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Sleepwalk City: Blood on the Motorway, #2

Sleepwalk City: Blood on the Motorway, #2

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Sleepwalk City: Blood on the Motorway, #2

ratings:
5/5 (1 rating)
Length:
501 pages
5 hours
Released:
Jan 13, 2017
ISBN:
9781386394563
Format:
Book

Description

Surviving the end of the world was just the beginning. Now the battle for control has begun.

On a flight back to her family, Lydia is too busy trying to ignore the annoying passenger next to her to notice the sky filling with lights. Three months later she is alone in a desolate world, moving from one town to the next, trying to survive. When she enters the ruined city of York, she finds more than she bargained for.

Ex-student turned revolutionary hero Tom, grieving and broken, has passed the last three months trying to keep himself and his people together. Now he will have to protect them from a new government force, hellbent on rebuilding at a cost too terrible to comprehend.

Jen and Mira, reeling from their encounter with a homicidal maniac, flee into the wilds to escape. Soon they find themselves running from a very different enemy.

Ex-detective Burnett, separated from his friends by chance, sees himself drawn into an investigation that will take him to the heart of the fight against this new government.

Sleepwalk City is the pulse-quickening sequel to the bestselling British apocalyptic horror Blood on the Motorway. If you love edge-of-the-seat action, end-of-the-world tension, and characters you'll be rooting for with every turn of the page, you'll love the second instalment in Paul Stephenson's thrilling trilogy.

Buy Sleepwalk City today to find out who will prevail in the battle for humanity's future.

Released:
Jan 13, 2017
ISBN:
9781386394563
Format:
Book

About the author

Paul Stephenson writes pulp fiction for the digital age. His first series - the apocalyptic Blood on the Motorway trilogy - has been an Amazon bestseller on both sides of the Atlantic, and his work has been featured on the chart-topping horror podcast, The Other Stories. His new series, The Sunset Chronicles, is a dystopian sci-fi thriller that will delight and terrify fans of science fiction and horror alike. He lives in England with his wife, two children, and one hellhound.

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Sleepwalk City - Paul Stephenson

die.

CHAPTER ONE

GIVEN TO THE RISING

Lydia arched her back and tried to find a comfortable position. The hard plastic chair of Dublin Airport’s unglamorous food court resisted her efforts. A half-eaten Burger King super-sized meal lay on the equally hard plastic table in front of her, losing its appeal with every passing second, the cheese congealing on the cold chips.

She slipped off her shoe and worked her thumb over the sole of her foot.

This had been her reward for making it through the day, a plastic dinner in an airport fast-food outlet. Lonely, tired and missing her kids, she figured it was the least her company owed her for sending her all the way to Ireland for a meeting she hadn’t really needed to be at.

She bit into the burger, savouring both the taste and its accompanying guilt. The diet had stayed well and truly back in England. She’d enjoyed falling off the wagon for this trip, if nothing else. Nice dinners, cooked breakfasts, a hefty lunch, and now a burger. The full gamut of bad food behaviour.

Regretfully swallowing the last mouthful, she slipped her shoes back on and checked the board. Her flight listing had a gate number next to it, so she wheeled her little suitcase round, picked up the laptop bag she’d failed to open once in the last forty-eight hours and headed off to the endless run of travellators which separated her from her flight, and, finally, home.

The plane was going to be full. People were already herding themselves into an orderly queue, despite nobody staffing the gate to let them on-board, and yet the waiting room seats were full, too. She wished she could sneak out for a cheeky puff on her e-cig. At least two others were chuffing on their own. She chanced it. Nobody official looked fussed by this brazen flaunting of The Rules.

The seats by the gate were filled with businessmen staring at their laptops. Occasionally they looked up and around to check the world hadn’t moved on radically without them.

There were a few non-business types scattered about, including a Muslim family who had probably had a much harder time getting through customs. Even Lydia, with her Mediterranean tone and dark hair, often got more glances at her passport. She could only imagine what it was like trying to get through with a headscarf.

The children of the Muslim couple were careening in and out of the seats, while both parents stared at the boarding gate screen – willing time to move quicker, Lydia supposed. It was a look she recognised. She smiled at the kids as they tore past, and secretly hoped that when they got on board they weren’t sat anywhere near her.

She parked up her suitcase, dropping her laptop bag on top and pulling out her phone. She punched Dev’s name and waited for it ring.

‘Hey, love,’ her harassed-sounding husband answered. 

In the background, the bedlam of wild children echoed in her ear, including one high-pitched scream that would have chilled the blood of anyone who didn’t have their own little noise generators.

‘Hey,’ Lydia replied. ‘I’m just at my gate, how’s it going?’

‘Oh, you know,’ Dev chuckled. ‘You need me to come pick you up at the airport?’

‘Doesn’t Cassie have karate tonight?’

‘Balls, yes. You okay to taxi it?’

‘Yeah,’ she replied. ‘Company can pay for it.’

‘Good point. Okay, well, got to go; I’m cooking tea. Have a safe flight, honey.’

‘See you soon,’ she said. Dev had moved the phone away and started shouting at the children before the line cut out.

She shook her head and clicked the Facebook app to check out what she’d missed in the last forty-eight hours. Before she found anything interesting, the herd started moving through the gate. She pocketed the phone and picked up her bags.

Twenty minutes of tedious onward progress later, a disinterested steward pointed Lydia towards her seat. She hated flying, especially on the piece-of-crap budget airline which was all her company was willing to fork out for. She lived in constant fear she’d get stuck by the window, struggling not to lose her shit altogether on take-off and landing.

At least I’m on the aisle.

A rotund, profusely sweating businessman had commandeered both the armrest and half of her leg room, displaying his crown jewels to the world. She settled into her seat and tried to nudge him out of her space, but all she got in return was a greasy smile. Did he think she was flirting with him? 

She gave up the tussle. At least the flight was only forty-five minutes.

She toyed with the idea of opening her laptop and trying to clear some emails to take her mind off her creeping dread. But all the emails in the world couldn’t change the fact she was about to entrust her life to a company more famed for their budgetary creativity than their safety record, in an aircraft which predated her parents’ stereo system. She opted to fish out her phone and stick on a podcast, closing her eyes to try to block out the rest of the world.

Her heart skipped a beat as the plane started to taxi, and when the pilot applied the throttle she had to swallow a cry of terror. The roar of the engines drowned out the sound of wittering coming from her headphones.

‘Not a fan of flying?’ the businessman asked, jovially, as she removed them. 

She flashed him a terse grimace that she hoped adequately conveyed the message of ‘Please kindly fuck off because you’re not making this any easier,’ which a mix of civility and terror were unable to let her vocalise.

Eventually the plane levelled out. Lydia had been gripping the one armrest she had access to so tightly it hurt to let go. She looked at the businessman, whose attention had moved away from her. He now invaded the space of a timid-looking boy in the window seat so he could look outside. The boy had the same approach to civility she had. His expression said he was going to completely ignore the invasion of his personal space in the hope it might magically go away. Lydia tried to relax.

‘We’re back over England,’ the businessman said to nobody in particular.

She closed her eyes again and tried to distract herself with work thoughts, running through the meeting that morning, trying to compose a narrative she could take back to her boss tomorrow without sounding like a complete idiot. It worked for a while, until a hushed ‘woah’ brought her back to her surroundings.

The businessman still craned to see out the window, but so too did the boy next to him. All around, people's faces pressed up against the windows, blocking the view so effectively she had no clue what they were staring at.

A strange light danced through the cabin and across the faces peering through the windows. Blue and green hues danced over the ceiling, whilst the cabin staff tried to hustle about without looking worried.

The fasten seatbelt sign came back on, which some people took to mean the opposite, exiting their seats to try and get a better look.

‘What’s going on?’ Lydia asked the sweaty, broad back of the businessman.

‘Sorry, love,’ he said, moving aside to let her look.

Outside was the strangest sight she’d ever seen. They were above the clouds, which had turned from their trademark fluffy whiteness into a dense, solid mass, throbbing with what looked like shifting veins of electrical energy. A cavalcade of colours came from the aurora, rising from the cloud like steam, blue and green and pink mists enveloped the plane. It was quite breath-taking.

‘What is it?’ Lydia asked. 

The businessman shrugged. The kid stared out of the window, the colour draining from his face.

A bolt of lightning arced up from the cloud, and there was a brief ‘ooh’ from some of her fellow passengers, until it arched in the air and slammed into the wing. 

The wing splintered and burst into flame. 

‘The ooh’s turned into screams and the plane lurched to the left. Inquisitive interest turned to panic around her before the lightning bolt had even faded from her retinas.

Another bolt hit, and the lights went out.

Lydia sat back in her seat, trying to wedge herself into safety. She put on her seatbelt as fast as her trembling hands would allow. 

The businessman tried to push past her to the aisle, before thinking better of it.

She couldn’t bring herself to look out the window again, but the lights outside were becoming more and more intense. The plane started to lurch downward and sideways. 

Tears streamed down her cheeks. She chanced a look outside, which did nothing to calm her. They were falling through the storm, electricity dancing around them. She looked down at her hands, gripping the armrest. Tiny arcs of light danced between her fingers.

The spin became more pronounced, the G-force starting to take hold. Lydia fought to hold down the contents of her stomach. Dampness spread between her legs.

The last bolt to hit blew a hole in the right side of the plane. The cabin depressurised. Screams of terror mingled with the whooshing air. Two people flew, screaming, out of the hole and into the night, plucked out by some unseen hand.

I am going to die.

My babies.

The businessman had passed out, an ugly smear of red running from his nose. The boy also had the same, and Lydia’s hand rose to her own face. 

Blood.

Her head pounded, and everything started to go dark. 

At least I won’t live to see what happens when we hit the ground.

Everything went black.

* * *

She sat bolt upright, struggling to breathe, clawing at her clothes and unsure of her surroundings, until it all came flooding back. She wasn’t at the crash site any more. That was, what, three months ago?

Three months since she’d woken, still strapped to a single aeroplane seat in the middle of a decimated forest. The sole survivor of flight 272 from Dublin to Leeds Bradford, which had come down in thick woodland not twenty miles from its intended destination.

Getting out of bed, she rubbed her mittened hands together. It was still bloody cold. She stretched, and threw off the thick blankets. Not a hideously uncomfortable bed as these things went, but she wished she’d managed to find a cottage which retained the heat from the previous night’s fire a little better. She’d not dared to have it lit for long, worried that light in the windows, and smoke from the chimney, would pique the interests of whatever unsavoury elements might be lurking in these parts. She was pretty deep into farmland here, but you never could tell.

If the last three months had taught her anything, it was that.

She went to the window and looked out at the frost-bitten dawn scene, the nightmare she’d lived through still at the front of her mind. When she’d woken that first morning, somehow unscathed amongst the death and wreckage, she’d had no idea that the carnage extended beyond the hundred or so of her fellow passengers. Their scattered corpses had been torn apart by the savage storm and the impact. To this day, she had no idea how she’d survived. None of the other bodies even resembled people, and yet there she had been, the only damage a deep but non-life-threatening cut along her arm, which had already stopped bleeding by the time she came to.

The smoke had still been rising from the wreckage when she woke, the air thick with the smell of fuel, so much so that she’d choked on it as she scrabbled out of her seat.

But her wonder at her own survival was nothing compared to her horror at what lay beyond. She’d waited for hours, sure that sirens and help wouldn’t be far away, that she shouldn’t leave the scene. She’d tried her phone, but it was dead. All the phones she could find were blank, useless boxes. She pictured Dev glued to the news, wondering what he was going to tell the children.

It was the thought of her children that had stirred her into action – that and the realisation in the fading light that nobody was coming to help her. She’d left the crash site and walked until she found a main road. She had followed the signs for Leeds through the night, in total and terrifying darkness, trying to block out the sounds of wildlife in the shadows.

When she’d come across the first car wreck, in the pre-dawn light, the corpses had had the same smear of red from their noses as her travelling companions, and she’d realised her crash had been only a small part of the puzzle. Her pace quickened until she finally found her way home.

Home.

Coming back to herself in the present, she pushed the thought down. One scab was enough to pick at. She walked downstairs and headed into the tiny kitchen. This must have been a holiday cottage once upon a time. It was well decorated and clean, but save for half a jar of coffee in the cupboard there were no signs anyone had lived here since the storm. She pulled her backpack up onto the counter, fished out a tin of children’s spaghetti hoops, and set it on the side.

She stared at it. The image of Cassie, her daughter, slurping at a bowl full of spaghetti hoops, stole into her mind.

So this is a morning for picking scabs?

When she’d finally made it home she’d not seen another living soul, so she’d known the odds of finding her family waiting with outstretched arms were slim, but none of her fears on that long walk could have prepared her for the sight of her husband’s corpse on the sofa, the bodies of both their children in his arms. The curtains were closed. Had little Nico been scared by the storm and got his dad to close the curtains, or had it been Cassie?

It had taken her a long time to leave the house. When she had, she was not the same Lydia who had entered.

And now she was the Lydia staring at a tin of spaghetti hoops with a mix of anger and remorse. She wiped the tears from her eyes and opened the tin. She pulled out a fork from a drawer; tried the taps, but there was no water. The hob didn’t work.

The old systems are finally collapsing.

Plunging the fork into the cold can, she began emptying her pack out onto the counter to check her belongings. A raincoat, sleeping bag, one thick jumper, and five pairs of woollen socks, as well as some knickers. She was down to five tins, which was a worry. Toiletries bag, a hairbrush, a kid’s book on wilderness survival she’d stolen from Nico’s room, some cigarettes, candles, and a tin opener. She examined the cottage’s own tin opener and found it to be superior to her own in its robustness, so she swapped them.

Lastly, she examined her weapons. She checked the magazine of the small pistol and her bow and arrow. She still had a pretty decent quiver of arrows, but there were only five bullets in the pistol’s magazine. She couldn’t shoot the bow worth a shit, so never seemed to lose her arrows to anything. She was getting better though.

She repacked the bag and slung it over her shoulder, put the gun in her waistband and pulled her jumper over it, and hung the bow and quiver from the strap of the bag. She caught sight of herself in the ornamental mirror by the front door and chuckled.

Pretty badass.

Outside the cottage the last of the snow still clung on, supplemented by the morning frost. At least she’d be able to see any footprints not her own, but the chill in the air went straight through her thick jumper.

Whatever had caused that storm, and she’d heard her share of rumours over the months, had it also broken the whole world? Were they set for some kind of eternal winter, as the Earth tried to rid itself of its human infestation?

She hoped not.

Leaving the cottage, she hiked the bag up and appraised her options. Where to go today? She looked one way down the path, and the other, and decided to take the road not yet travelled.

CHAPTER TWO

SIT DOWN. STAND UP.

The caravan was bitterly cold. Tom woke in the hard bed and stretched his limbs out methodically, checking there were no new pops, breaks, or snapping sounds. It was his daily waking ritual, observed no matter how bad things were or how intense his hangover was. This morning it was monumental.

He’d turned into an old man, and all it had taken was one day in a torturer’s chair.

He swung his legs out from the bed slowly, wiggled his toes to make sure he still could, and reached for his cane.

Another day.

His mood was dark already, the day not even minutes old. He knew why; the memory of last night’s embarrassment was the first thing to pass through his mind as he woke. Stupid of him. Idiotic. Look at him. Why the hell would any woman want a useless cripple in this world?

Perhaps he could ask Susan for some of her delightful yellow pills to help him get through the day. The thought cheered him, slightly.

He was negotiating with his socks when there was a knock at the door.

‘Come in,’ he called out.

The door swung open.

‘Morning, boss,’ Tana said, with a cup of coffee in each hand and a level of positivity which seemed unnecessary.

‘I thought I told you not to call me that,’ Tom replied.

‘You did,’ Tana said, beaming his big grin. ‘That’s why I call you it. Coffee?’

‘Cheers,’ Tom said, taking the cup. Thankfully, there didn’t seem to be much risk of them running out of coffee any time soon. ‘What’s going on?’

‘Quiet night,’ Tana replied. 

Tana was the informal head of security here at the compound, and he was good at it. An ex-rugby-playing Samoan the size of an industrial fridge, he had the requisite brawn for the job, but was friendly and approachable too – unlike the grumpy ex-detective who’d been the only other candidate for the job.

‘Good,’ Tom said, sipping his coffee.

‘Burnett’s off wandering again.’

Tom nodded. ‘I don’t think our detective likes communal life too much.’

‘He’s on a scouting mission.’

Burnett frequently went out scouting, bringing information, supplies, and occasionally the odd group in need back to the caravan park. It was home to nearly fifty survivors of the storm. Somehow – and Tom wasn’t sure how it had happened, since he’d been on a lot of heavy painkillers at the time – Tom had wound up in charge. He’d disputed his suitability then, and he disputed it still, even though there was now an elected council to help him. They had room here for maybe another hundred people before they’d need to look for another solution, but for the moment it seemed to be working okay.

‘Is Father Leonard up?’ Tom asked.

‘Not that I’ve seen,’ Tana replied. ‘I’ve not seen anyone from the Council yet, in fact.’

‘Okay.’

‘I’ll let you finish getting ready,’ he said, and stood up. ‘Boss.’

‘I said…’

‘I know.’

Tom chuckled. Perhaps he wouldn’t need one of Susan’s magic pills today after all. Sometimes all it took was a dose of Tana.

He stood up, and his joints protested in unison. He went to the kitchen and popped a couple of paracetamol, washed them down with the rest of his coffee, gathered up his cane and headed out into the world.

The cold morning air meant he made his way down the two steps with more difficulty than normal. The knee seemed especially stiff today. He looked out and saw Jen’s caravan a few rows away. The urge rose up to go and knock on the door and beg forgiveness for making a tit of himself last night. He pushed it back down and turned to look at the rest of the park instead.

The holiday park had once belonged to one of the big ‘staycation’ providers which had popped up over the last decade before the storm; updated versions of the Butlin’s holiday camps his parents had dragged him to when they hadn’t been able to afford what they called a ‘proper’ holiday. Thankfully, these newer versions were much better appointed. There was an office complex on site, a restaurant, a pub, and a swimming pool. It was a shame they didn’t have the electricity needed to power them.

Over the past months they had accumulated a few skilled people, including a plumber, who’d managed to get the boilers working on a limited basis inside the main complex. There were no sparkies among them, and their efforts to resurrect the run-down generator they’d found out the back had failed.

‘Good morning, Thomas,’ came a voice from behind him.

Tom turned. Father Leonard strode up the path toward him. He was the only one who ever called him Thomas. He’d not even bothered to check if it was Tom’s given name.

‘Morning, Father,’ Tom said.

‘This cold doesn’t seem to be shifting, does it?’

Tom shook his head.

‘Might get a few more weeks of it yet,’ the priest continued.

‘Let’s hope not,’ Tom said.

‘Well, I’ll see you at the meeting. I’m off to see what culinary delights Mr Chen has for us this morning.’

Tom nodded and the priest moved on. It seemed everyone was in a good mood this morning. If nothing else it should make for an easy council meeting. He wanted to raise the prospect of putting together an agricultural group to plant food in the land next to the camp, and it’d be nice to actually have volunteers for a change.

He had planned to head to the hall for breakfast himself, but figured it’d be weird to say bye to the priest one minute and join him in the queue the next, so he doubled back to check on the main gate. He walked past Jen’s caravan on the way, and again resisted the temptation to knock on the door.

The holiday park stood right on the seafront, a few miles up from Scarborough. It was a peaceful enough place, especially since the storm. He had hoped to have their backs to the sea, but a single road cut them off from the beach, and the rear of the park faced out towards a small town, so there was twice the area for their guards to cover. The main gate was by the seaside, so that’s where they set up the bulk of their security.

They had decided on this place when Tom was recovering from his wounds. There were a hundred potential sites to try to make a home, but the main options seemed to be to move north and face the worst extremes of the cold, to head into the unknown of the Midlands, west to the big cities of Manchester and Liverpool, or east, to the coast. Nobody wanted to go to Hull.

Susan suggested Scarborough, for the understandable reason she wanted to check on her parents. Nobody had any better suggestions, so that became the plan. It had taken two weeks to prepare the convoy to move out of York, then a week to move through the roads clogged with wrecks. They had set off with twenty, which had grown to forty by the time they reached the sea.

The once bustling seaside resort was a ghost town. Whoever had survived the storm had either moved on, or stayed out of view of their scouting parties. There wasn’t much of value in the resort itself, unless you were a big fan of seaside tat and un-decayed bags of candy floss.

They had gone to Susan’s house first, and found what they’d expected they would, Susan included. They had helped her bury the bodies and moved on, everyone thinking about their own loved ones, their own families. Tom wondered again about his parents down in Essex, but he knew the chances of them surviving were nil. The likelihood of him making it that far down the country unscathed was even slimmer.

The convoy had come across some of the chaos gripping the country as they had moved. Having escaped from would-be despots and murderous psychotics in the weeks following the storm, they didn’t have much trouble backing down the odd looters and ne’er do wells they’d encountered, but some of the people they’d taken in had tales of woe to match their own.

The world had gone to hell.

Each of their new arrivals brought their own set of headaches. They would initially ride on a wave of gratitude at finding decent people, a sense of belonging, and the promise of food and shelter. But it generally only took a few days before they’d start questioning Tom and the Council. Tom’s own feelings on this were clear: if you wanted the shelter, you followed the rules. Nobody kept anyone here by force. A handful of people left after a few days, invariably taking more of their stockpiles of food and medicines than they could comfortably spare.

He nodded at Billy, the man guarding the front, as he walked past. The bright flags of the holiday park still bustled cheerfully in the morning breeze. Perhaps it would

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