After the Shift Series Book 1
by Grace Hamilton
Genre: SciFi, Post-Apocalypse
No one could have predicted the terrifying impact of human interference in the Arctic. Shifts in the Earth’s crust have led to catastrophe and now the North Pole is located in the mid-Atlantic, making much of the eastern United States an unlivable polar hellscape.
Nathan Tolley is a talented mechanic who has watched his business dry up due to gas shortages following the drastic tectonic shifts. His wife, Cyndi, has diligently prepped food and supplies, but it’s not enough to get them through a never-ending winter. With an asthmatic young son and a new baby on the way, they’ll have to find a safe place they can call home or risk freezing to death in this harsh new world.
When an old friend of Nathan’s tells him that Detroit has become a paradise, with greenhouses full of food and plenty of solar energy for everyone, it sounds like the perfect place to escape. But with dangerous conditions and roving gangs, getting there seems like an impossible dream. It also seems like their only choice.
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Nathan squinted through the swirling snowflakes peppering the glass, but the wipers were struggling to give meaningful vision beyond the red expanse of his Dodge’s hood. He thought they were on the spruce-lined Ridge Road running between Lake George and Glens Falls but he couldn’t be sure. The cone of light thrown out by its headlights only illuminated the blizzard itself, making it look like a messed up TV channel.
Without any real visibility, the 1981 Dodge Power Wagon W300 4x4—with driver’s cab, a four-person custom-sized crew cab behind that, a wrecker boom, and a spectacle lift—grumbled deep in its engine as Nathan slowed the truck. To stop the tires fully, Nathan had to go down through the gears rather than by the application of the discs. There was a slight lateral slide before the tires bit into the fresh snow. The ice beneath was treacherous enough already without the added application of fresh flakes.
Who knowshow thick the ice is over the blacktop, Nathan thought.
With the truck stopped, he tried to follow Freeson’s finger out into the whirlpooling night.
For a few seconds, all he could see was the blizzard, the air filled with fat white flakes, which danced across his vision like God’s dandruff. Nathan was about to ask Freeson what the hell he was playing at when he caught it. He saw taillights flicker on and the shadow of a figure move towards the truck’s headlights.
Sundown for late April in Glens Falls, New York State, should have been around 7:50 p.m. The Dodge’s dashboard clock said the time was 5:30 p.m. and it was already full dark out on Algonquin Ridge.
The world had changed so much in the last eight years since the stars had changed position in the sky and the North Atlantic had started to freeze over. The pole star was no longer the pole star. It was thirty degrees out of whack. Couple that with the earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunamis wrecking countries around the Pacific Rim, and the world had certainly been transformed from the one Nathan had been born into twenty-eight years before. And this year, spring hadn’t come at all. Winter had spread her white skirts out in early December and had left them there. It was nearly May now, and there was still no sign of her fixing to pick them up again.
A face loomed up in the headlights, red with the cold, hair salted with snow, the flakes building up on the shoulders of the figure’s parka. It was Art Simmons.
Nathan zipped his own puffy North Face Nuptse winter jacket up to his chin, opened his door, and jumped down into the powder. The snow came up to his knees and he could feel the hard ice below the chunky soles of his black Columbia Bugaboots.
Even through the thermal vest, t-shirt, and two layers of New York Jets sweatshirts, the cold bit hard into Nathan. Without the meager, volcanic-ash-diluted sun in the sky, the early evening was already steel-cold and the blizzard wind made it near murderous. He rolled his hips and galumphed through the snow towards Art.
“Nathan! Is that you?”
Art had, until recently, been a Glens Falls sheriff. He’d been a warm-hearted gregarious man whose company Nathan enjoyed a lot. But since being laid off when the local police department had shut down, he’d become sullen and distant. Seeing Art so animatednowoffered the most emotion Nathan had seen coming from the chubby ex-cop since before Christmas.
“What’s the trouble, Art?”
Art’s words tumbled in a breathless rush. Sharp and short, it was clear that the cutting air had begun constricting his throat. “Skidded. Run off the road. I couldn’t even seethe road… I’m in the ditch… Been here an hour...”
“Runoff the road?”
Art nodded. “Glens Falls has been overrun, Nate. Scavengers tracked me. If I wasn’t trying so hard to outrun ’em, I wouldn’t be here now. Hadn’t driven so fast, when I lost them through Selling’s Bridge…”
Nathan had heard the rumors of small packs of raiders using snowmobiles to hold up residents in their cars, stealing supplies and invading homes. But he hadn’t seen evidence of them himself. He’d only been told by neighbors and friends they were operating in other parts of New York State, fifty miles further south than Albany, but not until now had he gotten any notion they might be as far up in the state as Glens Falls. But now that they were here, the lack of an operational police department in town might just make them bolder and more likely to try their luck with what they could get away with.
“Where did they go?” he asked.
Art shook his head. “Guess they lost me in the blizzard when I came off the road. Maybe gone off to track some other poor bastard. They won’t be far.”
Freeson joined them in front of the truck, banging his arms around his own parka to put feeling into his fingers. His limp didn’t help him wade through the snow and his grizzled face was grim, but Nathan knew the determination in Freeson’s bones wouldn’t allow his physical deficiencies to stop him doing the job Nathan paid him for. The cold might freeze and ache him, but the fire in Freeson’s belly would counter the subzero conditions for sure.
Freeson hadn’t been right since the accident, maybe. Quiet at times, and quick to anger at others, but he was always one hundred percent reliable.
Together, they walked the ten yards down through the snow to the roadside ditch beneath the snow-heavy trees.
An hour in the blizzard had made Art’s truck almost impossible to recognize. Nathan only knew it was a white 2005 Silverado 1500 because he’d worked on it a dozen times in the past ten years. The last time had been to replace a failed water pump that had fritzed the cooling system. Nathan smiled wryly. No one needed their cooling system fixed now—not since the Earth’s poles had shifted. Since that unexplained catastrophe, the Big Winter’s new Arctic Circle had been smothering Florida and the eastern seaboard, all the way up to Pennsylvania and beyond. It had frozen the Atlantic clear from the U.S. to North Africa.
The world was a very different place from the one Nate had been born into twenty-eight years ago.
Art told them he’d been turning the taillights on and off every ten minutes to signal to anyone who might be passing, trying to preserve battery life at the same time. He said Nathan’s wrecker had been the first vehicle to show up since his slow-motion slide into the ditch.
Nathan scratched his head through his hood and looked up the incline of Algonquin Ridge. The Silverado was trapped between two spruces on the edge of the ditch. The tail had kicked up as the front end had dropped, leaving the back wheels floating in space—or, would have done that if the snow hadn’t already drifted beneath them and begun to pack in.
There was no leeway in the tree growth to get the wrecker onto the downslope of the road, either, though the easiest way out of this would have been to pull the Silverado down the thirty-degree incline. Instead, they were going to have to pull Art’s truck up the slope and fight gravity all the way.
Nathan opened his mouth to tell Freeson to get back in the wrecker and start her up, but Art placed a hand on his shoulder and pointed into the trees. “Look.”
Through the forest, three sets of Ski-Doo headlights were moving along two hundred yards up beyond the treeline. The blatter of two-stroke engines was dampened by the snow, but still unmistakable. This part of the ridge was well out of town and had once been a popular tourist trail. There were wide avenues between the spruce where summer people rode chunky-tired trail bikes, and winter people, Ski-Doos. They had room to maneuver.
“They’re back,” said Art.
Better get this show on the road.
In theory, it should have been a simple operation. Nate turned the wrecker around and reversed it towards the ditch while Freeson and Art cleared as much snow as they could. As they worked, Freeson bitched about the way the town was dying and how you couldn’t get much of anything from the last store in town, and that the hospital was going to be shutting down and you couldn’t get fuel oil, and… and… and…
Nathan knew Freeson was just working his jaw to keep his mind off the cold, but the litany of unhappy changes on his lips, when run together like that, did nothing to spread warmth through the three men. In the past, Freeson would have been telling a stream of off-color jokes that would make Nathan groan at best and look for a stone to render his employee unconscious at worst. But since the Arctic Circle had shifted, leaving a trail of dying towns and cities in its wake, the resulting changes had been the only topic of Freeson’s conversation. That was when he wasn’t weeping because of the loss of his wife.
Nathan and Freeson latched the boom hook from the wrecker to the rear of the Silverado with a tow strap while Art got into his cab and started the engine. The blizzard maintained a steady build-up of snow on anyone who stood still for more than ten seconds, wind whipping at their faces like slaps from an angry girlfriend.
Through the trees, the scavengers’ Ski-Doos circled like sharks. Not getting any nearer as yet, perhaps waiting for the right time to take advantage. They could have just dived down on the trio and trapped the truck where it was, but Nathan figured they were trying to raise the tension and get them more scared—scared enough to abandon the trucks without a fight, maybe.
Combine this survivalist mentality with a vivid imagination (as well as a slightly unhealthy day dreaming habit) and you get a prepper fiction author. Grace spends her days thinking about the worst possible survival situations that a person could be thrown into, then throwing her characters into these nightmares while trying to figure out "What SHOULD you do in this situation?"
It's her wish that through her characters, you will get to experience what life will be like and essentially learn from their mistakes and experiences, so that you too can survive!
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