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Excerpt: Fallout by Wil Mara

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Silver Lake, Pennsylvania, is hit by a monster storm. When a massive lightning strike hits one of the nuclear reactors that provides power to Silver Lake and much of the state, essential components fail. Explosions and containment breaches follow. Radiation pours into the storm-wracked air.

Preparing for a storm was one thing, but all the duct tape, plastic tarps, and particle board in the world won’t protect the townspeople from the fallout. Sarah Redmond, acting mayor of Silver Lake, and her husband, an EMT, find themselves battling the storm and nuclear disaster simultaneously: flash floods and evacuations, downed trees and radiation sickness.

Staff at the power plant scramble to determine the extent of the damage and stop the leaks. Everything’s being streamed onto the internet by Marla Hollis, a local journalist who happened to be in the right place at the wrong time. Trapped at the plant, she’s determined to get the story out at any cost.

Nuclear disaster, not in far-off Chernobyl or Fukushima, but on American soil. How much of Pennsylvania will become a radioactive nightmare for generations to come?

Fallout will be available on April 25th. Please enjoy this excerpt.

Prologue

A tiny guardhouse stood off to the side where the gravelly, hard-packed road was bisected by a chain-link fence and sliding gate. The road was framed by wild overgrowth and the guardhouse was similarly untended; the glass-and-aluminum structure, scratched and dented and just slightly askew, resembling an old phone booth—the kind with a folding door. The man sitting on the worn chair inside was old enough to remember using that kind of booth, but the last one he’d seen was in a museum in San Francisco, when he’d visited there in the summer of 2043.

About halfway up the guardhouse’s front window, an iPad was attached to the glass by a single strip of adhesive capable of securing more than three hundred pounds to any surface, yet could be removed without so much as a scratch or a blemish. As a veteran of the security business, Al Snyder had insisted on being given some kind of entertainment device to help him while away the long hours. When his boss scoffed at this request, Snyder grumbled something about a brother-in-law who happened to be a lawyer. The boss didn’t know if he was being truthful or not but decided it wasn’t worth the risk or the bother. New iPads were cheap now—an impulse purchase in the checkout line—and the satellite connection was free. If it only cost a few bucks to shut the guy up, it was worth it.

Removing the lid from his coffee, Snyder sipped as he watched the Yankees blow another game. It was a replay of the previous night’s matchup, which he had been too tired to watch. The Yanks’ lead had been thin in the first place and had slipped away as soon as the middle relievers came out. Some things never changed. The guard yearned for the days of Jeter and Pettitte, Williams, and Rivera. But that was all ancient history now. Even Jeter’s son had come and gone, a phenomenal talent like his father but trapped on a ship of fools. The Yankees had reached the playoffs just once in the 2030s, and had been hammered by Cleveland in the first round.

When they stranded two runners to end the eighth, the guard cursed at the screen, then told the iPad to change to ESPN when a commercial came on. There was a commercial on the new channel, too, and he cursed again.

A vehicle appeared in the distance, a cloud of dust billowing up behind it.

“Who the hell is this now?” he mumbled.

He’d held his current post for almost eight years and had seen exactly three vehicles approach the gate in all that time—until a few weeks ago, that is. Since then, the average had leaped to five or six a day. They were government rigs, military mostly, but also some agency sedans. And then, very recently, everyday people in everyday vehicles. He didn’t know what was going on because no one told him anything. Something in the equation was clearly changing, and he couldn’t shake the feeling he might not be pulling a paycheck much longer.

When the approaching vehicle was close enough, he saw that it was a black limousine. This had to be the one he’d gotten the call about late yesterday afternoon.

You’re going to have a special visitor tomorrow, arriving in a limo. Let them through, no questions asked.

When he inquired as to the special visitor’s identity, his boss blew him off. Since then, he’d been in a foul mood. He didn’t like visitors in his little corner of the universe, and the sudden increase in the volume of traffic after so many years of blissful isolation had kept him on edge for weeks now. At least he’d gotten to enjoy the power rush that came with making government personnel defer to him, if only for a few moments while he reviewed their paperwork and confirmed their appointments. But this here—Let them through, no questions asked—this didn’t sit well at all.

Snyder turned back to the iPad. “What time is it?”

A dark moiré pattern overrode a commercial for American Airlines, and the time appeared in giant numbers—10:00:14 A.M. His highfalutin visitors were right on schedule.

“Thanks,” he said, and the time vanished.

He didn’t tuck in his striped uniform shirt on any other day, and he wasn’t going to now. Stepping out of the booth, he defied orders and held a hand high, bringing the limo squealing to a halt. He did his best to appear indifferent while giving the car a good lookover. All the glass save for the windshield was smoked dark, denying him any glimpse of his guest and doubling his determination to be obstinate. Maybe he’d have no choice but to let them pass in the end, but for now he still had the key to the gate.

The driver’s door opened and a man got out. His tie was pulled loose and he wore no jacket or livery cap.

“Please open the gate if you wouldn’t mind,” he said evenly, demonstrating neither respect nor contempt. “We’ve got a schedule.”

Snyder retrieved a tablet from his booth, this one so beat up it looked as though it’d been kicked around by a bunch of kids. Taking the stylus from its clip, he said, “I need to know who’s coming through.”

“You’ve been contacted about that. Please, we’re running a little behind because of all the traffic at the last checkpoint. The media is everywhere, as I’m sure I don’t have to tell you.”

Again the driver’s tone was altogether professional, making it difficult for Snyder to estimate how far he could push.

“You know this area has been quarantined for over thirty years, right?” he asked.

“Yes, we know,”

“Okay, so I can’t just—”

A door opened on the far side of the car and its lone passenger stepped out, a fiftyish woman dressed in a black pantsuit. She was strikingly attractive and had the general air of one who lived better than most. As soon the guard saw her face, his mouth fell open.

“Is that—?”

“Excuse me for a moment,” the driver said, putting up a finger as he started toward the woman. “Ma’am, are you okay?”

“Yes, thank you, I’m fine.”

She walked to the gate and stopped, her gaze fixed on what lay beyond. The gravel road rose gently to the horizon, the overgrowth thickening to include a few scant oaks and maples. About a hundred yards along, concrete barriers shaped like giant jumping jacks had been dragged aside. Beyond them, the hard-packed gravel became macadam, mostly broken and potholed. The weedy earth had made some progress moving inward as it attempted to reclaim its territory.

The woman barely noticed any of this; her mind was rapidly filling with the memories she had struggled for years to suppress. The relentless wail of the ambulances . . . the beating pulse of the helicopters . . . the screaming cries of both children and adults. She could still see it all in her mind so clearly. A mother running clumsily down a road with a baby under her arm, the headlights of a military transport bouncing behind her. A middle-aged couple taking turns carrying their unconscious eight-year-old son. Two men whose cars had collided because neither would give the other the right of way having a fistfight in the street as their families watched in horror.

The call to return to this place came two weeks ago—a call she hoped would either come sooner than later, or never at all. She had imagined it so many times, lived through it in a thousand dreams and nightmares.

“Ma’am?” the driver asked, moving closer. “We should go or we’re going to be late.”

She nodded. “I know.”

She turned back to the car. The guard hustled to the gate and pulled the keys out of his pocket. The lock was undone, the chain removed, and the gate rolled aside.

The woman got back into the limousine without another word. Then she closed her eyes and breathed deep.

Copyright © 2017 by Wil Mara

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