Last promotion for Halloween and it’s another one of mine. Here’s an exclusive from my short story Family, which is part of the Reacher series. This book sits between The Running Game and Border Lines, but you can read it without worry about spoilers. So far in the series I haven’t written a lot about the world outside of London, but Family is a good taste of what’s to come.
If you like crazy cannibals then you will love this! Oh and it’s FREE!
John pulled off the motorway sharply. The landscape slowly opened up and a large square building awaited them. There were petrol pumps outside and an empty car park surrounding the structure. A spattering of white lights lit up the entrance to the building, but otherwise the place looked deserted.
“Let’s make this quick,” Charlie said. “I don’t want to hang around here any longer than we need to.”
They pulled up at the pumps. As John opened the door another light inside the service station came on. An old man sat in a small checkout booth watching them through the protection of a glass screen. Rachel could just about make out his cold beady eyes in the early morning light. His thick white beard hid his other features, making him ageless.
Another man came out of the main entrance. He was younger, a tall man with broad shoulders and a vague look about him – clearly the muscle of the setup, with very little else going on behind the eyes. He carried an automatic rifle casually, as though just having it was enough to ward people away, and wore an armoured vest, but it was too small for him so he had to leave it open.
“They look nervous,” Charlie said. “I guess they’ve been having some trouble. I’ll go tell him we come in peace and everything should be fine.”
With difficulty he got out of the car. Charlie had been stabbed in the back, causing severe nerve damage to his spine and legs. He walked with a crutch and when people saw him approaching they assumed he was harmless. Nobody would have suspected that he had powers. And if he pronounced his limp all the more it just added to his disguise.
John’s focus intensified, concentrating on the men watching his brother. He was wound tight, ready to strike in a heartbeat if he needed to.
“What do you think will happen?” Rachel murmured.
“Charlie will convince them we’re not going to rob them and they’ll let us in.”
“Is it always this hostile?”
“Sometimes. Winter makes people nervous and irrational. Don’t worry we’ve got this covered.”
“Is it so important we go inside?”
“We need fuel and supplies,” John stated, still concentrating on his brother.
John and Charlie were both so casual. Was this what life outside of the city was like? Neither man seemed affected by the fear that Rachel was choking on. Something didn’t settle well with her and she couldn’t work out if she was just being paranoid. She thought back to the burnt out car, the clothes strewn over the road, and she shuddered.
“I’m going to listen,” she told John. Before he could object she was already out of the car.
Charlie could move things with his mind, but Rachel had her own talents. She focussed her energy and slipped casually out of the vehicle. She moved behind Charlie, quickly catching up with him. Even he didn’t notice she was there. You can’t see me, you can’t see me. The mantra repeated on a loop, making her invisible to the men around her.
The old man in the booth had stood up, his hands were concealed, likely holding a weapon just in case. Charlie made sure his hands were visible. He smiled – not arrogantly or confidently – just another man appreciating the difficult situation and respecting it. The old man matched the expression. Nobody even looked Rachel’s way.
“Stocks are low,” the old man said. “Things don’t come cheap.”
“I appreciate that Sir, times are hard. As I said we need supplies for the winter. We’ll pay whatever the asking price is. No haggling, we’ve got a long journey ahead, we just want to get going.”
The old man considered it. He cast his eye over at his guard and then nodded.
“This place had a lot of trouble?”
“The security,” Charlie said. “Couple of winters ago we were up this way, roads are looking a lot emptier now. Saw a burnt out car a mile out.”
“Times are hard as you say,” the old man explained. “Got to keep our wits about us.”
“Well you’ll get no trouble off us. All right if I tell my brother to fill up while I pick up supplies?”
The man nodded his head. The guard made no effort to move. He would watch John and make sure the fuel pumps were safe. Fuel was a commodity people couldn’t waste anymore. Charlie gestured to his brother that they were good to go and headed into the service station. Rachel followed a few inches behind.
The door to the building was heavy, reinforced with steel and able to be barricaded from the inside. There had been windows in the original building, but they had long since been boarded up, barred like the door. The electric ran off a turbine in the wasteland at the back of the building and the lights fizzed into life as Charlie entered, working off a motion sensor to conserve energy. Charlie waited until the door closed and turned to Rachel.
“What are you doing?” He wasn’t mad, if anything he was amused.
“Things don’t feel right,” she said. “Those guys out there…”
“They’re taking precautions. Look it’s a tense world out in the wild, you’ve just got to see it from their point of view. I mean we show up, with John who is the epitome of violence, they’re bound to be worried. But we’ll give them a fair price, no trouble and everything will run smoothly. Don’t worry about it. Hey, there’s a cafe on the left, go grab something to eat.”
“I thought we weren’t staying long,” she said.
Charlie put his hand on her shoulder and gave it a reassuring squeeze. “If there is trouble they’ll put up the barricade. We’ll be safe inside. This is a business Rach’, they need our custom as much as we need their supplies. They’ll take care of us.”
She stared at him, still unconvinced.
“We won’t let anything happen to you, I promise. Go get a coffee and relax.”
He hobbled to the right, towards a kiosk selling basic food and supplies. The old man from the front was already opening up the shop, lifting the grates over the secured shelves for Charlie.
A part of Rachel wanted to follow Charlie, but she didn’t. He was right, she needed to relax. Charlie and John lived their lives on the road, if they said there was nothing to worry about then she could ignore the unsettling churning in her stomach. This was all new to her, it made sense that she didn’t feel safe. A couple of minutes with a hot drink and full belly would clear her head.
She pushed open the door to the cafeteria and stopped in her tracks. The room was gloomy. The lighting sparse, part of the original design before the windows had been boarded up. There were booths along three walls, the fourth reserved for a self-serve buffet table, manned by an enormous woman slouching at her till counter, a cigarette poking from her chapped lips spilling ash onto her dirty apron.
There were others in the cafe; a group of three men talking loudly at the far corner of the room. They looked like experienced labourers, possibly farmers trying their hand at something new while the ground was too hard to work. At the far wall two other men huddled over a teapot, barely moving in the bleak light. She could see they were well dressed, possibly travelling from one city to another and stopping off for safety. Then near the door to the toilets a mother sat opposite her two young children, all eyes fixed on their untouched plates of toast.
As Rachel stepped inside the group of men stopped talking and the whole diner fell into a tense silence. She wanted to make herself invisible, but it would be too hard now. They were watching her closely, shaking their attention would take a lot of power and she wasn’t even sure she could do it now they knew she was there. Her powers were a type of deception and manipulation, if the truth was glaringly obvious it would be impossible to conceal. She swallowed her nerves and headed for the sanctuary of the buffet counter, after all she was just another diner seeking sanctuary for a few minutes.
Taking a battered plastic tray, she ran it along the buffet table. There were assorted pans of tinned foods, beans, canned meats and corn. The contents were stewed to thick pastes of salt and preservatives, but it was the most appetising sight Rachel had seen in as long as she could remember. Her stomach growled and before she could stop herself she had a full steaming plate. She filled a cup of thick coffee from a dirty jug and scoped several heaped spoonfuls of sugar into it.
Two worn hands rested against the table beside her. “What’s a pretty thing like you doing in a place like this?”
The man leaning over her had been cajoled into breaking away from his pack. He was probably not thirty yet but his skin was already thick and leathery, his hair thinning at the front and greying on the sides. He was wearing a thermal jumper over a pair of filthy jeans and smelt of smoke and oil. He grinned at her, exposing two rows of decaying broken teeth.
“By the looks of it I’m attracting unwanted attention,” she replied, moving away.
He reached out to touch her and stop her from moving. She lashed around as his fingers brushed her arm. Don’t! The words shrieked in her mind. It was enough. He backed away, a glint of fear and confusion in his eye. He didn’t understand what had happened but he was scared. The other men jeered at him, but he wouldn’t go after her again.
Rachel ignored them all and took her tray to the fat woman at the counter. She was cackling along with the other men, spreading ash everywhere. Her grotesque fingers punched numbers into the till and she coughed out the price of the food. Rachel wasn’t sure if it was an expensive meal or not. She handed over the cash without thinking about it and winced as the fat woman stuffed it between her sweaty breasts.
“Enjoy,” she snorted, still cackling maniacally.
There were plenty of tables to sit at. Rachel chose one far away from everyone. She sat so she could keep an eye on the room and watch the door. The group of men laughed again, the bellowing sound making the room feel claustrophobic. When Rachel looked she saw they were all armed. If they were supposed to be the protection they were all done for.
Rachel put her first spoonful of food in her mouth, savouring the odd taste and texture. Her eyes drifted around the other customers. The two men, isolated by themselves had barely moved since she arrived. Rachel noticed their hands were squeezed together tightly. It was bold to be so open in public. The state had outlawed homosexuality, along with religion, women’s liberties and free speech. Rachel could appreciate not wanting to hide your true self, but sometimes that was the difference between life and death. One of the men looked at her. His face was bruised and swelling fast. His wide eyes seemed to scream at her in panic. It was then she noticed his partner – his lover – and the pallid lifelessness of his skin. Her stomach lurched.
The fat woman slowly lifted herself to her swollen feet and waded across the dining room. She leaned over to the group of men and gestured to the rusted clock on the stained wall. Whatever she meant the men groaned and waved her way, but it was clear they respected her – or at the very least were intimidated by her. As she shuffled away, heading towards the toilet, Rachel felt a hunger rise within the men.