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Excerpt Reveal: Five Years After by William R. Forstchen

Five Years AfterFrom William R. Forstchen, the New York Times bestselling author of the One Second After series, comes Five Years After, a near-future thriller where John Matherson must contend with new threats to the fragile civilization that he helped rebuild.

Five years after The Final Day, the Republic of New America has all but collapsed into regional powers and the world at large is struggling to remain stable as regional conflicts ravage the post EMP landscape. After several years attempting to lead a quiet life, John Matherson receives the news that the President is dying from a possible assassination attempt, and is asked to step in to negotiate with what appears to be a new military power hidden in the wreckage of the world.

Pulled back into the fray, John struggles to hold the tottering Republic together. Facing threats on multiple fronts, he races against time to stop another EMP attack on the former United States and China, putting years of progress at risk. With so much of his work under threat, John must find the strength within to start over, so that he can save the country and the people that he holds dear from even greater calamity.

Five Year After will be available on August 22nd, 2023. Please enjoy the following excerpt!


CHAPTER ONE

For the moment John Matherson felt at peace.

He looked over at his wife, Makala, and their one-year-old daughter Genevieve, nestled up between them, asleep in her father’s arms. Makala glanced over at him and their sleepy child and silently mouthed I love you. And his world felt complete.

The spring graduation concert was nearly finished. In a moment he’d have to stand up and deliver a closing benediction as president of Montreat College. Tori Gasper, a graduating senior, came up to the front of the gathering and all fell silent. Besides being the valedictorian, Tori was beloved for her gently pitched soprano voice. She nodded to the pianist accompanying her, and began.

“Try to remember the kind of September . . .”

No matter how many hundreds of times he heard that song, it always hit hard. It was, he felt, the anthem for the world they now lived in, for all that they had lost in this tragic world in the years after what everyone now called “the Day.” As always, the opening line triggered a deep, warm memory.

It was five years ago, on that fateful day, that he had met Makala. In those first hours after the EMP attack, he was not yet sure what had happened, and with his mother-in-law, known as Grandma Jen, and Jennifer, John’s daughter with his first wife, he decided to drive into the town of Black Mountain to see what was going on in the village. But his car wouldn’t work, though Grandma Jen’s old Ford Edsel started right up, which was one of the first clues that whatever had happened was beyond a mere local power failure.

Nothing was moving on the interstate, every car stalled; more of a warning to John of what would prove to be true, that it was an EMP that had shut things down. It was there that Makala, standing beside her stalled BMW, had asked for help.

John had sensed danger, however; that more than a few who would approach him for help might also very well take his car— with daughter and mother-in-law inside—so he refused and sped off, leaving Makala behind.

They would later laugh that this first encounter was a hell of an introduction and the next morning he was quick to offer an apology for leaving her stranded.

Makala was now one of the most trusted and loved citizens of Black Mountain. As the nurse in charge of a cardiac surgical unit down in Charlotte, she was an invaluable asset, helping with the refugees and citizens who within days were overloading the town’s medical facilities.

It would be Makala who was at John’s bedside for days when a simple cut on his hand turned deadly with septicemia, and saved his life. But more important to John than what she did for him was the way she became part of his daughter Jennifer’s life as well. Jennifer was a type 1 diabetic in a post-EMP world where, beyond the insulin he’d managed to get on that first day of chaos, no more life-saving medication would follow. As the months painfully dragged out, and the supply of insulin that John had stockpiled for his diabetic daughter began to fail for lack of refrigeration, it was Makala who was by her side as well until the last tragic day of his daughter’s life.

 

There was a day when Makala had accompanied John to his college to see how things were faring. Standing together in the campus chapel, they listened as a student, who would later die fighting to defend the town, had practiced that song and it was on that day John realized he was falling in love with Makala.

Tori continued to sing The Fantasticks classic.

John stirred from his musings. He looked over at her. She smiled wistfully, for of course she knew what he was remembering, the song always triggered his memories. Sliding closer, she took the stillsleeping Genevieve onto her shoulder, then reached out and took John’s hand and squeezed it.

Her eyes were bright with tears, one of them coursing down her cheek.

“What is it?” he whispered.

“I don’t want you to go. I want you safe here.”

“I know” was all he could manage to say.

Tomorrow he would leave, not sure how many weeks or months he’d be gone. Maybe forever.

In the morning he would travel to Raven Rock, the underground citadel near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, that was now the seat of a government. Or at least an attempt at creating a government.

He was the vice president. But vice president of what? A real government, a shadow government, or just a chimerical dream of Bob Scales? In any case, he, somewhat against his better judgment, had accepted a position and title based on what was called an “electoral vote,” voted on by less than a hundred men and women in the shattered remnant of what once had been the original thirteen states of a new republic called the United States of America.

It was impossible to actually bring the twenty-six senators together when most road travel was problematic at best, and in more than a few cases near suicidal. A few had tried to come to Raven Rock but were never heard from again. Two women senators from Rhode Island who tried to make the journey, complete with a fourman armed escort, were found crucified on an interstate just outside of New York City with signs on their crosses declaring they had not repented to the new Messiah. Whatever the fate of the guards was, John hoped it had been quick. The meetings of government were therefore held on short wave radio, but even then rarely was there a quorum. It was, John thought, a helluva way to try and reconstitute the government of what was idealistically called the New Republic of America.

The college had thus become far more the center of John’s life after Makala and the new baby.

With 170 students, it was actually surviving. The school had retrenched, like everything else did in their lives, after the Day. There was no longer any chartering institution, no state mandates— basically nothing more than the fact they called themselves a college. They now offered just one degree. Their catalog called it a bachelor’s degree in Life Skills; John called it a degree in survival and rebuilding for a post war America.

They offered, as any real college should, a few courses in the old traditional sense: history, English lit, and so on. John felt even at the worst of times, there was still a need for such things. That the humanities were as valid now as they had been in places like Paris and Cambridge six hundred years ago. In arguing to keep such courses, he cited stories of POWs in World War II and concentration camp inmates who still tried to carry on with some cultural foundations. Along with his other duties, he found time to teach a course on basic American history and another on the Constitution and what he hoped would again be their system of government, and a third course on Democracy versus Totalitarianism. All three became mandatory courses, and he hoped something of them would rub off and someday, perhaps decades from now, these beliefs would again bear fruit.

But it was the pragmatic needs of this time that had to take precedence. Alongside such traditions of literature and government, the college offered what could almost be a degree in and of itself for those students who became EMTs and worked at the clinic in Black Mountain.

That program was run by Makala. John had—more than a little bit seriously—wanted to give her the title of dean. She’d just laughed, thinking it far too pretentious, and said if she had to use a title she preferred to be simply “Nurse Makala,” or her maiden name of “Ms. Turner.” The medical course covered the gamut, from how to sterilize and bandage a flesh wound up to emergency field surgery for gunshot wounds that even a beginning doctor would find challenging.

Given the continuing role the students had of also being the town’s rapid mobilization force and the border guards at the pass for I-40 and the crest of the mountain on Route 9, such training was needed. Just a few months ago, half a dozen raiders had crept in at night on a pig raid, trying to steal a few hogs from an isolated farm belonging to the Stepps, whose clan lived up on the North Fork. The raiders were killed, but not before killing two watchmen, one of them a student, and wounding several others. A student medic’s quick thinking on a compound fracture of the thigh and severed femoral artery from a shotgun blast saved the life of one of the Stepp children. Thereafter, if rations were thin at the college at times, all she had to do was hike over to the North Fork and come back the next day with a full stomach and usually a juicy smoked ham to share with her friends.

For people like the Stepps, the Wilsons, the Franklins, the Robinsons, and the Burnett group on the far side of the Black Mountains, life had in general reverted to the nineteenth century, and the adjustment was, in fact, hardly an adjustment at all for some.

A team of students worked in “practical chemistry” under the tutelage of Brad Bennett, one of the few surviving professors from before the Day. They were now producing ether and antibiotics, and worked a still to produce antiseptic alcohol—and, when John’s back was conveniently turned, some illegal moonshine for late-night parties up in the woods. Cannabis was grown as well for a variety of uses, including help for cancer and chronic pain, and John had to turn a blind eye as well to the “recreational” use that more than a few indulged in, but doing so on duty was not tolerated. They were also the ones who manufactured the black powder for the assortment of old muzzleloaders found in the town. Modern cartridges had been all but used up over the last five years, and the dwindling supply was strictly reserved for military use. One of Burnett’s people, a maker of flintlock rifles before the war, was backlogged a year in advance for his fifty caliber Pennsylvania long rifles.

A production facility had been created for making this black powder, with a major component of that coming from Bat Cave, twenty miles south of Black Mountain. Hundreds of thousands of bats had lived in the caves for thousands of years, and therefore tens of thousands of tons of bat guano was piled up dozens of feet deep. Guano meant nitrates for saltpeter, the main ingredient, which was then combined with sulfur from a hot spring in Asheville and wood charcoal. Lead was plentiful, of course, from thousands of old car batteries. They manufactured so much black powder it was now a trade item to the communities that still survived in the mountains of the Carolinas and Tennessee.

A careful survey of every dwelling in the area had produced a few hundred black-powder weapons, most of them reproductions, but even a few originals from the Civil War. Many people now hunted with flintlocks and quickly learned they had but one shot, and to make that shot count. More than a few at the college were now deadly marksmen at two hundred yards, and what was left of the roving bands knew that Black Mountain was a place to avoid.

In the first months after the Day, anyone who had a gun had taken to the woods to hunt, many a town- and city-dweller just assuming that any day they went hunting would result in enough meat on the table to last for weeks. In little more than a month the woods were all but hunted out for anything bigger than a squirrel. After what was now called the Starving Time, and the die-off from starvation and disease, and the battle with the Posse, those who survived gradually returned to hunting, now with flintlocks or bows. Deer were finally making something of a comeback, along with a plentiful abundance of wild geese, whose old flyways were now all but devoid of humans and thus flourished. Wild boar were actually becoming plentiful to the point of being a nuisance.

In the first months after the Day, more than a few pigs had escaped from farms, especially in Swannanoa and below the Old Fort gap, and they’d flourished up in the hills, reverting back to their predomesticated state. Hunting them with bows and spears had almost become a sport. A few venturesome students, after reading Lord of the Flies, would go out armed only with spears, and of course some bootleg moonshine and pot, chanting “Kill the pig!” They would return in the evening hooting and hollering like Neolithic hunters of old, most of the campus turning out to cheer on their triumphant return.

The “granola eaters,” as some students referred to them, would look on in disgust as the pig was roasted on an open fire, and at times the celebration would get out of hand with dancing, and more than a few couples retiring to the woods for other activities. John had voiced his concerns about the whole thing taking on a pagan aspect, but then again, with all the pressure those students were under, he would find an excuse on such nights to conveniently remove himself from the campus. Makala was disgusted with these displays but knew as well that it was definitely a pressure release. Still, she would mutter for the students not to come crying to her if one of them got gored. One of them finally was gored and darn near killed, and of course she bandaged him. Then the spear hunting stopped for a while, though not for long, the injured student roaring in triumph as he led back a successful hunt a few months later.

Beyond all their other responsibilities, students had to participate in military drills, mandatory for everyone except those who were disabled, on sick call, or could rightly and honestly claim conscientious objection and then served instead as medics. The drills were held every Saturday morning, along with two weeks of full-scale practices and maneuvers every spring and fall after the harvest was complete.

John no longer participated in those. Students who had survived the Day and fought in the war against the Posse and the few dozen minor skirmishes since then were the veterans now and had taken over, led by Kevin Malady, their head of militia on the campus, and Josiah Stepp, a combat vet with most of his time spent in the Middle East. He had come back with a Silver Star and two Purple Hearts. Josiah supervised the training in town. He was the one who started the tradition that students wounded in the Posse fight and other actions could wear a purple ribbon on their jacket, and those officially noted by Kevin Malady for valor wore a coveted gold ribbon.

All new students went through a boot camp at the start of the year, learning the usual requirements of firearm safety and after that, training. Woe betide a student who did not count any weapon, even a flintlock, as always loaded or behaved with one in a reckless manner. Last year a student was shot in the shoulder and darn near killed by a student laughingly saying “It ain’t loaded” as he pulled the trigger. The victim survived, but lost her arm in spite of Makala’s efforts; the malefactor was drummed out of the campus never to return and the lesson held strong for all who witnessed that ceremony. After completing target practice, at first with the flintlock weapons, the students then graduated to a cartridge-firing weapon, though actual live firing was restricted to just half a dozen rounds per student per year. Come the fall, unless they somehow managed to get a resupply, they would be reduced to just dry firing. But then again, John had reasoned, half a hundred flintlock rifles, and even the town’s half dozen muzzle-loading cannons, could be a deadly force. Such weapons had won for America at Oriskany, Monmouth, and Yorktown.

Ammunition was only one of dozens of scarcities that had taken hold in their community that they’d had to find a way around. Salt was another. They were dependent on an old saltlick forty miles away, and several times a year a party was sent out to spend a week boiling down the precious mineral and lugging the fifty-pound bags back home. Going out on the “salting parties” was a sought-after diversion that went to top students who could skip studies, camp out, have some fun parties, and just enjoy the change of pace and scenery.

As for food, there was finally enough, but balancing it for nutrition was always a challenge, as Makala constantly struggled with an increasing cadre of trained students and more than a few surviving old timers from the town. The struggle to bring nutrients back to a semblance of normal was finally working. So many things to worry about, so many things facing his community in a truly daily struggle to stay alive, in this the fifth year since the Day.

With Makala leaning on his shoulder, the baby still asleep, John stilled his thoughts. Things, for the moment at least, were working out.

Tori entered the last refrain of the song, his favorite part:

“Deep in December it’s nice to remember . . .”

The words stirred John from his reverie. Once she was done, he’d have to get up to offer the closing benediction and blessing to the graduates, their proud families, and of course the rest of his community.

The final stanza drifted away.

Many in the audience had joined in, shedding tears for a song that had become “their” anthem in this brave and still at times frightening world that was now their reality.

The song drifted away into silence that was broken only by a few sniffles and quiet weeping. John looked over at Makala and forced a smile. She shifted little Genevieve, who started to whimper a protest at being stirred awake, but then rested against her mother’s breast and went back to sleep.

 

John Matherson stood up and stretched, his frame still lanky even though he was pushing fifty. But then again, everyone was thin now—maybe one of the few health benefits created by what had happened. He unconsciously scratched his short, graying beard; nearly all men were bearded now. With electric razors gone and safety razors long gone, only a few tried to continue with the ritual of shaving. Makala said John’s new habit of tugging on his whiskers for a few seconds before speaking made him look Lincolnesque. Students seemed to appreciate the gesture as well, saying it made him look distinguished and thoughtful.

He never did like going up to the podium on the stage, feeling it put a bit of a barrier between him and his audience. Standing in front of them was less formal, more like a neighbor talking to friends, so he stopped at the base of the stage, turned, and stood silently for a moment, not aware that he was still tugging on his whiskers.

He looked over at Tori and smiled. “As always, Tori, you have such a beautiful voice. And congratulations on being this year’s valedictorian. You’ve done a magnificent job.”

He looked back out to the audience, to Tori’s mother. She beamed with delight. Tori was one of the lucky few in that her mother had also survived the Day and now was sitting in the audience, eyes brimming with tears of pride.

He lowered his head for a few seconds to gather his thoughts, and started softly.

“Reverend Black, could I ask for our traditional prayer in remembrance of all those who have passed since that Day, five years ago today, when our lives changed forever.”

Black started into a short prayer and John looked at him, filled with concern. He remembered Black before the war, young and vibrant, even in his mid-fifties, always smiling and looking like he wasn’t a day over forty. His wife, Portia, was a charm—John always said she looked like Sally Field’s twin sister. The years, the tragedy, had taken a deep toll on Richard. Gone was his youthfulness. His hair had gone prematurely white, and like nearly everyone else he had lost any excess weight.

All of them looked like the fading daguerreotypes of Civil War soldiers and their families from 160 years ago: wiry, frames taut, slender, their clothing from a day before dry cleaning and wrinklefree fabrics causing them to look rumpled. Richard was like that now too, but there was something deeper, an almost infinite weariness of the soul. A younger generation now coming of age were survivors adapting to the world around them; it had become their norm. But for an older generation, who had long ago come of age before the war, a generation accustomed to the internet, markets crammed with food, the latest miracles of medicine and science and entertainment that they had of course taken for granted, for all of them, it was hard not to be haunted by the past. Just this morning at breakfast, Makala had cracked open one of their last precious K-cups, a gift from Jim Bartlett from over the mountain in Burnsville who had found a wrecked truck loaded with them and actually used them as currency. Makala had made two cups of coffee, adding a few drops of honey for sweetener. That was now luxury.


Click below to pre-order your copy of Five Years Afteravailable 8.22.23!

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$2.99 Ebook Deal: Pillar to the Sky by William R. Forstchen

Image Place holder  of - 47The ebook edition of Pillar to the Sky by William R. Forstchen is on sale now for only $2.99! This offer will only last for a limited time, so order your copy today!

About Pillar to the Sky:

Pandemic drought, skyrocketing oil prices, dwindling energy supplies and wars of water scarcity threaten the planet. Only four people can prevent global chaos.

Gary Morgan—a brilliant, renegade scientist is pilloried by the scientific community for his belief in a space elevator: a pillar to the sky, which he believes will make space flight fast, simple and affordable.

Eva Morgan—a brilliant and beautiful scientist of Ukranian descent, she has had a lifelong obsession to build a pillar to the sky, a vertiginous tower which would mine the power of the sun and supply humanity with cheap, limitless energy forever.

Erich Rothenberg—the ancient but revered rocket-scientist who labored with von Braun to create the first rockets and continued on to build those of today. A legend, he has mentored Gary and Eva for two decades, nurturing and encouraging their transcendent vision.

Franklin Smith—the eccentric Silicon Valley billionaire who will champion their cause, wage war with Congress and government bureaucracy and most important, finance their herculean undertaking.

The Goddard Space Flight Center—the novel’s pre-eminent hero, it’s enormous army of scientists, engineers and astronauts will design, machine, and build the space elevator. They will fight endless battles and overcome countless obstacles every step of the way.

This journey to the stars will not be easy—a tumultuous struggle filled with violence and heroism, love and death, spellbinding beauty and heartbreaking betrayal. The stakes could not be higher. Humanity’s salvation will hang in the balance.

Order Your Copy

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This sale ends August 1.

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5 Novels to Prepare for the Apocalypse

By Jennifer McClelland-Smith

Natural disasters. Civil unrest. Nuclear proliferation. As we enter the long, cold winter, it’s hard not to feel like we’re waiting on the end of the world. It’s a perfect time to dive into some blood-pumping reads as we wait for the apocalypse to come!

 

48 Hours by William R. Forstchen
Place holder  of - 77William R. Forstchen cements his place as a master of apocalyptic fiction in 48 Hours. In this prescient thriller, a group of everyday Americans, as well as the president himself, plan for a Coronal Mass Ejection, a solar storm with the potential to wipe out the world’s electrical infrastructure. This nail-biter will have you asking could this happen to us?

 

One Second After by William R. Forstchen
Image Place holder  of - 40Forstchen struck a chord with this New York Times bestseller. One Second After is so terrifyingly real, it was cited on the floor of Congress as a book all Americans should read. How does one man in small-town North Carolina survive and keep his family safe after America is sent back to the dark ages by an Electro Magnetic Pulse?

 

Without Mercy by Col. David Hunt & R.J. Piniero
Poster Placeholder of - 93ISIS has detonated two nuclear weapons at the start of this absolutely chilling read. The hunt is on when it becomes clear a third one is on the way from the rogue terrorist group. Col. David Hunt & R.J. Piniero bring this all-too-real scenario to life in this read that is both meticulously researched and chock full of action.

 

The Burning Light by Bradley P. Beaulieu and Rob Ziegler
Image Placeholder of - 60New York City is a flooded relic. The streets run rampant with zombie-like users of a mysterious force called The Light. It’s up to one disgraced former government operative to save humanity from a horrible fate. This action-packed novella zips at lightning speed with a sci-fi edge that makes it impossible to put down.

 

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
Placeholder of  -55Laurence is a brilliant engineer leading a group saving the world with technology. Patricia and her coterie of fellow witches are healing the world with secret magic. When circumstances beyond their control bring them together, sparks fly in more ways than one. An apocalyptic novel to be sure, but also funny and literary with a tinge of magical realism.

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Countdown to Blackout: On EMPs, Solar Flares, and 48 Hours by William R. Forstchen

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By Jennifer McClelland-Smith

Image Placeholder of - 46In 48 Hours, New York Times bestselling author William R. Forstchen writes of a “Carrington Event”, a powerful solar storm able to wipe out the Earth’s electrical grid, threatening humanity itself. So how exactly does the American population prepare to defend itself in this prescient thriller?

Mr. Science Explains It All
In anticipation of this potentially catastrophic event, the federal government calls in Mr. Science, a popular television host to explain it all. His simple, if slightly bizarre, explanation of what to expect in the next 48 hours runs continuously on all networks and internet sources, garnering hundreds of millions of views, at least as long as the grid is up and running.

All Citizens Will Disconnect

The next step in preparing for the solar storm is for all Americans to shut down the electricity in their homes, going as far as pulling the plug on every last electronic device and disconnecting every gadget connected to the internet. Staying unplugged and offline protects the grid until the storm passes.

Transportation Will Be Severely Limited

At midnight, before the anticipated storm hits, all airline and railway traffic will stop and all Americans will be advised to stay off the roads, as those with electric cars, hybrids, and other late-model automobiles may be impacted by the storm as well, due to their electrical components.

World Leaders Unite

Finally, the United States government reaches agreements with leaders around the world to use their military forces for defensive purposes only. The US, Russia, China, and NATO agree to keep watch, ensuring this solar storm does not devolve into a world war.

It all sounds simple enough, right? Told from the alternating perspectives of a no-nonsense security expert in the Missouri Ozarks and a leading scientific expert on the subject, staring down the catastrophe with the president, 48 Hours is both a nail-biting thriller and a powerful tribute to the resilience of the American spirit.

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Where to Start With William R. Forstchen

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By Jennifer McClelland-Smith

New York Times bestselling author William R. Forstchen’s next thriller, 48 Hours, comes out on January 8—but if you’re looking for more of his engrossing, pulse-raising work to tide you over until then, here are some ideas on where to start:

One Second After

Placeholder of  -48The US is hit by an Electro Magnetic Pulse (EMP) attack, wiping out all electrical systems. The first book in a New York Times bestselling series, One Second After has been cited on the floor of Congress as a book all Americans should read. This book and its two follow-ups, One Year After, and The Final Day, create an unforgettable portrait of ordinary citizens surviving an unprecedented catastrophe.

Pillar to the Sky

Poster Placeholder of - 48Pandemic drought. Escalating oil prices. Natural resources growing scarcer and scarcer. The world is at war in this NASA-inspired standalone novel, and society teeters on the edge of chaos. It’s going to take an unconventional solution to avoid total annihilation. Enter four brilliant and unexpected thinkers who work together to do the impossible: build an elevator to the heavens.

The Gettysburg Trilogy 

Image Placeholder of - 60Co-written with Rep. Newt Gingrich, this alternate history of the Civil War imagines what would have happened if Robert E. Lee and the Confederate army had been victorious at Gettysburg. Beginning with Gettysburg, these action-packed, painstakingly researched, and utterly riveting books will keep Civil War buffs entranced.

 

The Pacific War

Image Place holder  of - 49Another alternate history co-written with Newt Gingrich, this series kicks off with Pearl Harbor: A Novel of December 8th, which provocatively reimagines the events leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor. With a rich cast of characters ranging from national leaders to ordinary citizens, both American and Japanese, this haunting and fascinating series presents a chilling “what if?” reconsideration of one of the most important moments in world history.

Order Your Copy

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Excerpt: 48 Hours by William R. Forstchen

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Placeholder of  -77In 48 hours, the Earth will be hit by a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) from the Sun, a “Carrington Event” that has the power to shut down and possibly destroy the world’s electrical infrastructure. To try and prevent permanent damage, everything goes dark prior to the hit: global communications are shut down; hospital emergency generators are disconnected; the entire internet, media broadcasting, and cell phone systems are turned off.

Will the world’s population successfully defend itself in the wake of the CME, or will mass panic lead to the breakdown of society as we know it?

New York Times bestselling author William R. Forstchen’s new novel, 48 Hours, will be available on January 8th. Please enjoy this excerpt.

1

Day One

Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri

DARREN Brooks fumbled as he tried to slap the alarm clock into silence, knocking it off the nightstand. The two little bells on top of the clock, with a tiny clapper between them, slamming back and forth, continued to ring, its tinny sound nerve-jarring.

“Oh, for God’s sake, Darren, turn that damn thing off,” Darla moaned from the other side of the bed.

He leaned over, groped around. It must have slid under the bed. “Darren!”

“Okay, okay, I got it,” he mumbled, pulling back the heavy wool blankets and cursing softly as his feet hit the cold floor.

Getting down on his hands and knees, he reached under the bed and grabbed the annoying antique, jamming a finger between the clapper and bells to silence the little annoying monstrosity at last.
The switch—where was the damn switch? He poked around the back, feeling for the lever, then his finger slipped off the clapper and, though muffled, the damn thing rang again. “Darren!”

A memory hit of all those old cartoons where Elmer, Daffy, whomever, tormented by an alarm clock, just threw it out the window. He found the switch and flicked it down, and the devilish machine fell silent.

He was still tempted to throw it against the wall, but wisely decided to just put it back on the nightstand. Now half-awake, he stumbled to the bathroom and out of force of habit flicked the switch.

And of course, no lights came on.

“Damn. Power is still off.” He sighed.

“It’s freezing in here,” Darla said. “I kind of figured it’s down again.”

There was no need for lights to just relieve himself. At least the water supply was gravity fed from the town’s storage tank—that was, as long as they pumped it full while they had power, which had been on for several hours the previous evening. He scurried across the freezing-cold floor and scrambled back under the covers, Darla muttering an affectionate curse as he pressed his cold feet up against the backs of her legs, but then she sighed as he snuggled in closer. She stood not much more than five foot two at a 110 pounds or so, and he was more than double her weight, six foot four, and bearlike. He wrapped his arms around her, the two nuzzling closer for a moment.

“Don’t fall back to sleep,” she whispered.

“Yeah, I know.”

Absolutely content with life at that moment, he held her tight, kissing her on the back of the neck.

“You need a shave.” She laughed softly as he rubbed his chin stubble against her upper back, a hint of a seductive note in her laughter.

“No, stop it,” she finally said. “You’ve got to go to work.”

“Later, then,” he whispered into her ear.

“Promises, promises,” was her sleepy reply as she pulled the heavy blankets back over her shoulder as he drew away, turned, and put his feet on the still-icy floor. He fumbled in the dark for his slippers, put them on, picked up his heavy bathrobe from the corner of the bed, and trekked out to the living room. The fire was still going. He opened the glass doors, fed in several more logs, closed the doors after opening the flue wider, then went into the kitchen, turning on the battery-powered lamp he had rigged up to the kitchen chandelier.

For southern Missouri in December, it was damn cold, well below freezing outside, frost glistening on the deck railings and on the cover of the hot tub, which they had shut down and drained three weeks earlier when the problems had started.

Always efficient and thinking ahead, Darla had set out the night before, a two-pound can of coffee and an old-fashioned percolator that had been stored in what they called their “prepper stash,” down in the basement. Filling up the pot with water, Darren now spooned coffee into the basket to be placed at the top of the percolator, put the lid on, and turned on the kitchen stove. At least that still worked because it was propane. They used to have a tank topped off with five hundred gallons of the stuff, but in the weeks after power had gone on the blink, they had been far too profligate in burning it up with their home generator to power and heat their four thousand–square-foot house, figuring the grid would be back up soon enough. Once things got back to normal, they’d just order up a propane truck to come out and fill them back up again. But things had not come back to normal, and they realized they might be in for a long haul with a cold winter, and the fifty gallons left should be hoarded only for cooking. The woodstove could provide sufficient heat for the living room and kitchen area, and at least they could cook indoors, unlike more than a few neighbors who on cold evenings stood shivering outside, cooking on their barbecues.

In the last few days, Darla had even passed out nine buckets of freeze- dried food from their emergency supply to neighbors who were coming up short, each bucket with enough food to keep a family of four going for a month. They had always factored in a thought regarding their neighbors and friends in a time of crisis—that was just part of their nature—but they could only give out a few more one-month buckets of food before having to think about their own long-term needs. Surely, though, they both hoped the damage to the power grid and overall infrastructure of the region from the solar storm of three weeks past would be repaired and life would soon return to some semblance of normalcy.

Neither of them wanted to think about the grim mathematics of what might happen to their emergency food supply if things still were not repaired a couple of months from now, especially given the reports, starting yesterday, that another solar event might be brewing.

The water in the coffeepot heated up, and there was the first hissing pop as it began percolating. Darren loved the sound of it. It reminded him of his grandmother’s home, a small farmstead, as if from another age, up in the back hills of the Ozarks. The soothing nostalgia-inducing sound from the coffeepot grew louder, the dark brew splashing up against the small clear glass globe atop the pot. When he spent weekends at his grandparents’ house, Darren always got the job of watching the pot until the coffee was jet-black, and they would then let him have a few warming sips, heavily laced with fresh cream from their cow tethered in the barn. The advent of the Mr. Coffee machines and then the little K-Cups had, in nearly all homes, resulted in relegating a percolator coffeepot to the basement or the trash pile. Buying one for use in an emergency had been one of many smart moves that were now paying off. And besides, he loved the sound of it, and somehow—maybe it was just psychosomatic—the coffee did seem to taste better.

He went back into the living room, taking in the vista offered by the two-story-high glass windows of their home. Their house, a log cabin of contemporary design, was situated atop a high ridge rising nearly two hundred feet above the Lake of the Ozarks. It faced southeast and at this time of year provided a perfect viewing point for the sunrise, which was beginning to unfold, the deeper indigos giving way to scarlet and brilliant shades of pink.

Darla shuffled out, bundled up in her oversized, rather funny-looking camouflage-pattern bathrobe with matching slippers—a Christmas present from him last year—went into the kitchen, pulled down two cups from the cabinet, and poured out their hot coffee, plain black, fresh cream no longer available.

She then shuffled into the living room, handed him one of the cups, and put her arm around his waist.

“Love you, Bear.”

Bear, her affectionate nickname for him, pronounced on their first date when at her door he asked permission to kiss her good night, and she of course agreed. He effortlessly lifted her a foot off the ground, wrapped in his massive embrace, and gave her a good-night kiss that convinced her on the spot that though still gun-shy from her divorce, she would not let this one get away.

“Wish you’d quit that damn job,” she announced. “We don’t need the money anymore now that we’ve sold our business, and you know it. Perfect morning to watch the sunrise, throw some more wood on the fire, and then back to bed.”

The way she said “back to bed” had a suggestive tone in it that made him hug her in closer.

She had been saying it nearly every morning of late, especially when what everyone was now calling “the Big Storm” had hit several weeks earlier. It had become a demarcation point, a dividing line between “before” and “after.” The before time was one of ease and luxury. After had been a wake-up call as to just how dependent all were upon limitless electricity, always available at the flick of a switch, a world with a global connection to friends, family, entertainment carried in the palm of a hand. All of that now limited at best in the southern tier of states, and according to the occasional news reports they could monitor, still entirely off-line farther north, where the impact of the solar storm had been more intense. The refrain punctuating most conversations now: “Once things are back to normal, we’ll . . .” But after three weeks that increasingly seemed like a fabled promised land that surely must return soon. Surely the ever-mentioned “they” had to get things back in order by the end of the year.

He sipped his coffee and looked down at her snuggled in by his side.

“Oh, come on. I was getting bored not doing anything. And, sweetheart, I’d drive you crazy within a month just hanging around here, and you know it. Besides, the benefits package is good—free medical insurance; you can’t sniff at that—and it keeps me out of your hair.”

“Still, given how things are now, especially over the next few days if that next storm hits, at least think about it. Okay? If things get worse, I want you here.”

He didn’t reply. It was ironic in a way to hear her concern. There was a touch of role reversal in their marriage. The military, police work, or security had been part of his life since high school. But Darla? Beyond her very feminine, petite exterior was someone with indeed a unique background. Definitely a tomboy raised by a single father who owned a gun-customizing business, she had taken it over in her early twenties after his passing and turned it into a thriving enterprise of providing customized weapons for the nation’s elite military units. So her appeal was not one of a nervous at-home wife feeling a need for her bear of a husband to be a protector. If anything, she was the one providing protection around this house and was deadly efficient with a multitude of weapons that her family business had manufactured until the sale of that firm a year ago. He found it amusing to say that if ever there were a situation that hit the fan, he’d be the backup for Darla.

Quitting his job, especially now, struck him as an act of cowardice, which was never part of his playbook. He had a job that he could not just walk away from now.

The sun was just breaking the horizon, usually a favorite moment for him of watching the long shadows interspersed with red and golden streaks of light spread across the lake.

At times, though, this moment still made him think of how different it was from sunrise out on the ugly flatland deserts of Iraq. That glaring orb rising and within minutes the temperature soaring from a comfortable chill to another day of hundred-degree heat.

He squinted, staring straight at the sun as it climbed above the pine trees rimming the ridge on the far side of the lake.

It didn’t look any different. Some people claimed that right at sunrise you could stare at it for a moment and see the spots, the building eruptions. He couldn’t, and he finally turned away, blinking, spots dancing in his vision from having stared at the sun too long.

“Drink your coffee and get out of here,” Darla chided him. “Bad example the head of security being late.”

He drained his cup, handed it back to her, and leaned over to kiss her on the forehead.

He glanced at the sun again, squinting, but it still didn’t look any different. But it was different. Just before going to bed shortly after midnight, they had listened to a BBC broadcast on a battery-powered shortwave radio and heard that another CME had exploded from the sun’s surface, perhaps more powerful than the December 1 incident, and would strike Earth in less than three days.

Something was indeed going wrong, and holding Darla close, he felt a vague fear of what was to come.

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9 Blood-Pumping Thrillers for the Cold Winter Months

Blood pumping, heart racing, mind busy — these fast-paced thrillers will keep you warm (and distracted) during the freezing weather of winter! But we can’t promise you won’t get goosebumps…

A Shattered Circle by Kevin Egan

Place holder  of - 19 A Shattered Circle is a legal thriller that’s anything but boring. NYC judge William Lonergan becomes mentally-impaired after an accident. His wife, who doubles as his secretary, preserves Lonergan’s career by covering up his condition — but she can only do it for so long. After Lonergan gets attacked, he and his wife move to their summer house for safety… a big mistake.

American Drifter by Heather Graham and Chad Michael Murray

Image Placeholder of - 85 Young vet River Roulet tries to escape his PTSD by moving to Brazil. He falls in love with journalist Natal who lives with the top drug lord of Rio, Tio Amato. River and Natal try to escape to the interior of Brazil, but Tio is after them. A psychological thriller as much as an action-packed one, American Drifter is an expected delight from bestselling author Heather Graham and famous celeb Chad Michael Murray!

And Into the Fire by Robert Gleason

Image Place holder  of - 3 Terrifyingly plausible, And Into the Fire follows journalist Jules Meredith and head of the CIA’s Pakistan desk Elena Moreno as they fight the clock to stop ISIS from dropping three Pakistani nukes on U.S. soil. This is no easy feat when the corrupt American president and a Saudi ambassador both want the two women killed. Realistic, character-driven, and fine-tuned, And Into the Fire is sure to get your heart racing!

Book of Judas by Linda Stasi

Placeholder of  -80 The breathtaking sequel to The Sixth Station, Book of Judas is original and a serious must-read. Stasi intertwines religion and history to create a suspenseful, high-stakes thriller. NYC reporter Alessandra Russo must save her kidnapped son by finding the last missing pages of the Book of Judas — pages that contain a secret that could upend Christianity in its entirety.

One Second After by William R. Forstchen

Poster Placeholder of - 63 Based on the premise that a dangerous weapon has the power to destroy the United States in a single moment, One Second After looks at a small town’s response to an electromagnetic pulse attack on America. The country is thrown back to a time of chaos and the darkness of the past (literally – no electricity), forcing retired U.S. Army Colonel John Matherson to mobilize. This novel is so legit that Congress praised it for its realism and called it a book that all Americans should read (!).

Cutting Edge by Ward Larsen

Coast Guard rescue swimmer Trey DeBolt is in a tragic helicopter accident off the coast of Alaska. When he wakes up, he finds himself in Maine, cared for by a lone nurse. The world thinks Trey is dead… and someone wants to keep it that way. When his nurse is assassinated, Trey is forced to run for his life. Along the way, he discovers that he is deeply entrenched in a top-secret government project that has left him with a tremendous super power. Cutting Edge is a suspenseful mystery thriller that will keep you on your toes!

The Fallen by Eric Van Lustbader

Eric Van Lustbader is the bestselling author of the Bourne series, and The Fallen does not disappoint: it’s a pulse-pounding thriller that explores religion, politics, and good and evil. The Testament of Lucifer has been discovered in a remote cave — and has the possibility to unleash chaos and evil all over the world. Can it be stopped? We know the answer, but you’ll have to read to find out!

End Game by David Hagberg

Part of the Kirk McGarvey series, End Game throws you right into the heart of a serial killer case… occurring in the CIA headquarters. McGarvey, former CIA assassin, must find the killer — but first he must understand the motive, which traces back to something buried in the foothills of Iraq: something that could unleash an apocalyptic war in the Middle East. Oozing with action and suspense, you’ll love this thriller.

Say No More by Hank Phillippi Ryan

Boston reporter Jane Ryland reports a hit-and-run, destroying someone’s alibi. Her homicide detective fiancee Jake Brogan is searching for the killer of a famous Hollywood screenwriter. Meanwhile, Jane helps a date-rape victim tell her story, causing her to receive a threatening message: SAY NO MORE. The multiple plot lines seamlessly stream together in this unpredictable, complex, and relevant thriller.

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New Releases: 10/31/17

Happy New Release Day! Here’s what went on sale today.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Image Place holder  of - 81 A Darker Shade of Magic, the first book in V.E. Schwab’s New York Times bestselling Shades of Magic trilogy, is now available in a special collector’s edition.

Kell is one of the last Antarimagicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black.

The Dark Intercept by Julia Keller

Image Placeholder of - 24 When the state controls your emotions, how hard will you fight to feel free?

In a radiant world of endless summer, the Intercept keeps the peace. Violet Crowley, the sixteen-year-old daughter of New Earth’s Founding Father, has spent her life in comfort and safety. Her days are easy thanks to the Intercept, a crime-prevention device that monitors emotion. But when her long-time crush, Danny Mayhew, gets into a dangerous altercation on Old Earth, Violet launches a secret investigation to find out what he’s hiding. An investigation that will lead her to question everything she’s ever known about Danny, her father, and the power of the Intercept.

Last Year by Robert Charles Wilson

Poster Placeholder of - 17 Two events made September 1st a memorable day for Jesse Cullum. First, he lost a pair of Oakley sunglasses. Second, he saved the life of President Ulysses S. Grant.

In the near future of Robert Charles Wilson’s Last Year, the technology exists to open doorways into the past–but not our past, not exactly. Each “past” is effectively an alternate world, identical to ours but only up to the date on which we access it. And a given “past” can only be reached once. After a passageway is open, it’s the only road to that particular past; once closed, it can’t be reopened.

The Mongrel Mage by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

Place holder  of - 52 In the world of Recluce, powerful mages can wield two kinds of magic—the white of Chaos or the black of Order. Beltur, however, has talents no one dreamed of, talents not seen in hundreds of years that blend both magics. On the run from a power hungry white mage, Beltur is taken in by Order mages who set him on the path to discover and hone his own unique gifts and in the process find a home.

However, when the white mage he fled attempts to invade his new home, Beltur must hope his new found power will be enough to save them all.

NEW IN PAPERBACK:

The Wishing World by Todd Fahnestock

At the Sign of Triumph by David Weber

The Final Day by William R. Forstchen

Pacific Destiny and Bear Flag Rising by Dale L. Walker

Time After Time by Karl Alexander

NEW IN MANGA:

Freezing Vol. 17-18 Story by Dall-Young Lim; Art by Kwang-Hyun Kim

The Girl From The Other Side: Siúil A Rún Vol. 3 Story and art by Nagabe

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New Releases: 7/18/17

Happy New Release Day! Here’s what went on sale today.

Arabella and the Battle of Venus by David D. Levine

Place holder  of - 68 Arabella’s wedding plans to marry Captain Singh of the Honorable Mars Trading Company are interrupted when her fiancé is captured by the French and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp on swampy Venus. Now, Arabella must find passage to an enemy-controlled planet in the middle of a war, bribe or fight her way past vicious guards, and rescue her Captain.

Graveyard Shift by Michael F. Haspil

Placeholder of  -18 Alex Menkaure, former pharaoh and mummy, and his vampire partner, Marcus, born in ancient Rome, are vice cops in a special Miami police unit. They fight to keep the streets safe from criminal vampires, shape-shifters, bootleg blood-dealers, and anti-vampire vigilantes.

When poisoned artificial blood drives vampires to murder, the city threatens to tear itself apart. Only an unlikely alliance with former opponents can give Alex and Marcus a fighting chance against an ancient vampire conspiracy.

NEW IN PAPERBACK:

Company Town by Madeline Ashby

Poster Placeholder of - 62 Hwa is of the few people in her community to forgo bio-engineered enhancements. As such, she’s the last truly organic person left on the rig—making her doubly an outsider, as well as a neglected daughter and bodyguard extraordinaire. Still, her expertise in the arts of self-defense and her record as a fighter mean that her services are yet in high demand. When the youngest Lynch needs training and protection, the family turns to Hwa. But can even she protect against increasingly intense death threats seemingly coming from another timeline?

One Year After by William R. Forstchen

Image Placeholder of - 40 Months before publication, William R. Forstchen’s One Second After was cited on the floor of Congress as a book all Americans should read. This thrilling follow-up to that smash hit begins one year after One Second After ends, two years since nuclear weapons were detonated above the United States and brought America to its knees. After months of suffering starvation, war, and countless deaths, the survivors of Black Mountain, North Carolina, are beginning to recover technology and supplies they had once taken for granted. When a “federal administrator” arrives in a nearby city, they dare to hope that a new national government is finally emerging.

 

NEW IN MANGA:

Hana & Hina After School Vol. 2 Story and art by Milk Morinaga

Lord Marksman and Vanadis Vol. 4 Story by Tsukasa Kawaguchi; Art by Nobuhiko Yanai

Magika Swordsman and Summoner Vol. 7 Story by Mitsuki Mihara; Art by MonRin

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New eBook Bundles: 6/13/17

Here’s the new ebook bundles that went on sale today!

Brandon Sanderson’s Fantasy Firsts by Brandon Sanderson

Image Place holder  of - 69Mistborn: The Final Empire begins the Mistborn Saga, The Way of Kings the Stormlight Archive, Rithmatist is the second book in the duology, and Alcatraz vs. The Evil Librarians starts a series by the same name. Prepare yourself to be whisked away to the fantastical worlds of Brandon Sanderson.

The John Matherson Series by William Forstchen

Place holder  of - 13From New York Times bestselling author, William R. Forstchen: In the span of a single second, the United States is plunged into darkness as an Electro Magnetic Pulse (EMP) wipes out all electricity. Trains, planes, cars, phones, computers, power plants, electronics and electrical equipment—all comes to a screeching halt. The country is in chaos, and everyone wants to know why. Whatever the cause, looting, food riots, and global insurrection are the order of the day. The New Dark Ages are suddenly upon us in this series exploring the potential aftermath of a very real threat. This discounted ebundle includes: One Second After, One Year After, and The Final Day.

The Zones of Thought by Vernor Vinge

Image Placeholder of - 47Thousands of years in the future, humanity is no longer alone in a universe where a mind’s potential is determined by its location in space, from superintelligent entities in the Transcend, to the limited minds of the Unthinking Depths, where only simple creatures, and technology, can function. Nobody knows what strange force partitioned space into these “regions of thought,” but when the warring Straumli realm use an ancient Transcendent artifact as a weapon, they unwittingly unleash an awesome power that destroys thousands of worlds and enslaves all natural and artificial intelligence. This discounted ebundle includes: A Fire Upon the Deep, The Children of the Sky, and A Deepness in the Sky.

The Mither Mages Trilogy by Orson Scott Card

Poster Placeholder of - 73The mage-families of Westil are in exile on Earth. The magical gates have been closed, and for good reason. Unfortunately, Danny North’s magically-inclined family has been keeping secrets from him, secrets that may lead to disaster for them all. This discounted ebundle includes: The Lost Gate, The Gate Thief, and Gatefather.

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