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Land of the Dogs chapter 1 preview

As I begin to put the final touches on my manuscript and wait for my cover design to roll in, I thought I might give everyone a preview of what the book will be like.  Remember you can also access a few bonus chapters by signing up for my mailing list.

Chapter 1:

It looked almost human when it wasn’t moving, but with each step, Simon was reminded that it was not human anymore.

“Just shoot him!” Simon could hear his brother yelling, but he tuned Dan out and focused on the objective: survival.

He fired his weapon but missed wide to the left. He had never been a very good shot under pressure, and now he was at the end of a tunnel funneling zombies at him. There was no escape but to move forward. Simon’s brow was furrowed in concentration, a small bead of sweat threatening to run down his face as the zombie approached.

“Simon, come on, kill him!” Dan was anxious.

Simon’s hands shook slightly as the undead monster moved toward him, slouched and decomposing, but with a quickness Simon was not prepared for. The monster lunged and Simon rolled to the right, narrowly escaping. The monster was slow to react and Simon was able to come up behind it. At point blank range, he pulled the trigger. Zombie brains splattered across the wall and the headless body crumpled to the floor. Silence engulfed the room as more monsters approached. Simon could hear his brother’s heavy breathing over his shoulder as more zombies funneled towards him. They were locked on to his location, sensing his fear, or perhaps his humanity.

“You got this.”

Simon reloaded the shotgun as he backed away. The shotgun could take them out, but it was slow to reload and couldn’t aim from a distance. Simon switched to his pistol and started shooting. Three zombies stumbled towards him. His first shot missed, wide to the left again. His second hit the body, doing little more than annoying it. The key was the head. Aim better, destroy the head, he thought. He shot again and the lone female zombie dropped to the floor. The others stumbled across her body, buying Simon a few seconds to switch back to the shotgun. He waited. When they were close enough, he pulled the trigger and a head exploded in a red mist before him. The second zombie lunged and Simon was too slow; it had his arm.

“Boys! Come down for breakfast,” a woman’s voice shouted up the stairs.

“Knife him! Knife him,” urged Dan.

Simon tossed the controller to the floor.

“Simon, we were so close this time, why did you give up” asked Dan. They had been trying to beat that level for three days.

“I was already dead. We can give it another shot later. Let’s go grab some food.”

Simon’s dad, Harry, sat at the kitchen table with his head buried in a newspaper while his mother, Julia, moved bacon from the frying pan onto a plate.

“Where is your sister at?” she asked no one in particular. “Claire! Breakfast is ready!”

“She’s probably looking at crazy cat videos like she always does,” said Dan. There was movement on the stairs and then Claire appeared, a blue tank top over a red bikini, her long blond hair pulled up in a messy bun.

“I heard that, you little twerp.” She ruffled his hair with her hand on her way to the table.

“Mom!” Dan pleaded for vengeance upon his sister.

Simon was already sitting at the table, his eyes fixated on his father, who was oblivious to the world.

“Anything exciting, Dad?” Simon asked.

“Harry,” Julia said, pulling him out of a trance.

“Come again?” He was suddenly aware of how lost he had been in the paper. Looking at his wife, he could see the simultaneous annoyed yet patient look only she could give. “Sorry, it’s just these damn Koreans. Every day, it’s something new. Threatening to change our lives as we know it. I don’t know if we should be worried or not. You know how the politicians get. I mean, the Koreans have always made bold statements, but never like this. Never so frequently. Neve—”

She cut him off before he could finish. “Harry, you’re on vacation. You’re not at the office. You won’t have to chat with anyone about politics or current events for at least a week. Can you please put the paper away and enjoy yourself? Simon leaves for college in one week. Would it kill us to be a family?”

“I didn’t get a special week devoted to me when I went to college,” scoffed Claire.

“It was different; you were only thirty minutes away. Simon will be on the other side of the country,” said Julia.

“All bow down to Simon, king of the siblings. Star baseball player, great student, greater child.” Claire and Dan moved to each side of him and bowed down repeatedly.

“Will you two stop it?” Simon glared. He was feeling the pressure of moving across the country and leaving everyone he knew and loved. Everyone was so excited he had gotten a baseball scholarship that they never took a second to ask him if he actually wanted it. He stood up from the table and walked out the door. “I’m going down to the lake.”

His mother protested, Claire and Dan apologized, but Simon had had enough. The screen door slammed behind him with a crack.

Simon sat down by the lake with his feet in the water. The water always calmed him.

This was their lake house, but on a particularly bad day at school or practice, Simon would make the drive from town to here and swim laps across the lake. Lake Brownstone, they called it, and it was deep. No one ever really knew exactly how deep. At least once every decade, there would be a drowning and they would never find the body. The authorities assumed it was lost somewhere in the murky depths. Theories of giant sinkholes had emerged but were never proven. Simon only knew that he never hit the bottom after jumping off the pier, even when he dove straight down, held his breath, and swam down with all his might. About ten feet from shore, the bottom just dropped off. Even with goggles, Simon couldn’t see what was in the darkness beneath. And it was cold, too. On the hottest days, the lake water could still chill him to the bone. Most people only wanted to take a short dip and then sit in the sun, but not Simon; he loved the icy water on his skin, the way it made him feel the blood pumping through his veins; he loved the way it made him feel alive.

It was several minutes before the family joined Simon on the dock. His mind was calm again, the rippling water and birds soaring overhead having that effect.

Claire and Dan took a seat on each side of him.

“Sorry we were turds,” said Dan. Dan was fifteen, two years younger than Simon, but acted like a child.

“Yeah, we know you’re stressed out about moving,” said Claire. “It’s gonna be okay. You’re gonna move away, find some hot chicks, and you’ll forget about this place until Christmas.” Simon laughed at that. For all of his accolades, he had trouble talking to girls.

Julia and Harry pulled out two old beach chairs and sat near the edge of the water.

“Sorry I stormed out, Mom,” said Simon. He was sorry. He hated losing his temper.

“Just don’t let it happen again.”

“Hey, Simon, you want to have diving contest?” asked Dan. Simon could see the excitement in his eyes. It might be a while before he saw him this excited again.

“Sure, let’s do it. You in, Claire?”

“I guess. It might be the last time I get to humiliate you for a while. You can go first, pretty boy.”

“Fine, but you’re gonna be sorry.” He turned towards his family and flexed his muscles. Simon was not typically a show-off, but in instances of competition, he never held back. “Nothing can top this. Everyone stand back.” Dan and Claire backed away to clear a path for Simon to run. Simon walked to where the dock met the shore. He turned around, looked at the water, and took off. The wood creaked slightly as each foot thudded against the aged timber. Splinters narrowly missed each step as Simon roared down the dock. At the end of the dock, with not an inch to spare, Simon planted his right foot and lifted high into the air, spreading his arms and legs and forming a perfect X. For a moment, he seemed suspended in time. His family gazed at him, knowing he was right. Then the Earth resumed spinning and his body descended back towards the lake. Towards gravity. He entered the lake with a slight splash and dove deep into the abyss. Simon swam deeper and deeper until his lungs burned and he knew that if he didn’t turn around, he would die. He turned and swam towards the surface.

Simon breached the surface and gasped for air. He floated there with his eyes closed as the minutes passed and he let the moment wash over him.

“You should give up now; I told you I couldn’t be beat.” No response. He looked over to the dock, but no one was there. “Guys, where did you go?”

Simon swam to the dock. His family was no longer sitting on the shore, and their chairs were missing too. That was when he noticed something was different. Everything around him looked older.

“Guys! Is this some kind of joke? It’s not very funny.” He climbed out of the water and onto the timeworn dock. The rest of the world sent chills down his spine. The green grass and flowers surrounding the lake house were gone. The trees were no longer full of summer leaves, but now a grayish green, on the verge of death. The sky was no longer light blue with billowing white clouds, but a dull gray, with a faint orange glow where the sun was masked behind darker, more ominous, clouds. The house was dilapidated; windows were broken, shutters barely hung on, the front door creaked in the wind and occasionally slammed against the wall. Many trees were barren, a skeletal remain of the glorious summer. The wind howled in the distance and smoked billowed on the horizon.

What the hell is happening? Simon asked himself, unable to believe what he saw. Where is everyone?

“Mom! Dad!” he screamed, but no one answered. Simon was alone. At the house, a thick layer of dust covered the porch. I must be dreaming. He pinched himself on the arm. It hurt, but nothing happened. So he pinched himself again, harder, breaking the skin. Blood began to trickle down his arm. I guess I’m not dreaming, but this doesn’t make any sense. The door to the house was unlocked. Inside, the house was so similar to what he remembered, yet it felt completely different. Everything looked old, like no one had been inside for a long time. The furniture was ripped in places. The cabinets were empty. The air smelled musty. Simon knew no one was there. He didn’t even bother yelling. He couldn’t explain what was happening, but he knew he had to walk back towards town. If there was any way he could find answers to what was going on, he had to start there.

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