Death's Disciplesby J Robert King
She thought she was dead. When she woke up in hospital, she could barely remember getting on the flight, let alone the terrorist bomb from which she was the only survivor. But she can hear the voices in her head, for they are the spirits of the dead passengers. They cannot rest until they have delivered their terrifying message: the terrorists know she survived,
She thought she was dead. When she woke up in hospital, she could barely remember getting on the flight, let alone the terrorist bomb from which she was the only survivor. But she can hear the voices in her head, for they are the spirits of the dead passengers. They cannot rest until they have delivered their terrifying message: the terrorists know she survived, and are coming for her.
"This is one story you can't walk away from and a book you just can't put down, be prepared that once you start reading you have to keep going till the tale has been told." - SF Book Reviews
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Read an Excerpt
I hate flying. Always have. It’s not just the old man on my left snoring, his liver-spotted hand brushing my leg, or the young man on my right darting looks down my blouse. It’s not just the plume of rebreathed air in my face or the flight attendants staring dead-eyed as they hand out bags of pretzels. It’s the impossibility of it.
People aren’t supposed to fly. Hundred ton machines certainly aren’t.
My stomach’s a knot.
“Look at that,” the young man says. His name is Jason. He’s got an Amish-style beard not because he’s Amish but because he’s too young to grow anything better. Too young for me. Jason hooks his nose toward the TV screen, which shows our current position over Billings. “We’re at 35,000 feet, and the air outside’s negative 75.”
“Cold,” I agree, staring at the in-flight magazine as if I cared what meals were available for purchase.
“Fall out of this plane, and you’d be frozen before you hit the ground,” he enthuses. “You’d shatter like a glass doll.”
The knot tightens. “There’s a Darwin Award for you.” They offer a turkey croissant with baby carrots and chocolate pudding.
How much longer? It’s five minutes till noon. I hate flying, but business calls.
“I need to get up,” I tell the Amish kid. “Business calls.”
Jason grins, pivoting his legs to one side and watching my ass as I squeeze past.
The midcabin lavatory is closer, but I pick my way back among the crammed seats. Can’t believe I booked in coach, a purgatory—all these dreary, drowsing people, their faces slack, eyes lidded, oblivious to the fact that people aren’t supposed to fly. . . .
The rear lav is occupied. I wait.
Three minutes to noon.
I knock. The person inside groans. The bolt hisses in the slot, the door cracks, and out comes a fifty-something woman wreathed in a cloud of perfume and flatulence. She glances at me with annoyance, and I return the look as she shoe-horns past. I enter the lav and lock the door behind me and look at myself in the mirror.
Blonde, thirty-two, and smart—and watch that smile, that killer smile.
I can’t wait for this flight to be over.
There’s a noise so loud I can’t hear it, only see it—a white ball in my head. It hurls me up to the ceiling and pins me to the wall and flings me back down. Teeth crack on stainless steel. Chemical water gushes up my nose. Water and blood.
Another white ball. I’m on my knees on the floor.
There’s a terrible tearing. Metal shredding.
The sound becomes a scream. Screams.
An all-encompassing roar.
I can’t see anything. I can only hear.
It’s too much.
Why is everything so loud?
My face is slick. Blood?
What is this place? Plastic walls, panels, frames? I spot a metal knob and yank on it, and doors louver open.
The roar is louder now—a narrow hallway with carpet below and blood beside.
I stagger up and step out.
I’m inside a plane, except there’s no floor. Just three rows of seats and then a big hole and torn walls. I look through the hole. Grassy hills flash golden below, and the shadow of the plane skims across them.
The shadow grows larger.
We’re going to crash.
I can see trees and rocks.
I step back through the door and pull it closed in front of me and sit down on the toilet and bend my head down between my knees and wait for the end.
It sounds like a broken motor.
It looks like the sun exploding.
It feels like tigers tearing me apart.
Chapter 1: Awakening
There’s warm darkness and a heartbeat. All around me, there’s a heartbeat. Not the thud of blood in a body but a cold ping. A green line on a screen.
My eyes are open, but I’ve been looking through them only seconds. The green line jags whenever my heart beats.
Ceiling tiles and tan curtains and textured wall paper and a TV hanging above like a stalker. A hospital?
There are tubes in my arms. I rip them out. I try to get up from the bed, but there’s another tube up my nose. I grip it. A worm of plastic drags up my throat and burns—the smell of puke.
An alarm goes off.
Footsteps scuff linoleum. A nurse bustles in. Her hair is tight and her eyes are wide so she looks like a startled fish. She sees the tubes dribbling on the floor and gulps, then leans over me and snaps her fingers. “You blinked!”
Where am I?
“You’re trying to talk!” She turns, her shoes rasping. “Doctor! She’s out of the coma. . . .” Her voice fades as she vanishes through the doorway.
A man takes her place, filling the frame—a XXL man in an XL suit. He glances after the nurse and then comes and stands next to me and stares. He has curly black hair but an Irish face.
The nurse returns, and the man makes room for her and an East Indian doctor. He scoops up my hands and sees the weeping holes in them.
“It’s good to be having you back,” he says in a musical voice. “How are you feeling?”
“It’s all right,” the doctor says. “Relax now. You are being safe.”
“What’s happening?” My voice is chalk.
The doctor leans toward me. His brow is rumpled, his eyes ringed in white. “You were involved in a . . . in a . . .” He looks up at the nurse and the other man. “United Flight 311, Chicago to Seattle.”
“Terrible. Terrible.” He rolls his R’s, making terrible sound charming. “Everybody wants to be talking to you, the only survivor.”
“The only survivor of what?”
“A . . . terrorist attack. A bomb in the luggage. No one survives but you.”
“Why was I on a plane?”
“Who—” my breath catches “—who am I?”
At first, no one seems to know.
“Susan Gardner,” says the curly-haired man, stepping forward. “I’m Sergeant Krupinski from the FBI, and I have a few thousand questions, Miss Gardner.”
“I don’t remember anything.”
His jaw clenches, and the muscle leaps up to his temple. “A bomb rips out the belly of a DC-10 and kills three hundred sixty-one passengers, but the woman in the lavatory survives without a scratch?”
“I don’t understand. . .”
“Without a scratch?” the doctor blurts in annoyance. “She had a concussion—broken jaw, cuts everywhere! She was being in a coma for four weeks.”
“Four weeks.” The room begins to spin. I clutch the rails on the side of the bed. “What did you say my name was?”
“Susan Gardner,” Krupinski repeats, then rattles off, “thirty-two year-old female Caucasian; blonde; blue eyes; single; director of foreign accounts at International Mercantile, downtown Chicago; daughter of William and Doloris Gardner, deceased; sister of Michael Gardner of Oak Park—any of this ring a bell?”
They’re staring at me. They know more about me than I do.
The sergeant puffs. “Figures. Sit around for four weeks—”
“Why sit around for four weeks?”
“I’m here to protect you, Miss Gardner.”
“From the people who did this.”
“I want out of here. I want to go home.”
Krupinski laughs. “You don’t even know where your home is.”
He’s right. Damn it. “Where is it?”
“Oak Park,” Krupinski says, “but you’re not going.”
“Am I under arrest? Is that what this is?”
“No, you’re not under arrest. Not yet,” Krupinski says.
“Enough of that!” Dr. Rama demands, stepping between me and the big man. “You are upsetting to her.” He turns to me, and his expression softens. “But you cannot leave. Your health is too fragile. Look at these IV’s and these machines. Look at these people. They have kept you alive. We have to be making sure you are well enough to go.”
“I want out of here as soon as possible.”
“As soon as possible,” he assures, “but first, we need to redo the IV’s.”
I swing my legs down. “I’ve got to go to the toilet.”
“You can’t,” the doctor says, wide-eyed.
Now I feel why. There’s another tube. Another goddamn tube. “I want this catheter out, too.”
“We don’t even know if you can walk,” Dr. Rama points out. “Your legs are atrophied. How are you going to get to the toilet?”
I stand up, legs trembling under my hospital gown. “See?”
“You cannot go to the toilet without help,” he admonishes. “If you need to go now, the nurse will take you. If you need to go later, you will be pressing the button.”
“Thank you,” I say, sitting back down on the bed. “The nurse can stay, but the rest of you, go. Now. Please.”
Doctor Rama turns to me, his eyes watery. “You need to understand, young woman, that you have only just met me, but I have known you for a month.”
“I don’t even know myself.”
The doctor nods and leaves. Krupinski also goes, trundling through the doorway and sitting heavily in a chair to one side. He crosses his arms over his chest and glares at an impressionist print across the hall.
That leaves only the nurse. “I’m Michelle,” she says, stepping up before me. Her ponytail is so tight her cheeks are white. “Michelle Mitchell. My parents had a sense of humor.”
“I’m Susan Garner.”
“Gardner,” she corrects.
“Good.” Nurse Mitchell smiles tightly. “I just thought, maybe, we should be on a first name basis before I pulled your Foley.”
She gestures uncomfortably toward her groin. “Your catheter.”
“I’m just going to ask you to lie back . . .”
“Ah, yes, Michelle,” I say as I roll to my back and open my legs. “I’m glad I know your name.”
She may be shy, but she’s quick. One firm tug, and the catheter comes away. It stings like it had fused to me.
“There you are,” she says, gathering the yellow tube and bag.
“Can I go to the toilet now?”
“Let me empty this first.” Nurse Mitchell carries the ganglious thing through a door, and I hear fluid gush and the toilet flush and plastic rustle. She comes back out grinning. “Sanitized for your protection!” She walks to me and holds out her hands. “Upsy daisy.”
I roll forward, put my feet on the floor, and stand. My legs shake. They look wasted away under my gown.
Michelle braces me. “You’re famous, you know,” she says, ushering me to the toilet. “They call you the 311 Miracle.”
I pivot and sit down, pulling up my gown and piling it on my knees.
“Don’t be alarmed if there’s blood. Sometimes there’s blood after a Foley.” She stands there and smiles.
“Could I have some privacy?”
“Of course.” Nurse Michelle points to the button and pull-string on the wall. “I’ll be right outside.” She withdraws, easing the door slowly closed.
My heart is pounding. Who the hell is Susan Gardner? The FBI knows: Single white female. Blonde. Senior accounts manager. “Well, that’s something.”
A trickle begins and becomes a steady flow. At least I remember how to do this.
I’ve got to get out of here. I’ve got to get back to Oak Park, get my life back.
“How’s it going in there?” Nurse Mitchell calls.
“Give me a second.”The toilet paper is scratchy, and there’s a little blood left on it. “All right, I’m ready.”
Nurse Mitchell enters and helps me back into bed. I swing my legs up and draw up the covers.
She laughs. “I’ve just got to put these IV’s back into their ports.”
“Where’s the remote?”
“On the side of the bed. On that little springy thing, there.”
I press “Power” and watch the black screen glow to life.
A fat black woman is talking about the stigma of cellulite.
A wise-cracking judge is settling a claim about a slashed tire.
Yellow cartoon people run for a couch.
“There’s not much on, daytimes,” says the nurse as she fits an IV into my hand. “In a way, it’s insulting. They think people who watch TV in the daytime are idiots.”
“Maybe we are,” I said.
“They used to have shows where you had to be smart to win things. Now, people aren’t even smarter than a fifth grader.”
I’m suddenly sleepy. “What’s going on?”
“Why am I so sleepy?”
She smiles an apology. “Doctor’s orders.”
I’m walking on nothing. The floor is gone. There’s nothing under me except rushing grasslands. I’m passing rows of see-through seats and see-through people.
There’s my seat, next to the Amish guy. He smiles, and I slide past him, and he watches my ass. I sit down in my seat and can see the grasslands flashing by underneath us.
“Everything come out all right?” Jason asks.
I laugh a little. “Crude.”
He blushes behind his beard. “I don’t mean it like that.”
“What do you mean it like?”
“I mean it like, well, we all died, but you’re still here.”
That sends a chill through me. “Am I?”
“Well, yeah. Nothing’s solid but you. We’re all, like, mist or something, but you’re still flesh and blood.”
“It’s just a dream, Jason.”
“So, I’m not even a ghost?”
“Just a memory?”
His seventeen-year-old eyes glisten. “Don’t forget, then.”
“Cause that’s all I am. A couple nerves in your brain, sparking.”
“I won’t forget.”
I jolt awake, and the TV shows a handsome white man and a handsome black woman sitting behind a desk in front of a digital map of the world. The people are talking. When they have good news, they smile. When they have bad news, they look very serious.
They have good news right now. They’re talking about me.
“More on our cover story,” the man says. “The Sleeping Beaut of Butte has awakened. Yes, the 311 Miracle has come out of her coma. For live local coverage, we go now to Todd Foster at Saint James hospital, along with a crowd of other well-wishers. Todd.”
“Thanks, Andy,” says a young man standing in front of the marquee for Saint James hospital. Behind the sign, a group of revelers wave toward the camera. “As you can tell, the mood here is festive. Many of the same people you’ve seen at candlelight vigils previously are here tonight with a spirit more like Mardi Gras. The reason? Susan Gardner is awake! The sole survivor of the terrorist attack that killed three hundred sixty-one people has wiped the cobwebs from her eyes and is sitting up. Though our crew was not allowed on Ms. Gardner’s floor, a source within the hospital says she is officially listed in stable condition, though he would describe her better as ‘feisty’ or even ‘take-charge.’ ”
“Todd, this is quite a development,” Andy breaks in. “For a month, this community has taken the Sleeping Beaut to its heart. Now, suddenly, she’s awake. How can she live up to all the hype?”
“The early indications are that she is unaware of any of the hype. She’s likely to be just Susan Gardner. We’ve imagined her for four weeks, but she’s going to have to show us who she really is.”
I shake my head.
“Todd, this is Sasha,” says the black anchor. “Are there any indications of what Miss Gardner remembers about the 311 attack?”
Todd smiles and says, “It’s early, still, Sasha. The whole nation is waiting to learn what Susan Gardner knows, but they’ll have to wait a little longer. The source says she answered no direct questions but asked to use the restroom. I think after four weeks, I’d’ve made the same request.”
Andy smiles and laughs, but Sasha says, “What of the terrorists who attacked the plane? For the last month, we’ve been bombarded with the name Death’s Disciples, but no one seems to know who they are. Does Susan Gardner know who they are?”
The screen went black. Krupinski was standing beneath it, the broadband cord dangling in his fist. “No television.”
“What are you talking about? I want to find out what’s happening.”
He shakes his head. “We want to know what you know, not what Fox News tells you. No television until after questioning.”
“Starting tomorrow. First thing.”
“Of course,” he says, letting the cords go and stalking toward the door.
“Who are the Death’s Disciples?”
Over his shoulder, he says. “Better get some sleep.”
Not likely—now that I’m pulling out the IV.
I’ve got to get out of this place.
From the Paperback edition.
Meet the Author
J Robert King is the acclaimed author of over twenty novels, including the Invasion series for Magic: The Gathering, the Mad Merlin trilogy and most recently The Shadow of Reichenbach Falls. Fifteen years ago, Rob founded the Alliterates, a cabal of writers in the Midwest and West Coast of the US. He lives in Wisconsin, with his lovely wife, three brilliant sons and three less-than-brilliant cats.
From the Paperback edition.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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This thriller by King is certainly unusual. It starts off with a plane going down, and then follows Susan Gardner through her amnesia as the only surviving member of Flight 311. Two main characters dominate the first half of the book, Susan and Agent Steve Krupinski. Both are incredibly likable characters and the reader definitely becomes attached to them while they run for their lives as everyone from the FBI to the Death's Disciples seem to be out to kill them. It didn't lag, it didn't get boring, in fact the many strands of intrigue keep you wanting to read to find the answers and more than anything, understand these mysterious characters who call themselves Death's Disciples. At one point I was even doubting if they were real at all or just a figment of the public and propaganda imaginations posing as a cover for something else entirely. Perhaps that is one of King's strengths, he engages your brain and you are constantly trying to solve the riddle and look under the layers to find the truth of what's really going on. One thing you are guaranteed picking up King, you are in for a supernatural ride with a lot of thrilling and captivating twists along the way. Poppet Author of Darkroom