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August, Vancouver Island, Before Arkavia (BA)
Taya stood knee-deep in a glacial-cold river with a beer in one hand and watched the world end. Of course she didn't know at the time the wall of sparkling blue dust moving rapidly through the evergreen forest like some sort of science fiction force field heralded the collapse of society. Instead, she mocked her drunk girlfriends from the river while her feet grew numb.
A sonic boom reverberated through the woods followed by a whoosh of fragrant summer air. Taya's platinum-blonde hair flung back and her eyes watered. She turned to the source.
"What the fuck is that?" Amy dropped an armful of firewood in a heap and brushed dirt from her shirt.
A wall of blue ballooned out and barrelled toward them through the now-still trees.
"Quick, Taya. Use some of that Ninjutsu against it," Michelle yelled out, slurring her words a little.
The women laughed.
"It's not Ninjutsu." Amy threw her hands on her hips in what must be her impersonation of Taya. She flicked her brown curls out of her face.
"It's Kung Fu." All her girlfriends recited in unison before erupting into peals of laughter. Ashley and Monica made terrible karate kicks at one another and shrieked, "Hiyaaaaaaaaah."
Technically, Kung Fu was only one of the styles she trained in, but there was no name for the style her father taught. She gave up trying to explain the finer intricacies of martial arts and fighting styles to her friends long ago.
Taya pointed her beer bottle at them. The bitter smell of booze tickled her nose. "Laugh all you want now, ladies, but when the zombie apocalypse happens, you'll beg to be my best friend."
Ashley snorted. "We're already your best friends, you —"
Her words cuts off. The blue wave had reached them.
It hit Amy first. The serene fairy-like mist glittered under the summer sun and travelled through Taya's friend in slow-motion. The last expression on her face was one of horror. She crumbled into a small pile of reddish dust.
No sound. No shrieks of agony or crack of bones. One moment she stood there gaping, and the next, she was ash.
Monica screamed. Then Ashley. Both their cries cut off the moment the wave reached them and turned them to dust. Michelle glanced at Taya.
They smiled at each other, a sad smile that said everything in their hearts. This was it. Taya would die here. In the forest with her best friends. She gulped.
The wave hit.
Taya's skin vibrated. Her gut twisted. Her heart spasmed. The floral pine scented wave passed through.
She still stood in the shallow glacial water. Her heart raced. She patted down her body. Still here. Boobs still there. Her friends? She whipped around to face them and her breathing stopped.
Piles of ash sat around the campsite where her friends stood moments ago.
The blue wave spared Taya, but it took everything from her in one fell swoop. She sank to her knees. The cold water rushed past, just as it had before, as if nothing had changed. The river kept running, the trees swayed and even the birds chirped.
The hoppy taste of beer turned sour in her mouth. She threw the bottle to the side where it smashed against the rocks. With a wail, she scrambled up the river bank. She reached Ashley's crimson-gray remains first. The ash, dry and slightly warm, flittered through her fingers. The soft scent of wild roses slid along her skin. A sob wracked her body.
This couldn't be happening. This wasn't real. How could it be? Had she drank too much on the first night of camping? Was this some sort of sick booze-induced nightmare?
The rocks poking out from the packed dirt dug into her exposed knees. The cold river water still dripped from her skin.
No. This was real.
There was no rewind button for this horror show.
Whatever swept through the forest targeted her friends. Why was she spared when they weren't? Was she some sort of statistical anomaly? A mathematical remainder from someone's deadly calculations?
Taya swiped her hair from her face. Her parents hadn't raised her to be soft. She needed to steel herself from this moment and survive.
She pulled her numb body from the ground and brushed off the dirt clinging to her shins and shorts. The death wave was well on its way south from here.
Toward her home. Her parents. Her brother. They weren't close. They had time. Maybe the blue wave wouldn't reach them. Maybe it would fizzle out. Maybe she had time to warn them.
She scrambled to her phone. She fumbled the device in her shaking hands. It slipped through her fingers and smacked the ground. She scooped it up and pressed the screen. Nothing. Tap. Tap. Still nothing. She flipped it around in her hands. No damage. No cracked screen. She tried again. Dead.
She found Amy's phone next. Dead. She tried the others. None of the electronics had any battery power. They were all dead. Like her friends.
Foreboding clamped around her body, locking it straight. What the hell was going on?
She raced to Monica's truck and grabbed the keys from under the driver's seat. She slid the key into the ignition and turned. Nothing. Not even a sputtering engine. She tried again. Silence greeted her.
What. The. Fuck.
No engine sounds. None of the lights came on to flash a silent "fuck you" like they normally would when she did something stupid like leave her lights on.
Was the blue death wave some sort of magical electromagnetic pulse? Didn't an EMP only work on technology when it was running? Chills racked her body. Her knowledge of anything techie like that was limited to what she saw in movies and read in books.
The cabin of the truck closed in on her. She needed to get out. Her lungs hurt. She threw open the door and leapt from the vehicle. She stumbled on the dirt and her knee slammed into the gravel.
The empty campsite greeted her. She couldn't stay here. Not with her friends lying in piles of dust and some unknown force sweeping through the trees and obliterating people in a single pass. Staying in the campsite left her vulnerable and exposed.
What if more death waves came? What if something more deadly followed? Icy shivers ran up her spine until it gripped her skull.
Hell if she'd sit around and wait. She pulled her numb body from the ground, brushed her legs off and straightened. Her parents pushed her to excel not just in school, but a variety of martial arts. She needed to rely on her training now and think smart.
Okay, brain. Think.
The death wave originated somewhere to the north. Whatever caused it lay in that direction. She'd head south. She glanced at the river. The glittering clear water flowed past the campsite, mocking her with its carefree frolic along the rocks. Leaf-dappled sunlight cascaded down and danced along the rippling surface.
The only difference between her and her friends was she stood in the flowing water while they were on dry land. Had the river saved her? Were the icy depths of glacier run-off the reason her life was spared?
Taya found her backpack and gathered her camping gear in record time. Setting up the tent had taken an hour and three beers. Not because Taya couldn't do it, but because she'd chatted with her friends and they'd teased each other mercilessly. This much-needed girls' trip started with laughter and love.
Taya sniffed. Okay, here are the tears. She let them roll down her face.
Only the subtle sounds of nature surrounded her as she packed her supplies. Did those birds mock her along with the river? How come they were spared, too, but not her friends? Was it only humans who were affected?
She swung the heavy backpack onto her shoulders and snapped the chest and waist clasps. With her compact tent, food and a change of clothes, the thing weighed at least thirty or forty pounds. She eyed the gravel road they'd come in on. A gentle wind brushed over the ground and stirred up dirt. She turned to the campsite. The same gentle breeze teased the piles of ash that had been her friends. Her best friends.
Should she dig them graves? She hesitated. They were already ash. Let nature free them. Let the Earth embrace them. The dust played in the soft wind, spreading across the campsite and into the bush before whispering across the river.
The road would be an easier path, but more dangerous. She needed to stick by the water in case another blue wave came even though traveling along the riverbank required more energy. She didn't know what to expect when she reached civilization.
If any civilization remained.
More fear. More chills. She rubbed her arms frantically. How far did the death wave go? Was anyone else spared?
The river had saved her life. She was sure of it now. She walked through the campsite toward the river. The last remains of her friends danced in the air and brushed against her legs.
Her tears stopped. She had no more to give. If it was within her power, though, if she ever faced the person responsible for the deaths of her friends, she'd avenge them. She'd gut the blue death wave wielder and make him or her pay.CHAPTER 2
Apocalypse for One
Taya wiped the sweat from her brow and leaned down to refill her water bottle from the icy river. The warm air brought the sweet smells of sun-ripened berries. It had been two days since the death wave, and traveling along the rocky, jagged river bank had been as exhausting and unforgiving as she expected.
Her backpack rested against the rocks nearby, looking significantly lighter than when she started this journey. Forgoing the beer, chips and hotdogs, there hadn't been a lot of nutritious food left to choose from when she'd packed her bag. Her food stores ran low, but she wouldn't panic. Not yet. When she drove into the wilderness with her friends, days ago, they'd passed a small town on their way to the camping ground.
She had to make it to the town. She'd find a bigger backpack, stock up on supplies and find out what the hell was going on. In the meantime, she rationed and questioned her decision making. Should she turn back? Should she have taken the wieners and risked them going bad without a cooler? The campsite she left had tons of junk food remaining from the ill-fated girls' trip, sitting where she left it, unattended.
She hesitated. No. Knowing her luck, scavengers already raided the supplies and she'd end up worse off than she was now. She had to be close to the town.
She drank some water as the river rushed by her bare legs and the hot summer sun beat down on her. Dragonflies zoomed over the surface of the water, butterflies fluttered around the fragrant wild flowers lining the banks and cicadas sang from their lofty perches on the neighbouring conifers. So far, people and technology appeared to be the only casualties of the blue wave.
A branch snapped. She froze.
"Lookee what we have here," a scratchy male voice spoke from behind her. "Another survivor."
She whirled around, her bare feet turning on slick river rocks. A man with a shaggy beard and greasy hair glared at her. Baggy clothes decorated with dirt and tears hung from his lean frame. The stench wafting off his skin hit her. Dirt, piss and body funk. He was too straggly for only two days into an apocalypse, or whatever this was. He had to be one of the homeless that lived along the river — the ones the tourist sites warned travellers about. Had the flowing water saved him, too? Another mathematical remainder?
How many people lurked in the woods around her? And why didn't he sound happy to find another survivor? She scanned the bank. He said "we," but no one else appeared to be with him. Figure of speech, then? At least he wasn't a zombie. She couldn't deal if this turned out to be an actual zombie apocalypse.
The man's gaze flicked to her backpack where it rested against a large rock. His stomach growled loud enough for her to hear more than ten feet away.
He planned to steal her food.
He snarled and dove for her pack. Instinct kicked in. She lunged and snatched her stuff from his grasp, and dodged out of his way, but she was too slow. His fist smashed into her face. Pain exploded behind her eyes. She spun with his strike and flung her elbow out. It contacted the back of his skull. The man lurched forward. She completed her turn, grabbed the back of his head, fingers curling around his greasy hair, and slammed his face into her knee. Crack! She shoved him into the water and away from her. Her heartbeat pounded in her ears.
The man flailed and staggered to his feet. He pulled a pocket knife from his pants and unfolded the rusty, dirty blade.
"You don't have to do this." She squared off to face him, weaponless. Her head throbbed.
The man held the knife out to the side. His stance desperate, not trained.
"There's a campground two days up the river," she continued. "Less if you take the road. It's full of supplies. Food, tents, clothes, backpacks to carry it all. I only took what I could carry and my friends ..." She swallowed. "And my friends no longer need it."
"Are you going to cry?" He tilted his head and sneered. "Give me your stuff and I won't hurt you."
"Why? There's a town nearby."
What the hell did he mean by that? Had she travelled all this way for nothing? Dread clawed at her insides. The throbbing behind her eyes eased away and her vision focused. She gnawed on the inside of her cheek. "You can have everything if you keep heading north."
"Toward the source of that blue shit? No thank you." He leaned to the side, coughed and spat bloody mucus into the river. "A pretty thing like you probably lies all the time to get your way."
"I'm not lying."
"I don't care. Throw the bag over. You can go back to the campsite."
"I'll kill you."
He'd probably done all sorts of things to survive on the streets and along the river. The detached, hard gaze told her he spoke the truth. He would kill her. He'd shove that old, dirty blade into her for a water bottle and three days' worth of food.
"You can try," she said.
He growled and sprang forward. He slipped on the smooth river rocks. Water sprayed her shorts and T-shirt. Taya took the opening. She stepped and turned into his body, grabbing the knife arm and elbowing him in the head again. He grunted and buckled forward. She ducked under his arm, stepped back and wrenched his arm behind him.
Control the weapon, her dad's instructor voice played in her head.
She twisted his wrist. His hand opened and the knife clattered against the rocks at their feet. She drove her knee up, and kicked the man and his stench away from her.
The man stumbled forward, spun and swore.
"Colourful. But not very original," she said. "Leave now."
The man screamed and dove forward. His body slammed into her midsection and his momentum carried them into the river. Cold water rushed around her. His hands snaked around her neck, thumbs digging in and held her down below the surface.
He was going to kill her.
He was going to kill her.
She thrashed her arms and legs. The ineffective blows glanced off his body. He straddled her and pinned her to the river floor. The sharp edge of a rock dug into the back of her shoulder. She bucked, but he braced his wiry arms against her throat. Her vision narrowed, blackness closed in. She groped the riverbed beside her, gripped a smooth river rock and bashed it against the side of the man's head. He toppled over. She pushed him off and sat up, gasping for air.
The man snarled again and surged forward. Sunlight reflected off metal. The knife. He'd found it. He wouldn't give up until he killed her.
She blocked his downward stroke with her forearm and drove the rock she still clutched into his face. He cried out and fell back. She scrambled over the slippery rocks, splashing ice cold water and pinned him down. Her lungs screamed.
He swung his arm toward her, driving the knife at her neck. She leaned back, grabbed his wrist and redirected his aim. The blade pushed into his chest and straight into his heart.
His eyes bulged. His head lifted out of the water before he fell back limp.
The river didn't save him this time. Instead, it carried his blood away as if cleaning up this horrific act of violence. She waited for more adversaries to rush from the forest and attack her. No one came.
Taya remained sitting, panting for breath and straddling the dead man as he bled out. She let the river cleanse her, too.CHAPTER 3
The path less traveled ...
Taya didn't know how long she remained sitting on the dead guy while the world rushed past and her body and mind grew numb. She was raised to fight and trained daily. Competed in tournaments, won championships, and sparred regularly. But she'd never killed before. Only criminals murdered people.
The man wouldn't have let her go, and giving away her supplies meant a slow death instead of a fast one. She had no choice. But still ...
Her insides contorted as if trying to ring out the taint of her actions. Her vision swam. When she finally dragged herself from the icy water of the river, shivering and trembling, the sun had slipped over the horizon. No way in hell would she set up camp near the body.
With numb limbs, she pulled her other set of clothes from her pack, and changed into fresh pants and a long-sleeved shirt. Even after ringing out the water, the river had drenched her shorts and shirt. If only she hadn't fought —
Don't go there. Not yet. Too soon. Focus on the current problem and make a plan.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Night House"
Copyright © 2018 J. C. McKenzie.
Excerpted by permission of J. C. McKenzie.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Praise for novels of J. C. McKenzie,
Books by J. C. McKenzie,
THE NIGHT HOUSE | J. C. McKENZIE,
To my daughter.,
Chapter One | The Reaping,
Chapter Two | Apocalypse for One,
Chapter Three | The path less travelled ...,
Chapter Four | A History Lesson,
Chapter Five | Leftovers, Anyone?,
Chapter Six | Lighting rarely strikes twice,
Chapter Seven | Sacrifices must be made,
Chapter Eight | Know When to Fold Them,
Chapter Nine | Off to the Slaughter,
Chapter Ten | Not Again,
Chapter Eleven | I'll Take My Chances,
Chapter Twelve | Me, Too,
Chapter Thirteen | An Offer You Can't Refuse,
Chapter Fourteen | Bondage 101,
Chapter Fifteen | Expect the Unexpected,
Chapter Sixteen | Home Sweet Home,
Chapter Seventeen | Wax on, Wax Off,
Chapter Eighteen | You Can't Choose Your Family,
Chapter Nineteen | Country Road,
Chapter Twenty | Three Times a Charm,
Chapter Twenty-One | Two Minds ...,
Chapter Twenty-Two | A Sad Goodbye,
Chapter Twenty-Three | Friends of My Friends,
Chapter Twenty-Four | Small Spaces, Dark Places,
Chapter Twenty-Five | Double Trouble,
Chapter Twenty-Six | The Taste of Sin,
Chapter Twenty-Seven | A Quick Skinny Dip,
Chapter Twenty-Eight | A Done Deal,
Chapter Twenty-Nine | Practice Makes Perfect,
Chapter Thirty | Someone Has to Do It,
Chapter Thirty-One | I'll Cut a Bitch,
Chapter Thirty-Two | Horsing Around,
Chapter Thirty-Three | The Truth Hurts,
Chapter Thirty-Four | Two Truths and a Lie,
Chapter Thirty-Five | To a Place I Belong,
Chapter Thirty-Six | Tumbleweeds Needed,
Epilogue | To New Beginnings,
Names & Glossary,
About the Author,
Sign up for J. C. McKenzie's Mailing List,
Further Reading: Dangerous Dreams,
Also By J. C. McKenzie,