I've been lucky enough to be part of this tour in the past (as a host), and this annual event is even bigger this year with over 30 authors participating. I am hosting author Erik Gustafson today, who is offering a special teaser/prologue for his book The Dark Trek Home.
The bright morning sun blazes through the wild, amber grass where the dew sparkles like diamonds. A twelve-year-old boy has been trailing behind his father down a narrow, trampled path that leads to a wooded area. The trees grow densely together like prison bars. The man, tall with eyes as blue as a robin’s egg, is clutching two long fishing poles in one hand and a large tackle box, coated with dried fish scales, in the other.
The boy has played with whatever he has happened across, from long blades of seedy grass to random rocks and sticks. Both are wearing similar jeans and flannel shirts.
The youngster stoops to lift a large rock causing the weight of his backpack to shift. He yanks at the strap, and the pack stays in place. With a mischievous grin, he hurls the rock into the grass as far as his skinny arm will allow.
“What was that?” the kid shouts, trying to sound alarmed. When he doesn’t get the reaction he wants, he adds, “I think someone is following us, Dad!”
“We better…,” the dad says. He turns to smile at his son, bursting into a sprint. “Run!”
He takes off after his father and tries to keep up. They run until they reach the trees, where they stop and laugh together while catching their breath.
They continue their journey.
Before the sun can finish rising above the forest, the two come upon a small clearing, the space of which is nearly consumed by an oval, grayish-blue pond. The boy is sure the small body of sleepy water is just a little wider than even his father could cast a line. Bony, leafless limbs lean out over the water from thick trees that cuddle in close around the banks.
“Here we are, Son!” the father announces, pulling his blue Iowa Cubs baseball cap off and running his hand through his wavy brown hair.
The boy pulls the strap down off one shoulder and lets the backpack plop onto the damp sand. His dad had promised him the fishing would be great, but the boy wants to explore. He notices that there isn’t much room to walk the edges because the trees are so close to the water. He decides the most interesting terrain is at the far side of the pond. There is only a small cliff on that side. He can see clumps of weeds hanging over the shadowy edges that he will check out later. He knows he has to first fish with his father for a while.
Feeling thirsty, he asks, “Can I have a pop, Dad?”
“Let’s find a spot first and get settled,” his dad says. “You know, Dave, this is the same pond your great-grandfather used to fish when he was your age.”
“Cool.” Dave thinks that is a neat piece of information, even though his great-grandfather had died long before he had been born.
His dad smiles and tells him to grab the backpack. They continue walking along the sand, weaving through tall cattails, until they arrive at the first bend. They find a little more room to spread out. An old log on the bank provides a perfect place on which to sit.
“This is the hot spot,” the man announces.
Dave shrugs and leans his backpack on the thick green moss covering the log.
A few minutes later, they’re both sitting on the dead tree with their lines out in the water, a bobber on Dave’s line.
“Ready for that pop?”
“Oh yeah!” Dave answers while he watches the little red bobber gracefully dance with the current. With the sunlight glaring off the water, it’s difficult to keep track of his bobber. Each time he loses sight of the small red ball, his heart skips at the prospect of getting a bite. He has always liked fishing—so long as there’s action.
As Dave sips at his cold pop, kicking sand into the water, his dad stands still then walks a few paces away, holding his rod out over the water. “Won’t be long now,” he tells his son.
* * *
Underneath the pond’s surface, a long, mysterious creature slithers out from a shadowy water-filled tunnel and swims along the bottom. It scans the waters through bloodshot, brown eyes the shape of teardrops as it absently pulls up fistfuls of mud and squishes the goo. Toward the surface, it sees refracted light filtering downward. It knows the sun is rising, but that is not what stirs the beast.
The fishers on the surface are causing infinitesimal, yet enticing, vibrations in its den.
Company is here.
Another creature, long and pasty yellow, follows the first one out of the tunnel and swims through the water. It circles the pond and returns to the other creature.
The stirring above piques their excitement. The pair remains motionless for a moment, suspended in the dark water, eyes gazing toward the surface. Anticipating; pondering. Eager for some action.
They scour the murky water with purpose.
The bottom of the fishpond is nearly pitch black, but that doesn’t prevent the dark forms from finding what they hoped would be there: a thin line barely reflecting the smallest glimmer of light.
They follow it to its end.
In the darkness of the depths, they float on either side of a small hook dangling a long nightcrawler. The hook attaches to a long transparent line that connects to their real prize.
Toothy, animated grins surround the worm.
Their twisted smirks are disproportionally wide for their narrow, oblong heads. Rows of small, pointy, decaying, broken teeth line their mouths.
Finally, the larger of the two reaches out and grabs the invisible line.
With just two of its thin fingers, it gives the line a little tug. Both giggle, and bubbles race upward from their mouths. The smaller of the two puts a wrinkled hand over its mouth as it laughs and nods its misshapen head.
* * *
Dave sits daydreaming about to exploring the woods at the far side of the pond when his line twitches. “Dad! I got something!”
His father steps closer to Dave and monitors his son. “Wait for the bobber to stay under then give it a good jerk.”
To Dave’s dismay, the bobber pops back to the surface.
“Ya gotta really let it take the hook.”
The bobber submerges.
Dave jerks back on the pole just as he has watched his father do many times before. The line goes taunt and he pulls back a second time to compensate for the resistance, making the pole bend. His blue eyes gleam with excitement. He has only caught a few fish in his short life, and most of those were little ones. Dave assures himself that the mother of all fish is on the end of his line this time. “Dad, I got it!”
“Reel ’er in!”
The muscles in his arms burn as he turns the handle as fast as he can. His heart races. After a few cranks, the line slackens and the little red bobber bounces to the surface. “Aww, shoot!”
“You’ll get him next time, son!” his father assures him. “Probably need to put another worm on now, though.”
Dave continues reeling his line but stops when the bobber is nearly to the shore.
“Hey! Look, Dad a turtle!” Dave points out toward the center of the pond.
His father squints through the bright sunlight reflecting off the water. A small, dark bump is floating on the water; the water surrounding the protrusion is dark as well. “Um, maybe. I can’t tell what that is.”
“Can we catch it, Dad?”
“What would we do with a poor tur—” His father’s eyes widen, and Dave looks back out at the turtle. It rises further out of the water.
“It’s big!” Dave shouts. Now the distant object looks more like a dark yellow Army helmet. That’s a weird turtle, he thinks.
The helmet-shaped object rises out further still. It has a long, scaly forehead with deep-set brown eyes that stare back at him while it weaves in and out of the waterline.
“Holy cow!” He looks up at his father and grabs his sleeve.
The expensive rod and reel set that Dave’s mom had bought his father for his birthday five years ago splashes into the water. His dad doesn’t even look down. Instead, he presses his son up against his leg and shuffles backward. “I think we better go.”
A second head appears next to the first one, surfacing like a submarine.
“You dropped your pole, Dad!” Dave squirms off his dad’s leg and bends down to save the pole before it disappears into the water.
A huge splash diverts his attention.
Dave can’t take his eyes off the confusing sight. He sees what he thinks are fish jumping out of the water, except these fish are gigantic. It reminds him of dolphins or sharks leaping out the water on a Discovery Channel show.
However, these fish are hydroplaning across the surface.
The two are standing transfixed as the displacing water rushes off the two incoming torpedo-shaped objects vaulting across the pond.
The cool spray of the water hits Dave’s face and he screams.
His dad grabs him, slings him over his shoulder, pivots around to face the forest, then books into the trees. He quickly loses his footing in the tangled underbrush, falls to the ground, and then rolls behind a tree trunk.
Dave somersaults through the tall grass.
The father hears growling but doesn’t dare look back.
The boy jumps up on his dad’s back and tries his best to brace himself by holding his dad’s broad shoulders, but he jerks around as his dad sprints.
Dave glances over his shoulder to see what’s chasing them. At first, all he sees are their blue baseball caps on the ground. Their discarded hats quickly escape his mind when he sees two spicy-mustard–colored animals of sorts, dripping wet on the shore. They stand erect on disproportionately long thin legs with arms stretching down to their knees. Their small, barreled torsos remind Dave of spiders walking on two legs. Their bald and misshapen heads remind him of popcorn because of oddly placed bulges. And he shivers at the sight of their intensely deep, brown eyes. Worse still, their disfigured faces seem to be sporting grotesque smiles.
The boy bounces back and forth, as his father dodges between trees, all at once overcome by fear and intrigue.
Barely needing to bend, the taller of the two monsters reaches down and picks up both of the fallen ball caps and holds them up to narrow slits above its mouth. The hats are absurdly small next to the mysterious figure’s huge head. Its face wrinkles twice, and it tosses the hats into the underbrush. The second monster, however, bends down and picks up one of the hats.
“Dad, you gotta see this!”
His dad doesn’t stop to look; he just huffs and grunts.
The two creatures run toward them. Their long legs propel them over the underbrush effortlessly. The leathery-yellow things gain ground at an alarming rate.
“Dad, go faster!”
“Hang on, Son!” his dad yells. Dave knows his heart is pounding, but he realizes he can also feel his dad’s heart pounding though his back.
His father bursts out of the forest and finds he’s knee-deep in wild, overgrown brush. The grass slows him down as he trudges through the thick weeds—the long stalks bending under the weight of his boots.
Dave keeps an eye on the wooded area. Even though the creatures are out of sight, he somehow knows they’re out there still, watching them. Maybe even snickering at them. The trees seem to share the knowledge of some ominous secret as if they are on the side of the monsters, camouflaging the predators.
He swears he hears humming or singing drifting out of the woods.
“Dad, they’re not coming,” Dave’s words came out choppy, bouncing in rhythm to his father’s strides.
Dave’s dad ignores his son and trudges on through the tall grass, not bothering to look back and verify his son’s claims. “Where’s the damn path?” he mumbles between breaths.
“That way,” Dave screams as he points toward the left, not realizing he is outside his father’s line of sight.
Nevertheless, his dad runs in the same direction Dave is pointing.
They stumble onto the open path and pause, the dad gasping for breath, his torso rising and falling as Dave clings to his back.
“I see the truck!” The father says.
Dave cranes his neck to see. It hurts his side to hold his head at such an odd angle, but before his stomach muscles give out, Dave sees the blue truck glimmering in the sun.
“I can run the rest of the way, Dad.”
“Okay . . . Son.”
As he slides down from his father’s shoulders, Dave gets a good look back down the path. At the edge of the path, right where the trees begin, the two creatures stand perfectly still. Even from this distance, the creatures are still massive and intimidating.
“Dad,” Dave whispers.
His dad finally turns around. In the open light of the clearing, looming on the threshold of the forest are the two unholy animals standing upright and measuring at least eight feet tall. Their heavy arms hang down like broken branches. Their fingers are gnarled and thick; misshapen talons stuck into the ends of mangled flesh. Their bald heads are large and equally contorted, but still look small for the beast’s enormous size. The worst part is their eyes. Even from a distance, the dark eyes emit a fiery glow. Eyes that make Dave’s stomach knot and lurch.
“What the hell are they?” The dad mumbles.
The creatures continue to observe their prey.
Dave’s dad grabs his hand, and they take off for the truck.
The duo of yellow demons gives chase. Their lumbering gait is surprisingly fast on the path, as if they are skimming above the weeds and growth; effortlessly, just like when they moved through the water.
Dave is ripped away from his father; he flails with his hands and feet, straining to grab anything—the edge of the fabric of his dad’s flannel. Anything to reconnect him. Instead, he lifts into the air where he is cuddled into cold hands.
He kicks and screams in the grip of the creatures huge hands. A sickening stench drifts out of the creature’s mouth, and Dave grimaces.
“No!” Dave tries to pull free, but the arms of this creature envelop him like a straitjacket.
Dave watches helplessly as the other creature slaps his dad across the back of the head, causing him to stumble and then vanish into the grass. Dark red blood splashes across the blades of grass. Dave sees his dad rising on his knees out of the weeds. The creature towers over him.
The monster grabs his father at the base of his ribcage and drives its claws deep inside his father’s chest. Blood darkens his shirt as his head rocks from side to side, his mouth hanging open. His eyes roll back.
“Dad!” Straining to pull away from the wall of cold flesh, tears burn his eyes.
Dave hears laughter but doesn’t know where it’s coming from.
The monster twists its hand deeper into Dave’s dad and lifts the weak form. As it hoists his father off the ground, Dave thrashes again to free himself, but the monster restraining him is too powerful.
His dad half-lifts his face; stringy blood-dampened hair clings to his brows like muck. His glassy eyes appear confused, as if he is lost, but Dave knows he’s searching for him.
The monster holds the man off the ground so the two are eye to eye. It raises its free hand high above its deformed head; the creature’s bloody fingernails gleam in the sunlight as the monster wiggles its fingers and slices through the father’s neck.
Dave screams, but his voice is cracked and dry. He pisses himself. The creature holding him flips Dave over his shoulder, exactly as his father had done before, and trots back down the path.
“No!” Dave manages to shout. He wants to go back to his father.
Dave beats on the creature’s lumpy back and cries.
The creature sprints through the woods. Dave, still weeping, prepares for his fate. He knows that as soon as this animal stops running, it will kill him. As the monster nears the pond, it spins Dave off its shoulder and cradles him in its thick, smooth arms, as a mother would hold her baby. Without pausing, it dives twenty feet over the water and splashes into the pond.
Dave’s fists strike the beast anywhere he can as it swims. His punches are futile, and his arms burn with fatigue. His pounding turns to slaps. He gulps in water as the beast swims deeper.
Everything goes dark for Dave. He faintly sees bubbles rising from his mouth, his arms and legs are tingling and are feeling heavy. He goes limp.
* * *
Deep under the surface, the creature swims into the dark opening from where it had originally emerged. It glides through the narrow tunnel holding the flaccid boy until it surfaces in a gloomy hidden cavern, the repulsive place it has learned to call home. The air is thick, chilly, and completely dark. Rolling Dave off its shoulder, the monster lets him tumble onto the rocky surface.
The creature’s eyes adjust quickly. It crawls onto the shore next to Dave and sits there watching the boy.
The beast is eager to start.
* * *
Dave inhales loudly, coughs, and spits up water. He opens his eyes but still can’t see anything. Thinking he is blind, he gropes with his hands but feels only air. Blackness smothers him like a wool blanket. His teeth are chattering. The surface on which he lies is ice cold and damp.
Out of the darkness a low and crackly voice says, “Take us home.”
* * * * *
The stench of rotting flesh is in the air! Welcome to the Summer of Zombie Blog Tour 2014, with 33 of the best zombie authors spreading the disease in the month of June.
Stop by the event page on Facebook so you don't miss an interview, guest post or teaser… and pick up some great swag as well! Giveaways galore from most of the authors as well as interaction with them! #SummerZombie
You can also purchase the book at the following link:
You can also purchase the book at the following link: