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|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.70(d)|
|Age Range:||12 - 18 Years|
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The boy stood at the top of the hill and stared straight ahead, his green eyes narrowing in the hazy afternoon sun. His throat was dry, as always, and he unscrewed the cap of his water bottle and tilted it up to his mouth. He took a single, measured sip from the bottle, the faint taste of bleach bitter and lingering on the back of his tongue. He swallowed the water quickly but took his time as he replaced the cap, careful not to waste a single drop. He clipped the bottle to the side of his backpack and raised his eyes once again.
The boy had been to this neighborhood only once before, sometime just before the blackout, and there was no denying that it looked very different now. He forced a smile as he spoke out loud to no one but himself, his voice quiet but loaded with sarcasm.
"Another beautiful day in paradise. How the hell did I get to be so goddamn lucky?"
It felt good to use the kind of language that would have earned him a smack in the face had his father been around, but the smile was not long on his lips. Since the beginning, he had held on to the hope that the estates on the hill had somehow escaped the looting and the fires that had followed the blackout, that the rich people's money, and the tall gates that money had bought, had proved their worth. But now, when the boy finally arrived, he knew that he had been wrong, and, worse than that, he had been naïve. In the end, the gates had not held, and the pristine homes that once lined the street were now little more than blackened skeletons of charred wood and metal.
The boy was not exactly sure why it bothered him so much this time. He had seen it all before. It had been the same in almost every neighborhood he had come across in the last year — the withered bodies of those few who had dared to stay behind, the homes burned, the roads littered with abandoned vehicles and debris. He knew that it was simply the way it was now, but for some reason, this time it felt different. This time it hurt more.
The truth was that the fall of humankind had been nothing like the boy had been told it would be, and in some peculiar yet uniquely teenage way, he felt as if he had been cheated. His generation had been conditioned from birth to expect the spectacular, to always presume the fantastic, but Armageddon had not come with a brilliant flash or the blockbuster finale. The machines had not taken over. There had been no zombie outbreak, no hostile alien invasion. There had been no global thermonuclear war, no doomsday meteor, no Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. In reality, the final days had been nothing like Hollywood had promised him they would be, and as the boy looked over the burned-out homes and the piles of garbage that would hopefully contain his next meal, he knew firsthand that the end of the world had been anything but spectacular.
He continued walking down the street for another full block before he finally came to a stop beneath the shredded fronds of a dead palm tree. A dozen or more crows were picking through a pile of garbage a short distance away, and they stopped to eye him suspiciously as he bent down and picked up a good-sized rock. It seemed amazing to the boy that of all the creatures who had survived the virus, the blackout, and the chaos that ensued, it was the crows that had fared the best. And while the boy had not seen anything more than a single living dog in more than a month's time, the number of crows seemed to have multiplied exponentially, and the boy stood up and tested the weight of the rock in his hand. The nearest bird was at least forty feet away, but the boy was deft with the throw, and he took several steps forward and let the rock fly. The stone hummed past the head of the largest crow, missing by mere inches, and the boy laughed out loud, his green eyes flashing brightly.
"Ha! Just missed! Next time you won't be so lucky, filthy crow."
Despite the gnawing hunger in his belly, the boy had no intention of eating any crow he might kill that day, or any other day, for that matter. The bird's meat was technically edible, but the boy had discovered early on that raiding houses and rummaging through the trash was a much more efficient means of feeding himself, and he continued moving forward.
The boy had no idea how or why the heaps of garbage had come to rest where they now were, but he approached the nearest pile with unabashed hope and slipped his arms deep into the muck. His hands moved in tandem, unseeing fingers feeling, sifting, sorting, and it was not long before he felt something round and familiar roll across his palm. He closed his fingers tight and pulled his find up from the garbage and into the sunlight. He had found nothing more than a single, shriveled apple, its skin now brown and desiccated, but the boy smiled nonetheless, his mouth watering. He whispered quietly to himself, his words drawn out, his voice mimicking the announcer on an old game show he remembered watching as a child.
"Jackpot. We have a winner."
He shoved the apple into his backpack without hesitation and continued searching, reciting one of his father's familiar sayings as he worked.
"Take whatever you can get, whenever you can get it. Isn't that what the old bastard used to say?"
The boy had only begun to talk to himself in the last month or so, and he was growing more comfortable with the idea each passing day. At first, he thought it meant that he had begun to go mad, but the boy had seen firsthand what that looked like, and even what that smelled like, and he figured that at the very least, he was no more insane than anyone else who had stayed alive for this long. In truth, the boy was remarkably stable for all that he had seen and done, but it was also true that he had been uniquely well-prepared for such an existence. For better or for worse, the boy's father had substituted military-style training and discipline for love, and the lessons had been both simple and painful. Follow your instincts. Compartmentalize your feelings. Train to exhaustion. Survive at all costs. Some would have called it abuse, but to the boy, the intense physical and mental training that he had been put through at such a young age was all that he knew, and in that respect, even he could not deny that his father had prepared him well.
The boy's name was Sawyer. He was big for his age, and although he was thin from lack of food, his wide shoulders and large frame were built to carry muscle. He was attractive in a rugged way: his hair an unremarkable brown, his nose a bit crooked, his lips a half-size too big. However, it was his eyes that truly distinguished the boy. Set widely across his face, they were a sparkling shade of emerald green that seemed to glow in the vanishing light, and although the boy was barely sixteen, one look into his eyes betrayed the fact that deep down inside, he felt much, much older.
He was dressed in the only clothing he had — a pair of worn, dark-blue denim jeans and a black t-shirt with the outline of a redwood tree and the words "Renew-Reuse-Recycle" emblazoned in faded green on the front. He thought his t-shirt's mantra was humorously ironic, considering it was now his only option. His feet were wrapped in duct-tape-covered hiking boots, and the bill of his baseball cap was torn and slightly crooked. On his shoulder, he carried a Mossberg pump-action shotgun, and on his back a brown leather pack loaded with gear. A long, dull machete knife was tethered to one side of the pack, and a dented, gunmetal gray water bottle hung from the other.
Inside the backpack, he carried a variety of items that he had deemed essential, including a bottle of bleach, a small flat-edged crowbar, a hatchet, a pair of binoculars, some random hand tools, and a makeshift grappling hook with thirty feet of knotted rope. Wrapped in a plastic shopping bag was a roll of duct tape, a roll of electrical tape, a flashlight, a thin plastic tarp, some clean bandages, several cotton rags, and a nearly full box of double-zero shotgun shells. The two small pockets on the side of the pack were equally loaded; one contained a stainless-steel buck knife, a Leatherman multi-tool, a 9-volt battery, and a sewing kit. The other pocket held a length of aluminum wire, a handful of steel wool, and a single flashlight.
Of all of the items that he carried, it was only the ammunition, the shotgun, and the water that truly mattered to him. The single box of double-zero shotgun shells and the 12-gauge had been among the few items that his father had not taken with him when he left, and the boy carried the loaded weapon both out of necessity and as a cold reminder that he was quite literally all alone in the world. And while it was true that in the beginning he had used the weapon only in self-defense, it had taken only a few days without water before the boy had been forced to take more extreme measures. Right or wrong, Sawyer had discovered that taking the precious liquid from one of the few remaining survivors was often his only option, and more than a few men had either given up their water or taken their last breath looking down the barrel of his shotgun. In truth, the boy took no pleasure in the act of taking another's life, but if he had learned only one thing over the past year, it was that water was not only something to hope for, and something to search for, but also, when it came down to it, something to kill for.
Nevertheless, the boy also needed to eat, and he continued scavenging for another half hour before he finally gave up and wiped his hands down the front of his jeans. He could see that the fading sun would soon be dipping below the horizon, and he was thinking of the long walk back down the hill when he slowly became aware that the crows had gone uncharacteristically silent. He looked around and saw nothing — no signs of movement, no obvious threats, only the dead palm trees swaying quietly in the warm, dry wind. Still, the boy could feel that something was not quite right, but before he could reach over to slip the shotgun into his hands, he was suddenly and violently spun off his feet, his right shoulder erupting in blinding pain. Sawyer fell beside the pile of garbage and looked over at his shoulder in confused horror, gasping in utter disbelief.
"What the hell? What the hell!"
Buried deep in the meat of his shoulder was a heavy, one-hundred-grain broadhead, the long black shaft protruding into the sky, the bright red and blue fletchings of the arrow bobbing up and down with the heaving of his chest. Sawyer was more than just surprised to see an arrow lodged in his arm — the boy had not seen another living human being in over a full month, but it was not until a second arrow whipped by only inches from his head that he realized he was in very serious trouble. His mind was spinning, and all he could think was that he had to find cover, and fast. He peeked above the mound of trash and tried to think.
There was a burned-out Chevy truck resting twenty yards to his right and a cluster of dead palm trees about ten yards to his left. He could easily make it to the trees, but they offered little cover. He looked back at the truck and noticed that there was a break in the wall just beyond the vehicle. The boy took a deep breath. He had no good options, but he knew that he had to move. He counted down from three, got his feet underneath himself, and then burst out from behind the pile of garbage, sprinting the full twenty yards and reaching the truck just as another arrow skidded off the vehicle's hood and whistled into the sky above him.
Sawyer crouched down behind the truck and tried to catch his breath. Against his better judgment, he looked over at his injured shoulder once again. The arrow was still there, dangling grotesquely from his arm, and a steady flow of dark red blood was now leaking out from under his sleeve. There was no question that the boy was scared, but he tried to fight the rising panic, to control his thoughts like his father had taught him. He closed his eyes for a moment, ignoring the pain, focusing his mind. Sawyer had been taught at an early age that his fear could be channeled into controlled action, and as he took a single calming breath he could feel the rush of adrenaline coming on — the familiar tingling in the tips of his fingers, the quickening of his pulse, the hairs standing up on the back of his neck. It was almost as if a switch had been flipped somewhere inside the boy, and, buzzing with a burst of energy, he slipped the shotgun off his shoulder and peered through the one unbroken window of the truck, his eyes scanning every inch of the street.
A minute ticked by. Then another. He was so keyed up that he was almost shaking, but still he saw nothing. Another minute passed. Sawyer looked down at his shoulder. The adrenaline was masking the pain, but blood was now running freely down his arm and collecting in a small pool at his feet. He knew right then that he could not wait much longer, but he suddenly caught a flash of movement at the end of the street, and the boy's eyes instinctively narrowed. It took him another minute, but then, just as he was about to give up, Sawyer saw him. Crouched in the shadows below a cluster of dead eucalyptus trees was the fuzzy, yet unmistakable, silhouette of a man holding a bow and arrow, and the boy whispered quietly under his breath.
"I see you now, Bowman. I see you now."
The tree line where the Bowman lay in wait was at least fifty yards from where Sawyer now stood, and the boy quickly began to calculate his options. He could either stand and fight or cut and run, and even though the boy wanted nothing more than revenge at that very moment, he was no fool. The break in the wall was just across the street, and he had lost more than enough blood already. He was not happy, but he had made his decision. It was time to run. He took the Mossberg in his one good hand and sighed.
"All right, Bowman. Let's see if you can hit a moving target this time."
Sawyer took one last breath and quietly counted down from three.
"Three, two, one. Go."
With every last ounce of speed he could muster, the boy exploded out from behind the truck, raising the shotgun with one hand and firing blindly toward the trees as he ran. He knew that the single spray of buckshot was useless except to buy him a half-second of time, and he could only hope that it would be enough as he put his head down and raced toward the break in the wall. At the end of the street, the Bowman barely blinked as the shotgun blast spread out harmlessly in the trees above, but seeing that he had one last chance to hit his target, the man took in a deep breath, pulled back on the bowstring, and let the bolt fly.
With the arrow cutting through the air at more than four hundred feet per second, Sawyer had no time to react, and there was little he could do but flinch as he felt the arrow strike home. Still, the break in the wall was only steps away, and before the Bowman could draw his bow again, the boy slipped behind the wall to safety, one bloody shaft still dangling from his shoulder, another fresh arrow lodged deep in the side of his backpack.CHAPTER 2
The girl stared out of her bedroom window and picked at the fraying strip of duct tape that lined the edge of the frame, the dull scraping of her fingernails the only sound in the otherwise silent house. She gazed for what seemed like a long time before she pulled her eyes from the window and looked down at the open journal resting beside her, the pages heavy with ink, the edges of the cover worn and threadbare. She had not written a single word in the journal since sometime before it all began. Reading it now had been like throwing gasoline on a fire.
Emotions that she thought she had buried many months ago suddenly resurfaced, scabs torn free. She hated herself for the selfish words she had written, for the childish thoughts that she had put down on paper. Mostly she hated the terrible things that she had written about her mother, the exaggerations, the outright lies. She had written those words out of immaturity, out of misplaced teenage angst, and to read them now only stoked the anger that smoldered just below the surface.
She closed the cover of her journal and took the book in one hand as she slid her legs off the bed, her bare feet barely making a sound as they touched the cool, hardwood floor. She stood there for a long moment before she moved at all, her eyes slowly rising to the full-length mirror that stood just across the room. She walked forward until she stood just before it. One hand holding her journal, the other clenched in a fist. She looked at herself for a long time, studying her own body, her own face, her own eyes. With each passing day, she looked more and more like her mother, the resemblance impossible to ignore. Every time she looked in the mirror she was reminded of her, reminded that she was now dead and gone, reminded that it was too late to tell her that she was sorry.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Dark Tomorrow"
Copyright © 2018 Jeremiah Franklin.
Excerpted by permission of Month9Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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