The survivors call it the Molting. It spread across the planet faster than anyone could anticipate, turning people into bloodthirsty creatures, abominations of nature. Now Molters swarm every landscape, hunting the few remaining humans.
Former Army grunt Jonah Browne helps his family survive the only way they know how: hunting down what hunts them from their secluded cabin in the remote German Mountains. It’s only a matter of time before the cabin is overrun.
After a shootout with a rival survivor community, Jonah and his family have to find a safer base. He sets out on his most dangerous mission yet, leaving his family vulnerable. Jonah must rely on his survival skills to escape the unstoppable horde while dealing with the desperation of his fellow man.
In a world filled with monsters—both unnatural and human—will Jonah survive long enough to return to his family?
Release date: March 13, 2020
Publisher: C.A. Gleason
Print pages: 284
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Wind found its way through the woods far more easily than in previous months, exploring, naturally testing boundaries, doing its best to worm wherever it could, intent on bringing the strength and denseness of the trees to the ground for primitive reasoning. The wind blew against him, too, with powerful blustery gusts, but he could also hear it in the distance, a blind brute angry that it was unable to go wherever it wished whenever it wished, howling its frustration. Although there was still snow, it was melting, and the many drips coming off branches almost looked like a slow rain.
Radio contact had already been established. Doreen knew his location and was keeping her radio on. She was also ready to defend herself and Heike while he was away. Jonah had convinced her to keep her snub-nose revolver in a holster on the coat rack next to the door. Easy access to a weapon when he wasn’t home. Heike respected weapons, was comfortable around them, and wouldn’t mess with it or the rocket launcher. Heike carried her own pistol now anyway.
Doreen had told him something before he went; she’d said not to let his nightmares control his days. Her tone was almost as if she’d cursed by accident. He understood what she meant. She simply longed for everything to be normal, but he couldn’t live that way. Couldn’t allow any of them to. Not yet. His fears kept them alive. That was a fact. He knew what his nightmares meant—especially the worst one with the ocean of blood. He was well aware of the power of the subconscious. Every now and then, it pushed forward muddled—but accurate—information, often wrapped in a layer of confusion until it was deciphered.
Jonah’s subconscious had been doing its best to show him his worst fear and for good reason because there was truth in the creature that emerged from all that briny blood, the one that had looked to be part Molter and part Behemoth at the same time. Even though the nightmare had been months ago he still thought of it often. It had meant the creatures were evolving, changing, and also that humans were on the brink of extinction.
Although that was undoubtedly true, or would be soon, it wouldn’t happen to his people as long as there was blood in Jonah’s veins. And he was sure he wasn’t the only one who felt that way. People didn’t relent easily. Or quietly. Most had a lot of fight in them, and most of them weren’t even aware of what they were capable of until it was time to act.
Wearing NVGs allowed him to stalk them because they were so close. He wasn’t sure how they had slipped through his regimented clearing. Probably related to his latest hypotheses, how they’d evolved and no longer served a Behemoth, but it didn’t matter how exactly they had gotten through. They had. Molters didn’t hunt as much while there was snow on the ground, so whenever winter began its slide toward spring, they were far more active. Their appearing wasn’t exactly a shock. He just didn’t know which direction they had come from. He wished it was possible for a study to be done so their behavior would be more predictable.
At least he always knew where to aim his weapon: at the enemy. The trap he’d set wasn’t exactly that—more like a lure to get them to where he wanted them to go, to open ground, which was difficult to find in this forest. Molters stuck close to trees whenever possible, or below branches where bushes were often thickest, and there were plenty of both in a Bavarian forest. Molters did their best to remain invisible, preferably above and hidden while hunting, and usually only went to ground to kill.
When they were on the ground, they were often in packs, so some had likely hunted together for a lengthy period of time, which, for them, was probably weeks or months or possibly even years. For so long, they were still alive. Some were still undoubtedly the old strain, so they wouldn’t cocoon until they’d drunk enough blood. Until that happened, they would continue to hunt. Lately, though, Jonah had suspected the new strain, the ones with green skin that were Infector bombs, dominated because he hadn’t seen any Behemoth food, the cocoons—Molters that had fed enough to turn into those cocoons and liquefied their insides—for at least a year. The new strain likely kept on feeding until the Infectors inside them matured. Once that happened, the Molters themselves burst open to unleash Infectors upon the world.
Regardless of their evolution and Jonah’s inability to completely understand their behavior, for today, being able to rely on the inquisitiveness of the Molters made them killable. No matter how diligent he was, it was as if they knew about the cabin somehow, and they kept edging closer. Compared to the denseness of the forest surrounding it, the cabin was practically out in the open. Jonah had spotted far too many of them lately—even for spring numbers—and even though he mostly kept them away, the mission he was currently on was a necessary one. He had waited until nightfall to string up the carcass.
The deer had been an afterthought. He already had a dead rabbit, which they later ate, one of the big ones like the first one that Heike had shot, and he had been planning to use it the same way he had decided to use the deer corpse. Except he wanted a meal the creatures would find more appetizing—more visible, too—and one large enough for them all to sink their teeth into. Only now it was getting to the point where there were too many of them to keep an eye on.
His plan had to wait until he was able to kill the deer, which was difficult with them being so rare, but thankfully not so rare with winter—technically—ending and the beginnings of spring starting. Spring according to the calendar Doreen had drawn, but not the actual weather. Jonah hadn’t wanted to risk the loud report from a bolt-action rifle or be slowed down by the cumbersomeness of even a silenced automatic rifle, so he’d killed the deer with his silenced 9mm pistol, which had initially delayed his plan. There were quite a few nights before he downed the animal when he couldn’t make the shot.
Because the first stage of his plan required the use of a pistol, he had to be close as he tracked it and especially patient before squeezing the trigger. Luckily, he was able to take the deer as it was behind some trees, oblivious to his proximity, and it was a shot in the eye that put it down as it trotted toward him unaware. Like many animals, it had probably never seen a person before. Although he hated to kill it and waste the meat—he wasn’t about to eat it after the Molters were done with it—it was being used to protect his people.
He had raised the feet up by rope so its neck was at biting level, impossible for them to resist a bite, or at least ensuring a cautious inspection. The only problem was that its blood continued to leak out of the hole in its eye. He considered leaving the dead deer on the ground but while tied up in the air it moved around a little. Falsely, and pushed around by the wind and the sway of its dead weight from the branch, but to them he hoped it looked as if it were still alive.
The open ground he aimed at was just over a hill. He positioned himself atop of it but was still out of their view. He wasn’t sure how long that would last, and he had no choice but to wait before moving forward. Even though he was ready for them, he was surprised when the first of them appeared—where he wanted it to go. It had moved very quickly. It was as if there was nothing he could see, and then there it was, as if it had materialized out of thin air. The creature was hunched, uncertain of the possible danger of its surroundings, and menacing.
They always look that way.
Exposed and in Jonah’s watchful view, it was still half in the tree line, at the base of long, wavy shadows. He was in perfect firing position if he wanted to take it out now, but he wanted to kill them all and also be closer to ensure success. If he started shooting from up the slope, they would scatter, and all of his preparation would have been for nothing. That deer would have died for nothing, and that would have been unacceptable. He always did his best never to waste anything.
Jonah couldn’t very well wait forever though. It wasn’t as if he could camp out as a sniper would during a regular war, not with these enemies. They would find the carcass of interest, or they would leave it to hunt elsewhere. The deer had still been warm when he’d strung it up and probably still was, but that wouldn’t last long. Not in this cold.
All the creatures swiftly circled the open ground as unexpectedly as the first of them had appeared, as if it had been decided. They were all still cautious and partially out of view, waiting to rush in and feed, as if they understood there was something off with the easy meal before them. He’d seen them attack a live deer before, and that was why he had chosen one for the trap.
The deer, a male, a three-point if Jonah remembered correctly, had been a single, dipping its muzzle into the snow to nibble on underbrush and grass beneath, and then it was on the ground and covered in Molters, screaming. It had caught Jonah by surprise because he had been hunting it, too, and his focus had been on his aim through the iron sights of his bolt-action rifle. The animal’s terror disappeared under all the growling and snarling, and when it went silent, Jonah knew it was dead and close to being completely drained of blood.
If it were anyone else witnessing the present scenery, especially who wasn’t an ex-soldier and wearing NVGs, they would likely stroll through the open area thankful for the break of navigating dense forest, only to be as surprised as the male deer that day. Though horrific, Jonah was glad he’d witnessed the attack because it was a reminder, an unvarying one, of what Molters were capable of. How they were always on the hunt or ready to begin one. Plus, it had given him the idea for the lure trap.
Even with all the preparation and knowing what to expect, he was growing more impatient. The Molters were still hesitant, lurking among the trees as if they were keen on the deception somehow. Jonah wondered how long they would wait, or if they would inch closer before turning away or perhaps not even reach the corpse at all.
Maybe he was only afraid nothing was going to happen since he’d put in so much preparation, but they clearly weren’t used to seeing immobile prey. They could probably tell the deer was deceased, even though it was a relatively fresh kill. Jonah had never seen them feed on a carcass. He didn’t know if they would. The plan might all be for nothing.
As he continued to watch them, he was relieved when one, then another, then all of them advanced toward the dead deer: hunched, arms flexed at their sides, ready to throw their claws at any threat. All their mouths were constantly open, teeth showing. It was as if Molters were half ape, half shark, but perfect for hunting on land.
The first bit the neck, something they always did, but it must have known something was off, registering somewhere in its unsophisticated brain that the blood of the living, what it craved, was much hotter than what it was currently feeding on. Feeding on the dead went against many animals’ instincts, and it likely sensed something was wrong the moment it sunk its teeth in. But at that point, it was unable to stop feeding.
They really wanted to hunt, see their prey flee from them so they could chase it down, kill it, and repeat the necessary feeding ritual all over again. Not just be presented with an easy meal. That didn’t stop the creature from grasping the head as it drank what blood was left, hanging on to it as if it intended to climb it, and its firm grasp finally yanked the corpse down onto the snow. Jonah had wanted that to happen, so he had not secured the deer very tightly. Then the rest of them covered it like he had seen them do before.
It was a sickening sight of brutality but a familiar one, but not just to Jonah. The feeding was something that had occurred on planet Earth more times than could possibly be counted, or even known. The first prey was taken down by the first predator a very long time ago, and that built a natural foundation for what had gone on ever since. No doubt it would continue, on this planet and others, and uncountable times in the future. Likely forever.
It didn’t mean Jonah would ever get used to it. He hated seeing any defenseless animal die, especially by his own hand, no matter the purpose. But he and his people needed to eat—not this deer, obviously—and hunting was often necessary to make that happen. No matter how it made him feel, he always needed to remember that. Unfortunately, Molters needed to feed too. It was almost time for him to make his move.
Doreen understood Jonah needed to go out during the day to hunt them, but only seldom at night, so there had been no sense in worrying her with specifics. They both knew what needed to be done to keep them safe, and tonight was one of the nights he was out specifically to exterminate them. Even though it was dangerous to be out alone in the dark. One day, there could be thousands covering the mountains. It was why he was doing this. Any chance to decrease their numbers was a necessary outing.
It wasn’t possible for Jonah to personally destroy them all, but he would do his best to prevent them from getting close to his people to do what they were presently doing to that carcass. If he had to go out and kill them every night from now on, he would, and not only when his gut told him it needed to be done. There was plenty of daytime for sleep. Even if that meant not getting as much quality time with his loved ones as he preferred. That could always happen more in the future.
Except Jonah was still uncertain whether they could live somewhere else besides the cabin, and even if they did decide on another place, he had no clue where that might be yet. But the decision needed to happen soon, and exploration would definitely be one of his next missions. His wonderings plagued his mind. Somewhere safe, but wasn’t that what the cabin was?
Safe, what was safe exactly? Especially considering they were still alive. Judging the state around them and what he knew, forcing a way of life prematurely was a surefire way to end up dead. There were surely plenty of people who tried to hang on to what they had or take a risk for something perceived as better, but at their own peril.
For what had felt like years, Jonah would have been OK with dying. Being dead after what had happened to his friends in Oberstein would have practically been welcome. Back then, he didn’t feel that he had anything to live for, which in hindsight wasn’t true, but he still felt that way for a long time. No matter his state of mind then, or whether he deserved to live or die, now Jonah definitely had something to live for: Doreen and Heike. They came first, even before himself.
An extermination mission was the best way to demolish regret, and the Molters were in a frenzy. They must have been starving because they didn’t seem to be giving up any droplets of blood, except that meant they wouldn’t be feeding much longer.
Raising the detonator, Jonah took the NVGs off. He covered his eyes with a hand and turned away. Then he detonated the mines he’d set.
The explosion shattered the night, ripping across the land like anchored thunder, even long enough to briefly scare off the bullying wind. Molter parts and guts landed within the blast radius but especially outside it, coating nearby tree trunks with sticky chunks and spraying them with bloody mist.
Jonah dropped his hand, maintaining his night vision before pulling the NVGs back on. The warmth of the blast made it look as if the green snow was on fire. He aimed his silenced automatic rifle—the perfect weapon for this mission—in the general vicinity of where he suspected the survivors of the attack were hiding and headed down the hill on the run.
The massive blast had killed most of them but not all as he’d expected. There always seemed to be a few away from the others, as if they were in charge of the rest and forced to be more cautious, out of range of any danger. Molters naturally spaced themselves out, similar to what soldiers were trained to do to survive a sudden attack that may or may not happen. Jonah had counted on that.
Even though there had been many feeding on the deer, there were more, unseen, waiting to feed, or they might have already fed elsewhere. Jonah didn’t know. Even with creatures like them, when there was a pack, there seemed to be a pecking order.
Before they could scramble into the trees—luckily, they were still on the ground and stunned—Jonah fired his automatic rifle, shooting two in the head. He squeezed and released the trigger, accurately firing bursts of silent cracks into the others as he arrived at the blast area. The remaining ones fell at practically the same time.
The last of them alive gasped on its back, its jaws gnashing at the air, somehow still alive with a hole in its head that leaked blood. It was another green one, unlike the first strain he’d encountered—which had been pale—but like the outlying rest of them he’d just killed and the one in the cave. It was naked with no hint of sex, just veiny muscles.
Where the first Molters he encountered had lips, these did not. Where its lips should have been, there were many teeth that lined its mouth, almost like a sea anemone but one peppered with fangs. Its only purpose for living was to kill and to feed what was growing within. Was it was born with the mouth teeth? Did they grow after? He’d never seen a green one molt.
No matter the specific trajectory of the evolution of the Molters, or whether they still lived to sacrifice themselves to feed Behemoths, they used people to be born. That Jonah could count on, which made his next move his only choice because the creature splayed out below him was a threat, a killer in its own right, but also filled with Infectors, the spiderlike creature that’s only purpose was to bite a host and infect them to begin a molting.
It drew in ragged, wet breaths, and after looking down, Jonah saw it was also shot in its muscular chest; the veins that covered it were as thick as ropes. The chest wound must have been why it couldn’t move its body. The bullet must have damaged its spine. All it could do was flex its claws with rabid frustration in the snow as it was unable to grab hold of him.
Its immobility allowed Jonah to yank out the depleted magazine, slap in a fresh one, yank the charging handle, lower the weapon just above its face and gnashing jaws, and squeeze the trigger.
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