Read Night Beyond The Night Online

Authors: Joss Ware

Tags: #Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Romance, #Paranormal, #Horror, #Adult, #Dystopia, #Zombie, #Apocalyptic, #Urban Fantasy

Night Beyond The Night

BOOK: Night Beyond The Night
7.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Night closed upon them.

All of the young people realized it at the same moment, as the sun dipped suddenly behind the jagged horizon, permitting only a thread of gray to illuminate their stark faces. Laughter and conversation evaporated, leaving them silent and uneasy.

Their vehicle sat where they’d left it, a few miles away. The stupid thing had clunked to a halt two hours ago, and wouldn’t start again. With the optimism of youth, fueled by the frenetic energy of the verboten crystal dust, they’d decided to continue to the meeting place on foot, unaware of how quickly the sun would slip beneath the horizon. Anything had seemed possible at the time they set out from their broken-down van.

But now. . . .

The buildings—mossy, moldering ruins, which during day might offer shelter—now loomed over them, close and eerie with their pitched angles and jutting beams broken by the sprout of a tree or hanging vine. Large trees grew in the middle of what had once been streets, and the glint of eyes low to the ground accompanied the scamper of animal feet.

Even without the influence of the crystal dust, the place would have been sinister and alarming . . . but the gritty, mind-altering dust made it more so.

The smashed and rusted-out vehicles with missing windows and upholstered with fuzzy green moss lined the street, appearing larger and more fearsome than the inanimate lumps they really were. None of these abandoned cars, sitting next to broken and bent signs and parking meters, had been started for decades and wouldn’t be of any help to them.

What had once been ten- or twenty-story buildings had tumbled into angry mountains of brick and beam, ragged glass and metal, folded in on each other in an unnatural terrain, softened by a thick layer of lichen and moss. What had once been smooth, landscaped walkways and wide thoroughfares jutted and cracked beneath their feet, making each step in the dark unsettling.

They’d never seen this world as it once had been: tall, glittery buildings, lit so brightly that night held no more secrets than day, filled with throngs of people, cars, noise; smooth and hard and spare.

“How much farther, Geoff?” asked one of the girls. The effects of the dust ebbed as real fear began to sink in. What had they done?

Since they were children, they’d been warned: how, in the blink of an eye, the sun could sink, and take its frugal warmth and light.

And release the fearsome things.

“It can’t be much farther,” he said brightly, neglecting to admit that he’d left the map in the van. But he remembered the way well enough. “And Nurmikko will be there, waiting for us, and then he’ll take us on to Hemp’s Point.” To safety, freedom . . . and more dust.

That was what they’d come for.

Then another of the teens, Linda, choked on a shriek when she saw the orange glint. It blinked before its other eye came into view from around a ragged, viny brick wall. Two orange eyes were joined by two more . . . and more and more. They came from the shadows, filtering from somewhere below ground where they lived in darkness, spilling onto the streets from all directions, released by the setting sun.

Moving slowly, steadily, they came. Much taller than a man, with massive legs and bulky arms. Grayish skin, tight and bone white under the sliver of moon, orange eyes, black holes where a nose might have grown. Gaping mouths and powerful, clawed hands moved in a horrible parody of the humans they’d once been. The

The teenagers huddled together, too paralyzed to save themselves. The last vestiges of their optimistic, frenetic mood disintegrated, leaving them cold and dark and frightened. They bumped up against a large vehicle, whose roof had been crushed into a vee, and sprouted grasses from beneath its hood.

One of the creatures growled
ruuuth . . . ruuuth

Geoff gathered his shattered wits and dipped to the ragged ground below, scooping blindly for a stone or some other object to throw. He rose, a hefty rock in his hand, and flung it at the nearest creature, at the same time shoving at the group of his friends. “Go!” he shouted, his head pounding.

The stone thudded into the chest of one of the creatures, but it seemed to have no effect.

The creatures were close enough now that their rank scent filled the air. The young people gaped at the huge hands that reached for them, bumping into each other, stumbling and tripping in their efforts to elude the dangerous grasp.

Benji screamed, staggering away even as she stared back with bulging eyes, holding her hand out in front of her as if to ward off the creature. Marcus picked up a rock and pitched it at one of the monsters, striking its shoulder, but it only growled more loudly, lunging at its attacker.

The creatures continued to swarm, Zac fell and was grabbed by two skeletal hands the size of dinner plates. As Geoff watched in horror, his friend was mauled by the teeth and hands in a horrible parody of old slasher movies. Only, this wasn’t a parody. The sharp smell of blood, the dull scent of exposed human entrails tinged the night air, and Geoff’s belly lurched.

Benji, too, fell prey to the nearest of the creatures, but instead of tearing into her with claws and teeth, he—it—flung the blonde over his shoulder as if she were a rag doll. She screamed, pounding on cold gray flesh that was barely covered by tattered clothing, terror choking her cries as he plodded away like a Frankensteinian monster of old. Horrified, Geoff snagged another stone from the rubble and lobbed it even as more of the creatures lunged toward him.

Then a shout reached their ears, accompanied by the sudden pounding of hooves as a wild mustang galloped toward them. The woman riding bareback clung to the horse’s mane, her long hair streaming behind her as she stampeded into the cluster of monsters, sending them scattering heavily.

“Run!” she screamed, and even in the dark Geoff recognized her. She wheeled her horse around and started back into the group of orange-eyed creatures as they pressed closer.

One of them grabbed at her, and she must have kicked her horse, for he reared up and clocked the monster in the face with a solid hoof. But the undead creatures surged closer around her, inexorable and strong. “Run, dammit!” she ordered again, when the stunned youth still hadn’t moved.

Suddenly, a man’s voice shouted. “This way! Now!”

Geoff looked into the darkness and pointed, began to stumble toward the disembodied voice—which had come from a completely different direction as the horsewoman. The others followed as quickly as they could.

Benji struggled against her abductor, screaming. But there was nothing they could do for her as she was toted in the opposite direction, and nothing they could do to help the horsewoman as the monsters closed in around her.

Then, from the direction of the voice, something flew out of the night. Something that glowed and made a streak of light in the air. It landed on the ground between the slowest of the humans and the surge of creatures, exploding with such force that the lagging man was pitched forward. The horse reared again, screaming crazily, but the woman remained seated as flames burst around them.

The explosion sent several of the creatures crashing to the ground like a rampage of boulders. Their clothing and skin scorched and burned, flames dancing eerily in the darkness. The mustang leapt from the burning circle as another streak of light arced through the air, landing with a crash and an explosion at the second wave of the attackers, destroying even more of them.

The screams of the kidnapped girl rang through the night, growing more distant as a third missile pitched and crashed. By that time, the cluster of humans had moved out of sight of the creatures, leaving them growling in the darkness.

Ruuuth . . . ruuuth.

Chapter 1

“Damn, she went after them,” Elliott Drake said as he leapt over an old sofa to join two of his four companions. The others had gone on foot after the abducting
and the woman.

“Where the hell did she come from?” asked his friend Quent, still peering through an ivy-curtained window that had lost its glass long ago.

“I don’t know, but, my God, she rode like a fucking rodeo queen.” Elliott looked off in the direction she’d galloped, crouching low over the mustang’s neck, her hair streaming out behind. The rider had already disappeared into the darkness, a nameless, faceless heroine. But not without giving him a peek of moonlit skin where her shirt rode up from her jeans.

The rest of the zombie-like
had also scuttled off into the night, leaving their six would-be victims shaking and clinging to each other until Elliott rounded them up and brought them inside. Unable to see any other sign of movement, Elliott at last turned from the second-floor window of the shadowy, bedraggled buildings, and headed across the room to where the surviving teens had huddled. None of them had appeared injured, although they’d certainly had the shit scared out of them.

Despite wanting to lecture these kids about what the hell they were doing out after nightfall, with no protection—and not a wit to spare among them—Elliott merely gave them his physician’s smile, one meant to soothe and calm. Poor kids. Whatever mistakes they’d made by venturing out at night, they’d learned their lesson: one of their companions had been mutilated beyond recognition, and the other had been carted off.

And if Elliott and his companions—along with the surprise Annie Oakley—hadn’t intervened, it would have been much worse.

He’d seen the remnants of
attacks, and they weren’t pretty.

“Is anyone hurt?” he asked the teens, keeping his voice soothing and easy. Their eyes were wide with shock, but he quickly noted that all six were standing upright, there wasn’t any blood, and no one seemed to be protecting or holding any injury. Definitely a good sign.

They seemed to cluster together even more tightly at his approach, so he halted and raised his hands in an open gesture. “Are you all right?” Elliott asked, looking at the girl who seemed to be slightly more composed than her sniffling, gasping companion. As he’d done countless times in the ER—God, a
ago—he made certain that his voice was calm and low, but also commanding enough to penetrate her shock.

She looked at him with big dark eyes, hiccupped, and nodded. For an instant, she reminded him of his favorite niece Josie, with her pretty, round-cheeked face, innocent and tear-streaked. Grief swarmed Elliott for a moment, making the back of his throat ache. They were all gone now. Everything was gone.

His family, his job, his hopes, his dreams.

Oh, and the rest of the damned world too. He had nothing left but this band of motley guys he called friends.

He swallowed and pushed away the wave of disbelief that occasionally rose to hamper him. “Are any of you injured?” he asked again, looking at her, then meeting the eyes of the others, one by one. They shook their heads, and he noticed with satisfaction that some of the shock seemed to be easing from their faces. “Are you cold? Hungry? Thirsty?”

Of course they were hungry. They were teens. There might be no more YouTube, cell phones, rock concerts or malls, but some things didn’t change.

Elliott produced dried venison and apples from his pack and some bottles of water. The offerings of food seemed to ease their fear and suspicion.

The tallest of the group, and the first one who’d had the brains to pick up a rock and throw it at the
, finally spoke. “So who are you? Where did you guys come from?”

Who are you?
Good fucking question.

Where did you come from?
An even better one.

Elliott had been wondering that himself for the last six months—ever since he and his friends had emerged from a cave in Sedona to find the world completely and utterly changed . . . and fifty years older than it had been when they went in.

It was still impossible to comprehend.

He rubbed his forehead, brushing the fringe of hair out of his eyes. It was the exact same length it had been fifty years and six months ago when he, Quent, and Wyatt had gone on what was supposed to be a weekend caving trip, led by a local guide nicknamed Fence and his partner.

Elliott had met Quent and Wyatt on a volunteer humanitarian mission to Haiti in 2004, shortly after finishing his medical residency. Both Wyatt, a paramedic firefighter who had also been part of the National Guard in Colorado, and Quent, a bored and rich playboy who’d loved to go against his parents’ wishes, had been assigned to Elliott’s team.

Despite their different backgrounds, they’d become fast friends, bonding as men often do when faced with life-altering circumstances. Their work to help the people of the poverty-stricken, devastated island nation after Hurricane Jeanne had been that sort of life-changing experience. Because of the horrors they’d seen, and the people they’d helped in Haiti, their bond was strong, and they remained close friends over the years that followed.

The trip to Sedona, Arizona, was only one of many such adventures on which the three had embarked since. Quent, as the heir to Brummell Industries with unlimited funds as well as an Indiana Jones-like fascination for antiquities and treasure, usually arranged the trips based on one of his outlandish theories about the location of a lost artifact. Elliott and Wyatt were more than delighted to accompany him because the trips were always exciting, exotic . . . and dangerous.

BOOK: Night Beyond The Night
7.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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