And, because I’m ultra nice, I will post the second chapter tomorrow and then another after that so that you guys can get a little bit of a head start before release day!
Of course, it helps if you’ve read Breaking Cadence first…
“Stop!” the word escaped in a gasp even as I opened my eyes, gun clutched beneath cold fingers while breath turned to white vapour in the air. Stone steps chilled my bare feet as I stared out at the darkness, finding the spot where I’d shot him over two months ago now.
Nobody was there.
Darkness claimed the cobalt sky with impenetrable force, cloaking the Wasteland in a blanket of blackened grey. I lowered the gun to my side, fingers trembling. The night air skimmed up my bare legs and caught under my shirt, pulling with bitter hands the loose hem of material as if it was a dress. I swallowed. The pulse in the base of my throat continued to beat wildly, thrumming as it passed through my ears.
I’d dreamt of him again.
My index finger rubbed over the icy trigger. I felt sure he was out there still, baiting me, ready to exact his revenge. But I had no proof that he had survived. The back of my hand smeared hot tears from my cheeks. Had I been crying in my sleep?
How stupid. How ridiculous.
I stared into the gloom, my eyes wide with a hope that clung too deep. The wind combed its fingers back through my hair and I shivered, remembering how he’d done that the last time we’d made love. Even after all he had done, even after all this time and all this pain, I still wanted to find him, despite knowing that he would hate me for shooting him and leaving him out there to die.
Would he believe that it had been an accident? That I couldn’t remember pulling the trigger in that struggle?
Maybe I would never know. Maybe all I would find was his body.
My arms clutched across my chest in a tight hug. I’d been dreaming of him. Every night now, I saw him, heard him, and felt him. But this was the first time I’d gotten up in my sleep. I felt as if the thin silver scar that cut across my eye glinted in the briefest flash of moonlight, highlighting the puce daubs beneath each gaze. My stomach churned and I felt the now familiar jolt of my gag reflex as I stumbled off the steps and into the sand, dropping my gun to the wasted ground.
My hand scrubbed the wall just as the wave of nausea overcame me. The meagre contents of my stomach scorched my throat, spilling from my lips and plucking hot tears from my eyes. I stayed there for a moment, gathering myself with laboured breaths.
This kept happening. I told myself it was just the dreams and the anxiety. My sleeve smoothed across the underside of my running nose, as I squeezed my eyelids tight. I told myself… But I was a mess.
Another wave of vomit or two passed, leaving me to collapse shakily on the steps, legs trembling. I wiped my brow, feeling better for the icy air. Grit clung to my shins. I’d shot him. But with no body how could I know that he was truly dead?
I clutched my arm across my stomach, feeling the fabric of my shirt bunch. Zander’s shirt. I’d procured it out of the things we’d stolen from his tent on our last visit to that delinquent wasteland camp, unsure if he would need it or if he’d be gone by then. It had stopped smelling like him, wilderness and wild abandon, but I couldn’t sleep without it. Even though he’d broken me in so many ways.
“Why did you have to do this to me?” I whispered to the dark. I watched the sky, stars fizzing and sputtering above, as if I was waiting for him to show up. He didn’t. He probably never would.
My eyes stung. I dragged myself back inside the lighthouse, blocking the door to keep out the sand spiders and the Infected before slowly climbing the stairs until I found my room, sneaking inside so as not to wake the kids. If I could just find his body then I would have the closure I needed.
If I found his body there would be more questions and more lies that I had to feed to Alex that he would never forgive me for. I hadn’t told him the truth, knowing he would fly off the handle and do something stupid like he had when he thought I’d lied about the death of our parents.
Kitty knew some of the truth. I’d hated asking her to lie to Alex for me, but there was nothing else I could do.
They’d been paired by the committee, hoping that it would destroy the bad Laurence genes Alex possessed, just like his sister. And then the kids had broken their rules. And we’d ended up here.
Our parents were dead. And Kitty’s parents… Alex had watched me slice open her mother’s throat during our escape. Yet another cover up I’d forced between them. Yet another person I’d executed. My kill totals hadn’t mattered until Zander, but now I’d started counting.
I wish I felt remorse, but I didn’t. Wilma had treated me as if I was worse than the Infected, beneath her and her husband…
Maurice had been the cause of my nightmares for far too long. It would be a small accomplishment if in leading the Wastelanders to town we had instigated his death. Another passing on my conscience, yet another I felt no guilt for. Death was too good for him.
What sleep I did manage that night was fitful. I woke again to find my limbs and cheek stuck against the sheets. I kept my eyes closed, listening to the noises of the old building. Gulls complained in muffled tones from the lighthouse top. They’d noticed eggs missing here and there but they hadn’t bothered to move their nests. I guess they were too comfortable to leave even when they were being preyed upon.
Early light hit the tower, spinning it in webs of grey and fog. I waited until the dewy air had burned off then I headed down the winding stairs and into the kitchen, pretending that I’d had a full night’s sleep. The kids sat at the table talking about driving again. Kitty was learning all she could and, with nothing better to do, Alex had decided to teach her. Better than helping me catch food. That was too much hard work for his delicate hands. He was no survivor.
Only half listening to their prattle, I reached in the cupboard and frowned. Yesterday there’d been six tins of pre-Infection spaghetti. Today there were five. I counted again. Still five.
It was possible one had exploded and given up its contents, but I was doubtful. Alex had complained that there wasn’t enough last night for tea. We’d had fish with a bit of spaghetti just to balance our nutrition, but he’d wanted more of everything. That was something I couldn’t provide. Rationing was the key.
We’d need more supplies soon anyway. Perhaps that held a chance to move on.
I moved the cans around a bit and pretended I hadn’t noticed the missing tin. If I questioned him he would only deny it. Normally, I’d tackle him, but nothing flamed for the fight inside. Besides, my body felt too weak to argue that morning. This constant sickness was taking its toll.
The missing food was a setback, though. Less rations meant less time. We’d have to start foregoing breakfast if we wanted to stay in the lighthouse as long as I’d devised. Alex wouldn’t like that.
“Are these yours then?”
My eyes reached up, finding Alex watching me with a twinge of irritation on his face. Kitty peeled the pages from his fingers and held them up for me to see, a smattering of apology burning her cheeks. She didn’t need to bother covering for his tone. With each passing day, I knew he hated me more and more.
“Alex found these in our room. We thought maybe you’d put them there?”
The paper felt old beneath my fingers as she passed it to me. It was covered in coloured marks and lines, scribbled over by pencil lines and shading. Symbols dotted it, scrawls of cursive etched in beside some of the older details. I swallowed, gaze spanning the page. It was a map updated with the modern landscape by a hand that had researched it well. I ran my finger over one of the circles. Next to it was the word ‘lighthouse’ in familiar strokes.
“So who did?” Alex snapped.
I shrugged slightly, handing him the sheaf and feeling more off colour than I had before. “It looks like Zander’s writing, but I still haven’t seen him.”
“I don’t think he’s ever coming back,” Alex snapped, snatching the map. His lips curled in a half-snarl, but I didn’t react, watching him with deadened eyes. “He’s run off to save his own skin from that crazy woman. He’s probably just left us all to die.”
My fingers clenched the countertop as I swayed lightly. Kitty’s eyes flicked down to the white grip of my knuckles before she hurriedly glanced away. They were both still labouring under the misapprehension, or at least the pretence, that I was the strongest there. I was the leader.
It was laughable.
As every day passed, I could feel myself growing weaker in both body and mind. Something inside was crumbling, hollow, gone. And I couldn’t fix it.
“What if Xanthia finds us before he comes back?” Kitty asked. Her gaze flickered to Alex. Another half-truth. I’d told her that Xanthia was after Alex, which was almost correct. She was after both of us, knowing that our blood possessed a cure for the Infection.
“She won’t,” I lied, squeezing Kitty’s hand even as the thought of Xanthia’s crazed eyes crossed my mind. Running for mayor of a Wastelander township, she’d had a lot of power at her disposal. So many pawns to play to her will. And one of those had been Zander.
More than that. He’d been her lover.
Check out chapter two, A Visitation, tomorrow! And don’t forget to join the event on:
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