Welcome to Day 3 of our 2012 Coffin Hop Blog tour six-day book giveaway. Each day, we’re giving away three trade paperback copies to three lucky readers, a different Nightscape Press title each day. “Turn Halloween into Hallo-WIN with Nightscape Press!”
Today’s title is Nightscape Press’s third release, World’s Collider: A Shared-World Anthology edited by Richard Salter which has stories from: Jonathan Green, James Moran, David N. Smith & Violet Addison, Kelly Hale, Aaron Rosenberg, Simon Kurt Unsworth, Paul Pearson, Pete Kempshall, Trent Zelazny, Dave Hoskin, Nicholas Blake, Dave Hutchinson, Elise Hattersley, Jonathan Templar, Megan N. Moore, Jordan Ellinger, Richard Wright, and Steven Savile & Steve Lockley. (Say that five times fast!)
(Rafflecopter giveaway is at the bottom of the post)
The Collision is the worst disaster in human history. So far…
In the near future, an experiment at the Large Hadron Collider causes an enormous explosion, known as the Collision. The blast flattens a huge chunk of central Europe and punches a massive hole in the Earth’s surface. Over the next decade, unspeakable horrors pour from the rift: vicious creatures with a taste for human flesh, a terrible scream that drives all who hear it insane, a phantom entity that feeds on fear and paranoia, and a nightmare train from the pits of hell, to name but a few. This onslaught of terror causes the collapse of civilization and threatens to wipe humanity from the planet.
World’s Collider is a unique concept in short fiction, where all eighteen original stories are part of a common narrative, recounting the disaster and its aftermath. A true novel by many voices, including Steven Savile, James Moran, Aaron Rosenberg, Trent Zelazny, Jonathan Green, Simon Kurt Unsworth, Kelly Hale, Richard Wright and a host of new talent.
Fifty million people died in the Collision. They were the lucky ones…
“Each component cranks up the tension and the disparate tales combine in mosaic-fashion to deliver a truly gripping narrative.” - Ian Whates, author of The Noise Within
Here’s an excerpt from the book:
by Jonathan Templar
7/18/2013: Blackwood to Belltown – four miles. Traction used: Class 450 EMU. Weather: Sunny and cloudy.
The train moves slowly past ancient semaphore signals before increasing speed. Isolated farmhouses pass by as we reach 60 mph. Industrial units appear to the left.
We go into a short cutting, past a signal box and into Belltown station. It has four platforms with some carriage sidings next to the original Victorian station building. On the front of the station buildings are a couple of plaques. I am unable to read them from my vantage point on the train.
We come to a slow stop.
Colin had his eyes closed so he couldn’t actually read the journal on his lap. But then he didn’t need to read it. He knew it by heart. Every journey, every station and every class of carriage he’d ever ridden. Colin could just close his eyes and he would be back there, could escape at any time onto whichever train he wanted to revisit. There were plenty to choose from. He’d ridden them all, bashed every line in the country up and down, passed through every station on the network and seen everything the railway had to offer.
Or so he had thought until two days ago.
The service station was supposed to be a safe place to rest. Colin had spotted it from the road just as night had begun to fall. He had taken to sleeping inside abandoned cars or underneath bushes if the cover was sufficient. It tended to be cold and dangerous so he only rested when he was on the verge of collapse.
But the station looked a better bet for a good night’s sleep than anything he had seen since he had set out. It was derelict, most of the roof had gone and the damage caused by six years of infiltration from the elements was devastating.
But it offered concealment from the night hunters and Colin had found a spot under what might once have been a serving counter that was reasonably dry. He had made himself comfortable, tucked into a can of what was probably supposed to be chilli and flicked through one of his journals in the fading light. Colin had thought he was safe to switch off for a while.
Then the creature arrived.
It had appeared silently, somehow navigating the wreckage of the building without betraying its presence. Or perhaps Colin simply hadn’t heard it. He had been absorbed in the memories conjured by his journal, had taken himself back to a warm July day and a comfortable seat by the window as he had noted his observations on the Blackwood to Belltown line. He could smell the stuffy odour of the carriage, the heady tang of ten thousand travellers ingrained in the luridly colored seat covers that could never overwhelm the faintly acidic tang of electricity that hung over trains and that Colin loved to breathe in. Colin could smell it all, could relive his journeys at leisure. This was how he preferred to exist, walking alone through his own memories.
The first he knew of the creature was when one of its legs appeared inches from his face, if what carried the thing could be described as a leg. It was a long, thin, brittle stalk that tapered to a sharp point. It tapped onto the remains of the linoleum as it moved through the building. Small, sharp hairs quivered along the leg, sensitive to movement, trying to detect his presence. Colin froze, held his breath. The creature circled the room, hooting a vile chorus as it moved.
He couldn’t see the entirety of its body but the closest comparison Colin’s mind could conjure for this thing was a giraffe, but there were far too many legs, and instead of a trunk it appeared to have some sort of sac, a grey membranous bulk that pulsed and heaved. In its centre was a ferocious maw, sucking and drooling with acrid bile. A throbbing proboscis protruded from the centre and hovered in Colin’s line of vision, a long twisting tube of translucent skin that sniffed at the floor and through the air, hunting him. It searched for his scent or the scent of any other flesh that it could consume.
Colin kept still. He knew that whatever smell he gave off these days was likely to be far riper than anything strictly human.
Eventually the proboscis withdrew. With a sound like crisp autumn leaves falling from a tree the thing moved away.
Colin finally breathed out.
He had lived in his basement for over six years.
Not that Colin had been keeping track. A day was a day, all alike, he had no interest in counting them, barely acknowledged their passing.
For Colin, life was a simple matter of routine, and this was exactly how he liked it. Any variation would cause him nothing but distress so the simpler the routine, the better.
And his was very, very simple.
He ate food only to survive, shovelling the contents of random cans into his mouth without ceremony. He used the lights on battery power for just an hour a day, during which time he could check the integrity of the shelter, conduct the brief exercise routine he had perfected to ensure that he stayed at least reasonably fit and perform whatever biological business was required. Once a week he would go upstairs and dispose of his waste, spend a few hours taking in the fresh air and the sunlight.
The rest of the time he would be alone in the dark with his thoughts. This was how he preferred it.
When he had been younger his parents had spent considerable time trying to discover what was ‘wrong’ with their son. He was tested for every condition imaginable, was relentlessly diagnosed by the latest doctor or psychologist as ‘autistic’ or ‘bi-polar’ or one of a hundred other buzz words.
The truth was that Colin simply didn’t care for the world as they understood it. He found it ugly, noisy, impossible to comprehend and utterly alienating. He wasn’t stupid, he didn’t fail to understand the concepts that he was presented with in school, he just refused to engage with any of them.
He didn’t see the point. Colin just wanted to be on his own.
The only things he cared for were trains. The simple complexity of the rail network that lined the United Kingdom like a nervous system, the interweaving pattern of tracks that decorated the countryside was the only thing in which he found any beauty.
From the age of eleven to twenty-three all his energies had been devoted to covering the entire network, travelling each and every line in every direction. To bash it, cover the whole country point to point. And he had, and the memory of those rides, the way the hundreds of individual trips joined together to make one Total Journey, consumed Colin. It sustained him. It kept him alive with its simple, undemanding pleasure when anyone else would have lost their sanity alone in the dark of the basement.
He would have stayed there forever, content in his routine and enriched by his memories.
But then a week ago he had been called by the one thing that could lure him out.
He had decided to avoid the major cities. There was little left of them anyway.
Colin’s intention had been to follow the railway lines to the south east coast, his knowledge of the way they spread, each branch line and terminus clear in the map of his mind. But the sheer extent of the damage that the debris from the rift had caused had been greater than he expected. Whole areas of the midlands were simply devastated and any trace of the railways long lost. Anywhere the line passed under a tunnel would have been impossible to traverse anyway. Colin decided to follow the roads, the ugly motorways that took cars, monstrous, pointless cars. They were easier to work around, to bypass where there was danger but rejoin at a later point. His progress had been slow but steady.
The motorways were a carpet of abandoned vehicles left to rust and decay much like their owners, who often still sat behind the wheel, slowly turning to dust. A faint aroma still hung in the air around the wreckage, the smell of death that had faded but never gone away. There had been carnage here, in the open, with the hordes of unprotected travellers trapped and exposed when the things had come through from the rift, the creatures that were barely conceivable until they were eating your face.
Colin had seen what was left of some of those creatures, the occasional body left by the side of the motorway. Slender, bat-like things, leathery wings dried up but still vast, heads that were nothing but circles of teeth, row upon row of sharp incisors that would have ripped and torn their prey to pieces. Colin took a wide path around those carcasses, just in case. Once or twice he passed the remains of larger things, creatures with an anatomy completely alien to anything he had ever seen before. There were colonies of flies feasting on one such corpse that lay across three lanes of the M6, a fleet of vehicles crushed beneath it as if it had just fallen from the sky.
As Colin passed by, thousands of flies rose from the body in a black cloud and the communal hymn sung by their wings nearly burst his ear drums.
Colin’s mother had been with him when the rift opened.
She had maintained the shelter in the basement just as her husband had instructed. He had not lived to see Armageddon but he had always known it was coming. He would never have imagined that it could be caused by something other than Russians, though. He had become obsessed with the prospect of a nuclear winter ever since he had seen The Day After on television and had worked for years creating the perfect shelter for when the Red Peril finally took their ultimate option.
He had died after suffering a stroke in the bathtub, drowning as his heart gave up on him, racing his lungs to see which would kill him first. But Colin’s mother had kept the basement stocked with canned food, ‘enough for ten years’ she used to say, which proved to be prophetic.
She had lived down there with Colin for a few years at the start, cowering in the dark while the radio told them of the horrors occurring above. Civilisation fell as they feasted on canned spam and recycled water.
His mother hadn’t survived the scream.
Colin could screen it out; he had spent his life perfecting the ability to ignore everything that was going on around him so he was perfectly able to manage this as well. But his mother couldn’t handle it, had eventually bashed her head repeatedly against the steel door to the basement until her forehead had caved in and her life bled out onto the concrete floor.
Colin had stood over her corpse for hours unsure of quite what he should do.
Eventually he wrapped her in some refuse sacks and carried her upstairs, leaving the body outside the kitchen door, thinking that he might return to bury her in the back garden at some later point.
The next time he had come up to the surface the body had gone. Colin hadn’t given it a second thought.
There was very little of London left, and what still stood did so perilously.
Colin skirted the city in as wide an arc as he could but he couldn’t avoid staring at the landscape as he passed. What had once been landmarks that dominated the city were now crumbling spires of desolation, stunted towers razed and smouldering and bridges burnt. Smoke still rose in numerous areas, newly lit fires suggesting that there were still people alive somewhere in the city.
As he passed by, Colin could hear things as well, a regular booming beat, like a drum, a deep heavy bass sound that he could feel through his legs and into his chest. He heard gunfire, distant but still disconcerting. He slept underneath a car that night, excruciating discomfort more appealing than the prospect of encountering strangers in the dark.
It wasn’t until the following day that Colin stumbled into the other survivors.
Colin had never dreamed. When he slept he had always done so deeply and with a mind empty of distraction.
So when he began to see things in his sleep he was disconcerted to say the least.
The first time it happened it was little more than a flash, an explosion of sound and image that woke him in an instant. He was shocked by the experience, it was as if something had invaded him, forced its way in. It wasn’t like Colin to surrender to irrational thoughts, but when it happened again, and the flash was longer and the images began to expand, formed pictures he could almost distinguish, he began to feel unsettled, tiny seeds of terror starting to germinate.
Colin didn’t like it. He went about his daily routine trying not to remember, not to think about it in case he made it happen again.
But when he slept, and for the first time in years sleep had not come easily, the images arrived in force and he had no choice but to surrender to them.
He was on a train, the place he most wanted to be, but this was no train he had ridden before. Whatever this was, it was no memory. It was something new, something fresh.
It was dark aboard the train, everything was a shadow and any light that entered the carriage was consumed before it had a chance to illuminate. All Colin could distinguish were outlines, wraithlike fellow travellers blurred as if he were squinting at them, their shapes constantly twitching and adjusting as if they were struggling to keep hold of their form.
He looked out the window, and the landscape beyond was impossible to comprehend. The colours were unstable and unlike anything Colin’s eyes had ever encountered before. Amorphous structures passed by, giant things that towered inward and shifted and slid as he tried to assimilate them. It made his head spin. Colin wanted to be sick.
The passenger next to him tapped him on the shoulder. Colin turned to look at him and he had no face. Just a wide, grinning mouth with far too many teeth.
Can you feel us, Colin? We ride through all the worlds and all the worlds are the same to us. The bones of the dead are our tracks and we hunt the living. Join with us, Colin. Ride with us! he/it hissed.
And Colin woke up.
He was following the path of a ring road that skirted the city, keeping under cover as much as he could. They must have seen him first, despite his efforts at stealth. Three of them, men, they were prowling through the chaos of abandoned vehicles, scavenging anything still left on decade old corpses. They were young, could only have been infants when the rift opened.
Colin froze as he saw them, scuttling across the rusting framework of cars, the one in front waving a gun as though it were a baton.
‘You clean?’ the alpha male said in a hoarse voice.
Colin raised his hands, to show that he hadn’t got a gun. He seemed to remember that was what you did in these situations.
‘I said are you clean?’ the man/boy said again, louder.
‘I haven’t had a bath for years. I used to wash once a week with rainwater but I’ve been travelling for a while now—‘
‘Shut up!’ the man/boy swaggered his way over to Colin, his two compatriots lingering behind. Up close he looked distinctly unhealthy. There were boils all over his face, some of them a violent red that hinted at sickness, pus straining to burst. His teeth were brown and loose and his eyes had a milky hue that didn’t disguise the madness.
‘Last time! Are you clean?’ he hissed, fetid breath in Colin’s face.
‘I don’t know,’ Colin said.
The boy brought his head closer, moved it up and down Colin’s body as if he hadn’t been able to see him before now. He sniffed rapidly, tasting Colin’s scent.
‘He’s just a scrub, come out of the woods, yeah?’ one of the other boys, who looked no healthier than this one, called over.
The alpha spun back to face Colin, waving the gun.
‘You a scrub?’ he asked.
‘I don’t know what that is.’
The man/boy hissed through his rotten teeth and then spat on the floor, a brown glob flecked with blood. ‘You ain’t clean,’ he said. He gestured to the two behind him. ‘Let’s go, he ain’t no scrub, I ain’t gonna eat nothing that ain’t scrub.’
They swaggered away, moving as though it was something they had little control over.
Colin stood there, his arms still raised above his head, desperately needing to urinate, until the men/boys were out of sight. Then he lowered his hands and half staggered, half ran as fast as he could until his lungs started to ache and his feet were blistering.
The dream had troubled Colin, had threatened to bring disorder to his perfectly ordered world.
He had seen images that his mind struggled to process, that human eyes were not meant to see. But if Colin was nothing else he was rational, he was adept at finding order within chaos. So he focused in on the important thing. There was another train, a new one. It was like nothing he had ridden before, it was not a carriage he had ever had the chance to assess and categorize, its course was unlike any he had ever logged in his journals. Throughout one long, long day between his first and second dreams, it plagued him, nagged at him relentlessly.
Wherever it had come from, whatever tracks it followed, he had not bashed it. It was outside his Total Journey. Worse, it made a lie of the Journey, suddenly made it incomplete. That was inconceivable for Colin. The Total Journey was everything to him.
That night he slept but the train did not come in his dreams. Instead it whispered to him, told him where he could find it, where he needed to go if he wanted to ride.
Colin woke in the morning, packed the few things he needed and left his basement for the first time in years.
Kent had often been described as England’s garden. That garden had not been tended for a long time and was now nothing but wilderness.
And it wasn’t only nature that was running wild.
There were dogs, gangs of them, scraggly desperate creatures drooling with hunger and madness, the affinity that they once held with man long since displaced by the impulse to feed, to survive. Colin had seen random packs of them before now but most of them had been timid, their terror of the new world governing their behaviour. But here they were more confident; they had a boldness backed by sheer weight of numbers.
Colin had managed to avoid them till now, had stayed away from the open spaces and crept through the jungle of foliage that surrounded the major roads. His face was a jigsaw of scratches from hedges and brambles that had torn at him as he fought his way through but he had otherwise been unmolested.
It was a signpost that lured him out of the safe places, a blue motorway sign that still hung over the devastation, one that would give him an indication of how far he was from Dover, from his destination. Colin was getting impatient; he wanted this trek across the rubble of England to be over.
Twelve miles. That was better than he had expected. Far better. It could only be midday at the latest, he’d been walking since before dawn but he still felt fine, reckoned that he could cover the rest of the distance by the end of the day if he really put the effort in.
Colin hitched up his shoulder bag. If he didn’t stop to eat he might even get there before the sun came down.
The dog growled and Colin realized he hadn’t been paying attention. It was ten feet away, an emaciated, feverish creature that bore little relation to man’s best friend. Its teeth were bared, the mouth around them raw with disease. This dog wouldn’t have to do much damage to Colin for it to be terminal; its saliva would be swimming with death.
And then he saw there were others, three, four, more than that. They crept from their hiding places, the wreckage that had been their larder for years and when the food was exhausted became their sanctuary. One of them alone would be deadly, a dozen and Colin had no chance. They stalked toward him, not working as a team but still cutting him off with their sheer number.
Colin backed away, toward the cover he should never have left. He couldn’t outrun them, he could walk all day but he ran like he had two left legs. They would be on him in seconds.
There was nowhere for him to go.
And then a sound like something terrible giving birth while being flushed down a toilet shook the air. A hunting call, a roar of something utterly alien.
The dogs whined, they whimpered, one of them urinated uncontrollably onto the tarmac. As one, the pack dispersed, scampering back into the rusting hollows of long dead cars.
Colin didn’t count his blessings; he hurried back into the undergrowth and was instantly swallowed by it, sliding carefully down a verge and away from the open.
Behind him, where the dogs had hunted, he could hear something moving, something vast, crushing whatever it fell upon. Its footsteps shook the trees even at Colin’s distance, and what little light reached him was eclipsed by the size of the creature. He only caught a glimpse of it, something reptilian that absorbed the light, asymmetrical and abhorrent, a form that would repel human eyes.
Colin moved on.
The road led all the way into Dover.
As Colin made his way further south it became clear how much damage had been caused by the original Collision. Enough debris had fallen to flatten whole districts in one go, and in places it was difficult to tell what was UK territory that had been destroyed and what was simply a lump of France that had been blasted over the channel to land on its neighbour.
But Dover was surprisingly intact. Perhaps its proximity to the French coast had spared it.
The port, however, was a site of carnage.
Like a child’s bedroom that hadn’t been cleared for a month, cars and trucks were scattered and overturned on its approach. Closer in, leftovers of what had once been the military; a spread of munitions, jeeps and command posts. A tank lay on its back like an upended beetle, half crushed as if a giant foot had stepped on it. The walkways and gantries that made up the port’s infrastructure were twisted and bent by the crossfire.
There was only one cross channel ferry visible in the harbour, partially capsized, the bow of the vessel rising from the water, the dead, rotting tentacle of something bigger still wrapped around it in an embrace, two behemoths of the sea decaying together.
There had been a battle here, and everyone had lost.
The town and the port were silent, not even the sound of a seagull.
Colin was only a few miles from his destination. The channel tunnel was along the coast a few miles in Cheriton. The voice in his dream had said that the train was hunting these shores. If it existed, it was close.
There was a terrible smell hanging over the outskirts of the town. There had been many new smells since Colin had left the basement, most of them foul, but this was worse, something that brought bile to the back of his throat and made his eyes water. Colin covered his mouth with his sleeve, tried not to breathe through his nose to block the odour out. He was partially successful. He didn’t vomit, at least.
The smell gradually grew stronger, and Colin caught the first sign of what had made it. As he stumbled down a deserted but relatively undamaged street with his eyes running he saw what he initially thought was some form of structure in the middle of the road.
As he got closer he saw it was a sort of mound, almost like a mole hill. It was steaming, he noticed. The day was reasonably warm, even though there was a crisp sea breeze blowing in, but the mound gave off a mist like breath on a winter’s morning. The smell was intense, enough to make Colin recoil. As he passed the mound he realized what it was.
It was excrement. Something had shit this out.
After a decade of living in a basement eating canned food Colin was well used to the odour of his own waste but even he had never come close to anything as foul as this stench. He retched as he walked around it, and his cloudy eyes focused on the contours of the mound, of what it was that constituted the droppings. There were bits and pieces mashed together under the slick coat of digestive acids, the remains of animals. Dogs.
Limbs and trunks, bones that had been broken or crushed, clumps of fur wrapped in flesh, bodies that had been churned inside out. That had been chewed and partially digested.
He appreciated now why the dogs he had encountered had been so scared. The pack had become prey.
Colin looked closer; saw that it wasn’t only dogs, that there was something that looked like a hoof. A cow, he assumed. Next to the hoof was a hand, a human hand. Almost perfectly preserved, it had once been attached to a woman, he could tell by its slender fingers and the presence of rings, one on the wedding finger, a glistening contrast to the pale dead flesh. Close to the hand was the shape of what looked very much like a human head, clumps of hair still dangling from it. But Colin had seen enough. He continued by, still covering his mouth. Whatever had excreted these remains had done so recently, and he had no desire to be on its menu.
Ten minutes later he found the tracks.
Colin knew tracks, knew his rails, fasteners, sleepers and his ballast. These tracks had none of those things. They were a marble white flecked with twisting veins of black.
The bones of the dead.
The tracks ran in an impossible line, into the distance across the cliff face but back toward the town they seemed to run through buildings, as if the tracks had existed first and the structures had been erected on top of them.
Colin wished he had his camera.
He knelt down and put his hand on a track. It was cold, dead, like a fossil, something that had died long ago under the town. There was no tingle underneath his fingers, no trace of vibration. If the train was riding, it was a long way down the track.
Colin sat, crossed his legs. He would wait. He had spent more time than he could calculate waiting for trains.
It was always worth it.
It had been hours, but it might only have been minutes. The sun was dipping behind the cliffs, the light was fading. Colin stared along the bone tracks impassively. The tracks finally began to respond to the freight they carried.
But they didn’t vibrate.
The train came through the buildings that blocked its path, ghosting through them without a sound. It stopped abruptly, no squeal of breaks, just a sudden, silent halt.
Colin looked upon it with only joy, despite its horror.
It was black, perhaps, but a black that wasn’t a colour in itself, was more the absence of any other. Its surface was sleek, curved, a fleshy bullet that glistened as though it had been through the rain, but the moisture was a part of it, like the skin of a slug. Hot steam rose from the train, misting the air.
And still it was silent, pulsing, ominous.
Colin took a few steps toward it, held out a hand to touch the surface. It felt cold under his fingers and he pulled his hand away. He touched it again and it was warm. He put his whole palm flat against it, breathed in time with its regular pulsing contractions.
The last feeble ray of sunshine reached them, and Colin saw that there was a window in the side of the train. Was it a window? It was more like a transparent film, or the lens of an eye. He could see inside, vaguely. There were shapes in there, the shapes of people, only shadows, phantom profiles that sat row upon row looking out at him through invisible eyes. The sun went behind the cliffs for the last time, and the window vanished.
I’ve been collecting, Colin, the voice of the train whispered inside his head. It was the sound of a thousand sharp spiders scurrying through his thoughts.
I’ve been collecting people like you. This isn’t the end of the line, Colin; this is only the beginning. Mine is a journey that never ends. Oh, I have such sights to show you! Come with me, Colin.
Come ride my tracks.
A door appeared in the side of the train next to Colin. It slithered opened like a sphincter, and a blast of corrupted air from inside the train poured out, the smell of the journey, of all the new and terrible places they could go.
Colin looked back at Dover, at the devastation of the world that he barely knew and had never understood. In his bag, he could feel the weight of his journals, journals that he had believed to be finished, to be a complete history of his travels.
He dropped them to the ground, kicked them away. They were useless now.
Without hesitation Colin stepped onto the train.
The sphincter closed behind him. Without a sound, the train moved off along its dreadful tracks, towards the tunnel, towards the heart of the rift.
And Colin bashed to a whole new level.
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