You didn’t ask for it, but you’re going to get it! Here is your sneak peek look at TETHER. This sample includes chapters 1 and 2 of the novel, which will be released on September 24th. If you’re an audiobook listener, check out the freshly recorded first chapter, narrated by Jeffrey Kafer.
Below, you’ll find the description, the audiobook sample, and then chapters 1 and 2 for those who prefer their inner narrator.
In the middle of the night, an explosion rocks Cambridge, Massachusetts and wakes Saul Signalman from bed. Blue, ethereal light pulses into the sky. A Facetime call pulls him away from the view. It’s his wife, consumed in light, bidding him farewell. And then—she’s gone. In the dead of night, he races to his wife’s lab at the explosion’s core, but the building is gone.
His wife is gone.
All that remains is a test subject: Rain, a woman with no memory, whose eyes glow when she comes into contact with unseen forces, whose body lights up the night when monstrous nightmares descend on Boston, and whose creators will do anything to get her back.
Pursued by a rogue government agency, Saul goes on the run with the only person who might be able to explain what happened to his wife, reveal what kind of person she really was, and how to stop the otherworldly terrors wiping out cities.
With TETHER, Jeremy Robinson, the #1 Audible bestselling author, returns to the literary genre he created—the kaiju thriller*—and turns it on its head, transporting the reader into the strange, and then beyond, into the supernatural.
*“Kaiju” means “strange beast” in Japanese and refers to giant monsters like Godzilla, Gamera and Robinson’s creation, Nemesis.
Darkness inspires me. Calls to me like a siren. It kindles my imagination and sets it alight to possibilities far out of my reach during the daylight hours. That’s all good, and I’ve made a living from it, but inspiration and the conjurings of an overactive imagination come at a Faustian cost: sleep.
And if the deal isn’t renegotiated: the soul.
Because without sleep, the mind breaks.
Anger takes the steering wheel, guided by frustration.
At first, it’s the big things that get to you. The world’s great injustices. Then it’s the little things, like not being able to find a battery for your damn electric toothbrush—who brushes their teeth with normal toothbrushes anymore?
Neanderthals and Philistines. That’s who.
Without rest, the mind grinds and then breaks.
At my worst, I averaged two hours a night…while taking 12.5 milligrams of time-released Ambien every day for two months. I pushed through my declining health, and focused on deadlines and my ambition to someday be editor-in-chief of the Boston Globe, for whom I write.
The first thing that goes when you’re sleep-deprived is your ability to spell. Memory follows. Common sense brings up the rear, its overweight hands raised, its flabby bingo-arms waggling in the air, enjoying the mad rollercoaster that is your emotional state.
Within a few weeks, I’d botched five articles, missed three deadlines, and barked at my boss. I wasn’t fired. My editor was kind and forgiving. Instead of canning me, he suggested I quit while my reputation was still intact.
I did. And it is.
Which is to say, I didn’t have much of a reputation then, and I still don’t.
Turns out, the job wasn’t right for me. Writing under the pressure of daily deadlines turned my nighttime imagination into a monster. Free from the daily grind of crime reporting, my thoughts turned from the things that go bump in the night, to the things that make me smile.
Like my wife.
I had been on the brink of losing Morgan, too. Hadn’t even realized it.
Happily, like my editor, she’s a forgiving woman.
And now she’s thrilled that I’m following my passions and writing about New England outdoor adventures…on my own blog…which at least one person reads every day. I’m pretty sure it’s my mother, but I’m also sure I can make this work.
Morgan’s job—something with a lot of letters and an ‘ologist’ at the end—pays well. So money isn’t a concern. While some guys might find it emasculating to have their wives be the breadwinner, I find it a great source of comfort. She has been a beacon for me, a North star, shining the way toward smoother shores.
When I left my job, I was broken. Half chewed up and spit out by the night.
She put me back together again.
It took time.
Took a damn year.
But she stayed by my side, soothing, encouraging, and best of all, making me laugh—and that’s no easy task. After years of covering murders, terrorism, and violence of all sorts, my sense of humor had been locked away in a Siberian labor camp, chipping at rocks and living off pine needles.
Now, I can smile.
I’m on a regimen of supplements and drugs, including melatonin, magnesium, Calm CP, Seriphos, and just 2.5 milligrams of Ambien. I sleep an average of seven hours a night. I don’t fall asleep until 1am, but my ‘job’ allows me to roll out of bed at 9am. I miss seeing Morgan in the morning, but evidence of her passing still lingers by the time I rise.
The smell of her shampoo in the still shower-warmed bathroom.
A smoothie left in the fridge.
A note. Or a chocolate. Or a fresh photo of her face on my phone’s start-up screen.
Even when she’s not with me, she is.
Even when I don’t see her for days, because, like now, she works the kind of hours that broke me.
But her job is different. It enthralls her. Energizes her. She’ll come home from a three-day work binge, walk through the door, and spend the next two hours telling me all about it—what she can tell me about it, without breaking her NDA—with a smile on her face.
SpecTek is a small, but well-funded lab with a government contract. I’m not allowed to know what they work on, and I know not to ask. It’s the only secret between us, and that’s okay by me. Odds are, I wouldn’t understand it anyway. And work is good for her.
And that’s good for me.
I miss her, obviously, but we’ve never been better.
The only downside is that when she’s gone, I don’t sleep as well. These days that means bumping the Ambien up from 2.5 milligrams to 5, and trying not to think about anything serious if I have to get up to pee.
Tonight is a 5 milligram night.
She’s been gone for three days, and she isn’t sure when she’ll be able to come home.
Some people might worry that there’s something screwy going on, that she’s refreshed after several days at work because she’s actually with her Spanish lover, Esteban. Or something. But we FaceTime. A lot. I know she’s at the lab. And if she’s getting busy on the sly, it’s with one of her middle-aged, kind of overweight, and definitely not handsome co-workers. So I guess kudos to him. While my inner workings pulled a Humpty-Dumpty, I’m not too shabby on the outside, like Matt Damon with a dad-bod…except I’m not a dad.
Last I checked, it was 2am. That’s when I took the second hit of Ambien. Now I’m curled up under four heavy blankets—the weight helps—and listening to the drone of a fan, whose symphony of white noise drowns out the world beyond.
Until it doesn’t.
A quake runs through my body. I barely notice it in my Ambien stupor, and the beginnings of a dream lure me deeper into sleep. There’s a vague image of a woman with a bleach blonde perm—a Golden Girl?
And then shaking again. This time, it’s violent enough to rip me from the warm embrace of the drugs, the supplements, and my blanket lasagna. Confused and annoyed, I sputter and attempt to shout an expletive. What comes out is, “P-Peterson!”
I don’t know anyone with that last name. Haven’t watched any TV or movies, that I can remember, with characters named Peterson. The surname comes from the depths of my mental somewhere, accessible only through a combination of sleep aids, confusion, and a half-dream state.
Arms outstretched and reaching, a baby emerging from darkness into light, I fumble for the lamp.
By the time it clicks on, the shaking has stopped.
I look around the room for the rhino I’m sure someone set loose, but I’m still alone, and the hardwood floors show no signs of having been stomped on by a two-ton animal. Bathed in light and squinting, I slide to the side of the bed, feet planted.
I glance at the clock.
Wasn’t there a horror movie where 3:33 was important? I wonder, my mind waking up.
Don’t think about it! My sleepy-self shouts.
If I can’t settle down, and soon, this will become a 7.5 milligram Ambien night. Technically, there’s nothing wrong with that, but I don’t like being dependent on drugs. What if there’s a third World War? What if drugs are suddenly unavailable? Will I never sleep again?
Might even be a full 10 milligram Ambien night. It’s been a year since I had one of those.
A tremor shakes the floor beneath my feet.
Not a dream.
Not a hallucination.
Something real is happening.
My first thought is a terrorist attack.
My second thought is that Morgan’s not here.
I reach for my phone, intending to check the local police scanner app. Whatever’s happening, they’ll be talking about it. I pluck the phone off the night stand, but before I can tap in my passcode, the house shakes again.
Car alarms whoop.
A loud twang rips through the air. It’s electric, like the Faraday cage show at the Museum of Science. And it has a direction.
I yank open the light-blocking curtains and lift the double-thick accordion blinds. On a clear day, Boston’s skyline is impressive from the second floor of our modest Cambridge home. Tonight, the view is obscured by what can best be described as a blue explosion of electricity surrounding a column of luminous ether stretching up into the night sky.
It’s horrifying, and beautiful.
I can’t help but smile at it.
Then I realize SpecTek isn’t too far from the glow’s source. I lean forward until my forehead touches the cool glass.
SpecTek isn’t just near the light’s core.
It is the light’s core.
Heart pounding, I look down to my phone, tapping in my six-digit passcode with a shaking thumb. With five numbers punched in, the phone comes to life in my hand, loudly booming DMX’s Gonna Make Me Lose My Mind—my wife’s personalized ring tone.
I blink down at her name, Morgan Signalman, and the photo of her face, sticking out her tongue. She looks goofy in her lab coat and safety goggles, but I know what kind of person—and yeah, what kind of body—is hidden under that nerdy façade. I swipe to accept the FaceTime call.
A shaky, blue-lit image fills the screen. The electric buzz emanating from the strange, distant explosion is mirrored by the sound coming out of my phone. Old journalist habits guide my fingers, swiping and tapping through menus until the phone is taking a screencap video of everything I’m seeing.
A crackle of electricity is followed by a scream. Not Morgan. It’s a man.
And then I see him run past the lens. He’s blurry, but not because of the camera. It’s like he’s being stretched out, leaving a slug-slime trail of himself hovering in the air.
Arcs of blue light twist through the lab. I can see an octagonal room with walls of glass in the background. Inside it is a woman, her black body-suit and stark white skin and hair easy to see. But what stands out most are her eyes.
When she rushes the glass wall, slamming her fists into it, I flinch back. She’s shouting something. I can’t hear her, but her lips are easy enough to read.
Let me out!
The man screams again, off camera until he sails back into view, trailing himself again, this time glowing…no, burning with energy.
The camera’s view 180s. A close up of Morgan. Eyeliner-streaked eyes burrow into my heart. I’ve never seen her afraid. It takes all my fortitude to keep from sobbing.
“They lie—to u—!” she shouts, her voice crackling in and out. “I’m sor—…—idn’t know.”
“You need to get out of there!” I say. “Get away. Now!”
She shakes her head, face becoming a frozen mask of pixelization. For a moment, I think I’ve lost her. Then the image clears and her voice comes through like she’s standing next to me.
“Don’t be afraid, Saul. I’ll be with you, no matter what, okay?”
This is goodbye.
“Baby, you can do it. You can live. You can be bold. You don’t need me. Never have.”
The last of my defenses implode, releasing a trapped bubble of anguish. It pops from my lips as a sob.
“Find peace,” she says. “That’s all I want for you. Find—”
Outside, the distant laboratory explodes, blue light forcing my eyes shut. The electronic twang slams into my ears a moment before a shockwave shatters glass, lifts me off my feet, and throws me into the wall.
Somehow, Morgan’s voice reaches my ears, escaping the phone as a distorted whisper. “Love you…”
For a moment, I feel her there with me. Moving through me.
And then, I feel nothing.
I feel empty.
A wailing of people and animals rises up across the powerless city. I join the chorus, screaming my pain toward the luminous blue night sky, knowing that despite my still-breathing lungs, still-beating heart, and still-functioning mind, my life is over.
She can’t be dead.
Those four words repeat in my mind as I push myself off the floor.
She can’t be dead.
The drywall is dented where my body struck it. Twin divots from my shoulder and my head mar the light blue paint that Morgan so carefully applied last summer. She’d wave it off, bust out some spackle, and in a day, you wouldn’t even know I’d been thrown into the wall.
But I’ll know, because I can’t fix things like that, and because I’m still going to be hurting, and not just physically.
She can’t be dead.
I stumble out of the bedroom, while some invisible force grips my heart in its gnarled fingers and squeezes, making each beat a painful labor.
The railing supports my weight as I stumble down the stairs. In socks, the smooth hardwood steps are a slippery deathtrap. But I’m still barefoot and dressed for bed in red boxers and a black Bob Marley T-shirt. Yesterday’s socks are in the hamper. Today’s, in the drawer.
I don’t care. Not about socks. Or what I’m wearing. Or much of anything.
I’m on autopilot, like a stunned fish. Breathing. Moving. Unaware of where I’m going or why.
I miss the last step. Everyone does it on occasion. I’ve done it in the past, thinking I was stepping out onto the floor, only to discover another seven-inch drop. Normally, it’s not too hard to catch yourself.
In my numbed state, I flop forward and slam into the front door, before I can even think to reach out my hands.
The sharp pain in my forehead simultaneously stuns me and wakes me up. I stumble to the side, one hand to my head, wincing. But now I know where I’m going, and why.
I need to see.
She can’t be dead.
I twist the door handle and pull, nearly falling back, overcorrecting myself, before stumbling out onto the front porch. Warm summer air greets me, along with the smell of rhododendrons planted on either side of the porch—also Morgan’s handiwork, three years ago.
I’m not sure how I make it to the bottom of the steps, but my feet soon slap on cool concrete.
Despite the complete lack of artificial light inside or outside, I have no trouble seeing. Electric blue light flares in the distance, pulsing into the sky where a vortex of shimmering clouds swirl.
She can’t be dead.
The desperate argument is losing steam, giving way to the reality that whatever is happening, Morgan is at ground zero.
No way she’s alive.
The scene blurs as my eyes tear over.
My knees burn, scraped when I dropped down in the road.
The voice is familiar, but almost not there.
“Saul. The hell are you doing, guy?” A hand grips my shoulder, snapping me back to full awareness. It’s my neighbor, Randy. Father of two. Uber fan of all Boston sports teams, often spotted in the wild wearing multiple logos and color schemes at once. He’s a local, born and raised, and he has the accent to prove it. I wouldn’t say we’re friends, but I wouldn’t say we’re not.
We’re New Englanders. If there’s a game on, he shouts his excitement, and I pretend to share it. If there’s a storm, we check on each other. But it’s not like we’re watching Game of Thrones together, or having backyard barbeques. I mean, he’s invited me a few times, so maybe we are friends, but I’ve never gone because there’s only so much sportsing I can take before I’m revealed for the non-sports fan I am, which in Boston—nay, all of New England save for Vermont—is akin to blasphemy.
I look up into Randy’s concerned eyes, and he flinches back. Something about my face frightens him. He looks to the house. “Where’s Morgan?”
My head lolls to the pavement.
There’s a cricket there, hiding in my shadow, perhaps watching the glowing storm.
Morgan liked crickets. Their songs. When the thing chirps, I let out a little laugh, sniff in a deep breath, and find a trace of resolve.
She can’t be dead.
I push myself up and stand.
“Damn, guy, you’re bleeding.” Randy is eyeing me now with something approaching suspicion. “Saul, where’s Morgan?”
I lift a finger and point.
At the storm.
Right at its bright core.
“You’re shitting me…”
“She called when it happened,” I say. “She’s…”
She’s not fucking dead!
“Hey!” Randy shouts after me, as I sprint inside the house. The blood running down my legs stretches out, tickling my feet. I move through the front hall, the living room, and the kitchen, instinct guiding my hands to each and every light switch as I go, not a one of them working. Luckily, Morgan was a minimalist—is a minimalist—and everything is in its place. Navigating to the bowl holding my car keys on the kitchen counter is simple.
Keys in hand, I push through to the garage, slapping the door opener.
When nothing happens, I’m thrown for a moment. It’s like I’ve suddenly lost the ability to move a limb. Then my mind catches up.
I fumble in the windowless garage, bumping into the RAV4 and following it around to the back. When I find the bumper, I place a hand on the roof and hoist myself up. My arm flails in the dark, like some hungry tube worm at the bottom of the ocean, searching for elusive prey.
There’s a gentle tap against my hand, and then it’s gone.
I force myself to resist desperation for a moment. To slow down.
The plastic handle taps the back of my hand. I let it slip over my skin and into my palm, where I grasp hold and pull down, unlocking the garage door from the automatic door opener. Then I’m off the bumper and shoving the grinding door up. I would normally cringe at the noise it makes this late at night, but everyone is awake. I can hear them inside their houses, panicked. I can see them lighting candles, fending off the darkness.
“Saul,” Randy says, still in the street watching the lightshow. Like me, he’s in boxers and a T-shirt, but he thought to throw on a pair of slippers and a bathrobe that’s billowing in a growing wind, coming from the explosion’s core.
I ignore him, hopping into the RAV4. The vehicle is two years old, and thanks to the fact that I’m something of a neat freak, and I barely drive, it still has that ‘new car’ smell.
It’s familiar, and calming. My own private quiet place.
A fist pounds on the window, drawing a shout from my lips.
Randy. “What are you doing?”
I turn the key.
“No power,” Randy says, voice muffled. “It’s not just lines. It’s like one of those things or something.”
“Electromagnetic pulse,” I say to myself, but he somehow hears me.
“Right. One of those.”
I glance in the rearview, into Randy’s yard. His kids are slobs. If they take it out, they leave it out. Tonight, that includes his son’s ten-speed mountain bike.
I push the door open, forcing Randy to move behind it. Then I’m out and hauling ass across the street.
“Hey!” Randy calls out. “Damnit, Saul, slow down for a second.”
I yank the bike up from the perfectly maintained lawn. The slender seat is uncomfortable under my butt, but I barely notice. The sharp pedal grips on my bare feet stand out a little more, but they don’t stop me from putting my weight on them and propelling myself forward.
Randy doesn’t try stopping me. He kind of just raises his arms in defeat and steps to the side.
“If you need me,” he says, now behind me, “I’m not going anywhere.”
Maybe he is a friend, I think, as the bike rolls downhill, picking up speed.
I glide down the center of the road, not worried about cars. At this time of night, there won’t be many vehicles stalled in the center of the road, and most people are hiding in their homes, no doubt mourning the loss of their power and devices.
Air rushes up my nostrils with each breath. Smells like ozone. Like just after a summer lightning storm. But the air is dry despite the gathering clouds.
When the hill levels out, I pedal hard, grinding through gears until I’m moving at a steady thirty mile per hour clip. It’s been a while since I rode a bike like this. Despite my anti-sportsing standpoint, I was an avid biker through high school and college. Marriage and a full-time job changed that, but riding a bike really is like riding a bike. All of my old instincts come back to me, guiding me, as I follow the familiar path through Cambridge’s tight network of neighborhoods.
Ten minutes later, I’m both unnerved and exhausted. The city’s rising panic is becoming palpable, even though I’m only catching conversations in bits of Doppler waves. But I hear things like ‘terrorist attack,’ ‘nuclear explosion,’ and ‘radiation’ as I pass. A sixty-something-year-old woman, in a frilly pink night gown, shakes a fist at me—not in anger, but in warning. “You’re going the wrong way!” she shouts.
And she’s not wrong. I really don’t know what I’m riding toward, aside from a sliver of hope.
She can’t be dead.
As I approach the base of the hill upon which SpecTek sits, I stand up and put my weight into each pedal push. By the time I reach the incline, I’m doing forty. As the climb begins, my speed drops by half, and then as my legs weaken, by half again. I downshift and work my way up the hill in switchbacks. It’s slow going, but faster than walking.
Near the top, I slide off the bike and hold my ground.
Not because I’ve run out of energy, although I have. Or because I’m terrified, which I am.
But because the hill comes to an end thirty feet sooner than it used to.
And then I see why.