We are delighted to be able to showcase this phenomenal novel by the talented author C.M. Forest. Early reviewers are loving this fast-paced visceral ride of carnage and we hope you do as well.
The 25th Floor
A deep, rumbling crash caused Olivia to open her eyes.
Confusion rolled through the landscape of her mind, even as a second clap of earth-shaking thunder filled her ears. She couldn’t tell if she had been sleeping or not.
“What?” The question fell from her lips malformed, a mix between a word and a moan.
No remnants of a dream hung throughout her consciousness. Only a void. Her bewilderment deepened when she realized she was lying on the floor. The plush carpet of her bedroom flattened against her stomach and chest.
Why am I on the ground?
No reasonable explanation presented itself.
Olivia took a deep breath and willed herself to remember, at the same time doing her best to keep the panic nipping her consciousness at bay. The memories were reluctant to appear, while anxiety grew wild like a weed. Finally, she was able to piece together a jigsaw puzzle of recollections.
She had a drink with her husband, Liam, who had returned home from work in unusually high spirits, a plastic bag full of Chinese food in hand. Once the combination dinners were finished, they had broken out the vodka from the freezer. Then a movie? It was at this time her memories lost coherence, became a foggy mess of snapshots.
Liam carrying her to bed.
The sound of his phone ringing.
Whatever had happened, one thing was undeniable—her head hurt like all hell. She usually took it easy when drinking, having discovered in her youth she was a cheap drunk. It didn’t take much to produce a hangover, and she’d suffered through quite a few in college. But those days were over, and this time was different. She’d never woken in such torment before. Besides the splitting sensation sliding across her cranium, her mouth was completely dry. When she did manage to swallow the minuscule bit of saliva she could produce, her stomach protested painfully with a severe contraction. The acidic taste of bile rose in the back of her throat, coating the inside of her mouth.
Lightning illuminated the world outside. The white light blared in through the bedroom windows like the prying beam of a searchlight. A second later, a booming explosion of thunder literally shook the room around her. Both effects, especially the noise, reverberated through her head, turning her skull into a gong.
Biting down on her bottom lip to distract the agony in her head, she got her hands underneath herself and pushed off the floor. As soon as her face was free from the carpet, she could feel wetness on her cheek, but Olivia couldn’t fathom what she had been lying in. Her fingers groped around in the dark and found a smooth, thin object her brain instantly catalogued as her phone. She turned on the screen and let out a pained moan at the sudden brightness, directing the device toward the floor.
A large, mostly soaked-in puddle of vomit spread like a lily pad where her head had been lying. It turned the already dark carpet black. Olivia squinted past the searing migraine, sure she could see bits of rice in the mess—not the leftovers she was hoping for.
The smell of booze, mixed with her purged dinner, made her gag.
“Liam?” She meant to yell, but her voice was a dry rasp. It also brought an unwelcome sensation—a sharp, angry cramp snapping closed on her stomach like a bear trap. “Ow, fuck.” She dropped to her rear and pressed her back against their bed, wrapping her hands across her stomach.
Only after the agonizing contraction finished did she notice how hot her bedroom was. A line of sweat had already started to collect at her hairline, as well as under her neck, armpits, and breasts.
Is the air conditioning off? If so, she couldn’t imagine why. They were in the middle of a heatwave.
“Liam, I need help.” The words came out a little stronger this time, enough, at any rate, to reach over the edge of her bed and wake her husband. She expected to feel the sheets pull, the mattress shift, as Liam rolled over to see what was going on. But the bed remained still.
Olivia turned around slowly and peeked over the side of the queen-sized mattress with her phone in hand. Although the bedding was rumpled, the bed itself was empty.
“Liam?” she called again. Still, her throat was so dry, raw, she doubted her voice would be able to make the trek through their apartment, especially with the storm assaulting the building.
She sighed and gripped the edge of the bed, hoisting herself to standing. Even as she changed elevations, she knew it had been a mistake. The sudden bodily shift caused the sharp pain in her stomach to return, and with it came a retching wave of nausea. Olivia could again feel the bile rising in her throat like a foul rodent emerging from its hole.
The sensation was enough to propel her forward, around her bed, and toward the en suite. The bathroom was small, just a toilet and sink. She ignored the light switch, slapped her phone down on the edge of the vanity, and made for the bowl.
Olivia dropped to her knees and leaned over the porcelain rim. The scent of piss greeted her. Liam rarely flushed after peeing—he said it was a waste of money. She heaved several times, but all she could produce was a small bit of phlegm and stomach acid. It did the trick though, and the vicious assault on her belly eased.
Dragging the back of her hand across her mouth, she reached out and flushed the toilet but remained hunched over the bowl—the porcelain cool and comforting against her sweating skin. Olivia took in large mouthfuls of oxygen and felt her stomach settle even further. Each breath added another brick to the foundation of stability she knew she would need to go vertical.
Feeling physically sound enough to stand, she pressed all her weight onto the rim of the toilet bowl and carefully rose. An uncomfortable cascade of sensations went through her, all which seemed to originate from her gut. Her stomach had become a poisoned well, feeding death to the rest of her body.
A trembling quake of muscle and tendon rippled through her limbs, and she felt completely drained. Once sure she wasn’t going to have a repeat fit of nausea, Olivia turned around slowly and gripped the edges of the sink.
With a sigh, she decided to get a better look at herself and reached across to the light switch just inside the door. When she toggled the switch, nothing happened. The power was out.
No wonder it’s so hot in here.
She grabbed for her phone, activated the screen, and held it up next to her head.
“Jesus Christ,” Olivia muttered, staring at her reflection in the mirror above the sink.
Pale to begin with, her fair complexion looked downright wraith-like in the gloom of the bathroom. Dark circles hung under her eyes. Her black hair, already prone to knotting, was a mess of tangles. Dried puke had twisted several clumps of strands into grotesque dreadlocks.
Unable to recall the last time she had felt so wretched, she couldn’t imagine drinking so much that this was the result. It just didn’t make sense.
Olivia returned her phone to the edge of the sink and twisted the faucet with the engraved C on it, holding her hands under the cold stream before splashing it onto her face. She repeated this action three times until the collar of her top—a Nine Inch Nails T-shirt she wore to bed—was soaking wet. The coldness of the water not only pushed back the oppressive heat, but it also worked at clearing her head. It took a bit longer to rub the vomit out of her hair, but eventually, she managed to scour the remains of her stomach contents from her locks.
Feeling as close to human as she was likely going to without a shower and a full night’s sleep, Olivia dried her hands and face on a towel hanging from a brass loop next to the sink and returned to her bedroom.
She rounded her bed at a glacial pace and stared down at the mess she had left on the carpet. It looked like a crime scene under the light from her phone and was going to be a bitch to clean up.
“Liam?” A bit more gusto this time. Enough, she reasoned, to cover the distance to the living room at least, but again, her husband failed to respond.
Olivia attempted to form a narrative of the evening’s events. Obviously, as embarrassing as it might be, she had imbibed more vodka than she should have and had paid the price. When exactly she ended up on the floor, or why Liam wasn’t in bed, she couldn’t say.
Rain lashed the glass of her bedroom window, even as another burst of lightning turned the night sky into day. In that moment, Olivia could see how dark, how menacing, the low-hanging clouds looked.
It seemed the storm was just beginning.
She was struck by the stillness which greeted her upon exiting the room. Thick darkness obscured the small hallway connecting the bedrooms—the master and the guest—to the living room. The faint, corpse-grey light from her phone did not do much to penetrate the distance before her. Olivia flipped the device around and attempted to activate the flashlight, only to be denied. Her battery was at less than ten percent.
“Fantastic.” For a moment, she actually started to turn back toward her bedroom and the phone charger next to her bed before shaking her head.
The power’s out, stupid.
Olivia had walked through her home many times in the dead of night, but this time, it felt different. Even as she rounded the bend, she felt as if she had wandered into an alien landscape. The shadows cast by the low light coming from her phone screen created holes in the floorplan, and previously lit corners became pockets of unimaginable depth, like some colossal hand had reached down and twisted her home like a Rubik’s Cube. It still held the same shape, but everything else was wrong.
An assault of lightning followed by a protest of thunder pulled her gaze to the large, floor-to-ceiling windows at the back of the dining room.
“Liam? Where are you?”
She realized she was afraid. A perk of residing in a brand-new high-rise building was a sense of security—the fears one faces while living in a house or smaller abode mostly vacant—but as she continued treading the dark waters of her apartment, she did not feel safe at all.
Alongside the dining room was the kitchen, but her feeble light did not reach the full extent of the room. The stainless steel appliances were completely lost to the null, but it did reveal enough of the countertop to make visible three items. A bottle of vodka—the sight of which made Olivia’s guts squirm like a heap of nightcrawlers. The note pad from the fridge—meant for grocery lists, with a cartoon dog on the top corner of each page saying into a word balloon, I dog-gone forgot. And the last item, an object she hadn’t seen in their home before—a prescription pill bottle.
Regular strength Tylenol gave Liam’s stomach fits. The man would be tormented by cramps if he ingested the kind of pharmaceutical alchemy prescribed by doctors. Olivia had no such problems with drugs—prescribed or recreational—but given her husband’s physical constitution in regard to the former, and outright disapproval of the latter, their home was narcotics free.
With the delicacy and precision of an archeologist resurrecting an ancient artifact, Olivia carefully lifted the pill bottle and held it before her face. She squinted at the label stuck to the side. Most of it had been scratched off, but she could just make out 30 tablets Temazepam. She shook the container. It was empty.
Another cramp caused her to lean forward, and the pill bottle fell from her fingers, bouncing hollowly along the marble countertop before rolling to a stop next to the vodka. Olivia bent over the island and rested her face in her palms, taking in a few deep breaths. She glared at the liquor bottle and pulled it toward her with shaking fingers. The movement sent a small eighty-proof tsunami splashing along the inside of the glass. It was still three-quarters full.
“Jesus, I have become a lightweight.”
The missing booze, which had been split between her and her husband, did not seem like enough to give her the mother of all hangovers.
Once the cramping passed, she turned her attention to the note pad. A page had been torn off, leaving a jagged swatch of paper still clinging to the strip of glue on the top.
Olivia knew the pad had been blank. She had bought it at the dollar store shortly after moving in, and in the preceding six months, neither her nor her husband had written a single item on the list. Why Liam had ripped a page free was beyond her.
On the fresh page, though, she saw he had scrawled something.
Olivia scrunched her eyebrows together. What’s that mean? She instinctively thought of every four-digit code she knew—numbers for banking, or passwords—but nothing matched.
She continued to stare at the digits until her phone vibrated in her hand. The sudden movement caused her to jerk and flip the device around. Less than five percent battery. To punctuate this statement, the screen dimmed considerably, making the device all but useless as a source of light.
“Damn it.” She sighed, placing her cell amidst the other articles on the countertop. Another item lost to the darkness around her.
Outside, the wind whistled and howled. Olivia let the mystery of the pill bottle and the number on the pad rest for a moment and pushed herself away from the island, carefully starting across the dining room toward the balcony door. If she pulled back all the curtains, she might be able to add a bit of light to her surroundings. Plus, she was curious how bad it had gotten—or was getting—outside. She needed something to take her spinning mind off the mysteries filling her home.
The view from the balcony was both impressive and completely uninspiring at the same time. Being on the twenty-fifth floor presented an amazing look at the world around the high-rise, the problem being, at present time, the view only presented unbroken horizon. The New Leaf Building was just the first in a planned group of structures which would be the start of a burgeoning neighborhood. At least, that was what she had been told upon moving in. But, after six months, not a single bit of construction had begun on any other project.
Olivia pressed her fingers against the glass of the sliding door—the panes had retained some of the chill the air conditioning offered before the hydro went out—and stared off into the night. The New Leaf was surrounded on all sides by trees, with a thin, black road cutting through the flora, leading away from the tower all the way to the highway. Rain, riding chaotically on currents of frenzied wind, lashed against the balcony. Olivia could also feel this, small vibrations through the window, entering her fingertips. She suddenly needed to go out, to experience the storm.
A humid gust greeted her when she pulled the door open. Freckles of rain spattered against her cheeks. It wasn’t the level of refreshment she had hoped for. The rain itself was warm and stank like pennies, but still, the air was moving and went a ways toward further clearing her head.
She sighed. Somewhere in the distance was their previous home, a three-story slum buried in the heart of the city. No matter how late at night, the sounds of humanity would come through their windows while living within that old building. Olivia loved it. Liam hated it.
The day he came home all a bluster, excited news brimming from his lips, she knew things were going to change. His employer had started a partnership with a construction conglomerate, and as a perk of the deal, he—and any other staff who wanted to take advantage of the offer—would be given a full year, rent-free, in a new high-rise apartment building in the countryside. How far in the countryside, he hadn’t known at the time—it turned out to be nearly an hour—but said the commute would be worth the free rent. When she noted they only had one car, and it would mean both having to quit her job and being stuck at home, Liam was quick to point out a year’s rent was greater than the pay afforded by her part-time employment at a used bookstore. He also reminded her of her desire to get back into writing, promising to turn the spare bedroom into an office.
So, she agreed to the move, and within a week, they were packing boxes.
Olivia had to admit, the relocation had been exciting at first. The New Leaf Building was a vast improvement over their previous home. The apartment was easily twice the size of the one they had left behind. The exhilaration was short lived though, as the realities of their new dwelling began to weigh in.
Liam was almost always irritable. Already prone to working late, the commute only added to his frustrations. He even occasionally stayed with a friend in the city on the nights it was just too late to make the trek home. Olivia herself couldn’t find the motivation to do much of anything, certainly not rekindle her love of writing—though she tried. Instead, she would sit on the balcony and pine for their old home, a place which felt increasingly farther away, like the ground between the two locations was growing, stretching.
All these problems seemed secondary to the one facing her now—finding her husband. Olivia scurried back into her apartment and slid the door closed, leaving the storm behind. She tried to recall if they had any candles or a flashlight stashed somewhere, possibly tucked into a drawer or in one of the boxes in the spare room, but was brought to a mental halt when she glanced across the span of her home.
A glowing red light was coming from the front door of their apartment.
Between the confusing state of her awakening and the unsettling absence of her husband, Olivia had missed something while moving through her home. She stepped forward. The glare was emanating from the hallway outside, a crimson haze invading through the partially open front door.
Olivia felt her heart begin to thud.
The sensation was so strong that, for the first time since waking up on the bedroom floor, the general turmoil in her stomach and the dull ache in her brain was completely forgotten.
Because, even as she squinted, she was sure someone had been standing out there.
Olivia took a quick step back, keeping the door in her sights and knocking into the glass of the balcony.
“Hello?” Her voice cracked as she spoke, the single word sounding more like the croak of a frog than English.
Fumbling through various scenarios in an attempt to explain what she was seeing, Olivia settled on the most worrisome.
Somebody was about to enter her home.
She almost called for her husband again but kept her mouth shut. Unless he was playing a particularly mean joke, Liam wasn’t there.
Eyes wide, she stared at the sliver of red light peeking around the edges of the door. Had it been open the entire time? Had she walked right past it upon leaving her bedroom and not even noticed? Or had somebody, the shadow in the hall, opened it?
Her breath came fast and hard, and it made her lightheaded. The distance between her current location and the apartment door felt insurmountable. She could never overcome the space between the two before whatever was in the hall could push its way in.
Olivia sucked in a lungful of air and forced her legs to move. She scurried through her dining room, past the kitchen, skirted the living room, and with her hands out, pushed the front door closed. Only with the snap of the deadbolt locking into place did the air exhale from her body.
“What the fuck is going on?” she whispered. She turned around and propped her back against the door. Even supported by the sturdy wood behind her, she felt weak, like she would collapse to the floor.
A quick, frantic patter vibrated through the door. Olivia yelped and skittered away from her position.
Somebody is definitely out there!
She rushed forward once again, yelling, “Who’s there?” Olivia pressed her face to the surface and peered through the peephole.
The red light of the emergency lamps cast a bloody haze on the section of hallway opposite her door. The patterned wallpaper—an elegant floral print—was reduced to a crimson collection of red shapes. Off to the extreme left and right of her fish-eyed view, the corridor fell into a shadowy pool. From what she could see, the hallway was vacant.
“If somebody is out there, you better stop it now! I’m going to call the cops if you don’t!” She actually hoped for someone to appear, to stand up from a crouched position and stare back. As awful as it would be, she would at least be able to confront it.
But nothing stirred beyond the door.
“Fuck this,” she said, leaving the door behind.
She wasn’t going to call the police, not yet, but she would call Liam. Why her husband was not home was a mystery she couldn’t wrap her head around, but it was a mystery which was easily solved. He would not have gone anywhere without his phone.
Olivia collected her own cell from the kitchen island, swiped away the returned warning of imminent battery failure, and brought up Liam’s number. Strangely enough, she hesitated. Her thumb, poised over the call button like a guillotine, remained still. A deep sensation of foreboding, like she really did not want to know where Liam had gone or what he was doing, filled her, a swirling paradox of curiosity and utter dread, the idea that to learn the truth would forever change her life. Dismissing the unwanted feelings with a frustrated sigh and a headshake, she dialed.
A part of her expected to hear his phone’s ringtone jingle through the stillness of their home. Like she had somehow managed to miss him completely, thanks to the darkness, and had moved right past him without noticing. Whatever she was expecting, it wasn’t what she got. Instead of the call going through at all, the line simply went dead. She tried a second time and then a third before pulling her phone away from her ear and inspecting it. She had no signal.
“What? That’s not possible,” she muttered to herself.
She wondered if a drained battery could cause a poor connection. As far as she could recall, it had never been an issue before.
“That’s great!” Olivia blurted, dropping the device back onto the countertop.
She began to pace, not really sure what was the best course of action to take. The New Leaf was a wireless building. Something which had never been an issue before, thanks to the nearby cell tower, but if for some reason the cell signal was compromised, then she was completely cut off from the outside world. Olivia rubbed her eyes—her head still sang a chorus of torment—and took a handful of steadying breaths.
“Think. Think. Think. Where would Liam go? Why?”
The answer to both things came to her at once.
The phone call.
A vague, ill-shaped piece of the evening’s events started to materialize in her mind’s eye. Once she was in bed, the world fading fast around her, she had heard Liam’s phone ring. Whoever had called him must have required his attention. She glanced toward the front door and, more specifically, the small set of hooks stuck to the wall next to it. Even in the dark, she could see the glint of his car keys.
“So, whoever called you was in the building?”
That seemed unlikely. Liam had told her only a few of his co-workers had taken the rent-free offer, and of those who had, he was not friends with any of them. As for the other tenants, Liam worked so much he wouldn’t know half their neighbors even if he ran into them.
Yet the evidence was there. Somebody had called him, causing him to go out. But he knew he wouldn’t be gone long so left the front door unlocked—something he was prone to do when running down to his car in the garage.
Her deductions did not explain the note pad with its seemingly random number, nor the odd pill bottle, empty of its contents, left behind in the kitchen, but those questions were secondary in her mind behind finding her husband.
Olivia returned to the peephole and looked out. The red haze was almost surreal, like she was not viewing the space just steps away through a warped piece of glass, but rather was peeking through a tear into another reality altogether. Whoever had tapped her door was apparently gone. She wondered briefly if it could have been a burglar but then rejected the idea as being too outlandish. The New Leaf was a safe, secure building, and as far as she had seen, no weirdos or psychopaths lived within its walls. Whoever had made the noise was probably just a confused neighbor.
“It’s nothing.” This verbal reassurance did little to quell the dread which had started gnawing at her guts like a rat.
Olivia slipped on her sandals and reached for the lock. The sound—a deep clunk—made by the deadbolt retracting into its base made her regret the action almost immediately. She let her hand hover over the knob for several seconds before giving it a twist and pushing the door slightly ajar. Even though the peephole had promised empty hallway on the other side, she had still expected, in that moment, for an arm to reach in and grab her, or a face to suddenly appear in the curtain of red light spilling between the door and the frame, but neither thing happened.
She pulled the door open farther and leaned forward, sticking her head out through the gap. As soon as she did, she could hear something. It wasn’t a knock or thump or bang, but rather a low, warbling sound. A sound which couldn’t be mistaken for anything else.
Somebody was moaning in pain.
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“A claustrophobic chamber piece set inside a modern apartment tower, C.M. Forest’s Infested has the gritty feel of early Cronenberg and Romero. The wild, fast-moving plot and gruesome set pieces will delight readers with a taste for the strong stuff.”
—Nick Cutter author of The Troop and The Deep
“Swiftly moving between grisly encounters, action set pieces and peeled away reveals, C.M. Forest’s Infested holds nothing back. This is pacy, gory, relentless fun graduated from the old school with honors.”
—Andrew Pyper, author of The Residence and The Demonologist
“From the outset, this breakneck horror tale never lets up. Fans of 70s James Herbert and David Cronenberg are going to love this well written, skin crawling splatterfest!”
—Dave Jeffery, author of the A Quiet Apocalypse series
“Forest’s ‘Infested’ is a claustrophobic nightmare! This book had me racing to see just what will happen, while squirming the entire time. Loved it!”
—Steve Stred, author of Sacrament and Mastodon
“INFESTED is the best debut horror novel I’ve read this year. Can’t wait to see what crawls out of CM Forest’s skull next.”
—Drew Starling, author of Sentinel and Nothus
“C.M. Forest has created an image-induced nightmare of skittering little legs and creepy crawly carnage resulting in one heck of a traumatizing good time... Infested is a full-tilt 10 out of 10 on the heebie-jeebies scale, and a 5 out of 5 stars on the Horror Bookworm Recommendation scale”
—Mike from Horror Bookworm