Tim Meyer, Chad Scanlon, and Pete Draper are delivering a brand new post-apocalyptic serial titled Sunfall, and it is one extremely promising project. All you’ve got to do is read this excerpt from Episode 1 to know this is a story you’re going to want to follow. Dig on a wicked excerpt below!
SUNFALL: EPISODE 1
by Tim Meyer, Chad Scanlon, and Pete Draper
“THE BIG BURN”
Like most terrible things, it came without warning. Some called it “The Cleansing,” while others claimed it to be Hell on Earth. Whatever it was, there was perhaps no better name than, “The Big Burn.” Others preferred “The End of Days”, for no one would ever step foot in the light again. No one knew if it would ever end, but they never forgot how it began.
Over the whirling sound of the Jeep’s A/C fan, Samuel Wright glared at his cell phone vibrating in the cup holder next to his coffee. He was certain he knew who it was and what she wanted. With one hand gripping the steering wheel, he reached for the Styrofoam cup and took a long swig. Almost instantly, the tension in his muscles disappeared as the taste of hot hazelnut flavor flowed over his tongue. When he was finished, he tossed the cup onto the passenger’s seat floor along with other empties from past mornings. With a long, deep breath, he calmly picked up the phone and placed it next to his ear.
“Are we going to be civil this time?” Sam asked.
The man on the other end laughed. “Um, aren’t we always?”
“What? Who—” Sam started, staring down at the caller I.D. As he did so, the Jeep bounced over a large pothole in the freeway, and lurched. With both hands, he quickly straightened the wheel. “Shit!”
“Sam? You okay? It’s Brian.”
“Yeah, yeah. I’m fine,” he said, pinning the phone against his shoulder. “Thought you were Brenda when I picked up.”
“You may wish I was after you hear what I’m about to tell you.”
“Christ. What happened now? Sherry lock herself in the maintenance closet again?”
“Not quite.” There was a brief pause as Brian readied himself for the words to come. “Chris Atkins got into an argument with a customer this morning.”
“That’s not news, Brian. Kid’s a prick. We all know tha—”
“He punched the guy in the face; cleaned his clock pretty good.”
Cutting across three lanes of traffic, Sam brought the Jeep to a screeching halt. “Are you shitting me?”
“Not this time, I’m afraid.”
“Goddammit. Does HR know about it?”
“Yup. Told me I have to send him home for the day. No shit.”
Sam banged his hand against the steering wheel. “What else did they say?”
Brian huffed into the phone. “Said he has to be terminated. And the store—”
“Manager has to be the one to do it,” Sam finished.
Sighing deeply, Sam slumped in his seat thinking about what he’d say and how he’d say it. Shaking his head, a nervous grin stretched across his face. Having to show one of his employees the front door might be one of the best conversations he’d have in months. Hell, the thought of being screamed at by someone other than Brenda was almost enough to make him want turn around and get it over with that very moment. But, as quickly as that thought entered his mind, it gave way to the memories of when he had done such things, the arguments he found himself trapped in time and time again. Her vicious words repeated in his ears without any way to silence them. He wondered if Chris could be anywhere near as wretched as she had been over the years.
“Sam? You there?”
“Tomorrow. We’ll do it first thing in the morning.”
He tossed the phone back on the passenger’s seat, and cranked up the air conditioning to its highest setting.
Wiping the sweat from his brow, Sam impatiently pressed the doorbell in rapid succession. As he waited for someone to answer, he glanced upward at the cloudless sky. The sun burned brightly, reddening his neck with each passing second. He shook his head as he recalled the weatherman’s predictions. For once, the forecast was actually accurate. The weather application on his cell phone confirmed it; 103 degrees. He scrolled through the rest of the week, each day displaying triple-digit figures.
I wonder if they sell sunscreen by the gallon, he thought.
Just as Sam reached for the bell again, the front door swung open. A tall man with glasses answered, wearing extremely short shorts and a cut-sleeve tee, sporting wet armbands that were wrapped around both wrists. He clutched a tennis racket in his right hand.
“Look who decided to show up,” he said, grinning amiably.
“Hello, Robert,” Sam said through gritted teeth. “Always good to see you.”
“Oh for God’s sakes, Sammy,” he said, slapping Sam on the arm. “When are you going to start calling me Bob?”
“I’ll tell everyone you’re here.”
Stepping inside and into the comfort of the cool air, he watched Bob disappear down the hallway. He gazed at the sparkling chandelier hanging from the vaulted ceiling. Ascending the spiral staircase, he wondered why anyone would pay so much for something so trivial. When he reached the top, he stared at Brenda and Bob’s wedding photos, clenching his fists. The paradisal backdrop in the honeymoon photos made him want to spit, but he refrained from doing so.
Relaxing himself, Sam moved away from the wall of photographs, down the hallway, and stood before the first of many doors. Gently, he knocked.
“Hey, cupid,” Sam said, pushing open the door.
“I told you to stop calling me that,” the girl said. “I’m twelve now.”
“So I’ve heard. You almost ready?”
“Do I have to go?” she whined.
“Dana, you love the water park. Your mother and I took you when you were little. You never wanted to leave.”
“Yeah, but that was different,” Dana said. “That was when things were…”
“Things were what?” Sam asked.
Dana shrugged. “Nevermind.”
Sam nodded slowly. “Get ready. We’re leaving in five.”
She groaned softly before skittering past him, into the bathroom.
With a sigh of his own, Sam moved down the hallway to the next door. Again he knocked, entering without waiting for a response.
“Tammy is such a whore,” the girl sitting on the bed said. Her laptop rested on her skinny thighs. She waved Sam away while arching her eyebrows. Her nose was one great big wrinkle. When he didn’t leave immediately, she flapped her hand as if a fly were pestering her. Sam leaned against the doorway, ignoring his oldest daughter’s request.
“Hold on a sec, Nikki.” She placed the phone against her chest. “Can I help you?”
“We’re leaving in five. Finish up. I’ll meet you downstairs.”
“I’m not going,” she said.
“Yes you are, Becky. Tell your friend you’ll call her later.”
“I’m eighteen, Dad. I don’t have to listen to you anymore.”
“Well, if you want help paying for your college tuition, I suggest you listen.”
For a moment, it looked as if she was going to ignore him and resume her call. Slowly, she raised the phone to the side of her face. “Nikki, I have to go. I’ll text you later.” She hung up the phone and tossed it onto the bed.
“You know, Bob would be more than happy to pay for college. You know, in case you can’t afford it.”
“Get ready. We’re leaving in five minutes.”
“I really hate you.”
“Just like your mother.”
After leaving Becky’s room, he stopped at the last door on the left. This time, he entered without knocking.
“You’re not going to fight me, are you?” Sam asked.
The young man glanced at his father over his thick text book. “No,” he said, returning to his studies.
“What are you reading now?”
“What kind of science?”
Flipping the page, the kid replied, “Physics.”
“Oh right. Physics. The study of…”
“Natural science,” the boy answered.
“Natural science. That’s pretty cool. Is that what you’re learning in school?”
“Do you really care?”
The kid had a point.
“You ready to go, Matty?”
“I’ll be down in five.” His father began to disappear. “Hey, Dad?”
“Maybe we can toss the football around when we get there?”
Sam squinted. “At the water park?”
Matty shrugged. “Just a thought.”
“Son, do you even own a football?”
Matty lowered his head. “No. It was… just a… thought.”
“We’ll pick one up on the way,” he said with a laugh.
Sam covered his eyes as he moved into the blinding sunlight. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled his cell phone from his bathing suit. “105 degrees” the bold white letters displayed on the home screen. Jesus Christ, he said. Hot enough to melt out here.
“Did you remember to bring sunscreen?” Brenda asked.
“Of course I did,” Sam told her, rolling his eyes.
“Shocking,” she said, curling her lips. “I didn’t have to remind you. But I went ahead and bought some anyway.” She extended a small plastic shopping bag. “Take it. You can never have enough sunscreen.”
Sam glared at his ex-wife. “I’m not as irresponsible as you make me out to be.”
Brenda Gaines opened her mouth to speak, but Bob stepped forward.
“I think what she means is, we know you’ve been a little stressed out—more than usual—especially since that new Waldo-Mart super center opened up across town.”
“Were you even listening to the same conversation, Robert?”
“Don’t be like that, Sammy. I’m just trying to help.”
“Of course you were.”
Brenda opened her mouth to expel another nasty remark, but Dana bounced between them, packed and ready to go.
“Got your lunch, Pumpkin-Bear?” Brenda asked her.
“Yes, Mama-Bear,” she replied, smiling.
Her mother bent over, kissing her forehead. She kissed back.
You’ve got to be kidding me, Sam thought. “C’mon, kids! Matthew! Becky! In the car!”
One by one, the kids walked towards their father’s Jeep, reluctance heavy in each one of their steps. With undeniable arrogance, Brenda placed her hands on her hips. They hate you, her grin said to him. They fucking hate you. Judging from their long faces and annoyed demeanor, Sam considered for a moment that she might be right. Or maybe they had been taught to hate him. He wouldn’t put it past her, her and Bob sitting at the dinner table, speaking ill of him, filling their easily-influenced minds with all sorts of lies and exaggerations. Brenda had a way of turning every disagreement they ever had into something seen in a Lifetime movie. God only knows what she told her children behind closed doors. Just as that thought sailed through his mind, a new one populated. It didn’t matter what she told them. It didn’t matter what shit spewed from her devilish lips, what lies were concocted; none of it mattered because he was their father, and she could never take that away from him.
Pulling into the last shaded parking spot, Sam listened to the girls’ collective moan coming from the backseat. He had been able to tune out their bickering for the extent of the drive, but the overwhelming whining finally broke his patience.
“What’s the problem?” he asked, glaring at them in the rear-view.
“We prefer the beach,” Dana said. “Mom takes us to Barricade Beach in Red River.”
“That’s another twenty minutes out of the way.” Sam looked at the water park in front of them. It was filled with corkscrew water slides, a lazy river, a giant wave pool, and plenty of places to keep cool in the extreme heat. Most importantly, there were families enjoying themselves. “What’s wrong with the Sandcastle Water Park?”
“We haven’t been here since we were kids,” Becky said. “This is where you take your five-year old.” She laughed obnoxiously. “Besides, all the Bennies come here.”
“Stop,” Sam said. “What do you think, Matty?”
Matty glanced up from his textbook, shrugging at the sights of the water park. “We forgot to stop for a football.”
“Shit.” He stared at his son. “Maybe one of the Bennies will let us borrow one.”
Matty ignored his father, returning to his Physics book, a chapter on the complexities of gravitational pull.
Sam turned, facing his children. “Look, I know the three of you would rather be doing anything else than spending time with me, but we’re family too. And your mother and Bob need some time for themselves.”
“So they can fuck?” Becky asked, bursting into laughter.
Matty rolled his eyes.
“Ewww, Becky,” Dana squealed. “God you’re sick!”
Sam closed his eyes, shaking his head. “Did you have to say that in front of your sister?”
Becky, still laughing, shrugged. “It’s not like we don’t hear them every night. Sounds carry in Bob’s mansion.”
“That’s enough, Becky.”
“Grinding on each other.”
“I said enough,” Sam repeated.
Dana pretended to retch.
“The slurping sounds of Mom sucking his—”
The slap filled the car. Sam didn’t even realize what he had done until it was over. Becky gaped at him, mortified. Her eyes bugged from their sockets. Matty pushed his face deep into his book, pretending to have heard and seen nothing. Dana stared at her father, tears taking shape in the corners of her eyes.
“You hit me,” Becky said, gently patting her swollen cheek.
“I’m sorry, Becky,” Sam said sincerely. His hand trembled. His stomach felt hollow. “God, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…” He reached for her, attempting to rub the rosy spot on her cheek.
She slapped his hand away.
“You hit me…” she repeated. “You’ve never hit me.”
“I want to go home,” Dana said, holding back tears.
“Yeah, Dad. I don’t feel so well,” Matty said, peering over the binding of his book. “Maybe we can go to the water park next weekend.”
If there is a next weekend.
Sam nodded. “Okay,” he said, returning to the steering wheel.
Someone screamed from inside the park, a loud shrill cry that was probably heard from blocks away.
That didn’t sound good, Sam thought, staring at his kids in the rear-view, unable to bring himself to start the engine.
A crowd gathered near the ticket booth, facing the massive wave pool. Most of the onlookers turned their hands into visors, gawking at the unfolding scene beyond the mob. Several spectators passed concerned whispers between one another. Others hustled by without stopping for a second glance. Still, the screams continued.
“What’s going on, Dad?” Dana asked.
“I don’t know,” Sam said, his hand on the key, ready to crank the ignition.
“Maybe someone fell off the fifty-foot drop,” Matty said.
Sam’s eyes remained on the crowd that continued building by the minute. “I don’t think that’s the case, Matty.”
“We should go home now,” Dana said, biting her fingernails.
The mood in the car had drastically changed. Sam glanced at Becky in the rear-view mirror. The palm print had already faded into a pink blur. Still, she looked miserable. Pissed. A ticking bomb ready to explode at any moment.
“You kids wait here,” Sam said. “I’m going to check it out.”
“What?” Becky asked. “Why? What’s the point?”
Sam pushed open the Jeep’s door. “Because someone might be hurt, Becky.”
“So? What the hell are you going to do about it?” his oldest asked.
I’m going to get the hell out of this Jeep for one thing, he thought, not wanting to spend another moment trapped with the awkwardness caused by his rash reaction.
“You’re a store manager at Costbusters. Not a doctor.”
“Hey, I went to med school, remember?”
“Hey, that was before I was born, remember? And you only went for two semesters.”
Sam slammed the door shut and jogged over to the crowd. “Three semesters,” he said under his breath. “I went for three semesters.”
He stopped at the outskirts of the congregation. A man with a floppy white hat and black swim trunks whispered something to the woman standing next to him. Sam tapped the guy on the shoulder.
“Excuse me? What’s going on over there?” he asked.
The man turned, arching his eyebrows and shrugging his shoulders. “Can’t really say. We heard screaming coming from the wave pool and no one will let us get anywhere near the thing.”
“Do you think it’s anything serious?”
Again, the man shrugged. “Don’t know. Wouldn’t doubt it. After twenty years of operation, this place should probably be condemned. I heard someone got caught on a rusty nail while going down one of the water slides last year. Tore them wide open.”
“Heard that, too. Also heard it was bullshit.”
The man shrugged, laughing haughtily. “Hey, ya never know.”
Sam nodded, then began making his way through the crowd. Brushing the shoulders of several sweaty people, he found himself apologizing every few seconds. Finally, he stood at the front of the concourse. A young girl with the Sandcastle logo on her tank-top stopped him from going any further.
“Sorry, buddy,” she said, placing her palm on his chest. “Can’t let you in.” She had auburn hair and braces, despite being Becky’s age.
“Is someone hurt?” Sam asked.
She shook her head. “Don’t know anything yet.”
“Please. I’ve had medical training. Maybe I can help?”
She glanced at him suspiciously, smelling his bullshit from miles away. “You an EMT? A doctor?”
“No… not really.”
“Well, then there’s probably nothing you can do. Besides, the paramedics are already on the way.”
Reluctantly, Sam nodded.
He glanced over at the wave pool, where a smaller crowd of people had formed. Some of them were kneeling, attending to the hurt party. Sam examined their faces, which ranged from shocked to downright disgusted. Whatever happened, it was nasty.
Just when Sam was ready to give up and head back to the Jeep, another loud outburst broke out, this time near the lazy river. It was from a grown man, crying as he abandoned his inflatable donut and jumped out of the cool water. Sam looked on with the others. Some of them gasped when they saw what was causing the man to scream. Some screamed themselves. Some placed their hands over their mouths, unable to utter a single sound.
At first, Sam was unsure of what he was seeing. The man’s flesh was boiled red, blackening in patches on his arms and legs. He screamed until his voice gave out. Once he reached the concrete near the concession stand, he dropped to his knees, holding his abdomen. Employees immediately rushed to his rescue, but backed away once they got close. A woman and her son at a nearby table did the same, leaving their lunch behind as they fled.
“Why aren’t they helping that guy?” someone in the crowd asked.
Sam wondered the same thing.
The girl with auburn hair assured the crowd that there were lifeguards on duty, and that they were trained to handle any and all situations that may arise. He thought about rushing past the teenager, running over to the man clearly needing medical attention, and seeing if there was anything he could do. There was nothing she could’ve done to stop him. He pushed forward when more cries came from the other end of the water park, closer to where Sam was standing, near the kiddie pool. Everyone snapped their heads in the direction of the frantic noise. A few onlookers slowly backed away, revealing a woman standing alone in the shallow water.
“Oh my God!” she yelled. “Oh my God! Someone help me!”
She dropped to her knees, splashing water on her arms and face. Sam couldn’t tell if his eyes were playing tricks on him, but he swore he saw smoke rising from her flesh. A second later, flames began dancing on her arms, and Sam’s heart skipped.
The crowd behind him collectively scattered.
The woman’s face distorted as her flesh leaked down her cheeks. Surrounded in flames, her skin turned the color of recently spilled blood before caramelizing into tough, black blots. In the matter of minutes, her charred corpse collapsed into the water, steam wafting from her cooling bones.
People panicked. A woman standing next to Sam barfed into her hand. A few others looked away in disgust. He glanced toward the man who had jumped out of the lazy river. His body had ignited, becoming completely engulfed in flames.
Screams surrounded him. Something crashed into his shoulder. He turned to see a man wildly thrashing his arms as if he were at a heavy metal concert. Flames incinerated the flesh on his arms and legs. Quickly, he became a giant fireball, running in no particular direction. His screams died as the fire swallowed his skin.
People started running frantically, colliding into one another, knocking each other to the ground. Some were trampled immediately, and no one stopped to help them. Screams multiplied with each passing second. Sam watched a man burst into flames, his eyes exploding from their sockets, popping like over-stuffed pimples.
Auburn-Hair grabbed Sam by the back of his shirt, dragging him into the ticket booth, where a few others hid.
“What the fuck is happening?” a young woman asked. She had her nose pierced along with a few visible, colorless tattoos.
“Terrorism,” uttered the burly tattooed man next to her. “Has to be. Chemical warfare. No other explanation for this shit.”
“I don’t feel different,” Sam said. He watched a woman pushing a stroller explode into flames, like the feathers of a phoenix.
“What do you mean?” the man asked.
“How come we’re not on fire?”
The four of them looked around. Everyone outside of the booth was engulfed in flames, or already reduced to ash.
“I… I don’t know.”
Sam stuck his hand outside of the booth, where shade and sunlight drew a fine line. He felt a hand collapse on his shoulder.
“Don’t do that, man,” Auburn-Hair said.
He ignored her. His fingers neared the barrier. As soon as his hand left the safety of the shadow, he felt it. Something beneath his flesh swam. Burned. Like he had stuck his fingers inside a roaring fireplace. He retracted them immediately.
“Does it hurt?” the tattooed chick asked.
“Yeah,” he said, rubbing his sweaty fingers together. “Like you wouldn’t believe.”
“What the hell is going on out there, man?” the biker-looking dude asked.
“It must be the sun,” Sam said.
“What else could it be?”
“Bullshit. The sun can’t cause people to catch fire.”
“Yes it can,” Auburn-Hair said. “I saw a History Channel special about it. It’s called a solar flare or something.”
The burly biker laughed. “A solar flare would wipe the whole fucking planet out, kid. Nuh-huh. This is terrorism.”
“It doesn’t make a difference what it is,” Sam said. “We can’t hide in here forever.”
“Damn right,” the biker said. “I’m making a run for it.”
“Gerry, no,” the tattooed chick said. “You’ll end up like everyone else.”
People fled from the water park, into the parking lot. Most of them never reached their cars.
“Fuck that! Running is our best option, babe.”
Gerry’s girlfriend didn’t argue any longer. She put her hand on his shoulder, her eyes pleading. Gerry shook his head, brushing her hand away.
“I can make it,” Gerry said.
She shook her head. “No, you won’t.”
“Goddammit, Jenny. Are you coming with me or not?”
Jenny started crying. Behind her, a man started climbing into the ticket booth through an open window. Half of his face had burned away, his scalp raw and oozing puss. The man hollered, begging for help. Jenny screamed when she caught a glimpse of the disfigured man. The tender skin on his chest was bleeding badly. The glasses on his face had been melted to the skin around his eyes. His lips twitched and clear fluids poured from the small opening that was once his mouth. An agonizing groan escaped his lips as he fell onto the booth’s floor. The man’s skin seemed to liquefy on contact. Flesh-colored splatter caked the laminated tile.
“I’m getting the fuck outta here!” Gerry screamed, watching the dying man crawl around in his own slop. Steam rose from his decaying body. The man looked like chewed food moments before the swallow.
Before Jenny could protest, Gerry hightailed it from the booth. He got halfway into the parking lot before he started screaming. Swatting his arms in the air like he was being attacked by a horde of hungry mosquitoes, he dropped to his knees. Within seconds, flames baked his flesh, forcing the man to sizzle on the blacktop like an egg. He withered to ash right before Jenny’s tear-drenched eyes. Mindlessly, she took off after him. Sam grabbed her wrist, dragging her back under the safety of the ticket booth’s shadow.
“Don’t. It’s too late,” Sam said.
“We have to get out of here,” Auburn-Hair said.
“Agreed. But if we step one foot out there, we’re dead.” Chaos ensued around them. People ran, screaming frantically, while their flesh sizzled and bubbled before their very eyes.
Sam looked to the parking lot, wondering if the kids were safe. He couldn’t make out his Jeep in the sea of vehicles.
“What do we do?” Auburn-Hair asked.
He looked around, surveying the madness. People fell to their knees, remaining there until the flames torched them completely. The woman who had been pushing her baby was now a blackened clump of flesh and bone. The fire that consumed her continued to rage. The stroller had fallen on its side. A wad of burnt gristle lay inside, resembling no baby Sam had ever seen. Next to the stroller, lay half a dozen beach towels.
Sam pointed ahead with his chin. “Maybe we can throw those over us. Maybe they’ll protect us.”
“Maybe they won’t,” Jenny whispered, her eyes fixed on Gerry’s ashy remains.
“What other choice do we have?”
“We could stay here until it’s over.” Jenny faced him. “Wait it out.”
“Wait it out?” Sam asked. “Look, this isn’t a passing shower. Without water, we won’t last a few days in this heat.”
“Maybe it will only be a few hours,” Jenny said, still trying to convince herself.
“Maybe it’s forever,” Auburn-Hair suggested.
“Look, I have three kids waiting for me in my Jeep. I don’t even know…” He stopped, a lump rising in his throat. “I don’t even know if they’re okay.”
Jenny said nothing. Auburn-Hair’s lips trembled.
“I’m going with you,” Auburn-Hair said.
Sam nodded. “Last chance,” he told Jenny.
The tattooed woman started crying, sinking to her knees.
If you’re digging what you just read as much as I am, you should probably head over to Amazon and pick up the first installment… it’s free!