Updated: Jan 12, 2021
If you haven't read GHOSTLAND, you might not want to read any further. This excerpt is loaded with spoilers. If you have read GHOSTLAND, this should be a nice refresher for when the book comes out on December 9th, 2020! Preorder set at 99 cents: grab it here.
THE TERMINAL MAN
April 20th, 2019
Game over, he thought. The entire park was in full meltdown, and the brats had just escaped with that psychiatrist. Now he was broken and probably dying, his glasses cracked, trapped in the control room with that insane, frenzied thing they'd called Alpha in the lab, but the kids had called the Swarm. It had already murdered Ms. Amblin, pinning her against the monitor wall like a heretic nailed to a cross. Any second now it would be coming for him.
The voice boomed over the blare of the alarm and the chaotic sounds of destruction, driving a spike of terror into Harrison's heart. It was his voice. He was here in the control room, among the dead and the dying. He was here. Was it even possible, after everything that had just happened? How could anyone have survived?
Of course, it's possible, he thought. All those long nights I spent coding made it possible. This… all of this… it's as much my fault as it is His.
"HARR-I-SONNNNNN," the voice said again. His voice.
Harrison Greely raised his head, the pain in his neck and lower back and broken nose causing stars to shoot across his vision. The emergency lighting flashed in the cracked, dandruff-flecked lenses of his glasses. He took them off and wiped them on his shirt, streaking them with blood that had spilled from his nostrils. He settled the glasses back on the bridge of his nose and blinked into the erratic light.
Hiding somewhere in the front row, Nia Earwood—with her dull pink hair and fake-vintage Pokémon T-shirt—let out a prolonged, high-pitched scream. Was she still at her terminal? God, it'd be just like her to die at her computer, Harrison thought. Not that he was any different, he supposed.
He raised himself onto an elbow, feeling weak, every muscle like wet spaghetti. All he wanted was to lie back down and sleep for a week, even if it cost him his life.
"GET UP, HARRISON." Mr. Garrote's voice boomed over the comm system speakers. "GET. UP. YOUR WORK HERE ISN'T FINISHED JUST YET."
The programmer rolled over onto his butt, managing to prop himself up on shaky arms.
"There you are," the writer said, lowering his voice. "Welcome back to the land of the not-quite-living."
The control room looked like an explosion in an office supply store: a mess of broken computers, loose paper and pens, a shoe with a foot still in it—God, that's Bishop's Reebok, isn't it?—torn off above the ankle, keyboards and ergonomic LED mouses, desk toys and orthopedic office chairs.
Sara Jane Amblin herself lay sprawled on the floor in front of the monitors. The entity that had murdered her—Alpha, the Swarm—still hovered over her remains, twisting itself back and forth as if examining her, looking for signs of further life to drain.
Above them, Garrote's massive face was displayed in mosaic over the entire wall of monitors, missing only the screens blacked out and cracked by the impact of Ms. Amblin's body. He looked like a religious maniac who'd painted his face with a giant black crucifix from forehead to lips, the paint chipped and cracked. His dark grin filled the second row from the bottom.
"Hello again, Harry. Did you miss me?"
The writer bellowed laughter. Everything was a big fat joke to Mr. Garrote. He was probably having a blast, laughing it up in that fish tank of his in the labyrinth of servers beneath his creepy old house.
"You crazy boomer asshole!" Nia cried, peering up at Garrote from the front row of computer terminals with cold accusation in her eyes.
Alpha Entity darted toward Nia at the sound of her voice, writhing and pulsating, leaving Ms. Amblin's remains behind. Nia leaped to her feet and ran, tripped over a desk chair and sprawled across the aisle. Panting, she rolled over and screamed one final time as the Swarm—as Alpha—descended upon her.
Harrison closed his eyes. He didn't like Nia. He didn't like any of his former coworkers, but having seen the Alpha suck the life out of Ms. Amblin made him realize he didn't dislike any of these people enough to delight in watching them die.
Her scream ended abruptly, almost as if Garrote had pressed Stop on a Hallowe'en horror sounds tape.
"That's better now, isn't it?" the man himself said, his dark grin widening into a smile. "We can hear ourselves think."
Harrison opened his eyes again, cautiously. The Swarm hovered between himself and Nia's dead body, convulsing like an unstable element, a dark mass of dead energy hungry for the life pumping through his veins.
For a moment he wondered if the featureless faces swirling within the cloud were scrutinizing him, sizing him up, the way they seemed to have studied Ms. Amblin's corpse only moments ago. He had no doubt Garrote would let it do the same to him if he didn't follow the man's orders to the letter.
"I did what you asked! You promised you'd let me live!"
"And so I shall," the face spread across the monitor wall said. "But we have much to do before nightfall, Harry. There's still the little problem of getting me out of here and that, unfortunately, will require some assistance. The children who just left—can you keep track of them?"
Harrison nodded. "As long as their headsets are on, they should be easy to ping. If not, we'll have to use facial recognition from the security cameras—" He frowned. "You know, this would be a lot simpler if you didn't kill everyone who could have actually helped me!"
"I'm helping you, Harry. The rest of the team were an impedance to our Great Work. We'd have to explain how we got from there to here, and you know I find backstory oh so tedious."
Harrison bit his tongue.
"Find the children, Harry. I want you to keep an eye on them. Don't do them any favors, though. When they survive, I want it to be by the skin of their teeth. It can't be made easy for them. Life isn't easy. Nor should death be."
"Okay," Harrison said. "But why them? Why not someone stronger? More capable?"
The smile stretched across the screens grew wistful. "Because the boy was my Number-One Fan, once. I believe he'll do what needs to be done without even being aware I've been pulling his strings. And the girl has moxie in spades. She reminds me of myself, in my youth."
Whatever "moxie" was Harrison didn't think he'd seen it. She'd seemed like a typical stuck-up teenaged girl to him. A spoiled princess.
"But I could do it so much easier," he said. "I know the tunnel system, the server grid, the hatch code…. I could be with you in less than an hour, depending on—"
"Tut, tut, Harry, my boy. You're far too delicate. My park would eat you alive. You'll be safe in here, as promised. And I need you at your terminal. I'll have my hands full with all of my new toys."
That smile again, as wide and deadly as a California fault line.
"Oh, there's a man here today by the name of Alex Fischer. The twisted little freak is lingering around the Transportation building, by the mobile home exhibit. I suspected he wouldn't be able to stay away and indeed, I was right. I want him, Harry. I'll send his image to your terminal."
"What's so special about this guy?" Harrison asked, burning with jealousy. First the kids and now this Fischer guy. It was almost like Mr. Garrote didn't think of him as a partner at all.
"Nothing much," the writer said offhandedly. "I simply despise loose ends. Get busy now, my diligent little beaver."
Harrison pushed himself shakily to his feet.
As if attracted by his movement, the Alpha darted toward him, as swift and menacing as a school of hammerhead sharks.
Feebly, Harrison threw a hand up in front of his face to protect himself, as ineffectual as tissue paper held in the path of a heat-seeking missile. He let out a frightened little scream and squeezed his eyes shut, waiting for the cloud of death to squeegee the life out of him.
Mr. Garrote giggled.
Harrison lowered his arm and opened his eyes.
The Alpha floated inches from his face, so close he could reach out and touch it if he temporarily lost his grip on sanity. A reckless part of him wondered what it would feel like. If it would be an agony in every pore and nerve ending in his body or an icy numbness lulling him sweetly into oblivion. Of all the ghosts in the park Mr. Garrote could have sent to kill everyone in the control room, the fact that he'd chosen these faceless assassins, the Alphas to His Omega, spoke volumes.
"Oh, be a dear and let my pets out, would you, Harry?" Garrote said. "They're quite hungry."
Harrison did. Gladly.
I hope you dug this little snippet from Afterlife: Ghostland 2.0! I definitely feel like it's a wild ride - though it's a very different beast from the first book. You can preorder it now for just 99 cents - price goes up on day of sale - and if you haven't read the first book yet, grab it here.
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