by Dani Ripley
Date of Publication: January 26th 2023
Publisher: Dani Ripley
Cover Artist: Dani Ripley
Genre: Horror, Eco-Apocalypse
Number of pages: 337
Word Count: 64,537
Tagline: Outrun the horde. Survive the ice.
Post-apocalyptic female buddy-western set against a backdrop of a sudden, cataclysmic ice age.
Hax can barely remember her real name, it's been so long since she's used it. “Hax” is a shortened version of the word Haxa – the Swedish word for witch - a nickname given to her by people afraid of her seemingly supernatural abilities: appearing out of nowhere then disappearing again just as quickly; uncannily accurate weather pattern readings; and extraordinary skill at tracking prey, human or otherwise. Or perhaps it was simply her propensity for sudden and extreme violence.
A natural loner, Hax isn’t bothered so much by the apocalypse as she is by other people. As such, she’s surprised to find herself traveling with a small group after a long solitary stint in the woods, but when a larger, more savage gang threatens her new people, she’s unable to convince the smaller group of the danger. Realizing it’s too late, she abandons them to their fate, but not before one of the younger members, Pip, sees her escape and decides to follow.
After witnessing the brutal slaughter of their fellow travelers, the two strangers set off through an icy northern wilderness to find Pip’s father, whose last known residence is a camp near the oil sands of Alberta, Canada. In order to survive, Hax and Pip will have to find a way to escape the ruthless horde of marauders still stalking them at every turn, as well as withstand extreme cold, starvation, and exhaustion. And above all, they’ll have to learn to trust each other.
In the middle of the night, I awoke to a low growl. Confused, I groggily fought my way up through thick layers of sleep to realize it was Misha. Fully awake now, I shushed him and listened. Faint footfalls crunched outside. Whoever it was, they weren’t on top of us yet, but they weren’t far away. I shook Pip awake and held a finger to my lips as she blinked up at me. Misha growled again, making Pip sit straight up in her sleeping bag.
“Get the gun,” I whispered. “And hold onto him,” I gestured at Misha, who stared intently at the tent flap. I dug my large hunting knife out of my bag and unsheathed it. “And don’t shoot me,” I added.
“Don’t go out there!” Pip hissed.
“It’ll be ok,” I said. “You remember how to use that, right?”
“Yes, but I still don’t think you should go.”
“It’ll be ok,” I repeated, as much for myself as for her. I unzipped the flap as quietly as I could.
Misha twitched behind me, but Pip held him tightly in the crook of her left arm. In her right hand, she clutched the gun, her finger loosely on the trigger. “Be right back,” I whispered. “If you see anyone who isn’t me, shoot them.” I slipped out before she could answer, leaving the flap open in my wake.
Holding my knife in front of me, I crept away from the tent, every muscle in my body tense with anticipation. The clouds had dissipated, leaving a clear, moonlit night. I didn’t see anyone in the immediate area. Our fire had gone out. I crouched low and made my way around the smoldering pit to the check on the horses.
Dancer huffed and regarded me with huge, calm brown eyes, his scruffy coat in desperate need of brushing. I gave him a good scratch. Blitzen shook her head and whinnied, shoving her nose at me to be stroked too. They didn’t seem upset. Perhaps what we’d heard were simply sounds of the winter forest settling for the night.
Just as I had the thought, a huge arm covered in stinking fur grabbed me around my neck and a grimy hand clamped roughly over my mouth. I sputtered and backed up into what felt like a brick wall. Without thinking, I stomped down hard with my right boot and shoved my butt out as far as I could, surprising him and breaking his hold on me. I whirled around and got low, grunting like an animal and diving for his knees. I didn’t manage to knock him over, but I drove my knife deep into his inner thigh just above his knee. When I heard the solid wet ‘thock’ of its hilt hitting his flesh, I jerked it up all the way up to his groin, severing his femoral artery.
He didn’t so much fall as crumble to a sitting position on the snow. He grabbed at his leg and looked at me. I scuttled backward on my butt like a crab, putting a couple more feet between us even though I was pretty sure he was bleeding out. “Demon,” he hissed. “I know you.” I crept forward again, my bloody knife held before me like an offering. “Get away from me,” he said.
“You’re dying,” I said back. “How many of you are there?”
“All of us. We’re coming for you.”
“Yes, but how far away?” I asked, exasperated. We didn’t have time for this. I was absolutely sure he was part of a group.
“We’re everywhere,” he said, fading. The blood beneath him was turning black, growing like a cartoon shadow. “You and your little girlfriend are going to die.”
“Not before you,” I said, rising. I looked around in the gloom. The horses huffed and stomped their feet. Was it possible he’d been alone? Maybe just a scout?
As I turned to go back to the tent a single gunshot shattered the stillness of the night. I broke into a run, skidding through muddy snow, sliding to a stop just beyond the fire pit. A body lay in a heap outside the tent. It was too large to be Pip. Cautiously I approached and leaned over. I could tell it was a man, or formerly a man, but that was all. His face had been completely obliterated from the point-blank shot. I peered into the tent, saw a smoking barrel, and Pip’s pale face beyond. “Are you ok?” I asked her.
“Misha’s gone!” she cried, pushing her way out of the tent. “He ran away when I fired the gun!”
“We’ve got to go, Pip. Others are coming.” I began throwing things into my pack and stuffing them down. Gently I took the gun from Pip. Her hands were shaking.
“We can’t leave Misha!” she yelled at me.
“Pip, we have to go. They’ll kill us, or worse. Get your stuff now!”
She rolled up her sleeping bag quickly and secured it to her pack, zipping up her parka. Mine was already done and strapped to my pack. “I’ll get the horses. You stay here,” I ordered.
Dani Ripley lives in Michigan and loves writing.
The Book Junkie Reads . . .Reckless Dreams Interview with . . . Dani Ripley . . .
How would you describe your style of writing to someone that has never read your work? I like books that keep the action tight and propel the reader forward, so I try to write in that fashion as well and just keep it simple. The intention is to take the reader on a fast-paced adventure ride that feels almost more like watching a movie than reading.
Do you feel that writing is an ingrained process or just something that flows naturally for you? Writing feels extremely natural for me; I communicate best that way. I always seem to have way too many ideas for stories at any given time and they can pile up and overwhelm me. Sometimes I feel frustrated that I don’t have enough hours in the day to write all the stuff I want to write!
What mindset or routine do you feel the need to set when preparing to write (in general whether you are working on a project or just free writing)? I just have to show up and the words come out, but sometimes showing up is the hardest part. I have a full-time accounting job and sometimes I don’t feel like writing after the workday is done, but when I’ve got a project going I always tell myself “just give it five minutes”, and usually I end up writing for an hour or more. So, the mindset is “just do it” like those Nike commercials in the 80’s used to say.
Do you take your character prep to heart? Do you nurture the growth of each character all the way through to the page? Do you people watch to help with development? Or do you build upon your character during story creation? My characters build themselves. It’s hard to explain but they are somewhat like ghosts that coalesce during the writing process, revealing themselves little by little until they’re fully realized. Often they surprise me, but that’s a big part of the adventure and probably why I enjoy writing so much.
Do you have a character that you have been working on for a long time that still isn't quite ready, but fills you with excitement to work on the story? I do – I have a character that’s appeared in a couple of unpublished short stories, who is becoming the main character of a science fiction novel I’ve had in mind for quite some time. I got about three chapters into that novel before another idea took hold and I went in a completely different direction. I’m completing that interloper novel now (a supernatural drama with a law-and-order twist), but I’m excited to return to my science fiction epic once the draft of my current novel is finished. Stay tuned to my website www.daniripley.com for updates on all of my upcoming projects.
Have you found yourself bonding with any particular character(s)? If so which one(s)? It’s funny, I love and bond with each and every one of my characters, even the horrible unlikable ones!
Can you share your next creative project(s)? If yes, can you give a few details? As I mentioned above, I’m almost finished with a first draft of a supernatural drama combined with a mystery element; then next continuing work on an epic science fiction novel. I’d also love to finish the very first novel I started writing, which is about a family of witches living in Virginia in the 70’s, which I’ve been tinkering with for over 20 years. So many projects!
What are some of your writing/publishing goals for this year?
I’d love to find a great literary agent!
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