The dream never changes: a moonless, starless night without end. The road she walks is black, bordered with round, white pebbles or nubs of polished bone; she can’t tell which but they’re the only white in the darkness, marking her way through the night.
In dreams and nightmares, Helen walks the Black Road. It leads her back from the grave, back from madness, back towards the man who caused the deaths of her family: Tereus Winterborn, Regional Commander for the Reapers, who rule the ruins of a devastated Britain.
On her journey, she gathers her allies: her old mentor Darrow, the cocky young fighter Danny, emotionally-scarred intelligence officer Alannah and Gevaudan Shoal, last of the genetically-engineered Grendelwolves.
Winterborn will stop at nothing to become the Reapers’ Supreme Commander; more than anything he seeks the advantage that will help him achieve that goal. And in the experiments of the obsessed scientist Dr Mordake, he thinks he has found it.
To Winterborn, Project Tindalos is a means to ultimate power; to Mordake, it’s a means to roll back the devastation of the War and restore his beloved wife to the living. But neither Winterborn nor Mordake understand the true nature of the forces they are about to unleash. Forces that threaten to destroy everything that survived the War, unless Helen and her allies can find and stop Project Tindalos in time.
Extract: Hell’s Ditch by Simon Bestwick
No sound. Somehow that’s the worst part of it: the silence.
She can’t even hear her footsteps click on the Black Road’s cobbles. Normally, when she finds herself walking of nights, when she sleeps, that sound’s the one bit of company she has. Now even that’s gone.
Colour begins bleeding into the night. Or at least grey does. It fills up the space on either side of the road, then covers the road itself. She feels it, soft and cushioning, underfoot.
The sky lightens. The sky, too, is ash. Somewhere beyond it there might be a sun, but it’s no more than a rumour of light. In the distance, the City, or what’s left of it. It’s only recognisable because it breaks the horizon in the right spot.
She stops and looks about. All is ashes. Here and there, the crumbling remains of a tree, a body, a gun stick clear of the dead grey carpet. Then she sees motion. Things crawling. They’re people, she realises. Or they were. It’s hard to be sure what they are now. The ash coats them – their clothes, their skin. And many of them are incomplete, missing fingers, hands or entire limbs, sections of faces stripped away. She can’t tell where their flesh ends and the dust begins, especially as they crawl in it, flounder in it, sink into it, some vanishing from sight to never rise again. Their faces – their faces are wads of ash and dust, with black gaping holes for mouths and eyes.
And the worst thing, the worst, worst thing, is the absence of sound. When those faces lift and gape wider to howl their prayers and agony to the uncaring, dying sky, she sees chests and shoulders heave as they try to scream. But there’s nothing. One figure kneels and screams and screams as its hands dissolve into streams of ash, waving the diminishing stumps of its arms about as if to extinguish the invisible fires devouring it. But there’s no sound. It tries to rise, trips and falls into the ash. A grey cloud billows up. When it settles, the figure has broken apart like a toppled statue, its fragments either crumbling into or being swallowed up by the soft blanket that is the end of everything. A couple of the pieces are still moving.
Darkness falling, over her and them; an end to this at last? But no, in the distance the sky is still grimily pale. And this darkness has its edge, its contours. A shape. It’s the shadow of something vast and alive.
Slowly she turns and stares upwards. She doesn’t want to, but, as is common in dreams, she can’t stop herself. She looks up and sees something vast and hunched and black blotting out the sky, sees its huge head turn and tilt downwards, feels whatever serves it for eyes come to bear on her.
She wants to wake up. She wants to wake up. But she’s still there, staring up at it from the plain of ash as the black shape leans down towards her, a scream building in her throat she knows will go unheard.
And then there’s one sound. Just one. The hiss of a wind through stone; the great shape’s whisper of its name:
Simon Bestwick is the author of Tide Of Souls, The Faceless and Black Mountain. His short fiction has appeared in Black Static and Best Horror Of The Year, and been collected in A Hazy Shade Of Winter, Pictures Of The Dark, Let’s Drink To The Dead and The Condemned.
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Simon-Bestwick/373730462654091