Keeping Busy

This whole pandemic thing leaves a lot to be desired. For one thing, I feel strangely cheated there are no zombies running around, giving the rest of us something to shoot at. Yeah yeah, I know, I’m one of the lucky ones, still able to get out of the house and go to work. I feel for those of you stuck at home, waiting for the green light to go to work. I can’t even imagine how frustrating it would be, needing to provide for my family but being told I’m not allowed to.

Hopefully that will change soon and we can try to get back to some semblance of normalcy. In the meantime, I’ll be here in the clinic if you need me, scribbling down words in between patients. Speaking of which, I have a treat for you at the end of the blog, so stick around.

I’d like to thank all those still making Night Zero a force to be reckoned with. Now entering its eleventh month, it remains in Amazon’s top 100 medical thrillers. Night Zero: Second Day is available for pre-order as an ebook, and is already working its way to the top 100, and it isn’t even out yet. (The paperback is, for those who just don’t want to wait another month.)

So, what’s a writer to do while waiting for the next thing to drop? Keep writing, of course.

Ascendancy, Book 3 of The Chosen Cycle, is done and set for an early October release. I’ve also re-released books 1 and 2 with new covers, so the set will have a similar look. At the time of this blog, I’m about 60% through Book 4, and am still on track for this series to end after book 5. Some of the characters will continue to make appearances, starting with Project: Genesis (the sequel to Project: Heritage), as the two series are inextricably tied together. You’ll start discovering these ties in Ascendancy.

Into Darkness, the sequel to Brightness, is also doing well, but I ran into a problem with Death Watch, my planned 3rd book in The Richards Saga. It’s going to be way too big. (I know, probably not a bad problem to have.) There’s simply way too much to fit into one book. We need to deal with Karie’s sudden disability as well as move the overarching story forward by addressing the problem of David Kellar. And, it’s time to introduce the endgame antagonist.

So, some division is in order.

The next installment will release as The Middle Child, and will pick up about a year after the end of Into Darkness. Middle Child will run directly into Death Watch. And, there’s a side story to be told, introducing the ultimate antagonist. A sample of this side story is included below. Its release is malleable. It could come out before Middle Child or after, just so long as it’s out before Death Watch.

And finally, my long-suffering Alpha reader/Wife has begged me to write something with dragons in it. It’s not really my cup of tea. I’m much more comfortable finding the supernatual in the everyday and keeping my stories grounded in the real world. But a few nights ago I had one of those dreams. (Not that kind–keep your minds out of the gutter.) It was one I couldn’t shake. It persisted after a midnight bathroom run–damn getting old. So I wrote it down and put a few hours into a first chapter. That chapter is also included below.

Now, here’s your homework. Read through both samples, and give me an idea which one you’d like to see more of.  The vote is between Strays, a novel set in the world of The Richards Saga, and Caverns & Carnivores (Because the Other Name is Copyrighted).

You can send your recommendation to me at any of the listed places.

On Twitter @RobHorner8

By email: fansofrobhorner@gmail.com

Or find me on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/robhorner There’ll be a post about this blog, and you can simply respond to it.

Without further ado, here are the samples. Enjoy.

Strays (Prologue)

Carol Gregory stood at the kitchen window, staring outside but seeing nothing. She leaned on her hands, more to keep them from fisting than because she needed the support.

It happened again. How many times did that make? What should they do about it?

You could tell it was Spring just by looking out the window.

Postage stamp lawns all bordered in white, picket fences running to an exact three inches from the city sidewalk, which itself neatly paralleled the newly surfaced city street. Each house marched side by side and across the street from one another, one city block to the next. Flowers bloomed in well-tended gardens outside front porches; the buzz of insects newly awakened from Winter’s sleep zoomed past the window; somewhere in the distance came the cough and growl of a lawnmower starting up. Must be one of the retirees; at ten in the morning, all the regular working people were, well, at work.

A sudden tap on the window drew Carol out of her thoughts. The green splat of a dead fly appeared inches in front of her nose.

She snorted, “Figures.”

Closing her eyes to the green chaos outside, she worked to be calm.

It was the boy. It had to be.

Those dead eyes. The smile when he was caught.

It was the smile which caused her reaction—she was not a bad mother!

Not a look of guilt with hope of forgiveness. Nor was it a false smile meant to hide a lie.

No.

Both would be understandable.

The boy smiled like he was the parent and he was proud of you for figuring out what he’d done.

That’s it. Good Mommy. Good Daddy. You’re soooo smart. Aren’t you just the smartest Mommy and Daddy a boy ever had?

Carol forced herself to take a long, slow breath in through her nose, then out through her mouth.

He was only six.

He couldn’t possibly mean any of the things she attributed to him, could he? Six-year-olds didn’t have the capacity to think like that, not according to the Child Psychology, Parenting Made Easy, and Being a Stay-At-Home Mom in the New Millennium books she read.

If he was older, she might call it acting out, or start tossing his room searching for a drug stash.

But no. He was six. He couldn’t possibly know how he looked when he smiled, or how it made her feel.

Get a grip, Carol.

It was the green bug splatter that got her moving. Got her ass in gear, as Bill liked to yell.

“C’mon, people. Get your asses in gear! Hell with the previews, the movie will be over before we even get outta the house.”

The splat made her see the rest of the window, inside and out. It needed to be cleaned. Which meant every window needed to be cleaned.

The window led her eyes to the curtains. Thin and gauzy, the off-white material had assumed a suspicious tan color. Whether from dust or bacon grease, it didn’t matter; they needed to come down and run through the wash. The thought of dust led her to consider the molding above the window and the natural wood cabinets running off to either side.

When was the last time she dusted?

Following the cabinets to the counters, she thought they might only need a little spritz with 409 and a washcloth. Things below eye level tended to receive more attention. The light green walls were fine; no sticky wickets ran through her house, touching everything after every chocolate dessert. Dean knew better.

The table had been cleared off; all it needed was a wipe down and a fresh tablecloth.

The floors and the mop could do with a reacquaintance—maybe after lunch.

A few breakfast dishes lingered in the sink. Bill’s coffee cup. Dean’s cereal bowl.

And the rolling pin.

She shouldn’t have grabbed it. Shouldn’t have swung the heavy, wooden tool.

But what was she supposed to do?

He was all right, anyway. Just knocked out. She’d put some ice on his goose egg later and tell Bill he tripped coming down the stairs, or something. Dean wouldn’t argue.

For a six-year-old, he rarely talked.

And even if he did tattle, why would Bill believe him over her? “Yeah, right, I hauled off and whacked our kid with a rolling pin. Is that what you think of me? Why’d you even marry me if you thought I was capable of something like that?” A few manufactured tears and his arms would be around her, his bristly chin scratching the top of her head, while he murmured how much he loved her, of course he believed her.

Just need to make sure it’s clean and back in its rightful place.

She bent to turn the water on and something slammed to the floor behind her.

Stifling a yelp, Carol turned, but nothing had moved.

The table was where it should be. Four of the six chairs were in their rightful places, because she’d been raised to tuck a chair back under the table every time you got up. The other two were Bill’s and Dean’s, cockeyed and pushed back. She didn’t remember exactly how’d they been, and it didn’t matter. Neither could have made the noise.

Between the table and the kitchen proper was a small pantry hidden behind a closet door. Something could have fallen off a shelf.

In the Gregory house, strange noises were investigated. You determined accident, or intent. And if it couldn’t have happened accidentally, you knew who to blame.

Drawing her lips into a thin line, Carol stepped toward the closet.

A cabinet door slammed.

“Sonuva!” She whirled, but, as before, nothing moved.

“You stop it, Dean!” she yelled.

Spinning again, Carol was ready to rush out of the kitchen. She didn’t have a rolling pin this time, but she knew how to make him stop. A pinch and twist in a certain soft place always made him stop.

One of the pushed back chairs—Dean’s, it has to be, there’s a spot of milk on the seat—slid away from the table, coming to a stop in the archway from kitchen to living room.

The wood chair moving across the wood floor created a grating sound which set the fillings in her teeth vibrating. Despite the impossibility of a chair moving of its own accord, all Carol saw were the white grooves created in the chair’s wake.

“That’s it, Dean! You’ve scratched my floor!”

Two steps took her from the kitchen sink to the blocking chair. She grabbed the back and yanked, but the chair didn’t move. A twinge of pain blossomed in her shoulder from the anger-driven effort; she’d pulled hard enough to fling the thing across the room. Instead of pulling the chair out of the way, she’d pulled herself toward the chair.

A sense of danger, the barest hint of a flicker of motion seen from the corner of an eye, caused her to push back, shoving herself away from the chair as the other one—Bill’s—flipped through the air to land atop the first.

Rising to her full five-five height, Carol stared.

The seats of the chairs were neither deep nor wide enough to allow a second chair to stand on four legs. But that wasn’t how they were stacked.

Vertical wooden slats rose three feet from the seat, where a single horizontal bar completed the back frame. At each end was a carved knob of wood, raised off the horizontal piece by about three inches.

Somehow, impossibly, the second chair was balanced on the knobs of the first, feet pointed into the air, almost at the height of the arch.

The weight of the seat should topple it.

He had to be holding it in place.

Cabinets slammed behind her; the minute sing of glass filled the air.

Refusing to look, Carol reached for the chairs, intent on getting out of the kitchen. She could stop Dean if she could get to him.

The chairs held as though they’d been made in place, a solid construction of massive granite that only looked like wood.

The crash of glass shattering on the wood floor pulled her head away from the chairs. Slivers like tiny razors peppered her ankles above her pink, open-toed sandals. Her bare legs felt exposed beneath a knee-length house dress.

Chunks of thick glass from a tumbler lay strewn across the floor in front of the refrigerator, smaller pieces like the blast radius from an explosion radiated away from point of impact.

The rest of the glasses from the cabinet hovered in the air between Carol and the sink.

This can’t be Dean. It can’t be. He’s only six. He’s never been able to do this!

One of the three-inch tall glasses darted forward.

She ducked, and the glass shattered against the cupboard door.

Rising quickly, desperate to keep her eyes on the floating missiles, she yelped as another tumbler zipped in, scooting sideways as it dipped like a slider. More glass sprayed over her feet. Little lines of fire lit her nerves as thin red lines appeared, quickly spreading to stain her sandals.

“Dean!” she pleaded.

The remaining glasses flew through the air, not crashing to the ground or into each other, but swooping and swerving like a flight of birds suddenly inclined to show off their aerial mastery.

Letting out a little scream each time one came near, Carol spun and pivoted, jerked left and juked right, backing further from the blocked archway and the suspect safety of the living room.

The glasses organized themselves into a line and came in, zipping low, racing toward her legs. She danced back and back, knowing she had no more room to move but desperate to stay away.

The first three hit the floor mere inches from her feet. The splash of shattered glass now reached higher, lacerating her shins and calves.

Her back met the sink and she thought to move sideways, but two more tumblers split, one to each side, striking the cupboards beneath the sink.

She screamed again as shards pelted her thighs.

The next missiles didn’t crash but thudded into her lower legs. Waves of pain rose from her shins as she raised first one foot, then the other, a human reaction to injury she couldn’t prevent.

The cabinets and cupboards opened and closed, a welter of motion more akin to a Poltergeist movie than to anything possible in a normal suburban house. There was a pattern to the noise, which continued long after the last glass struck. It ebbed and swelled, a regular tattoo reminiscent of a high school drum line.

Or applause.

Dazed, Carol realized she’d sunk to the floor, her throbbing legs demanding a rest. Blood oozed from a dozen minor wounds, but nothing poured. Scintillating shards of glass stuck out of a dozen other places; she’d need to go to an Urgent Care of Emergency Room to get it all removed.

And still the clapping wood doors continued, drawing her out of her pain.

“Stop it,” she said, her voice a muffled whine.

Behind her, something stirred in the sink, giving off a solid clink as it freed itself from the weight of a plate.

Even sitting back against the sink, Carol was deaf to the sounds under the faucet. All she heard was the clap-clap-clapping of the cabinet doors.

“Stop it!” she said again, louder.

That was her blood beginning to drool its way down her legs, her blood staining the pale leather straps of her sandals.

How dare that little shit do this to her?

Those were her glasses. Sure, they came from Target, but that didn’t change who owned them. And it didn’t stop the righteous anger at the little brat who destroyed them.

Her “Stop it!” this time came on an explosion of air as she pushed herself upright.

Cut and stinging, bruised and battered, her legs weren’t broken. They could support her. They would support her.

She had a kid to kill.

Carol staggered away from the sink, intent on reaching the stacked chairs and tearing them down or bursting through them. His tricks might seem magical, but they couldn’t change something into something else. The chairs could defy gravity, but they were still just chairs.

The something in the sink decided it had waited long enough. China cluttered and clanked, silverware tinged, and the heavy wooden rolling pin rose out of the stainless steel well.

Carol ignored the noise. She knew how to make it stop.

A second step brought her to the chairs. Her hands closed around the vertical slats of the upper seat back.

The rolling pin slammed into the back of her head.

The impact threw her face forward, slamming forehead and nose into the chairs.

A muffled grunt of pain blew out.

She pushed away from the chair, tottering slightly as she spun.

Bright red blood, somehow brighter than the cuts on her legs, dripped from her injured nose. She didn’t think it was broken; she hadn’t heard a crunch and you always heard a crunch when you got your nose broken. But it hurt. Already swelling, she couldn’t draw a new breath in without opening her mouth.

She saw two rolling pins hanging in the air, both images wavy.

Carol forced her eyes to focus and the two images drew together.

“Bastard!” she grunted.

The wooden cylinder darted in again, slamming her in the mouth.

Carol sat where she’d stood, the strength in her legs gone. An explosion of pain rocked her head, like being inside a firecracker instead of outside enjoying the light and noise.

There was still plenty of both, but the lights were popping behind her eyes and the noise was the roar of a drowning surf filling her ears. Her mouth moved and new waves of pain erupted. Sharp shards of broken teeth danced on her tongue while the jagged remains still attached to her gums lacerated her lips.

She needed to move. She needed to get up. She was in great danger.

But she couldn’t focus well enough to see anything.

The rolling pain darted to her left, a blur of unidentifiable motion. Then it swung back, smashing her cheek and jaw bones. The beveled edge tore the cartilage of her ear, though that newest pain went unnoticed as blackness swallowed her.

The pin continued to swing and strike, the blows more the rapid rise and fall of a man lost in blood-crazed madness than with any intent or aim. Head, face, neck, shoulders, arms, hips, and legs—nothing was spared.

Carol’s last breath came after a strike to exposed left side of her neck broke two vertebrae. It might have been the twelfth hit or maybe the twentieth—it didn’t matter to her.

It didn’t matter to Dean, either.

The little boy, all of six-years old, stood on the other side of the wall from the kitchen. Had Carol made it through the arch, she’d have seen him a few feet to the left.

His hands were plastered against the drywall, fingers splayed, all his weight pressed against them as if he wanted to make himself part of the structure, wanted to fall into the wall and never leave. His head was bowed. Long, pale-blond hair fell over his face, not-quite covering his sea-green eyes. His mouth moved but no sound emerged.

No tears escaped him, though he certainly knew what was happening on the other side of the wall.

The only wetness on his face came from a thin trickle of blood running from his forehead and down the right side of his nose, though it was mostly dry and already crusting. The blood came from a large lump straining the skin above his eyes.

It was where Mother struck him a few minutes ago.

She wouldn’t ever do that again.

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

And that was all right.

<<<>>>

Caverns & Carnivores (Because the Other Name is Copyrighted)

Chapter 1

“Your human thief spots a trip wire in the grass,” Bob’s voice droned. “You can roll a twenty and try to disarm it or trust your party to step over it.”

Dale, the owner of the thief, looked around the table at the rest of us. “What do I need to disable it?” he asked.

He hunched a bit in his chair, small frame pulled back almost double so his feet also rested on the seat. The smallest of us in the group, he looked and acted the part of someone afraid of confrontation.

Bob was in his customary place at the head of table, features lost behind a tall, fold-out cardboard screen. It would be meager protection should any of us try to see his copious notes, or if we suspected him of doctoring the dice. But some of us had been gaming with Bob for years. We trusted him, literally, with our alternate lives.

“Your nimble fingers determine the trap is goblin-make, but remarkably well done. You’ll need a thirteen or better.”

“And what do we need to safely step over it?” Angela piped up from the end of the table.

She was the newest member of our party, a pretty redhead who worked with Bob at BestBuy. I still wasn’t sure what to think of her. Or what she thought of me.

Still, since she’d been coming to our gaming sessions for a couple of months now, things had changed for the better.

More of my party members had started wearing deodorant, for one thing.

And the snacks had leveled up from half-empty bags of Doritos and Cheese Puffs to Ritz Cheese Cracker Bites and Pretzels. There were fewer empty soda cans dotting the table and overflowing the trash can. Now, more receptacles meant less collection in one spot. (Jimmy bought one of the blue Recycle bins a week ago. He said he wanted to be a better steward of the environment, but I’m pretty sure those words never crossed his mind until Angela said them.) Brian had even started shaving, despite that he didn’t have a job to go to or anyone to impress at home. Losing two legs in Afghanistan kind of did that to a guy.

“Your half-elven cleric has enough dexterity to make the step with ease,” Bob replied.

There was a humorous tone in his voice which said he wasn’t done. Wait for the punchline.

“As do most of you. A five or better will get you past the trap. Except for Brian.”

“Oh right. Pick on the guy with no legs,” the veteran said good-naturedly.

Brian had legs. Really cool prosthetics provided by the VA. But he said they made his hips ache and his nubs itch, so he preferred rolling in a motorized wheelchair.

“Your character has legs,” Bob pointed out.

“Only because you wouldn’t let me roleplay a paraplegic,” Brian muttered. Despite his propensity for keeping a beard PTA (Prior To Angela), he liked his head shaved bald.

“Dungeons don’t have handicap ramps,” Piper…um…piped up. She was a classic What the hell is she doing with you? Blue-eyed and petite, girly about her nails and her clothes, but more eager than anyone else for our weekly get-togethers. She was a nurse practitioner, though that didn’t mean much to me. A nurse who could write prescriptions—that summed it up better.

She’d been my best friend since high school. Well, Bob was my best friend and she was his sister, so she got the title, too. When she first started hanging out with us, I had the feeling there might be something there. But Bob said not to make too much of it. She was pretty and friendly, and a lot of guys took it the wrong way. Anyway, she played for the other team.

“Hmph,” Brian harrumphed. “So, what do I need to roll?”

“Your half-ogre fighter needs a fifteen to avoid setting off the trap and blowing the rest of your party to bits.”

Gene laughed. The last member of our band of six, he was the quintessential quiet type. Strange since he roleplayed a halfling bard. Tall, with broad shoulders, he was another Desert-something veteran who’d joined us just after Brian did. He rarely volunteered anything about himself, preferring to sit at the table, drink his soda, and roll whenever he needed to. None of us minded. A bard was a great addition to any adventuring party, provided he was played right. “Told you to take the dexterity ring instead of the strength belt last week.”

“No, you didn’t.”

“Yes. I did.”

“You made the kill swipe across your throat,” Brian said, pointing across the table at his friend. “Which I took to mean go for the thing that’ll let me kill stuff better.”

“That wasn’t a kill swipe,” Gene replied, making a kill swipe across his throat. “That was the quick flurry of fingers on a flute.”

“Party survey?” Brian asked.

“Kill swipe,” Piper said.

“Kill swipe,” Dale said.

“I dunno,” Angela waffled, looking from Brian to Gene. She had an impish smile which said she was enjoying the argument. “What d’you think, Connor?”

That would be me, Connor Dalton, the second son of a wealthy family who didn’t have the grades to be a doctor, like my dad and older brother. So, I owned a few franchise businesses, spending most of my days driving from one to the other, making sure everything ran smoothly. Bob kept the books and liked to pick up the occasional shift at one of them, mainly so he could see the newest gadget or game before its street date. C&C was a much-loved hobby, a way to stay close to old friends without falling into a strictly business relationship.

Only Bob and Piper knew my background.

“Kill swipe,” I said, smiling back at the new girl.

“I knew it!” Brian crowed.

“No appreciation for music,” Gene grumbled.

“And all that aside,” Bob intoned from behind the screen, “you found that loot in a room under a trapdoor.”

“Which you wouldn’t have fallen into if you’d waited for me,” Dale added.

Bob waved that away. “Regardless, you were alone and supposed to be deciding for yourself, not getting advice from your war buddy.”

Gene did something with a hand beside his hand and a chopping motion, to which Brian replied with a finger over pursed lips while the other hand showed a peace sign.

“I saw that,” Bob said, which made everyone laugh.

“Seriously,” Brian began, once everyone calmed down and had a drink, “if I screw this up it could kill the party?”

“I only need a thirteen,” Dale offered. “Piece of cake.”

Before anyone could offer a warning, Dale grabbed his bright blue twenty-sided die and rolled it across the table.

There was a silence like the whole world held its breath, but it was really just seven people around a kitchen table in Lenoir, North Carolina.

The die clattered on the wooden surface, then stopped with a seven showing on top.

This was the moment when many groups would push chairs back from the table, jump up and start cursing, or rake their hands across the surface, scattering papers and dice.

We knew to wait. Trust Bob.

“You failed to disarm the trap,” he said softly, followed by the clatter of a die only he could see, “but your level-based trait of Avoiding Catastrophe kicked in, preventing you from setting it off accidentally.”

The collective sigh almost scattered our character sheets anyway.

“Whelp, guess it’s up to you, Bigfoot,” Dale said cheerily. He could at least act a little sheepish; he did almost get us all killed.

“Can’t you just try again?” Angela asked. “I’ve got a full stock of spells for the day. I can heal us.”

“You’re too close to the trap,” Bob warned her. “And no, he can’t try again. Not for twenty-four hours.”

Sudden inspiration struck me, which wasn’t a good thing, though it certainly seemed so at the time. Before my tablemates could start arguing for a different route or give up on the adventure altogether, I said, “What if I levitate him across?”

“Do you have that memorized?” Bob asked.

I made a show of flipping through my character sheets, ready to provide proof if needed. I knew it was my repertoire; I’d made it a point to write out the incantation.

Anyone reading this who hasn’t spent time with a group of friends around a table, throwing dice and speaking in loud, boisterous tones like Thor out of a Marvel movie, probably thinks we’re just a bunch of crazies. But there are a lot more of us than people know, and some of us even have all our marbles.

We’re not all the same, first of all. There are a hundred different role-playing worlds, and while most owe some homage to the progenitor, Dungeons & Dragons, the systems and stories have more variety than a Baskin Robbins.

For example, while many of my friends waged tabletop war with hand painted miniatures representing every troop on the field, we only had one each for our characters, a visual representation to aid in roleplay discussion. “I sweep back my cape to allow the light to strike my ruby-hilted blade.” Something like that.

What made us unique, as far as I knew, was Bob’s insistence on intonation. If the cleric wanted to cast a spell to heal a minor wound, she couldn’t just say, “Casting Heal Wounds.” She had to vocalize the prayer, including the name of whichever god or goddess she served. The same went for me, a magic user. Every spell I learned had to have a complicated chant. So a part of my preparation before each session was to make sure I had something written down to use for every spell my character had memorized.

So, yeah, I knew my character had it ready.

“All right,” Brian said. “Everyone else get past the trap. Just far enough to be safe. Sneakyfeet, scout ahead and make sure nothing’s waiting around the bend.”

Sneakyfeet was the name of Dale’s rogue.

“Five or better,” Bob said.

One by one, the others rolled their dice.

Sneakyfeet went first on a roll of twelve, then announced he was going stealth to scout.

The new girl and her cleric, Laroly—because, you know, half-elves and their weird names—also made it.

Piper giggled as rolled a natural twenty. “That’s my girl, Ohm-Mega, safe as always.”

Gene pantomimed strumming a lute, or maybe a power chord from an eighties rock ballad, as his twenty-sided die bounced, eventually showing a five. “Made it by the hair on my feet,” he said, as Twiddles the bard moved to safety.

Which left me and Grogg, the half-ogre fighter.

“All right,” I said, “casting Levitation on Stinky.”

“Hey!” Brian objected.

Flipping through pages in my spellbook—ahem, Composition Memo Book for those in the back rows—I selected the chant for the spell.

I don’t know about everyone who plays games like this, but my belief is that if you’re going to do something, do it right.

In this case, since the “something” referred to roleplaying a magic-user who had to recite a weird collection of syllables in order to cast a spell, that meant creating some basic rules. I hadn’t gone so far as to write out a word for word dictionary, but I did keep a basic incantation for every spell, and I would add a word or change a suffix if a more powerful version of that spell came along, or if I discovered some way to modify it in the game.

In this case, since Levitation was something new to my character, I had a neat limerick ready to go.

Waving my hands over the table and in Brian’s general direction, which earned another giggle from Piper, I said:

NoMatta HowFatta

OrHowBad AFarta

ThisSpellWillMakeYou

Walka OnnaDaWata

Literum Aerose Um Feathera Via

Your spell is a success,” Bob said in my ear.

Before I could complete the first part of a doubletake, the lights went out.

<<<>>>

Cheers, until next time.

 

Grabbing Interest

With the whole COVID-19 and social distancing ruling the zeitgeist, it’s hard to imagine a better scenario for both readers and writers to catch up on their work.

Unless you’re a medical person, like me, who finds their hands full with concerned patients and family members needing testing, reassurance, and education.

Or…unless you’re one of the millions who find themselves suddenly out of work and worried about paying the bills.

These kinds of anxieties can make it difficult to escape into anyone’s fiction, even if it’s your own.

But I’m doing what I can, just like everyone else. Trying, pushing, fighting.

Night Zero continues to dominate among all the books I’ve released, which tells me that even in uncertain times, we’re all more likely to enjoy something similar to real-life, but at the same time much worse. Maybe it helps us see that’s all isn’t yet lost, and there are worse things that could happen.

Or maybe it’s just a really good book. I’ll take that assessment, too.

Night Zero: Second Day is out in paperback, and it will release on ebook and Kindle Unlimited on June 10.

In May, Night Zero will go on sale for 99 cents, beginning May 1 and running until the ebook release of Second Day on June 10th.

But you don’t have to wait to take advantage of a couple of deals.

I have two other active series with at least 2 books in each, and for the month of April, the first books in both series are on sale for 99 cents on Kindle.

The Richards Saga tells the story of a family discovering a dark destiny for their children and working to keep them safe while they grow to fulfill it. The first book in the series is Brightness, available here: https://www.amazon.com/BRIGHTNESS-Rob-Horner-ebook/dp/B07J4B1H89/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=rob+horner&qid=1585836404&sr=8-2

The second book, Into Darkness, released in January, so there’s no wait to continue the story.

The Chosen Cycle is a departure from my normal work, and focuses on a 16-year-old who suddenly finds himself with an amazing superpower at the same time that demons invade the world. (OK, maybe it’s not that big of a departure.) He’s not the only one. Together with a few friends, they set about fighting to repel the evil. But not everything is as it seems.

The first book, Waking Light, is available here: https://www.amazon.com/Waking-Light-Book-Chosen-Cycle-ebook/dp/B07R82ZR9P/ref=sr_1_4?dchild=1&keywords=rob+horner&qid=1585756645&sr=8-4

The second book, Surrogacy, released last October, so it’s out and ready when you are. The third book, Ascendancy, will release this October.

Both of these “first volumes,” Brightness and Waking Light, go on sale tomorrow (Apr 3) and will remain on sale during the month of April.

For now, good luck and good reading. Remember to drop a quick review when you’re done. They help more than you’ll ever know.

Stay safe. Flatten the curve, or whatever social meme you prefer. And if you’re sick, call ahead so the medical providers can best direct you in seeking care.

See you next time.

Survive or Become

It’s finally through all the rounds of edits and layout.

Night Zero: Second Day

It will release on Kindle and Kindle Unlimited on June 10, 2020. The link to pre-order is here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B085D9W97W?pf_rd_p=ab873d20-a0ca-439b-ac45-cd78f07a84d8&pf_rd_r=RKD0GYHHM8571Z62TQMN

If you’re the type who likes their books in a more tangible form, so you can smell the paper and hear the crackle of the spine when you open it for the first time, the paperback is already out and available to order here: https://www.amazon.com/Night-Zero-Second-Rob-Horner/dp/B085DRJCVZ/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=rob+horner+night+zero&qid=1583336701&s=digital-text&sr=1-1-catcorr

If you’ve read Night Zero, then you’re ready to continue the story. Here’s a peak at the back copy.

“From international bestselling author Rob Horner comes Night Zero: Second Day.

Second Day continues the epic story begun in Night Zero, redefining the ZomPoc genre and bringing new life to the lifeless.

When the government tried to take choice away from Americans, they ended up causing the very thing they sought to prevent—an outbreak which threatens everyone.

That was yesterday.

Today, the virus continues to spread, the dead attack the living, and only a few lucky souls are immune.

After escaping from the hospital, Buck and his friends find the infection has spread much further than they anticipated. Their families are in danger, and a vicious hunter is on their trail. Jesse struggles to complete the request of a dying man, “Get this to the CDC,” but a stop to refuel his plane puts him right back in danger.

A new group of survivors emerge in Tuscaloosa. They’ve got the skills and the ammo, but will they be able to stem the tide rushing at them?

Zombies that can think and plan. New mutations guaranteed to propagate the species. And a new front, as a cruise ship receives a dusting of virus-laden debris.

Get ready for the Second Day.”

 

And because I love giving teases, here’s a scene from the book, just to get you wanting more.

Robbie loved camping.

He didn’t know if being outside spoke to some inner harmony with nature or if it just meant an escape from city life and a few days without Twitter and Facebook posts interrupting every thought, and it didn’t matter. What mattered was he’d spent two days waking up to the sound of bird calls. He’d bathed in the creek and cooked meals over a propane stove top. He’d made coffee in a pot, dug a small latrine, and went to sleep each night with sore muscles and a raging erection, something Jasmine was more than happy to help take care of.

Maybe, when you put Jasmine in the mix, he liked camping with her because he got laid on the reg. Half the reasons sex got put off at home was because of all the distractions. Some girlfriend with baby-mama-drama would call, or post, and off Jasmine went to counsel and console.

But out here, with bugs humming outside the tent and Jasmine humming inside, her long, dark hair falling all around her head, tickling his stomach, his legs, and even his balls, there was nothing to interrupt them.

Except Desiree House.

Robbie had to admit to a certain excitement when Jasmine informed him one of her friends wanted to come along.

Come on, one guy and two girls alone in the woods for a few days? What guy wouldn’t be flying a flag at half-staff most of the day before? And when they got to her place to pick her up, and he saw two large knockers over an ass that probably earned twenty-dollar bills as tips? Half-staff went to DefCon 5, full alert, missile ready to launch status before she even got in the car. Pulling away from the curb, he saw big, dark eyes in the rearview and small teeth nervously teasing a full lower lip and his brain went into visual stimulus overdrive.

Then she opened her mouth and started talking, listing her gripes and complaints, and it was an immediate False alarm, stand down.

How could a girl who looked like a dirty blond Jessica Alba turn a horny daydream into an episode of The Exorcist during a two-hour drive?

The chick had more baggage than a TSA screener.

No way he wanted anything to do with her.

But he was nice. He acted friendly and welcomed her to their camp.

And that night he got amazement sex from Jasmine, so it was all good.

Robbie smiled. He liked that term. Everyone knew about breakup sex and makeup sex, I do sex and drunk sex.

Amazement sex was when your girl showed how much she appreciated you for welcoming her friend and for not trying to drag her into a threesome.

It didn’t beat threesome sex—not that Robbie had any basis for comparison—but it sure as hell beat a weekend pounding his own pud because he’d acted like a complete douche and thought “bring a friend” meant “add another woman to the party.”

She didn’t need to know he’d been thinking about it.

If thoughts were enough to send a guy to breakup hell, there wouldn’t be a married man left anywhere in the world.

So him and Jasmine had fun, enjoying a couple of nights screwing each other to sleep. And if she seemed a little distracted, he didn’t mind. It must be hard to concentrate on your friend’s problems with a stud giving you mind-blowing orgasms.

Robbie sighed, feeling himself get hard while he waited on the girls to finish using the rest area bathroom.

They’d packed up camp and loaded the car only an hour before, but of course the girls needed to stop at the first available bathroom. He wondered if they’d held their crap the entire trip and only now felt safe to let it out.

Reaching down to give his little buddy a quick adjustment, his fingers brushed across one of his pants pockets, causing the quarters inside to jingle.

The rest area off Interstate 20 near Fosters, Alabama featured a brick shed with a bunch of vending machines. Living off the grid and drinking lake water purified with iodine tablets and beer purified by Miller might be enough to sustain a guy, but sometimes something with a little more sugar and caffeine was called for. The only other vehicle in sight was a rundown Hyundai parked as close as the driver could get to the restroom hut. He didn’t see anyone inside it but that didn’t mean anything; poor slob might have the seat jacked all the way back, trying for some Z’s.

Robbie climbed out of his two-tone green 2011 Honda Element, enjoyed a quick stretch, and headed for the vending area.

A scream from the direction of the restrooms made him forget the Pepsi.

* * * * *

Jasmine hustled from the Element to the bathrooms like her ass was on fire and her hair was catching. While the hair part was an old add-on to an old saying, the ass on fire part was just about gospel to the choir. Thank you very much, and I’ll be here all week.

She loved camping with Robbie, but the filtered water and greasy campfire food played havoc with her digestive system. Add to that a healthy fear of lingering poo-scent, and the combination left her stopped up, bloated, and aching for the first chance to plop her ass on a proper toilet, even if that was in a dirty rest area off the highway.

If she walked out of here with a lingering restroom aura, well, it wouldn’t be her fault.

Desiree followed her, though she didn’t immediately go to a stall as far as Jasmine could tell. Granted, she wasn’t thinking of anything other than checking the seat for wet areas—there were none—and the toilet bowl for leftovers. Thankfully, from the floor to the sinks to the toilets, everything looked clean, as though whatever public works group handled rest area bathrooms in this part of Alabama had just come through. Still, she spent several moments with her cheeks clenched tight while laying out a protective toilet paper lining. Despite what the medical websites said, she believed you could catch all manner of things from a dirty toilet seat.

That was another reason she didn’t like doing her business in the woods. If there were fish in the Amazon that could swim up your peestream and hook themselves inside you, there were probably bugs or fungus or maybe even little snakes that could climb a poo rope and set up their own camp in your backside.

Giving a little shudder, she perched gently on the seat, careful not to disturb her TP-condom, and allowed her muscles to relax. Relief came almost instantly, and she sighed.

“Courtesy flush, please,” Desiree shouted, making a gagging noise.

Jasmine gigged and twisted, reaching for the flush handle. “There’s going to be more,” she reported back. “It was almost touching cotton to begin with.”

“Oh, I’ll be joining you as soon as I get these contacts rinsed. I won’t mind so much then.”

“Always better to be first.”

“True that.”

A thump sounded from inside the restroom, like a body bumping against one of the metal stall walls.

“You okay?” Desiree asked.

“That wasn’t you?” Jasmine replied.

“Nope. Guess I’m not the only one offended by your skunk butt.”

The thump repeated but softer, not a body but maybe a hand slapping or knocking.

Jasmine leaned forward, ignoring the brief view between her legs of brown water in the toilet bowl. She couldn’t see any feet under the walls to either side.

“It’s coming from the end,” Desiree said. Then, “Miss? Hey, you okay in there?”

Jasmine didn’t hear a response, and something about the situation unnerved her. She “pinched it off,” as Robbie was fond of saying, and reached for the ultra-thin toilet paper.

The rattle of a stall door surprised her.

“Ma’am? The door’s locked. You’re going to have to unlock it before I can help you.”

The person in the stall thumped against the walls. The door rattled again.

Jasmine wiped as fast as she could—front to back to clean your crack—then stood, pulling her panties and cargo shorts up together.

“Wow. Um…miss…you don’t need to crawl under—”

“What?” Jasmine asked, stepping out of the stall. There was a space of perhaps five or six feet between the stalls and the row of sinks, each of which a polished steel “mirror” set in the wall above it. Looking at her reflection, she could see why they avoided glass in places like this. Her chocolate brown hair was a bit dirtier than normal, thanks to two days of rinsing in a lake. She’d pulled it into a messy ponytail when they got up and struck camp. The smattering of freckles across her forehead and nose stood out like beacons, begging to be covered up. Robbie said he loved them, but he’d say anything to keep her happy. Unlike some people she knew—cough, Desiree, cough—Jasmine worked very hard not to take advantage of people like him. He was a good man, loving and gentle, great in bed. He wasn’t the smartest guy out there, but he didn’t make stupid mistakes…

“Um…Jazz, you seeing this?”

…like staring at himself in the mirror while a stranger crawled out from under a locked bathroom stall door.

She turned from her reflection. Desiree was standing near one of the stalls, hands shaking and flapping in the classic I should probably do something but I don’t know what to do dance. It fit. There were people who made things happen and people to whom things happened. Desiree was one of the latter.

Jasmine stepped forward.

Two arms and a head showed under the door. The arms reached and pulled, dirt-caked hands clawing at the bathroom tiles. The upper torso slid into view. It was a woman, at least. A very dirty woman, if the smell rising off her and the clumps of matted, dark hair were any indication.

“Are you all right?” Jasmine asked.

The woman responded with a low moan. Not words, at least, none that Jazz could hear. More like a long, low utterance of sound without meaning.

“Jazz, give me a hand. Let’s pull her out of there.”

The woman reached and pulled again. Her shirt, or blouse, or whatever was ripped in several places. It was impossible to tell its original color. Stains of black like grease or oil streaked over her back. There were other colors mixed in, a strange puke green and dark red like dried ketchup.

Who spills ketchup on their back?

The stink of the woman filled her nostrils as she knelt with Desiree. Mixed with body odor and dirty hair was the earthy smell of dirt, the stank of old shit, and something else with a coppery tang.

“Come on, Jazz,” Desiree said, already reaching to grab the woman’s hand.

Jasmine reached as well, telling herself her disquiet wasn’t about the woman, but about the circumstances which led her here, wretched and ragged, probably bloody after some asshole beat her.

“Who did this to you?” Desiree asked.

Jasmine got a grip on the woman’s left hand and wrist. The hand clenched and squeezed, tighter than necessary, but she couldn’t blame the woman for it. Her skin felt cool, though God only knew how long she’d been hiding in the rest room. They didn’t heat or provide AC in the place. You were only supposed to come in, do your business, and leave. Heated bathrooms were a year-round invitation to vagrants and homeless squatters, and not in the usual sense reserved for potty parlance.

It’s the nerves, Jasmine decided. The nerves and the environment and this poor, fucked up woman which keep my mind rolling off on tangents. Come on, Jazz, get it together.

“Good grip,” Desiree said.

The two friends pulled, and the rest of the woman came sliding out.

The shirt must have been a blouse, though it had come untucked, exposing enough skin to the sides to say the woman had a few extra pounds on her, but not enough to be called fat. A no-nonsense skirt of some dark color ran from waist to knees. The same stains decorating the blouse covered the skirt as well. With the dark fabric, it was even harder to guess at their source. Her pantyhose were in as bad a shape as the rest of her clothes, torn and hanging like snakeskin in mid-slough. One foot was bare, while the other was squeezed into a dark, no name flat.

“Okay, you’re clear,” Desiree said cheerily, already shifting her grip from hand to underarm, thinking to help the woman rise. Jasmine moved to do the same, almost gagging at the smell coming off her. It was stronger now, as though exposing more of her allowed more smell to be released. There was definitely shit and vomit in the fragrant bouquet, and the coppery undertone came to the fore.

The woman didn’t seem to understand. She hung from their grip, head swaying side to side. Maybe she was stoned. Or worse. What if she’d been hit so hard that her brain didn’t work right anymore?

“Come on, work with us,” Desiree said. “And maybe ease up on the grip. Gosh!”

Rather than pulling her legs, or trying to use them as a brace to pull against, or any of a half-dozen other things she could’ve said or done to indicate compliance, the woman suddenly jerked her head to the right, mouth opening and closing on Desiree’s helping hand.

“What the fuck?” Desiree yelled, jerking. Her free hand began slapping at the back of the woman’s head. When that proved ineffective, the slaps turned to punches, all while Desiree hissed and grunted through clenched teeth.

Jasmine didn’t know what to do. She felt as confused as Desiree looked a moment before. The only reason her hands weren’t ringing was because she was using then to hold up the weird woman biting her friend. Finally, as Desiree continued her weird I’m trying to get away but I can’t move too fast because the bitch has my hand between her teeth dance, Jasmine relinquished her supportive grip and transferred everything she had to grabbing the woman’s head and squeezing, probing with her fingers, trying to find some weak spot which would enable her friend to get free.

The woman’s hair was as greasy and nasty to the touch as it looked. Jasmine half-expected to feel the tiny legs of lice or some other insect exploring her fingers. She didn’t want to hold on too long but didn’t know what else to do. The woman’s mouth moved. By God, she’s chewing! And maybe she let go for a second because she wanted to get a better grip with her teeth. Jasmine didn’t know, but the release was just enough for just long enough. Desiree was able to pull away, immediately drawing her wounded hand to her breast.

Jasmine backed away. “Are you all right?”

“I…don’t know. Crazy bitch!” Tears stood in Desiree’s eyes, but her cheeks were flush and her expression hard. She drew back a foot.

Then the woman pushed herself to her feet.

Jasmine couldn’t help it.

She screamed.

The woman lunged at her.

* * * * *

If you want more, the paperback’s waiting for you, or just hang on til June 10th, when the ebook releases.

Otherwise, I’ll be back with more updates in a few weeks.

New Year, New Plans

So far, 2020 is being good to me.

No, I haven’t kept my New Year’s resolution, but that’s okay. I didn’t make one.

My one goal coming into the new year was to get Night Zero: Second Day finished.

Mission accomplished. Coming in at just over 130,000 words, NZ2 is done. First draft, complete. First edit pass, complete. Now, a few lucky beta readers are about to have it dropped into their laps. After I receive their feedback, the book will enter a final edit and layout phase. The goal is to have it available on ebook and in paperback by summer. If everything goes as planned, it will release on the 1-year anniversary of Night Zero‘s publication, which is June 10th.

Here’s to hoping.

Ascendancy, Book 3 of The Chosen Cycle, is also complete through a first draft. I’m shooting for Fall 2020 as a release time frame.

Now, just because I have 2 books in the publication pipeline doesn’t mean I’m resting on my laurels. No sir. I’ve made a tentative start on The Chosen Cycle 4, and have an outline prepared for NZ3 (yes, there will be a book 3, and probably a 4, and a 5, and…) Seriously, I have no idea how long the Night Zero saga will be. I’m letting the book and its characters guide me, and we’ll find out together how it all turns out.

I’ve also gotten an outline prepared for Project: Genesis, which will be the direct sequel to Project: Heritage. And I discovered something while preparing this outline and while working on Ascendancy. The two series are related! Yeah, I know. It blew my mind, too. So, if you haven’t started The Chosen Cycle or Project: Heritage, now’s as good a time as any.

What else? I’ve got a rough plan for Death Watch, which will be the third book with the Richards girls, and a couple of unrelated stories that I’ve either started or plan to start. I need to clean up my current workspace before I add more, or so I tell myself.

Thank you to everyone who followed the story begun in Brightness with a purchase or read of Into Darkness.

And an especial thank you to all those who continue to make Night Zero a huge success. Now entering its eighth month of publication, Night Zero remains in or near the top 100 in Medical Thrillers, and has cracked the top 100 in Horror Suspense. The story will continue this summer.

Thank you again for your voracious appetite for books, and your amazing support. I’ll try to keep ’em coming.

Happy Holidays

However you celebrate, may your holiday season be joyful and fulfilling.

Now then, on to the mayhem.

Night Zero 2 has an official name: Night Zero: Second Day. It currently stands at 107,000 words and might need another 10,000 or so before I get into the editing phase, but it’s just about done and I can’t wait for everyone to read it. Let me be clear, when I started The Chosen Cycle and the story of the Richards’ girls, I had a clear idea in mind for something spanning more than one volume.  That was never the case with Night Zero, not at first.

Writing the story took a lot of patience and research. It was supposed to be a one-off zombie romp, my personal take on the undead apocalypse. But something happened while writing it. I discovered the become still have minds. They have their own plans and their own perceptions of their reality. They aren’t dead. They are something new. Night Zero ended with a declaration of martial law and with characters strung out across 3 days and as many states. Second Day picks up those character strands–and adds a few new stories–as these people we’ve come to care about try to save themselves and their families. Everything will be brought together chronologically in order to drive the story forward.

If it’s something the CDC cooked up, maybe there’s a chance to develop an anti-virus.

Survive or become.

Take a look at the cover below, and let me know what you think.

Into Darkness is on schedule for its January 7th release. I had a blast writing it, and hope you enjoy reading it.

Ascendancy  is still on track as well, and I hope to have more news about it the next time I post.

Once again, thank you one and all for your continued support. I wish you all the best of the season, and will post a new update after the turn of the calendar.

Rob Horner.NZ2 proof P-back

2019 is almost over…

…but the work never stops.

Thanks to everyone who pre-ordered Surrogacy. I hope you’re enjoying the continuation of The Chosen Cycle, and that you aren’t too upset over the cliff-hanger ending. Don’t worry, the story will continue. I’m not finished with Ascendancy yet, but that’s more because the muse has pulled me elsewhere.

“But what could be more important than continuing Johnny’s story?” you ask.

I’ll tell you.

Night Zero 2. I don’t have a better name for it yet, sorry. I’m tossing some ideas around in my head, but haven’t settled on one. Night Zero: Third Dawn is my current favorite. The story sits at 60,000 words now (as compared to 20,000 when I posted my last blog) so it’s coming along. At this rate, you won’t have to wait until summer, either. It will most likely be my second release of 2020.

Now for another bit of news. The Dungeon was published by Covenant Books, so they have some stakes in it for the duration of my 2-year contract with them. I don’t want to publish through them again, because I’m not entirely happy with their editing process, and I’m unable to have the book re-edited without paying a fee, something I’m absolutely against. So, I’m going to hold off on releasing its sequel until the contract expires in 2021. at that point, I’ll go a different route, get it edited to my standards, and re-release it alongside The Fall of Icarus, which is its intended sequel.

And finally, as my followers may have noticed, there is a gorgeous cover floating around for Into Darkness, which is the sequel to Brightness. I am extremely proud of this book and feel it ranks right up there with Night Zero for sheer thrilling excitement. If you haven’t read Brightness, you should. Then, get ready for the story to continue on January 7, 2020. I’ve attached the cover below, and am happy to announce the sequel is available for pre-order through Amazon.

So, the current plan for 2020 is: Into Darkness, Night Zero 2, and Ascendancy. My other project, Crossed Souls is also a possibility. I’ll have more on that next time, including a possible sneak peek.

Stay warm as winter closes in.

IntoDarknessPrintCover-w-Copy

Brightness link: https://www.amazon.com/BRIGHTNESS-Rob-Horner-ebook/dp/B07J4B1H89/ref=sr_1_2?crid=17GEZ6PQ5Q7T2&keywords=rob+horner&qid=1573005389&sprefix=rob+horner%2Caps%2C153&sr=8-2

Into Darkness pre-order link: https://www.amazon.com/Into-Darkness-Richards-Saga-Book-ebook/dp/B07ZBV3NCX/ref=sr_1_3?crid=17GEZ6PQ5Q7T2&keywords=rob+horner&qid=1573005411&sprefix=rob+horner%2Caps%2C153&sr=8-3

Coming Into Fall

As September comes to a close, I am thankful.

My youngest daughter, Sophia Grace, has come through her second open-heart surgery with flying colors. Thanks to everyone who shared her story on Facebook and included her in their prayers. Thanks to the wonderful group of authors who lifted and supported my family through this emotional time. Sophia loved your gifts as we love and appreciate you all for your thoughtfulness.

As Sophia finishes her stay in the hospital in Charleston, SC, I’ve put the finishing touches on the sequel to BrightnessInto Darkness is through it’s second edit pass, and is now in the hands of my beta readers. My goal is to make this the first release of 2020, probably in late January or early February.

Surrogacy is still up for pre-order and will release on Oct 29, 2019. For those unfamiliar with Johnny and Crystal, Tanya, Iz, Gina, James, and a whole host of other heroes, feel free to check out Waking Light, Book 1 of the Chosen Cycle. It’s on sale on Kindle for 99 cents until Surrogacy releases.

Just because I have the first book of 2020 finished doesn’t mean I plan on taking a break. I’m halfway through the first draft of Ascendancy, Book 3 of the Chosen Cycle, as well as about the same through The Fall of Icarus, which is the sequel to The Dungeon.

I’ve also got a good start on something in the paranormal romance genre (more spooky than sticky, don’t worry), but I haven’t worked out a title for it yet.

And for the really big news…with its unmitigated success, Night Zero clamors for a sequel. Well, it’s begun. I’ve only managed about 20,000 words so far, and it will likely exceed 100,000 when all is said and done, but I wanted to leave a taste of how it will begin.

So, for all my readers, here’s the prologue to the as-yet untitled sequel to Night Zero, which I hope to release sometime in Summer 2020.

Happy reading.

 

“All right, Willie, I’m inside.”

“Just follow the plan,” Willie said, his voice a tinny whisper in the micro-earbud.

“I know,” Michael replied, resisting the urge to push on the earbud with a finger; it wouldn’t make Willie’s voice any clearer. It looked cool when Tom Cruise did it in the Mission Impossible movies, but it wouldn’t do anything except draw attention. Thankfully, Michael’s hair was long enough that it covered his ears.

Shoving his hands into the deep pockets of his white lab coat to keep them from getting him in trouble, the tall man eased along the dark loading dock.

Six weeks of planning and almost sixty thousand dollars in bribes had secured him a working electromagnetic badge. The badge got him through the small employee entrance into the unmarked warehouse on the south side of Atlanta. The headshot on the badge would pass casual scrutiny, but he had to remain anonymous. This was a government facility with strict security protocols. Any indication he gave that he didn’t belong would be investigated by G-Men patrolling the building. And no amount of bribery or computer hackery could provide what Michael lacked.

“I’ve got the layout on my screen,” Willie breathed. “There are two doors leading out of the loading area. As you’re facing, it’ll be the door on your left.”

Easy for him to say, Michael thought. It’s black as Trump’s heart in here.

Pulling his smartphone from one of the pockets, he activated the flashlight.

The employee entrance was a regular-sized door next to one of the large roll-up garage doors. Both opened onto an empty space large enough for a good-sized truck to back into, though not so large that the entire vehicle would fit inside and allow the doors to be closed. The facility did most of its loading and unloading at night, so casual observers wouldn’t be able to see anything inside, nor remark on any company logos on the sides of the van. That most of the shipments came from the CDC and not Amazon might raise more than a little curiosity and concern.

But that’s why he was here.

Ever since Edward Jenner proved vaccinations could prevent disease, the government had partnered with the pharmaceutical companies to create one “miracle drug” after another, all to establish and affirm their control over an unwitting populace. Look how smart we are, the government thought. We are GovCo, and we know how to take care of you and your family better than you do. First Smallpox, then Polio, both of which were, admittedly, horrible afflictions with a high mortality rate and life-altering consequences when they didn’t kill outright.

Maybe things wouldn’t be so bad if the government stopped with the bad bugs.

But it didn’t.

After the killer diseases were all-but eradicated, the government went after less-dangerous illnesses.

Why?

That was the big question, wasn’t it?

It’s to minimize sickness and prolong life expectancy.

It was bullshit.

Once you kill all the things that need killing, how do you retain control? How do you keep making money? How do you keep a populace dependent upon your guidance?

You find more things to kill. You over-report the threat of something to gen up support for killing it.

Don’t like the fact that marijuana and cocaine sales don’t bring in money to the all-mighty government? Oversell their danger and make their use and sale illegal. Declare a war on drugs, because language has power, and war must mean something is serious.

Don’t like the fact that a large percentage of the world doesn’t believe the same way you do? Fly a couple of drones into some buildings then set off timed explosions in their bases. Target the support struts. Bring down the buildings. And BAM! You get to declare war on a religion.

Got rid of the bad things like Smallpox and Polio? No problem. We don’t like Measles either, and Chicken Pox is just so nineteenth century. Let’s oversell their danger and continue making money hand-over-fist while we “work” to eradicate them.

Except.

Unlike Smallpox and Polio, the war on other diseases showed no signs of stopping. We aren’t any closer to eradicating them in the twenty-first century than when the charade started.

Why was that?

Because the government and its pharmaceutical allies figured out there’s no profit in winning a war, only in waging it.

In the meantime, population has boomed to unsustainable levels because the “small percentage” of people too weak to fight off disease has been protected and allowed to live and propagate beyond their allotted time.

It was the same way with bicycle helmets, the elimination of Lawn Darts, the push for seat belt use, the ban on texting while driving, the stigma of cigarette smoking, and the thousand other little things the government decided to insert its fingers into.

Put simply: Darwin wasn’t being allowed to work.

So stupid people who by nature would do stupid things and thus remove themselves from the gene pool were instead allowed to live and reproduce, making more stupid people more and more dependent upon the government to tell them how to live their lives.

It was a never-ending cycle with no hope of correction.

And when one man dared to raise his hand against the push for control by an oppressive government, he was slapped down, silenced, and disgraced.

That man pointed out an unintended side effect of vaccinations, specifically the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella cocktail jabbed into the legs of toddlers all over the world.

A thousand researchers had spent millions of hours and billions of dollars trying to repudiate the conclusion of the good doctor from England. In the end, the best they could offer was “there is no proof that vaccines cause autism.”

No proof that vaccines cause autism was not the same as being able to say, unequivocally, that vaccines do not cause autism.

It was the same way with Global Warming. And it was the same sheep-people who pushed that specious argument.

There was no proof that man’s actions harmed the environment, just a bunch of theories. Yet governments around the world were enacting laws to control and restrict man’s forward progress all in order to maintain control over their people.

Michael smiled.

As in all things in America’s history. It was his right, all the people’s right, to stand up to government when it became oppressive.

Beyond the poured concrete area where trucks could sit and be unloaded were racks of shelves running to both sides. Cardboard boxed lined the shelves, their sides emblazoned with names like McKesson, Becton Dickenson, Henry Schein, Baxter, and Medtronic, a who’s who of pharmaceutical and medical equipment suppliers from all parts of the country.

Of course, everyone with a hand in the government cookie jar would want a piece of the action going on in this facility.

Michael was under no illusions about the place. It was a CDC operation, through and through. Only, instead of studying some new disease like Ebola, or working on a cure for cancer, they were engaged in something far more nefarious. Working under a cloud of secrecy, this installation played with dangerous bacteria in order to find a new vaccine delivery mechanism. Not a new vaccine. For all that Michael and his friends hated the pro-vaccine agenda, a place working on something new wouldn’t be a first-line target. Not so long as people still had the right to decline vaccinations.

No, this unnamed building was developing a way to negate the right of refusal.

And that work couldn’t be allowed to continue.

Beyond the shelves were a couple of desks with simple computer workstations, binders of paper, and a couple logbooks—all the accoutrements any good shipping and receiving department might need to track the things coming and going.

The flash of his phone rendered everything in washed out hues and humps of shadow. But it was enough to show the doors. The one on the right was of plain wood. It led to the front offices, a handy facade in case anyone wandered in from outside. Michael had been there once a few weeks ago. Motivational posters on the walls and unremarkable furniture ordered out of a Staples catalogue gave no indication to the building’s true design. A beveled sliding glass window showed a secretary hard at work typing nothing and answering phone calls. If asked, she said this was a warehouse for a local contractor. There were even business cards on display. Go ahead, take one. Calling the number on the card got him a different secretary for a legitimate storage contracting firm, one of dozens who’d sold their souls to GovCo and gladly allowed this edifice to the downfall of personal freedom to advertise for them.

The door on the left led into the laboratory spaces and was secured with a badge reader.

Holding his breath, Michael pulled his laminated badge on its nylon lanyard away from his chest and swiped it through the reader. The little red light turned green and the door unlocked with an audible click. The badge slapped back against his chest as he released it and pushed open the door.

Like a rat’s nest the lab spaces opened in front of him. White tiled walls, floor, and ceiling ran ahead and to the left, long hallways which interconnected at various places and opened into small rooms, each serving a specific function. Windows gave views of white gowned, gloved, and masked fascists hard at work inside the rooms. Million-dollar equipment hummed, spun, and genetically spliced bits of one thing with bobs of another, all of which would be fed into a witch’s cauldron whose sole purpose was the eradication of free will.

Michael smiled at his thoughts, visualizing the headlines in tomorrow’s paper. It would never happen, of course. For all their antagonism to the current administration, the media were as much puppets of the government machine as were the drug developers, medical suppliers, and even people like the contractor whose cards sat in the fake lobby.

“Remember, Michael,” Willie said, “all you have to do is place the box on a wall near any large piece of machinery. Even if it’s on the other side of the wall, the disruptor will do its job.”

For all his education, Michael had no idea how the little box clipped to his belt would do what it was supposed to do. He was a researcher, an activist, and all-around concerned citizen; he had no interest in, or experience with, advanced electronics. He didn’t need to know how a computer worked in order to use it to reach out to similarly minded people all over the country. How the hybrid engine in his Prius worked didn’t concern him, so long as it turned on when he pushed the button and moved when he pressed the accelerator. Tell him the little square clipped to the back of his pants would cause a breakdown in the covalent bonds in any nearby electronic device, uncoupling resonators and reverse-polarizing transformers, and he took it for granted it would work as advertised.

To the far left, near the end of the hall, two men in the ubiquitous long white lab coats stood huddled together. In the various labs and clinical workspaces, more people bent over machines, or handled tubes inside sealed vats, no doubt playing God with any of a dozen nasty microbes. Straight ahead, down the corridor leading to the back of the facility, more doors led to even more labs where pieces of equipment that no doubt cost more than Michael would make in any ten year period hummed, chugged, and turned pharmaceutical wet dreams into real-life nightmares for the good people of the country who just wanted to be left to their own devices, to vaccinate or not as they chose.

“Straight ahead,” Willie said. “All the way to the back of the main hall.”

“What am I looking for?” Michael asked.

“A door that’ll say ‘utility,’ or, ‘engineering,’ or might not be labeled at all.”

Michael moved forward, hoping he looked like a new employee getting his bearings rather than an activist trying to shut down a testament to government fascism.

The hall ran for fifty yards. The number of labs opening to each side made him doubt, for the first time, that the building was wholly devoted to the singular goal of mass vaccination. With so much space, they must be working on other projects. Not that it mattered. As far as he was concerned, the CDC might as well stand for Centers for Domination and Control.

Other hallways began intersecting in a crosshatch pattern. Little mirrors appeared along the ceiling at the corners, a way for fast-walking people to see if there was any cross traffic approaching and avoid an embarrassing collision.

Probably video cameras hidden behind the mirrored globes, he thought. Michael smiled up at the next mirror, hoping they got a good look at his face. Let the power mad bastards know who fucked their world up.

A pair of scientists exited one of the labs, turning toward him. Resisting the urge to duck his head and hide his face, Michael strolled unconcernedly past them, noting a petite Asian woman and a taller, bustier blond. Both were beautiful and he checked a sigh that such beauty was wasted on people whose minds were so corrupt they would be a part of this project. Lost in their own conversation, neither woman so much as glanced at him.

The hallway ended at the fourth crossing corridor, and his only options were to turn left or right.

“There should be a maintenance door somewhere near you,” Willie said.

“All the doors are white,” Michael hissed.

“I never said the door would look different,” Willie responded patiently. “Only that it might be labeled.”

Stifling a curse, Michael looked both right and left. To the right were doors on the right, opening onto rooms back in direction he’d come from. The same to the left—there were doors on the left. The wall he faced had to be the side of the building. There were no doors along it that he could…

Wait. To the right was a single inconsistency in the wall, what might be a badge scanner without a reason for one, near invisible from his perspective.

“I think I see something,” he said, and turned to the right.

Twenty feet in that direction was a badge reader, though whatever it opened wasn’t easily discernible.

Here goes nothing. Michael reached out with his badge and heard a click. A door appeared in the outer wall, sliding sideways on a cleverly concealed track. The room beyond was dark, but lights came on as he stepped within.

A large room full of generators and breaker boxes greeted him, only ten feet deep but running away to right and left probably to the ends of the building.

A chill struck him as blasts of air from industrial cooling units riffled his hair.

Server racks reaching to the ceiling surrounded a massive computer workstation at one end, probably the point where all data generated within the building was stored in some form of hard copy. The facility probably had some kind of secure transmission line to the main CDC headquarters, something uninterruptible in case of a power or Internet outage.

“I’m in some kind of server farm,” he whispered. “There are generators and breakers, and it’s cold in here.”

“Sounds like the place,” Willie said. “Go place your stuff near one of the generators and get on out of there.”

Michael nodded, then chided himself. Willie couldn’t see head motions. Willie also wouldn’t know what Michael planned to do after placing the disruptor. Everyone wanted him to leave after placing the box and its power packs. They’d expressed concern that he not be caught and sent to prison.

While Michael had no desire to experience prison, he also had no intention of missing the show after the holier-than-thou lab rats saw their work fall apart. All his life people had told him what to do. His parents played Russian Roulette with his mind when they went along like good little sheep and tortured him with vaccinations every year until he was old enough to decide for himself. The government told him to pay taxes every year for services he didn’t use. And now his friends, in their concern for his freedom, thought to tell him how to keep himself free. It was the same argument GovCo used about vaccines, and while he hadn’t called them out on their hypocrisy, he had no intention of letting anyone tell him what to do for his own good.

Shaking his head—he needed these people for their funding and intelligence as much as they needed him for his willingness to tackle such a risky endeavor—Michael moved to an area between the large server farm and the first buzzing generator. The hidden door whisked back into place, blocking out any chance of a passing scientist or security guard seeing him from the hallway.

He reached under his lab coat and found the black box clipped to his belt. A quick yank freed it and he pulled it out.

About the size of an iPhone X and four times as thick, the box was exactly what the name implied-a black plastic case with no visible means of opening it. Three small plugs like headphone jacks marred the otherwise unremarkable surface. Each was labeled with the name of a color in small white letters. Red. Green. Black. These jacks matched the small plugs on three other black boxes, smaller brothers to the big one in his hands, each with a long, thin cable wrapped around it.

Michael remembered the instructions.

Place the big box on a flat surface near a generator. Each of the smaller boxes had a foot-long cord, and it didn’t matter where they were placed so long as their cords would reach to their respective jacks. The smaller boxes were about the size of a standard deck of cards, though they had a heft to them which exceeded their apparent size. Removing them from his belt relieved the constant drag of having them attached, something he’d grown accustomed to during the drive from his modest apartment to the facility and the ten minutes he’d spent inside.

It took less than thirty seconds to place the big box on a flat shelf near the generator and connect the three smaller boxes, placing them on the same shelf.

“All right, it’s plugged in,” Michael reported.

Nothing happened that he could see, but Willie’s voice was filled with a sudden urgency. “The countdown is automatic, Michael. You’ve got two minutes to get out of there before the disruptor activates.”

“On my way out,” Michael said, turning from the generator and ambling over to the computer workstation.

“Let me know when you’re away,” Willie said.

Michael didn’t bother replying. The computer was on, but the screen was locked. There were several folders open beside it, but nothing which looked incriminating. If anything, they looked like instructions for maintaining the temperature in the server room, or how to reset a breaker if one tripped.

A shame, he thought. How perfect would it have been if someone left a folder titled, “The CDC’s Secret Plan to Vaccinate the World?”

Seeing nothing else of interest, Michael settled back to see what the disruptor would do.

“Thirty seconds,” Willie informed him. “Tell me you’re out of there.”

Something in his friend’s voice worried Michael. Willie was being awfully insistent. Feeling a little guilty at deceiving his fellow activist, Michael moved to the sliding door, which was clearly marked on this side, a white rectangle in an otherwise gray wall. The same type of badge reader waited for him, and a swipe of his badge opened the door again. Stepping into the hallway, Michael turned right, figuring to leave the same way he arrived, through the loading dock. He had no intention of coming out behind the glass windows where the secretary slash decoy no doubt sat waiting to exercise her panic button and summon all the armed G-Men in the building.

“Five.”

He turned left at the main corridor, this time paying no attention to the mirrored globes high up on the corners.

“Four.”

Willie’s countdown instilled a primal fear in Michael’s gut. Why was he counting down like the seconds before a rocket launch?

“Three.”

Fear brought clarity, and Michael broke into a run.

“Two.”

It wasn’t some fancy electric gadget. It was a bomb!

“One.”

Oh God, he’d planted a bomb!

Michael launched himself forward, a scream just beginning, of warning, of fear, of…

The three blocks of C-4 he’d placed and armed exploded behind him. Ear-shattering noise chased him, blowing doors off hinges, sending a fireball roaring along the narrow halls as ceiling tiles began raining down. A blast of air like the fist of a giant picked him up and threw him forward and to the right. His shoulder slammed into one of the glass windows looking into a lab where started scientists looked up with identical expressions of shock and fear painted on faces visible beneath masks of clear polyurethane. Something snapped high on his chest as the glass cracked but held, throwing him back to the floor. Plaster, chunks of drywall, and wisps of pink insulation like poisonous cotton candy fell into his face as the giant’s fist became a dragon’s breath of heat. Turning his face to the side in an effort to avoid the stuff falling from above, Michael saw a wall of fire racing toward him from the back hall.

He drew in a breath to scream, already scrabbling like an upended cockroach, trying to rise.

Hot air reached into his throat, crisping his lungs, choking off his scream. The wall of fire roared over him. His eyes boiled in their sockets, an unimaginable pain stabbing into his brain, before everything shut down, casting him into the cool relief of death.

The scientists screamed in their temperature-controlled and environmentally sealed rooms, the sight of a wave of fire racing down the hall far beyond anything they’d ever imagined. The environmental safeguards—water sprinklers outside and Halon systems inside—never engaged. Their controls were gone in the initial explosion.

Generators overheated as secondary explosions followed the first, fuel reserves going up like firecrackers stuffed under a tin can. Jets of flame followed lines of oxygen feeding the sealed rooms, setting scientists afire inside their suits, dancing figures of flame reaching out, staggering from wall to table to floor. Glass windows shattered, tongues of flame reaching into labs. Test tubes exploded, their toxic contents joining the racing air currents seeking escape from the increased pressure inside the building. The final fail safes built into the building by the CDC engineers didn’t live up to their names. Steel core doors designed to prevent the escape of a biological agent into the surrounding atmosphere failed to descend, the last casualty of a terrorist attack aimed at the controlling mechanisms for the entire facility.

The tremors of the explosion were felt as far away as the international airport, where a stunned Austin Wallace stood in the same-day parking lot and watched plumes of black smoke rising into the sky.

 

2019 all wrapped up

Project: Heritage came out of the gates with a bang and I’m so grateful to everyone who pre-ordered it and are taking a chance with it. The story of Travis and Sherry will continue when I come around to writing it. Don’t worry, it won’t take me 20 years to bring a sequel.

My final book of 2019 is set and ready for pre-ordering. (Link below) Surrogacy, Book 2 of the Chosen Cycle, picks up immediately after Waking Light, following Johnny as he leaves the carnival with the strange force of soldiers and gifted people he met up with in the carnival. Who are these people? What’s the real story behind the demon infestation? The answers are there, but is Johnny ready to hear them? New characters, new locations, and new fantastic battles await as Johnny works to accomplish the only thing that matters to him: getting back to the carnival to rescue his friends. Surrogacy releases on Kindle, Kindle Unlimited, and paperback on October 29th, so you still have plenty of time to catch up with Waking Light if you haven’t read it yet.

Whew, what a lineup this year: Waking Light, Night Zero, The Dungeon, Project: Heritage, and Surrogacy.

Now, let’s talk future plans.

My first published baby was Brightness, a story about a nuclear family with 3 beautiful girls, one of whom suddenly begins seeing beings of light and darkness. Though the story centers solely around the father and his reaction to things he cannot see, there is a greater destiny in store for his children than this one episode. Brightness is a two-day snapshot of the beginning of an extraordinary journey.

Fast forward three years in time, and you have the setting for Into Darkness, another snapshot in time, another series of events that will forever change how the Richards’ family views the world and their place within it. It’s time for Sofie’s next heart surgery and a perfect opportunity for the demons of the world to make sure she doesn’t survive to fulfill her destiny. Into Darkness will be the first release of 2020, probably in February or March. To celebrate the forthcoming sequel, Brightness has been rereleased with a new cover, new typesetting, and a brand new preview at the end, featuring the first 3 chapters of Into Darkness.

Ascendancy, Book 3 of the Chosen Cycle, will also be released next year. I’m not going to tease any of its contents right now, because Book 2 hasn’t had its release yet.

The Fall of Icarus will also come next year as a direct sequel to The Dungeon.

Finally, watch for a fully stand-alone title next year which I’m putting the finishing touches on. No details right now, but it’s got action and romance and all those goose-bumpy things I like to write about.

I will continue to update as we get close to the release of Surrogacy, including chapter sneak peeks and further details about other projects. Feel free to click any of the links below if you’re interested in checking out my current works, or would just like to follow me on one of my various internet locations.

Amazon profile: http://www.amazon.com/author/robhorner

Brightness: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07J4B1H89/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i2

Waking Light: https://www.amazon.com/Waking-Light-Book-Chosen-Cycle-ebook/dp/B07R82ZR9P/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

Surrogacy (pre-order): https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07W8Y9T8Q/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i6

The Dungeon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07T3G5BB5/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i3

Night Zero: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07SVTF4V8/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0

Project: Heritage: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07V5ZNZMJ/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i1

Twitter: @RobHorner8

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/robhorner

Ahead of Schedule

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It was planned for middle summer, but The Dungeon made it out a little sooner than expected. Honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about having a book through a publisher. I can’t control pricing (except for the e-book version, which I insisted be set at $3.99 instead of $9.99). I also can’t see how it’s doing. It’s available on all e-readers and in all online bookstores, so if you’ve picked up a copy, please leave a review on Amazon, drop a response through the blog, or email me at fansofrobhorner@gmail.com.

Night Zero is doing phenomenally well. It reached Best Seller status on Amazon in 4 days, and is consistently in or near the top 100 for Medical Thrillers. I’m proud to say it’s my best work so far, though I hope to top it with the next books coming out.

Waking Light is struggling to find its place. It’s billed as a young adult science fiction novel, but it’s meant for all ages. Set in 1991, it’s a wealth of culture throwbacks that should bring a smile of nostalgia to anyone who was alive and old enough to remember what the 90s were like. I wrote the first two parts in 1991, when I was 17, so the references are authentic. It’s been edited numerous times, and I’m proud to finally be bringing this saga to the public. Part 2, Surrogacy, will be out this fall. Part 3, Ascendancy, is currently under construction.

Brightness continues to hold a special place in the hearts of everyone who has read it, and I’m pleased to say that work on its sequel has begun. Expect Into Darkness some time next year, with Death Watch coming the year after.

The Fall of Icarus will complete the story begun in The Dungeon, though it won’t be the last time we see Lawson Bechtol or Detective Jackson. The two will feature prominently in an upcoming technothriller. My hope is to have The Fall of Icarus ready by late next year, with Virtuality coming the year after.

Finally, if The Chosen Cycle is my inner child refusing to grow up, then this next project is my white whale. Started in 1997 while out to sea on the USS Constitution, Project: Heritage had only been read by one person until recently. It’s been updated and edited to the hilt, and I’m excited to announce that it will be releasing on July 30th, 2019, 22 years after it was started.

Of course, all dates are subject to change if my mind veers off into other territory, but I think I can stick with the loose schedule described above.

Thanks again to everyone who supports my work through buying or reading on Kindle Unlimited (every book except The Dungeon is available on KU). I hope you’ve enjoyed what’s come so far, and are looking forward to what comes next as much as I am.

 

Emergency Room nights be like…

Night Zero cover

How would the providers, nurses, and support staff in an emergency room react when people start attacking each other, when the dead don’t stay down and the only way to win is to escape?

Experience a new nightmare from their perspective on the front lines, when saving lives means first protecting yourself and your friends.

I’m so proud to present Night Zero, available now on Kindle and paperback from Amazon.

In other news: I should have my promo copies of The Dungeon in a couple of weeks, and it’s release will be about a month later. I will update once I have a set date.

Surrogacy: Book 2 of the Chosen Cycle is complete and I’m shooting for a release in late summer or early Fall.

Book 3, Ascendancy, is in progress and will hopefully be ready by Christmas or early 2020.

If The Chosen Cycle is my child who won’t grow up, then Project: Heritage is the red-headed stepchild who won’t move out of the basement. This story has been completed for over 20 years, and I’ve finally updated it, modernized it, and am in the process of editing it for release. No date yet, but I would like to get it done in time to also enter it in the UK StoryTeller competition.

That’s all for now. Check out Night Zero and, if you haven’t done so already, give Waking Light and Brightness a look as well. All of them are available on Kindle (and are free to read with Kindle Unlimited). Paperbacks are always available if you, like me, prefer to have something solid to hold in your hands.

More to come. I’ll keep you posted.