Sixteen-year-old Sia lives in one of the sectors as part of a family that is far too ordinary to be picked to live. According to the digital clock that towers high above her sector, she has only fifteen days to live. Sia has seen the reports and knows a horrific death is in store for her, but she is determined to make the most of her final days. Sia refuses to mourn her short life, instead promising herself that she’ll stay strong, despite being suffocated by her depressed mother and her frightened best friend. Just when Sia feels more alone than ever, she meets Mace, a mysterious boy. There is something that draws Sia to him, despite his dangerousness, and together, they join a group of rebels and embark on an epic journey to destroy the new world and its machines, and to put an end to the slaughter of innocent people.
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|Product dimensions:||5.90(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)|
|Age Range:||12 - 18 Years|
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I wake to a shrieking sound.
The wailing surrounds me, echoing off the walls and interrupting fitful sleep filled with nightmares and torture.
I pat my hand on the nightstand until I find the alarm clock and make it stop. I rub my eyes. The red numbers on the clock display 6:03 a.m.
Red digital numbers, like the ones on the clock outside that towers above us all. Counting down, down, down. Red like blood, like rage, like hate, all of which surround me. I force myself to sit up and take a deep breath.
6:04 a.m. With not long to live, I don't want to spend any more time sleeping than necessary.
Yawning, I throw back the covers and fling my legs over the edge of the bed. I stretch, wiggling my fingers and toes in an overdramatic way, standing and reaching to the ceiling with arms that will hang cold and stiff from my shoulders in two weeks.
That's if they are still attached to my body.
I shudder and goose bumps flare up all over my skin. Some of the scenes aired on the Reports are horrific. I do my best to block those images of mangled bodies and unidentifiable parts from my mind. And it makes me wonder if that makes me brave. I mean, that's why they're doing it, that's why they're showing us, isn't it? Is that what they're looking for, bravery?
I try not to torture myself with those kinds of questions; I have fifteen days to live, and I plan to make the most of them.
I slip into my desk chair. There's no school to go to anymore. There's no going out and meeting friends, no homework, no purpose to my life. The only things people care about now are how they look in front of the cameras, what they can do to prove their worth to the authorities, or how they can escape this place.
But there is no escape.
I open the desk drawer and pull out my notebook and pen. I've attempted to write a list of things I want to do before I die. I thought it would be a good idea. I thought it'd make me feel better. I also thought it'd be easier to do than it was. In the end I settled on four things.
1. Swim in the lake.
I want to swim in the sector's only lake. It's not very big and looks quite dirty, surrounded by overgrown grass with a thin layer of algae on top. It's the only place in the sector there is to swim, and I've seen people in it before. I've never been swimming and I don't know how to. But I'll figure it out.
2. Climb the hill.
The hill is beside the lake. The bushes are overgrown and the ground is a tangle of weeds and nettles. The thing is, I have never seen what's behind the metal walls that surround the sector. Never seen beyond the barriers that contain us, control us, trap us here. I know there is life beyond the wall. I've seen sector after sector on the Reports every day. They're just like ours, every one of them. Everything looks the same: the houses, the roads, the clock. The only difference is that the sectors I see on the TV screen are a wreck. They're splattered with blood and ash, and everyone's dead.
I guess our sector will look like that soon.
Climbing the hill is forbidden. And here, if you're told not to do something, you don't do it. But I don't care anymore. They're going to kill me anyway — what more can they do if I'm caught?
3. Spend time with Mom and Dad.
I want to spend at least an evening where we talk normal to one another. I want us to have ordinary conversations, laughing and joking as if none of this is happening. I want to sit with them and forget all the horror and the pain and the fear that's around us.
I'd considered crossing this one out, especially since the red digital numbers began their countdown on the clock tower. My mom's been glued to the Reports. She will not leave the living room. She will not open the blackout shutters that cover the windows. She will not speak to my dad or me. I'm near giving up on number 3, but I want to give it one last chance before ruling it out completely.
4. Kiss a boy and fall in love.
I blush every time I read this one. It sounds so stupid, but I want to meet a boy. I want my first kiss, and I want to fall in love. But nobody can meet someone and fall in love in fifteen days, right? I swipe the pen across the paper, putting a thick black line through the second half of the sentence.
It's all kind of pathetic, really, but I guess that's what happens when you know you're going to die. You stop taking little things for granted and try to figure out what you want to do in the time you have left. Unfortunately, I'm very limited to what I can do here. But this list gives me purpose, something to strive for, a distraction, because I refuse to let myself spend the rest of my days fearing my death and mourning my short life.
Gliding my eyes down the list a final time, I decide that today I'll attempt number 3. I figure things will only get worse with my mom the longer I avoid her. With a determined nod, I close the notebook and shove it back into the drawer.
After taking a quick shower, I blast my hair with the dryer. I pace around my room as far as the wire will allow, hunting on the floor for something to wear. I get dressed in whatever I pick up first — black jeans, a gray T-shirt, and a black jacket — and head downstairs to find my parents.
Mom and Dad have reacted in incredibly different ways since the announcement on the Reports. We all have. Dad's fairly quiet and I have no idea how he's feeling inside, but he keeps a brave face. I hardly see him anymore, though. Mom is a wreck. I guess I can't blame her. It's hard to believe that this is actually happening sometimes. Other times the reality of it hits me so hard I can't breathe.
As I descend the stairs two at a time, the first thing I hear is the television airing the Reports. The second is my mom's muffled cries. I take a deep breath and walk toward the living room.
I push the door open and take a step inside. The room is small and stuffy. The walls are bare and painted a murky olive green, quite like the color of the water in the lake. The color of the walls darkens the room and makes the space appear smaller than it actually is, which is only made worse by the blackout shutters. Walking into the living room fills me with a sense of being underground.
It takes my eyes a moment to adjust, as the only light source is the flickering television screen. Filling up the rest of the space is a worn coffee table, an ancient floor lamp, one brown armchair, and a sofa that isn't quite the same shade as the chair, though it could have been once. Everyone in the sector has the exact same living room: same furniture, same layout, same color.
Dad and I don't come into this room anymore except to check on Mom. She won't move from the sofa; she's spent days and days huddled up in a nest of cushions in the dark. We've never been close, but she's still my mom and this isn't what I want for her. I've tried to help her, but she doesn't respond to anything I say or do. I just wish she'd stop watching the Reports, watching the gruesome aftermath of every attack and imagining what it'll be like when it happens to us.
Right now, Mom is lying on the sofa, her face pressed into a pillow while she sobs. The screen captures my attention. The Reports are showing the latest sector to have fallen. Cameras line the streets of each sector and the Reports air the recordings with a voice-over. The zero displayed on the clock tower on the screen is scorching red — final. I see walls crumbling, houses on fire, dead bodies, and blood and ash coating the floors and walls. I see body parts and building rubble scattered in the streets. We never get to see what did it, though. The cyborgs are left to our imagination.
I wonder if I'll be scared when the time comes.
I tear my eyes away from images I see too often on that screen and look for the remote. Mom has her hand curled around it. I attempt to take it from her, but she screams at me. "NO!"
I jump back, startled. She hasn't said even a word to me in days. I don't respond at first, I can't. I tug again at the remote.
"I said no," she says. Three words.
I shake my head. "Why do you watch this?" I ask, desperate to know. "Why do you torture yourself?"
I hold my breath, waiting for her to speak to me again. Still clutching the remote, she pulls herself upright and wipes her puffy, bloodshot eyes with the sleeve of my dad's shirt. She's been wearing the same clothes for days: Dad's shirt and a pair of old, baggy yoga pants. Her feet are bare and I smelled them when I walked into the room.
She's stopped washing, sleeping, and eating. She drifts off sometimes, when she can't help it. But she always has nightmares from spending every waking moment drilling the images from the Reports into her head. When she sleeps I can hear her screaming and thrashing. Then she wakes up and it stops, and I only hear her crying softly. It's horrible and I hate the authorities for doing this to us. For stringing it out and watching us suffer.
"Mom?" I say, stepping closer and bending down slightly to come into her line of vision, blocking the television screen.
She can barely keep her eyes open. Their shade of brown is so dark it blends with her pupils. I used to think her eyes were amazing. They are the same color as mine. They used to be so big and striking; now they just look like deep black holes of utter misery. There are dark-purple, gloomy shadows smudged beneath them, too. And her short hair, as black as mine, is thick with grease and matted with knots.
I hold back tears. I promised myself that I would not cry, that I would not spend any of the time I have left feeling miserable. Mom stares at me, looking years older than she had nine days ago, back before we found out what was going to happen to us.
"I watch it," she says, through gritted teeth, "because I need to know what will happen."
"But why? Can't you forget it? Can't you turn the television off and enjoy the rest of your life?" I argue.
She spits out a vicious laugh. "What's to enjoy? You want me to live like you and your father, you mean? Is that it?" She stares at me with wide, wild eyes.
"Oh," she continues, "I am sorry that being ripped to pieces, or burnt alive, or crushed to death bothers me —" I put my hand up to stop her. I shudder at the effect her words have on me. I don't watch the Reports for a reason.
I want to leave the room, but at the same time I crave to hear her voice, now that she's finally speaking.
"Where's Dad?" I ask, but it's useless. She merely shrugs and repositions herself so that she can see past me to the TV. Silent tears run down her cheeks as her unblinking eyes stare vacantly at the scenes being aired.
I don't look at the screen again, but I still hear the sound of the chaos — buildings groaning as they collapse, fires blazing and crackling — and the running commentary from the female voice-over.
I finally give up and leave to see if Dad is home. I want to tell him that Mom spoke to me. But just as I cross through the doorway, she speaks again.
"It didn't used to be like this."
I spin around to face her. She isn't looking at me, though. Her eyes are still on the screen. For a moment I wonder if I imagined hearing her speak.
"What did you say?" I ask, even though I know. I just want to hear her voice again.
"It never used to be like this, here in the sector," she whispers.
"What do you mean? What was it like?" I say. She's speaking so softly that I can hardly hear her, so I place myself on the edge of the sofa, leaning in a little to listen.
"I'm afraid, Sia."
"I know you are," I say soothingly. "We all are. It's okay to be."
"You were just a baby," she says. "You won't remember."
"Remember what?" I ask. She is making no sense, but I'm careful not to push too hard.
"You won't remember. You were just my baby girl when the walls went up around us and sealed us here in the sector." She reaches out and strokes the side of my face. It is the most affection she's shown me in a long time, even before all of this. I try not to flinch at her touch. She then takes my hand in both of hers and grips it tightly.
I don't remember the walls going up, but I do know what it was like before. It's no secret. We were taught the history of the sector in school. It wasn't much different than how it is now. The biggest thing to change was the introduction of the walls and a midnight curfew. We're locked in our houses from twelve until six. Anyone caught out on the streets is punished. Rules aren't made to be broken.
"Is that what you mean? It didn't used to be like this because there were no walls?"
"They said keeping us contained would keep us safe. But look at us now. We're trapped. The walls were meant to shield us from harm, but now we'll die because we can't get out. We're like animals in a cage. Look," she says, taking one hand from mine to point at the television. "Look what is going to happen to us because of those walls and the people who put them there."
I don't look.
"Sia, look what is going to happen to us!" she says angrily. Using her free hand, she grabs my face. Her long, filthy nails dig into my skin. I shriek and try to shake my head free of her grasp. I yank my hand from hers and bat her away, but despite being so malnourished, she holds on tight. She forces my head around to face the screen.
"I don't want to see!" I cry, squeezing my eyes shut.
"You have to! I'm trying to explain it to you," she demands.
I stand up, forcing her to let go of me.
She stands up too, tears pouring from her eyes, and takes a step toward me. Her legs shake, her feet unsteady on the floor. Knees buckling, she falls to the ground in a heap and sobs hysterically.
My throat tightens, and I blink away tears.
I try to help her up, but as soon as I put one hand on her, she lashes out and hits it away. She curls up, with her head in her hands. Her cries are loud, her words muffled and undecipherable.
"Mom, let me help you," I say.
She continues to cry and shakes her head. I move behind her and wrap my arms around her waist, pulling her up again and trying to get her back over to the sofa. I can feel her ribs beneath a thin layer of skin. Dad and I make food for her, but she hardly touches it.
Struggling between my arms, her cries worsen.
"Mom, stop, please. Let me help."
"You can't help me," she wails. "You can't help me."
She can hardly catch her breath when I finally sit her back on the sofa. "I hate this, Sia. I hate this so much."
"I know. I do too. What can I do? I want to help you."
"I don't want to be here. I don't want to die like that." She points at the screen again, tears dripping from the end of her chin. Her face is red and blotchy.
"Neither do I, but we can't get out."
"We have to find a way, we have to." She reaches out and clutches my arm, her wild eyes bore into mine with desperation. "We have to find a way to get out. I can't die like that. I can't."
"Mom, please! There isn't a way. I'm sorry. There just isn't."
She screams — a piercing sound that shakes my bones. I stumble backward, banging my legs against the coffee table. Then I dart out of the room, away from her, slamming the door behind me.
She doesn't follow.
Sitting halfway up the stairs, I hear her whimpering quietly. I rub my throbbing jaw, feeling the crescent-shaped marks her nails have left on my skin. I don't cry, even though I easily could.
Mom blames the walls for what is happening to us, but I know it is much more than that. They're just an obstacle that stops us from getting away and saving ourselves. It is ironic, really, considering they were put there to protect us in the first place. Or so we were told in class.
I think about what they'll teach in history classes in the New World when all of this is over. I'm guessing they'll start where we do — climate change and the reduction of the population and extinction of most of the world's species. Then they'll discuss how the people were spread out on what was left of the planet. And then how the sectors came about, to round everyone up and create communities where people could stay together, stay safe.
No one really knows what's outside the sectors anymore — they call it the Rough. Rumors suggest that there are some people still out there; some people they missed. I call them strays. Most call them savages.
The class will go on to learn that people's lives were considered precious at that time. So after a while, they were walled in and "protected."
That's what we were taught.
Now for the new part — what will be taught after all the sectors are destroyed. I imagine most of the class won't be listening anymore — doodling in their textbooks or looking out the window. But the teacher will go on anyway, discussing how the authorities murdered many of the citizens in the walled sectors, cutting the population down even more. Then the remaining people inhabited the New World.
Excerpted from "Dark Days"
Copyright © 2014 Kate Ormand.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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