The Brightest Darkness: A Post-Apocalyptic Zombie Novel
There was something evil living in Andrew. I'd seen it in his eyes, reflecting back at me like a spotlight. It was the brightest darkness I'd ever seen, bright enough to snuff every one of us out...
Still reeling from loss, Kellan and Regan set out to rescue Harper from Andrew and his men. Only now they aren't just fighting to free a teenage girl, they're fighting to keep a promise to the man who saved them, knowing if they fail, Harper won't be the only one at risk.
Joining forces with a new group means having help and making friends, but it also brings new conflict and the risk of losing everything they've worked to build over the last nine years. With zombies banging at their door and the threat of danger around every corner, Regan and Kellan will have to fight to keep their world secure and their secret from getting out.
Release date: March 18, 2019
Publisher: Twisted Press, LLC
Print pages: 307
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The Brightest Darkness: A Post-Apocalyptic Zombie Novel
Kate L. Mary
My eyes were still closed when I rolled over and slid my hand across the king size bed in search of Kellan. He was gone, though, his side cold like he’d abandoned it some time ago. I stretched, trying to wake up, but my body was tired and sore, my muscles finding it difficult to uncoil the way they usually did in the morning.
Why did I feel hung over?
Memories from the day before came back in a rush, threatening to take my breath away. Saving Kellan, going to the Quartz Mountain settlement, heading to the ruined farmhouse to get the car. The men ambushing us. Andrew’s hands on my body and the harsh reality of having to sacrifice Harper. Jasper’s death.
All of it, all the horrible, terrifying, heartbreaking moments were overshadowed by what had happened next, though. Kellan and me, here in bed. Naked. Kissing. His whispered confession of love.
It seemed unreal, but the sweet ache between my legs and the fact that I was naked told me it had really happened. After almost twenty years of knowing each other, nine years of the apocalypse, and a year of me pining for my brother’s annoying best friend, it had finally happened.
That wasn’t all that had happened, though. Harper was gone, off with a group of men determined to drag her back to Atlanta against her will. What awaited her there was impossible to guess—we only had rumors about the new government to go on—but whatever it was, it wasn’t what she wanted, and we needed to do something before it was too late.
I rolled out of bed, shivering from the chilly air rushing out of the vents, and flipped on the bedside lamp. Light flooded the room, and I squinted, but by the time I’d crossed to my dresser, my eyes had adjusted enough to allow me to see.
I pulled out a pair of army green pants that were a little more snug than I liked—beggars couldn’t be choosers, and clothes were hard to come by these days—and a tank top. It was late May now and blisteringly hot, but the pants were a necessity, because not only would they help protect my legs from anything we might run into, but they would also conceal the scar on my ankle.
As usual, I stared at it as I stepped into the pants, and a flood of memories came rushing back. It looked tiny now, yet at the time it had felt more devastating than the virus itself. My finger brushed the crescent scar as I pulled the pants up, tracing it, and pain throbbed through my chest when I thought about how Kellan had acted that day. How he’d refused to believe I could die, and how he’d clung to hope even though I’d had none. Never before had I been able to see his emotions with as much clarity as I did now, had never realized how much seeing that bite and thinking it might be the end for me had torn him up, because even a year ago, he’d been harboring feelings for me. I couldn’t believe it.
Suddenly desperate to be near him, I dressed and practically ran from the room. My sock-clad feet sank into the thick carpet as I headed through my condo, only stopping by the front door long enough to pull on my boots. Once in the hallway, I moved faster, the pounding of my feet against the stairs for some reason making my heart beat harder. The hall lights were on, but the shelter seemed abnormally quiet, even more so than it had three years ago after most of our family had been killed by a woman desperate to take over our shelter. I could remember walking around in a daze for weeks, so surrounded by silence that it felt like my hearing had been stolen from me. It felt like that now as I headed up the stairs, the quiet halls seeming to yell out to me with their silence, screaming for relief from the emptiness that had fallen over them.
It also brought to mind what Jasper had said yesterday as he was dying. He’d said we’d been wrong to shut everyone out. Yes, we’d had good reasons—it was hard trusting people these days, and we hadn’t wanted to put anyone else at risk—but he was right. We had so much more than most people, and the ability to help so many, and yet we’d kept it to ourselves.
By the time I burst into the common room, the silence was threatening to crush me. I’d been hoping to find someone there—Emma, maybe, curled up on the couch reading, or Blake, recovering from his injury and possible concussion—but it was empty and as cloaked in silence as everything else.
I headed past the bar to the computer room we now used for storage, and then up to the industrial hallway where the control room sat. The cement walls and floors made it seem colder here, and the exposed pipes and wires only added to the feeling, giving off an impersonal and unwelcoming vibe. At the end of the hall, the door to the holding cell stood open, its interior dark but seeming to call out to me, reminding me that Harper needed our help.
The door leading into the control room was open as well, but I stopped outside to find it empty. The chair, pulled out but uninhabited, sat in front of the wall of monitors while lights flashed like they were trying to tell me something. My heart sped up again, thumping in tune with their blinking as I moved into the room, scanning the monitors.
Outside, the sun was up, and the goats milled around the fenced in area as if welcoming the new day, but they weren’t what caught my attention. The gate was.
It was closed but unlocked, the chain that usually secured it lying discarded on the ground, the lock beside it. I stared at the image for a moment, frozen in place like I had no idea what I was seeing, before searching the other monitors for some sign of what was happening. My heart started beating faster, and my armpits dampened while a million horrible scenarios played through my head, so that when I finally spotted the guys, it took a moment to register what I was seeing.
What they were doing finally hit me, and I let out a deep breath. My legs wobbled, and I only managed to stop myself from sinking to the ground by holding onto the desk. I should punch Kellan for scaring the shit out of me like this, even if he wasn’t really to blame. He had no way of knowing I’d wake up and assume Andrew and his men had come back to exact their revenge.
Although, maybe he should have.
I left the control room and climbed the stairs to the small cement building on the surface. The door, usually closed, was open, and the early morning sun filled the small room, along with the heat from the summer morning. It couldn’t be much later than seven—I hadn’t bothered to check the clock in my condo before leaving—but already it was sweltering, and I stepped outside to find the sky clear of clouds and crystal blue, like images I’d seen of the ocean in the Caribbean.
In the distance, the wind turbine spun, aided by the Oklahoma wind whipping across the dusty landscape. Here, no storm didn’t mean no wind, and as it roared, it brought dust with it, stinging my eyes until they watered.
The gritty taste of dirt filled my mouth, but I barely noticed as I lifted my hand to my forehead, trying to shield my eyes from both the sun and the dirt as I watched Cade and Kellan. They worked together, dragging a body toward the truck so they could throw it in with the rest.
Some of the dead were Andrew’s men, killed yesterday when we tried to stop them from taking Harper, but there were others, too. Zombies who’d wandered in, drawn by the sound of gunfire and had no doubt been taken out by Cade and Kellan this morning.
I spotted a small pile of random items outside the fence and headed over to check them out. Some leather jackets—always useful—boots, guns, knives, and even a couple pairs of sunglasses. It looked like the guys had freed Andrew’s men of anything we might need before hauling their bodies away. I felt a little like a buzzard when we picked through the belongings of the dead, but these days it was necessary. We couldn’t afford to be squeamish about scavenging anything we could find.
The metallic thud of a body being tossed into the truck pulled my attention away from the supplies, and I looked up to find Kellan’s brown eyes focused on me. He had a red handkerchief wrapped around his head, covering his nose and mouth and making him look like he was about to hold up a bank in an old western movie. Most of his face was blocked from view, but the glint in his brown eyes was loud and clear as he looked me over, and heat crept up my neck at the expression.
The blushing was getting old, as was I, but at this point there was nothing I could do about it. It was a chronic problem and had been a constant source of teasing when I was younger—by Kellan, especially—but it was out of my control. I’d thought I’d grow out of it, but unfortunately, I hadn’t, and no matter what I did, my face flushed at the slightest hint of emotion. I could be happy, I could be sad, I could be feeling a million other things, but no matter what I did, my emotions always chose to manifest themselves in the form of a flush spreading across my cheeks.
Like now, staring at the man I’d slept with last night, remembering how our bodies had fit together, how he’d told me he loved me. How his kiss and touch had made it seem like nothing bad could ever happen to us. I wasn’t embarrassed by the memory—if anything, I was excited and ready for a repeat—but thanks to the red spreading across my cheeks at this very moment, anyone looking at me would think I was mortified.
“You scared me,” I called.
Kellan shoved his hand through his dark hair, and for once it stayed off his forehead, which probably had more to do with how sweaty he was than a sign that it had finally decided to obey him. “Scared you?”
“Yeah.” I put my hands on the metal fence separating us, curling my fingers through the openings. “You were gone when I woke up.”
“Did you think it was a one-night stand?” Cade called from behind Kellan.
I rolled my eyes. “No, but no one was in the control room either, and with everything going on…” I shrugged, trying to pretend a lump hadn’t formed in my throat.
“Sorry.” Kellan looked over his shoulder, back toward the bodies still littered across the dusty ground. “We have a few more to clean up, and then we’ll be coming inside to plan our next move.”
“You’re not going to drive them somewhere else?”
Usually when we gathered the dead like this, we drove them far away from the shelter to dump them. Leaving the bodies outside the fence would stink the place up and run the risk of attracting pests like flies and birds who didn’t mind picking rotten meat off the bones of the dead. Burning or burying them would have been the respectful thing to do—zombie or not, they had been people once upon a time—but we’d decided long ago that we couldn’t waste our energy digging holes every time we took out the dead, and starting a fire might draw the attention of people. Which was the last thing we wanted to do.
“We will,” Kellan said, “but we want to wait. There’s a possibility we could use them as a distraction.”
When we went to get Harper.
He didn’t say it, but that was what he meant. We knew where Andrew and his men were most likely holding her because we’d gone there just yesterday to get Kellan, and we had the element of surprise since there had only been two guys there at the time. We’d killed both of them before leaving, meaning they hadn’t gotten the chance to tell their friends we knew where their hideout was.
Despite the element of surprise, I wasn’t stupid, and neither was anyone else, and we knew it was going to be risky. They had us outnumbered, and Andrew wasn’t above sacrificing his own men. I’d watched him shoot one in the head just yesterday. Still, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if we didn’t try to save Harper, and I knew Kellan felt the same way, especially since he was the one who’d given her up.
She hadn’t been with us long, only since spring, but she was a kid. She needed our help, and leaving her would be wrong, more wrong than anything else we’d done since the apocalypse began. I wasn’t about to turn into someone who only thought about myself. There was too much of that already. Too much evil. Too many people who used others and tossed them away once they’d gotten everything they needed out of them.
Kellan and Cade went back to work, heaving the bodies off the ground so they could lug them toward the truck and toss them in with the others. I stayed where I was inside the gate, knowing Kellan wouldn’t want me out there even though there was nothing dangerous around. After what had almost happened yesterday, I was willing to humor his overprotectiveness—at least for the time being.
The truck groaned when they threw the last body in, rocking with the weight of the long-dead man, and even as far away as I was, I could hear the buzz of flies as they circled the bodies, anxious for a chance to dive in. My stomach rolled just from thinking about it.
Cade headed back toward the fence, ripping the handkerchief away from his mouth, while behind him Kellan slammed the tailgate. He left the truck where it was, baking under the hot sun, and jogged after Cade. When he, too, had ripped the red cloth from his face, he smiled, and the dimple in his left cheek that I loved so much deepened.
I pushed the gate open when they got close. The sun shone off Cade’s white-blond hair when he paused to grab the pile of stuff they’d scavenged from the bodies, and when he passed me, he gave a nod, but Kellan paused at my side.
“Hey,” I whispered, staring up at him as heat once again crept up my neck. This time, it didn’t stay contained to my face, but spread through me, warming my insides in a way even the sun hadn’t been able to.
Kellan was dirty and sweaty, and his shirt stuck to his chest like a second layer of skin while the odor of death clung to him, which was unavoidable after what he’d just done, but I didn’t care. Not when he leaned down and brushed his lips against mine.
I grabbed the hem of his shirt, trying to pull him closer, my lips still inches from his when I said, “I was sad when I woke up alone.”
“I didn’t want to leave the bed.” He reached up so he could tuck my hair behind my ear. “But Cade and I wanted to head out early so we could get the car and truck.”
I looked away over my shoulder long enough to see that the car was once again parked in front of the shelter.
“You walked there?”
I knew they had. It was the only way they would’ve been able to make the five-mile trip back to the farmhouse to rescue the vehicles, and the thought of Kellan out on the road after everything that had happened yesterday filled me with dread even though he’d made it back okay. I was also irritated that he hadn’t told me he was leaving.
“It had to happen,” he said.
“Don’t you think you should’ve let me know you were going?”
Kellan’s mouth turned down. “I didn’t think about it.”
“Are you serious?” The euphoria of being in his presence melted away, replaced by annoyance, and I took a step back. “Did Cade tell Emma?”
“She was on watch, so she was there when we left.” Kellan actually shrugged like it was no big deal.
“What if I left in the middle of the night and didn’t tell you where I was going?”
“Regan, we didn’t leave in the middle of the night. It was—”
“That’s not the point, Kellan!” I threw my hands up in exasperation. “Anything could happen these days. What if you never came back? How do you think that would make me feel? Especially after yesterday!” Once again, heat rushed to my face, but with it came tears I tried to blink back. “You would be furious if I left and didn’t tell you. Admit it.”
He pressed his lips together before letting out a deep sigh. “Okay, you’re right, I should have told you.” Kellan put his hands on my shoulders. “I’m sorry, okay? I wasn’t thinking about it like that. I was only thinking about how we needed to get the vehicles before the sun came up so we could stay ahead of Andrew, and I definitely didn’t want you there.”
That was the real reason he hadn’t told me. He’d been afraid I would want to go, and after yesterday, after what had happened at the farmhouse with Andrew and his men, Kellan didn’t want me out there.
“Forgive me?” he asked.
“Of course.” I lifted myself up on the tips of my toes so I could press my lips to his. “I understand you want me safe, but that doesn’t mean keeping me in the dark. I hated it before, and now that we’re—” I broke off, unsure of what to say.
“Now that we’re…” Kellan’s grin returned, deepening his dimple once again until his brown eyes sparkled with the boyish mischief I loved so much. “Are you having a stroke or something?”
“No.” I rolled my eyes. “We haven’t talked about it much, and I don’t know what we are. I mean, boyfriend and girlfriend? It sounds so stupid when you put it like that.”
“Shacking up? Doing it?” Kellan said in a teasing voice.
I shoved him. “Nice.”
He chuckled as he pulled me against him, and I didn’t resist even if he was sweaty and smelled like he’d wrestled a horde of zombies. “You are too cute.”
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