Reclusive former soldier Liam Coleman doesn't want to be anywhere near bustling downtown Chicago the day before Christmas, but his twin brother and pregnant sister-in-law need him.
Mere minutes after leaving O'Hare, their car crashes, along with hundreds of other vehicles. When Liam's phone stops working, he knows something is very wrong.
But before he can react, the first plane falls from the sky...
Chaos Rising is the 85-page prequel to the Edge of Collapse apocalyptic series, a riveting EMP thriller featuring flawed, complex characters and heart-in-your-throat action. Perfect for fans of Ryan Schow, Jack Hunt, Boyd Craven, and Grace Hamilton.
The book includes a sneak peek of Edge of Collapse, book #1 in the acclaimed survival series.
Rated PG-13 for mild language and moderate violence.
Release date: December 23, 2019
Publisher: Paper Moon Press
Print pages: 112
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Chaos Rising: An Edge of Collapse Prequel
If Liam Coleman had known this day would end in disaster, destruction, and death, he never would have left his isolated homestead in northwest Michigan.
But he was here, stuck in the cold and bluster and crowds outside of O’Hare International airport in Chicago. It was Christmas Eve morning and everywhere he looked, people hustled past him, bright holiday sweaters beneath their heavy coats. The airport shops and restaurants were decorated in gaudy lights, shiny tinsel, and fake trees covered in overpriced souvenir ornaments.
Liam was only doing this for his twin brother, whom he hadn’t seen in four years. In forty-eight hours, he’d be back on a plane headed for the peace and solitude he craved.
The sky was gray and thick with heavy clouds. Cold air stung his exposed cheeks and neck. He flipped up the collar of his furlined parka, pressed his gray knit beanie over his ears, and readjusted his backpack. His suitcase pressed against his left leg.
Someone bumped into his elbow as they jostled for a spot at the crowded curb, everyone waiting for rides from taxis, Uber, or loved ones. Hundreds of cars honked and braked and rolled slowly past, their tires spitting up dirty chunks of snow and ice.
Liam hated crowds.
If his brother didn’t show in five minutes, he was calling an Uber. Or screw it. He’d just walk. He’d probably make the twenty-five miles to their apartment faster than it’d take to drive in this traffic.
He scanned the clumps and clusters of people—business folks standing apart with briefcases, buttoned coats, and tense faces; harried parents with shivering children swirling around their legs; college-aged kids eager for a holiday adventure in the big city.
No one suspicious. No one out of place. Still, his anxiety remained elevated. His Gerber MK II tactical knife and gun case were packed in his suitcase. He hated not having the knife on him. He hated not having his Glock 19 holstered comfortably at his side even more.
He shifted his gaze to the traffic lanes again and spotted Lincoln’s cherry-red Audi A4. A few freezing minutes later, his brother managed to squeeze into a slot by the curb and popped the trunk.
“Look who it is!” Lincoln buzzed down the passenger window from the driver’s seat, leaning over the center console and waving enthusiastically. “Get the hell inside where it’s warm!”
The familiar sound of his brother’s voice warmed him, but regret swiftly followed. Against his will, his throat tightened.
Lincoln’s wife, Jessa, flashed Liam a sympathetic smile through the passenger window. She opened the passenger door and clambered out, her round belly preceding her.
“Jessa! It’s too cold! Stay inside,” Lincoln called, but Jessa ignored him.
Before Liam could pull away, she’d wrapped him in a bear hug, or as close to a bear hug as she could manage. He inhaled the familiar scent of her signature perfume—a sweet floral scent she’d told him once was jasmine.
He didn’t want to admit how long it had been since another human had touched him. Stiff and awkward, he patted her back.
“I’m so happy you came, Liam.” She pulled away, gripped his shoulders, and looked up into his face. “It’s been far too long since we’ve seen you.”
Even nine months pregnant, Jessa Coleman was the most beautiful woman he’d ever known. Her long black braids hung down her back and framed her face, her pink coat bringing out the warm brown of her skin. Her features were friendly and open, her smile always bright.
Not for the first tie, he wondered what a woman like this was doing anywhere near him and his brother. Another stab of regret struck him. All these years, and he’d never met anyone else like her. He would never begrudge his brother an iota of happiness, but his own loneliness had never stung quite so intensely.
She reached down for his suitcase. “Here let me help you.” He grasped the handle first. “I don’t need—”
“I’ll help.” She flashed him a sharp look and followed him to the trunk of the car. She leaned into the trunk, moving aside Lincoln’s gym bag and a few odds and ends.
Liam set his suitcase inside the trunk and unzipped it. From a netted inner pocket, he tugged out the small everyday carry case that contained his multitool, stainless steel tactical pen, small LED flashlight, two lighters, small folding knife, and a handkerchief wound with paracord. He tucked it into his coat pocket.
He wanted to take his Glock 19 out of its case and holster it to his hip, but with Chicago’s strict gun laws, he couldn’t. He was tempted to concealed-carry anyway, but a cop directing traffic homestead not thirty feet to his right dissuaded him.
“How is he?” Liam asked quietly.
A shadow passed across Jessa’s face. “Getting worse.”
Liam tensed. This was the news he’d dreaded. While with the 101st, Lincoln did two tours in Afghanistan, while Liam served as a Delta Special Forces Operator. After eight years of seeing too much and doing worse, Liam was medically discharged for a back injury. Five crushed discs from jumping from choppers and airplanes with Special Forces. He was still strong enough to lift a house, but he’d slowed a step or two.
Neither man came back the same. Lincoln, though, had returned home in worse shape. While Liam knew he was scarred, Lincoln insisted on acting like he was fine—he always had, even when they were kids, and the secrets they kept made them anything but fine.
Lincoln’s carefully cultivated optimism masked far deeper problems. Six years ago, he’d returned home with a prosthetic limb after an IED explosion took out his best friend and the lower half of his right leg. The PTSD that followed was the gift that kept on giving.
Jessa touched his arm. “He needs you here.”
When Jessa had called him yesterday, she’d sounded worried. She was the steadiest person he knew. She was calm and capable, and one of the best obstetricians at Northwestern Medicine Prentice Women’s Hospital.
If she was this concerned, the problem with Lincoln was serious. Liam had known he had to come, no matter what.
He far preferred to drive anywhere he needed to go, but his junky 2001 Chevrolet Silverado had engine trouble he hadn’t managed to fix yet. With his truck undependable for any distance over twenty miles, he’d dropped everything and taken the next available flight from Cherry Capital Airport in Traverse City to O’Hare.
A single glance at his brother through the car window, and he knew. Identical twins, they shared the exact same rugged handsomeness. The broad shoulders and lean, wiry strength they’d inherited from their father; the angular bone structure, piercing gray-blue eyes, and thick chestnut hair from their mother.
Lincoln looked like he’d lost fifteen pounds since the last time Liam had seen him. His cheekbones were too sharp. The shadows rimming his bloodshot eyes and the wan pallor of his skin weren’t from genetics.
“He’s been having nightmares—violent ones,” Jessa said. “He barely sleeps. He had an outburst at work. They laid him off. He doesn’t want you to know.”
Lincoln worked as a security consultant for a couple of Fortune 500 companies located on the Loop, the business district of Chicago. Liam could never keep straight which ones.
“He still won’t go to the support group or see the therapist Veterans Affairs provided. And with the baby coming…” her voice trailed off, her face tense.
Guilt speared him. After four years apart, Liam was finally less than ten feet from his brother. He’d never felt the distance so completely. While he’d been nursing his own private wounds, his brother had been floundering. Liam hadn’t known how bad it was. That was on him.
“If you could talk to him? Please. You’re the only one who can.”
A car honked behind them.
“I’ll try. I promise.” He zipped the suitcase and closed the trunk but kept his backpack with him. It was his go-bag and contained his emergency essentials. He never traveled without it.
Liam shoved his hands in his pockets. His fingers brushed something soft. “Hey. Before I forget.” He pulled the soft object out and stuffed it awkwardly into her hands. “Didn’t have time to wrap it.”
He liked making things with his hands. Mostly, woodworking and construction projects. He’d built his own kitchen table and chairs. He’d learned to make his own soap and shampoo, too. This winter, he’d turned to knitting blankets.
She unfolded the knit cap he’d been working on ever since Lincoln had texted that ‘they’ were pregnant that summer. It was lopsided, with a few bulgy, crooked spots, but the tiny blue and green striped hat was at least recognizable as a hat.
“Should’ve practiced more. Was planning on it, but—”
“He’s gonna love it, Liam. I love it.” A radiant smile spread across her face. It warmed him from the inside out. He smelled her perfume again—that familiar whiff of jasmine that made his heart ache.
They hurried into the car to avoid more irritated honking. Liam slipped off his backpack and set it on the seat beside him. Lincoln twisted around and offered his hand in greeting. “Long time no see, brother.”
It was formal and stiff and far too insignificant compared to what lay between them. Emotions rose in Liam’s chest—remorse, guilt, fierce love. He longed to lean forward and grab his twin in a powerful embrace, to tell him how sorry he was, that he was here for him now, no matter what.
He did none of those things. From stubborn hardheadedness or embarrassment or shame, he didn’t know. Instead, he took Lincoln’s proffered hand and shook it. “Good to see you again.”
A few minutes later, they were driving along I-90 toward downtown. Traffic crowded the lanes on either side of them. Liam watched the hunched buildings, the train tracks easing by on his left, the people waiting at the stations buried in heavy coats, scarves, gloves, and hats.
He didn’t like crowds, and he didn’t like cities—they made him nervous, reminded him of the stress and urgency of his time overseas, where you were never safe and anyone might be your enemy—man, woman, or child.
His restless fingers drumming the steering wheel, Lincoln kept up a stream of innocuous questions about Liam’s flight, the inadequacy of the in-flight snacks, and the length of the security lines, but his bloodshot eyes kept flicking toward Liam in the backseat.
That was Lincoln—filling up the uncomfortable spaces with inconsequential babble, pretending everything was okay, even if the roof was caving in on them.
He’d been that way since they were kids, when they both wished they could pretend the fighting and screaming outside their bedroom door didn’t exist.
They turned onto West Jackson Blvd. The Sears Tower appeared several blocks ahead of them, the black aluminum and bronze-tinted glass skyscraper soaring one hundred and ten stories above them. Supposedly it was the Willis Tower now, but he didn’t care.
“Weather’s getting pretty bad.” Lincoln leaned forward and peered at the thickening clouds, the layer of fog wrapping the tops of the skyscrapers like tulle. “Good thing your flight wasn’t delayed.”
“There’s another big snowstorm coming in,” Jessa said. “It’s going to be freezing cold for weeks with temps well below zero. Record breaking cold. It’s crazy.”
Liam stared at the brick apartment buildings crawling by outside the window, the harsh sounds of honking horns and jabbering jackhammers assaulting his ears. The ornate white stone of Union Station slid by, the sidewalks crowded with tourists and holiday shoppers.
He wished he had something to say. He wished he could take back the last four years, wished he could fix whatever had gone so wrong between them.
“You hungry, Liam?” Lincoln asked. “We’re headed for Giordano’s for an early lunch. You can’t visit Chi-Town without some deep-dish pizza. We thought we’d stroll along the magnificent mile and visit Millennium Park and the Bean before dinner. We have reservations at The Metropolitan Club at five with Jessa’s parents. You remember them from the wedding?”
Liam shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He was tired from the strain of traveling, the drain of being surrounded by so many people, so many potential threats. He was angry with himself and worried sick about Lincoln. Sightseeing was the last thing on his mind.
“You don’t have to go through all this for me. I don’t need—” “Nonsense!” Lincoln boomed too loudly. “You’re in a beautiful city on Christmas Eve! You think we’d let you bum around in our boring, cramped apartment?”
That was exactly what Liam wanted, but he didn’t say so. He told himself that he was here for Lincoln. And for Jessa. Whatever Lincoln needed of him, he would do. He would simply have to endure the next several hours of forced socializing. He’d done it plenty of times before.
“We were going to take you to the Skydeck. Pretty sure you won’t see four different states in this weather. We’ll try again tomorrow—if the baby hasn’t made his appearance, anyway.”
“This baby have a name?” Liam asked, grasping for some common ground.
Jessa turned to look at him and rolled her eyes. “You know your brother can’t decide on anything.”
“I’ll know when I see him.” Lincoln babbled on about various tourist attractions and sights, his rising voice filling the car. Liam’s gut twisted. He saw right through his brother’s façade. The more anxious or upset Lincoln got, the louder and faster he talked.
Even though they were twins, beyond their identical physical appearance, they were nothing alike. Lincoln had always been the friendly, social, outgoing one. Liam was the opposite. He was still and quiet, serious and thoughtful.
Fresh regret churned in his gut. He was a terrible brother.
He’d failed Lincoln. He shouldn’t have stayed away so long.
He wasn’t good with people. Never had been. But that was just an excuse.
After their parents died seven years ago, the two people sitting in this car were the last two people he loved in the world. He’d spent so much time avoiding things he didn’t want to face that he’d missed out on what really mattered.
He would do better now. He wouldn’t let his own stubbornness get in the way again. He’d talk to Lincoln and fix this—
“What the heck?” Lincoln said. “What’s up with the dashboard?”
Liam glanced toward the front of the car. The digital screen behind the steering wheel blinked off, then on, then stayed off.
The car jolted with a grinding sound Liam had never heard before.
“Hey!” Jessa yelped. “What’s going on?”
“Something’s wrong!” Lincoln wrenched the steering wheel. “The dashboard isn’t working! The wheel is stuck—”
Something huge smashed into the back of their car.
A terrible wrenching sound filled the car. Metal scraped against metal. Jessa screamed.
The Audi surged forward, punched by whatever car or truck had rammed into it from behind.
“I can’t stop!” Lincoln slammed his foot against the brakes.
Nothing happened. “Nothing works!”
The Audi bore down on the white SUV directly ahead of them. Liam had only an instant to brace himself against the side and the back of the front seat before impact.
They crashed into the SUV. His head struck the back of the seat. Whiplash burned his neck.
He blinked hard, raised his head. Pain radiated down his spine. He groaned, instinctively feeling his ribs and his skull, searching for fractures or open wounds. Nothing.
Things came back into focus slowly. The tan leather seats. His go-bag flung to the floor. Gray daylight streaming through the rear windows.
The windshield was cracked. Steam poured from the smashed hood. He could just make out the crumpled rear of the white SUV through the billowing cloud of steam. Twisting around in his seat, he saw the vehicle that had struck them—a huge black Chevy Suburban had crushed their trunk. The Audi was likely totaled.
Liam forced himself to focus on Lincoln and Jessa. Their airbags hadn’t deployed. Either the vehicle hadn’t been going fast enough, or something had malfunctioned.
He leaned forward. “Lincoln? Jessa?”
Lincoln responded with a groan of his own. He raised his head and looked around. “Jessa? Jessa, you okay?”
She didn’t answer.
Lincoln leaned over the console, touched her shoulder. A small cut sliced across his forehead, blood dripping down the side of his temple. His face was tight with panic. “Babe?”
Jessa moved. She coughed and lifted her head. Her hands flew to her belly. She prodded her stomach, then sank back against the seat in relief.
A long red line streaked her neck from the seat belt, but she didn’t seem to feel it. Her only concern was the baby.
“He’s okay,” she whispered. “I just felt him.” “And you?” Liam asked.
“Yeah…just…shaken up. I don’t…what happened?”
Outside the windows, none of the other vehicles were moving. The traffi ᒀ c light on the pole ahead had gone dark.
“I don’t know! Everything just—stopped.” Lincoln pounded the steering wheel angrily. “It’s only three years old. I don’t get it. How could the dashboard screen, the brakes, and the power steering all fail at once?”
“We should get out,” Liam said slowly. He lifted his go-bag off the floor and plunked it on the seat beside him. It felt like he was moving through molasses. “Something’s wrong.”
“I just crashed the car with my pregnant wife inside it!” Lincoln spat. “I know something’s wrong, damn it! It’s the stupid car.”
Liam shoved open the rear passenger door, unbuckled his seat belt, and eased gingerly to his feet. The freezing cold bit at him. Aches and pains made themselves known across his back and shoulders. He felt like some giant hand had tossed him across the room.
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