Below you can read the first chapter of each book.
Ping - From the Apocalypse
It was strange how it drew her attention: a tiny speck of red where the snow had not held on her car. The colour glinted at her from under the streetlamp, glowing out from the vast white. It was a white that whirled and tossed against the blackness of the sky and tumbled down to earth; a white that stretched across the landscape as thick as an enormous eiderdown — silencing everything beneath it.
Curious, after the lights flickered, Kate had gone to the window to peer outside. Ice pellets clattered against the frozen glass as she massaged her throbbing head and swallowed, painfully. She’d half-expected the blackout. The furnace clanged, and an electrical snap left her standing in darkness, listening to the wind howling through the trees. Even the streetlights were out, and the clouds blocked the glow from the moon and stars.
“I knew it,” she said.
Her tiny house rattled sporadically as she felt her way to the kitchen. She fumbled with a wooden matchstick, striking it against the flint side of its small cardboard container. A soft halo of light curled around her and she touched the flame to the wick of a candle. Shadows stretched across the wall as she crept to the end of the passage.
She nudged the office door inward peering into the room, which was washed in an eerie, blue tint from the computer screen. Jon was in his office chair, wisps of blonde hair fanning out from the tall back of it, and he appeared to be sleeping. She raised her candle, leaned in for a better look and a long shadow wavered across the desk.
“Is that what you’ve been doing all this time? You must be exhausted, honey.”
“Jon, there’s a blackout. And you’re going to fall off the chair in a minute.”
A major deadline for a project was approaching, which had been obviously stressful, keeping him working all hours; he’d been up since the early hours of the morning. The client was waiting anxiously for some completed code, but he had to be completely drained. And on top of that, he’d complained of feeling ill earlier, like he had the flu. Now, she was certain she had it too.
“I made us some soup sweetie, but I don’t want any now,” she groaned, feeling the glands in her neck. “I’m feeling horrible.”He didn’t budge.
“Jon, are you okay?”
Stepping gingerly between the heaps of documents on the floor, wondering how he ever made his way around the room, she grumbled, “If this is your idea of joke, I am not laughing — in case you hadn’t noticed.” A powerful gust shook the office window.
“Jon?” She raised her voice this time, feeling a little concerned. He must have been more worn-out than she had even imagined. Most of the time he would wake at the sound of a pin dropping, and he could even hear what people were saying at the other side of a large room. It was clear that he was pushing himself way too hard lately. His damned client would just have to be more patient, this wasn’t worth his health.
Trying to get over to him between all of the stuff on the floor, she accidently knocked over the pile of papers in front of her which cascaded across the rug; her foot slid, her legs splayed and she screeched on the way down, falling with a hard thud so the wind was knocked out of her.
By the time she had collected herself, a smoky glow was curling along the edge of a crumpled piece of paper where the candle had landed. She quickly grabbed a nearby dictionary and dropped it on top of the flames, smothering them. Then she peered over at him. With all the noise he still hadn’t budged.
She crawled on her hands and knees through the mess over to her husband’s side, grabbing his hand and squeezing. But his jaw remained slack, sagging open; in the cold-blue light of the computer his skin was ghastly white. He appeared dead.
Now Kate’s heart was pounding as she probed for a vein in his thick wrist, finally feeling a weak pulse.
“Okay, now just open your eyes, Jon!”
She could feel the warm pants from his mouth — weak and too fast — which was hardly reassuring, and her focus switched to his overflowing desk. “Where on earth is the phone? How can you function like this?”
Her fingers searched between the mounds of papers, beneath various pieces of hardware scattered around them, around several books and spare monitors, feeling up and down and over the top of things, until finally she dragged a cellphone from below a couple of file-folders. She gaped at the buttons and pressed 9-1-1.
“Come on,” she mumbled.
The ringing seemed to go on forever and the emergency workers should have responded, there had been plenty of time. “What the hell is going on?!”
Even after calling back twice, not a soul answered.
She lifted his head which had fallen forward, cradling his face in her palms. “What’s wrong with you?”
To her relief, he let out a long, pathetic moan.
She gulped. “Are you okay?”
“Jon? Please say something honey.”
His eyes were sick and unfocused, but they finally met hers. Then, he screamed, “Ahhh… the pain!”
Hooking his heavy arm around her shoulders, she heaved him up. Carrying a man as large as Jon, when he was barely conscious, was not an easy feat. “Come on. Let’s get you out of here. Help me, okay?” she groaned.
They stumbled into the pitch-black hallway, then on to the living room, nearly falling over the coffee table. Jon collapsed on the sofa pulling her down with him though she was unable to make out even the faintest outline of him. She felt his legs dangling over the edge of the cushion and lifted them so that he was lying flat and perched on the edge beside him.
“Christ, you’re burning up,” she said, stroking his forehead and holding his arm tight, for her own comfort. “I dialled 9-1-1, but there was no answer. It — it must be the storm. Too many accidents… or something.”
“I—I need some water.”
“Of course sweetie, I’ll be back in a second.”
She stumbled through the darkness to the kitchen and located the box of matches, another candle, and a glass.
“Why didn’t you tell me you were this sick?” she said, handing him his water while she placed the flickering candle on the table in front of them. Jon gulped it down as if he’d been in a desert for days, coughed, and then gasped, giving her the drained glass. “It hit so fast. I think I passed out. This isn’t normal pain, Kate.”
She was fighting an increasing amount of pain herself, and struggled to stay calm. Her entire body felt like it was on fire. “I’ll have to shovel that damned driveway and get you to the hospital myself, since I can’t contact anyone. This is too creepy Jon—”
Suddenly Jon began twisting in agony and a bizarre groan emerged from deep inside him — like a large dying animal. He lurched over the edge of the couch retching violently and Kate leaped to the side just in time. When he had stopped, she watched him disintegrate with a quivering moan into the cushions.
“Oh Jon,” she said weakly, placing her palm on his forehead trying to be soothing, but the wind was raging outside and the window trembled so violently that Kate couldn’t help glaring nervously toward the darkness beyond the frosted glass. She combed her fingers through his hair. She didn’t feel well enough to shovel their lengthy driveway and besides, the roads would be impossible to manoeuvre.
She suddenly noticed blood, dribbling from his lips. It made her heart begin to race again. She didn’t want to upset him. “I — I’m just going to get a cloth for your face sweetie. I love you.”
The shadows wavered nauseatingly as Kate went back to the kitchen. Squeezing water from a towel at the sink she had to stop abruptly and grip the edge of the counter, overcome by the pain. But then she heard Jon vomiting again and she rushed back to him.
He was out again — not moving an eyelid as she wiped his face. She examined the dark stain on the cloth close to the flame, her insides twisting in horror. Then she peered down at the floor and gasped at the pool of blood.
“Oh Jon!” she shrieked, racing to the front of the house, tugging on her boots and her coat and charging out into the bitter cold.
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Ping Two - Across the Valley
(July 3rd, Year Two, PA)
The lush branches swayed in the wind as twilight fell outside the boy’s bedroom window and to Travis the forest appeared to be dancing in celebration of Lucy’s arrival. She and the astronaut had finally made it to them, safe and sound. But that was not all that kept him awake. He was waiting for something and would not sleep until it arrived.
He leaned over to peer through the rustling foliage. At the back of the hotel parking lot, barely visible, was the astronaut’s huge rig, filled with things that would make life at Moonstone Resort more like it used to be, before the horrible plague. So much had changed recently and everything seemed to be happening all at once.
This was his first night living with Rose, who was still shuffling around in the kitchen. It made sense for him to stay with her now that Jack was moving in with Kate and their baby so they could finally be a family. He didn’t mind.
Beneath the clatter of dishes and the noisy whistling through the birches and pines, he heard the trunk of Jack’s car open and close in Kate’s driveway as the doctor unpacked his things. Kate was going to be just fine with a little rest — Jack had promised. But the crumpled motorhome at the bottom of the ravine by the highway would be a harsh reminder to everyone of what could happen.
Travis lay on his back, gazing out at the darkening sky as the storm approached, yet his mind was far off and full of expectation as he waited. Then, for a fleeting moment, it arrived in his mind — a ping so strange, that he buried his face in his pillow.
(Seventy-Five Miles from Moonstone)
It was almost dark. The faint growl of distant thunder was furthest from her mind as Hannah watched Kevin striding through the blowing debris at the front of the house towards their car. She brushed her long hair away from her eyes while bits of paper, empty cans, and plastic bags drifted down the road of the ghostly suburb.
The sky lit up in three consecutive flashes and a slight sprinkle of rain began to fall. Kevin had already started the windshield wipers swishing over a layer of dampened grime. Leaning against the door, the young woman was about to shout for him not to leave; but she let him go anyway, glancing at his peculiar wave and the concerned look on his face — as if he knew.
After going back inside, she examined the red patch near her palm. It was spreading toward the border of her tattoo and the center of it had begun to ooze. Clutching her arm to try to numb the pain, she eased herself onto her bed. There was a cobweb on the light fixture above her, barely clinging, wavering limply in a whistling draft that entered through the narrow opening of the window.
She watched the tattered thread and started to moan. Then she curled her body into a ball and began to rock rhythmically. The pain was becoming too much to bear and soon she pulled herself up again, swaying back and forth at the edge of the mattress. A sense of dread was creeping through her. She stood, and then she began to pace.
The skin on the underside of her arm was clearly disintegrating before her eyes and she gaped at her glistening flesh as she wandered from room to room groaning. But the agony only got worse and spreading alarmingly fast to the rest of her body was that distinguishable rash, the image of which had been seared into her memory.
The can of meat had not made her ill after all, and sending Kevin out for drugs had been a terrible mistake. Now there was no way to contact him.
It did not take long for her to come to her senses. But, grabbing a pad of paper from a drawer in the kitchen, her heart skipped a beat as she recognized the Moonstone Lake Resort logo at the top of the page. She hunted for a pen with her body beginning to shake.
Kevin’s flashlight beamed into the corners of the strip-mall pharmacy. He smashed in the glass door and stepped over the crunching shards, proceeding gun-ready to the back of the store.
Gradually over the last year and a half they’d relaxed slightly. Their growing belief that — aside from illness — there wasn’t much left that could threaten them anymore, had made them less attentive. But their recent discovery had them rethinking the sequence of events before and after the plague and they were more vigilant now.
Hannah would be anxious for his return. He knew that whatever was wrong with her, had to be bad. It certainly wasn’t like her to beg him to leave her alone for anything. They’d made a deal — never to separate under any circumstance. He stuffed two bags with every kind of painkiller and antibiotic he could find, and rushed out into the rain.
Tossing the medication onto the passenger seat, he sat down with a deep sigh and keyed the ignition. Of course the car engine couldn’t have picked a better time to die on him, just when Hannah was sick. Now he was going to have to jog home in the storm.
Travis stared up at the ceiling and twirled his thumbs. If only he’d taught Jack and Kate to control their telepathy. He would be nine in a few months — old enough to have explained what could happen if their pings were not managed properly. But the consequences of too much information had never occurred to him and now that he thought about it, the disaster with the motorhome and poor Kate’s suffering was partially his fault.
He concentrated on what he could have done to teach them to handle their pings, all of them — except for Lucy, who already knew — when a rumble of thunder barely audible in the distance made him gaze out into the darkness.
He wondered if Lucy was comfortable living with Sarah and eventually sent her a gentle ping, but realizing the girl was in a deep sleep, decided it was better to let her rest. There would be lots of time in the morning.
Light from Rose’s lantern flowed under his door and he could see the shadow of her feet moving back toward the kitchen, where she began a one-sided conversation with Snowy. The cockatiel’s new abode was a small room by the back door. Travis was glad that Rose loved him as much as he did.
But still wide awake he pulled out his dresser drawer, quietly hunted beneath a pair of jeans, and brought a folded map back to bed with him. With his penlight he studied the details for a while, finally slipping the chart beneath his pillow, yawning, and tucking his blanket under his chin.
There was a hypnotic drizzle beginning on his roof; he heard the pattering of small droplets bouncing from the foliage and dripping to the ground. With the damp, cooling gusts entering through the slit in his window a soothing bubble wrapped around his thoughts lifting him into a cozy slumber.
The drizzle had left their backup vehicle — a dusty red pickup that was sitting in their driveway just in case of an emergency — streaked with dirt. Trembling, Hannah climbed in, fumbled with the ignition, and finally reversed out onto the street. She drove to the main road and headed west where, sinking beneath a distant fringe of mountains, the last rays of sun seeped like watery-orange paint into the blackening sky.
By now she was too dizzy to keep in her lane and swerved from one side of the road to the other, shocked back into alertness by the flashes of electricity bursting over the hills and the deep rumbles of thunder rolling past her in the cloudy haze.
By the time she reached the ramp to the highway her wipers were flowing over gushing sheets of water. The route ahead was dangerously obscure and yet her mind was acute with an inner clarity she’d never felt before. Having lived a while longer than most of the world to witness the wake of the plague, it was as if whatever evil force that had caused such terrible suffering had needed someone to see it and gloat but now it was done with her.
Only a faint, far-fetched hope kept Hannah going. But as she strained to see the rising mountain ahead, a sudden loud pop made the van bounce violently, jarring her up and down. Her arms flapped while she desperately gripped the wheel.
The sun was like a beacon shining through the darkness of the storm and Hannah felt like a humanoid-moth, fluttering to the flame. She wondered what Kevin was going to do now.
It had taken close to an hour but he finally splashed across the lawn and paused at the porch steps to catch his breath. The front door was swinging on its hinges in the wind and the pickup was no longer in the driveway.
“Hannah!?” he shouted, running inside and dropping the bags on the floor.
She was not on her bed or anywhere on the main floor.
“Are you okay? Hannah?!”
He ran upstairs and then came slowly down again, finally noticing the message on the table that he’d missed on the way in. Holding it in front of him he sunk onto the step and finally let his head fall into his hands.
Rivers of water coursed across the highway as Hannah steered the bumping truck up the mountain. At the crest, the rain streamed steadily from the slopes above her and poured into the darkness beyond. She followed the yellow-painted lines descending the steep slope into the void, feeling like she was plunging into the bowels of the earth.
After the road leveled, her headlights reflected off the slick surface of a bashed-in motorhome down in the trees at the bottom of a ravine by the side of the highway. Hannah hadn’t seen that before. But she recognized the crash further along — the pieces of metal strewn along the shoulder shone eerily through the spray of her tires.
Even in her waning condition Hannah knew she was almost there. The country road was unforgettable; she and Kevin had kept well-hidden in the trees twice as they’d slipped down it, observing the unlikely colony.
At the Moonstone Lake Resort sign, she turned and guided the unruly vehicle beneath a dripping canopy of vegetation. Her lights tunneled through the growth as she bumped up a short incline and then down through a run of deep puddles. Branches scraped against the doors where a snaking curve became too much for her to manoeuvre.
Arriving at a straighter stretch with the rain pounding on her roof she picked up speed swaying treacherously from one side to the other. Her headlight reflected from the foliage brightening the inside of the vehicle. She caught a glimpse of what was left of her hands and in her mirror the screaming face of something not human as the pickup slid through the mud into the trees.
Travis was now soaring like an eagle across the lushest of valleys. He swooped down, barely having to move his wings as he floated on the air currents above a crashing river, exploring along it, following the natural bends and twists between the mountains. Then with a slight change in position he climbed high above the mist again gazing into the valley below.
There was a flash of yellow in a clearing which quickly slipped back into the shadows of the forest as an explosion by his ear sent him spinning out of control, plunging toward the rocks in an endless spiral down.
With another loud crack Travis opened his eyes just as the forest ignited. Throbbing electricity revealed something so horrible the boy’s heart felt like it would burst from his chest. The never-ending brightness filled in every detail of it within the trees — the gaping mouth in a stark manifestation of agonized horror, eyes rolled up, clenched fingers and arms outstretched to the sky, raw bloody dripping flesh. In the same instant there was a boom like the shot of a cannon that vibrated in his gut.
A shrill scream emerged from the depths of his soul and then for a second there was only pitch-blackness and pounding rain.
Rose’s footsteps shuffled across the floor, his door opened, and from beneath his blanket he could see the light of her lantern. He felt her weight on the side of his bed.
“It’s just a storm dear, no need to get upset; Travis?”
He couldn’t move.
“I have to admit, that was a loud one. Poor Lucy and Christopher, if they were asleep I’ll be that woke them,” she chuckled.
He was crying, but he couldn’t help himself.
“Are you going to come out of there?” She pried his blanket down past his eyes. “Come on now, you don’t usually get so upset with thunderstorms. It must have been another one of your bad dreams my dear, that’s all.”
Tears rolled down his cheeks.
“Hush dear. I’m here now.”
He couldn’t speak. He could barely even look at her. All he could see was that horrible vision and he knew it was still out there in the darkness.
“Tell me Travis. What is it?”
“I — I saw a monster!” he blurted, pointing to the spot outside.
Rose stared at the darkened window. She got up and pressed her face against the glass. Then she came back and wrapped her arms around him.
“It was just a dream Travis. The storm scared you. That’s all it was.”
“No…” Travis shook his head firmly, gazing into her eyes.
“Will you ping me about it then?”
He buried his face in his knees and sobbed. He couldn’t possibly show her that.
“The storm has passed us already, see? The rain has gone.”
But he couldn’t stop weeping.
“Travis dear… it’s late, but, why don’t we read our book some more, eh honey? It’s been a hard few days. Travis?”
With her soft hands on his cheeks, she had gently turned his head towards her; he gazed into her concerned eyes. She gave him a pat, her dark hand squeezing his thin, white knee. “Come on now,” she smiled, taking his book from the night table and leading him to her room.
Click here to download Ping Two - Across the Valley.
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