Authors: Chuck Wendig
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #General, #Science Fiction, #Dystopian
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2014 Chuck Wendig
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Skyscape, New York
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Skyscape are trademarks of
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ISBN-13: 9781477847701 (hardcover)
ISBN-10: 1477847707 (hardcover)
ISBN-13: 9781477847886 (paperback)
ISBN-10: 147784788X (paperback)
Book design by Sammy Yuen and Susan Gerber
Editor: Marilyn Brigham
Jacket art by Shane Rebenscheid
Jacket design by Katrina Damkoehler
For my father, long gone from the Heartland. And for my mother, who remains
IT’S BEEN DAYS,
and she hasn’t heard a damn thing. Proctor Simone Agrasanto sits at Mayor Barnes’s old desk, running her hands along the cold wood. She picks up a frame showing a digital photo of his wife and son—the wife a fat dumpling and the son a dull clod. As she lifts it, another, smaller photo—this one on curled paper—drops out of the bottom. Filomena McAvoy. Long, cascading hair. A pretty, if pale, face. A long, strong nose—elegant, graceful.
An Empyrean nose,
Or, at least, that’s what she sees with her one good eye.
The other eye is . . .
Well, she dares not think about it. The doctors aren’t sure they can do anything for her. She’s heard mumbles about an
fix, but for now, the ruined eye sits in the puckered socket behind a black patch.
She opens the bottom desk drawer and finds a bottle of Jack Kenny whiskey. She takes a pull.
Events have escaped her control. But she’s reclaiming power. Slowly. The first order of business was to storm the McAvoy farm and take the father. The proctor should have figured that would be a no-go. He and his wife were nowhere to be found. The house and barn were burned to the ground. The only items left unburned were the corpses remaining in the driveway: the faceless Grey Franklin, the trachea-collapsed Pally Varrin, and—this one, quite a surprise—a bullet-in-the-head Mayor Barnes.
That meant Arthur McAvoy was armed.
McAvoy is one mean sonofabitch. Though he
left that note staked to the ground. It read: “See that these three get a proper burial up Cemetery Road.”
Seems even terrorists have some semblance of honor in their black hearts.
She takes another sip of whiskey. Warm, smooth, a drink too good for a Heartlander.
There’s a knock at the door.
Devon Miles, her awful attaché, sneaks in through the doorway. He holds the door open with his one good arm. His other sits in a fabric sling, broken. She knows it’s broken because she’s the one who broke it. When she’d found him, after he’d ran and abandoned her, she pressed him against the wall of Busser’s Tavern—face-first—and bent his arm behind his back until she heard a not-so-gentle
. A snap heard above his cries.
“Your guests,” he says, waving in three visitors.
“I’m glad you came when I called,” she says, looking upon the three miscreants. The mayor’s son. The fat boy’s drunken father. And Cael McAvoy’s spurned bride. Boyland, Jorge, and Wanda. A motley crew, no doubt, but still, she thinks, it just might work.
“Hell do you want?” Jorge asks.
“I’ve got my people looking for the McAvoy family and a few of their friends. Lane Moreau. Rodrigo Cozido. And Burt and Bessie Greene. But my people don’t know the Heartland very well, and, for them, this isn’t personal. But for you three, this is
“I hate you,” Boyland says. He looks drunk. No surprise. He is perhaps already becoming his father, assuming the mantle of lugubrious, inebriated blowhard. “You stole my girl.”
Simone shrugs. “Oh, quit your mewling. I’ll tell you what: if you do what I want, I will get you your girl back. Is that acceptable?”
He searches her face. “You . . . you mean it?”
“I mean it.”
She doesn’t mean it. It’s a lie. The girl is beyond her reach. Beyond anybody’s reach now.
“Okay,” the mayor’s son says. “I’m in.”
“I want my Obligated back, too,” Wanda says. Her head, Simone notes, looks too big for her body. It bobbles like a buzzard skull on a broomstick.
“Can you get me my son?” Jorge says. “He belongs to
get your son back yourself,” the proctor says. “I’m forming a posse, and you three are in it. Plus anybody else you
feel will help you in this endeavor. You’ll be paid. You’ll have a boat. Any resources I can offer you, you’ll have. But there’d better be results.”
“You’ll have your results,” Boyland Jr. says. “I’m not king of the scavengers for nothing.”
BLOOD AND CORN
CAEL MCAVOY DREAMS OF FLYING
His arms are wings. Stretched out. Palms flat to the earth. Air sliding beneath them. His mouth dry. His eyes wet with wind-stung tears.
Blue sky above. Green stalks and yellow corn below.
A pair of toothy motorvators churns through the field. Carving a set of parallel lines. White smoke drifts in lazy coils above them.
Cael flies for the horizon line.
Again and ever more he thinks,
I can go higher,
and there above he sees one of the flotillas drifting. The sun behind it frames the floating city with lines of searing white, gleaming off fluted towers and scalloped edges. White brick and black tile. Starbursts and zigzags. A city of many levels strung together: platforms and chains and billowing pocket-bladders of air. The
hum of hover-panels. The growl of engines. The
whiff whiff whiff
of tower-topper propellers chopping the air.
He lifts his head. Tilts his arms back. Cael moves higher.
Toward the flotilla. Toward the sky.
Then he sees something. No—some
. Standing on a gangplank extending outward like an unfurling tongue, a woman on the edge of it, a girl with strawberry hair done up in an Empyrean braid that forms a collar around her neck and—
He calls out to her, tells her he loves her, but the wind swallows his words in a great, gusting gulp, and he sees her pointing something at him. A rifle. Light pooling in the blue-steel receiver.
But then—a white flash behind her. It consumes everything. She’s gone in a searing hot burst, and so is the flotilla, and the concussion hits him at the same time as a thunderclap booms in his ears and his throat and his chest, and suddenly he’s tumbling ass over teakettle, falling down out of the sky—blue, then green, then blue, then green—
He hears someone calling for him. Gwennie?
The ground rushes up. The corn reaches for him. Stalks stretch. Leaves like tentacles curl and coil. They meet him as he falls, catching him, stopping his descent. He thinks,
I’m alive. I’m alive!
The corn begins to lower him back toward the earth, and he scans the sky above for the flotilla or for Gwennie—but it’s all gone, just an empty space.
A leaf of corn crawls its way under his shirt—
A pain cuts through him as it slices into the flesh above his heart.
He feels it slide under the skin, seeking entry. Over the breastbone. Around a rib. It burns like a saw cut. Feels like paper sliding under flesh. It finds his heart. It cradles it. It bores into it like a finger pushing its way into a pie. Cael screams. A voice whispers in his ear—