Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Invasion of Dryreach: Free Novella!

I started writing The Invasion of Dryreach in 2007. I wanted to write a story about vampires and superpowers that involved a group of hunters going out and destroying beasties and solving a mystery. Here's the blurb:
Ella Winters, monster hunter, must enter the vampire infested town of Dryreach to rescue her fiancé. The problem: a new kind of monster has arisen and wants to rule the world.
 (I've included the first chapter at the end of this post.)

I didn't know how The Invasion would end in 2007 so I put it away. I pulled it out over the years and added a scene here, a scene there, but I still didn't know how it would end.

A few weeks ago I was taking a shower and--bam!--the ending came to me. After many hours of fevered writing I finished it.

This is one of my favorite stories, it was a lot of fun to write, even though the story took its time coming to me.

I'm making the novella (25,000 words) free for the next two weeks, until July 31, 2013. If you'd like to read it, here's the link: The Invasion of Dryreach. If you don't want to go through Smashwords, email me and I'll send you the book.

I try to publish one story every two months or so and I usually give them away for free for two weeks. If you'd like to be notified when a new story comes out, leave me your email address. I haven't set up an account at MailChimp yet so just email me at paigewilliamsonline (at) gmail (dot) com with the subject line: "Add my name." Or, really, whatever you like as long as I get the idea.

Here's the first chapter of The Invasion of Dryreach:

It was the worst-case scenario.

24 hours ago a tourist had alerted authorities that the abandoned graveyard near the sleepy town of Dryreach had been desecrated. Over 50 new graves had been dug and covered in. Fresh claw marks were in the ground above most of them suggesting something had clawed its way out. To any hunter that screams vampire infestation. Rogue biters were creating cannon fodder for a big assault.

When the mayor of Dryreach learned about the fresh graves he, per protocol, suspended all travel to and from the city. What wasn't per protocol, what in fact had never happened before, was the strange fog that had begun to engulf Dryreach until it became a communications dead zone ensuring that we had no idea what kind of vampires these were or how many of them were massing.

As soon as communications with Dryreach went down the Rogue Vampire Detection and Eradication Team (RVDET) assigned to New Mexico was dispatched from Santa Fe. We monitored their communications until the squad entered the town. The fog swallowed them like a lake swallows a pebble; it was the last anyone heard from them.

After an hour of communications silence Special Forces were sent in. They didn’t have the vampire specific training of RVDET but since their orders were to ‘shoot anything that moved’ I guess no one figured it mattered.

As with RVDET, it was like the squad marched into a communications black hole.

I had a gut feeling this infestation was bigger than anything we’d encountered. The government had been leaning on news stations to soft-peddle what was happening; they didn’t want folks fleeing the towns around Dryreach and they scrambled to both cover their asses and come up with a solution.

Asses first, solution second.

Two hours ago Rodney McKay, my fiancé and second-in-command, had left for Dryreach. I would have stopped him if he'd given me the chance. So he didn't. He left me a note explaining that Maria, his niece and only family, had gotten back from her vacation just before the town had been engulfed by fog, and was now trapped. He was going to get her out or die trying.

As soon as I found the note I knew what I had to do: find Rod and Maria and bring us all back, alive.

#  #  #

Winters Inc. had been founded by my father. He hunted vampires. Zombies too, but mostly vampires. A rogue vampire had surprised him last year and he fought to the death. The business was mine now. Last year hadn't been as busy as usual, probably because we'd culled most of the rogue vamps, those that refused to abide by the accords the United Nations and the Vampire Council had issued. Some vamps thought the Vampire Council had sold them out and rebelled, others had elevated the maxim, 'Might makes right,' to a law and couldn't understand why they weren't allowed to feed on an unwilling human. What they failed to understand is that someone is always stronger. Better.

I was heading out to Dryreach to bring Rod back. I had no illusions. I knew I probably wasn't coming back, but hunters don't leave their friends behind and they don't expect to grow old.

On my way out I looked into the break room. My team, Warren, Doc and Dian, were seated around the break table watching the endless news loop about what was happening in Dryreach, the photographs of humans lying dead on the main street, their throats ripped out, fang marks still visible in their white, gutted, flesh.

I shivered.

Perhaps it was a mercy only a few pictures had been transmitted before the fog had descended on the town cutting it off from the world.

Seated at the lunch table, munching on taco chips, Dian speculated about what kind of beastie had taken over Dryreach and why. Her favorite theory was that it was so obvious vampires were the cause they couldn't be. They were being set up by another, even worse, group.

That was Dian; she'd held just about every crazy theory there was since she'd started working for my Dad six years ago. But I liked her infectious laugh, her unswerving dedication, and most of all I appreciated her ability to gather and synthesize information.

Warren, my right-hand man, sat beside Dian. When my dad found him, he was an hour away from being turned into the undead. It takes an entire night, from sundown to sunrise, to turn a human into a vampire. Everyone else under for more than two hours had died or gone insane. Warren had survived with his mind intact but he had brought something back with him. A darkness.

Jerald "Doc" Hayden sat beside Warren. Doc looked like an aging California beach bum but was the best doctor I'd ever known. He was passionate; we'd had our share of disagreements over the years. Hell, Doc had his share of disagreements with everyone over the years—but I couldn't ask for a better friend.

I didn't go in, I wasn't going to tell anyone I was heading to Dryreach. If they knew they would either want to stop me or, failing that, come along and I couldn't allow either.

My throat tightened and I blinked back tears. Time to go. 

Before I could turn away Dian looked over and saw me. "Hey, Ella," she said, "The governor declared a state of emergency in Dryreach."

Warren looked up from reading his tablet. "He just declared martial law as well. Guess we're not going to be getting a paycheck on this one."

That Governor, James Malcom, had declared martial law didn't surprise me, but it made it all the more important that I get to Dryreach quickly, before it was completely cordoned off by troops. After a brief stop at my office to make sure everything was in order and to retrieve my bug out bag—a backpack containing everything I was likely to need on a job—I walked outside into the scorching heat of the desert.

#  #  #

After the air conditioned confines of the office building the heat hit me like a suffocating wall of fur. That was what early August was like here on the Colorado Plateau. Heat rippled up in waves distorting my view of my jeep parked on the asphalt parking lot.

Warren was standing beside the jeep.

I sighed and walked over. I should have known getting away wouldn't be that easy.

Warren's eyes were hidden by dark brown wrap around shades. When I was about eight feet away he nodded at me and said, "Rod went to Dryreach to get his niece." It wasn't exactly a question. His gear was in a backpack that hung from his shoulder.

"You're not coming," I said. "The team needs you; I can't risk your life."

Warren crossed his arms over his chest. He was wearing a tight t-shirt and I could see every bump, every ripple, of his impressive, zero fat, physique. But I was engaged so, naturally, that sort of thing didn't interest me.

"I'm the best fighter you have," Warren said. "If Rod is still alive I'm the best chance he's got."

It was true. Warren was a much better fighter than I was, than any of us were. Whatever the vamp pheromones had done to him, he had inhumanly fast reflexes, and his eyesight ... well, let's just say eagles would be envious. And those were only the abilities I knew about. I often felt he had abilities he hadn't told anyone about.

I nodded and walked closer until we stood an arm's length apart. I was glad he had shades on. Whenever I looked into his eyes I had the impression he was trying to read my soul.

"Let's be honest," I said. "I'm probably not coming back, we both know that. But I have to do this. Rod went to rescue Maria because she's his only family." I fingered my engagement ring, I'd thought I counted as family, but I pushed the bitter thought aside. "Well, Rod is my only family. Some people are worth dying for and he's one of them."

Warren looked at me for so long the silence became uncomfortable. "You don't understand. You, Rod, the team, you're my family."

"I'm not making a suggestion Warren. This is my organization, which makes it my call whether you go, and I'm telling you to stay back." As I spoke I opened the drivers side door, tossing my backpack inside.

"Wait!" Warren said, and laid his hand on my shoulder. I'm not sure which I noticed first, the unnatural coldness of his touch in this heat or the prickling sensation that poured from his hand and ran down my spine; it was as though an open circuit had brushed my shoulder. Involuntarily, I jumped back and, without thinking, drew my gun and pointed it at him. My eyes were wide and I was breathing in great, shocked, gasps.

To have reflexes like that is why I train every damn day.

Warren put his hands up in the universal gesture of, "I'm not a threat," and slowly backed away. After a few moments, when my heart started to slow down, I holstered my gun.

"Warren, what the hell was that?"

"You need to take me," Warren said, ignoring my question. "I'll make you a deal. I'll tell you why you need to take me and if you don't agree I'll stay back. No argument."

I glared at him. Why couldn't he be like the others? If I told any of them, 'I'm going, you stay back,' they would have grumbled but they wouldn't have been this kind of a pain in my ass.

Warren grinned as though he could sense the gist of my thoughts and I glared at him. After a moment I smiled and shook my head. I had to give him points for perseverance.

"Okay, tell me why I must take you," I said. "But then I'm leaving, alone, and I don't want to hear anything else from you about it."

"I'm the only person who has come back from being bit by a vampire and buried almost till sunrise," Warren said. "Everyone else under for that amount of time was dug out of the ground insane or went that way in less than a year, usually taking a bunch of innocent bystanders with them."

I nodded, shifting uncomfortably. "Yes, you were dug up almost five years ago. A record. Warren, I have no idea where you're going with this but I don't have time to listen.

Warren looked at me for a heart beat and, slowly, took a step closer. I wanted to step back, I really wanted to step back, but I didn't. That would have meant giving in to fear. It would also have told Warren that he freaked the living shit out of me.

Slowly he moved his right hand forward, toward me.

"You've always wondered what I can do, what powers I took back from the grave with me."

It was true. I had wondered. But I'd also wondered what it felt like to burn in hell for eternity. Doesn't mean I wanted to experience it.

His hand crept closer. He was giving me ample time to step back or knock his hand away, but the truth was I was curious, I wanted to know.

"Okay, show me," I said. "But make it fast, we're burning daylight."

#  #  #

As soon as Warren's fingers brushed the surface of my forehead it was as though thoughts, like oily electric fingers, reached out, seeking to grip my mind, seeking to shred and rend and rip and tear. I gasped.

The thoughts felt alien, like slippery probes communicating with me in a language I almost understood. If only I focused on them and concentrated I could...

"Don't!" Warren said in a choked whisper; he drew his hand back from my shoulder with a speed that suggested he'd been burnt. "Don't listen too hard, that could set up a connection between you and the vampire. Telepathy is a two way street."

Vampire?! I looked at Warren, horrified. My next thought made me unsteady and I had to lean against my jeep or risk falling. "All these years they've been able to read your thoughts?"

"No!" Warren shook his head emphatically. This was the most animated I'd seen him. "I can keep the vampire from reading my mind but his thoughts are always with me. He's trying to find me. He wants to take me over, control me."

I'd had no idea. "This vampire, the one who would have been your sire, did he feel me in your thoughts?"

Warren shook his head. "You are invisible to him since you sensed him through me; it's like listening to a wiretap. You can hear the conversation but you can't join in."

I nodded. This was bizarre and intensely disturbing. "This ... this is what you feel every day?

"Yes. Every day I feel his mind. It searches for me, trying to find a chink in my mental defences. He wants in, he wants to control me."

"How do you stand it? Feeling his thoughts, it was ... obscene."

"Now you know why so many of the almost-turned, the so-called 'half turned,' go insane. I suppose they felt it was preferable."

"And you're worried that one day the vampire will break through and you'll go insane too?" It wasn't exactly a question.

Warren looked at me for a moment and then, slowly, took his dark glasses off. I swallowed and tried not to look away. His eyes were black on grey: a black iris squatting inside an expanse of grey. I shivered.

"The vampire wants to control my thoughts. He wants me to let him in. If I do, he will take me over and control me like a puppet. Your dad thought I could fight him off forever..." Tears formed in Warren's eyes and his voice was close to breaking. He looked away from me and blinked rapidly a few times. "I can't. I don't know how much longer..."

That's when I realized. "You want to die," I whispered.

Warren looked down and didn't say anything. I felt helpless. He was trapped in a hell vampires had created for him. He'd been keeping it together for my dad and, now, for me. The vampire's sadism combined with his courage ... I got angry. All my feelings coalesced into a white-hot point of fury. My feelings about the biters killing my mom and then my dad, anger at them threatening Rod's life, anger at what they were doing to Warren.

When I'm angry I don't think much. I guess the body is wired that way; adrenalin was pumping through my veins and when that happens you react, you do things, things that perhaps your higher brain would disapprove of.

I grabbed Warren's hand in both of mine and held it in front of me. "Warren, look at me," I said, my voice a whisper. I was going to do something I'd never done before, something my father had told me never to try, never under any circumstances.
Here's the link to download the story: The Invasion of Dryreach.

If you would consider leaving a review--whether good, bad or indifferent--that would be fabulous!


Photo credit: "Premade BG 96" by Brenda Clarke used under Creative Commons Attribution Licence 2.0.

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