Brian Jameson doesn’t even get a chance to pick a college before a worldwide pandemic breaks out—and his home is Ground Zero. After losing his parents and sister in a whirlwind of devastation, Brian’s war-veteran grandfather takes him under his wing. But when desperate looters attack Brian’s new home, he and his grandfather must flee into a wintery Midwestern wasteland now populated by intelligent infected known as “Stalkers.”
These ghoulish creatures don’t shamble in hordes—they hide in the darkness waiting to strike, teeth bared in ghastly grins. And they laugh while they’re ripping you to shreds.
But with his grandfather’s training, Brian makes it to the home of his estranged childhood friends, twins Louis and Eva. And Brian gets a chance to experience something else he nearly missed: falling in love. Drawn to the determined—and ruthless—Louis, Brian escapes with him in search of an island paradise away from the relentless snow and infected.
But even if they make it there, it may not be the haven they’re hoping for.
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|Publisher:||Ninestar Press, LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.98(w) x 9.02(h) x 0.70(d)|
Read an Excerpt
12/19, TOPEKA, KANSAS Jameson Residence 1:06 a.m.
The light from Brian Jameson's tablet danced across his face in varying degrees of intensity: somber blues, soothing greens, and sometimes the alarming tinge of blood-red. The show's layered soundscape coursed through his earbuds. Drizzling rain enveloped the muted dialogue of two detectives, their shoes crunching against gravel as they hunted an elusive killer. Somewhere offscreen, a gun exploded. Brian's pulse pounded so hard it blended with the strengthening downpour.
Jesus, I didn't expect that.
Brian waited for the scene to change, for stunned gasps, for those dainty footsteps to accelerate into a frantic sprint, but the pair of detectives continued their discussion as if they were taking a stroll through a scenic garden.
Brian paused the video and plucked out his earbuds. Silence. Darkness. A small square of light with an image frozen in time tilted against his knees.
Am I going crazy? I swear I heard a gunshot.
Abrupt knocks shook his bedroom door. Brian's tablet fell to the bed as he swiveled his legs over the edge, muscles tensed —
"Bri! I heard a buncha loud sounds an' I'm scared!"
Brian clicked his lamp on and rushed to open the door for his younger sister, stumbling over a still-packed suitcase. After he ushered her in, he shut the door. His racing heart slowed as he gripped her fragile shoulders. We might have heard the same thing. Thunder, or maybe fireworks from the redneck neighbors.
"It'll be okay, Becks. Tell me what happened."
Becky's thin eyebrows knit above glistening pale-blue eyes. "A boom woke me up an' I ran to Mommy and Daddy's room, but I heard another boom in there an' —"
"Wait — in their room?"
Brian jerked his cell phone from the charger. He pressed the "9" from the emergency screen, Becky's fearful gaze locked on his. A whimper escaped her as footsteps creaked in the hall outside. Shadow sliced the sliver of light beneath the door.
Brian abandoned the phone to reach for the door lock — but someone twisted the knob before he could get to it. A sturdy figure burst in and knocked Brian back. Becky cried, "Daddy!" and flung her arms around their father's stocky legs. Their mother pushed into the room after him, collapsing to her knees as their father slammed the door and locked it. Brian caught the glint of a gun wrapped in her shaking hand.
While his father paced the room, phone pressed to his ear and daughter wrapped around his legs, Brian guided his mother onto the edge of his bed. Her distant gaze frightened him — she seemed to be looking at something only she could see. A memory, perhaps, something keeping her from the present. Her auburn waves clung to her shoulders in sweat-matted strands. Blood spatter stained the pink and yellow flowers of a nightgown. It framed four crimson gashes gleaming from her porcelain chest.
In the background, Brian's father spoke to a muffled dispatcher. "My kids are terrified, we're locked in my son's bedroom, and there's a fucking dead guy on my bedroom floor! Why? My wife shot him, that's why! All I know is I woke up to gunshots, my wife screaming, and some nut springing out of our closet. He scratched her — even tried to bite her! He was out of his mind, stank like ... I dunno. I dunno. Can you hurry, please? I'm worried about my wife."
Brian's father slumped onto the bed and ran a hand through his close-cropped hair. Becky squeezed between their parents, tiny hands clutching their father's flannel pajama sleeve while he listened to the dispatcher. His free hand curled into a fist above his bouncing knee, knuckles tightening to white.
Brian's skin grew clammy. Tingly. He tuned out the sights and sounds around him until they became a blur and buzz, a spinning funhouse tunnel of disorientation. She shot him. This crazy guy that broke in. God, he could've come after me and Becks if she hadn't ...
Distracted by the motion of his mother setting the gun on his bedside table, Brian looked at her. He recognized a forced smile he'd seen many times before. "We'll make it through this one step at a time. We always do." She glanced down at the bloody slashes, then back up to Brian. "I know this looks nasty, but it's only a couple of scratches. I'm okay. I promise."
She pulled Becky to her, giving her the attention their father couldn't. Despite his muscular build and booming voice, Brian's father often wilted in stressful situations — like the time he lost his job at the Topeka mall and Brian and his mother found him foaming at the mouth with an empty pill bottle beside his outstretched hand.
Brian's father lowered his phone and looked at his wife and children, scoffing. "We have to stay in here and wait for them, barricade the door. The dispatcher said we'll be safe and that we shouldn't disturb the scene. Can you believe that? They made it sound like you were more of a criminal than the asshole you shot, Ellen!"
"Joel, language." Brian's mother covered Becky's ears. She rested her chin atop Becky's head and lowered her hands to stroke Becky's lank hair. Brian's father sat beside them, staring at the thin blue carpet between his bouncing knees.
"Brian, move your desk in front of the door."
Any other time, Brian might've found his father's condescension infuriating, but he was happy to have a distraction from the questions stirring within him. He dragged the desk over to the door, hyper-aware and jittery like he'd had too much caffeine.
When he finished, Brian sank onto the foot of his bed. He swept his tablet away, certain he'd never want to finish the episode frozen within it, and curled a quaking hand around his mother's shoulder. "Mom, tell me what happened. Please."
She nodded, taking in measured breaths as she threaded her fingers through Becky's auburn curls. Becky took after their mother both in appearance and spirit. Although Brian possessed the same golden-blond hair and tan complexion as his father, he'd also inherited his tendency toward escapism.
His mother kept him going. She kept them all going. Even though she'd been hurt, she still held her daughter to her, still gripped her husband's hand in hers, still smiled at Brian.
"Someone must've broken in while we were at Nana and Poppa's," she whispered. "He hid in our closet, waited until we were asleep ... I-I don't know why he attacked me. But I ... I had to protect my family, so I ..."
She didn't say anything else. Becky's unbearable whimpering forced Brian to voice the panic bashing against his skull. "Who the hell was that guy? Was he some homeless guy that broke in to get out of the cold? Why would he hurt Mom?"
"Bri, if I told you what I saw, you and your sister would have nightmares." Brian's father finally looked up and met Brian's gaze. "Your mother and I will already have them, I'm sure of it. All I know is it was self-defense: they'll clear your mother, get her checked out at a hospital, and we can go back to normal." His lips tightened into a strained smile. He'd been fighting to earn Brian's trust back ever since they found him on that locker room floor, but the sacred trust built between parent and child had been shattered irrevocably.
Brian's eyes fell from his father's. They drifted into silence and awaited the police. His gut soured and every nerve in his body tingled until the tips of his toes and fingers felt numb. One second, he'd been watching a by-the-numbers police procedural, the next he might as well have been starring in an episode of his own.
FROM THE JOURNAL OF BRIAN JAMESON:
It's been a long time since I wrote in this, but some awful stuff happened. A crazy guy broke in while we were at Nana and Poppa's for the weekend. He hid in Mom and Dad's closet and ambushed Mom for some reason while she was asleep. She had to shoot him. Dad called 911 and we waited in my room until the cops showed up. They ordered us to put our hands in the air and asked Mom where the gun was, then loaded her into an ambulance and drove away. They took the rest of us to the station for questioning.
It all happened so fast I didn't really have time to process it until now. It felt like some horrible dream I'd wake up from, but I never did.
They let us go home. We all took showers and tried to nap, but Dad was pissed they left a bunch of tape and stuff in his room. I've been sticking close to Becks while he vents.
Mom's still in the hospital for observation. They won't let us visit her yet. Hopefully tomorrow.
We got to visit Mom today. It seems she'll get off on self-defense like Dad said. She might even be home for Christmas. Now that Dad knows she's coming home, he's chilled out. It's the first time I've ever been more worried about her than him. As tough as Mom is, I can't imagine what it must be like to kill someone. Poppa could tell me, I guess. He always talks about 'Nam.
They tested the dead guy's fingerprints and got an ID: Jim Sullivan, from Wichita, Kansas. He disappeared after he murdered his wife and three kids. One was a baby. He plucked out their eyeballs and chewed off their noses and ears.
When I think of that happening to Mom, to Dad or Becks or me, I feel sick. I guess the guy snapped. When I searched for Jim Sullivan online, a bunch of results came up with news articles. They have headlines like: ATTACK ON ALL-AMERICAN FAMILY and JAMESONS WEREN'T SULLIVAN'S FIRST VICTIM. The descriptions of the guy are pretty gross: he "emitted a half-rotten stench like week-old garbage stuffed with meat," "clawed into his victims with jagged talons," and "his skin was scratched raw, peeled back, and his hair thinned into grease-clumped strings." Worst of all, they mention his clouded eyes, the blood streaking his cheeks, and the "Glasgow smile stretching so far it tears the flesh, exposing molars and entrapped strips of meat from his victims."
It's so fucked up — like something out of a horror movie. How can this stuff happen in real life?
At least they let Mom out today.
Dad's trying to get us excited for Christmas, but it's not working. Mom won't get out of bed. Dad practically has to force-feed her. When I go in to talk to her, she lays there staring at the wall. She doesn't even notice I'm there.
Dad said he'd take Mom back to the hospital after Christmas. I wish he'd take her now, but he says they'll be busy and we should enjoy our last Christmas before I leave for college.
Christmas was a bust. While we sat around the tree opening presents and listening to cheesy music, Mom sat on the couch and stared. She didn't even open her gifts, just kept staring and smiling like she was keeping some secret to herself.
She started to smell like rotten fruit mixed with really bad BO, so Dad had to bathe her. But her hair's still thin and greasy and those scratches look infected. The rest of her skin is pale and covered in sores and cracks. It reminded me of what they wrote about the guy who attacked her, so I made Dad read the articles. He actually listened to me for once and took her to the hospital immediately.
They ran some tests, expedited the results, and said she had anemia. As for the other stuff? PTSD. In other words, they think she's traumatized by what happened and retreated inside herself. Bullshit.
Dad keeps saying "we have to do what the doctors say." Yeah, right — pills don't fix everything. Sometimes they cause more problems.
Mom's getting worse.
Now she crouches in the corner of her bedroom, rocking herself and smiling. Sometimes she giggles. She tugs chunks of her hair out. Her eyes have gone all wide and crazy. Bloodshot. She smells like sour milk, vomit, and shit.
I'm aching for her. I don't know what to do. Whenever I try to talk to her, she ignores me. She ignores all of us. She squats in the corner smiling, giggling, staring, scratching her skin and pulling her hair.
Dad says we'll take her to the hospital tomorrow, but he keeps sighing as if it's a hassle. Um, no, this is the woman you married, for better or worse, who you vowed to protect and support, who supported and protected you when you decided it was easier to kill yourself than accept that you lost your job. You owe her.
Maybe I'm being too hard on him. I don't know what it's like to vow to spend your life with someone or what it's like to watch them suffer and feel helpless.
I just want it to end, for things to go back to normal, but deep down I know they never will.
BY SUNRISE, RENEWED determination shaped his father's voice. "Wash up. Get dressed. We're taking Mom to the hospital." He went outside to start their battered old truck and get the heat going. Since it was the dead of winter, snow had already piled on their lawn and reduced the temperature to unbearable, teeth-chattering depths. Flakes still drifted down with deceptive fragility.
While Brian and Becky sat in the living room on a threadbare beige couch, staring at a Christmas tree still strung with ornaments and wrapped in glittering lights and tinsel, something shuffled into the kitchen. The refrigerator door opened. Brian whipped his head to see his mother withdrawing a package of ground beef their father was thawing for himself and the kids. Brian's mother was a vegetarian.
She clawed into the container of raw meat, shoveling bloody chunks into her mouth. While she chewed, a strange, low sound came from her throat: something between a growl and a giggle.
"Hi, Mommy! Do you feel better now?" Becky called, leaning past Brian. The horror of what he was seeing kept him glued to his seat — unable to move, to breathe, to think.
Their mother turned, rivulets of red liquid dripping down her grinning face. Her bloodshot eyes focused on Becky. A tendril of wormlike meat dangled from her lips. She fell to her knees and crawled underneath the table on her hands and knees. Rasping snickers escaped her bloodstained lips as she stared at Becky.
The intensity of her gaze sparked some primal instinct in Brian. He shot up from the couch and snagged his sister's hand, swiveled on his heel and rushed for the door as the table skidded across the linoleum floor. He flung open the front door — but something dragged him back. Becky's hand clung to Brian's as their mother wrapped her arms around his flailing, shrieking sister.
Brian pulled Becky with as much strength as he could muster, but his mother was winning the ghastly tug of war. Adrenaline surged through him, giving him a momentary edge until she let out a feral growl that stunned him. It reminded him of a dog guarding its food bowl.
How can this be my mother?
It only took one second of Brian's hesitation for their mother to snatch Becky and dash for the master bedroom. Brian rushed after her, his gaze fixed on Becky's frantic eyes and tear-streaked cheeks as the door slammed in his face. He jerked on the knob, tried to kick the door in — despite the crack of splintering wood, it didn't give.
Did she push something in front of it?
While Brian puzzled over what kept him from breaking the door down — how his mother still had the forethought to keep him from getting in — a shrill wail penetrated the sturdy wood. His sister screamed his name, begging for help he couldn't offer, making his gut curdle and summoning stinging tears to his eyes. He kicked and punched until his fists were bloody, until his legs ached from his knees to his feet, until he couldn't bear to listen to the hysterical screeching coming from behind that door anymore.
Forced to accept momentary defeat, Brian dashed for the front door and stumbled down the steps. He met his father midway to the truck and grabbed his shoulders, tears streaming down his cheeks as the icy winter air pierced his exposed flesh. "Dad, i-it's Mom. She ... oh, God — she took Becky a-and locked her in your bedroom. You have to ... you have to help her!"
He would've slumped to his knees right there in the snow, but his father gripped him by the arms. For once, his father's eyes showed the strength and focus of a leader. A role model. Suddenly, Brian was a toddler on the seesaw again, knowing his father stood behind him, ready to catch him if he tumbled. "Bri, go sit in the truck and call the police, then call Nana and Poppa. If I don't come back, drive to their house."
Brian trudged over to the truck. Before he opened the door, he glanced back at the house. His father dashed toward it, a mirage fading in and out of the snowfall.
When Brian finally entered the cab, he locked the door and sat, trying to control his heaving chest and choked sobs. A man crooned through the speakers about how it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Brian lowered the volume, withdrew his cell phone from his pocket, and dialed 911 with shaking hands. He tried to articulate a detailed description of what happened but ended up blubbering a bunch of indecipherable nonsense that made the dispatcher repeatedly attempt to calm him. Eventually, he got the address across and hung up, and then dialed the number to his grandparents' landline.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Stalker/s"
Copyright © 2019 L.J. Hasbrouck.
Excerpted by permission of NineStar Press, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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