Nailed By The Heart
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King Blood (1997)

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Hodder cover 1997

Hodder & Stoughton, UK, 1997, ISBN 9780340660614 hardback

Hodder & Stoughton, UK, 1997, ISBN 9780340660621 paperback

Cemetery Dance, USA, 2011, ISBN 9781587670299 hardback

Beneath your feet the ground is heating up. And it’s going to get hotter. Hotter than Hell…

WARM
Rick Kennedy feels good. Tonight there’s going to be the party of the summer. The brother he hasn’t seen for years has just flown in, and this is the night Rick plans to do something about Kate Robinson – the beautiful girl he just can’t get out of his mind. In the pleasant village of Fairburn the evening air is warm…

WARMER
And this is the night Rick encounters the mysterious stranger in the wood.

HOT
Soon he wakes to find 30,000 refugees choking the streets. People are running for their lives. Only there’s nowhere to run.

HOTTER
The ground heats up inexorably. Roads melt. Cities erupt into flame. Lakes boil. Pockets of natural gas explode like nuclear bombs and geysers of scalding water flood through whole communities.

BURNING
Survivors search desperately for refuge in a landscape burning forever beneath their feet. But they have yet to confront the Grey men – and the demons inside themselves. Because their blood itself is beginning to boil – with savagery, hunger and lust…

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Simon writes:

The seed of King Blood was sown a couple of summers ago. It was a real scorcher that, in the UK, brought drought and incredible suntans. One day I took the train to Leeds from my local station. The tinder-dry banks had caught fire (or been torched by local kids) – the fires had long been extinguished but for mile after mile I saw nothing but burnt earth, the charcoaled remains of hedges and trees. That’s when I thought, ‘What if the whole planet was like this? If all the grass, trees and bushes were burnt from the root upward, leaving a black desert? What would I do? How could I survive?’

That was the start of King Blood, a world disaster story telling what happens to a handful of survivors when the Earth itself turns monster and heats up, killing vegetation, detonating pockets of subterranean gas, boiling lakes – and bringing the plague of Grey Men.

In this extract the central character, Rick Kennedy, has stumbled upon a bunch of people driven not only to cannibalism by starvation, but insane savagery. They’ve just seized a woman, killed her. Rick gets the hell out of there only to find himself in the heart of the cannibals’ territory…

Exclusive extract: Chapter 42

The shock had screwed my sense of direction. I ran blindly. Falling. Dropping the rifle. Stumbling back to pick it up. Running again. I was crying as I ran. Blubbering and snotty faced, like some little runt who’s fallen off his bike and is running home to mummy.

I don’t know what disgusted me most. The mob in the field who’d tugged the woman down over the pole, leaving her to hang there, skewered from crotch to throat, while the bastards dined on her. Or myself. And the people back on Fountains Moor. We were so ignorant, so fucking insulated from all this. Men and women were eating each other; they’d turned savage; they’d turned into beasts. And we were sat up there on the hill still eating sardines from cans, and there was still a shot of whisky before you stood up, scratching your belly and saying you were going to turn in. Then, once in your tent, you zipped yourself all nice and clean into your nice, clean sleeping bag.

Who were we kidding?

Just who the fuck who were we kidding? This was the cold bleeding hearted reality now.

Kill or be killed.

Eat or be eaten.

I scrambled over walls, trudged through streams. Then came a band of black earth as wide as a highway. The soil smoked. I even felt the heat against my skin as I ran along it. I didn’t care. I wanted to run and run. Run so fast I managed to out-run my own skin.

I climbed another wall and found myself in a farmyard. I skirted a burnt out truck.

Then I saw the Grey Men.

In fact I saw several of them.

I stopped and stared, the rifle – that fucking useless rifle – gripped in my fists.

There they were – twice the size of me.

The Grey Men were painted on the wall of the barn, aerosolled in silver paint – but I knew what the artist intended. They were supposed to be grey but the silver paint gave them a supernatural luminosity. In their build, massive shoulders, massive head, band of hair following the crest of bone from forehead to nape of neck, long arms as strong as a gorilla’s: they were exactly as I remembered them. The eyes were red. A wet glossy red. And I knew the artist had used a different kind of paint there. In fact, sitting on a table, was the plastic bucket with the brushes still inside.

I looked.

In a detached way I counted three hands, one still wearing a wedding ring. There was also a heart. Human I guessed. And in the bottom of the bucket a good dollop of still wet blood that served as paint for the red eyes. Flies buzzed in and out. They’d feed well on what the artist hadn’t used.

I moved on through the deserted farmyard, looking up at the windows of the farmhouse expecting to see faces peering back.

But the place looked deserted.

Hanging by lengths of electrical flex from a child’s climbing frame in the garden, twenty or more heads. The eyes of some had been gouged, leaving bloody red sockets; one had a galvanised nail, as thick as your thumb, hammered through the forehead. The face wore a look of stupid surprise; the same kind of wide-eyed expression the cop always wears in Laurel and Hardy films when he gets cream pied.

(Nice one, God; another pant wetting cosmic joke; how come you never let us poor saps die with dignity?)

The heads swung and turned gently in a light summer breeze.

“Adapt or die.” That’s what Stephen had said. The people who’d made this place their home had done just that. They’d flipped over to cannibalism. Radical changes had taken place inside their heads. As if their new environment had demanded a new mental software to reprogrammed their behaviour.

By the outdoor swimming pool I saw another Grey Man. This one had been moulded from concrete. It stood their grey, rock-like, like the statue of some Babylonian god of death. The eyes had been painted red. Again, a bucket holding paint brushes and severed hands (still redly oozing the medium) sat nearby.

I walked on. The rest of my hunting party would be wondering where the hell I’d vanished. I’d have to find them or they’d leave without me.

But as I ran back to the road I saw my way was blocked.

There were the wild-eyed men, women and children. A big man with a bald, sun burnt head lead the pack. Held reverently in his two hands, as if he carried a sacred object, was a human head. I recognised the short blond hair. An expression of shock and pain still forced the eyes wide open in the dead face.

When they saw me they howled. As if I’d desecrated something unbelievably precious.

Then came a dangerous silence as they moved slowly but purposefully toward me.

I jiggled the rifle bolt backwards, forwards then –

Click.

The dud rifle cartridge ejected to rattle onto the ground.

I chambered another bullet.

Those faces were brutally angry. And that rifle in my hands felt about as lethal as a posy full of dandelions.

They moved forward, menacing, dangerous. Eyes glittering, fists clenching.

Crack!

I fired over their heads. The sound made them flinch. But they didn’t stop moving toward me.

I had three rounds left. Maybe I could kill three of the savage bastards. But that would leave me in the hands of the other forty or so. I didn’t doubt my fate would be the pole in the meadow.

I had one option.

Run.

Then hide.

I ran.