{Feature} Exclusively read chapters 3 & 4 from The Ash, the brilliant new sci-fi horror from Dan Soule.


By Dan Soule

The Ash ebook will be released a day early on 31st for members of the Dan Soule mailing list (www.dansoule.com/) and KR readers at a special discounted price of 99p/c for that day only.

‘In the darkness you could hear the crying of women, the wailing of infants, and the shouting of men. Some prayed for help. Others wished for death. But still more imagined that there were no Gods left, and that the universe was plunged into eternal darkness.’

– Pliny the Younger, The Letters of Pliny, the Younger

‘I have heard the languages of apocalypse, and now I shall embrace the silence.’

– Neil Gaiman, The Sandman: Endless Nights

And so it begins: the end…

For Chapters 1 & 2 please click HERE


Sound came first, a ringing in Jim’s ears. Then, the warm breath of wind on his skin, fetid and burnt, along with the whip of dust. The car creaked, and Jim opened his eyes to a confusing world he didn’t understand. There were moans somewhere close by, snatched away in the wind.

Pain came next, adding to Jim’s confusion. Was he the one moaning? No. As his senses came back, he realised his pain was localised in his head, chest, and knees, but wasn’t bad enough to cause him to cry out. The world rocked from side to side, and his head throbbed in time with the movement. He was looking at the ceiling of the car, shards of glass apparently suspended above his head. Up was now down, and Jim was hanging inverted, held in place
by his seatbelt. He assessed the damage to the car, which lay on its roof, the passenger side buried into a hawthorn hedge, which stuffed its way through the shattered windows. When Jim looked out of the other side, his topsy-turvy world showed a mushroom cloud seemingly growing like a stalactite from the roof of a cave and billowing down towards the ground. With that image came the memory of how this came to be. Jim put a hand on the roof of the car and released the seatbelt with his other hand, falling in a heap. The nightmare of the mushroom cloud was now turned the right way up, coiling in on itself, like serpents of ash diving in and out of a ball of fire in a perpetual cycle. He checked himself, and whilst bruised, his injuries were superficial. The airbags had deployed and the hedge had seemingly cushioned the crash. Dust scratched Jim’s eyes, and he tried to rub them clear, before pressing the number two button on his Airwave to show his availability to Control. There was no answer; only static. He tried his police-issued mobile phone, still stuffed in his trouser pocket, which was to act as a backup to the Airwave, as well as a means to update logs and perform intelligence checks on the move. The phone was smashed. A web of cracks criss-crossed its blank screen. Jim tried to power it back on but to no effect. There was one other thing he could try.

Shuffling amongst the detritus of the crash: broken glass, an empty coffee cup, his bottle of water, Jim looked for the CB radio Simon had given him. He moved across the roof to the back of the car, over the seats. His knee crumpled the Decree Absolute. The more he looked, the more he worried the CB had been thrown from the car and his only means of contacting Simon was gone. But he found it, lying hidden under the fleece-top he’d thrown in the back seat at the start of his shift. Clutching the handset, he clicked the button on the side. Hope came as the click of static. It was still working.

‘Simon, Simon, are you there? It’s Dad.’ Closing his eyes, Jim pressed the CB to his forehead. ‘Please be okay,’ he said to himself, turning his eyes back to the mushroom cloud, waiting for an answer.

Between him and it lay the small town of Southwell. Could they still be alive? Southwell was eight, maybe nine, miles from Newark. Was that far enough outside of the blast radius? Jim thought so. They were not far from Caunton when they crashed. Jim guessed that was maybe twelve or so miles from Newark. Therefore, the warhead couldn’t be that big, tiny in fact. Euphemistically tactical. But there was nothing tactical about fallout, and they were closer to the blast than Jim. There would be a lot of damage. House fires. Ruptured gas and water mains. Fallen debris. Trapped people, screaming, crying for help. Jim pushed away the images.

‘Mad scientist, come in. It’s Papa Blue. Can you hear me? If you can, stay inside. I’m coming for you.’

Jim released the button. A cough of static was the only answer. Simon wouldn’t have gone to school yet, and Karen and Nigel couldn’t have left for the hospital either, could they?

The moaning Jim heard when he first woke was still drifting over the scene. He was still a policeman. Taking the CB with him, he crawled to the side window and pulled himself out across the glass-sprayed asphalt. The wind was still hot and filled with particles, and Jim shielded his face and looked towards the direction of the moans.

The blue Mondeo lay the right way up, but the entire bodywork of the vehicle was dented and crumpled, telling Jim that, like his own vehicle, they had flipped and rolled many times. Unlike Jim, they hadn’t been lucky enough to hit the hedge. They were twenty metres off, slammed headlong into a chestnut tree, which grew in the middle of the hawthorn bushes edging the fields. Jim went around to the back of his car and popped the boot. The contents
tumbled out as the lid dropped open, slack jawed. Attaching the CB to his utility belt, Jim swung the first aid rucksack onto his shoulder, and with the cautious habit of a man used to going to the aid of those who didn’t always realise they needed his help, Jim touched the Taser holstered to his right hip and the pepper spray clicked into his belt. That was when he noticed things were far worse than he first thought.

Looking over the underside of his upturned car, a second mushroom cloud rose from the direction of the town of Mansfield. He swung back towards Newark and then turned again and saw a third cloud on the horizon. A great column of ash grew out of the city of

Nottingham. Jim stood as if at the centre of the triangle of hell whose corners were held up with the incinerated ashes of countless souls. He swallowed hard and pushed down his own fear and the desire to run back to his family. He had a job to do, the same job which had led to that letter arriving this morning. Now, at the end of the world, wishing he could have taken so many things back, he made the same choice he had for the last two decades and went towards trouble and away from his family.

Cautiously, Jim approached the crumpled Ford Mondeo. Glass crunched underfoot, and the hot sandpaper-wind tousled his hair. This close, the moans of pain were clearer and accompanied by other voices. Urgent whispers. Grunts of struggle. The spitting of swear words.

Several metres from the car, Jim slowed. ‘Constable Jim Castle here. I’ve a first-aid kit. I just want to-’

The twin barrels of a shotgun slid through the shattered back window. Fire blazed from its muzzle, cutting short Jim’s words.


Jim saw the barrel levelling at him and went sprawling to the dirt. With a crack like tropical thunder, the twelve gauge punctured the driver’s side door of the police car. Jim didn’t hang around. He crawled through broken glass and blast debris, squirming behind the Mondeo, taking him out of a clear line of sight away from the shooter. A second shot rang out, and sprays of dust kicked up inches from Jim’s thigh. Wriggling faster on his belly, scraping his
knees and elbows, he reached the grass verge and dived into the ditch, taking cover.

He didn’t stop.

Scrambling through inches of thick silt topped with an equal amount of ditch-water, Jim crawled until he reached his police car. There was a small gap between the roof and the top of the ditch, but not enough room to haul his six-feet two-inches through, let alone with a rucksack strapped on his back. He turned in the ditch and risked bobbing his head up and into the line of fire.

From his quick peek, he hadn’t seen a gun barrel tracked on his position. No shot rang out when his head popped up. Jim listened. Whomever was moaning was badly injured and in need of attention, and there were still the sounds of struggle from the others.

Jim took another quick look.

The entire Mondeo was battered and badly damaged at the front. It was possible all four men inside were trapped. If Jim was going to move, he had to do it fast. Not wanting to give them any more warning than he already had, he didn’t look first. Springing from the ditch, his boots made a sucking noise as he pulled them from the mud. His uniform, now wet and filthy, clung to his body as he sprinted with everything that he had across the upturned front of his own car, skidding and putting a hand down to make the turn and then a dash for the back. He was just making the final turn, ducking down, when the third blast of the shotgun cracked, blowing off half the tyre of the back wheel, instead of Jim’s head.

He fell with his back against the open boot, panting. With adrenaline adding lead to his limbs, Jim looked around for a way to safety. Going through the hedge was a possibility, but he’d have to run across open fields. Heading back down the road ran the same possibility of a shot in the back. Or your skull being blown to pieces like a car tyre. Jim shook his head. He didn’t have many options.

He could see the mushroom clouds over Newark and the other above Nottingham. They reached into the stratosphere, where their deathly caps spread out, beginning to block out the sun, imposing night on morning. He didn’t have long. The ash would fall soon, bringing with it the slow death of radiation poisoning. The wind was still warm and acrid, but it was also dying. Jim knew from the Disasters and Emergency Committee Manual he had read for training exercises that survivors should head perpendicular to the direction of the wind. Until the wind created by the blasts died down, it wouldn’t be possible to tell which direction that would be. He needed to get home, gather his family, and get them to safety. Wherever that was. If they, whomever they were, had hit small towns like Mansfield and Newark, as well as cities like Nottingham, was anywhere going to be safe? Jim needed information.

He pressed two on his Airwave. There was no response. A direct call next. ‘PC Jim Castle to control, over… Control, do you read me? Over.’ Still no response.

Jim reached for Simon’s CB and paled. His hand groped thin air. Frantically, he searched the ground near him, seeing only glass, branches, and leaves, the flotsam of plastic bags and fast food wrappers thrown from car windows, all whipped up in the shockwave. His mouth went dry. Edging to the corner of the car, the tattered remnants of the tyre hanging above him, Jim peeked back towards the Mondeo. He drew his head back in time as the shotgun blast peppered the rear panel of the car, stray shot fizzing overhead like angry wasps.


Simon’s CB lay where Jim sprawled at the first gunshot. It must have come loose from his belt, either as he fell or crawled away.

‘Think!’ Jim pounded his forehead with the top of his fists. ‘Think! Think!’

There was a yawning sound, like a crypt door opening on rusted hinges. Whoever was in the Mondeo had finally managed to force open one of the doors.

Footsteps on glass.

‘Argh, my knee!’

‘Shut your gob,’ someone hissed.

Jim reached for his Taser. It was marginally better than a knife in a gun fight but only marginally. He needed to go first, and if they were all armed his reload better be fast. Making up his mind to shoot first, Jim drew the Taser. There would be no warning, police investigation be damned. If those mushroom clouds were anything to go by, there might not be a police force anymore.

Branches snapped to Jim’s right. They were circling behind him, through the hedge and along the edge of the field. He’d be ready and waiting for them.

Duck-walking on his haunches, Jim kept his head low. He reached the hedge, sliding back into the ditch and through the gaps at the bottom of the foliage, he levelled the Taser, ready to shoot them in the legs and give them the shock of their life.

From behind the police car, a shotgun hammer clicked.

‘Drop the cattle prod, little piggy.’

The Ash is released 1st September 2020.

The Ash ebook will be released a day early on 31st for members of the Dan Soule mailing list (www.dansoule.com/) and KR readers at a special discounted price of 99p/c for that day only.

Dan Soule

Once Dan is a horror author who was an academic, but the sentences proved too long and the words too obscure. Northern Ireland is where he now lives. But he was born in England and raised in Byron’s hometown, which the bard hated but Dan does not. They named every other road after Byron. As yet no roads are named after Dan but several children are. Dan’s literary fiction has featured in Number Eleven, Storgy, and the Dime Show Review. His science fiction is available in Shoreline of Infinity and Phantaxis. And his horror can be found in Devolution Z, Sanitarium Magazine, Disturbed Digest and Into the Ruins.

Dan’s website is at www.dansoule.com where there is an exclusive ebook of short stories available, plus a classic horror novel.

You can follow Dan on Twitter @WriterDanSoule

Dan’s Linktree is HERE

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