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SURVIVAL OF THE FITTESTThe Last Hope for the Human Race
By Michael Taylor
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Michael Taylor
All right reserved.
Chapter OneOne Shared Moment
She pulled herself to her feet. She was weak, confused, and, from what she could figure, alone. She brushed her long, dark bangs from her face. The texture of her hair seemed odd to her—almost crusty, like something had dried there. Her surroundings were familiar; she was in her home. She knew it was dark outside because the lights lit up the living room. They flickered a few times before going off and leaving her in total darkness. She struggled to find her voice, but her throat was too dry; she needed water. She stumbled through the pitch black rooms, found her way to the kitchen, snagged the glass next to the sink, and opened the faucet. The cup slipped from her grasp, and the thick plastic thudded against the stainless steel. Her hand fumbled to retrieve the cup, but her need for water was so great that she lowered her head under the tap and drank. The cool water ran over her face and into her mouth. She swallowed furiously; the water soothed her parched throat. "Mom," she croaked. "Mom, where are you?"
Lindsey Sutton was utterly alone. There was no response from her mother, and no response would ever come. At fifteen years old, the teenager was virtually an orphan. She searched throughout the house, but no one was there. Her heart raced as she walked through the rooms. The realization of being alone created terror in her mind. She had never been alone, at least not since her dad had passed away three years earlier in a car accident. Her mother had made it a rule that Lindsey would never be far from her side at any moment except during the hours she was in school.
Panicked by her solitude, she went to the one place she felt the greatest comfort—her mother's bed. She climbed up, pulled the covers around her body, and curled into a fetal position. Uncontrollable tears gushed from her eyes. Within a few moments, she had cried herself to sleep. The weakness she was feeling had consumed her and forced her eyes shut. Her last thought before drifting off was, Mom.
* * *
Alex Anderson and Ricardo Martinez were known to be troublemakers, and they had never feared anything or anyone until that very moment. Their hearts sprinted, and their eyes widened—a strange silence formed between them as they swung their heads back and forth, hoping to find someone anywhere nearby.
When they stopped, they stared at each other. One shook his head, and the other shrugged his shoulders.
"What the heck? How did we get here?" Ricardo asked, continuing to take in his surroundings.
They remained motionless, each holding up his hand to signal the other to be still. A hope was raised in their minds that they would hear something—a car moving, a dog barking—but they could not even hear the sound of the wind. Leaves on the trees didn't rustle. It was the eerie silence that caused their fear to intensify.
Ricardo motioned for Alex to follow him as they made their way through the park. They stopped by the restrooms, where there was enough light to see each other and, though neither admitted it, to ease some of the fright they were feeling. "What the heck is going on?" Ricardo said. "I don't remember coming here."
Alex, his head still swinging to try to spy anything around them, replied, "I don't know. This is screwed up, man. I mean, like, I was just at home a few minutes ago, but now I'm here."
Ricardo nodded nervously. "Where is everyone? How late is it?"
"Jesus, Ricardo, I have no friggin' idea," Alex said. "This is so majorly messed up. There's no one around. I mean, hey, look, there isn't a car moving. That's just not right. Something is up."
"We need to get out of here," Ricardo said as he started to walk toward Sycamore Avenue. "We'll go to my house." He had no sooner finished his statement than the boys heard a loud pop, a click, and then complete silence and darkness. He reached out and put the palm of his hand on Alex's chest to stop him. He whispered, "This is really messed up. We've got to get out of here."
* * *
There was nothing out of the ordinary. She had experienced the feeling of being alone before, or trapped with her twin brother. She stared at him as he slept on the couch and shook her head in disgust. Such a lazy little ... Her thought trailed off when the lights began to flicker. With another shake of the head in disgust, she said quietly, "Dad forgot to pay the electric bill again."
Their mother and father weren't home much, so Aiyana and Trevor Green had basically raised themselves. The sixteen-year-old twins knew that the only reason their mother and father weren't around was because each of them worked two full-time jobs. Every time the twins thought of either parent, they would always hear their voices say, "We just want you to have everything we didn't have. We work so much because we love you." Brother and sister both understood and did all they could to live up to any expectations that were set for them. There was nothing the twins wouldn't do for their mom or dad.
Aiyana checked the front door, just to make sure it was locked. She'd always gone through the same routine when the power was about to go. She walked into the kitchen and made sure the refrigerator and freezer doors were closed. In the utility drawer, right under where the silverware was, she found a lighter in case she needed to light some candles. She quickly made her way back into the living room, sat on the recliner, picked up the remote, and clicked the television on. As soon as a picture formed on the screen, the voice of a newscaster could be heard briefly. The lights flickered a few more times, and then the TV went black and the room followed suit.
"Trev? You've got to get up now," she said. "The lights are out." Aiyana fumbled for the candle on the coffee table. The lighter lit up the room dimly, and she lit the wick. "Trev, get your lazy butt off that couch."
"What do you want?" Trevor was clearly agitated about being awakened.
"The lights went out. We don't have any power."
Trevor rolled over to face his sister. "Why are you waking me up for that? This isn't the first time the power's gone out."
"I know that. It's just that I don't want to sit here in the dark all by myself."
"Yana, you go to bed every night, it's dark, and you're all by yourself."
Aiyana rolled her eyes. "Just shut up and talk to me."
The tone of her voice was unusual, and Trevor could sense it. The two weren't just similar in looks. They had a deeper connection when it came to their thoughts. Trevor could always read his sister's fear, so he knew when he had to be the strong one. He knew when he had to be more comforting. "It's nothing," he said. "We're going to be fine." Trevor sat up and rubbed his hands on his thighs. "At least it isn't cold outside," he said. He smiled at her, and the moment she smiled back, he gave a little chuckle. "You see there? You know we've been through worse than this."
She couldn't help but chuckle at her brother. "You're right. I'm just being stupid." Still, an ache inside her was telling her there was something more to this darkness. Somewhere in the blackness was something sinister—a menacing terror that she felt but could not see. Her mind was gripped by the fear. She stood up, walked to the couch, and sat next to her brother.
Trevor reached out and hugged Aiyana. The physical connection between the twins relayed even more information to him. He could feel his sister's horror. He could sense the same feelings Aiyana had about the darkness. "It's going to be okay," he said, trying to sound reassuring. His voice cracked as he spoke because now he wasn't sure. "I'm sure everything will be okay." This time he said it not just to comfort Aiyana but to comfort himself.
* * *
The cold metal from the fire escape dug into the soft tissue of his cheek. The pain woke him up. He laughed as he rubbed his hand over his face and felt the defined criss-cross pattern embedded in his skin. He wasn't sure how long he'd been asleep on the fire escape, but he knew it had to have been for quite a while.
Will McKenzie shook his head, his dirty blonde hair whipping through the air, and his fingers moved upward to rake the hair forward onto his face. The bulk of his time was spent either at some sporting practice or just sitting where he was. His dad worked nights, and his mother had been out of the picture for years. To him, there was nothing strange about the evening. It was nice out; he didn't need a sweatshirt or anything like that. He didn't see anyone walking on the sidewalk below his fifth-story perch, so he assumed it was pretty late.
He stood up, stretched, and yawned. His next move was to hit the sack. Will glanced down the street and caught a glimpse of someone headed in his direction. Probably a bum, he thought and then added, He'll probably be in the doorway downstairs in the morning. But as he watched the figure, he noticed the strange way the person moved, with a kind of jerking motion and a faint click as the feet hit the ground. "Yep," he said aloud, "a bum and drunk too. He's not only going to sleep in the doorway, but he'll piss there too." Will laughed, crawled through the window, rolled into his bed, and reached for the light. Before he clicked it off, the lights flickered and went out.
Will sat up and looked out his window, and he saw that the street lights were out too. He dropped back down on the bed, stared at the ceiling for a few moments, and dozed off.
* * *
Priya Hendi loved the nighttime. For her, sneaking out through her bedroom window was old hat; she'd done it a thousand times. Considered a dark-haired beauty with the blackest eyes, she had just one flaw—insomnia. Normally, she would have taken her meds to fall asleep, but on this night she had forgotten. There was nothing she could do about that now. If she took the meds now, she'd never wake up in time for school. So in typical Priya fashion, she climbed through her window and started to walk.
She knew every inch of town by heart; she'd walked it more times than she could remember. Priya knew the shortcut through the Safeway loading area that only employees would have known about. She knew exactly when the people who were closing Carol's Diner would leave for the night. Priya had even gotten to know some of the less-than-reputable people who spent most of their evenings on the streets.
There was something about walking at night that she loved. It may have been the fact that her parents never knew what she did, or it could have been the fact that she learned so much about the streets from the strangers with whom she would strike up conversations. As she made her way toward the train tracks, down near the casino area, she began to sense that something was different. There was an odd odor in the air—no breeze, but somehow the air was moving enough to carry the strange scent.
Where she stood, the corner of Front and Lakeview Drives, she suddenly realized that something was very wrong. There were no cars moving, which wasn't normal because she was so close to the casinos. Traffic was always moving, twenty-four/seven, in this area. She stopped in the middle of the intersection and looked in all directions—no headlights, no taillights, nothing. Priya, unsure what to think, kept moving toward the casinos. Cheri Bomb, a prostitute who made her business headquarters on Livingston Avenue, would come into view soon. Cheri never missed a night of work. Priya always thought that if she had an office job, she probably would have won some kind of award for attendance. She'd laugh to herself because she wasn't sure if they gave awards like that in the real working world; then she'd think that if Cheri went to high school, she'd get an award for attendance. Priya knew that because she was in the eleventh grade and had gotten attendance awards in ninth and tenth grades.
As she neared the "internationally known headquarters" of Cheri Bomb, Priya again sensed that something was wrong. There was no Cheri tonight. There was nothing. The neon lights from the casinos were flashing as usual, but there were no cars or foot traffic. There wasn't even a cab in sight.
Priya realized she had to get back home and had to get there fast. Before she could turn around to head back, though, the streets went dark. A sense of danger filled her body. Goose bumps covered her skin, and the small hairs on the nape of her neck stood up. It was all extremely unusual. She'd never seen a night so dark. The eleventh grader knew there was something seriously wrong with this scenario. Her steps quickened to double time as she walked. Her hearing became more sensitive to any sounds around her. Then she heard it—a click, click, click that seemed to be keeping pace with her. She wanted to turn around, but common sense told her there was something so horrible behind her, something so utterly terrifying, that she needed to remain focused on getting home. Her double time quickened to a trot and then to a full-out sprint. The click, click, click stayed right with her.
Her eyes had adjusted to the darkness; she could see her house up ahead on the next block. Not too much farther to go, she thought. As she darted up the small hill in her front yard to circle around the house, she looked back. There was something there. Whoever it was was following her. Her heart skipped beats as it nearly ripped through her chest. Her fear was greater than anything she'd ever known. She knew she couldn't stop to climb through the window; she had to find a place to hide.
The follower moved over the dried grass in the yard. Whoever it was began to sniff the air. Priya, hidden behind a row of bushes, couldn't see the person clearly, but she knew there was something not quite right about it. That's not a who, she thought. That's a what. Her mind steamrolled. She tried to remain silent, but even her silence didn't stop the thing from finding her. Priya watched as it turned in her direction, sniffed the air two more times, and began moving toward her. Sweat ran down her temple and onto her cheek. Her heart beat so fast that she felt as though she would pass out. It moved closer to where she was hiding, and Priya saw its hand fish through the bushes toward her. She screamed as she felt the bony fingers as they snagged the sleeve of her T-shirt. Priya pulled herself free and darted out of the hedge and across the yard, the thing hot on her heels as she ran. She screamed for help as she sprinted down the street, but her screams were in vain.
Chapter TwoNo One Is Alone
There was little movement in the dark night other than Priya, who continued to scream for help as she ran. The thing that followed her home was still behind her, but it was clear by the sounds that there were more than one now. She didn't know how many were pursuing her, and at the moment she didn't care as long as someone would hear her calls and come to her aid like Superman.
She turned onto Highland Drive still at full sprint, still calling for help. She was familiar with this particular street but would not have thought to come to this area very often. Unlike the areas near the casinos, this area was heavily trafficked by vagrants and drug dealers. It was a high-crime area filled with five- to seven-story apartment buildings and vacant storefronts.
Her eyes scanned the buildings, looking for any signs of life. The few times she had been in this area, there had always been people in doorways or sitting on fire escapes. Now, as she moved quickly, she couldn't see anyone. Priya was as alone in this area as she had been near the casinos. "Help!"
Her cry was heard. The voice was faint, still in the distance, but grew louder. Will shot upright in bed; the desperate cry had woken him from his restless sleep. He lurched forward toward the window, the voice coming closer and closer. He stepped through the window and onto the fire escape. He scanned the streets below but couldn't see anyone; the power outage he had experienced before he closed his eyes was still going on.
He knew the voice was female. The cry echoed through the darkness, no more than a block away. He searched in the direction of the voice to see if he could spot anything. He did. A figure moved fast; behind it, but not too close, were three more figures. Instinctively, Will knew he had to do whatever he could to help her. He rushed out of his room and down the five-story stairway.
Excerpted from SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST by Michael Taylor Copyright © 2011 by Michael Taylor. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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