If you haven't read Chapters 1-6 before, they have been collected into Volume 1. Read as much or as little as you want below to get a feel for the story, if you want more you can get Volume 1 for $.99 or a print version for under $10.00.
If you have read Chapters 1-6, enjoy the refresher and we'll see you on September 15th when Chapter 7 will be free on Amazon.
Without further ado...
Three months ago, the world changed overnight. Not of a violent invasion or overtake. Not from some rampant infection. Not due to newly passed legislation. The change came in like fog stealing its way across the land. Unheard. Disregarded.
That night, the City of Ames was forced to its knees. The few who woke the next day did so to a crippled form of their city as it writhed in death’s throes.
Quickly though it came, the change hadn’t come suddenly in the secret of that infamous night. It had appeared the day prior on farmland and country roads, then highways and small towns, claiming for itself holdings right out from under the noses of men. But the symptoms were so disconcerted, many seemingly innocuous, no one saw the approaching calamity. If someone had pieced it together, their suspicions found only deaf ears, or at least disbelieving ones. Perhaps the only words of warning uttered that day were discounted as a lunatic’s ranting. Maddened livestock, faulty cars, and a spike in first-time asthmatic attacks – who would see correlation but the insane?
The City of Ames staggered to life the next morning. A fraction – a sparse remnant – of the population woke to don the mantle of righting a world with thousands dead in their beds, or in ditches alongside stalled-out cars, or wherever else they found themselves when it became difficult to breathe, choking on the air itself – its weight filling their lungs like water.
Liam, an engineering student at university, woke to a cell phone documenting the last panicked pleas of his most-loved, Emma. She lived on the other side of Ames near the banks of Squaw Creek, the lowland. She never had a chance.
Liam and his cousin, Hailey, had survived by happenstance, their shared sixth-story apartment the only thing to bear them through that night. The five floors beneath them were less fortunate. None of its residents survived to see morning there.
Life dragged on, somehow. The food stores of the seventh-story restaurant that topped Legends Tower were another stroke of luck. That food bore Liam and Hailey, with the other residents of the sixth and seventh, through two months.
The survivors of six and seven watched with great fear as all they knew died away outside. Radio stations sputtered out. Streets stilled. City lights winked out one final time without a sound. A suppressive hush fell over Ames. And the survivors in Legends Tower were left to gawk at their now-silent world behind the safety of their windows. They knew little of what had happened save to fear the outside and the fifth floor.
Their seven-story building – the very thing that had saved them – now defined their existence. A prison.
Many paid the price with their sanity.
The truth of the still-unknown and unnamed disaster came unwarranted to Liam while he idled away at his guitar one hot August afternoon. Everything about the disaster was unlike anything seen before, yet familiar at the same time. It reminded him of a flood, a common concern in the Midwest come spring. But no waters had spilled from their banks in Ames. A torrent of rain hadn’t unleashed its reserves over the land. This was something different entirely, a gaseous flood. Gas, heavier than air, settled to the ground in an atmosphere lighter than itself to fill valleys and other lows. Colorless. Odorless.
Liam set about building a raft to brave the “flood waters” and free him and the others of their prison. As wood to water, so were balloons to this heavy air and the restaurant’s monstrous advertising balloons fit the bill nicely – Bigfoot and a UFO.
But Liam’s plan for a maiden voyage met an ill-reception. The Chef had different ideas to “save” the other survivors and merited no room for Liam’s efforts. He sent Liam and Hailey out to sail prematurely.
Days of drifting aimlessly on the balloons followed for Liam and Hailey while the Chef “saved” the others in the Tower. Until one of the Tower’s residents, Ben, found the Chef out and threw the vile man down a stairwell. Ben had stopped the Chef’s work as best as anyone could’ve hoped him to, but it was too late to save the others in the Tower. Only Ben and his ex-girlfriend, Abby, had survived the attack. And Abby had only done so at great cost to her health. The two were left to themselves in the lonely tower of the dead, they thought.
While recovering from the Chef’s poison, Abby saw a watcher quietly observing her from the shadows of her doorway. Ben searched the Tower but found no one – not even the corpses from the Chef’s doings. All had been removed inexplicably.
Floating stories above the dead city of Ames, Liam and Hailey witnessed the dark quiet that had settled over the town for the first time as they were cast about at the wind’s whims on their balloons. A proof of concept, at least, for Liam that the balloons could bear their weight and may just be the vehicle to deliver them from their confines, but not as they were – rudderless and incapable of motion under their own power.
The wind would eventually guide them to the main lawn of Campus. And, through concerted efforts and the use of the trees growing there, they were able to cast Liam to a rooftop construction site, but at the cost of stranding Hailey to a treetop. Liam repurposed the tools and supplies he found on the roof, but the work was time-consuming. By the end, Bigfoot had been rigged with a wooden deck, paddlewheel, rowbar, and wings for stability. He made his way back across the Campus to rescue Hailey from her treetop only to find she was gone.
Hailey had waited faithfully on her tree as she’d been instructed with utter confidence that Liam, the student of engineering, would find what he needed and make it back to her. In her waiting, she had little to do but watch and wait, scanning the world around her wondering at what else lay out there and what had brought this on them. As rain clouds rolled in one night and lightning ripped over the sky, shadows shifted and darted across the Campus beneath. The shifting lights toyed with her – it looked as if something was in her tree with her, snaking its way up through rain-wet limbs. But, that couldn’t be… the tree was gas-flooded from ground level all the up to just a few feet below her. Lightning lit the sky again and any doubt she had in what she’d seen was put to rest. A monster of a thing clothed in dark gray scaled up toward her. Its long thin limbs snaked through the tree as it neared her. A pair of rusty metal rings lined its pallid cracked lips, the only view of what lay beneath the cloth. Trapped in the tree, Hailey had but one choice. She cast off from the tree on the UFO and back into the arms of the fitful wind.
In the Tower, Ben and Abby finally meet Abby’s watcher. With the Chef’s reclaimed handgun, Abby empties round after round into the intruder. Only after the clip had been emptied did she realize their intruder had not come alone. The second took the body of the first and escaped into the gas-flooded fifth floor of the Tower. Ben set his mind to leaving.
With party balloons for air, Ben descends to the maintenance room of the Tower on the ground floor. He raided the room utterly, taking any object of use. From those supplies, Ben fashioned for himself an under-gas breathing apparatus from a painter’s mask and garden sprayers. Armed with his tattooed bat and mask, he was as prepared as he was ever going to be to face what the world might throw at him. But his preparations to leave the Tower were cut short when yet a third of those gray-clothed monsters burst through their apartment window. This one a seven-foot thundering beast. Abby escaped to another room while Ben led the monster to the fifth floor, a standoff there left Ben unconscious and short of air.
Liam returned to the Tower, rowing Bigfoot on its maiden voyage after his improvements, and heard the fight on the fifth floor and found the blacked-out Ben.
Their rescue had come.
The three left the Tower – Liam directing at the helm of the heavily modified Bigfoot, Abby, also on Bigfoot, filling air tanks for Ben, and Ben aground in the gas with the aid of his mask, utterly dependent on the air support of the balloon.
They’d been freed of the Tower, but knew little of what awaited them.