When the end came for most of humanity, it was sudden, violent and unexpected. In the aftermath, the dead began to rise, reanimated by someone, or something, they knew only as The Givers Of Life. Their memories of life were gone, their identities erased. They were reborn for one reason only, to kill all survivors.
On the Wirral Peninsula, in the North West of England, John Roundtree and his neighbours are quietly surviving. But the dead are closing in on the small community, and John, an ex special forces soldier, will need all of his skills to help defend the homes and lives of those around him.
The Risen Dead is the first book in The Givers Of Life series.
The pain he felt as he lay dying in the gutter, aged 27, the victim of a random, frenzied knife attack, could not compare to the agony he felt four years later when he was reborn.
The stretching of withered muscles, the aching of bones, burned hot pain throughout his body. Dry facial muscles forced his mouth open in a silent scream as thoughts and images, a bastardised, corrupt version of life, streamed through his mind. Synapses sparked to life, pushing signals between lethargic neurons. He was not sure who or what he was, but there was a consciousness stirring within his brain. Not quite alive, but no longer dead.
He heard voices, sibilant, sinuous.
It is coming. Soon. The time for you to rise.
He felt no fear, nor even curiosity, just awareness, a strong sense of anticipation and, most of all, hunger.
When the end came for most of humanity, John Roundtree was standing quietly at the bottom of his garden, listening to the early evening birdsong and the soft bubbling of the brook just two hundred yards beyond the wire fence.
As a child he had played there, leaping the great chasm from bank to bank that he could now almost step across, playing the war games with his friends that would one day become his career. The brook had always been there, and the small matter of a three-hundred home housing estate constructed nearby was not enough to disturb its shallow path through the fields.
“You’ve got that mysterious look on your face again,” said Chris Thomas, stepping out of his house next door and handing John a cup of coffee across the knee-high picket fence that separated their gardens. “Childhood memories?”
John nodded and took a sip.
Chris had known John’s parents, watched John grow up, leave to join the army and, after his mother’s death, return home to care for his father.
“I was surprised you stayed on after the old man passed. Thought you’d be back on your travels again.”
John glanced at his neighbour. Somewhere between his own age of 34 and his father’s, Chris Thomas had succeeded in staying friends with both generations, carefully avoiding the frequent loud and vitriolic arguments between the two.
“Got to settle sometime. When I came back I was a mess.”
He turned back to the field and Chris could see the moist glint of tears in his eyes. Things had happened over in Afghanistan and Iraq, but he had never spoken of them in any detail. He had been a loud, lively, cheerful youth when he signed up, but he came back a quiet, introspective man.
“I didn’t mean to bring back bad memories, John, I was just worried.”
John managed a smile.
“I know. This is my home. Doesn’t matter what happened elsewhere. This is my home now.”
The shout startled them both and they turned as Chris’s wife stepped out onto the garden path.
“Hi, John,” she said, smiling. “Didn’t know you were there. If you’re hungry, there’s enough here for an extra mouth. Annie’s always watching what she eats so there’s plenty to go round.”
“I’m okay thanks. Got some things cooking.”
“Fair enough, but you know you’re always welcome. Chris? You coming in soon?”
“In a moment. I’ll just finish this cup of coffee and be right in.”
They raised their cups and drank, looking back out over the fields, listening to the brook and the birds.
Except there were no birds.
Everything but the soft bubble of the water had fallen silent.
“That’s odd,” said Chris.
Barbara, stepping further down the path, looked up to the sky.
“Probably means there’s a storm coming or something.”
Chris nodded. “Still, I’ve never known them to all stop singing like this. What about you John?”
John said nothing. Instincts, naturally sharp and sharpened even further by his Special Forces training, were telling him to run, hide. It confused him. There seemed no obvious threat.
“Told you there was a storm coming,” said Barbara. “Just look at that sky.”
John looked. Black clouds were rolling in, faster than any he had ever seen, bringing with them an eerie, heavy darkness. They filled the whole sky, from horizon to horizon, boiling and bubbling like thick, viscous oil. The air grew dense, tasting of iron and sulphur.
“I don’t know what’s going on, but I don’t think it’s a storm.” John looked back towards his house, judging the distance and how long it would take for him to run it. “Chris? Barbara? I really think we should all get back indoors, right away.”
The air grew suddenly thicker, heavier, overpowering. John looked to the sky again, struggling for breath. He thought he saw a break in the rolling blackness, two patches of deep red, glowing, but then they were swallowed by darkness once more.
They had looked like eyes.
John’s instincts screamed at him. He could no longer ignore them. Grabbing Chris around the shoulders, he pulled him to the ground, at the same time shouting, “Barbara, get back in the house!”
She hesitated, watching, scared as Chris and John struggled. She was unsure what to do, whether to help her husband or go inside. But the sky was mesmerising, the way the clouds rolled and undulated like waves, and she chose to do nothing but stand and gaze upwards.
Across the world, billions of others did the same.
“What… the… hell..” gasped Chris, struggling ineffectually against John’s solid restraint.
Lightning ripped the darkness from every section of the sky, a simultaneous discharge of electricity unlike anything ever witnessed before. It blinded those, like Barbara, who were looking upwards, burning holes in their retina, vitreous jelly boiling out of their sockets.
The blast of thunder shattered windows, split the ground, ripping open great wounds in the grass of the fields, the tarmac of the roads. John’s ears bled, the pressure of the sound wave almost unbearable. The rock deep in the earth vibrated, the low moan of a dissonant harmonic rising as the percussive blast subsided.
More lightning, a matrix of blinding light and jagged bolts, brief blossoms of flame sprouting for miles around, scarring the landscape with craters. Another explosion of thunder punching through walls, tearing the ground, pounding at the two men where they lay.
John covered Chris with his body as best he could. He kept his head down, his eyes closed. It was incoming fire, worse than any he had experienced in warfare, but the rules were the same. There was no point running. You just huddled down and hoped for the best.
As the last rumbles of thunder rolled away, a sudden, furious wind was sucked into the vacuum of silence from all directions. It tugged at John’s clothes, his hair. It span dust devils from the ground, stripped leaves from branches and whipped up the fires from the lightning strikes. Risking a glance towards Barbara, he saw her still staring at the sky with sightless eyes, a strange smile on her face, a face now red-raw with the wind-blown heat. He looked up to the sky and saw twisting tornadoes of pulsating colour, tentacles of lightning writhing across black clouds, and those glowing red patches that looked like eyes. They seemed to stare right at him.
He turned his face back to the ground as a further bombardment of lightning pummelled the earth, struck through the windows of houses, tore holes in roofs, killing people who thought they were safe inside, out of the storm.
The wind intensified, the thunder almost lost in the speeding-train-like noise. John and Chris screamed, battling to stay as flat to the ground as they could, the wind tugging at their bodies, the heat singeing their hair.
Barbara, lifted by the wind that swirled around her, spiralled almost gracefully into the air.
Struggling to maintain consciousness, John watched, helplessly, as the limp form of Chris’s wife slammed into the wall of their house. She hung for a grotesque moment before slipping to the ground, a trail of blood staining the brickwork. He barely heard Chris scream her name, the words torn away by the wind, lost in the howl of the elements, the blasts of lightning, the roar and rumble of thunder. And buried within that confusion of noise, so deep it was little more than a suggestion, other words twisted, rose, fell, on the edge of understanding, of reality, of belief…
Soon they will rise.
John had no time to wonder at their meaning. The air was full of debris, a flying stone clipping the back of his head, blood spatter whisked away in a fine spray.
His vision swam, fluid and unfocused. Screeching metal twisted and tore nearby as the garden fence was ripped apart. As blackness began to engulf his thoughts, he felt Chris trying to move, to crawl towards his wife. John held on tighter. He had seen enough death to recognise its look on a person’s face.
They were both thankfully unconscious by the time a wind-blown spade decapitated the already dead woman sprawled by the house wall.