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Surrender the Sun, Book 5 - Feral Earth

Surrender the Sun, Book 5 - Feral Earth

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"As I lead the community of survivors out of our underground safe haven and into the rugged wilderness of Idaho, I can't help but feel a sense of unease. I know that out here, in this unforgiving world, there are no second chances. Every decision I make means the difference between life and death.

But I have to believe that I'm doing the right thing. We can't stay cooped up underground forever. We have to take a chance and venture out into the unknown.

As we trek through the forests and across the mountains, we face countless challenges. We battle hunger and thirst, illness and injury, and the constant threat of a beast never before conceived."

Sample: Savaged Earth

Down what once was the east end of Sherman Avenue but was since retaken by the Kootenai Forest, the first spark of sunlight disappeared down into the shadows that lapped the slopes of the woods. Three men in dark coats carried dry brush between them, tossing the bundles into the flames that scorched the pine needles and dried twigs into ash. The blaze leaped and died again. Three more men were bringing the next load to feed the flames as the first three returned to the edge they’d cut and picked up their abandoned scythes once again.  

For the past two hours, they’d cut more brush and burned the stumps from the old trees they’d cut down to make a full field of fire. Across the ground, they could see new trees breaking through the soil in places, smelling the fresh rush of the running river in the north and smelling the earth after the rains that had come three days prior. Where the sun lit the new, the roots glistened as though it rusted them with black iron and dusted them with gold. In the shaded sections of the forest, dark, leathery vines hung from the trunks of the trees. Their branches twisted in the air, weaving between, and swinging low like sea-spanning kelp. Every tree was perfect from top to bottom. Each was different, with its own pattern and silhouette, stretching out into the forest from one end to the other until it wasn’t. Until man needed room to roam once again, and the black tendrils of smoke climbed higher into the sky.

The men felt muscles tightening from the work of dragging the heavy brush into the burning woods, but they didn’t complain. From behind them, two more men chased down an injured hog that escaped from a hunter’s arrow. Blood ran in thin trails from the wounds, spattering across the dirt. Its cries sounded like a human’s screaming in the forest, blood in the air, and the hog scurrying across the stones like a snake, threatening with its crooked tusk and terrifying even the men who’d been hunting it and disappeared beyond the edge of green they’d cut. The others were silent for a moment, watching the screaming and rustling of the vines and branches and dry brush behind them. The hog suddenly dropped from its hiding spot, tearing at the soft grass as it rolled across the earth. The burning fields went suddenly still. Every eye turned to the hog, gasping and sucking air into its lungs, screaming. It was missing two feet on one side, bloody scratches along its neck, its jaw missing a chunk, but still it clawed and clawed at the earth. Then it lay motionless, snorting bloody bubbles as the men stood back, staring at the writhing, reddening wounds that crossed the back of its thighs. 

For a moment, the men didn't move. A breeze drifted across the fire. A breeze that smelled like an ocean in the hills. One man reached to grab a shovel. Another searched for the knife he’d abandoned to chase the hog. 

One man moved to the hog and knelt to check the wounds. He pulled out a long-curved knife with a razor-sharp blade. “What the hell did that? This hog is like 250 pounds.” He stared at the edge of the forest. 

“We've got to get out of here,” another man said, looking toward the other men who waited near the fire. “Did you guys see that happen?”

“Whatever did this, it's right in there, just beyond those trees,” the man with the knife said.

“Back up. Something's moving,” the other men whispered.

They watched the black vines creeping and spreading and twisting through the leaves of the trees. In places, the branches hung low to the ground, looking like thick hairy tongues waving and reaching in all directions. And then horror happened all at once when the branches opened up and a thick monster rose from the soil. The skin was the color of night, and long dark hairs curved around its heavy, shifting shoulders, and there was a horrible charcoal gray tinge to the monster’s flesh as the hairs moved and writhed on its skin. At first sight, it seemed as if the creature was half human and half bear, but the large black scales along its back and sharp teeth kept it from being quite a human-like creature. But as it rose from the ground to its full height, its long tongue shot at the nearest man and dragged him by the neck, his feet left the ground as the creature’s claws snatched him up and hauled him across the forest floor, wailing and screaming. 

The man with the shovel raised his blade to strike at the monster, but a loud gnashing ended the dead man's wails instantly. The sound of it cut through the trees. But like a rumor, the men had heard tales of terror from others deep in the forest before. Only this time, the attack was right in front of them. But then the monster dropped the man to the ground and eyed the rest of them. The first man, and the rest behind him, ran as fast as they could. They tore through the clearing, running from stump to stump, jumping over fallen logs, and running through thick brush. 

From a distance, one man watched as the monster followed the others into the dark, eventually disappearing behind a thick barrier of forest, where another man’s wails ended with a sharp snap.

“Run! Run!”

The men all burst through the brush and out of the dark woods, running as fast as they could. They threw themselves into the thick brush and cried out as they ran. 

In the distance, he could hear men screaming as the monster caught up to them, its claws reaching up to drag him into the darkness. When one of the other men met up with the first, he turned to go back to help his friend. But the first man grabbed ahold of Jax. “He's dead!” he screamed. “He's dead. They're all dead. Listen!”

And as he stared into the other man’s eyes, he noted the utter absence of the sound of man, except for their own quick breaths. Falling to his knees, the man dropped his knife. He looked to the ground, sobbing. 

But his partner drug him up by the coat to his feet once again and ran on at a tumbling pace. As the men escaped back toward camp, a strange smell crept up on them. It smelled like the darkness of death and hunger that had touched the hearts of men since the beginning of the Minimum, that cataclysm that caused an Ice Age that nearly destroyed man altogether. They slowed and stared at one another and then watched the woods again. Then running ahead, terrified of what they might see before they reached camp, and questioned why they had risked ever leaving the safety of Hatch Five in Colorado months before to return to the wilds of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, only to risk death by the creatures that evolved into monsters over the last eleven years. 

When the ice cleared, species that had never existed before migrated to some of the iciest parts of the country, including the Wilds of Idaho. It caused different species to mate with each other, creating animals with super strength. They'd discovered on their trek north the great snakes of Brazil, and South America had moved into newly created ponds of the North American continent. Primates from other parts of the world found their way as well, and mated with whatever was alive. The Ice Age was a reset in evolution, where the fittest survived with a few tricks up their sleeves. These hybrid animals are not like edible deer, horses, and cows. They often carry toxins as part of their defense system. In many ways, the wilderness is more hostile than ever. The creature that had attacked the men in the forest was one of several aggressive mammal-reptilian combinations.

One man stopped just short of town. “What was that thing? What if we're trailing our scent back to the others? What if it follows us into camp.?”

“Come on, keep going. Don't stop. What are you doing?” 

But the man stopped. He turned around, his eyes widened, terrified. They couldn't see what was behind them, but they could hear the sound of the monster in the distance. Or was the horror still in their minds? 

Grabbing him by the jacket again, the first man said, “Come on, let's go. We have to warn the others.” They were still running when they reached the outskirts of town, all the while dreading what they saw. But as they came into town, one of them began slumping to the ground while the other drug him onward. “Help us! Someone, help us!”

And when the others surrounded them, and the horrors revealed, cries erupted, weapons gathered, and men gathered themselves. And somewhere between the horror of the woods and there, it began to rain.

But as they left town, it was Bishop and Garret who stood in their path. Drops soaking their hats, their hair, and glistening their rifles. “This is a fool's errand. We don't know enough about this creature yet, and we've already lost enough men today. We will not lose more.”

The leader of them stared at Bishop with fire in his eyes and said, “Get out of our way. We're going to find this thing. You either help us, or we go alone.”

Bishop growled back, as he had just enough strength to say, “No, that's not how you live another day.”

The man took a step forward, but Garrett shoved him back away from the aging man who’d kept them alive all this time and yelled, “This monster is still out there. We’ll go north, and we'll find it there.”

Bishop yelled back, “I think you're underestimating the danger. We are in the wild. It doesn't matter when we find it. We will hunt and kill this animal. We'll fight it to the end. But first we need to understand it. Or we'll lose more men. And we can't afford to lose more men. Not now.”

“You're only saying that to stop us from leaving. We're wasting our lives and our time arguing with each other here.”

But it was Garrett that stopped the nonsense. The man rarely spoke. But the leader of the gang was apparently getting on his nerves. And when he had to shove him once more away from Bishop. He yelled, “It's you who’s wasting my time! Ames, get Ben out here now.” Then he cocked the rifle in his hands and pointed it at the group’s leader. “Try to push him one more time. Or take a hair step forward and lead these men to their foolish deaths. Pick one…I'll do them a favor and take you out now.”

Ben Tildon moved a community of survivors from their safe haven underground to the wild lands of Idaho. Only to discover a world where there are no second chances. You either survive, or you die trying. Is this the biggest mistake of his life? Or did he save them all?

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