Unexpected World: The EMP Survivor Series Book 1, page 1
The EMP Survivor Series – Book 1
By Chris Pike
by Chris Pike
Copyright © 2016. All Rights Reserved
Edited by Felicia Sullivan
Formatted by Kody Boye
Cover art by Hristo Kovatliev
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored, or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means (electronically, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the proper written permission of the copyright owner, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
This book is a work of fiction. People, places, events, and situations are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or historical events, is purely coincidental.
The fight of his life was about to begin.
A strong man with a purpose emerged from the tangled, swampy woods of the Louisiana back county. His shirt and jeans, seasoned by the journey, were stiff and worn. A big dog walked in step by his side, waiting for instruction. The man scanned the clearing, looking for movement on the lake.
Unknown to the man, a monster alligator had floated silently for hours, sometimes completely submerged, hidden in the murky swamp, waiting, watching, biding its time.
Prey would come.
It always did.
Dark eyes bobbed on the surface. Shore birds pecked the shallow water for minnows or bugs, their movements jerky and wary.
A salty breeze carried a scent, and the dog lifted its snout, tasting the air, searching for the meaning of the unusual scent. The dog, sensing the unseen danger, stayed close to the man, nudging him away from the danger. The man did not heed the dog’s warning, and instead offered a warm hand to the dog to comfort him.
A flap of wings.
The dog flinched.
The birds scattered to the treetops.
The man said something to his faithful dog. Maybe sit or stay. Something the dog understood.
He waded into the knee-deep swamp water to check the fish trap he had set earlier in the day.
A thousand pounds of prehistoric instinct swiveled cold black eyes in the direction of the movement, zeroing in on its prey with deadly precision. The massive beast slithered through the water, a quiet ripple the only evidence death was moments away.
Black, reptilian eyes focused like lasers on its prey.
A crow cawed, then another, a foreboding chorus echoing in the wilderness.
The man looked skyward, squinting through the treetops as he looped the nylon cord hand over hand. Droplets of water dripped from the cord.
The alligator submerged.
The dog rose, whining.
“Stay,” the man said, motioning with his hand. The dutiful dog did as told and lowered himself into the soft earth next to a log. His muscles twitched in nervous anticipation, his eyes bouncing from the man to the water and beyond.
Oblivious to the danger, the man returned to his chore of checking the fish trap made from bark strips and grapevine woven together into a cone. He pulled on the nylon cord like a fisherman would trawl a line, until the top of the trap breached the surface.
The trapped fish wiggled and splashed, darting, trying to escape, instinct alerting them to the massive predator lurking in the shallows.
The dog whined.
The alligator got closer.
The man, puzzled at the strange behavior of the fish, had a fleeting memory of seeing a school of fish behave in the same manner of an approaching killer whale. It was something he had seen on the Nat Geo channel one lazy afternoon as he whiled the time away. Standing in the water, his mind searched for the underlying meaning and a brief flicker of understanding came to him. In that millisecond when his mind finally understood until his body could react, the expression of his face captured the realization of horror. He went to turn and—
Water exploded like an erupting volcano!
He caught a brief glimpse of the beast and fully understood the deadliness of the situation.
The nylon cord fell limp into the water.
He turned to flee but before he could, the thousand pound reptile twisted its body, and with pure brute power slammed the man down, knocking him into the water. His face mashed into the muck and he tasted the stink of the mud.
The trapped fish scattered from the crumpled trap.
Three thousand pounds of biting pressure clamped down on the man’s leg, forcing him further underwater. The alligator had the man in a death roll, thrashing and spinning to disorient him in the dark water. The strategy to drown its prey had worked well through the millennia for the apex predator.
The man struggled desperately to keep from inhaling the cold swamp water. His heart hammered against his chest like it was about to explode while his lungs screamed for air.
The dog bolted to the water’s edge, barking and snapping, running along the shore. Instinct told him to be wary.
In his adrenaline-charged state, the man didn’t feel the crushing weight against his leg or the chilling effects of the water soaking his soul.
He had a quick thought about how much longer he could hold his breath before he blacked out. Maybe a few seconds, he thought.
He clawed the water searching for anything to hold onto, a tree limb, a submerged stump, but all he felt was the rough, cold, leathery skin of the alligator.
His eyes were shut tight, his lips pressed hard together. His heart pounded. He needed to breathe…
Disoriented, he didn’t know which way was up to the surface to the air he needed.
In a desperate effort, he thrust his arm into the alligator’s mouth, between the bone-crushing teeth, the massive jaw. He stretched further, reaching for the soft palate, to rip it out. Further his hand explored, touching the bony ridges of the mouth.
The sensation of his life ebbing away came to him and his thoughts became fuzzy. Though his eyes were closed, stars appeared against the backdrop of his life. A shimmering bright light flooded his vision, dimming his awareness of the continued thrashing.
Mud and debris swirled around them.
His arm felt weak.
He felt his life slipping away…
The overpowering need to breathe vanished, and he no longer searched for the beast’s throat in a last attempt to free himself. With his strength waning, his body rolled soundlessly in the dark water.
His mind transported him to images of his wife, when they were young, when the world was different, when the world was safe…before she had died.
They were in bed, their bodies naked under the cool cotton sheets. His wife’s hair cascaded over him and he took a handful, taking in a breath of her essence. She playfully ran a finger over his chest, tickling him.
Dying wasn’t so bad after all.
Still, he was somewhat aware of the power pummeling his body, of being dragged deeper through the water.
He opened his eyes to a facet of consciousness refusing to surrender to death, a spark of life flickering in the dank, dirty swamp. His dying body violently convulsed in an automatic survival response, struggling to live.
The images came again and he had a vague sensation of walking, his wife beside him. She was smiling and laughing. He hadn’t seen her in so long, and he ached to be reunited with her, even if it had to be in death. She was so young and pretty. Her sun-kissed hair flowed across her shoulders.
She held out a hand, motioning for him to take it, whisp
He reached for her hand, eager to thread his fingers through hers.
To touch her once more.
She was just out of reach. Inches away.
Her smile faded and an indescribable sadness stretched across her beautiful features. She turned her back on him, walking away.
“Come back,” he pleaded. She demurely cast a glance over her shoulder at him, her eyes downcast…
He ran to her. “Don’t go,” he said. “I want to stay with you and—”
The violent sounds jolted him back to reality and to the pain of dying.
He’d never imagined dying like this. After everything he had been through, after fighting to live for so long, this was it, and nobody would know what happened to him. Worst of all, he would never fulfill the promise he had made.
He shuddered once, his body fell limp, and he submitted to the blackness closing around him.
A verdict was expected any minute and the tension in the courtroom was palpable.
Deputy District Attorney Dillon Stockdale sat in his assigned seat on the top floor of the venerable Harris County Courthouse in Houston, Texas.
He was itching to get the show on the road and then blow out of town. He needed a little R&R after the intense five week trial of testimony, objections, highly paid experts, and an endless amount of legal drivel. He was considering a change of profession. What he didn’t know was that he’d get his wish sooner than expected.
It had been a hard fight between Dillon and defense attorney Holly Hudson.
Dillon glowered at the smug defendant, Cole Cassel, sitting at the next table. A three piece suit couldn’t make even the sorriest mutt look like a show dog, and the suit Cole had on looked like it had come from a high-end tailor. Dillon’s affordable suit, on the other hand, had been bought off the rack at a men’s chain store.
If Cole thought he could waltz into Houston from New Orleans and establish a new territory by offing a competitor, he hadn’t planned on the district attorney’s tenacity and bullheaded attitude.
Cole was a bigwig in the Big Easy, and coming to H-town he thought he could throw around some of that Cajun attitude. He hadn’t counted on crossing paths with Dillon Stockdale.
How the defendant was able to afford Holly Hudson was anybody’s guess. Drug money must have been funneled her way, which gave Dillon more fodder for not liking her. He couldn’t wrap his mind around why she had taken this sorry excuse for a human as a client. Normally her clients were the fat cats of the corporate world, those that schemed as they sat at a mahogany table in a corner office devising ways to cheat the hardworking, good people of America out of their money.
The jurors had been out for two days when the judge reconvened the court. A verdict had finally been decided.
Dillon palmed his head and let his hand stay there. He nervously tapped a pencil on the desk, waiting for the verdict.
Any minute now the jurors should file into the courtroom and take their seats.
He glanced at Cole, who returned a snide smile then mouthed the words not guilty. Holly pretended to be busy reviewing the case as she shuffled papers in her briefcase.
This hadn’t been the first time Dillon had tangled with Holly Hudson. He had to admit, she was a first rate attorney with a pedigree to match. Magna Cum Laude, Harvard Law School. Dillon had to scratch and claw his way through a local law school, fighting for passing grades. His pedigree came from the county dog pound.
Talk was Holly had inherited a prime spread of ranchland in East Texas soaked in rich black oil, so it was hard for Dillon to understand why she was defending the scum of the Earth.
If Dillon had a spread like that, he’d ditch his suit for a pair of Wranglers, a good horse, and a Ford truck. City living was getting weary.
The jurors filed into the courtroom and took their seats.
Cole Cassel narrowed his eyes and glared at the jurors, studying them while they were seated. There were no smiles or relaxed postures, and the lady Cole had thrown flirty looks toward during the trial wouldn’t make eye contact with him.
Rage built up in Cole, the rage of knowing he was powerless to prevent the inevitable. His breathing came fast and shallow. His chest rose and fell with each breath, and the vein on the side of his neck looked like it might pop. He balled his fists in anger. And it was all because of that bastard Stockdale.
“Has the jury reached a unanimous verdict?” the presiding judge asked the jury foreman.
“Yes, Your Honor, we have.”
“Please hand the verdict form to the clerk.”
The foreman extended his arm to the clerk, who then handed the slip of paper to the judge.
All eyes, including Dillon’s, were on the judge. Dillon tried to discern any type of facial expression to indicate the verdict. No luck. The judge was a statue. Not even so much as a blink of an eye, a long exhale, or mouth twitch as he silently read the verdict.
As was customary, the judge handed the piece of paper back to the foreman for reading.
“Mr. Cassel, Counselor,” the judge said, his eyes peeking over his reading glasses. “Please rise.”
Cole did nothing.
“Mr. Cassel! Please rise.”
Holly ordered, “Do as the judge says.”
“No!” Cole yelled. He rocketed up and thumped his fists on the table. “I’m not standing for this! I ain’t letting nobody pass judgment on me!” Directing his anger at Holly, he said in a low voice, “You bitch. I paid you for nuthin’. I told you what would happen if you lost. Remember?”
Holly shot her client an indignant expression. Through clenched teeth, she said, “Be quiet. I know what you told me.”
A supporter of Cole’s smiled a toothy grin and shouted from the back, fists pumping the air. “He ain’t killed nobody! This trial has been rigged from the get go!” A chorus of hoots and howls erupted from the seating gallery.
“Order! There will be order in this court!” The judge pounded the gavel on the heavy desk. In a loud and commanding voice, he said, “Sit down, Mr. Cassel. You will conduct yourself appropriately while you’re in my court.”
The bailiff, Marcus Williams, a big guy that commanded respect, took a step forward with the intention to intimidate the defendant into sitting down.
Cole’s glare wavered from the judge to the bailiff then back to Holly.
“Do as he says,” Holly whispered, her jaw tight.
Cole snuck a peek at the bailiff. All 250 pounds of muscle glared straight at him. That and the fact his hand was on a mean-looking baton convinced Cole to sit down. Genetics had blessed Cole with height and strength. He had learned a long time ago how to bully his adversaries into submission. Holding a .38 Special while towering over someone went a long way to convince anyone. The bailiff wasn’t intimidated one iota. He had about two inches and fifty pounds on Cole.
Cole sat down, begrudgingly.
Now he wasn’t sure who to blame: his highly paid defense lawyer for being obviously incompetent or Mr. Hotshot district attorney for wanting another notch in his belt.
“I’ll get you for this, Stockdale!” Cole shouted. “You’ll see. Cole’s temper got the best of him and without warning or indication, he shoved Holly Hudson aside and with the agility of a pole vaulter he lunged at Dillon.
Papers scattered and fell about the tables. A wooden chair clanged to the floor.
The judge sat stunned.
Sitting at the prosecutor’s table, Dillon ducked his head just in time as Cole swung a wild fist that inadvertently collided with the jaw of a visitor sitting in the first row.
People scrambled to get out of the way.
Dillon acted quickly and shoved the chair back, stood up, and pivoted to face his opponent.
Cole swiveled around and like a bull gone mad, he lowered his head and charged Dillon, catching him at the waist.
Dillon jerked a knee into Cole’s stomach, lifting him up. The Cajun grunted a hard breath. Again Dillon kneed Cole, forcing him to let go. Cole stumbled back and doubled over in pain holding his stomach.
Bailiff Marcus Williams sprang into action and was on Cole like a hungry alley cat on a rat. Marcus wrapped his arms around the guy, holding him tight. “You need to calm down. You hear?” Marcus ordered. “I gotcha and I ain’t lettin’ go.”
Cole struggled under the suffocating bear hug.
“They’ll be order in this court! Order!” The judge pounded the gavel. “Mr. Cassel, I’ll throw you in contempt of court if there’s one more outburst from you. Understand?”
Holly said, “Yes, Your Honor, he understands.”
“Nobody throws a temper tantrum in my court. You, Mr. Cassel,” the judge said, wagging a finger, “will sit down and be quiet.”
Cole Cassel’s mouth was tight with anger, and sweat beaded his forehead. He threw a menacing look at the jurors who sat with their mouths agape. “Losers,” he mumbled.
While the bailiff held Cole, Holly came up to him. Her voice was a whisper when she said, “Look at the judge and say yes.”
“Yes.” The word was barely audible.
“Louder,” the judge ordered.
“Yes!” Cole yelled.
“Good,” the judge said. “Now since that’s settled, there’ll be a ten minute recess for everybody to collect themselves. After that we’ll read the verdict.”
Dillon Stockdale stood straight, pulled on both lapels of his suit, adjusted his tie, and cocked his neck to work out a kink that had been bothering him all day. He shot a cringe-worthy stare at Holly and her client then headed to the hallway to make a phone call.
Just another day at the office, Dillon mused.
Right. He’d win this case, he was sure of it. He could feel it in his bones that he was going to beat the revered Holly Hudson and put away Cole Cassel for a good, long time.
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