I meant to unveil this excerpt of my story earlier but a couple things came up during the day that prevented me from doing so. I apologize for the delay. This is still a work-in-progress, so I ask that you bear with me if something within the story is not yet there. All in all, I hope you enjoy what I’ve written, thus far. Would love to know what you all think of both the preliminary cover and the story itself.
Wails of the dying cut the night like sirens, studded with the crack of gunfire and moonlight winking on speeding bullets. The smell of burning flesh and rubber wafted through the air; the stench sickening my senses. Everywhere I looked, signs of a decaying world hit me.
Derelict buildings sat silent on random corners, ghostly shells sporting broken windows and rotted wooden doors that hung off their hinges. Large cracks lined the road, stone and rubble littering the pavement. Shadows danced as I walked along the darkened streets, catching occasional glimpses of an abandoned car.
Mounds of tattered scraps of cloth and bone were strewn across the uneven terrain. The bodies were so singed that it was difficult to discern whether they were once male or female. My heart constricted as my gaze fell upon a small body that lay curled into a tight ball near the side of a building. Approaching with caution, I gasped. Her skin was charred in places, bits flaking off as a slight breeze began to pick up. Her arms were wrapped around the remnants of a teddy bear; her chin tucked between its glassy eyes. A look of pure terror was permanently cemented onto her face.
Tears rose to the surface. This was ironic, for I had no idea who she was and where she’d come from. This made me all the more determined to provide for my family.
An encounter such as this one was an every day occurrence here in Boise, Idaho. You would never know that this was once a very prosperous and quite popular city. The world we now lived in was a far cry from the one we’d known.
In the early days, we’d lived with the belief that the earth would end in a storm of fire and brimstone, anxiously waiting for a merciful God to take his people to the Promised Land. Days passed and nothing happened. Years sped on by without anything of consequence occurring. Eventually, we came to believe that perhaps we were wrong about everything that we’d believed in.
Yet the predictions were right. To some extent. Fire and brimstone did fall from the sky, but not as an act of God. It came in the form of a meteor cluster pulled into our solar system. With their path off kilter, they’d tumbled through space obliterating everything at such an alarming rate that we were unprepared for the destruction.
The impact took many lives. However, the world didn’t end as we knew it. It left most of us in limbo, trying to survive. The scattered forces of the military had tried to establish order amidst the chaos, but their efforts were to no avail. Vandalism broke out. People fought with one another to find food and shelter; countless lives lost over the smallest of things.
An abandoned Victorian house sat at the end of the lane, a large, gaping hole spanning the length of its roof. Yanking the rusted gate open, I walked up the weather-beaten path, taking care to avoid the bits of glass, pieces of wood and crumbling stone that were haphazardly scattered about.
The front door had been pulled off of its hinges and now lay rotting at the bottom of the stone steps. Climbing over it, I sauntered inside. The strong scent of decay hit my nostrils as I shoved a hand into one of my pockets and produced a small, sturdy flashlight. Twisting its base, I waved it about; its weak beam of light falling across dusty puffs of cotton and moldering curtains.
A broken cardboard box lay at the foot of the stairs, most of its contents scattered across the floor. Marching towards it, I pulled its tattered lids apart and rummaged through it in hopes of finding something of value. The tip of a finger stung as I grazed it across bits of glass that lay at its bottom. Sucking on my finger, I tossed aside a moth-eaten book, its cover falling off as it landed on the floor.
Yes, I mused. This is how we live now. Like animals – paranoid and ill-at-ease, always looking over our shoulders as we scrounge about for something to eat.
James hadn’t wanted me to go out in search of food to abate our hunger. His concern that vigilantes or some other rogue faction were bound to harm me was touching. I’d assured him that I would be fine, the need to provide for my children spurring me into action. The sweet sound of his voice rose to my ears as I recalled his subtle reprimand over the fact I was ready to leave the sanctuary of our home.
James’ eyes narrowed to half slits, his lips pursed with indignation. “Damn it, Annie! You don’t have to do this. The kids will be fine.”
“No, James,” I said, resentment coating my every word. “Food is almost non-existent. If we keep waiting for the military to bring us supplies, we’ll die. It’s been months since they kept their promise. I can’t keep waiting.”
Curling his hands into tight fists, he slammed them down upon the tabletop causing it to wobble slightly. “I can’t let you go out there. You know what’s waiting. You could be killed!”
Shaking my head at him, I stood my ground. “Yes, it’s dangerous out there, but it’s not as if I haven’t done this before.”
“I know that, woman!”
Wrapping my hands about his face, I pressed a desperate kiss upon his lips. “I’ll be fine, darling. I promise.”
He rubbed the palms of his hands across his haggard face, knowing that he would never win the battle that raged between us. “You’ll come back?”
Tears rose to the surface as I kissed him once more. “Of course.”
“I don’t like this, Annie.”
“I know that, but this is something that I must do. For the children. For you. For all of us!”
Hugging him to me, I breathed in his scent. He held tight, his body shaking with the effort. I pulled away, risking a glance about the one-room cottage. My children’s faces were forever branded into my memory. Blowing them kisses, I turned around and yanked the door open. A cold gust of wind hit me in the face as I stomped out into the night with hopes of providing for those I loved more than life itself.
Wiping the corner of an eye, the images of my children surfaced as I dug through the box; strengthening my resolve in hopes of finding something that would calm the aches within their bellies. Sammy’s pale, wan face – his dull eyes peeking through those sunken sockets, beckoned me. I refused to disappoint him.
Lilly’s trembling lips sang a song of despair every time she looked at me. I could not bear to come home empty-handed. They hung on to life by a thread, a slim chance of hope filling their hearts whenever I returned with an offering from the world outside. It was for them that I sacrificed the warmth and safety of my home.
Finding nothing of use within the box, I moved on. Instincts of survival were honed deep inside me as I crept along the darkened streets. A sudden burst of gunshots went off nearby, my neck cracking loudly as I whipped my head about in search of where it came from. My hackles rose as the shadows danced before my very eyes.
I narrowed them, refusing to give in to the panic that threatened to consume me. I did not want to die out here. Not now. Not like this.
Curling my hands into tight fists, I weaved back and forth through the streets. Jumping over desiccated corpses and the occasional rubble, I dodged the bullets as they came closer. Running around a corner, someone shouted for me to stop.
“You!” said the voice, angry and rough around the edges. “Stop right there!”
I froze, squinting as I searched for the voice’s owner. Yet the darkness kept me from finding its source. My chest tightened as fear began to seep through my veins. Death would come for me if I were to listen to the voice’s pleas. I urged my body forward and continued on.
The ground shook beneath my feet as something crashed into a building nearby. Throwing myself onto the ground, I covered my head. Pieces of cement and wood rained down, several hitting me across the back, shoulders, and legs; places that were already sore from running.
Oh God. Don’t let me die. Please. Not now!
“Annie!” a voice whispered, catching me by surprise. “Over here.”
The scent of smoke lifted into the air as the deteriorated wood within the building caught fire. The flames flickered to and fro, illuminating the small square as it began to spread. Raising my head, I caught sight of Winston Porter as he lay huddled against the side of the building. The right sleeve of his green shirt was torn, blood dripping from a jagged gash across his bicep. I watched as he sat up and extracted a Swiss army knife from his pockets. Yanking off his shirt, he cut it into strips and bound the wound to keep it from bleeding further. Satisfied with his efforts, he pushed himself down and began to crawl in my direction.
I lay there panting; the raspy sound that spilled from my lips chilling me to the very bone. No matter how hard I tried, no words came forth. My body refused to cooperate. It was as if I had shut down completely, unable to wind the cogs that allowed my body to function. Darkness crept across my vision, blocking out the meager light and my hopes to survive.