sorcerers and there came upon old Michel Mauvais, busy over a huge and violently boiling cauldron. Without certain cause, in the ungoverned madness of fury and despair, the Comte laid hands on the aged wizard, and ere he released his murderous hold his victim was no more. Meanwhile joyful servants were proclaiming aloud the finding of young Godfrey in a distant and unused chamber of the great edifice, telling too late that poor Michel had been killed in vain. As the Comte and his associates turned away from the lowly abode of the alchemists, the form of Charles Le Sorcier appeared through the trees. The excited chatter of the menials standing about told him what had occurred, yet he seemed at first unmoved at his father’s fate. Then, slowly advancing to meet the Comte, he pronounced in dull yet terrible accents the curse that ever afterward haunted the house of C——.

“May ne’er a noble of thy murd’rous line
Survive to reach a greater age than thine!”

spake he, when, suddenly leaping backwards into the black wood, he drew from his tunic a phial of colourless liquid which he threw in the face of his father’s slayer as he disappeared behind the inky curtain of the night. The Comte died without utterance, and was buried the next day, but little more than two and thirty years from the hour of his birth. No trace of the assassin could be found, though relentless bands of peasants scoured the neighboring woods and the meadow-land around the hill.

Thus time and the want of a reminder dulled the memory of the curse in the minds of the late Comte’s family, so that when Godfrey, innocent cause of the whole tragedy and now bearing the title, was killed by an arrow whilst hunting, at the age of thirty-two, there were no thoughts save those of grief at his demise. But when, years afterward, the next young Comte, Robert by name, was found dead in a nearby field from no apparent cause, the peasants told in whispers that their seigneur had but lately passed his thirty-second birthday when surprised by early death. Louis, son to Robert, was found drowned in the moat at the same fateful age, and thus down through the centuries ran the ominous chronicle; Henris, Roberts, Antoines, and Armands snatched from happy and virtuous lives when a little below the age of their unfortunate ancestor at his murder.

That I had left at most but eleven years of further existence was made certain to me by the words which I read. My life, previously held at small value, now became dearer to me each day, as I delved deeper and deeper into the mysteries of the hidden world of black magic. Isolated as I was, modern science had produced no impression upon me, and I laboured as in the Middle Ages, as wrapt as had been old Michel and young Charles themselves in the acquisition of demonological and alchemical learning. Yet read as I might, in no manner could I account for the strange curse upon my line. In unusually rational moments, I would even go so far as to seek a natural explanation, attributing the early deaths of my ancestors to the sinister Charles Le Sorcier and his heirs; yet having found upon careful inquiry that there were no known descendants of the alchemist, I would fall back to my occult studies, and once more endeavour to find a spell that would release my house from its terrible burden. Upon one thing I was absolutely resolved. I should never wed, for since no other branches of my family were in existence, I might thus end the curse with myself.

As I drew near the age of thirty, old Pierre was called to the land beyond. Alone I buried him beneath the stones of the courtyard about which he had loved to wander in life. Thus was I left to ponder on myself as the only human creature within the great fortress, and in my utter solitude my mind began to cease its vain protest against the impending doom, to become almost reconciled to the fate which so many of my ancestors had met. Much of my time was now occupied in the exploration of the ruined and abandoned halls and towers of the old chateau, which in youth fear had caused me to shun, and some of which old Pierre had once told me had not been trodden by human foot for over four centuries. Strange and awsome were many of the objects I encountered. Furniture, covered by the dust of ages and crumbling with the rot of long dampness met my eyes. Cobwebs in a profusion never before seen by me were spun everywhere, and huge bats flapped their bony and uncanny wings on all sides of the otherwise untenanted gloom.

Of my exact age, even down to days and hours, I kept a most careful record, for each movement of the pendulum of the massive clock in the library tolled off so much more of my doomed existence. At length I approached that time which I had so long viewed with apprehension. Since most of my ancestors had been seized some little while before they reached the exact age of the Comte Henri at his end, I was every moment on the watch for the coming of the unknown death. In what strange form the curse should overtake me, I knew not; but I was resolved at least that it should not find me a cowardly or a passive victim. With new vigour I applied myself to my examination of the old chateau and its contents.

It was upon one of the longest of all my excursions of discovery in the deserted portion of the castle, less than a week before that fatal hour which I felt must mark the utmost limit of my stay on earth, beyond which I could have not even the slightest hope of continuing to draw breath, that I came upon the culminating event of my whole life. I had spent the better part of the morning in climbing up and down half ruined staircases in one of the most dilapidated of the ancient turrets. As the afternoon progressed, I sought the lower levels, descending into what appeared to be either a mediaeval place of confinement, or a more recently excavated storehouse for gunpowder. As I slowly traversed the nitre-encrusted passageway at the foot of the last staircase, the paving became very damp, and soon I saw by the light of my flickering torch that a blank, water-stained wall impeded my journey. Turning to retrace my steps, my eye fell upon a small trap-door with a ring, which lay directly beneath my feet. Pausing, I succeeded with difficulty in raising it, whereupon there was revealed a black aperture, exhaling noxious fumes which caused my torch to sputter, and disclosing in the unsteady glare the top of a flight of stone steps. As soon as the torch, which I lowered into the repellent depths, burned freely and steadily, I commenced my descent. The steps were many, and led to a narrow stone-flagged passage which I knew must be far underground. This passage proved of great length, and terminated in a massive oaken door, dripping with the moisture of the place, and stoutly resisting all my attempts to open it. Ceasing after a time my efforts in this direction, I had proceeded back some distance toward the steps, when there suddenly fell to my experience one of the most profound and maddening shocks capable of reception by the human mind. Without warning, I heard the heavy door behind me creak slowly open upon its rusted hinges. My immediate sensations are incapable of analysis. To be confronted in a place as thoroughly deserted as I had deemed the old castle with evidence of the presence of man or spirit, produced in my brain a horror of the most acute description. When at last I turned and faced the seat of the sound, my eyes must have started from their orbits at the sight that they beheld. There in the ancient Gothic doorway stood a human figure. It was that of a man clad in a skull-cap and long mediaeval tunic of dark colour. His long hair and flowing beard were of a terrible and intense black hue, and of incredible profusion. His forehead, high beyond the usual dimensions; his cheeks, deep sunken and heavily lined with wrinkles; and his hands, long, claw-like and gnarled, were of such a deathly, marble-like whiteness as I have never elsewhere seen in man. His figure, lean to the proportions of a skeleton, was strangely bent and almost lost within the voluminous folds of his peculiar garment. But strangest of all were his eyes; twin caves of abysmal blackness; profound in expression of understanding, yet inhuman in degree of wickedness. These were now fixed upon me, piercing my soul with their hatred, and rooting me to the spot whereon I stood. At last the figure spoke in a rumbling voice that chilled me through with its dull hollowness and latent malevolence. The language in which the discourse was clothed was that debased form of Latin in use amongst the more learned men of the Middle Ages, and made familiar to me by my prolonged researches into the works of the old alchemists and demonologists. The apparition spoke of the curse which had hovered over my house, told me of my coming end, dwelt on the wrong perpetrated by my ancestor against old Michel Mauvais, and gloated over the revenge of Charles Le Sorcier. He told me how the young Charles had escaped into the night, returning in after years to kill Godfrey the heir with an arrow just as he approached the age which had been his father’s at his assassination; how he had secretly returned to the estate and established himself, unknown, in the even then deserted subterranean chamber whose doorway now framed the hideous narrator; how he had seized Robert, son of Godfrey, in a field, forced poison down his throat and left him to die at the age of thirty-two, thus maintaining the foul provisions of his vengeful curse. At this point I was left to imagine the solution of the greatest mystery of all, how the curse had been fulfilled since that time when Charles Le Sorcier must in the course of nature have died, for the man digressed into an account of the deep alchemical studies of the two wizards, father and son, speaking most particularly of the researches of Charles Le Sorcier concerning the elixir which should grant to him who partook of it eternal life and youth.

His enthusiasm had seemed for the moment to remove from his terrible eyes the hatred that had at first so haunted them, but suddenly the fiendish glare returned, and with a shocking sound like the hissing of a serpent, the stranger raised a glass phial with the evident intent of ending my life as had Charles Le Sorcier, six hundred years before, ended that of my ancestor. Prompted by some preserving instinct of self-defense, I broke through the spell that had hitherto held me immovable, and flung my now dying torch at the creature who menaced my existence. I heard the phial break harmlessly against the stones of the passage as the tunic of the strange man caught fire and lit the horrid scene with a ghastly radiance. The shriek of fright and impotent malice emitted by the would-be assassin proved too much for my already shaken nerves, and I fell prone upon the slimy floor in a total faint.

When at last my senses returned, all was frightfully dark, and my mind remembering what had occurred, shrank from the idea of beholding more; yet curiosity overmastered all. Who, I asked myself, was this man of evil, and how came he within the castle walls? Why should he seek to avenge the death of poor Michel Mauvais, and how had the curse been carried on through all the long centuries since the time of Charles Le Sorcier? The dread of years was lifted off my shoulders, for I knew that he whom I had felled was the source of all my danger from the curse; and now that I was free, I burned with the desire to learn more of the sinister thing which had haunted my line for centuries, and made of my own youth one long-continued nightmare. Determined upon further exploration, I felt in my pockets for flint and steel, and lit the unused torch which I had with me. First of all, the new light revealed the distorted and blackened form of the mysterious stranger. The hideous eyes were now closed. Disliking the sight, I turned away and entered the chamber beyond the Gothic door. Here I found what seemed much like an alchemist’s laboratory. In one corner was an immense pile of a shining yellow metal that sparkled gorgeously in the light of the torch. It may have been gold, but I did not pause to examine it, for I was strangely affected by that which I had undergone. At the farther end of the apartment was an opening leading out into one of the many wild ravines of the dark hillside forest. Filled with wonder, yet now realizing how the man had obtained access to the chateau, I proceeded to return. I had intended to pass by the remains of the stranger with averted face, but as I approached the body, I seemed to hear emanating from it a faint sound, as though life were not yet wholly extinct. Aghast, I turned to examine the charred and shrivelled figure on the floor.

Then all at once the horrible eyes, blacker even than the seared face in which they were set, opened wide with an expression which I was unable to interpret. The cracked lips tried to frame words which I could not well understand. Once I caught the name of Charles Le Sorcier, and again I fancied that the words “years” and “curse” issued from the twisted mouth. Still I was at a loss to gather the purport of his disconnected speech. At my evident ignorance of his meaning, the pitchy eyes once more flashed malevolently at me, until, helpless as I saw my opponent to be, I trembled as I watched him.

Suddenly the wretch, animated with his last burst of strength, raised his hideous head from the damp and sunken pavement. Then, as I remained, paralyzed with fear, he found his voice and in his dying breath screamed forth those words which have ever afterward haunted my days and my nights. “Fool,” he shrieked, “can you not guess my secret? Have you no brain whereby you may recognize the will which has through six long centuries fulfilled the dreadful curse upon your house? Have I not told you of the great elixir of eternal life? Know you not how the secret of Alchemy was solved? I tell you, it is I! I! I! that have lived for six hundred years to maintain my revenge, FOR I AM CHARLES LE SORCIER!”

H. P. LOVECRAFT

Image of The alchemist