Authors: Iain Rob Wright
you do when the world ends? That’s a question that needs answering quickly when
the gates to Hell open up all over Earth. Taking place across the globe is an
apocalypse like no other, as humanity finds itself at war against a smart and
merciless foe. Follow the struggles of survival with several characters as
things go from bad to worse. Humanity is dwindling.
Granger is a Coast Guard captain in search of his kids. Mina Magar is a
photojournalist taking pictures of horror she could never have imagined. Rick
Bastion is a fading pop star with his head in a bottle and little care about
survival. Tony Cross is stuck on the Iraq-Syria border, but fighting insurgents
is no longer a priority. There’s a much worse threat to world peace now. Follow
them all as they try to stay alive.
gates open, all Hell will break loose.
“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
“War does not determine who is right – only who
“Fear is the most basic emotion we have, Fear
Max Brooks, World
war has its demons.”
The mother bird and her fluffy grey ducklings
marched single-file from the hedge on one side of the road to the embankment on
the other. When the mother noticed Elizabeth, and her agitated cocker spaniel, Boycie,
she picked up speed. Her brood, in turn, picked up their speed—a cute little
army marching on the double. Their feathery advance took them into the long
grass where they promptly disappeared.
Elizabeth grinned. “Oh, what a lovely day,
Boycie looked up, tongue lolling out, but said
It was indeed a lovely day. The greens were green,
and the sky was as blue as a crystal ocean. If not for a slight thickness to the
air heralding a possible storm, it was the perfect afternoon.
Two years retired now and yet to become restless,
Elizabeth’s daily jaunts through the fields and farms surrounding her home never
failed to exhilarate her. After decades toiling in an office she’d all but
forgotten the benefits of simple fresh air, and it’d been an invigorating
experience reacquainting with the joyous beauty of nature. If only her beloved
Dennis were still alive to enjoy it with her, but that was not to be. At
fifty-eight, an aortic rupture had snatched her husband away while he drove his
evening bus route. The ensuing low-speed crash had not injured anyone, but
Elizabeth had been left a heart-broken widow. She lamented on the time they
could have spent together—‘cuddling’ in bed all morning and spending the
afternoon feeding ducks by the lake. Simple pleasures sure, but oh, the
She hadn’t been with a man since her beloved
Dennis had passed, but Lord knows she had felt the need. Lately, she’d even
been considering joining an online dating site just to get a man between her
legs. Only so much batteries and plastic could do for a woman of her age—and
Colin Firth wasn’t cutting it anymore. She needed a real man, with real man
Up ahead, the little knoll she enjoyed climbing
came into view. Twelve months ago, the act of hiking up it would have assaulted
her knees, but now she could assail it briskly. From atop she could gaze right
across the rolling fields to the sleepy village of Crapstone where she kept a
modest two-bedroom cottage. The house in Torquay she had shared with Dennis had
been too painful to keep, so she’d sold up a year after his death to purchase
the cosy home she and Boycie now lived in.
At the bottom of the hill, she wheezed a little.
The muggy weather made it harder to breathe and she was getting out of breath. Her
daily hike would have to be a little more leisurely today. You could never be
too careful at her age.
“Come on, Boycie, up we go.”
Obedient as always, her cocker spaniel started up the
hill at an ambling pace matching her own, and together they trampled the thick,
green grass as they progressed towards the top. Birds chirped, and the sunshine
was so potent that it seemed to massage her shoulders with invisible hands.
She started singing—“
All things bright and
“Settle down, Boycie. I don’t want a duet.”
Boycie barked again.
“Now, now, Boycie, settle down.” The cocker
spaniel hopped from paw to paw, floppy brown ears twitching. Elizabeth was
about to scold him when she saw what had got him so worked up. “Hmm, that
wasn’t there yesterday, was it, boy?”
The smooth black stone was the size of a football,
and out of place up on the lonely hill. No other rocks or boulders lay around,
and certainly none that were jet-black like this one. It more resembled
volcanic glass than anything that should be found in the English countryside.
If not for the delicate grey veins snaking over its surface, it could have been
an old-fashioned bowling ball, or one of those cartoon bombs with the fuses and
ACME written on the side. The closer she got to it, the less smooth the stone appeared—like
how a television picture degraded when you went right up to the screen.
Boycie tugged on his lead, hard enough he almost
yanked free of her grasp. She gave it a swift tug and brought the spaniel back to
heel. “Behave, Boycie! What’s got into you?”
The birds stopped chirping and the warmth of the sun
disappeared, yet it was still so muggy that it was hard to take a breath. A
distant roll of thunder, but not a single cloud hanging in the sky.
Elizabeth’s eyes fixed on the strange black stone.
The word ‘
popped into her mind. She reached out to touch it, not
knowing why other than something inside of her demanded it. Her fingertips were
just about to make contact when Boycie bit her.
The leash slipped out of her grasp and Boycie
fled, running down the hill full pelt like a greyhound chasing a rabbit.
“Boycie, come back here!”
“Damn it.” Her hand throbbed something terrible; a
purplish-blue blotch forming where one long canine had crushed her skin. Boycie
had never snapped at her like that before. Never. What had got into him?
Then came more pain.
Thwump thwump thwump…
Elizabeth turned and clutched her forehead. The
delicate grey veins on the stone’s surface had started to pulse and vibrate. It
was calling out to her. She couldn’t help herself. She reached out.
Pressed her fingertips against the stone.
Ice cold. Like running her hand down the inside of
It felt… wrong. Unnatural.
Elizabeth was just about to pull away when something
seized her. Her fingertips fused against the stone’s icy surface. A powerful
force snatched her mind and showed her unbelievable things. Distressing images
seared themselves into her soul and boiled the blood in her veins.
She saw horrors—exquisite tortures of the worst
A vast legion of monstrous creatures.
She saw Hell.
The pictures in Elizabeth’s mind were so wondrous
and terrifying that her eyeballs melted inside her skull and leaked down her
cheeks while her heart burst in her chest like a pin pricked balloon. When her
sixty seven year old body slumped to the ground it was an empty husk and her days
of ambling through fields were over—her retirement irrevocably ended.
The cold black stone went back to sleep.
When Rick’s song came on
the radio he winced and pulled out the plug. Few things upset him more than
hearing his number 1 hit,
Cross to Bear.
It was fingernails on a
blackboard, and its title had become more than a little apt. Its existence was
cross to bear
Sitting in the kitchen of his vast country home, he
poured himself another whiskey and switched on the wall-mounted television.
Evening had not yet arrived, and the only programmes airing were a couple of
convoluted quiz shows and a mock-court case with
the gesticulating gavel-wielder heard a case about a stolen Xbox. Riveting
Rick slid off his stool and took his whiskey into
the living room, where he ambled over to the sleek black piano in the corner.
Despite the melancholic feelings playing always stirred in him, he never lost
affection for his beloved parlour grand. He’d saved six long years for it back
in the days before he’d acquired his fortune. The sense of achievement of
finally making enough money to buy the beautiful instrument had made him
cherish it even more. Now he could buy a piano worth twice as much, but it
wouldn’t mean half so much.
Sitting down at the piano, Rick placed his whiskey
on the coaster already on the shiny black lid. His fingers began to play
House of the Rising Sun
Closing his eyes, he slipped away and became a
vessel through which the music flowed. It was impossible not to smile against
the haunting onslaught of well-played piano music. It was that feeling of peace
and calm that he felt as he caressed the keys that had first attracted him to the
music industry. Life contained so much misery, so if he was going to devote his
life to something, it would be this—creating beauty with his fingertips.
A bum note
He lifted both hands away from the keys in horror.
had been unmistakable. His ears did not
The doorbell rang again.
He hadn’t played a bum note after all—someone had
pressed the doorbell in the midst of his playing.
He leapt up with a grunt. Unannounced visitors
were not something he often received, thanks to the imposing iron gate that
stood at the end of his long gravel driveway. He had no idea who would be calling
on him now.
The security panel in the entrance hallway illuminated
and the CCTV-controlled video feed had activated. The LCD monitor showed a man
outside, dressed in a suit and tie, despite the balmy weather.
Rick activated the intercom and spoke into the
microphone. “Who is it?”
The suited gentleman spotted the CCTV camera and
waved. “Don’t you recognise your own brother? That tiny bit of fame must have
gone to your head.”
Rick groaned. “Long time no see, Keith. Come on
What the hell was his brother doing here?
He pressed the gate release and then went and unlocked
the front door. He waited on the front step while a burgundy Range Rover
crunched up his pebble driveway. It’d been an age since he and Keith had seen
each other, so this unexpected visit was rather…
The Range Rover pulled up next to Rick’s imported
Mustang in front of the property’s detached double garage where Keith switched
off the engine and got out. He looked smug and proud for no reason, but that
was ordinary for him. “Hello, brother,” he said.
“Nice motor,” said Rick. “I remember you always
wanted a Range.”
“Best thing England ever made. Got her last year
after a particularly lucrative month.” He patted the bonnet lovingly then shot
a thumb at Rick’s sky-blue 2009 Mustang. “I don’t know how you can drive that
“Seemed a good purchase at the time.” Truth was,
Rick had never been much of a car fanatic and only got the American import
because it felt like something rich people did. For the amount he drove it, it’d
been a waste of money, but it was nice to look at and roared like a dragon on
Keith didn’t wait to be invited. He stepped
through the doorway into the entrance hall where he glanced around nosily. “Place
is a little big for just you, isn’t it?”
Rick glanced at his property and considered the
truth of it. The Edwardian mansion, with its rough stone floors and gnarled
mahogany beams, was perhaps a trifle grand for a single, essentially unemployed
man, but it was also the only thing that reminded him of the success he’d once been.
Win or lose, he’d made enough money to live in a massive house like this. He
shrugged. “I like it here. Doesn’t feel so big after a while.”
Keith nodded, but said nothing.
They both went into the living room, which was modern
compared to the rest of the lower floor which still retained its Edwardian
charms. They gave each other an awkward hug.
“It’s good to see you, Keith. Take a seat, I’ll
get you a drink.”
“Nothing for me, thanks. Marcy and I don’t much
touch alcohol these days.”
“Really? Good on you both.” Despite his brother’s
refusal, Rick went and retrieved his whiskey from the piano and gulped it down,
then poured himself a fresh measure from the bottle in the kitchen. Back in the
living room, he found Keith spread out on the couch like it was his own.
Rick perched on the other couch. “So, you really
“Well, you know how it is. We don’t want to raise
Maxwell thinking that booze is an ordinary part of life.”
“You mean like dad raised us?”
“Oh, come on, Rick. Dad was never as horrid as you
make him out.”
“You’d gone to university by the time he was
really bad. I was thirteen. I’m the one who got to see the bastard he turned
into—I’m the one who got to watch him knock mum about.”
Keith sighed. “Mum and dad’s marriage was nothing
to do with us.”
“Anyway,” Rick changed the subject, “how
Maxwell? He must be—what?—four by now?”
“Four in October. He’ll be starting school soon,
though I think he’s ready now. He’s so smart, Rick. I tell you, he’ll be Prime
Minister one day.”
“Must take after you. You’ve always been driven.”
Keith looked smug, and Rick chided himself for
kneading his brother’s ego. Rick could be King of the Universe and Keith
wouldn’t give him the slightest congratulation, so why was he throwing his
brother a bone? Rick still remembered the look of devastation on Keith’s face
when he’d signed his record deal. No happiness, no pride in his younger
brother’s accomplishments—just resentment and anger. Rick became the rich and
successful brother, and Keith detested it. When it’d all inevitably gone down
the pan, Keith’s transparent glee almost ended their relationship. Perhaps it
should have, but Rick had allowed himself to fall back into the old routine—Keith
turning up his nose at everything he did, and him trying to act like he didn’t
“So, why are you here, Keith? I haven’t seen you
in over a year—since Tabitha got married.”
“Tabby’s already divorced. I could have told you
it was on the cards the moment they said their vows. He was a carpenter.”
Rick frowned. “So?”
“Just saying. Chap didn’t have much going on.
Tabby wanted more.”
“She told you that, did she?”
Keith shrugged. “It was obvious.”
“So why are you here?” Rick demanded. “Not to talk
about our cousin’s divorce, I’m sure.”
“Can’t I just drop by to see my little brother? I
wanted to check in on you, make sure you hadn’t hanged yourself in this big
“Why would I hang myself?”
“Because… Well, you know.”
“What? Because I lost my record deal and haven’t
been able to get another one? Or because they make funny videos on the Internet
about how cheesy my one and only hit song was. Rick Astley called me the other
day and thanked me for replacing him. Should I just hang myself?”
“I never said that.”
Rick knocked back his whiskey and went to get
another one. “Maybe I’ll kill myself when my money runs out. Fortunately, I
made a shitload of it, so that will probably never happen. Least I’m a stinking
rich failure, huh?”
“Rick, come on…”
Rick stormed off into the kitchen. Once he’d
poured himself a fresh drink, he placed his elbows on the counter and held his
head in his hands. If Keith thought he was depressed, it was because he damn
well was. Suicide, though, had never crossed his mind. As much as he hated the
sour turn his life had taken, he had made it once. He’d been top of the charts
and saw his face printed on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine. Most musicians
only dreamt of getting a shot like he had, and whether it had lasted or not, Rick
had been lucky. For that reason alone, he was proud. It was just difficult
finding self-respect when you were a one-hit wonder. If a man made a fortune by
selling a business and retiring at thirty, he was forever successful, but if a
musician got rich off one song and then hung up his guitar, he was a joke—his short
career became a punchline. People enjoyed watching celebrities fall—it was
modern blood sport—and while Rick had been a celebrity for all of five minutes,
he had fallen hard.
…grizzly scene discovered just outside the
Devonshire village of Crapstone.
Keith walked into the kitchen. “Hey, Rick, I’m
sorry if I upset you.”
“Quiet a second. They’re talking about something
that’s happened in Crapstone. That’s only a few miles from here.”
Keith pulled up a stool next to Rick, and they
both watched the television while the news report continued. There was a female
reporter standing at the base of a grassy hill surrounded by police tape. Several
men and women in latex gloves hurried around, working on something out of sight.
Atop this small hill, the body of pensioner,
Elizabeth Creasy—a retired local businesswoman—was found dead; her eyes badly
mutilated in what police are suspecting was a premeditated and personal
Rick scrunched up his face. “Poor lady.”
“She must have annoyed the wrong person,” said
” the reporter continued, “
the presence of a bizarre object found beside the crime scene. A smooth black
stone was discovered right next to Mrs Creasy’s body, but all attempts so far
to collect it have failed. In fact, several attempts to interact with the stone
have resulted in further casualties as two police officers, first to arrive at
the scene, both suffered fatal injuries shortly upon touching the object in
question. A team of geologists from the University of Exeter are now examining
the stone, but their initial studies are yet to provide any insight into its
nature. Police are hesitant to draw any conclusions, but this has been a strange
and brutal attack in one of the country’s most idyllic locations. I’m Kimberly
Wilkins, back to the studio.
Rick pulled a face. “Horrible.”
“Somebody mutilated her eyes, Keith. I don’t know
how a person can…” He sighed and took a nip of whiskey. “And that stone they
were talking about... They said they couldn’t collect it. What does that even
“That it’s heavy. Who cares?”
Rick wasn’t sure why he cared. Perhaps it was
because he often felt so isolated and vulnerable here on his own. He sometimes
lay in bed at night hearing noises and worrying about robbers creeping around
downstairs. That might be why the thought of an old lady being mutilated and
murdered just miles away from his home was more than a little unnerving. “I
just find the whole thing sad,” he said. “Why would someone do that to a
Keith chuckled. “You always think too much, Rick.
I remember when our dog, Cassie, died. You cried in your room for a week. You
were such a funny child.”
Rick topped up his whiskey and exhaled into his
glass, then took another long swig. He clonked the empty glass down on the
counter and took a moment to study his older brother—a slightly plumper, slightly
balder version of himself. His previously jet-black hair had lightened towards grey
and his nose seemed bigger. “What do you want, Keith? Will you tell me why
you’re here? I know it’s not because you missed me.”
Keith rubbed a hand against his stubbled chin. It
was unlike him not to be clean-shaven. “Maybe I should have that drink after
all, Rick. I’ll have whatever you’re having.”
Rick poured his brother a whiskey in a fresh glass
and slid it towards him. “Why are you here for God’s sake? Will you just tell
Keith wrapped his fingers around the whiskey glass
and stared down at the oak-coloured contents. “Because I have no place else to
go. I need to stay here tonight, Rick. Maybe for a while.”
Rick closed his eyes. He could not have got a worse