By Donna Burgess
On the eve of winter Solstice, a massive flash envelopes the Earth and then there is nothing. The sun no longer shines and civilization is plunged into unending darkness. Those exposed to the mysterious flash have changed—they have become bloodthirsty, cunning, and determined to devour anyone who is not infected. They are Ragers.
In Sweden, a group of uneasy travelers hears a broken broadcast. There is hope. Something called Sanctuary waits, but it is thousands of miles away, somewhere on the shores of the British Isles.
Meanwhile, in a London supermarket, a high school English teacher from the States finds himself stranded along with a handful of students on a senior trip. Outside, hoards of hungry Ragers await, ready to tear them limb from limb. Their only hope is to find Sanctuary.
Solstice is a tale of hope, terror, survival, and finding love at the end of the World.
Tana was disoriented by the complete darkness. It was impossible to decide what time it was—what time it reallywas. She loved the sunrise, so where the hell was it? She was a true sun worshipper, often dragging her boys out into the rays despite their protests about leaving their precious video games. At times, she found even heavy cloud cover jarring. She found the current darkness went well beyond jarring and right into bloody creepy. With no clouds in the sky, stars twinkled like fairy dust.
The similarities to any kind of fairy tale ended there. The world had become mad, and there she was, a single woman alone with two kids, trudging down the street in the freezing cold. She had deadlines to meet. The lack of sun and an ill child would not get her out of meeting those deadlines. How would she pay the lease? How would she put food on the table?
The lack of light was an annoyance, at most. It was an eclipse, perhaps. She never paid attention to the news networks. In a while, things would settle back into their normal routine. Aiden had a touch of flu and would have to stay home from school. He was given to serious bouts of flu a couple of times a year.
She would buy a few extra days. Self-employed web designers often begged for time. Well, the poor ones did, anyway. She wasn’t quite poor, at least not yet.
What she wasn’t used to was the inability to get through on her cell phone. She’d tried the pediatrician several times, but each call was answered with the dull beep beep of a dead signal. She wanted to sit down and rest, but the few people who were out acted funny, running back and forth, huffing and grunting. Stopping might draw attention from one of those crazies.
Aidan was small for a six-year-old, but at the moment, he was as heavy as lead. Her bedroom-slippered feet padded along the litter-strewn sidewalks, robe billowing behind her like a cape. Three steps behind, ten-year-old Davis trotted along, dressed in his Chuckie-T sneakers, Spider Man pajamas, and heavy coat.
The lack of electricity was a bigger issue than the lack of sunrise. The apartment would be freezing when they returned. Luckily, the stove was gas, so they could eat, and she could have her coffee. Even the streetlamps were out. The sidewalks were gloomy, and it was beginning to sleet. She wished for some traffic. Headlights to cut the heavy darkness would be a small comfort.
She wasn’t sure what had happened. She’d dozed on the sofa in front of a recorded episode of Being Human and was happily dreaming of becoming Mitchell’s next victim when Davis awakened her. He stood over her with his Luke Skywalker light saber. The pale blue light brightened his small face like an Avatar alien.
“Aiden’s sick, Mummy.”
She sprang to a sitting position. “Sick? Is he throwing up?”
“No. He’s breathing weird. It woke me up. When I looked at him, he looked… scary.”
“Scary?” Tana’s mouth felt dry. “Were you holding that thing? The blue light makes everything look scary.”
“Just come on, Mum.” Davis took her hand and pulled her from the sofa, down the hallway and toward their bedroom, the light saber a beacon in the shadowy apartment.
Aidan looked worse than scary. A weird burn-like rash ran along the side of his face. Fat, shiny blisters were already forming on his check. Tana touched his forehead and found it alarmingly chilled. He wouldn’t respond when she tried to rouse him. Increasingly panicked, she dialed the family doctor. Nothing. Next, she tried emergency. More nothing.
Her Fiat was in the shop, where it stayed more often than not. There was nothing else to do but take to the street and hope to catch a cab or a bus.
She considered a blackout of the city. How terrible would it be? The looting. The crime. It would be chaos. They’d be safer locked away inside the apartment, but with a sick kid, waiting was not an option.
Outside wasn’t what she expected. There was no chaos, no looting, no raping. There was just… nothing. The feeling of complete aloneness was more chilling than the sleet and the gloom. The crunch of the ice beneath their steps and the clicking of sleet hitting the unmoving cars and the sidewalk were the only sounds aside from the wind and their increasingly labored breathing. Tana’s lips and cheeks became numb, and her teeth chattered.
“Are you okay, Davis?” she asked.
“Me, too, baby. Just keep going. We’ll be there soon.”
Someone screamed, and she flinched, nearly dropping Aiden. A teenaged boy dashed past, sobbing. He wove between a pair of stalled cars, then glanced back at Tana, his eyes wide with horror.
“Hide,” he hissed. Then he was gone.
Tana grabbed Davis’s shoulder and pressed him back against a wall, attempting to vanish into the shadows.
Next, a burly man lumbered into view, wearing a wife beater shirt and dirty, ill-fitting undershorts. No shoes. His big stomach swayed, peeking from beneath the shirt. Drool hung from his parted lips, frozen in mid-drip.
Once the man passed their hiding place, Tana stepped from the shadows and removed the blanket from Aiden’s face. Her stomach tightened. She wanted to cry or to call out for help, but what the hell good would it do?
“Aiden?” She kissed his icy forehead. “Hang in there. Mummy’s going to get help.”
She thought she heard a soft groan. Thank the angels above! He’s wasn’t gone, at least not yet.
“Mummy?” he whispered.
“Yes. Mummy has you.”
Aiden’s eyes slid open, but something was very wrong. His irises were nearly white, the same color as his pallid face. The hollows beneath his eyes were so dark they appeared like deep bruises on his smooth, baby-round face.
Then Aiden, her sweet baby, dropped his head back until his chin pointed to the sky, and he howled. He writhed in her arms until her hold on him loosened, and he slithered to the sidewalk. Davis stepped forward, took her hand, and pressed against her side, trembling. Together, they watched as the boy struggled to free himself from the tangles of the woolen blanket.
Once loose, he stood and glowered at her. He screamed again, and Davis screamed with him.
“Hush, babies. Shh,” Tana cried.
Aiden lunged, spittle spraying from his lips. He bared his teeth and screeched again, shrill and horrifying. Tana stepped backward, pulling her oldest child with her. “Aiden. Calm down, baby!”
Behind the mad child, a slumping figure approached. As the spindly shape drew nearer, Tana realized it was only an elderly man. Dressed in what would have normally been a smart gray suit and tie, he was covered in splattered blood.
“Run, woman! They’re monsters, now!”
Aiden spun, and in a flash, he sprang and was on the stranger. Blood flew, inky in the darkness as Aiden ripped out the man’s throat.
Tana watched for a moment, frozen with shock. Then, she came to her senses, realizing she had to get her other child to safety.
“C’mon. Quickly!” She gripped Davis’s small, cold hand and fled down the street. She didn’t dare look back. The gruesome sounds told her more than she would ever have wanted to know.
A review for Solstice will be posted next week. I must admit that I'm truly excited to read this one. I can never get enough of post-apocalyptic stories.
A Snippet About our Spotlighted Author
Donna Burgess lives with her husband, daughter, son, many cats and one goofy Golden Retriever in Pawleys Island, South Carolina. When she is not writing, she can be found on her longboard, behind a good book or on the soccer field. She is the president of E-Volve Books. She holds a B.A. in English and a B.A. in Journalism and is currently pursuing her M.F.A. in Creative Writing.