When friends join ex-soldier Jonah on a European vacation, they discover that the beautiful German town where he was once stationed is now completely vacant. But the strangeness doesn’t end there. One of their group falls into a coma, another sees a strange creature, and large mounds of dirt appear everywhere.
Before they can determine just what is happening, Jonah realizes that something very deadly is watching from the shadows, waiting to hunt them. The pleasant vacation turns into absolute terror as Jonah and his friends struggle to survive.
But what they stumble across in the depths of an abandoned military base threatens not only their lives, but also all of mankind.
Release date: May 3, 2015
Publisher: C.A. Gleason
Print pages: 187
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Out for his walk while his dinner digested, Felix had his hands folded comfortably behind his back. His wife usually joined him, but she was not feeling well. The walk was not the same without her, and he almost did not go, but she had insisted. He hated to see her with influenza. She was such a strong woman, and it made him feel helpless. He was out a bit later than normal. It was nearly dark, and he was lost in thought without his wife to converse with.
His pace halted when he saw, out of the corner of his eye, something hanging from a tree. He had walked the same path through the hills after dinner, night after night, for the past thirteen years since they had moved to Saarbrucken, so anything out of the ordinary was noticeable.
An animal? Not like any he had ever seen. It was out of place—like a fish out of water, very alien. It was more like an egg, large and elongated, fatter at the bottom than at the top, and it was a stained-tobacco yellow, with dark splotches all over it. The skin pulsated, stretched, and looked as if it had small things swimming inside, trying to find their way out. The glistening organic sac of fluid bobbed toward the ground because of its weight; it was bound to snap the tree branch it hung from and split open, spewing its gooey contents.
Coldness suddenly consumed Felix, as if ice water had been injected into his veins. His gut told him to get away from it—and fast—and that it was dangerous. He took an involuntary step backward. Then curiosity got the better of him, and he slowly approached it again. He looked forward to his wife warming him in their bed while he told her what he had discovered.
It was some sort of cocoon, transparent to the depth of what was growing inside it. Initially, it looked like there were only small creatures inside. He was wrong. There was also something much bigger. The thing inside shifted, and Felix suddenly found himself looking directly into an open and inspecting eye. A tail broke through the top of the cocoon and stung him in the throat. Felix immediately tasted something like metal. He staggered backward and took a few short gasps, unable to breathe, and fell to the ground unconscious.
Sunlight slowly snaked its way over the ocean to the beach where Jonah had passed out, and he opened his eyes to its warmth. It took Jonah a few seconds to realize where he was. He’d forgotten how he got there, but someone had wanted him to be warm. He woke up in a sleeping bag and had a blanket over that. The haze of the night before slowly cleared from his mind.
He’d been at a party, a typical summer night in California. Too much tequila equaled waking up on the beach. He was sore, the kind of achiness he felt when he’d drunk too much and gotten into a fight. He remembered now. It wasn’t last night. It was two nights ago. A drunken idiot had tossed his dirty inch of beer on a girl Jonah used to date. Jonah warned him that he’d been drinking too much. He was right, because the guy made the mistake of challenging him, cursing as he did, so Jonah gave him a beating after he got him to the ground. It was probably why he was sore; it took a lot of sudden strength to immobilize someone. Jonah couldn’t remember if the guy had hit him with any punches. Jonah didn’t think he had.
He probably wouldn’t have fought so quickly if he were sober. Drinking was Jonah’s way of staying off drugs, and a necessary evil. Only drugs get you kicked out of the military. You pay your taxes, bust your ass, and put your life on the line in a war for a government that doesn’t give a shit about you, but you can’t get high during downtime? It never made any sense to him.
Jonah threw the blanket off himself and unzipped his sleeping bag. It wasn’t too cold, but it was cold enough for him to get goose bumps and dress in a hurry. Summer was almost over. Jonah wondered if his friends would be down for a trip. He was betting they would. The party scene was getting old.
Eric would be in; he was sure about that. He wanted Danielle to go. He’d been attracted to her since he and Sharon had gotten married. If he could convince Danielle to go, then Sharon would too. They were practically connected at the hip. His and Sharon’s divorce had been final for a few years now, but they’d remained friendly. It was probably because they had the same group of friends. He’d told Sharon all about the places he traveled to. She’d always at least feigned interest, and if Daisy went, Gil definitely would. He’d just have to invite them in the right order to get a domino effect.
Gil was at a comic-book store when he finally started coming down from the night before. He’d been rolling too much lately. Jonah had introduced him to it in community college, but he didn’t do it anymore. Jonah liked to drink instead. Gil had always been quiet and independent and was picked on a lot in high school. Jonah was the first athlete who was ever a friend to him. That’s what Gil liked about him; he treated him like everyone else and was genuinely interested in what he had to say. The only times he’d ever seen Jonah angry were when he drank too much or when he stuck up for his friends. Sometimes Jonah’s temper scared Gil. It didn’t seem possible that someone so affable could become so violent.
Gil was pretending to browse the new arrivals. He’d known what to expect. He was well aware of their release dates when they were posted online. The real reason he was there was to see the gorgeous young thing behind the counter again. He’d been in the store often since she’d been hired. She seemed to be acutely aware of how attractive she was too.
The only reason that he wanted to see her so much was to try to get over Daisy. Jonah had said that the best way to get over a chick was to find another one, to move on. That was easier said than done. He’d loved Daisy for a long time and was pretty sure she still had no idea, but the more he thought about it, the more he realized that it was just wishful thinking. She knew on a certain level, just as all women knew, that given the opportunity, any man would—
“Help you find something?”
The woman behind the counter had crept up behind him. Gil was startled but tried to appear calm. “No, uh, just browsing.”
“Well, you’ve been looking at the same rack for about twenty minutes. Maybe I can suggest another rack to look at,” she said.
Gil saw her cleavage out of his peripheral vision, but she was looking him right in the eye, almost daring him to get an intimate look at her. Gil swallowed.
“Sure is lovely outside. It’s a shame I have to work all day.”
She looked away, past him on purpose, Gil knew, allowing him the opportunity to stare at her. He did. Her breasts were beautiful. They looked so firm. He felt himself sweat. She looked back at him. It was a trick. She wanted to catch him, and her smile widened. Gil felt stupid. “I’d probably better get going.”
“OK. Bye,” she said, watching Gil hurry out of the store.
Gil looked back to see her laughing while looking in his direction.
Daisy was out. She’d decided to have a drink with her friends Tom and Mike. It was after their shift at the club where they all worked.
“Shouldn’t have broken the seal,” Mike said, sliding off his barstool.
Tom watched Mike disappear into the crowd. Then he turned to Daisy. “You want to get out of here?”
“I just got here. I’m not even drunk yet,” Daisy said in her high voice. On numerous occasions, people had commented that she sounded like a little girl. One of the reasons she liked Tom was that he’d never mentioned it. “What about Mike?”
“What about him?” Tom said.
Daisy sipped her beer while judging Tom’s eyes. She’d seen that look before and given him what he wanted. But she hadn’t slept with him in a while. She’d been spending her time with Mike. They’d fooled around but hadn’t gone all the way. She could tell that Mike wasn’t quite right for her. She couldn’t put her finger on why, but she just knew something wasn’t there. She missed Tom, how enjoyable it was to spend time with him. She missed his touch. Maybe it was time to mix it up.
Mike came back and sat down. “Whew! About ten pounds lighter.”
Tom laughed. Daisy smirked and stared down into her beer.
Mike cringed. “I mean, because of all of the beer I drank is now . . . Oh, that sounded not like I wanted it to sound. You two know what I mean?”
“Of course,” Tom said.
“I think I’m going to get going,” Daisy said.
Mike blushed. “Really, why?”
Tom didn’t react at all.
“I’m not feeling well.”
“I’ll get the bill,” Tom said.
“Thank you. I’ll see you guys later,” Daisy said, staring into Tom’s eyes as she passed.
Both watched her go. Mike finished his beer.
“You don’t think it’s because of what I said do you?” Mike said.
“You mean the piss joke that sounded like a shit joke? Nah.”
Mike shook his head. “You’re a dick.”
Tom threw a twenty on the table. “You have no idea.”
Daisy paced her kitchen, talking on the phone.
“Who else is going? . . . Do you know what time it is, Jonah? . . . How long will we be gone? . . . I need to think about it . . . I said I’d think about it!”
There were a few light knocks at the door.
“I have to go. I’ll talk to you later. Yes, I promise . . . I said I promise!” She ended the call and set her phone on the kitchen counter. “Golly!” Daisy opened the door. “Hi.”
Tom came in, already kissing her, and she wrapped her arms around him.
“Jonah called,” Eric said, blowing out smoke.
Danielle came back from the bathroom, naked. Eric pinched the cigarette butt between his lips and lifted the covers for her.
She got in and snuggled up to him. “Will you put that out?”
Eric mushed the butt into the ashtray on the nightstand.
“About Germany?” she said.
“He called me too, but I haven’t called him back. Did you talk to him, or did he just leave a message?”
“Left a message. Put my phone on vibrate. We were kind of busy.”
She giggled and hugged him, burying her nose in his armpit. “Ooh, I love your smell.”
“Don’t,” he said, and he turned her over on her side, spooning her.
“Oh, fine,” she said. “Why Germany?”
“He was stationed there. Said you’d have to live there ten years to see everything.”
“Who else is going? Hopefully, Daisy. Take the attention off of me.”
“She is. And Gil.”
“How do you think he’ll react to me and you?” she said.
“I don’t know.”
“Too smoky in here,” she said and went to the window.
“It’ll get too cold. Get back in bed.”
Danielle slid the window open. “I like it cold.” She hurried back, and Eric draped the covers back over her.
“We should probably tell him soon,” he said. “Just to get it out of the way so there’s no weirdness.”
Danielle shook her head. “No weirdness.”
“Don’t make fun of me.”
Danielle scooted closer to him. “Or what?”
“You’re gonna get it.”
“Oh, I hope so.”
Sharon walked out to the smoking area on her break. There were only a few customers, which made time slow to a crawl. She worked just down the street from where Daisy did. Daisy had wanted her to work at the club too, but she’d decided on the restaurant.
Her phone rang, and she was expecting it. She’d received a text from Jonah that said he would call, and she’d already talked to Danielle about the trip. She answered it and lit up a cigarette.
“What? I’m the last one you ask?”
“I wanted to make sure everyone else was going before I asked you so you’d go.”
Sharon smiled, blowing smoke. He could be very manipulative. They might still be married if they’d met at a different time, maybe when they were a little older, but certainly when he wasn’t so into drugs. He had a strong tolerance for all substances, so it was hard to tell when he was under the influence of whatever. Sharon realized later that he was high when she had met him.
“You can see all the places I told you about.”
Jonah’s infectious personality was hard to stay away from, even when she knew he was trouble. Before she realized it, she had been as into drugs as he was. Had she known how much of an addict he was, she never would have married him, but being so young and having so many happy times . . .
“You’ll love it. I promise.”
“Don’t promise me anything.”
“I don’t want to fight.”
“I’m not fighting with you. I just—”
“I mean when we’re there. I don’t want to fight with you.”
“So don’t pick a fight with me then. Our fights were always up to you.”
He was already doing it. What he always did. What he was always somehow able to do. It was never his fault.
“Just concentrate on being on your best behavior,” Sharon said, blowing out smoke.
“Of course. I gotta go. I’ll call you with all the details later.”
She ended the call. She dropped her cigarette, stepped on it, hesitated, and then lit another.
Felix vaguely remembered the cocoon hanging from the tree, but he couldn’t remember where he was going when it had happened. Mostly he remembered the pain of its sting, even though it had subsided to just a dull throbbing now. His thoughts were coming in slow flashes. He had trouble remembering where he lived. He was lost and wasn’t sure how far he’d walked or even why he was heading in the direction he was.
All he cared about now was getting somewhere warm. It seemed to be getting colder by the minute as he trudged up the road in the night. The active chimneys of the homes in the valley next to the road created a smoky blanket that hovered over the rooftops.
A truck was approaching from behind him. Felix held up his hand. The driver honked and pulled over. Felix quickened his pace, anticipating how cozy the driver’s cab would be. He reached up and opened the door, immediately feeling heat billow out.
“Wohin gehst du?” the driver said.
“So weit wie du mich nehme. Ich brauche nur etwas schlaf zu bekommen und warm,” Felix said.
The driver nodded. He threw the stick into gear, and Felix climbed inside the inviting cab.
They’d probably driven nearly two hundred kilometers when the driver’s guest started making strange noises while he slept. The driver had tried to speak with him for the last few hours, but he hadn’t responded. He knew he was still alive, though; he could see the jacket he’d pulled over his face moving with each breath.
Felix’s hand suddenly dragged the jacket off. He was staring at the driver and making movements with his mouth as if he couldn’t breathe. He kept opening his mouth, about to say something or let something crawl out that was clogging his throat.
“Sind Sie okay?” the driver said.
Felix’s skin split down the middle of his face like a perfect seam, revealing a creature underneath, as if it were wearing his flesh as a disguise. The driver had a few seconds to scramble before it attacked him.
Their train snaked through the German mountains. Jonah sat next to Eric, Danielle sat next to Sharon, and Gil sat next to Daisy.
Jonah produced a fifth of whiskey from his bag. “Anybody want a pull?”
It had become a tradition that anytime they all got together, Jonah would pull out a bottle of alcohol. Sharon knew it was how he was raised. His parents drank at any special occasion and most nights. Jonah had told her his dad started making him drinks when he was about thirteen.
Eric put his hand out, and Jonah passed it to him. Eric took a drink and handed it back.
“Danielle, you want a drink?”
“I didn’t ask if you were OK,” Jonah said, taking a drink himself. “I asked if you wanted a drink.”
“All right. Suit yourself. Daisy wants one, though.”
“Fuck yeah, I do!” Daisy said.
When she stood up, her shirt lifted, exposing her belly. Sharon saw Gil blush.
Eric got up, and Daisy sat next to Jonah. Eric went back and sat next to Gil.
After Jonah handed her the bottle, she chugged it. “Easy, Daze,” he said.
Daisy stopped. She peeled her lips off the bottle and coughed. “Woo!”
“Pace yourself,” Sharon said.
Jonah put his arm around her. “I got her.”
“Oh, OK, Jonah. We all know how that ends up.”
Everyone laughed except Gil.
It usually only took a few drinks for Daisy and Jonah to hook up. That’s what hurt Gil the most—that his best friend was able to do what he was incapable of, which was being close to the woman he loved more than any other he had in his life. Jonah told Gil that they’d slept together the first night they met, and it had been going on and off ever since, except when he and Sharon were married.
It was strange, but Gil often felt a mixture of pain and pleasure when he was around Daisy. When he was close, it took all of his strength not to reach out and hold her, kiss her, or tell her how he felt. It was even more painful because of how frequently they spent time together as a group. Sometimes he wished he were in a different group of friends. That way he wouldn’t have to deal with his feelings for her every time he saw her. He wished he could stop thinking about her.
He tried not looking directly at her for a while, but she didn’t like that, so he had to stop “acting weird.” She loved the attention, needed it, even from her friends and those she’d never slept with. He dreamed about her almost every night. She was his last thought before he went to sleep and his first thought when he woke up.
Sometimes he wished she didn’t exist, which always made him feel guilty. When he’d talked to Jonah about it—which he tended to do incessantly—he’d usually suggest finding someone who liked him back. It was easy for him to say that; he always got to choose which woman he wanted. Gil had told Jonah about the woman in the comic-book store, and Jonah had said that she was into him. Gil had a hard time believing that. She was so gorgeous.
Gil was pretty sure that Daisy knew how he felt. He hid it at first, but the stronger his feelings became, the more he wanted to express them and forgo the chance of embarrassment he supposed he’d feel. What was the worst that could happen?
“Can I have a sip, Daisy?” Gil said.
“No sips, pussy,” Daisy said with a straight face. “Pulls.”
Jonah and Eric looked at each other and busted up laughing.
“Daisy, can I have a pull?” Gil’s voice was nearly a whisper.
Daisy’s eyes rolled. “It isn’t mine to give.”
Jonah caught her gaze and furrowed his brow. Daisy mouthed, “What?”
“Hell yeah, Gil,” Jonah said. “Take it to him.”
Daisy got up. “Don’t tell me what to do.”
“You like it when I tell you what to do.”
Daisy smiled and walked the bottle back to Gil, moving her hips side to side. “We call this ‘liquid courage’ around here.”
“Why would I need liquid courage?”
“To find a German hottie. You need to get laid, Gil. I can tell.”
Gil blushed, forcing a smile. He watched Daisy walk back to her seat. The pull he took from the bottle couldn’t rid his stomach of the pit that had formed there. Women seemed to have no idea how devastating their words could be.
The bottle was empty by the time the train stopped. Jonah and Eric had seen to that. All dozed except Sharon, who was reading a book. On the cover a muscular man with no shirt held a woman in his arms, their mouths nearly touching.
Jonah opened his eyes and looked out the window. The sign read “OBERSTEIN.” “Wake up. We’re here.”
Sharon placed her bookmark and closed the pages on it.
Techno could be heard pounding over the sound system from the bathroom, where Eric and Jonah were washing their hands.
“Why are all the lights blue?” Eric said.
A local man washed his hands next to them. “So können Drogenabhängigen ihre Adern nicht sehen. Ugly American.”
“What the fuck did you say?” Eric shouted.
Jonah looked over and stared the man in the eyes. “He said so the drug addicts can’t see their veins.” The local turned to face Jonah, clearly wanting a fight. The alcohol Jonah had put down on the train had already exited his system, so, now sober and lucid, he smiled and stepped in front of Eric, and he faced the local. “It’s all right, man. We’re just here to have a good time.”
Eric moved to get the local in view.
Jonah moved his head in line with Eric when he did. “Right?”
Eric relaxed. “Right.”
Both left the bathroom. The local dried his hands on the continuous cloth towel, watching them leave.
All were on the dance floor.
“Shouldn’t we be seeing sights?” Daisy yelled at Jonah.
“What the fuck are we going to see at night?” Jonah yelled back at her, pinching her arm.
She laughed and scooted away from him, dancing near Gil.
Jonah tried to kiss Danielle on the cheek.
“No, thank you, Jonah,” she said, making her way to the bar.
“I’m just playing around. You don’t have to leave.” Jonah noticed everyone was staring at him. “What the hell is wrong with everyone? I just—”
“We’re dating,” Eric said.
Jealousy flashed across Jonah’s face.
“We were meaning to tell you, but—”
“But you wanted to wait until I made a fucking move on her?”
Eric shrugged. He looked uncomfortable but seemed glad it was out in the open.
Jonah studied him. He’d always liked Danielle, even though he never got anywhere with her. He thought she was kind of boring when they’d first met—meaning, he’d have to date her for a while before she slept with him.
Over the years he had started to think that a drama-free woman was just what he needed. Most of the women he’d dated had cheated on him. He was starting to think that most would. He could tell Danielle would be loyal, and he knew how kind she was. It was her vibe, but there were plenty of other women to choose from if she were taken, especially by his best friend.
“That’s great,” Jonah said, putting an arm around Eric’s shoulders, directing him toward the bar where Danielle was sitting. “But in the future, make sure you inform me of shit I need to know.”
Daisy was watching Jonah from the dance floor.
Jonah turned toward the bartender. “Shots!”
Music pounded the club to the point where a conversation was nearly impossible. The tempo had changed. It was faster and more frenetic. There had been a few rounds of shots—enough to entice the girls back to the dance floor, probably for the rest of the night.
But not Jonah and Eric. They were still at the bar.
Jonah dry-heaved. “Gotta piss.”
He drank another shot before making his way to the bathroom, making Eric cringe.
Eric eyed Danielle while she was dancing. She gave him a mischievous smile and joined him at the bar. She kissed him. Sharon and Gil danced close to each other. The other dancers then absorbed them.
Jonah was on his way out of a stall. Daisy slammed against him with a kiss, forcing him back in. She liked to surprise him.
Jonah shut the door and pulled Daisy’s skirt above her waist. He turned her around, bent her over, and took her. He reached both hands under her shirt.
“Oh, Jonah!” she groaned, clutching the walls of the stall.
Jonah appeared behind Eric and turned him away from Danielle. “Round five, or six, or ten, or whatever the fuck it is.”
Behind him a waitress carried a tray filled with shots. Each had a different kind of alcohol. Jonah took the first and threw it down his throat. He smiled at Daisy as she walked past. She returned the smile and joined the others on the dance floor.
Eric watched Jonah, concerned.
“Fuck you,” Jonah said and drank one shot after the other.
Eric grabbed the last three and drank them before Jonah could get to them, then went dancing with the others. Sharon caught Jonah’s bleary gaze. Worry was all over her face. Jonah smiled back.
He’d seen that look before, but he wasn’t going to let her ruin his good time, which she always tried to do. He wasn’t going to let that happen. Not here. Not in Germany.
Jonah sensed his friends getting apprehensive around him when he got drunk. He suspected that they thought it changed him. It was like an out-of-body experience, and he was unable to control himself. He’d just deal with it tomorrow. Right now he wanted to enjoy himself.
The local, the one from the bathroom earlier in the night, made a comment to his buddy as he walked by.
Jonah stepped in front of him. “You wanna see an ugly American?”
Jonah saw double and swung at the wrong one, stumbling into a table. People laughed. The local taunted Jonah, sticking his chin out and showing off to his friends. That was a mistake. He wasn’t dealing with sober Jonah now.
After he was at an appropriate distance considering his intoxication, Jonah rocked the local with solid punches to the sides of his face. The swelling was immediate. Then Jonah went after his nose.
Sharon saw what Jonah was doing, and her dancing slowed. Not again. He shouldn’t drink—ever. She saw a bouncer moving toward the commotion.
Jonah had the local on the ground and was pummeling him. He was bloody and was doing his best to deflect Jonah’s fists, but he was failing.
Sharon headed for the bouncer. Her skimpy red dress showed off her voluptuous body and sun-kissed skin.
The local’s buddy tried to pull Jonah off. Jonah pitched him down some nearby stairs, and he landed on the dance floor, causing most to turn in his direction, wondering what was going on.
Gil and Daisy ran over to Eric and Danielle. Eric turned.
Sharon faked rolling her ankle near the bouncer, and he caught her by the hand. “Oh, thank you.”
She bent over to straighten her heel, showing off her deep cleavage.
Eric grabbed Jonah by the waist. Jonah was now yelling at the group of men in German, and Eric pulled him toward the exit, where the others were already heading.
The bouncer released Sharon’s hand. She watched him search for Jonah . . . Only he couldn’t spot him. She took a few steps back, then disappeared into the crowd.
Sharon and Danielle were outside their hotel, sharing a cigarette. The night was clear and cold, which probably meant the next day would be sunny. The men were inside asleep. They could hear Jonah snoring.
“He’s such a different person when he drinks,” Danielle said.
“Where were you before I married him?” Sharon said.
Danielle smirked, handing the cigarette back to Sharon. She took a long drag.
“He knows just what to say,” Sharon said. “Makes you feel special, and when you’re with him, it’s like you’re the only two people in the world. Everything around you is just a quiet blur.”
“Do you still love him?”
“Oh, I’ll always love him.”
Danielle saw Sharon think back, her eyes distant. Danielle reached for the cigarette, and Sharon snapped out of it, handing it to her.
“Plus he’s hung and hot,” Sharon said and laughed.
Danielle laughed too. “Yep, there’s always that.”
“How did he take it when he found out about you two?”
“Eric said he seemed fine about it. We’ll see how he acts in the morning.”
Sharon dropped the butt and stepped it out. “Yes, we will.”
They were outside as the van warmed up, chugging hot exhaust in a way that was only visible on a clear, crisp morning. Jonah was still sleeping. No one wanted to wake him up.
“I’ll do it,” Daisy said.
“He’s grumpy in the morning,” Sharon said.
“Trust me, I know!”
Danielle saw Gil glance down. He looked as if he had been kicked in the stomach.
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