This novel is limited to 100 free copies due to its part in Inkitt’s Novel Contest.
My hand tightened on the cool, thin handle of the covered metal cage I held. It was autumn, the ground blanketed with russet pine needles and crisp leaves as red and free-flowing as blood that crunched beneath my black Converse as I walked. A cool breeze blew my long, dark blond hair. Crows squawked in the distance, only adding to the eeriness of the situation.
Someone was following me. I could feel it. My back tensed instinctively and I ducked my head down, fighting to stay calm. After the Apocalypse, we were all on edge, paranoid, always looking over our shoulders. It was second nature now to be wary.
I hastened my pace, running my tongue over the smooth surface of my teeth. My free hand curled around the gun in my jacket pocket. A bullet would not kill one of Them, but it would certainly give pause.
My pursuer stepped on a twig and I jumped, jerking the gun out of my pocket. I spun around quickly, dropping the cage and gripping the gun with both hands. My finger brushed the trigger. I clicked it, wincing slightly at the loud report. It took me only a moment to realize that I had just shot the air.
Lowering the gun to my side, I quickly scoped the area. Nothing. Just the muted light of early evening, thick forests surrounding me and the tall grasses where a lone red-and-white pepper mint-stripped tulip was sprouted, swaying back and forth in the breeze. Feeling foolish, I leaned down to pick up the cage, simultaneously stuffing the gun in my front jeans pocket. I was just about to straighten up and continue on my way when it happened.
Someone yanked my waist from behind and a warm hand clamped over my mouth, squelching my futile screams. I wriggled in my attacker`s arms, trying desperately to get free. My chest heaved and sweat beaded on my forehead. The attacker lowered his mouth down to my ear and whispered:
“If I was one of Them Sarah, you would be dead right now.”
I suddenly found the strength to pull away. I dropped the cage to the ground and shoved my boyfriend, who happened to be laughing hysterically. What a jerk.
“What the hell is your problem?” I shouted, glancing over my shoulder furtively. “You had me scared to death! I thought you were one of Them!” My heart still sounded like a hummingbird`s wings.
Ryan curbed his laughter, though his hazel eyes still shone with amusement. He seized me by the wrists and pulled me closer. “Come on, Sarah. You know just as well as I do that you would have been burned if one of those…things touched you. You would have smelled the sulfur when it approached you. Besides,” he shrugged, leaning his face down to mine, lips grazing my forehead, “I would never let one of Them touch you.”
“You promise?” I whispered, pressing closer to him.
“Promise.” He closed the small distance between us, touching his lips to mine in a kiss. He let go of my wrists and I wrapped my arms around his neck. The kiss was nice, but it wasn`t earth-shattering. I pulled away first.
Ryan crouched down and picked up the cage, despite my vain objections. With all the excitement settled down, I could finally take notice of his apparel: he wore dark green cargo pants and a long-sleeved black shirt beneath a camouflage jacket. He grabbed my hand with his free one and we were on our way.
“What are you doing here anyway?” I asked.
“Oh, I, uh, was making a quick perimeter check of the fence and remembered you were scheduled to Gather. I decided to meet up with you and walk you back.”
“To protect me from the big, bad Humanoids that could be just around the corner, lurking, waiting for me to slip up so they can attack?”
“The world has already ended. Don`t let the same happen to your common sense,” Ryan teased as we walked, swinging our arms between us. His tone was light, though I detected a hint of annoyance. “Everyone knows Humanoids don`t come out until nighttime.”
I squeezed his hand and sighed, not bothering to correct his statement. “I know that, but still…after that day…” I trailed off, unable to finish.
“I know,” Ryan said. “I know.”
Needing to change the subject, to appear strong, I said: “So, how was training yestermorning? I never got a chance to ask you. Did you kick some ass?”
“Some serious ass,” Ryan said, sensing my tone. “I got, like, ten hits in on Jake.”
“You did?” I asked, not bothering to conceal my surprise. Jake was a big dude.
“Yep, sure did. Your uncle even complemented me. He said that I’m one of the best Hunters we have.”
We had reached the edge of the forest. The trees curved inward, creating a canopy. A thin path snaked through the forest, and as we stepped onto it, still hand in hand, I felt like I was walking down the aisle, about to get married. If only.
Without thinking, I walked a little closer to Ryan. This trail always gave me the creeps, hence the reason I never traveled it. There was another trail, a secret one, which no one else knew about. I had discovered it one day while I was I out Gathering. I always considered telling Ryan about it. I mean, it was faster. But he was all about following the rules. There was no telling how he would react.
Wind whistled through the branches of the thin, tightly packed trees. Before the Apocalypse, I think this area was referred to as rural Pennsylvania. Now it was just called East Base.
The Humanoids had struck this area pretty roughly and it showed. Debris scattered the ground like scarab beetles in an Egyptian tomb. Mangled car parts, smoldered house pieces…everything. Humanoids were stronger, smarter and faster than normal humans, and nearly indestructible. I had never actually seen one (up close), but it was no secret that they were formidable.
Humanoids were inadvertently created three years ago by late renowned scientist Malcolm Whinston as a result of a freak lab experiment. It was just as well that Malcolm had died in the explosion. It was because of that man and his idiocy that we had all been robbed of fabulous futures.
“Here, I picked this for you,” Ryan said, sliding something thin and flimsy into my hand, interrupting my grim woolgathering. I blinked and looked down. It was the pepper mint tulip from the field.
“Why did you do that?” I shrieked.
He shrugged. “Because girls like flowers. And because it`s the first post-Apocalypse flower I’ve seen in this field. We should cherish it.”
Exactly the reason you should have left it alone, I thought bitterly. So much death and you have to pick the one thing that`s alive. Instead, I said: “Oh.”
We walked the rest of the trail in silence. When we reached the end, Ryan let go of my hand and passed me the cage. We stepped into the clearing. It was empty, save for a concrete block about twelve feet in width and six feet in height with a door of rusted metal. The chamber protruded from the ground like a massive gravestone or tomb—a stern warning that what lay beneath it was a corpse, something unwanted and dead and forever etched into the memories of the living world above it. The crows circled overhead, and I half-expected the Grim Reaper to appear with his scythe and my name etched in gold on his scroll, offering an eternal membership to his chamber of horrors.
The concrete cube sat centered within a decrepit wooden fence that varied in height and crumbled if you so much as looked at it. The parts that were gaping had been replaced with barbed wire. Ryan hopped over the fence first, in one smooth leap, and then took the cage back from my hand. I hesitated, raising my long, skinny leg and then dropped it. I always hated this part.
“Come on, Sarah,” Ryan said, running a hand over short blond hair a shade or two lighter than mine. He sighed. A strong gust of wind blew, causing the hood of my thick, black jacket to blow back. I hastily pulled it back on. I never took my hood off.
Pushing aside my fear of becoming a live shish kabob, I backed away from the fence and then ran, barely missing the barbed wire as I leapt over the hurdle …only to fall in a pile of dirt. Ryan helped me up, stifling giggles, and brushed soil from my denim skinny jeans. Once the cleanup was finished, we went up to the door of the concrete block. Ryan performed the Secret Knock and said the password. A rectangular plate at the top of the door slid open. Brown eyes stared out at us.
“Hold up your palms,” the doorkeeper commanded gruffly.
This was a silly, yet rudimentary step to the long process of Entering. Humanoids were similar in appearance to normal humans. The main difference was their translucent skin, and their internal reddish-orange Glow that showed brightest in their eyes and palms. Ryan and I held up ours and Diego granted us entrance after performing the other necessary tests. The doorkeeper slammed the wide metal door quickly behind us.
The inside of the chamber was dark and damp, cold. The floor was composed of loose dirt. The dank space was empty save for a metal fold-up chair on which sat a very impressive-looking gun. A concrete staircase in the middle of the floor led to an underground bunker, a shelter for all Survivors of the East. Faint noise bubbled up from the square in the floor. The opening was small, though wide enough for me to fit through comfortably.
“Go ahead down,” Ryan said, as if it took his consent for me to do anything. He handed me the cage. “I need to talk to Diego.” He squeezed my arm, and I started my descent down the staircase. I was just at the last step when I was greeted by the handsome face of Kyle Richardson, my more-or-less best friend.
He nodded in the direction of my cage. “Hey, how was your Gather?”
“Awesome,” I said, grinning back. I held up the cage. “I’ll show you later, if you want.”
“Sure. I can`t wait to see your Catch,” he said, rolling his eyes. Kyle was a good five or so inches taller than me with a shock of sable-brown hair that I kept fighting the urge to pat down into place. His clear crystal green eyes smiled without any assistance from his mouth, the corners of which were of course turned up into a grin. Kyle was always happy to see me but, then again, who wasn`t? He wore unzipped jeans and a shabby tan shirt with short sleeves.
He stuffed his hands in his pockets as we started the long walk through the downward-sloping, maze-like corridor. There was barely enough room for us to walk side-by-side. I felt like a princess from the Medieval Ages, only without the legion of servants and elaborate dresses. The hall was so dim; I entertained the idea of placing lighted torches along the concrete walls.
“Why are you grinning like that?” asked Kyle.
“Because your fly is down, and I’m contemplating whether or not to tell you or let you face the humiliation you have undoubtedly yet to receive like a man.”
He looked down, raised his eyebrows and dragged the zipper up.
“Would you be mad if I asked the reason you were looking down there?”
“No, but only if you promise not to be mad if I were to ask you the reason why you were looking at my ass when I came down the steps—and now, for that matter.”
I was walking slightly ahead of him but could hear in his voice the smile he fought to hide from me. “Touché.”
“Why are you so quiet?” I asked after a few moments of silence. We were nearing the end of the maze.
“No reason. I was just thinking that your uncle is in the middle of a meeting right now…and that he probably wouldn`t notice if I stuck you in.”
I brightened. Meetings were strictly off-limits to females. “You think so?”
“Yep. As long as you stay in the back, against the wall and quiet, his eyes should pass right over you.”
And notice me he did not. When Kyle and I entered the Conference Room, my uncle Robert was oblivious to my presence as we snuck to the back of the testosterone-packed room.
Like every other room it was dimly lit by a trio of pot lights. The lights were set to timers, and I couldn`t help but feel a little befuddled how we could possibly fare technologies like that and plumbing, but no TV or Internet. Admittedly, everything “electrical” around here was oil- or solar-powered…but still. It was bad enough that the human race was damn near extinction; it just made sense for those of us still alive to be living high on the hog.
“If we venture to Out tonight, just before midnight, we can infiltrate what I believe to be their main base of operations.” My uncle`s light Spanish accent mirrored my own. He circled something on a ginormous wall map in red Sharpie. It was of Pennsylvania proper. Some lucky Hunters who had the privilege of standing near him grunted in acquiescence.
Uncle Robert was wearing a loose white cotton T-shirt, black sweatpants, and tan boots identical to Kyle’s and just about every male`s in the room. His thin, black hair was brushed back to his chin and, as always, looked wet and sticky. His skin was the color of warm cinnamon and not yet flawed by wrinkles. He had a brawny build impressive for someone his age, and dark intimidating eyes that somehow made me feel five years old instead of nineteen, even though their gaze wasn`t centered on me. His bushy mustache and perpetual five o`clock shadow seemed to be begging for a razor.
“Are you in the group traveling to Out tonight?” I whispered up to Kyle.
“No. I’m going on the morrow, though.”
“Hunters will be stationed at these points,” Uncle Robert now slashed red Xs on the map, “and come in at these angles,” he connected the Xs to the circle he drew earlier.
“How was your training yestermorning?”
Male Hunters trained strenuously for twelve hours out of the clock; the other twelve, they were out Hunting Humanoids, killing as many of those ghastly beasts as was humanly possible.
“It was good. Did your boyfriend tell you I knocked him on his ass? Twice.”
I drew my eyebrows together. “No. He did not.” I wasn`t surprised that my brawny—though lean—best friend had one-upped my boyfriend. If anything, I was amused.
I was still stifling giggles when Kyle bumped his shoulder against me. “There`s your lover now,” he whispered.
I looked up; and sure enough, Ryan was standing in the doorway, looking upset that he`d missed part of the meeting. He admired my uncle divinely and was always finding some new way to kiss-ass. Sometimes I wondered if that was the only reason we were together.
Ryan closed the door quietly and searched for someone in the shoulder-to-shoulder standing crowd. In doing so, he caught my eye. I cursed mentally and turned my head, cowering into Kyle’s side. But it was too late. He had spotted me.
Time seemed to freeze as literally everyone in the room turned to see the chief`s niece. I blushed under all of those eyes.
“Females are not allowed at meetings,” Ryan was saying—screaming was more like it. “I’m so sorry Hunt Master Santana. I will personally remove her.” Ryan slipped through the tightly packed crowd to where Kyle and I stood. He grabbed my arm and tugged.
“Come on, Sarah.”
He tried to drag me towards the door, but I resisted. I was tired of not being in the loop and just sitting back while others fought for me. Whatever happened to Equal Rights?
I blurted the first thing that came to mind.
“Uncle Robert, I want to become a Huntress!”
The words in and of themselves were harmless, but together? Blasphemous. There was a collective intake of breath from the crowd. I tightened my jaw, refusing to look afraid. Never mind the fact that I was on the border.
My uncle Robert ran a hand over his hair and sighed. He spoke deadpan. “I’ve told you 'no' Sarah, over a million times. It`s bad enough that I let you leave the protection of the Base alone to Gather and carry a gun!” My eyes flicked unconsciously to the cage at my feet. I could feel the shape of the gun in my pocket.
“I can handle it, Uncle Robert. I know I can. You just don`t underst—“
“I don`t understand?” Uncle Robert tipped his head back and laughed humorlessly. He focused those menacing dark eyes on me, and I flinched involuntarily. “You should be inside where it`s safe. Preparing meals, repairing clothes, dressing wounds… Just being a girl!”
“I’m a tomboy,” I mumbled, then added more clearly, “I only want to help.”
“We cannot afford to send girls out in the frontlines; certainly not offense. If you want to help, go knock boots with Ryan and procreate. Otherwise, stay out of the way.” He turned back around to his map, like this conversation never happened. His cronies turned as well. The room was suddenly filled with the quiet buzz of conversation that was certain to travel down the grapevine later.
I licked my lips and tried to wedge between two buff guys standing in front of me. They wouldn`t budge. Giving up, I stood on the tips of my toes and spoke in as clear a voice as possible. “But, Uncle Robert—“
“No buts, Sarah. I’m done.” He spoke without turning around, his tone harsh and dismissive. My cheeks burned. Ryan grabbed my arm and started pulling me towards the door.
“Come on, Sarah,” Ryan whispered in my ear. His grip softened and he slipped his hand in mine. I sagged in defeat.
I looked over my shoulder as Ryan led me out of the room. My uncle. The General. The Chief. The crème de la crème…
Maybe he was done, but I wasn`t. Where there`s a will, there`s a way.
And I was hell-bent on finding one.
Start writing here…
Usagi Kita: This story is emotional from beginning to end. You get to watch the characters struggle and grow, maturing in different ways so that they come to be the people they are meant to be. Inea is insanely adorable, and his antics made me laugh more than once, and Kaedon is perfect for him in so many wa...
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Alex Rushmer: Although I don't know the story of the Phantom of the Opera, I really enjoyed this story. The writing was very evocative, and it really put a picture of time and setting in my mind. The voice of the story really added to the character development. The idea of the time travelling -- or whatever re...
Alex Rushmer: This was not what I expected, but I enjoyed it a lot Malfoy was always one of the characters that I liked a lot, so I like that a lot of this happens between him and Colette. I read the first couple chapters, and I enjoyed your writing style and am excited to see where you take this story. My com...
CookieMonster911: The story overall was an adventure that is appealing to any age. The way the characters develop adds a more human characteristic to the novel. The writing style itself is amazing because you can learn every character's thoughts and emotions. The awkward love triangle and jerk moments adds to the ...
John Reed: Seadrias masterfully captures the impressiveness and complex scope that a science fiction novel should provide while carefully crafting an entire universe that will leave a reader in awe from start to finish. The only flaw I could find is that I wish I could have read more. This book is certainly...
263Adder: Okay so I adore this story. I only knocked one star off plot for historical inaccuracies because I'm a bit of a stickler for that. The ending broke my heart though, considering you already changed history couldn't you (SPOILER) change it a bit more and have them together!!!! I want an alternative...
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Sara Joy Bailey: "Full of depth and life. The plot was thrilling. The author's style flows naturally and the reader can easily slip into the pages of the story. Very well done."