Authors: Erica Stevens
Tags: #Post Apocalyptic
The Survivor Chronicles: Book 3
Copyright © 2014 Erica Stevens
This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you're reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. Thank you for downloading this eBook. This is the copyrighted property of the author, and may not be reproduced, copied and distributed for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy.
Ebook formatting by
The Captive Series
Captured (Book 1)
Refugee (Book 3)
Salvation (Book 4)
Redemption (Book 5)
Broken (The Captive Series Prequel)
The Fire & Ice Series
Frost Burn (Book 1, Coming June 2015)
The Kindred Series
Kindred (Book 1)
Ashes (Book 2)
Kindled (Book 3)
Inferno (Book 4)
Phoenix Rising (Book 5)
The Ravening Series
Ravenous (Book 1)
Taken Over (Book 2)
Reclamation (Book 3)
The Survivor Chronicles
Book 1: The Upheaval
Book 2: The Divide
Book 3: The Forsaken
Book 4: The Risen
This book is dedicated to Eric and Steve.
Thank you for bringing so much joy and laughter into my life.
You are still loved and missed every day.
Special thanks to my husband for being my best friend and making me laugh,
to my parents for always being there,
my siblings, nieces and nephews who make life more interesting and fun.
To my friends for helping to keep me sane.
To Leslie Mitchell for being such a good friend and amazing help,
and to all the fans who make everyday such a wonderful adventure!
He tilted his head back and released a small sigh as the sun heated his skin and warmed him from the outside in. It was perfect out today and though he was looking forward to tonight, this was just what he needed as he adjusted the sunglasses on his face and reached for the glass of ice water sitting beside him.
His hand fumbled with air before a cool bottle was thrust into it. He reluctantly cracked open one of his eyes as curiosity got the best of him. The grinning face of his father greeted him as he nodded toward the bottle. "Happy birthday."
John frowned as his gaze finally turned toward the bottle. Beads of water slid down the longneck and were already beginning to gather on his hand. An eyebrow lifted as he stared at the beer label.
Was this some kind of trap?
"I know it's not your first, but I think you're old enough for us to share one together." He almost opened his mouth to deny his father's statement but what was the point? "It's not a trap." John returned his father's easy smile as he seemed to read his mind. "I shared my first beer with my father on my eighteenth birthday and I thought we should do the same."
"She doesn't have to know about this," his father said with a laugh and tipped his bottle back to his mouth.
John nodded his agreement as he took his first tentative sip. It wasn't his first beer, and it wasn't even his first of this brand, but it was the best he'd ever tasted as it slid down his throat. His father placed a small cooler with a six pack in between them and settled into the lawn chair beside him.
John studied the trees lining the backyard and smiled as two birds flew through the oaks in a flirting dance as they squawked loudly. "What are your plans for the night?"
He turned from the birds back to his father. "Going to The Pit with Corey and Elliot."
His father nodded. The Pit had been there ever since his father was a kid; it was where everyone went to hang out and party from the time they were in high school to their early twenties. John knew his friends were planning a party for him there tonight.
"I spent my eighteenth down there." His father leaned over and pulled another beer from the cooler. "That was the night I met your mom."
went to The Pit?"
His father's smile widened as he twisted the cap off. "Don't let her motherly demeanor fool you; she was once a little crazy."
John wasn't entirely sure he wanted to think about his mom any less mom-like, he certainly didn't like thinking about her at The Pit. They were his parents, and that was the box he liked to keep them in. His father handed him another beer and as he twisted the cap off he realized that perhaps he liked them out of the box just a little bit.
"Hard to picture," he commented.
"You'll get to see it one day."
"I hope so," John said as he tossed the cap into the cooler.
His father smiled at him and tapped his glass against John's. "You will. Happy birthday son, the best ones are yet to come. Maybe you'll even meet someone tonight."
"I hope not."
His dad snorted as he chugged down his beer and leaned back in the chair. "I felt the same exact way, believe me."
The sun moved lower in the sky as they drank their beer in amicable silence. He should get up and start getting ready but he was loath to tear himself away. Though he was only eighteen he knew he'd never have this moment again. They may share more drinks together, but once he stood up
moment would be over.
His phone began to vibrate against his leg as the default ringer played. "You going to answer that?" his father asked.
"There are two beers left, I'll call them back."
His father nodded as the sun reached the horizon. "It won't always be like this you know," his father said.
"Like what?" John asked.
"Simple. Easy. It only gets tougher with age."
He didn't think his life was all that simple and easy now, but he wasn't in the mood to argue with his dad, not today. "I believe it. There was no recess in high school after all."
His dad chuckled as he reached into the cooler again. The ice water sloshed against the side as he pulled out the last two beers and handed one to John. "No, there wasn't."
Pink and orange spread across the sky in a growing wave that almost made it seem as if a giant hand was reaching toward him. For some reason that thought caused a shudder to ripple through him as he became unreasonably chilled. He couldn't shake the image of someone, or some
, reaching out of the sky to grab hold of him and put an end to his simple life.
"You're not really here you know."
John had to tear his attention away from the sky to focus on his father again. "Excuse me?"
"Here, you're not here, I'm not here. You realize that don't you?" John frowned as his father swung his legs over the side of the chair and leaned toward him. "This,
of this exists anymore.
don't exist anymore."
"Don't say that."
The bottle dangled from his father's fingertips as he held it between his middle and index fingers. There was a look in his eyes that John would have associated with someone that was looking for their next drug fix. He was tempted to lean away from his father, but this was his
, there was no reason to feel any unease around him. That was crazy.
A whisper of wind blew across the nape of his neck as the trees to the left of him flickered oddly. "Look around you John, it's gone."
He didn't want to look around him, if he did he would
things, and he didn't want to see anything. He preferred to sit here and enjoy these beers with his dad and that was all. He tipped the bottle back to his lips but where there had been plenty of liquid in it before, nothing dripped into his throat now.
Pulling it away from his mouth, he went to shake it but as he held it before him it turned to sand and pooled onto the midnight blue lawn chair he was sitting on. A small sound escaped him as he stared at the pile of sand between his legs. The urge to scoop it up and save it seized him as he began to frantically brush it into the palm of his hand. If he could only save it, then he could...
He could what? What could he possibly do with sand?
"John." He couldn't look. "John." He kept his head bowed as he continued to try and brush the sand into his palm, but it kept running through his fingers and falling back to the lawn chair that had faded to a more ocean blue in hue. "Son
He felt like a petulant child being denied a candy bar. "No."
His father rested a hand upon his forearm. He couldn't deny it anymore, he had to look. His father's face seemed to be fading as rapidly as the blue in the chair. It had a ghostlike quality to it that he was half-tempted to stick his hand through, if it wouldn't be so morbid and awful to do so.
The features blurred before snapping briefly back into acute focus. "It's coming you know."
John frowned and sat back as the sand continued to trickle through his fingers. "What's coming?" he asked.
is." He didn't think he'd ever been more confused in his life. His father's eyes, so similar to his own, seemed to burn out of his head like some kind of freaky human jack-o-lantern. "Be prepared."
"Be prepared for what, I don't understand. I don't..."
His words broke off as he finally took in the world around him now. The trees that had lined the backyard he had played in as a child, and the trail that led to the pond he'd gone swimming in often, had vanished. Before him was a barren landscape that was somehow strangely desert, and sickly forest, all rolled into one. Gone were the pines and oaks, left were scraggly and twisted looking trees the likes of which he'd never seen before. A few curled and browned leaves clung stubbornly to the hooked branches that bent toward the earth.
Where the hell was he?
The hand on his arm tightened and though he was frightened that he was going to find a skeletal hand when he looked down, he did so anyway. Thankfully the hand grabbing him was still fleshy but it was fading in and out like a bad hologram at a crappy carnival.
"Be prepared John, it's only just beginning."
In the distance a dull thud began to sound, he didn't know what it was as he couldn't bring himself to look away from his father, and it wasn't a sound he was overly familiar with. He was tempted to look, but he was certain that if he looked away he would never see his father again. Certain that this was the last time he'd ever talk to him, but that made absolutely no sense.
"Be strong son. Be strong."
The thudding was getting closer and he found he couldn't resist the incessant pull to turn his head. The last of the sand slipped through his fingers as he realized the incessant thudding was the approaching sound of hoof beats. Through the foggy terrain, and broken trees, he spotted a lone man on a horse.
A gurgled noise escaped him as he started and abruptly sat up. He moved so quickly that he almost tumbled off the incredibly uncomfortable old blue couch. Blinking, he looked around to find Carl staring at him with a questioning expression on his face that made John feel like an idiot. There was a hammer in Carl's hand and he removed a few nails from where they'd been clamped between his lips. Xander was standing on the other side of the board, holding it up against the window as he studied John.
It took John a minute to register the fact that it had only been a dream. He struggled to assimilate the memory of his eighteenth birthday from the haunting dream, and the reality facing him now. He wasn't entirely sure what was worse, the fact that it had only been a dream or that awful image at the end of it. Those beers, and that birthday, really had been one of the best days of his life. He cursed that idiot by the church for ruining his dream with his talk of the apocalypse, and Carl for his nonsense about the four horsemen. He tried to shake off the renewed grief the dream had brought him, but he had to take a few deep breaths in order to get himself under control again.
"Look who finally woke up. Bad dream?"
John flipped Carl the finger and winced as he pulled himself up straighter on the couch. It really was the most uncomfortable piece of furniture he'd ever had the misfortune of sleeping on as every one of his muscles protested the movement.
"Yeah," he muttered. Carl's gray eyes narrowed upon him as he swung the hammer idly in his fingers. The beaten and faded Red Sox cap he always wore had been pushed back to reveal his light brown hair. The stress of these past few days had caused his weathered face to appear even older than his forty-one years. John couldn't hold Carl's gaze, he was still half afraid that he might shed a few tears as he focused on the board between them. "We're staying here?"
"Only for a day, maybe two. We'd like to try and scrounge up some more gas before hitting the road again and I think we could all use a brief break from the vehicles."
"Is it safe to stay here?"
"Is anywhere safe anymore?" Riley inquired. He looked over as she stepped into the doorway and leaned against the frame. The freckles on her nose stood out against a complexion made paler by stress and lack of sleep. Her cornflower blue eyes were shadowed by dark circles as she glanced at Xander before looking away. Xander's frown deepened, he went to release the board but snagged hold of it when it slid to the side.
"The windows will be boarded up for the short time we're here," Carl said. "And continuing on without a good gas supply won't be any less dangerous."
John nodded and then winced as he rubbed the back of his neck. He was dreading rising to his feet but he forced himself up. Though none of them had gotten drunk last night, the taste of whiskey filled his mouth as he tried to stretch his aching muscles. Carl finished hammering the nail in and stepped back as John made his way out of the room. Riley stepped aside to let him pass and then followed him down the hall toward the kitchen. John watched her retreating back before going into the bathroom. He dug out some mouthwash and gurgled with it for a few minutes before spitting it out again.
He barely recognized the man staring back at him as he looked in the mirror. There were lines marking his face and shadows under his eyes that made him seem far older than his twenty four... No, if he was right, it was July sixteenth and he was now twenty-five. It would be the first birthday in seven years that he wouldn't be sharing a beer with his father.
He pulled at his cheeks as he washed his face and tried to shake the memories and misery the dream had elicited, and the uneasy feeling it had created within him.
Just a dream,
he told himself.
There were no hoof beats, only nails
The dream lingered as badly as the whiskey though. He gargled once more and dried his hands on the hideously cheerful flower printed towel before leaving the pink bathroom. He could hear Carl and Xander working on the other window, but he didn't really feel like listening to the pounding of the hammer right now.