So if you don’t know who Bex Aaron is then that makes me really sad. A brilliant writer and a great friend, her fourth book in the Independence Day series is out now!
Now, to give back to her writer friends as well as promoting her new (terribly awesome) book, Dirty Little Secret, she invited a few of us over on her release weekend to show off our books. If you guys found this blog through that page, then that’s fantastic, but if you didn’t you should totally go check it out: here.
Not sure you want to? Well, that’s cool, but you’ll be missing out on Bex (which is a sad, sad thing) and you’ll be missing out on the first chapter of Forgiving Zander that was posted exclusively to her event.
Of course, you really don’t have to go through and check it out, but if you don’t then the second chapter (yes, the second chapter!), which I am posting here today, might not make any sense whatsoever.
And without more ado… Chapter Two!
Roaring ripped at my ears. I perched on the edge of the rock, three days later, watching the fierce spray below as it threw itself suicidally against jagged edges. Birds railed overhead, circling and diving. More proficient than I. Still, I managed to reel in another fish.
It flipped about on the sandstone until I grasped its slippery tail in one fist and smashed its brains against the hard land. The squirming stopped. Gills opened and closed, slower and slower. Then not at all.
Its last aching breaths.
I swallowed, slipping the creature into a wicker basket that I’d brought as I glanced back up the steep cliff side. Killing seemed to be the only thing I was good at any more.
The sea raged. White tops flipped and dipped across the choppy water. I breathed in deep. The briny scent filled my lungs, charging my bones with a little energy. Nothing felt right. The fishing line felt pointless between my fingers. I knew catching more fish would sustain us for longer and mean that I wouldn’t have to make the trip down there again to that solitary place so soon. The harsh beauty of the angry ocean roared at my ears and stabbed at my eyes.
I gave up.
The wicker basket slung over my shoulder on loose rope as I wound the makeshift fishing equipment up and stored it away. It was more peaceful down by the edge of the water than it was back in the lighthouse with my two wards. Secrets seemed to rattle around us, born from the lies I’d told. Echoing in the stillness.
It was all to protect them. But that didn’t make it any better.
I thought about the map and the way it had just appeared. Except, it couldn’t just have appeared. My feet found the difficult path back up the cliff face. Mud and stone slipped underfoot, my hands acting as my only safety rope. They must not have noticed the map before. Zander must have left it a long time ago. There couldn’t be any other explanation.
An absent gaze over the top of the cliff stopped me, forcing me to crouch down again. My lips moistened. A hand reached carefully for the knife strapped to my ankle. Bodies milled aimlessly around the base of the lighthouse. Blood and military stripes.
Fingers clenched around the hilt of my blade. Breathing shallow, I watched them. They looked like Wastelanders from Xanthia’s camp.
The clothes and the loose weapons reminded me of the blockade that we’d escaped from at the edge of our old town. They’d been trying to keep hold of Alex and me at Xanthia’s orders, hoping to sell our blood for the highest price.
And Zander had known.
He’d told them about Alex, allowing them to follow him, ready to destroy my brother’s life. Somehow that was supposed to be better than letting them destroy me.
I pushed the thoughts aside, concentrating on the figures ahead. They weren’t trying to get into the lighthouse, which was good, but why were they there? Had Xanthia sent them to find us?
I squinted, shielding my eyes from the sunlight.
Gaunt expressions. Shuffling feet. Half eaten flesh…
A shudder stole down my spine. Were these what she called her juice boxes? Ailing from the Infection, she’d been drinking human blood to sustain her life, convinced it was keeping her from turning into a zombie and giving her some kind of immortality. The crazed expression on her face as she’d told me still haunted my dreams. I swallowed.
These intruders were no longer human, that was for sure.
It didn’t look like either Alex or Kitty was outside. Hopefully they were still in the lighthouse, keeping an eye out for me and waiting for the Infected to drop down dead for good. I crept over the edge of the cliff onto flat land, hidden by the straggles of long grasses. The basket carefully hauled alongside. My movements were slow, edging around the dull minded creatures.
Flies and stench. Blood and skin dripped from their bones. One trailed intestines in its wake. Puncture marks flapped in the breeze, marking one of the wandering corpses as a victim of Xanthia.
The stench was deplorable. I took a deep breath, consciously inhaling through my mouth and not my nose. It merely lessened my discomfort.
I edged cautiously around to the opposite side of the lighthouse until they were out of sight. The front door was nearer to them than me, but from this side it was possible they wouldn’t notice my approach until it was too late.
My shoulder pressed against the stonework as I crept around. Finally in sight of them again, the door became obvious. It was only three steps away. They wouldn’t notice if I took it slow. I hoped.
Hairs prickled. My shoulders tensed, a clicking noise striking up softly behind me. My breathing shifted. Dark shadow rose against the stonework before me. My body half-turned, a slow motion pirouette. Pincers clicked close to my face, long furry legs waving excitedly.
The sand spider reared up, ready to take me down and eat me. It must have been attracted by the stench of the animated corpses but it had found me first.
My stillness lasted only a moment. Feet flew, slamming me around to the lighthouse door. The spider followed as my fists hammered against the wood. It was locked and nobody was answering. The colossal arachnid chattered crazily, rearing up again, practically plastering me against the door.
I screamed, hoping that Alex or Kitty would hear me.
The noise attracted the Infected. They started hurrying towards me with stumbling feet and deadened eyes, hungry for flesh and blood. My arm whipped out, slicing at the spider’s many legs with my modest blade. The silver was sharp, but that was no match for a creature the size of a small house.
It made angrier noises, shaking its domed body and clicking its pincers wildly. Zombies tumbled in underneath its legs as if they were desperate to gain access to the hairy cave. They headed straight for me, but the sand spider spotted them first, its millions of eyes glittering as it observed them. Easier prey. Pincers clicked at undead heads, wrenching skull from spine and gorging on the bloodied contents.
I pounded on the door, trapped in this horror scene. Screams tore my throat to shreds.
One of the Infected got too close, gnashing a chunk of my shoulder with its rotting teeth. Pain splintered as I slashed open its throat with my knife. Half-coagulated blood spattered across my skin, mixing with the scarlet from my own wound.
The spider squealed. Pincer clicking moved closer to my head.
The wood behind me gave way as a strange dizziness began to overload everything. My body fell backwards, vision blurring to blackness as a figure pulled me further in, pushing back and slamming out all the monsters outside. I tried to focus. Nothing came. Instead the hazy face melted away to nothing, oxygen straining to reach my brain.
Screeching reawakened me. The sand spider was enjoying itself somewhere, eating Infected and tearing their limbs apart. I kept my eyes closed, just breathing for a minute. My shoulder burned. The Infection was probably already trying to work on my exposed wound.
“She’s going to turn into one of them now. What do we do? Do we kill her now or…?”
“But Zander found a cure,” Kitty’s voice replied, a squeak in the void.
A snort sounded. “Zander’s never coming back. That bastard only cares about himself. He’s found a cure and now he’ll sell it to the highest bidder. He won’t come back for us.” An angry pause. “She’s going to die and become one of them. We’ll have to kill her.”
“Then what was the point in saving me,” I murmured, weakly opening my eyes. The dim light seared my pupils.
Alex frowned down at me while Kitty stared, nothing but a ghostly face and blonde hair. “Nobody saved you,” Alex said. “You were on the floor when we got down here. What did you go bringing all that to our door for?”
I blinked slowly. There’d definitely been someone there. How else could the door have unlocked? And who dragged me in? A furrow highlighted my brow. Maybe I really was going mad. Maybe the sickness wasn’t just in my stomach; it was in my mind.
“I didn’t,” I stumbled. “They were here and I tried to shout you but you didn’t answer… Who opened the door?”
“You did,” Alex spat, angrily. “I’m surprised you didn’t let them all in.”
Kitty frowned at me, concern highlighting her face. She thought I was going mad as well. Her hands clasped together, lips compressed anxiously. I sat up, staring at the wood. It wasn’t damaged and the key was turned in the lock, holding it shut from the inside. Had I done that? Had I imagined everything?
“And now we’ll have to kill you because you’re going to become one of them.”
“Alex, you can’t–”
“We have to,” he affirmed as I continued to stare dazedly at the door, feeling blood trickle slow and hot down my shoulder. “How do you want us to do it, Cadence?”
“Do what?” I asked. My lips barely moved.
There had been a shadowy figure. I was sure of it. Someone male. Someone. I couldn’t have imagined it. I couldn’t. I’d passed out. There was no way I could have shut the door in that time or pushed those monsters back. And there was certainly no way I could have unlocked the lighthouse from the inside.
“How do you want us to kill you?”
Unless it had never been locked from the inside and I’d just imagined the whole thing.
“What are you talking about, Alex?”
He softened his voice slightly, the first time in months that he’d spoken to me with any tones akin to kindness. “Your arm, Cadence. You’re Infected. You’ll turn into one of them sooner or later. How do you want us to kill you?”
“Don’t be stupid,” I murmured, still dazed as I pushed myself up to my feet. My legs swayed beneath me. Kitty reached out and caught my arm. Blood trickled over her fingers, her eyes immediately rounding in fright. Her hold tightened, frozen. “Wash your hands,” I ordered. “You’ll get Infected.”
She relinquished her grip immediately, racing to get the red liquid off her skin.
Alex turned to look at me. “That’s exactly my point. And if we don’t kill you, you’ll turn into one of the Infected and kill us anyway.”
“No I won’t,” I muttered, heading for the window to spy carefully on the scene outside.
“What do you mean?”
“Zander found a cure, Alex.”
“But Zander’s not here!” he huffed.
“No, but the cure is.”
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